2004 Reviews

Here are my reviews of some of the films that appeared at the 33rd edition of the Montreal International Festival of New Cinema and New Media.

Bad Education (Spain - 2004)
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez, Daniel Giménez-Cacho
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Plot: Set in the 1980's, an ambitious actor gets back in touch with a childhood friend, now a famed director, to get him to film the story of their troubled youth as students in an oppressive Catholic school, only things are not as they seem...
Review: Bad Education, the latest filme-fétishe by writer / director Almodóvar (All About My Mother, Tie Me Up Tie Me Down), is a film that first and foremost insists on defying audience expectations. The movie makes it quite clear what it thinks of the Catholic Church, yet the attack is thankfully not the whole point of the exercise. In fact, what starts off as an expected heavy drama of priest abuse actually turns into a real film noir, with all the conventions of one. The twist, however, is that the protagonists are all gay, which often makes for an interesting turn. The confrontations and the convoluted story are typically unpredictable for an Almodóvar effort, with some of his favorite themes of passion, identity and belonging. Warning to those conservative viewers, the homo-erotic relations are almost pornographic in its approach of sexual encounters, yet still stay away from the lurid or voyeuristic. Through it all there's no doubting that Almodóvar is a masterful director, and here he plays beautifully with the cinematic experience giving us a twisted narrative full of flashbacks and film-within-a-film red herrings, sumptuous visuals, and showing a strong control over his story and subjects to blur the truth between the film's fact and fiction. The director has always been good at undermining genres and expectations, and here he does it again in what many perceive as a quasi-autobiographical tale. Yet though the product is slick and impeccable, the story doesn't quite live up to his previous efforts and, though the characters all have dark secrets, they aren't nearly as nuanced or interesting as his past protagonists. The cast, though, is very good and plays it straight (no pun intended). Yet the real focus is on rising star Bernal who makes a surprisingly effective turn as a male version of the femme fatale, and really looks the part in drag. Bad Education might only be an average effort for Almodóvar, but it remains a pleasant surprise and a fine effort from a master craftsman. 
Drama / Entertainment: 7/10

Born to Film (Cinéastes à tout prix) (Belgium - 2004)
Starring: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jacques Hardy, Max Naveau 
Director: Frédéric Sojcher
Plot: Documentary following the cinematic endeavors of three budding underground Belgian filmmakers who have been making movies on a shoe-string budget for over 30 years.
Review: What do a mason, a school teacher and a projectionist have in common? If they're the subjects of the documentary Born to Film it's their hobby / obsession of making intricate features for their own interest. Often faced with derision and mockery, these veterans of garage filmmaking have been practicing "raw art" cinema for over 30 years. Though railing against "Anglo-American" productions, they often try to emulate the more popular styles of film: From World War II films that used real weapons and bullets (now that's true realism!) to horror, comedies, Teutonic adventures and even post-apocalyptic action flicks these directors have done it all. Following in the footsteps of infamous director Ed Wood (he of the cult classic "bad movie" Plan 9 From Outer Space), the clips presented here show films that are all absurd, silly and sometimes desperately laughable, but there's an unmistakable energy, commitment and resolve to be found in these self-taught, would-be filmmakers. Done on shoe-string budgets, they've managed to create some very atypical movies the old-fashioned, non-digital way (8mm cameras, tape recorders, etc) using friends and acquaintances, nearby locales and lots of imagination. The camera does poke the occasional fun at their subjects, and some of them are quite ridiculous, none more so than the quasi-egomaniacal Jean-Jacques Rousseau who insists on wearing a hood to hide his face and directs his players to potentially painful stunts. Yet the testimonies of the amateur actors and crew shows a bevy of professions and types, all of whom share their mentors' love for cinema. And the passionate responses by all involved, and not the films themselves, are the real reason to see this.
Documentary: 6/10

Childstar (2004)
Starring: Don McKellar, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mark Rendall 
Director: Don McKellar
Plot: An indulged 12-year old American film star comes to Toronto with his uncaring mother to shoot an action film and soon disappears from the set with a young model forcing his driver, a failed filmmaker, to lead the search to bring him back.
Review: Childstar, the latest effort from Canadian indie-film icon Don McKellar, is a pleasant enough affair with a very mellow Canuck touch. Yet wanting to be both a satire on Hollywood's venture into Canada and a a portrait of a dysfunctional family, it never quite achieves both to any high standard. The primary intent may be the story tackling the fate of child performers, and how their lives are mere fodder for the production companies. This is captured rather well, with finely tuned jabs at the way the industry uses (and abuses) its young stars. More importantly, this is all a kind of metaphor on the Canadian film industry faced with the American media invasion. The humorous elements inherent in the material and its subject are spread out and never invasive, and admittedly some of them are quite funny and observant. However the laughs are too far between to call this a comedy or maybe the topic of Tinsel town parodies has just worn too thin. Still, in only his second feature following Last Night actor McKellar shows an efficient and adept hand at directing. The growing bond between his down-to-earth character (a man who really doesn't care for the industry politics, to his own grievance) and the young Prima Donna celebrity make for some of the best scenes. As the film's subject, Rendall does a good job being the petulant, ever-indulged child. But though the story does try to humanize its subject, even at his most vulnerable he doesn't quite have the knack to make us really care for what happens to him. Thankfully the real focus is on McKellar's do-gooder character, who shows his usual spirit and wit - in a way McKellar plays himself here, and he's always interesting to watch. A hand goes also to Jason Leigh makes for a terrific egotistical, clueless mom and after McKellar she's the best reason to see the film. Lots of interesting cameos from Eric Stolz to Alan Thicke add a dash of whimsy to the proceedings. All told, Childstar is yet another behind-the-scenes look on the movie industry but with its Canadian flavor, some nice production values, and McKellar's distinctive touch it's a look worth taking.
Drama / Entertainment: 6/10

Clean (France - 2004)
Starring: Maggie Cheung, Béatrice Dalle, Nick Nolte
Director: Olivier Assayas
Plot: Wishing to be reunited with her son, the widow of a small-time rock star returns to Paris to pull her life back together by trying to kick her drug habit and finding work.
Review: Obviously a take based on the character of real-life rock star wife Yoko Ono (or perhaps Courtney Love), Clean is a low-key drama meant to spotlight its leading lady. Director Assayas (Demonlover) once again teams up with his muse (and ex-wife) Cheung in a film patently made for her. It's not as fascinating or observant as their previous collaboration, the delectable Irma Vep, but then this is a very different movie, crisply shot and directed in a very different manner that is more straightforward than the director's usual. It's also more subtle than the usual melodrama, and the difficulties of "cleaning-up" are presented in a no-nonsense manner without the usual cinematic tricks or gloss-over. Yet though it's always engaging, and some moments are emotionally strong, it's not consistent. We feel for her, but we don't get the overall sense of her desperation, though the plot gives the protagonist enough hard knocks to do so. This is a difficult character to live up to, what with the requirements of being a realistic portrayal of a self-centered ex-junkie without alienating the audience, and Cheung wouldn't have been an obvious choice for the role. As is it, she doesn't always seem to fit the part but she does an admirable effort and was in fact honored as Best Actress at this year's Cannes festival for her performance. Of note is Nolte who gives a surprisingly subtle turn as the gruff but patient father-in-law. Clean ends us as a mostly by-the-numbers drama, though the supporting performances (and the irresistible presence of Maggie Cheung), the film's quiet tone and certain realism do make it an able and worthwhile effort.
Drama: 6/10

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Japan - 2004)
Voice Acting: Akio Ôtsuka, Atsuko Tanaka, Kôichi Yamadera 
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Plot: In a future Tokyo, a cyborg detective and his human partner investigate a series of murders committed by female androids on their masters, a case that brings them face to face with a powerful multinational and a msyterious artificial intelligence.
Review: Following in the footsteps of the hard-boiled cult classic anime Ghost in the Shell, Innocence ups the ante in every single aspect of its production, but the delicate balance found in the original has been lost. It's starts off as a real treat: The first hour is downright mesmerizing as we return to the dark, brooding cyber-punk world of future Tokyo, one that's intricately detailed and presented in a very slick package. The mystery, involving the original's characters, is intriguing and involving in a film noir sort of way; the animation - a combination of stylish 2D characters and computer backgrounds - is simply spectacular (of note is a colorful street parade mid-way through); and the few violent action set-pieces are fast-paced and well executed. Unfortunately, director Oshii's (Avalon) return to the work that made him famous ends up with mixed results. It's evident that his storytelling skills have improved and his flair for the cinematic and technical aspects of the genre are well in hand, but his endeavor for "meaning" eventually backfires under the weight of such a heavy-handed approach. Despite the interesting musings on humanity and technology (people trying to be machines, machines striving to be human), there's just too much philosophical ramblings and existential angst that abounds, making it all seem rather artificial and, worse, empty and self-absorbed. Indeed, the quotes varying from the Testament to Confucius pile up to such an extreme in the lengthy (often visually static) conversations that it becomes downright ridiculous. Though it might be a feast for the eyes, a good half-hour of high-minded platitudes could have been edited out and made for a tighter, more engaging film. As it stands, Innocence is still an ode to mature sci-fi and a definite showpiece for the modern age of anime, but short of being the masterpiece that we all expected.
Entertainment / Drama: 7/10

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)
Starring: Asia Argento, Jimmy Bennet, Dylan / Cole Sprouse
Director: Asia Argento
Plot: A seven year old boy is taken from his loving foster parents by his young mother, an emotionally unstable junkie, and sets off on a never-ending road trip into the darkest parts of America.
Review: A rock n' roll road trip into a stark vision of a Southern American Hell full of dirty sex, hard drugs and common-place violence all put to an ear-crushing soundtrack, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is an attack on the senses and the sensibilities of its audience. A psychologically disturbing, sometimes outrageous, adaptation of J.T. LeRoy's semi-autobiographical short-story collection, it's a difficult movie to bear, an outright attack on the senses and on all the childhood precepts we hold dear as a society, all the worse because it actually happens to countless kids. All shot in grainy, over-contrasted, often jittery video to give the events a surreal feel and a definite sense of claustrophobia, the cinematic and narrative choices taken are over-the-top and almost amateurish in their under-taking and single-mindedness. Yet even as calculated in its nihilism and emotional savagery as it stands (and Argento doesn't mind getting her point across with the subtlety of a sledgehammer), there's no denying the final anguish-inducing results. The question is why does such a horrible mother insist on having her child with her? Surprisingly, the answer might be that he's the only thing that's truly hers - her need for him to be with her is purely selfish, a way to anchor herself to reality and prove she isn't a waste. Through director Argento's desperately in-your-face storytelling style, these small emotionally resonant moments peek through and make the rest of the plunge into darkness all the more harrowing. As leading-lady, Argento (doing double-duty) is downright despicable as the young mother, jumping from one vile boyfriend to another, a nightmare example to her child who soon starts questioning his life and sexuality. The child stars, especially the Sprouse twins, are downright excellent and show the evolving fear, innocence and mis-appropriated trust of the main character in the most heartbreaking manner. Apart from "mom", this world is full of unpleasant characters at every corner, and the all-star cameos are simply terrific, including Peter Fonda as the puritan family patriarch and Winona Ryder as a daft child psychologist. Full of eccentric entities, deep psychological scars, and crazed visual, this isn't the sort of film one "likes" but only experiences. It may not be great cinema but it does the job of leaving an indelible impression.
Drama: 7/10

The Intruder (L'Intrus) (France - 2004)
Starring: Michel Subor, Grégoire Colin, Béatrice Dalle
Director: Claire Denis
Plot: Shortly after having a heart transplant, a dying man leaves his rural retreat and his old life behind in order to search for his long-estranged son in Tahiti and make amends for his past.
Review: Based on the novel by Jean-Luc Nancy, The Intruder is a strangely obscure drama that pays off its audience's patience and attention. With very little in the way of dialogue, director Denis (Good Work, Trouble Every Day) has managed to dilute the essence of visual storytelling. The non-linear narrative is sometimes difficult to follow and ensures much of the story remains unpredictable, but it always keeps us intrigued and at attention. Quite simply, the film is hypnotic. Adding to the effect, the director's films have always shown consistently solid cinematography and this one is no exception, filling the screen with some beautiful imagery. The meaning of the title could allude to many things, and the theme of the "other" is repeated again and again in different forms, both social and cultural: the illegal immigrants who run the French border at night are unwanted intruders into his country, the Man is seen as a foreigner during his trips to Korea and Tahiti, and in fact is an outsider in his own life and that of his estranged bastard son, and so on. Though it does run a little long in its final act, this is a minor quibble for a film that does provide some powerful, affecting moments. One of Denis' main strengths is that she captures the essence of her subjects. By focusing on a single entity, she brings to life a strange protagonist (excellently portrayed by Michel Subor) and makes us feel the weight of his years and his search for redemption. It's an engaging personal mystery on recapturing the past and making amends, with the final resolution left wide open to interpretation. Yet through it all the character remains a stranger to us: though bits and pieces of his life and thoughts are alluded to, the film is never explicit as to what is really going on, leaving an air of an unfinished puzzle. In terms of narration The Intruder might be the director's most difficult film yet, but thanks to the terrific visual sense on display and the intriguing storytelling sense, it's definitely a rewarding experience.
Drama: 8/10

Life is a Miracle (Croatia - 2004)
Starring: Slavko Stimac, Natasa Solak, VesnaTrivalic
Director: Emir Kusturica
Plot: Having left the city to help build a scenic railroad in the mountains, a train engineer is thrown into the middle of Yugoslavia's civil war during which he loses his wife to a traveling musician, his son to the army, and falls for a Muslim woman taken prisoner.
Review: Deliberately meant to evoke films such as It's a Wonderful Life and Life is Beautiful, Life is a Miracle is a real find, a movie that is indelibly joyous despite the hardships, and downright humanist in its approach. There are enough ideas, inventiveness, story rebounds, and sub-plots to easily fill two features, and it's particularly amazing that the film manages to pack so much detail and material without ever faltering. In fact, even at almost 2.5 hours, it's the type of exhilarating experience you wish would just go on and on. After an appealing and droll first half to introduce its players, the film throws it all into chaos, the Balkan conflict affecting everyone's view of the world (and the people) around them. Yet the Romeo and Juliet tale at the core of the film is meant to re-affirm our hopes in Mankind. While the story often takes some sad turns, the tone remains optimistic with its protagonists making the most of their hard knocks: "that's life", the movie says, and there's no point in not making the best of it. There's humor, pathos and drama in equal measure, all expertly tied together as only director Kusturica can, and the gags are both imaginative and funny. With just a few films under his belt Kusturica has proven his ability to capture the best and worse of people in difficult situations, amassing two Cannes Palmes d'Or (for Daddy is Away on Business and Underground) and here he brings all his talents to bear. Speaking of bears (pun intended), there's also some amazing work with a variety of animals (especially the household pets). It's all a wonderfully chaotic menagerie of people and events, with some charming, sympathetic characters, all played with true feeling by the local cast. Music is also ever present and big-band musicians pop up at the strangest times (the director's own real-life band shares musical credit). This is a surprisingly large-scale and seemingly expensive endeavor, but it's worth every minute. Visually splendid, passionate and constantly amusing, Life is a Miracle is simply the most satisfying feel-good movie in ages.
Drama / Entertainment: 8/10

Look At Me (Comme Une Image) (France - 2004)
Starring: Marilou Berry, Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri
Director: Agnès Jaoui
Plot: Self-conscious and seemingly invisible to her famous writer father, an overweight young woman must compete for his affection with a new step-mother, a new baby sister, and a new up-and-coming writer whose wife happens to be her singer teacher.
Review: With a fine script and the perfect cast, Look At Me is another fine effort from the husband and wife team of Bacri and Jaoui, an exploration on the subtle sometimes unconscious cruelty of everyday life. The first, obvious theme here is the prison of appearances and the film presents an interesting character study. Newcomer Berry comes off just right as the desperately self-conscious, bitter young woman whose rage at the world makes her push back the only people who really care, showing a vulnerability that's mixed with an uncompromising harshness. Thankfully the film is smart enough to allow a show of sympathy for its protagonists while being very clear of her faults. The second is the attitude of those social climbers thrust into the limelight and how the trip influences a couple's life and the friends left behind. Both are tackled in the way the French seem to do best, providing an intimate view of its subjects with an ear for dialogue and a sense of human situations, showing a great subtlety in following the transformations, and the ugly traits, of its characters. Here co-writer / actor Bacri is just plain terrific as the egocentric dad who's blind to the rest of the world, and his performance is the focus of the film's best comic (and heart-breaking) lines. The script ably moves from one group to the next making sure the humor in the situations is always in the background, mixed in with the harsh reality of social perceptions and bitter-sweet realizations. But the real hero is co-writer / actress / director Jaoui who does a terrific second-lead as a woman who gets carried away by the attraction of the life of the literate and famous yet wants to do the right thing. She's also as good behind the camera as she is in front, and like her previous feature (The Taste of Others) gives us a well crafted film that's visually soft and comfortable to watch. Look At Me stays the course and gives an honest picture of its target social circle and its protagonist while always keeping the comedy of its situations. And for that, it's well worth a look.
Drama: 7/10

Moolaadé (Senegal - 2004)
Starring: Fatoumata Coulibaly, Maïmouna Hélène Diarra, Salimata Traore
Director: Ousmane Sembene
Plot: Six young girls about to undergo tribal female circumcision seek refuge with a woman who once refused to have her own daughter mutilated, an act that brings the entire village against her.
Review: The latest from 81-year old director Sembene, Moolaadé is an honest view of contemporary rural Africa that deals with issues of the issue of taboo, of inhuman religious practices, and of the fear of external influences. Serenely told, using a straight-forward cinematic approach to a deceptively simple but well-crafted story, Sembene offers up a convincing, passionate argument on the atrocity of female circumcision, one that will leave an indelible mark on the audience. But more than that, with a strong feminist slant on some harrowing gender issues it's a powerful statement on the need for change in a society that hasn't altered its mores in centuries and where any resistance is met with tribal-like violence. Yet though all its harrowing moments the film remains a compassionate work full of telling details, rich textures, and a surprising amount of humor as well showing a world that is hard, yet still rewarding. The acting is very natural from all involved, and Coulibaly as the very heart and soul of the film (and the unabashed tool of the director's vision) manages a performance that's shows both strength of conviction and compassion when she stands against her entire village. Steeped in the richness of the culture, the message remains that some de-humanizing traditions must change, and no community can keep the external push towards modernization at bay, or keep their people ignorant for long. It is a strong statement for Africa as a whole on a difficult path that must be followed. As a film Moolaadé itself stands as a terrific, and surprisingly engaging, example of African cinema and an important statement on the issues involving true African independence.
Drama: 8/10

Notre Musique (France - 2004)
Starring: Sarah Adler, Nade Dieu, Rony Kramer
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Plot: During an international literary meet in Sarajevo, Godard meets poets and journalists, estranged Palestinians and Jews, real politicians and ghostly Native Americans who all reflect on Humanity's curse: War.
Review: There are many adjectives that come to mind when watching Notre Musique, a reflection on War by the legendary writer / director Godard: ponderous, morose, and questionable. The opening act, a montage of stock war footage and war film excerpts, is quite effective in putting to image the concept that war is universal, though the idea that War is Hell (as per the chapter text) isn't a very new proposition. Some surreal (some would say Artsy) aspects of the film would have various victims (including Native Americans) coming back to question and haunt the present. But though the script gives us a lot of dialogue, either clever or thoughtful phrases that touch on many different subjects, lots of words don't necessarily provide a deeper meaning. So Life is Purgatory and Death is Heaven (strangely presented as an American military base), and in the end the film lacks any point to it all. Even contrasting the film's Sarajevo locale and history with the issues in Palestine makes for an interesting context, but the ideas don't really gel. Even the acting and overall plot is secondary as is evident from the wooden performances. The characters are present in this loose story only to be the mouthpieces for the director's philosophizing on modern cinema, the apathy of the new generation, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Writer / director Goddard is a living legend for having jump-started the French New Wave in the 60's with films such as Breathless and Alphaville, but lately he's been churning out films that appear to be too self-absorbed and plain difficult for audience to understand or appreciate. To be fair, Godard the auteur still has something to say and, looking deep, he brings a message of tolerance and a way for peace by accepting both sides of a conflict. Yet, like many of his latest films, Notre Musique ends up as a downright unsatisfying effort that would have been better left on the written page.
Drama: 4/10

Strings (Denmark - 2004)
Voice Acting: James McAvoy, Catherine McCormack, Julian Glover
Director: Anders Rønnow Klarlund
Plot: The son of a king seeks revenge for the assumed murder of his father at the hands of their greatest enemies only to find love and understanding where he least expects it.
Review: A familiar fairy-tale presented in a very original manner, Strings spotlights the art of pupeteering from some master craftsmen and it's a finely rendered affair. Though the concept might quickly remind one of the Thunderbirds-like series, the wooden marionettes are exquisitely crafted pieces that eschew any kiddie exaggeration. In fact the whole thing is taken very seriously. What's unusual is that the characters aren't just depicted as puppets, they actually are puppets and are conscious of the fact that their strings are their life line, and that somewhere in the sky they are all interconnected. This makes for some interesting, and imaginative, story choices, and the metaphors of being controlled by outside forces is a good one, but the idea isn't always followed all the way through. Some of the major story elements are obviously inspired by Shakespeare's King Lear, and in fact there are many instances that remind one of the scribe's tragedies, albeit mixed in with some interesting fantasy elements and some distinctly heroic adventure. The stylish production values, colorful sets, and surprisingly effective cinematography are not what you'd expect from such a film, and only adds substance to the mix. A word of warning, though: The premise of using puppets might appeal to parents with young kids but the film's atmosphere might be too bleak, slow and even morbid at times, with its intense depictions of war, to be really tagged as "family" fare. That said, adults will definitely be impressed by the creative skill shown here in both the look of the film and the classic storytelling.
Entertainment: 7/10

Throwdown (Hong Kong - 2004)
Starring: Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung Ka-Fai
Director: Johnnie To
Plot: An ex-judo champion, now drunk bar-owner, has a hard time escaping his past when an old adversary, a young challenger, and a strange woman all appear to complicate his existence.
Review: Meant to be an homage to the life-affirming themes seen in Akira Kurosawa's earlier works, Throwdown is an odd dramatic production for a Hong Kong film. Embedded with the slick production values and the occasional weirdness of its ilk, the film also reaches for a certain subtlety that twists our expectations. Through such varied efforts as Needing You, The Mission and Fulltime Killer, it's obvious that one-time action director To has an undeniable mastery of stylish visuals and of cinematic storytelling. Here, once again, he combines his skills to provide an atmospheric, quirky look at his subjects, but with a focus on character development that is rather uncommon in his work. It's an interesting confection that's sure to please some for its deliberate pacing, soft focus, and playful narrative and for the same reasons will detract some of his fans expecting another energetic action fest. Not to say this is slow-going - we get lots of intricately choreographed judo flips, a bar brawl, and even a climactic night combat that To is famous for, though admittedly the latter is perfectly attuned to the rest of the film, but a bit anti-climactic. It's a martial-arts film for those who couldn't care less about martial arts, with a greater focus on the dramatic (some might say melodramatic) elements of the story, and of its main character. And as the drunk, ex-champion looking for a way to forget, Koo (a rising star in the HK industry) fits the bill perfectly without exaggeration or forced sympathy. And that's a bit like the film itself: bizarre and difficult to categorize, it tells a simple tale of redemption without false emotion or over-the-top bravado. In the end Throwdown may be too slow and shallow to be classed as a revelation by any means but it's a different, mature work from a brilliant mainstream director that's definitely worth a look.
Entertainment / Drama: 6/10

The Tulse Luper Suitcases Part III: From Sark To Finish (2004)
Starring: JJ Field, Roger Rees, Renata Litvinova
Director: Peter Greenaway 
Plot: Centered on the contents of 92 packed suitcases, the life and times of an eccentric, literate wanderer and international adventurer are retold during an arts exhibition.
Review: Meant to be part of a huge multi-media endeavor including TV series, DVD sets, books, and more, The Tulse Luper Suitcases series is a colossal creative endeavor. If this third installment is any indication, Greenaway has enough material to detail this series for a long time - he just might not have an audience for it. This is an Art film with a capital "A", full of gorgeous cinematography, brilliant colors, exquisite presentation and an esoteric need for style over sense. The narrative, as such, is broken down into distinct short stories, and even these are broken down further. It's also a multi-media buffet providing complete information overload, from bits and pieces of scripts appearing on screen, to impromptu characters (with appropriate tag lines) giving their two cents in, and references to other films. For those attentive enough, there's a huge amount of interconnection between stories with minor details, numbers, objects, themes and more reappearing in the most unexpected places. With such an emphasis on making it look surreal and theatrical to the extreme, the feeling of artificiality is doubly pervasive. This might be exactly what Greenaway is going for, as if saying that the whole movie experience is completely fake. Even the hero, an unbelievable mix of adventure / journalist / dilettante is an appropriately impossible creation. The cast is all decent, but they're really secondary to the real focus which is the daring-do of the script and technical ability of its director. It's all an excuse to be a showcase for Greenaway's new focus, and he does mesmerize with his prowess on film. Gone is the attempt at any sort of story or engaging theme or engaging characters that filled his prior films such as Drowning By Numbers or The Pillow Book. This film is all about technology and the ability to master it. Oh, it's by far one of the most original, imaginative efforts in years, and there's a certain exhilaration to be had for the first 45 minutes, but like any gimmick there's only so much we can take. It's all so packed that when the script finally takes its time with a new story (such as the tale behind Communist lines) it numbs the senses and eventually makes its audience fall asleep. Just as ambitious and imaginative as it is pretentious, The Tulse Luper Suitcases is a fascinating experiment into a cinema for the digital age, and one that's worth experiencing for those who come into it aware.
Art / Entertainment: 7/10

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