After taking Star Trek to ambitious new territory, J.J. Abrams’ sequel Into Darkness certainly doesn’t go where no man has gone before.Read More
Game of Thrones image: © 2011/2012** HBO. Screen Invasion logo: © 2011 Screen Invasion. Game of Thrones font: © 2011 HBO. We’re only two seasons into HBO’s fantasy epic Games Of Thrones and it’s already had a profound impact on television history. Rarely has a story been part of the cultural dialogue so much, inspiring [...]Read More Best Episodes, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Week
Saudi Arabia is a country where cinemas have been banned since the 1980s and where women are not entitled to many of the freedoms given to their male counterparts. They are not permitted to drive, for instance, and until recently were unable to vote. Therefore, Haifaa Al-Mansour’s debut film Wadjda is a groundbreaking cinematic achievement. It’s the first to be produced and filmed in Saudi Arabia; it’s directed by a woman; but most impressive of all, it serves as a critique of the country’s aforementioned female oppression.
The film tells the story of Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), a teenager growing up with her mother (Reem Abdullah) amid this gender inequality. Wadjda is a modern, Westernised girl. At home, she listens to tapes of pop bands and dresses in designer shoes and printed shirts. But in school, she’s scolded for not conforming to what is expected of her as a Saudi woman; be it not covering her face or simply laughing in front of a man. Her best friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), however, does not face the same restrictions as she. As a boy, he’s free to work and play as he pleases. Much to Wadjda’s envy, furthermore, he owns a bicycle – a toy she is told is not allowed for girls.
Determined to simply be able to play with her best friend, Wadjda resolves to save as much money as she can, go behind her parents’ backs and purchase a bike from a local store, running errands for her community in exchange for cash. But despite her best efforts, Wadjda’s financial goal is still far out of sight – that is until her school announces a Quran recital contest with prize money for the winner.
One might expect the first film released from Saudi Arabia, directed by a woman no less, to provide a harsh and unflinching look at the harrowing effects of gender oppression. Remarkably, however, Wadjda is not that kind of movie. There are no angry tirades against religion or the country’s government. Instead, Haifaa Al-Mansour’s portrayal of contemporary Saudi Arabia is modestly apolitical, simply presenting the small ways everyday lives are affected in a society that doesn’t permit equality between the sexes.
Seen through the eyes of our adolescent heroine, it tackles these themes not with a tough, riling and enraging tone but, in contrast, one that’s breezy and packed with humour. It’s a film that clearly encourages feminism, capturing the ways Wadjda, her family and her classmates’s lives are affected by their nation’s sexism, but Wadjda does this through the prism of a bittersweet coming-of-age story. In taking to the streets to raise money for her bike, she opens her eyes to the injustices around her and, in her own small, childlike way, stands up against these deep-rooted beliefs.
It’s this optimism in Haifaa Al-Mansour’s storytelling that makes Wadjda masterful. As it comes to an end, you’re not left angered over the ways one gender is believed to be inferior to the other, but instead uplifted by the possibility that things will change with a new generation of women similar to Wadjda. Waad Mohammed’s performance complements this to perfection. It’s commanding, brave and courageous.
Quietly pushing boundaries, Wadjda is not just a milestone in world cinema but also a minor masterpiece. It’s unlikely you’ll find a more important film in 2013 than this.
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Few films have been able to depict the horror of high school bullying with more potency than Michel Franco’s superb After Lucia.
The director’s sophomore effort follows young Alejandra (Tessa Isa) and her father Roberto (Gonzalo Vega Jr.) as they move to a new town following the tragic death of Ale’s mother. Both are trying to pick their lives back up with Alejandra starting at a new school while her Dad opens a new restaurant. They quickly come to realize, however, that beginning again isn’t easy as Roberto struggles to get his business off the ground and, more importantly, our protagonist becomes the victim of mistreatment by her classmates.
Her bullying begins with a simple prank but slowly escalates over the course of After Lucia’s running time into a full-blown crescendo of real-life horror as Alejandra’s harassment becomes increasingly harrowing and traumatic. As she is beaten, mocked and in one shattering scene forced to eat a rotten birthday cake against her will, it’s hard to conceive that people could be so cruel but remains grounded in reality by the humane performance from Tessa Isa.
After Lucia’s authenticity is helped by Franco’s creative decision to shoot it with the cold, unflinching gaze of Michael Haneke’s films. With its long, still photography he refuses to allow the viewer respite as the heroine is subjected to the aforementioned physical, emotional and psychological abuse. It’s intentionally revolting, sickening and almost impossible to watch.
But in being so, After Lucia is one of the most powerful and authentic films ever composed about this subject. It staggeringly depicts the harmful group mentality of bored teenagers that cause bullying, shows how it can traumatize someone for a lifetime, and offers no naive solutions to the problem with Ale’s teachers and father unaware of the trouble while she herself is too broken and intimidated to speak out.
After Lucia is unsurprisingly a difficult watch. Franco’s methodical, calculated Cannes Film Festival winner makes you want to reach through the screen and put a stop to the horrific acts committed against Alejandra, but you’re helpless, forced to watch on and unable to interject. And therein lies its brilliance: the film is remarkable in not only portraying such atrocities but also capturing how impenetrable an issue bullying is to solve.
Read More After Lucia, GFF, Michel Franco, Tessa Isa
After the catastrophic disaster of his high-budget The Green Hornet adaptation, Michel Gondry strips everything back for his latest release The We And The I which follows a kaleidoscope of teenage characters on the bus ride home from their last day of school for the summer. In this restricted setting, Gondry captures the life of a modern urban high school from the social cliques that divide people to the unique friendships and romances that bring them together.
The We And The I falls somewhere between a traditional American indie like Do The Right Thing and a French New Wave film like Breathless. Gondry captures with authenticity the dialogue, the relationships and the lifestyle of teenagers in urban New York. It’s embedded, furthermore, with the filmmaker’s trademark playfulness that excellently gives weight to the film’s youthful vibe. Flashbacks are told via cell phone video footage, for instance, while other moments give way to a comic surrealism.
But what has always been the biggest criticism of Michel Gondry’s films is still on display in The We And The I: his decision to favor style over substance. Though it has an aesthetic, atmosphere and rhythm to die for, not to mention a great hip-hop soundtrack, this is a film that, in terms of drama, quickly grows thin. Neither the characters nor their stories are quite fascinating enough to carry The We And The I for all of its 103 minutes.
But while the story is somewhat lacking the young cast of first-time performers and Michel Gondry’s stylistic direction, nonetheless, make The We And The I a treat. It’s laden with charisma and magnetism as we watch these teens embark on their journey home, their relationships changing and evolving in a way that captures the humour, angst and pain of being adolescent. It’s an interesting and much needed step away from the mainstream for Gondry and will hopefully reinvigorate the mischievousness that made Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind such a breakout hit back in 2004.
Read More GFF, michel gondry, The We And The I
Ruben Fleischer’s newest film Gangster Squad begins in the year 1949. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) has not long returned to Los Angeles after serving in World War II. Upon coming home, he hoped to build an idyllic life by the sea with his family, but instead watched as his city quickly fell under the control [...]Read More Emma Stone, Gangster Squad, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, sean penn
Skepticism has loomed over The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth, for several months now. The doubt first began when it was announced that Jackson would be splitting J.R.R. Tolkien’s 310-page book into a trilogy of films that would accumulate to around eight hours of cinema. It was only heightened months [...]Read More An Unexpected Journey, J. R. R. Tolkien, Martin Freeman, Peter Jackson, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings