Rebelle (2012)

War Witch (In English)

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Directed by: Kim Nguyen
Written by: Kim Nguyen
Starring: Rachel Mwanza, Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien, Serge Kanyinda and Mizinga Mwinga

Nominated for: Best Foreign Language Film

It’s Oscar Season!  I will try my best to preview most of the films that are up for notable Oscars despite the fact that I am among those who believe the ceremony is directed towards commercially appealing talent rather than actual artistic talent but I digress… Anyway, I thought I’d begin my Oscar posts by promoting some homegrown talent.  Montreal filmmaker Kim Nguyen has garnered much press and accolades for his French war drama, Rebelle (aka War Witch), about a teenage African girl who tells the story of her war-ravaged youth to her unborn child.  The movie has already been nominated, and won, a number of awards for Nguyen and his leading actress Rachel Mwanza, including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film for Nguyen at the upcoming Academy Awards.  The trailer looks both beautiful and disturbing, which makes me eager to see it.

In Montreal, it can be seen in theaters starting January 18th at Cinema du Parc.  Hopefully it will gain a larger distribution with this nomination as it has already finished screening in theatres, but if not, keep your eyes out for it!

IMDB: 7.0

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Oldboy (2003)

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Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Written by: Garon Tsuchiya (story), Nobuaki Minegishi (comic)
Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu and Hye-jeong Kang

Finally something different; which is probably why this South Korean thriller is ranked #85 on IMBD’s top 250 movies.  Granted, we have all read, seen, heard stories of revenge but I had never seen anything on this scale or this disturbing.  I often dive into foreign films because I know if they are reaching us across the pond then they are worth watching and Oldboy is more wild, ghastly, fascinating and strange than any Hollywood production that comes to mind. The film, about a man who is imprisoned for 15 years without knowing why and his search to discover the reason, is so unfettered by effects and so captivating that it begs you to forget it is a movie and I had to turn away in moments of extreme violence.

What I liked: I have a hard time rating performances in a foreign language because I have to rely solely on visual expressions.  In this case, I can say that Min-sik Choi, as protagonist Oh Dae-Su, and his certain transformation, torture, exhaustion and anger ring as emotionally true as any great performance.  The editing is both gritty and stylized which makes it artistic (which is a welcome respite from the horror) and adds a touch of humour.  There is one fight scene that astonished me for its realism; finally a fight where guys get tired!

What I didn’t like: South Korean culture is so different that, at times, I had trouble understanding or relating to what I was seeing, especially the female characters.  However, I was so fascinated that it didn’t detract from the overall affect of the movie.  Finally, the violence is more brutal that a Tarantino film.  The film ends on a disturbing note and yet somehow we are relieved.

What I already know I don’t like: Rumours that Hollywood is going to remake this film.  Disaster.

My rating: Worth closing your eyes through some horrifying scenes to watch the whole.

IMDB: 8.4

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

The Skin I Live In (2011)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writer: Pedro Almodóvar and Agustín Almodóvar (screenplay)
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes and Jan Cornet

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, this film is a real departure from the more lighthearted films I’ve seen from him (and compared to this, Talk to Her would be considered lighthearted).  The vibrant colour scheme and musical interludes are still there to remind us that it’s an Almodóvar film but I knew, before reading the credits, that this story came from someone else.  The film is loosely based on the novel Tarantula (or Mygale or City Lights…) by Thierry Jonquet about an amoral plastic surgeon (played chillingly by Antonio Banderas) who develops a synthetic skin and experiments on a young woman (played by Elena Anaya).

What I liked: I’ve always liked Almodóvar’s style.  I also enjoyed the way the story unfolds with jarring scenes that contribute only details to the full plot.  The entire story is revealed to us in moment, where we realize that the meandering path Almodóvar  has taken us down was always headed toward this end, which, in his way, makes the most disturbing scenes watchable.   The performances enable the audience to perceive depth of character, even in the case of Banderas’ unforgiving plastic surgeon.

What I didn’t like:  I find it hard to enjoy disturbing films, even if I appreciate them.   Rape is a prominent theme in the film which is not for all tastes (especially not mine).  Some important plot points are crammed into tight monologues and if you miss a line you will discover later that you’ve missed a crucial event.   Finally, the film tends more towards horror then any social message Almodóvar might be trying to convey and I was left wondering not what the film says about the world but rather, how calmly disturbing was the portrayal.

My Rating: Recommended.

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
IMDB: 7.6