Animated Movies, Animation - Anime, Movie Review

The Breadwinner (2017) by Nora Twomey

Original Name: The Breadwinner

Director: Nora Twomey

Runtime: 94 minutes

Language: English

IMDB Link:

Nora Twomey: an Irish animator, director, screenwriter, producer and voice actress. She is a partner in Cartoon Saloon. Twomey’s films are often coming-of-age films with pre-teen protagonists dealing with mythic worlds, the importance of stories and finishing them, acceptance, family, and communities. Her films combine traditional and digital art but are often hand-drawn and in a visual style inspired by the worlds of her stories

“The Breadwinner is Deborah Ellis’ book, but it’s also the testimony of all of the women she spoke to in refugee camps in Pakistan, as well as the Afghan caste members who told their stories to inform me and the rest of our cast and crew about the complexity of the story we were trying to tell. It’s people from different cultures; it’s more than the sum of its parts, and way more than I could ever have made as a solo project.”

We should make more movie like this. A family-oriented film that have mature message and inspiring story that not only kids, but adults can enjoy and appreciate. Adapted from a popular young adult novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner is a gorgeous but uneven tale about Parvana, an 11-year-old girl who disguise herself as a boy to help her family after he father was taken without charges. Set in the early 90s when Afghanistan was still under the control of Taliban, the Afghan women suffer from oppressive misogynist system where they aren’t allowed to show their face in public and where the stores would refuse to let them purchase anything, let alone greeting them. Having her father taken away means that the main source for income, or even for daily social interaction is close to zero. In such a harsh and repressed society, all that Parvana (and the women in general) want is the same opportunity as male’s counterpart. Parvana enjoys her little freedom in the disguise of boy, working all day to get her paycheck, somethings she couldn’t do if she were in girl’s clothes.

But while The Breadwinner’s central message is all fine and dandy, it’s the narrative aspect that it suffers the most. Even ironic how the film itself tries to sell an importance of storytelling as the powerful tool for these characters to cope with the harsh reality of life, and how it provides a glimmer of hope, as well as the power of imaginative in an otherwise dull, wash-out and bleak world. The story development as a whole is filled with many contrived plots, most notably the appearance of one of the relative who just wants to take them away without caring much for them or how it’s the same day as Parvana decides to meet her father and the war broke out and her siblings have to move. One can have a sense of the clunky in plot development when one realizes that many supporting characters have to sacrifice their own benefits (in an unbelievably manner) to help support the girl’s quest. Not only the plot, but the character’s writing is too one-sided in many cases. The authority men are presented as overly aggressive as if they’re one big ruthless character and most of them, Parvana aside, haven’t been developed to their full potential.

The Breadwinner saves its shortage in storytelling department by the sheer power in animation production. They nail it with the visual: the backgrounds get you right into the heart of this Afghan conflicts, the characters are always expressive, especially in their big eyes. The story within a story part particular stands out as it uses vividly cut-out animation art style that contrast very well with its more traditional style. While in term of flat-out gorgeous visuality and wild visual experimentation The Breadwinner can’t compare with its earlier works, it’s the comparison I happily to put aside since it aims for a much more difficult subject matter. While I have complaints with the male cast, the female cast does a wonderful job to show us what it feels like to be victims of their time, and somehow enforce the girls’ strong will to stand up for themselves and do what they like in the name of Parvana and her friend Shauzia. In the end, though the story itself can be inconsistent and heavy-handed at times, the fact that it’s willing to tackle a difficult and dark subject matter for a family-friendly audience, plus its pleasing animating visual make it better a better recommendation than your regular animated fare.


Movie Review, Silver Moon in Full Bloom

Faces Places (2017) by Agnès Varda & JR

Original Name: Visages Villages

Director: Agnès Varda & JR

Runtime: 89 minutes

Language: French

IMDB Link:

Agnès Varda: Varda is a significant figure in modern French cinema and her work is often considered feminist because of her use of female protagonists and creating a female cinematic voice . Her films, photographs, and art installations focus on documentary realism, feminist issues, and social commentary with a distinctive experimental style. In 2017, Varda received an Academy Honorary Award for her contributions to cinema, making her the first female director to receive such an award.

“But we want to go to the north, the south, and the middle somehow, because it’s another kind of documentary if you go to just one village. And we wanted to have the feeling that it is a trip. We had that magical truck and we could use it and we could propose to people to go to the truck to get their picture. They could take it home, or they could paste it with other pictures. We did all those proposals all the time. And for free and for no reason.”

In theory, a movie like this should not work. It’s literally about the duo figuring out the plot for their film as they go around places, it’s full of random moments and it seemingly lacks the central message. Yet it works. And it works magnificently on many levels. Agnes Varda, a 89-year-old living legend and the only woman director who associated with the French New Wave, teams up with JR, 34-year-old street artist who paste up pictures about people in the large public wall. On one level, Faces Places is about the creativity itself. Both JR and Varda are established artists in their own medium with a clear set of artistic vision, but at heart they’re both fascinated about the idea of experimenting something new, of creating fresh ideas and letting the ideas run wild. That willing to be inspired by the people and their stories, and that freedom to create whatever crossed their minds are the creative collaboration force behind their film project.

On second level, Faces Places is also about the duo’s fascinated about the lives of people in the rural area across France. Each people they meet has their own stories, their own history. Or in Varda’s own words: “To meet new faces so I don’t fall down the holes in my memory.” From a woman in an abandoned mine town who refuses to leave her home, to the late photographer who was once photographed by Varda, to the often -unmentioned wives who stand beside (not behind) their husband dockers, to the farmers and to even Goddard himself. Each time the duo learn more about their lives, we feel like we understand them a bit better, and that curiosity about people in general, and the working class in specific, make Faces Places an universal appeal. It adds up that JR’s photographic art is mainly about people, about their faces right in their home. JR and Varda strengthen each other style greatly.

On the most surface level, Faces Places is a breezy road trip film about a mismatched duo who carry a surprisingly strong chemistry (for a documentary) and overall a pleasure to watch. It’s clear that they respect each other and enjoy the company of the other. Most often the times they comment on each other’s quirk (like how JR always wears his sunglasses on), but this film also serves as a road back to memory and life reflection to Varda. Sometimes, she would visit the old place, meet up with old friend (Goddard) and reflect on how the time has changed. “Every person I speak feel like the last”. Varda mentions at one point, but her energy sparks brightly. They always joke about her bad eyesight, which in turns make it a visually payoff that both intimate and sweet. With just a mere 90 minutes, Faces Places address the art itself, the love for people as Varda’s trademark, and a warm emotional reflection on Varda, who is in her 90 but we can still a lively fire within her and she still has a lot to give. It often feels like JR and Varda going places, meeting random people and leaving their marks behind for the mass to see without any tangible gain. In a way, that’s what art should be.

Movie Review

Angels Wear White (2017) by Vivian Qu

Original Name: Jia Nian Hua

Director: Vivian Qu

Runtime: 107 minutes

Language: Chinese

IMDB Link:

Vivian Qu: was born in China. She has produced the features Night Train (2007), Knitting (2008), and Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014, which won that year’s Golden Bear Award). TRAP STREET (2013) was her directorial debut.

“There have been many news stories about young girls being assault victims, and also many stories about young children participating in some kind of crime. And so that really got me thinking, I was really concerned about what’s happening with our next generation.”

In lesser hands, Angels Wear White could have been a straight noir-crime about the investigation or a heavy crime procedure, or an overdraught message piece that stab at the corruption and holes in Chinese’s Justice, but for Vivian Qu, her lenses of focus is definite: it’s about these young girls and how they experience after that dreadful sexual assault carried out by none other than their God father, a high-ranking police official. The narrative splits evenly between the two girls: Wen (Zhou Meijun) and Mia (Wen Qi), both elevate the material through their effective and fearless acting that are wise beyond their ages, or body acting to be more specific, as gestures and long glances tell you much more about their state of minds. The former, Wen serves as the victim, but the latter only serves as witness’ point of view. They hardly have any connection to each other, except for the case and the interception of Hao (Shi Kei), the lawyer assigned to this case and arguably the only adult who has a right attitude to the whole thing. It’s through Mia’s perspective that the story becomes more ambiguous. As a witness, who looks at the screen when the event happened like all of us, she feels no empathy to what just happened. “It happened before”, she said in one scene afterward, then she uses the recording to blackmail the culprit so that she can have a money to fake her ID, and honestly, who could blame her? It’s the grey moral ground where we don’t bat an eye when seeing the bad things happening, and those bad things can become clean that makes this story intriguing in the first place.

Then we have Wen, one of the two victim and we learn that she has been unhappy with her family situation for a long time. Her mother consistently makes the home like hell with consistent blaming and beating, father who is too far away to care. The adults of the other victim girl also suggest her family to give up the accusation for a huge settlement that will help secure the future for the girls. It’s the lack of proper care, or proper attention to the well-being of these young girls, whether it’s Wen or Mia, that Angels Wear White is thorny about. In the society where hymen reconstruction clinics surface, where young girls still need to behave accordingly and where all the eyes for the sexual scandal are focused into the culprit instead of the victims, these girls’ lives feel too fragile, too insignificant the hands of misguided adults. “I like it here. The weather is nice. Even a beggar can sleep well at night”, Mia confesses in one scene about this seaside town. Apart from its searing message about this lack of proper treatment for these girls, this film hits home whenever it explores the difficult issues our girls endure, and how they deal with them.

Vivian Qu approaches this hard-hitting subject with restrained approach. The characters don’t talk much, they hardly express their feeling out loud, as if all the emotions keep bottled up inside, and only through these eyes should you know how much they are hurt. We have two equally captivating performances from our young leads here, as they capture maturely all these emotions far beyond their age. The camera, likewise, only follow these twos’ steps, and the use of long take, plus the minimal use of score (only the prelude and prologue have scores) all add to the raw and realness of the story. The statue of Marilyn Monroe in her most iconic pose served as a titular white angel. Most of the time we can’t see her full body but parts of her legs that gradually get “dirtied” by various posters and advertisements and that tempting legs that invite us to look up. These girls’ stands are like that of the statue: a mere objectivity through the eyes of this insensitive society.

Movie Review

Mudbound (2017) by Dee Rees

Original Name: Mudbound

Director: Dee Rees

Runtime: 134 minutes

Language: English

IMDB Link:

Dee Rees: Rees was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in New York. Rees is a lesbian, and she described her debut Pariah as semi-autobiographical. Pariah went on to win numerous awards and also earned Dee a spot on the New York Times’ 10 Directors to Watch list in 2013.

I was drawn to the multiple points of view – specifically the inner monologues are what I found most interesting, versus the dialogue between characters. I wanted to make this balance and give it a story of two families. It’s a dark symbiotic relationship showing how they’re both connected to each other because of trauma, because of disinheritance, feelings of economic disparity, motherhood – and also, they’re rooted to the land. They’re all stuck in the muck.

Dee Rees has crafted a moving multi-layered story about the two families, one black (the Jackson’s), one white (the McAllen’s), that intervene many themes together, chief among them the root that tie them as a home and the racial tension, and mostly succeed in all those. Dee Rees, along with Ava DuVernay, prove as leading figures for African-American women voice (which is already rare enough. For Rees’ case, she also represents the LGBT community). Mudbound is one of the few films that I consider a very American movie, not because it can only be made in the America, but because it tells a tale in a specific period and setting of an American history. Dirt plays like a character on its own and has a significant role in the story. The cinematography successfully brings a real sense of this murky field, without being too washed-out. The story starts literally with these soils, as the McAllen family digs a hole to bury their father. As the title suggests, dirt is land. It represents the very ground, the root bounded by the debt of the land, and to a larger extend, the root of American society.

It’s one of the rare time where the narrations work in service for the themes of the story. We have narrations from 6 different perspectives, 3 from each family and they pair the the two families up as well (I’ll get to that later). These voice-overs remind a great deal to those of Terrence Malick’s movies, but here it works in conjunction with the theme. “If you asked me before, I could’ve told you that all white people are the same”, says Florence, the women figure in the black family. And it speaks very well the overall tone of Mudbound. Each character provides different voices, different shades to the story regarding how they deal with racial issues and how they regard themselves within this society, and how they regard the land they live as their home.

At first layer we have Henry and Hap, who are the breadwinners for their respective family, but find themselves in a difficult situation where they can’t provide enough for the family. Hap (Rob Morgan) gets his leg broken and is forced to rest for weeks, Harry (Jason Clarke) is scammed and then forced to take him and the family live together with the poorness of black people, where they can take a bath only once on Friday. Hap takes pride of the field he and his older generations spent their lives working at, whereas Hap sees the land as something to bring food on the table. Then we have second layer of Laura (Carey Mulligan) and Florence (unrecognizable Mary J Blige) who share a mutual feeling about being a mother, and a wife in this land, where black mothers “don’t have a luxury of only lovin’ their own children”. The plot thread where Laura miscarriages, for example, speaks well to this theme. And finally, as the deepest layer we have a friendship between Jamie (played wonderfully by Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), both are WWII vets who find themselves a stranger of the place they live, and whose equal friendship doesn’t bode well with the reception of this village.

All these themes keep building up and tangling together into a brutal and compelling climax. It might seem the movie is too busy with an ensemble cast and way too many themes, but in truth, Mudbound does this story justice with great acting all around, the excellent cinematography (by Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever nominated for an Oscar in that category) and effective editing where the movie switches back and forth several times between the gangs at home and the boys at war without losing its rhythm. If I have to give this movie some criticisms, however, it’s that Harry was simply written out at the climax; the story of a white girl whom eventually stab his cheated husband feels weak and lastly, for a character with not much narrative focus, the old man Pappy (Jonathan Banks) has an important role in that climax that I would love to see the film deals more with him. The said climax, although raw and brutal, feels strangely relevant, not only to the story, not only to that period piece but even to the world we live in now. Dee Rees brings this thoughtful adaptation into light, a story about land, a story about racism and a story about wounds. And the wounds are deeply felt.

Movie Review

Novitiate (2017) by Maggie Betts

Original Name: Novitiate

Director: Maggie Betts

Runtime: 123 minutes

Language: English

IMDB Link:

Maggie Betts: an American filmmaker and screenwriter. In 2010 Maggie made the award winning documentary THE CARRIER. Through her work on THE CARRIER, Maggie remains involved with numerous charities relating to the plight of HIV/AIDS in Africa. She is also a strong supporter of women’s rights everywhere and the continued advancement of gender equality.  

 ““[] I picked up a biography of Mother Theresa, which I thought was going to be this generic overview. It ended up being a compilation of all these letters that she’d written during the course of her life. And they were to family, friends and intimate people in her life. And they were so obsessively consumed with her relationship with God and her love. I was mesmerized that her life was filled with the same sort of relationship dramas like mine and other women’s.

Set in the backdrop of Vatican II, where during 3 years the Pope released dozen documents in order to innovate the Church’s roles, the story takes place in the far side of America where the nuns (which is called the Sisters of Beloved Rose) at the last period of the conservative and extreme devotion to God, Novitiate is at heart an exploration to the romantic love with Jesus Christ, their lifelong sacrifice in the name of that love and draw a proper picture of the girls’ condition as they learn to become real nuns. Although a bit overlong and as subtle as a brick through the window, the film succeed on drawing a fascinating picture regarding why young girls would devote their whole life exclusively to God, and that love is not only from admiration, but a romantic one (they see themselves as God’s brides). While it’s an intriguing idea, Novitiate sometimes can be a tad bit obvious and loud, for example how the film handles Cathleen’s (Margaret Qualley) family situation. Secondly, for a film where Grand Silence becomes an important part of their lives, there’s too much shouting, laying bare the “truth” which for me doesn’t add up much to their central idea of love and sacrifice. Novitiate has many intriguing ideas, but it loses the impact while it tries to addresses too many themes, resulting in an ending that rather inconclusive and many plot threads that don’t reach full potential.

Novitiate is at its best when it explores the love regarding these young girls to God, the sacrifice they prepare themselves to and ultimately, the belief that love is ultimately a sacrifice. These lines of ideas are conveyed through the characters Cathleen and Reverent Mother Marie (played by Melissa Leo), respectively. Cathleen character explores that “love” theme. She doesn’t have a devoted Christian background, but she finds a special relationship with Jesus that she decides to become a nun, despite her mother dismays. For her and many girls that young age, the idea of an ultimate love, the love where she can devote her whole life into, is something beautiful and pure. But as a case where someone gives so much without having anything concrete but faith in return, she seeks for something more, something “physical” both in the existence of God, and in physical intimate and comfort.

Melissa Leo’s character, on the other spectrum, represents the figure who sacrifices her whole life devoted to strict life and be a worthy servant of God, just so that the very belief is shaken with the intervention of Vatican II. What if for everything she done in service of God, He turns his eyes away from her? Ultimately, it’s the sisters’ belief of love is sacrifice (that line is spoken vocally in one sequence), that through their own physical sacrifice in the name of Christ: be it live the rest of their lives in reclusive area and cut off from the whole world; or Cathleen’s refusal to eat that they believe they form a special connection to Him. The film, quite appropriately, refuses to give their stand on the issue, as it provides the idea through both side of the arguments: the sisters and ordinary people through the eyes of Cathleen’s mother.

At other times, Novitiate stumbles when it tries to show other girls’ perspective, especially those who later question their faith in God or what they originally believe in. While it’s an interesting topic on to itself, put it into this story make Novitiate loses its focus and lessens the impact of the main storyline. Likewise, the final statement about the change in Vatican II has so little to do with the main development of Cathleen that it feels more like a misstep. The performances, however, are pretty solid all around. Melissa Leo deserves special mention as she embraces herself in such difficult role and her character hits all the right note as being scary, ruthless but at times vulnerable. Margaret (the daughter of Andie MacDowell) holds her screen well and Julianne Nicholson plays her role emotionally as Cathleen’s mother who sees her daughter getting farther away from her. With women-exclusive settings, and the production team consist of mainly women (the editor and cinematographer for instance), Novitiate has some neat ideas behind the lives of nuns that usually unrealistically saturated in Hollywood (prime example is Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story), but its heavy-handed approach, along with its trying to handle too many different themes, make it a well-acted but bumpy ride.

Movie Review, Silver Moon in Full Bloom

Summer 1993 (2017) by Carla Simón

Original Name: Estiu 1993

Director: Carla Simón

Runtime: 97 minutes

Language: Catalan

IMDB Link:

Carla Simón: Enrolled at the London Film School where she directed Born Positive and Lipstick, both screening at numerous international film festivals. Las Pequeñas Cosas (Those Little Things) is her graduation film for which she received a Distinction.

 “It’s my history. My mother died of AIDS when I was six years old. My father had died before. And the summer of 1993 was the first that I spent with my new family. And it was also important to keep the context because of all that happened with AIDS in Spain. It is also the time of my childhood and I have sweet memories of it and I wanted to translate them. We shot in the area where I was raised. There is a moment when I don’t know what is memory and what I have invented”

I approached Summer 1993 thinking it’s a movie about a 5 year old kid coping with the death of her parents, and in parts the film deals with it, it was never the main focus of this Catalan-set film. It’s a film that more concern about her adjusting with the new life, while at the same time never forgets that Frida (played marvouslly by Laia Artigas) was still a child who still tries to make sense of what’s going on around her. The movie approaches this tale in a slice-of-life format, and those raw emotions and heavy topic are purposely buried underneath the ground. The cause of her Mother’s death, for example, is never addressed directly, as if it’s a taboo subject that better left unmentioned. It’s a remarkable way to approach this story, considered how autobiographical tale usually dips into soapiness and self-indulgent. In fact, this is Carla Simon’s own story down to the T, not only this was exactly what happened to her when she was 5. The shooting location is the place she lived at the time as well. You can see the love and the eye for extra details in the setting, from their own festival to her secret place that has Mary statue.

Summer 1993 is ultimately a story through the perspective of a child, but with the understand and empathy of an adult. You can consistently see these two qualities running simultaneously during its runtime. The tone is that of a children’s show, with Frida is always on the centre of the screen. Then we have her foster family compose of her uncle, his wife and their toddler girl who do everything they can to live in harmony with Frida. And that goes for both side. Like every kid, her concern is not about grieving; she’s too young to know any of that. Instead, it’s about her enjoying her days and behaving as a kid, while at the same time these deeper emotions still seep through her like an oil sinks through a plain paper. She misses her mother, but she’s incapable of expressing that. Sometimes she let her frustration out to her sister, sometimes she feels like a stranger to the new family. Those scenes play out subtly, it’s more of a suggestion through their look and gestures than being a central of emotional conflicts. In fact, if there’s a usual complain of this feature, it’s the lack if heightened drama. That’s a criticism I don’t agree with, however, given that this film is designed (but not constructed) like a memory from a young girl’s point of view. There’s a sense of wonder everywhere in that world.

Carla Simon asserts that her main message for Summer 1993 is that the adults need to talk to the kid about death, because as cruel as it is, they can still able to understand death. The adults in the picture, likewise, treat this issue with total respect. Most notably is her uncle (David Verdaguer) and his wife (Bruna Cusi), who go through many different troubles of raising her as their own child, yet never give up or let out their frustration. There’s a key scene near the end of the movie, when Frida confronts her aunt about her own Mom and she handles those questions in the best possible way. This scene marks the first time Frida tackles those feeling bottled inside her and she’s clearly struggle to make sense of it, and it could be as easily for an adult to just dismisses those questions with “you’ll understand when you get older”. Yet, her aunt takes her struggle seriously and it’s the best way to let their kid experiencing it instead of locking it away. The respect for the kid’s perspective isn’t restricted only to the story, but also in the way Simon believes in her child actresses. There are many long, unbroken scenes with the two kids as the center, and it doesn’t feel like they’re acting at all. The adults are all fine by all mean but it’s the children (Laia Artigas and Paula Robles as Anna) who are the heart and soul and they carry the movie wonderfully. Summer 1993 draws a right balance between the wonderful time of a kid who coping with the death of her parents by refusing to go to the usual melodramatic route, but always respect their innocent point of view. I know that this film is the one that I’ll keep thinking back for months to come.

Movie Review

I Am Not a Witch (2017) by Rungano Nyoni

Original Name: I Am Not a Witch

Director: Rungano Nyoni

Runtime: 93 minutes

Language: Bemba

IMDB Link:

Rungano Nyoni: Born in Zambia, she emigrated to Wales at the age of nine. A graduate of the University of Arts in London, she directed several short films (The List , Mwansa the Great , Listen), which won her awards and welcome criticism.

 “With Dr Strangelove, people laugh because they know that it’s absurd. In my case, even though everything is fictionalised, I wanted to show Zambian humour and how we deal with tragic events, which from the outside may seem very inappropriate. But it’s the humour that I wanted to put across without apologising.”

I am Not a Witch is a bold and confident debut from Zambian/Welsh Rungano Nyoni, whose singular voice makes this film a tragicomedy in a same sense of humor of The Lobster, and that is the best compliment I could muster. The very first sequence of the film indicates us about the absurdist tone that film embraces: a group of tourists visits the witch camp, which consist of twenty, thirty old women with long white ribbon attached to their backs (the long white ribbon is Nyoni’s creation). It comes to the points where these “witches” become nothing more than tourist attraction. The unnamed girl who is accused of being a witch (later people name her as Shula), is helpless and can’t even defend herself. She is dragged through the absurdist investigation where a villager accuses her for ripping his arm off (despite that said arm remains fit), then to the witch camp and finds herself as a golden goose made by the local government man, whom uses her to identify local thieves and even goes so far to advertising her in a TV program. The absurdist, sometimes downright farce humor about a serious issue in a culture full of misogyny hits the message far better than any straight, conventional approach.

There’s a fairy-tale like quality in this tale, as we learn early on about the fates that Shula will has to choose – cut the ribbon and becomes a goat, or keep the ribbon to live as a witch.  It’s the overarching plot thread that Shula will have to choose throughout the course of the film. Although pitch-black undertones where Shula is shopped around helplessly beyond her comprehension, there’s still some moments of hope. At one time she listens to the voice of school teaching nearby, the only time that she’s truly happy in the movie. The film also takes the opportunity to show the lives of the witch camp, where the women doing their labor work, become a public display, and live in a harsh condition all around.

Apart from the absurdist tone, Nyoni also makes this tale stick out with some impressive cinematic visual. The giant reels that contain long, white ribbon attached to the witches so that they can’t fly off come to mind, and it metaphorically represents the social bind that ties them down, restricts them from moving around freely. Shula is often placed at the centre of the shot, to further underline her awkward, almost out-of-place position. The use of classical music, likewise, is bold and compliments its bleak humor very well. The strong color of the white ribbons and some costumes, in contrast with its muted world is also strikingly displayed. This is a confident showcase of a talented filmmaker, both from her fierce idea as well as her sure-handed direction.

It’s through these laughs that we can sense the angry voice underneath, the discontent about the misconception and mistreatment towards the lives those witches, whose often took a sharp turn just out of some accusers’ whims. “In the end I can’t help what people get from it, or take from it, I just hope that they laugh and that they feel the tragedy.” Nyoni said that in one of her interview, and she succeed on doing just that, and then some. Sometimes it’s best to let out your anger by the absurdist humor, be its humor as pitch black as the night sky.


Movie Review

First They Killed My Father (2017) by Angelina Jolie

Original Name: Moun dambaung Khmer Krahm samleab ba robsa khnhom

Director: Angelina Jolie

Runtime: 136 minutes

Language: Khmer

IMDB Link:


“We had a lot of crew members walking around on their knees trying to figure out what she would actually see, what could she actually reach, what could she do. But what was interesting, for me, is it was very clear early that the POV wasn’t just going to be the technical of where she’s at — it was the emotional. Because she’s 5, she’s very distracted. She doesn’t understand what’s happening. She doesn’t want to understand what’s happening.”

It’s interesting to see how Angelina Jolie has shifted from THE superstar actress into commanding behind the camera. The two films she directed so far – the first was written by her, this one was based on a book she read when she was in her 20s on her first time in Cambodia – are her passion projects, in a sense that without her, they’d never see the day of light. First They Killed My Father furthers cements Jolie as a director to be taken seriously. Based on the real story of a young girl when she and her family are forced to leave the home and live at a labor camp during the Khmer Rouge period right just after the Fall of Saigon, the material alone already has powerful statements. It’s a matter of how to tell this story the most effective. Lots of movies about war can’t help but being heavy-handed and preachy with “war is hell” message, and heaps of others can’t stray from the sentimental path. It’s remarkable, as a result, that Jolie finds the right tone for the film.

By focusing entirely on Loung’s, a 5 year-old girl, perspective, who has very little idea what’s going on around her, the film feels emotional distant at times, with sparse dialogue BY DESIGN. It’s a brave choice, for example, that this film doesn’t have any narration, voice-over or details about the location. Instead, the film is told in a matter-of-fact manner, and the camera follows her every step, we see what she herself witnesses on screen. You see, because our child protagonist can’t make sense in any of this mad world, the film spends extra efforts to the details in the backgrounds. At times, we would see her sits on her father’s lap while he’s talking about the war, then gets distracted and plays with her siblings. At other times, we see her walking pass a group of monks who working on field and get harassed by the Khmer Rogue soldiers, or at times we hear the radio announcement about their propaganda messages, and we see her eating the bugs, spider or snake like it’s the most natural thing in the world. The cinematography, likewise, mostly follow her every step. On occasions, it pans out to give us a bird-eye shot, both creating a personal distance, and give us a large-scale impression that her story is just merely one tiny voice in this cruel chapter of Cambodia’s history.

In fact, because Loung is assigned merely as our witness, it’s her mother who undergoes many emotional gripping scenes. From the death of her oldest daughter, to the final moments her husband, to the decision to let her children escape at the cost of her life, she’s on the verge of nervous breakdown all the times and carries the emotional weight Loung’s perspective is sorely lacking. Loung’s older sister, likewise, has many powerful scenes in which her eyes hide the sadness from this brutal condition. Although mostly static, Loung bursts out several times towards the end. It’s those instances where it hits her about the true tragedy of war and the impact it brings. The film struggles, however, whenever it shows multiple Loung’s dream sequences that meant to be contrasted with her current life; but ends up feeling out of place or exposition-heavy (like she dreams about the death of her father. It’s unnecessary), and the film loses its direction a bit at the end with too many little stirring sequences (I can think of four said scenes at the top of my head) that I fail to see which one is supposed to be the film’s emotional climax.

As a whole, however, this film more than holds up. It never forgets that at its core it’s a story told from the point of view of a young girl who managed to survive this dark stage of Cambodia against all odds. Many of the scenes personally hit too close for me, as I’m sure many of those same events happened in Vietnam during the same period. For such a grim story with death can come in every corner, this story is ultimately about hope, about confronting, acknowledging this dark past in order to live on.

Movie Review

The Party (2017) by Sally Potter

Original Name: The Party

Director: Sally Potter

Runtime: 71 minutes

Language: English

IMDB Link:

Sally Potter: an indie British filmmaker who directed many well-received films include Orlando (1992), The Man Who Cried (2000), and Ginger & Rosa (2012). She has won more than 40 awards, including an OBE.

I wanted to find a way of making a comedy first of all, but also something that felt purely cinematic, something you could only see and feel through the lens; I didn’t want something stagey, but it had to have the qualities where characters could fully reveal themselves in a very compressed space of time. That constraint of having it all in one place was peculiarly freeing, as it meant that we could concentrate on what was important and not waste loads of time on stuff that wasn’t particularly vital.” – Sally Potter on The Party

Served as double meaning for the opposition party in which Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) just gets promoted as a shadow Minister of Health, and as the fateful night where anything could go wrong, goes wrong, The Party is a witty, dark (in more ways than one) comedy with a bit of social commentary edge, but ultimately not something that leave much of a lasting impact. Running at a stark 71 minutes, this is your definition of “short and sweet”, although because of that the plot feels undercooked at times (unlike those burnt pastries). The Party’s idea would fit better in a stage play, with its dialogue-heavy, small number of cast and a single location, but the interesting aspect out of this is that it’s an original screenplay written by the director Sally Potter, and she takes advantage of this medium quite successful. The stark black-and-white photography for example, makes this film feels timeless, like it could be made some twenty, thirty years ago. The film also has many unusual camera angles, sometimes it tends to cover three, four characters in a same frame – with each of them act their own ways that speak to their characters. Other times it stays a bit too close to characters’ faces, make us feel a little uncomfortable ourselves.

The main concept of The Party is to examine a group of middle-class British where they will have to face events that eventually spiral out of their control, where numerous announcements and dry remarks keep peeling all their appearances to reveal their core characters. As such, The Party is at its sharpest when the characters act contrary to what their roles (be it social roles or relationship roles) are supposed to be. “I believe in truth and reconciliation”, at one-point Janet says, and proceeds to bite her own arm. It’s also at the time of crisis, these intellectuals start to ‘betray’ their own beliefs. Janet’s husband, Bill (the great Timothy Spall), upon finding out he has terminal disease, stumbles into faith, karma… sort of things he would laugh off before (I do have an answer for “his unanswerable question”, however. “Why me?” he asked. Well, because those things could happen to anyone and a great deal of people have it much, much worse). Or Martha (Cherry Jones), a ‘feminist’ who failed to understand her girlfriend’s needs. This film, as its core, is a sarcastic look at those archetypical characters when the rug is pulled under their pretty feet.

It helps that this talented cast elevates the material greatly. They all fit this movie like a glove and all of them have their own moments to shine. Cillian Murphy as Tom, a filthy rich banker, for example, feels like he’s out of place for the whole time with all the cracking and murderous intent but it’s a right kind of out-of-place. April (played by Patricia Clarkson) has most of the great lines with her acidic tone that could rival Bette Davis in All About Eve. (“Babies get born everyday in extremely large numbers to the point of endangering the planet and all our futures”. Godamnit April!). But this is also where the film falls short. These characters are never intended to be deep or real, and if we cross out few of their main traits (Tom: banker, rich, on crack, love his wife), they don’t have much else to define themselves. And that’s what I mean by under-cooked, if you take out this layer then there’s nothing much else to explore. You stay for The Party for the crunchy, tasty acting showcase with many deliciously poisonous lines and some mild social issues relevant in Britain right now (it ranges from social status, political stand, even internet trolls), but as the film’s bookended by the gunshot from Janet to the unknown character from audience’s perspective, I’d have much prefer if she points the gun at us and shoots us instead.