Dave here, with a note of shame: I'm afraid I'm shirking writing about Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon for now, because it's too overwhelming a prospect at the moment. It's not one of his most brilliant films, but it is relentlessly enigmatic and fascinating as always, and it's taking my brain some time to unlock it properly. (But with any luck, this might mean another full review.) So, for now, make do with these slightly more palatable vignette reviews, and tomorrow I'll have news of Julianne Moore's sexuality getting explored, because she just doesn't do that enough in the movies.
Not to get too personal, but The Boys are Back (apparently already released in the US - have you seen it?) is what I constantly fear I am: witless. It's a familiar, comfortable, lazy story, which starts off so appaulingly maudlin I suppose it's inevitable that it eventually becomes bearable. It marks Scott Hicks' return to Australia, where he's not been since the Oscar-winning Shine thirteen years ago. Clive Owen is passable as Joe, a man left to cope as a single father when his wife dies (naturally, she hangs around in comforting hallucinatory form to offer words of words of advice), a task further complicated when his teenage son from his previous marriage turns up to spend some time with his father. All of your favourite teary cliches are here: heart-tugging piano melodies, with a touch of 'native' vocals; a bit of plate-smashing; a man sobbing on his son's bed... It's not a hard film to figure out. The predictably lovely ending might raise a smile, but not because the film will have made any impression on your memory. It'll be filed 'learning to live again' movies, and forgotten within a week. C-
Israel's submission for the Foreign Film Oscar, Ajami is a chaptered, complexly plotted story set in Jaffa, an area of Israel which sees Christians, Jews and Muslims all overlapping. What's particularly intriguing about this is that it's an Israeli-Palestinian co-production, with the two directors coming from the different sides. A familial set-up is instantly disrupted by a sudden burst of violence - a template for the film as a whole. It seems almost overloaded with the breadth of subject it attempts to take in - religion, family, money and power, illegal immigrants, and so on. As such, characters become muddled and those who do recur are hard to become truly involved with, as the roving plot might see them killed in one chapter and then move backwards to see them alive again in the next - a problem when the crux of the film is the emotional involvement of the final revelations. It's still a solid piece of work, performed well by amateur actors, but you do feel a bit like you've seen it all done before, and more strikingly. B-
And we're a two-fer for Foreign Film Oscar contenders (sadly timing constraints meant I missed out on a triple bill - Serbia will have to remain a mystery), with Iran looking a more likely contender with the highly involving About Elly. The easy, amusing banter of the film's opening passages, as a group of friends head to a seafront holiday villa, gives way to tragedy and a fascinating undoing of any and all facades as the group inevitably re-evaluate every miniscule detail of what they'd ignored before. This comes to feel slightly drawn out, but it reflects the feeling of rotting devastation that emerges from the uncertainty, bleeding with sodden tension and despair. If I sound like I'm being vague, I am - it's more the intensity of reaction than what actually occurs that makes the impression, but not knowing will make the mark all the keener. Simple, clean, polished work, this is well worth looking out for. B+