Tag Archives: Foreign Language

Failed Critics Podcast: World Cinema Special 2

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From quirky Bulgarian movies to Jordan’s Oscar nominations. From 1931 in Germany to 2013 in Hong Kong. From the poetic realism of France to the period dramas of Afghanistan. This week’s Failed Critics Podcast is taking a truly global slant.

We could think of no better guests for our second ever World Cinema Special than aficionados Monsieur Liam and Herr Andrew Alcock. Along with regular hosts Signore Steve Norman and Señor Owen Hughes, together the team take a look at films from all over the world in both What We’ve Been Watching and this week’s triple bill. The caveat this time is that the Failed Critics had to pick three films each from three different countries, with some surprising – and some not so surprising – choices from our crew!

Join us again next week as Steve and Owen are joined by Failed Critics founder, grandmaster, and all round spiritual leader, James Diamond, as we prepare to induct another great of cinema into our Corridor of Praise.

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Of cows, war and tumours: Best Foreign Language Oscar 2016

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Booker Prize awarded, Mercury Prize on its way, the time of year is upon us when industries line-up the envelopes and hand-out the free champagne (….and often vice-versa).  The film industry loves dishing out the trophies more than most, and next year’s Chris Rock presented Academy Awards will trump all before it by most measurements, even if the current betting odds suggest a wider field than usual. There will soon happen the coalescence of opinion behind names, titles, figureheads, so prepare yourself for the post-award “missed opportunities” chat fans of “Inside Out”, we all know what you want, and it’s not happening.

What is happening, for the third year in a row, so I must be doing something right, is the swift eyeing-up of submitted entries for that ever maligned Academy Award staple: the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Fans of blue moons might like to know that, yes, the United Kingdom has an offering this year in the shape of Welsh-language Under Milk Wood, a thoroughly bonkers take of a famously unhinged text (remaining as a set-text across Welsh schools). In my hazy foggy memory, I recall taking one attempt at enjoying the tale of “Llarreggub” without much success, although that was before the days when Cerys Matthews would breathe softly into her 6Music microphone with a particularly saucy rendition, so maybe there’s room for me to be impressed yet. Whether the UK will get anywhere in Oscar-land with this version is doubtful, though I would hope that this submission means we’re still able to provide funding for minority language arts in this country. More, please.

Documentaries are eligible for this category with two takes on a similar, sadly depressing, theme taking my eye from this year’s longlist. Iraqi-Swiss filmmaker “Samir” (he avoids using his religious-based surname) helms Iraqi Odyssey, a deeply personal documentary casting a net from Baghdad to the numerous global cities where his family now calls home. Through the numerous, and seemingly never-ending conflicts in Iraq, the once proud population soon spread themselves across the globe; this ‘odyssey’ is covered by interviews and archive footage contrasting the past, the future, and the sense of a future denied.

By way of a tonal contrast of sorts, The Wanted 18 submitted by Palestine explores that region’s own conflicts in a much more esoteric fashion. Partly animated and re-enacted, this true story of how eighteen diary cows were hidden from Israeli security forces magnifies the surreal heart of the tragic reality of the Middle East conflict. The core element of the story may be one of constant battles, but its overall story has such humour that it appears impossible not to be charmed by Canadian Paul Cowan and Palestinian Amer Shomali’s work.

Conflict of a similar kind – drawing on historic borders, historic language, historic resentment – probably stopped Spain from ever submitting an entry in the Basque language. Indeed it took some time to find a YouTube trailer of Loreak not dubbed into Spanish, something of a reminder of the cultural friction between the country of Spain and the unsettled region of the Basque peoples. To this writer’s eyes, Flowers as it’s translated, hardly hides its analogy of discomfort and directionless behind the story of a woman receiving bouquets from an anonymous source, and the conflict which draws from her need to find her true destiny. It’s somewhat bleak and shadowy in its trailer, though there’s enough strong women to bring Pedro Almodóvar to mind, and that’s hardly a bad thing, now, is it?

There are some countries on which you can often rely for suggestions when running your fingers along the World Cinema section at HMV/on Netflix. This year, they have submitted something of a pic-n-mix. Japan does not impress this writer much with 100 Yen Love, which appears to be a darkly comic tale on a young woman slacking at home wasting her life when suddenly it becomes a version of every ‘turn your life around the easy way’ rags to riches tale you’ve ever ho-hummed over.

Goodbye Mr Tumor is not the kind of title I’d expect from a film outside High School biology class (and even then not outside an episode from Series 6 of The Simpsons). The full 2-hours of China’s submission is on-line if you fancy giving your Mandarin a good airing, I stuck with the trailer and cannot make head-nor-tail of any of it. Warning, the first two-minutes of that link is a trailer, the remaining two-minutes appears to be spoiler-tastic spoiler-ness of the most spoiler-ific kind. If you’re in need of that sort of heads up.

France used to be a safe-bet for shortlisting; they’ve gone for Turkish coming-of-age drama and it’s not doing anything for me. The Italians seem to have gone for a full-colour La Haine which has a certain charm, whilst from India comes a beguiling and deeply peculiar looking court-room drama with unusually slow and languid editing.

I cannot leave this article without mentioning Thailand, even if it does come across as a forced in-joke. It’s my article, I’m going to keep pushing this. Two years ago their entry slapped me around the face with a long-haired drug dealing Jesus inflicting torture on teenagers in a bath. Last year they went safe with a goofy romcom about a teacher. For this time around How To Win at Checkers (Every Time) firmly sets its stall as much as any mainstream Hollywood film possibly could for Academy attention: two brothers in sibling rivalry torn apart by an army draft, full of family tensions and road-trip soul searching. It’s bound to do well, isn’t it? Here’s my one hope for shortlisting above all others, with so many boxes ticked it surely can’t go unnoticed.

Best Foreign Language Film 2015

After running through the Academy Award Foreign Language submissions and candidates for 2012 and 2013, Liam kindly returns this year to do the same again with some lesser known entries for 2015.

by Liam Pennington (@doktorb)

timbuktuWriting this column each year rustles my inner workings more than your average Su Doku and no mistake. This year more than most, actually, as I trawl through the YouTube offerings of a record eighty-three submitted titles, causing my usually tolerant brain for all things art-house to frazzle like an overworked sandwich toaster.

I considered ‘going big’ by picking a title such as Russia’s submission Leviathan, already well regarded as an unexpectedly critical-of-the-regime drama and one with a UK release earlier this year. I further considered ‘going local’ and picking Uzun Yol, the Turkic-language entry looking at honour killings. Unfortunately the available on-line trailers for this film are minimal (and without subtitles) so out the window went that.

It was therefore left for me to rely on good old fashioned gimmickry: from the largest ever field of submitted entries there are four first time nominating countries: Malta, Mauritania, Panama, and the disputed territory of Kosovo. What better theme than that to look at, I thought, before checking that available material was easily accessed on line, than this? Here goes then.

There’s certainly not many laughs in the trailer for Three Windows and a Hanging, (“Tri Dritare dhe një Varje“), the first Kosovan entry for the Academy Award’s foreign language trophy. Difficult to make, let alone watch, the director Isa Qosja tells Cineuropa that the owner of the house they rented during filming would regularly threaten to throw them out as the contents made them feel uncomfortable. The film tackles highly charged content of rape in a closed, predominately male, society. That Eastern Europe has a reputation for male-orientated politics is well known: in Kosovo, still raw from the NATO-led bombing of Serbia and unrest across the Balkans, this subject matter must touch many an exposed nerve. Three Windows and a Hanging examines how a close-knit community deals with the rape of a woman and the effects on her family in the immediate aftermath of the Kosova war in 1999, making a brave film somehow all the more daring.

Plucky little Malta offers Simshar, and I won’t lie about this, one trailer looks to me like a ragbag of independent movie cliché. However, on finding something a lot better I was impressed and intrigued by the film, and hope that the tiny island nation gets some much needed attention for an ambitious and clearly very personal work. As a member of the EU placed within easy boat-hopping distance of north and northeastern Africa, Malta is obliged to administer the many migrants crossing the Mediterranean en route to Italy or beyond. This film examines both the conflicting sides of Maltese life – islands attractive to tourists and migrants, locals and foreigners – and from what I have seen, manages to present a very intense but balanced narrative. I wonder if Malta is simply too undeveloped a nation, film industry wise, for the Academy to shortlist the movie for next year, but it does appear there’s much to be positive about for the future.

Shown at this year’s Cannes Festival and championed by Variety magazine as “rendered with clarity and deeper, richer tones”, Timbuktu is established as one of the strongest submissions this year. Director Abderrahmane Sissako talks about the need to focus on the Islamist threat to African nations (Timbuktu is based on a brief occupation of Malian towns) and has slammed as “hijackers” those who have twisted the Muslim belief for their own ends. This stunning and stark film is Mauritania’s first ever submission to the Academy Awards, and looks highly likely to become a must-see film for anybody interested in what is a highly important subject given the on-going/never-ending news from home and abroad concerning Islamic extremism.

This theme of ongoing tragedy and conflict is brought into focus through a different perspective by Panama’s first ever submission, the documentary Invasión. As seen by the trailer, Abner Benaim’s much acclaimed feature explores the controversial US-led invasion of Panama with no holds barred, and all the better for that. It’s taken a clutch of South American industry awards already and I can certainly see it being something of a 2014-version of Chile’s well regarded (and very important) No from last year.

If you remember anything about last year’s column (snark, I know, it’s not likely unless you’re James Diamond, formerly of this parish), you might recall the quite unbelievable entry from Thailand. Full of drugs, sex, border line blasphemy and more drugs, I knew the trailer had to be included just for a sense of completion. Much to my disappointment, Thailand has gone all mainstream and ordinary this year, with Teacher’s Diary (all together now, it’s called “คิดถึงวิทยา” in Thai) and it’s a rather humdrum rom-com with the trailer stuffed to the gills with saccharine-sweet cheeky antics. I can see why this sort of thing would get your attention but I’m a long-term single 35 year old whose heart is solid as a rock, so what do I know? For point of reference, this trailer is what Thailand submitted last year. I did warn you…

The 87th Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday 22nd February 2015. However, there’s still time for you to vote for your five favourite films of 2014 not in the English language in our very own Failed Critics Awards 2014. Voting closes 22nd December, 5pm.

The Unbeatables

Muddled, poorly paced, and saddled with an atrocious English dub, The Unbeatables is a sloppy, bargain-bin effort.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

unbeatables 2This is a tricky one to review, folks.  See, what the ads have been hiding is the fact that The Unbeatables (incidentally, my spell-checker would like the head of whoever came up with and signed off on that name) is actually a foreign film.  Argentinian, to be exact, by the name of Futbolín (in Spain) or Metegol (in Latin America), and the version that’s been released in UK cinemas this weekend is a UK-specific dub.  This means that it makes it harder for me to confidently assign blame for this movie.  How much of it is the fault of the original film itself?  How much is the fault of the script used for the dub?  Can I really call the animation cheap-looking when the film is actually the most expensive Argentinian film ever made?  Stuff like that.

I mean, make no mistake, this is a bad film and I am still confident enough in my reasons for why it is so bad that I am going to spend the next 10-or-so paragraphs bashing it relentlessly, but it shall be done with a permanent tinge of regret.  Of uncertainty, maybe a bit of guilt.  Much like Khumba: A Zebra’s Tale from earlier in the year, The Unbeatables is at least trying which makes it failing and my writing of this resultant negative review an act that causes me a tiny bit of sadness.  It’s not The Nut Job, a film that truly deserves the bile that I spewed its way for it not once trying, is what I’m getting at.  The Unbeatables (OK, seriously, that name is terrible and I can’t believe it got through an entire company of people) is clearly trying… one of its biggest problems, though, is that it’s never clear as to what exactly it’s trying to be, besides a movie.

Our plot concerns Amadeo (Rupert Grint), a boy who lives in a tiny village, nurses a crush on Laura (Eve Ponsbury), and whose only special talent in life is that he is a whiz at table football.  One day, he beats the town bully at a game which causes the bully, who is skilled at actual football, to fly into a fit and swear vengeance upon the town because… he’s a jerk, I guess?  Anyways, years pass, Laura has become friends with Amadeo (but not his girlfriend like I thought she was for a good hour and ten of the film’s run-time) whose standing in life hasn’t really changed, he still spends his evenings hanging out in the bar playing foosball and reliving the night he beat the bully.  Then the bully returns, now a world-famous footballer rechristened Flash (Anthony Head… that’s not a joke, they really did cast Anthony Head in this role), buys the deed to the village from the mayor and plans to tear it down because… he’s a jerk, I guess?  He takes Amadeo’s foosball table from him (he desperately wants the players on it for really, really stupid reasons), “kidnaps” Laura, and leaves the village ready for destruction.  But just as Amadeo is on the edge of despair, his foosball players reveal themselves to be living creatures and he sets off to rescue Laura, the other foosball players and the village from Flash.

So, here’s the thing, this film seems permanently confused about what it wants to be.  From that description, one gets the feeling that it’s supposed to be about Amadeo getting over that one night, moving on with his life and leaving his obsession behind.  It’s an idea the film itself seems to believe in to begin with, as well, the foosball players are all very selfish, self-centred twits who operate on a sexist “bros-before-hos” mantra with Amadeo, like this is all set-up for both their character developments and Amadeo realising that he should move on with his life.  Except nothing ever comes of that.  It’s not even one of those things where it’s clearly not building to anything, I get the feeling that this stuff was actually planned but then the ending of the arc was literally just cut out at some point in a later draft and nobody went back and rewrote the rest of the film to remove its groundwork.  So there’s all this build-up that just stops.

And as for the foosball guys… you honestly could just cut them from the film and nothing would be different.  Despite being the central gimmick for the film, they’re actually rather pointless in its overall picture.  They only interact with each other and Amadeo, they don’t actually play in the final game (Amadeo recruits some of the village people for that), and I thought they might have been setting up a twist where it turned out he just imagined them being alive as a way for him to work up the confidence to be the hero or something but nope.  The end of the film rolls around and no such twist occurs.  I think I’d actually prefer that scenario, in all honesty, as their involvement in the final game is negligible at best and I feel that explaining away their bigger touches in it as accidents or what have you would have been much better for its moral about the power of football.  Besides, it’s not like we’d end up losing some world-class characters or anything, the extent of their characterisations are the funny voice that they’re given and the borderline racist or just plain stereotypes they’re saddled with.

These are just two of the ways in which the film is weirdly muddled and uncertain (I haven’t even mentioned Laura; prior to the final game, there’s a recruitment montage where they come up a player short and it seems like they’re going to put Laura in, but then they just get a random old woman with a moustache).  It all reeks of a script and story-structure that’s several drafts away from being complete, or one that changed halfway through, or one that mistakenly believed that all animated films need to be aimed at kids in some way; especially odd seeing as co-writer and director Juan José Campanella’s last film was the Academy Award-winning The Secret In My Eyes.  As a narrative, it’s all over the place.  Tonally, it’s all over the place; Flash, in particular, should be a funny smarmy villain who’s only really effective on the pitch, and he kind of is, but then he attempts to sexually assault Laura (you know, good clean family fun) before going right back to being simpering, petty and ineffectual whenever a football isn’t involved.  Pacing is a mess, too, this is a film that lasts over 100 minutes yet doesn’t actually get to the really obvious point for a full hour.  In place of narrative momentum, we get extended sequences devoted to the foosball players who, as previously established, are completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and who aren’t funny enough to make up for that fact.  Actually, let me correct that, they’re not funny period.

Animation-wise…  I feel bad saying this, again I really do because a lot of money was sunk into this thing relative to the country, but this one looks bad.  It gets the detail of the foosball players excellently, scuff marks and worn colours and just general decay are very well displayed, but everything else is poor.  Character designs are both distinctive (primarily lanky, angular and honestly not-all-that pretty) and derivative (which is what happens when you come up with about three or four human designs and practically palette-swap the rest), animation is frequently jerky which would work great for the foosball players except that they instead move too smoothly, motion-blur is excessively deployed to hide corner cutting in the animation, the size and proportion of various objects and characters in relation to one another are rarely consistent, lighting and shadows aren’t convincing (bits of characters that are supposed to be shaded are frequently just plain black), shot geography often makes no sense…  I know that everyone was clearly trying their best, but it pains me to say that their best simply wasn’t good enough.  This is not a good-looking movie.

The dub, meanwhile, is one of the worst I have come across.  Re-written and translated lines often don’t actually match mouth movements, there are many, many instances where there will be great pauses in the dialogue but the mouth will keep moving or the voice actor will rush to deliver the rest of the line.  Localisation, what little there is, often makes reference to English football teams despite the film clearly taking place in an Argentinian village.  And as for the performances?  Hoo, boy.  Flat, lifeless, wildly mis-delivered, poorly directed, occasionally bordering on unlistenable…  The best performance, otherwise known as the only decent one, is Jonathan Pearce who plays an off-screen commentator in the final game and, despite this being a likely low-paying dub job for a film that nobody will remember in this country after this opening weekend, acts like he’s commentating on a real football match.  It’s full of life, energy, passion, the work of a man either desperately trying to will some of this film to work or a man who just cannot half-ass a job that requires him speaking into a microphone.  No exaggeration: everyone else is terrible, he is great.

The Unbeatables comes alive once and that’s for the final game.  It contains the one genuinely funny gag in the entire run-time, its one successful play for heart and is a decent love-letter to football.  It’s extremely generic, including its outcome which, despite attempting a mild subversion, will surprise no-one who has seen their share of underdog stories, but it does eventually work.  For those keeping track, that’s a total of five minutes out of 100-odd where the film becomes watchable or engaging.  The rest of the time, it is endlessly dull above all else.  I can’t even see kids finding it particularly funny or entertaining, unless they’re the kind that like funny voices and borderline racist stereotypes (if anyone else was in the screen, I’d tell you what they thought, but there wasn’t anyone else).  A lot of effort has been put into The Unbeatables, enough to make me feel like I’m kicking a puppy to death as I type out each one of these words, but it can’t disguise the fact that, in a year that has seen no shortage of dreadful animated films, this is a film that lands right near the bottom of the year’s animated output.  It’s so bad that I can practically guarantee that even seeing it in its native language, where I imagine its cast aren’t so clearly phoning it in, would have me saying the exact same things.

There are a million better animated films on the market, folks, and they all deserve your time more than The Unbeatables does.

Callum Petch is bored to tears.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: World Cinema Special!

No, this guy doesn't count
No, this guy doesn’t count

Bonjour, hola, guten tag, and konnichiwa to the Failed Critics World Cinema Special. This week the critics (well, most of them) take you through some of their favourite elements of film filmed in something other than English, as well as exploring some new avenues themselves.

In What We’ve Been Watching they review films from a country they haven’t experienced cinematically before, with choices from Israel, Brazil, and Quebec, while this week’s Triple Bill is ‘Favourite World Cinema Actors/Actresses’. We round off the podcast with some recommendations from some of our favourite countries.

Join us next week as we review Alpha Papa, Only God Forgives, and The Conjuring.

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Euro Stars

oscarsI’m watching a film trailer for a 2012 release longlisted for an Academy Award, and from what I can gather this is the kind of film which would ordinarily do well with those who hand out the statuettes every spring. Unusually for a film which could be sharing the stage amongst the biggest superstars in Hollywood, there’s very little coverage out there in English, although twelve people have provided ratings for it on IMDB. The trailer suggests this is classic Hollywood territory: girl goes off the rails, is knocked up, kicked about, falls pregnant and then is laughed at by a woman with large glasses and wide gums. Oh, and she speaks in Kyrgyz and the film only has Russian subtitles.  That aside, it’s your typical mainstream storyline transferred to very atypical surroundings.

Whether the good folk of Kyrgyzstan had their hopes of Oscar glory with Пустой дом” (“Pustoy Dom” or “The Empty House”) is anyone’s guess, but even if they did have their collective fingers crossed, the Academy shortlist released this week dashed those hopes in one whoosh of a fax machine. A record seventy-one submissions for “Best Film in A Foreign Langauge” were received this year of which just nine were chosen as potential winners. These nine, including some of the most well regarded critics’ favourites of the year such as the devastatingly beautiful “Amour” and lavish “A Royal Affair, will be whittled down to five next month, a final figure which has been the only constant in the ‘Foreign Films’ category since the very first was handed out in the 1950s.

What strikes me about the class of 2013 is another common theme they have with their predecessors over the years. They are predominately European, and West European at that, and even those which don’t come from our continental neighbours fail to provide much of an exploration of world cinema. Canada’s submission this year, for example, is the sixth to make at least the shortlist in the last seven years.  Whilst France, perennial nominees with this being their sixth in the last decade, is a country you’d expect to see in the mix or thereabouts, this year sees the first ever shortlist inclusion for Chile. Now I’m no expert in Chilean cinema,  so maybe everything thus far submitted has been awful, but the law of averages suggests that to be unlikely. For the record, I’ve watched the trailer for their entry No, and whilst the deliberate use of outdated video stock is a bit glaring, it looks like an engrossing and madcap political drama, with the added bonus of a staring role for the ever dashing “Amores Perros” star Gael García Bernal.

Here’s the number crunching science part. This year seven of the 71 shortlisted entries are from Western Europe, last year it was six from 63, the year before four from 66, whilst for 2010 it was six out of 67. If I go back to the year of my birth, four of the five final nominees were Western European, with Japan making up the fifth, and there’s a country which is not a stranger to being amongst the possible winners. However you look at it, the most basic conclusion is either the basic fact that European cinema is intrinsically better than anywhere else, or the Academy has a blindspot-cum-love affair with the industry as an institution. Have they been in a spell since the days of Fellini or is there something more sinister going on? I don’t often fling around the accusation of imperialism, though when there’s an award specifically designed to celebrate non-American cinema it does strike an odd note that so much of it originates from developed, Western countries.

Another fact which strikes me as incongruous is the lack of recognition for perhaps the most prolific film producing country in the world; India. There’s been no shortlisted entry from India for twelve years, and before that it was 1988, a year when I was just about to start revising for my GCSEs. As with the Kyrgyzstan entry I checked out earlier, I’ve no doubt that the film was well regarded within its home market, so unless Bollywood is deliberately barring submissions from established directors I’ve no idea why there’s such an obvious snub. That said, I have to point this year’s Indian submission, “Barfi!, is one of the highest-grossing Bollywood movies of all time, even though its synopsis doesn’t sound like my kind of thing – deaf and dumb man has relationship with two women, one of whom is autistic, and if you want to know if there’s a happy ending don’t scroll down too quickly on Wikipedia….

Economic power house China has yet to win an Oscar and has once again failed to be nominated this year. I found a trailer with English subtitles for 搜索 (or “Sōusuǒ“, released with the English name “Caught in the Web”) and to be honest it seems to be part-pot boiling nonsense and part Chinese propaganda against the Internet, but that doesn’t mean every other entry they’ve tried is without greater merit. It was through Taiwan/Republic of China that the exceptional “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” was submitted in the year 2000, and of course it won, though it’s worth pointing out that even then the majority of nominees were European – and one of those was from Belgium. Belgium!

Maybe I’m being naive and a little idealistic. Looking at this from the other side, could it just be that European cinema is better, broader, more mature and accessible to the jury? Could it be that the ideal of the award is to celebrate a good film rather than opening doors to the world of developing cinema? After all this is the Academy Awards and not a Sight & Sound Festival, and since the year 2000 the winners have included Iran’s “A Separation” and South Africa’s “Tsotsi“. If there’s a undeniable bias it’s towards drama and particularly morality tale drama, rich in the kind of lessons which could be lip service to liberal critics. What it could have been is an opportunity to taste cinema from different palates and with over 70% of Oscar winners coming from Europe, I’m not getting out my best plate and cutlery yet.

 

Liam Pennington is at the action side of 30 years old and is the On-Line Editor for High Voltage. When not making good use of PR companies’ guff, he can be found groundhopping, writing for whoever else wants him, singing along to Eurovision records and sitting through arthouse films at Cornerhouse, Manchester.

@doktorb
www.liampennington.blogspot.com