2001 Reviews

Here are the reviews for the films that played at the 2001 World Film Festival.

Belphégor, Phantom of the Louvre (France - 2001)
Starring: Sophie Marceau, Michel Serrault, Frédéric Diefenthal
Director: Jean-Paul Salomé
Plot: In modern-day Paris, a 3000-year-old mummy's tortured soul comes to life, possesses the body of a young woman, and haunts the Louvre museum at night dressed in black robes.
Review: A remake / homage of the '60s French TV series of the same name, Belphégor, Phantom of the Louvre wants to be an effects-laden ghost story about an Egyptian mummy, one that comes out not so much a The Mummy wanna-be as a B-movie of the variety of the Hammer U.K. production house. Some great elements are in place: a popular story, some A-list actors, a famous museum setting, and the promise of some great special effects. Unfortunately, director Salomé had his children in mind when doing this film, and it shows - the scares are non-existent, the atmosphere lacking, the suspense laughable, and the violence kept at a minimum. There are a few decent effects here, as Marceau climbs the walls, or the CGI-created soul of the mummy zipping around the room, but it's all otherwise pretty cheaply made. The crew somehow got permission to shoot in The Louvre, a first, and the exterior court and entrance of the famous museum are well shot, but the interiors are filmed with a total lack of any artistic value and never showcase its promising locale, making it all quite banal. As for the script, it's all kids-TV level stuff, including some terrible dialogue and a set of caricatures for characters that barely engender any sympathy or interest. Sophie Marceau, one of the leading actresses of modern French cinema, adds a touch of class to the proceedings but one can't help wondering what she's doing in this film. Two more famous faces, Michel Serrault and Julie Christie, play the game without much interest, though they do get off some decent one-liners. In the end, Belphégor comes out as a badly made copy of a typical mainstream horror / suspense flick with little redeeming value.
Entertainment: 3/10

Cool and Crazy (Norway - 2000)
Director: Knut Erik Jensen
Plot: Documentary on the 30-odd male choir of the small, depressed fishing village of Berlevåg in northernmost Norway.
Review: Cool and Crazy is a portrait of a colorful group of men escaping their daily grind with song. Here we meet a bevy of very different people, from an ex-junkie, to an ex-hippie communist, to the wheelchair-bound leader, to aging fishermen, whose lives and characters are amazingly, intimately captured with but a few scenes, and we soon feel we know them like our own neighbors. The lively, sometimes nostalgic, conversations are enlivened with a series of staged singing by the choir through different seasons, from a sorrowful rendition of patriotic anthems against the glacial background of crashing waves, to some amusing ditties in the spring fields. Director Jensen manages to show us the stark contrast between his subjects and their harsh environment, and how the spirit of this rag-tag troupe is that much stronger for it, and none more so then when they sing. There's no forced sentimentality in his depictions, and it makes their arduous lives and joys all the more touching and inspirational. The final third of the film is dedicated to their bus trip to a Russian port town for a concert and though it drags on a bit, we get another personal look at the dynamics within this group as the varied individuals get into heated, if amical arguments touching on globalization and nationalism, and live it up dancing with Russian lasses at night and preparing for their big event. All told, Cool and Crazy is a lively, well-shot documentary, a very human portrayal of a choir at the end of the world.
Documentary / Music: 7/10

The Dark Side of the Heart 2 (El Lado Oscuro del Corazon) ( (Argentina - 2001)
Starring: Darío Grandinetti, Ariadna Gil, Nacha Guevara
Director: Eliseo Subiela
Plot: A wandering poet and eternal skirt-chaser searches for his ideal woman, a woman who can defy gravity, and, after a series of unsatisfying unions, finally meets a young, beautiful circus performer who happens to be a tight-rope walker.
Review: Ten years after The Dark Side of the Heart, Subiela revisits his characters in this sequel and comments anew on his concepts and ruminations on life, love, sex, and male-female relationships. The film's story is pure philosophical fantasy - much like Subiela's other works, for both good and bad. His style is interesting, with some amusing visual bits, and when his characters go off on a rant they are always entertaining if not always intellectually deep. One's appreciation of the film will depend greatly on the acceptance of his narrative methods and his disjointed, sometimes annoying turns at mixing an age-old story of Man's search for the perfect mate with surreal events and characters along with a very dry and impersonal view. There are some good moments and observations, and the love story between the poet and the circus star is occasionally intriguing, but there are also some long-winded moments where Subiela tries to drive his points to excess. Worse, there are no real emotions on display here, as if Subiela wants to keep his audience, or his characters, at a distance. Dry, literate, and in the end quite shallow, The Dark Side of the Heart is a relatively minor effort from one of Argentina's most famed directors.
Drama: 4/10

Honey for Oshún (Miel Para Oshún) (Cuba - 2001)
Starring: Jorge Perugorría, Isabel Santos, Mario Limonta
Director: Humberto Solás
Plot: A Cuban-American returns to Havana after 30 years to find the mother who he believes has forsaken him and, accompanied by his cousin and a taxi driver, travels into the heart of Cuba on her trail.
Review: Honey for Oshún from Cuban director Solás (who turned heads with Lucia) is a downright confounding, enraging experience. On the one hand, starting from the interesting, time-honored theme of the stranger returning home, the film delves into a man's search for identity and manages a rather effective feeling of being part of it, of living and experiencing it with its characters. On the other hand, the most touching, sentimental moments are pure Latin American soap-opera, inevitably accompanied by ridiculous tear-jerking and sickly-sweet music that destroys any emotive power the proceedings had. The actors are surprisingly effective, and even endearing but the script demands too many moments of banal explanatory details and overblown emotion from them, eliminating all the interest, tension and sympathy the audience may have had. Shot in digital, the stock looks muddy and the camera movements choppy but imbues the proceedings with a documentary feel and a certain intimacy. Though the film doesn't feel like a political apropos it does sometimes smack of propaganda (or just a greatly biased sentimentality?) with its naiveté and eagerness to show off the kinship amongst these people and its love of the country. The subject matter may not be too original in either its development or its presentation, and some interesting sub-plots are left unformed, yet in the end the film somehow grows on you, until its inevitable reunion and reconciliation. So how to take Honey for Oshún? With a large grain of salt and a thick skin to emotional manipulation, one can enjoy the simple, warm melodrama as it could have been.
Drama: 5/10

Mortal Transfer (Mortel Transfert) (France - 2000)
Starring: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Hélène de Fougerolles, Miki Manojlovic
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Plot: After dozing off during a session with a rich, sexy patient, a psycho-analyst wakes up to find her strangled in his couch and tries to hide her body until he can find out what really happened.
Review: Mortal Transfer is the combination of a suspense thriller, a psychological drama and a black comedy focusing on a very Freudian perception (see sex, violence, and childhood upbringing) of psycho-analysis and the human condition. The film is continuously poking fun at the profession and its ideas using instances of bizarre sex, murder, and dreams to impart some not-so-subtle wink to its audience. Gags abound and are amusing on their own merits (though probably even more so if its audience has a background in the field), and occasionally even hilarious, such as the extended scenes of our hero trying to get rid of the corpse. But there's more to it than inside jokes and slapstick laughs - its a well-made excursion into comic madness and an effective little suspense thriller to boot, with just enough imaginative details, events and eccentric characters (all played by a sharp cast) to make for an entertaining outing. The visual style of director Beinix (Betty Blue, Diva) is quite evident in all this inspired mayhem, from the effective camera shots to the play of shadows and flagrant colors. The pacing is sometimes a little awkward, as is the mood of the film, switching from the tongue-in-cheek, to the cruel, to the philosophical, but the story is interesting and refreshing enough to allow a slow-down here and there. Mortal Transfer may not be up to some of Beinix's earlier works, but its still an inventive, light-hearted romp.
Entertainment: 6/10

Secret Tears (South Korea - 2000)
Starring: Kim Seung-woo, Yoon Mi-jo, Jung Hyung-woo
Director: Park Ki-hyung
Plot: After accidentally hitting a teenage schoolgirl while driving drunk, an insurance agent soon falls in love with his new amnesic charge but discovers she has paranormal powers that are escalating out of control.
Review: With Secret Tears director Park Ki-hyung (Whispering Corridors) offers up a well-shot romantic fantasy with a horror and dramatic twists. There are few special effects, so the tension is built solely by the actors' performances, the atmospheric cinematography, and the solid script. Of course, there are moments of suspense, as when her powers grow out of control, or when her parent's fate is discovered, but for the most part the story remains a low-key drama with elements of Lolita and the supernatural. It's a rather uncomplicated story at that, but one that's well told and always interesting with a narrative that unfolds carefully, gradually realizing the relationship between these two protagonists and slowly revealing the girl's hidden secrets. The film limits its dialogue to a minimum, preferring instead to rely on moments of heavy silence and visual story-telling which reminds one very much of Asia's comic book medium. In fact, the subject matter and development could well have been a good adaptation of a Manga. The cast is solid, and Mi-jo, the young voiceless waif, is simply terrific portraying a character at times innocent and fragile and at others terrifying and volatile. Secret Tears ends up a fine, low-key fantasy for those willing to be taken in by its mood and characters.
Entertainment: 6/10

Son of the Bride (El Hijo de la Novia) (Argentina - 2001)
Starring: Ricardo Darín, Héctor Alterio, Norma Aleandro
Director: Juan José Campanella
Plot: Obsessed with the problems of his restaurant, a 42-year old divorcee has lost touch with the people around him, but his father's request to re-marry his mother who suffers from Alzheimer's startles him into refocusing his priorities.
Review: With Son of the Bride, director Campanella wades through the difficult line between humor and drama and successfully brings to the screen a delicate, heart-warming story at times emotionally moving and at others laugh-out-loud funny, full of tenderness and heart-felt emotions. Its main protagonist reflects the preoccupations of the "successful" modern middle-aged male, divorced, lost in his work, and slowly losing touch with the people around him, who finally falls into a severe mid-life crisis. The tender love-story between his parents despite her severe Alzheimer's, aptly portrayed by two of Argentina's best actors, is a beautiful, sad and affecting sub-plot that adds a great deal to the film. Other sub-plots include the sudden arrival of a long-lost friend first seen as comic relief à la Roberto Benigni, but who hides a tragic story. The one sore point of the film is the use of the deus ex machina approach of a near-death experience to make the hero realize his mistakes and re-evaluate his life, one that comes out as a bit too melodramatic. One can't help but also notice that the whole proceedings follow the traditional, expected steps for this type of film. And yet, thanks to a good script that keeps our interest, a fabulous, absolutely charming cast, an able director who's made his mark on U.S. TV dramas, and a series of well set-up events and situations, one can't resist but be taken in completely by the story and characters. Thanks to its endearing, human characters and well-portrayed sentimental machinations, Son of the Bride is a delightful, light-hearted film that leaves similar Hollywood films to shame.
Comedy / Drama: 8/10

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Japan - 2000)
Starring: Koji Yakusho, Misa Shimizu, Mitsuko Baisho
Director: Shohei Imamura
Plot: A down-on-his-luck businessman follows the death-bed advice of an old philosopher / tramp to return to an old fishing village and recover a golden Buddha, but soon finds a chance at a life he never expected.
Review: Legendary Japanese director Imamura, best known for his award winning films The Ballad of Narayama and The Eel, offers up an enjoyable, light-hearted melo-dramatic romp with Warm Water Under a Red Bridge. Adapted from a novel, this surreal tale is filled with images of water, from deep sea fishing, streams, and bridges to an amazing, boundless female ejaculation of that attracts fish! Sure, this is all metaphor and double-meanings, but it's all done with such enchanting grace that one can't help but be taken in. Some intriguing, light-hearted sub-plots and running gags keep the film consistently lively and entertaining, as the relationship between the two protagonists grows. The same leads who made such a great estranged couple in The Eel make a return here, with the terrific Shimizu as an enigmatic, emotional woman and Yakusho doing his dour best as the down-trodden everyman. There is no deep sentimentality this time around, and the film rarely takes itself seriously. Imamura's favorite theme, that of a man dispossessed by society, returns to the fore but the resolution, and his fate, are much more optimistic than his previous films. Kinky, funny, and at times quite enchanting, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge is an amusing, if nowhere near classic, effort from a great director.
Entertainment / Drama: 7/10

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