CAMFF 2018: Júlia ist (2017)

Year: 2017 
Directed by: Elena Martin 
Starring: Elena Martin, Oriol Puig, Jakob D’Aprile

Written by Elena Morgan

Júlia (Elena Martin) is an architecture student from Catalan who is set to go to study in Berlin for a year thanks to an Erasmus programme. Once she’s there she’s completely alone for the first time in her life, the distance from home puts a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend (Oriol Puig) and slowly she starts to make friends with fellow students and learn more about this new city.

Júlia ist is Elena Martin’s directorial debut and she co-wrote the film as well as playing the lead. She embodies Júlia so completely as someone that’s desperate to become her own, independent person but is also wary of making that leap.

So many people can relate to the uncertainty Júlia feels when she moves to a new place. Whether you’ve been away from home to go to university, or generally moved to another part of your own country or to a completely new country for whatever reason, everyone’s felt alone or isolated at some point.

Júlia ist is a great study of student life. There’s the drama or open relationships when feelings get involved, long-distance relationships, making friends, living with people, and making sure you balance having fun and doing well in your studies. It’s such a well-written take on student life that it feels like you’re reliving your university day if you had them, and even if you didn’t, the characters are so natural you can easily put yourself in their shoes.

Júlia ist is understated but no less engaging. It’s a simple story about messy relationships, culture shock and finding one’s place. There are no big revelations or huge dramatics, instead, it’s a quiet film about a woman who’s just trying to figure out who she is.

ELENA’S VERDICT:

3

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CAMFF 2018: Burning (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Chang-dong Lee
Starring: Ah-In Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jeon

Written by Elena Morgan

When Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon) goes to Africa she asks her old schoolmate Jong-su (Ah-In Yoo) to look after her cat. When she returns with enigmatic Ben (Steven Yeun) who she met in Africa, Jong-su is dismayed and feels pushed out by the two of them.

Burning is a slow-burn of a film about class and sexual desire. Jong-su and Hae-mi are both originally from the north of South Korea, from a farming town that’s so close to the border that they can hear propaganda announcements from North Korea. Ben, on the other hand, is a Gatsby-like character, he’s young and rich and no one – Jong-su especially – knows what he does to earn his money. He’s charming and mysterious and lives in a modern apartment in Seoul and appears to have the perfect life compared to Jong-su.

Burning follows Jong-su’s perspective and he isn’t a particularly likeable character. He’s quiet and reserved and, as the film progresses, it reveals to be more or a character-study of Jong-su than anything else. Burning is full of unexpected choices, evolving from a potential love triangle into a psychological mystery, with three characters that are equal parts captivating and cold.

The scenery at Jong-su’s home is bleak yet beautiful. Conversations with double meanings happen at sunset with haunting music playing that leaves both Jong-su and the viewers unsettled by what they’re experiencing. As everything begins to build, Jong-su becomes more obsessed with both Hae-mi and Ben, two characters who aren’t altogether what they seem. There are secrets and lies, and the mystery becomes more and more mesmerising.

Burning is a weird, unsettling film anchored by a subtle yet absorbing performance by Ah-In Yoo. Its 2 and a half hour runtime can be noticeable though, as it certainly takes it’s time to slowly rack up the tension, but the performances from the three main actors are all brilliant and it’s their little nuances that pull you in and make this film so mesmerising.

ELENA’S VERDICT:
4

REVIEW: Overlord (2018)

Directed by: Julius Avery
Cast: Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbæk, John Magaro

Written by Lucy Buglass

As someone who isn’t much of a war film fan, I was apprehensive about Overlord. I often find war films quite repetitive in nature, and they’ve never really appealed to me. So when I was kindly invited to a press screening on behalf of JUMPCUT, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I tried not to set my expectations too high, but as a J.J. Abrams fan, I was interested to see what he’d brought to the table as a producer. Maybe a blend of war and horror is exactly what I needed.

Straight away, the thing that stood out to me was the quality of the sound, especially in a cinema setting. If you’re able to, I would absolutely recommend you catch Overlord on the big screen because of it. The film opens with soldiers on a plane, and the deafening booms of bombs combined with the roar of the plane really puts you right in the middle of the action. This sequence is one of the most immersive experiences I’ve ever had. You’re forced to witness the horrors of war straight off the bat and identify with the soldiers’ point of view. Later on in the film, this excellent use of sound really adds to the suspense and makes for a truly uncomfortable experience.

After loving Wyatt Russell in Black Mirror, I was looking forward to his performance in particular, but the whole cast really delivered. Each solider is believable, flawed, and different in their personality to the point where you feel like you’re there with them. The character development throughout is excellent, and no one feels two-dimensional or glossed over. This is one of the problems I have with war films, that sometimes everyone seems to blend into one group and no one is easily distinguishable. With Overlord, every character has both purpose and a personality; something I thoroughly enjoyed. The characters that the soldiers encounter along the way are treated exactly the same too, and it’s nice to see secondary characters being treated with respect.

If you’re a fan of gory special effects, this is one to watch for sure. When it finally becomes clear to us what’s going on, and dark secrets are revealed, it is a terrifying experience. It’s best you go into it not knowing any more than that, as it would be a shame to have it spoiled. What I can say, is that the effects are nightmare inducing and reminiscent of many body horror films. The rest you need to witness for yourself. I’ve seen my fair share of gruesome stuff, but this really stood out to me. Overlord deserves recognition for its visual effects alone, they are a welcome addition to the horror genre.

Overall, Overlord is a smart film that blends war and horror together effortlessly, resulting in a truly terrifying experience. I’m unsure how it’ll translate on my TV after experiencing it on such a large-scale, but I am certainly up for watching it again to see what it’s like. It’s a very entertaining couple of hours that are action-packed and gruesome throughout.

 

Lucy’s Verdict

3-5

REVIEW: Private Life (2018)

Directed by: Tamara Jenkins
Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter

Written by Jessica Pena

Richard and Rachel want to start a family. After many attempts and not being able to conceive on their own, they look at the means of assisted reproduction and other therapies to finally fulfil their wish to parent. When things go awry, they feel hopeless and in a very confused, exposed moment of their marriage. Like an act of serendipity, their step-niece Sadie moves in with them, being in a rut herself, dropping out of college and wanting to find inspiration. After seeing Sadie as so self-aware, kind, and just all around perfect, Richard and Rachel reconsider their fertility endeavours. Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life is unmistakingly poignant, revealing the truths in our blunders and journeys to rediscovery, hope, fulfilment, and wrapping those around us in two hours of a tender embrace.

Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn, and Kayli Carter pull at our heartstrings and it’s quite easy to understand how. Jenkins’ script is brilliantly natural, giving every character, even Molly Shannon’s supporting role as Sadie’s mother, a fully realized characterization with real-world emotions and troubles. At one turn in the film, Molly Shannon’s character even struggles with all the commotion on her plate while also dealing with personal anxieties. Just as you might think of her as a time filler, she’s actually cared for by way of Jenkins’ admiration for womanly worries and its endless obstacles. Here is the role of a mother who so desperately wishes her daughter would grow up, but who is also not immune to that same sense of actual inevitability.

Giamatti and Hahn are clearly one of the most surreal and endearing onscreen couples of recent time, dialling up their characters’ natural charm and klutzy, honest marital mishaps, and somehow letting us in on the way it pains them. At one of their worst times, the doctor hands them a pamphlet that reads, ‘Sometimes it takes three to make a family,’ and it sends Rachel into a frustration, feeling left out at the thought of not carrying the child on her own. After years of trying and having awkward encounters with adoption counsellors and having to continuously inject hormone therapies, it’s like they’re about to throw in the towel.

In the film, you’ll quickly realise how the “private life” of this married couple culminates into something very sincere and carefully paced, like a comfortable high in knowing these things aren’t always so clear cut. Even though there’s a running thread about their struggles with fertility, it doesn’t seem to have a misstep in taking us from one empathetic point of view to another. It’s not so much about their wish to get pregnant, than the rekindlement of warmth and how the introduction of Sadie as a means of salvation affects the story first-hand. This comes along with observations of their own lives, the golden times, aging, marriage, individual transparency, and even the notions of giving up on all of them at once. Even at its most theatrical of scenes, it slices up humour at a moment’s notice, crafting its unique execution. These are all reasons to pop this film on and enjoy its wonderful understanding of life at its most desperate and quirkily beautiful moments.

Experiencing infertility has its woes. Jenkins pulls bits and pieces from her own life’s experience with treatments and infuses that realness into the film, disarming it of its unconventional, preconceived notions. In part, it’s a story about womanhood, but one that tangles in daily social concerns, curiosities, and weaknesses as universal as they come to any one of us. Richard, who once ran a theatre company, now works at a pickle-making company. Rachel, an author all her life, is working to publish her latest piece of work. They’re coming into assisted reproduction routes with a tired, hopeless endearment. As they’re both over 40, it’s quite easy to understand where their mindsets are at. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn are national treasures. Even at this couple’s defeats, they’re genuinely moving.

The many relationships of the film, the little moments shared with every other character, rests on the reliability and trust of its tender script. Whether it’s Rachel hanging out with Sadie—who’s half dressed and full of wanderlust—reminiscing her youthful self and seeing it in the girl in front of her, or the way Sadie is confiding to Richard that him and Rachel feel more like her parents than her own—the film wastes no precious moment.

Private Life says so much in scenes where words are minimal. The interpersonal dialogue feels quietly constructed, easing their poignancy and honesty into you. It’s inviting you to follow Richard and Rachel and be their confidant as a viewer. Throughout their most vulnerable moments and surprises, it leads on a keen, witty sense of their lives, fulfilled or otherwise. Sadie’s inclusion does wonders as much as it is truly bittersweet to the crystallisation of Richard and Rachel’s fertility voyage. Tamara Jenkins’ film is funny, gracefully poignant, and embedded in a wonderful, closely-knit ensemble. It’s a quietly magnificent film.

 

JESSICA’S VERDICT:

5

 

CAMFF 2018: Supa Modo (2018)

Directed by: Likarion Wainaina
Starring: Stycie Waweru, Marrianne Nungo, Nyawara Ndambia

Written by Elena Morgan

Jo (Stycie Waweru) is a young girl with a terminal illness who loves superheroes. Her mother Kathryn (Marrianne Nungo) is protective and wants her to rest but, with the help of fellow villagers, her older sister Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia) encourages her passion and her dream to be a real superhero.

My mum always says, ‘the sign of a good film is if it can make you laugh or cry’, and Supa Modo made me do both. It has a tragic premise, a young girl who doesn’t have much time left, but it takes that tragedy and turns it into a story that’s all about the appreciating life and the people in it.

Jo dreams of having super powers, whether that’s flying or being able to take on bad guys. Seeing a village come together to help a young girl fulfil those dreams is delightful. From little acts of moving a jar of salt across the table, to taking on thieves these acts are escapism for Jo in its purest form.

Jo and her friends in the hospital know they are sick and probably dying, and it’s affecting that they have come to terms with that more quickly than some of the adults in their lives. Jo’s mother knows what is to come but wants to keep Jo at home all safe in the hopes that it will prolong the inevitable. Mwix, on the other hand, wants to be honest with Jo and help her achieve her dreams. These three women are all so compelling and their little family is a strong, loving unit.

Even though the story is really about a child slowly dying, it never feels cheap or performative. This is down to a fantastic lead performance from Stycie Waweru who brilliant as Jo. She’s everything a child should be, funny, playful and kind but due to her illness in some ways she’s more thoughtful and older than her years.

Supa Modo is a love letter to superheroes and how that even though heroes can die, they can live on in others, spreading their message and making the world a better place. There’s that old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” and while there’s no doubt who Jo’s mother is, the fact the village neighbours rally around to make Jo’s last few months full of magic and happiness is wonderful. This is a village that looks out for one another and the final scenes are both heart-warming and tear-jerking.

Supa Modo is about family, community and grief. It’s a vibrant tale that balances the sadness with the laughter and the three central female characters are all well-rounded and the actresses give wonderfully touching performances.

ELENA’S VERDICT:

5

 

CAMFF 2018: The Guilty (2018)

Directed by: Gustav Möller
Starring: Jakob Cedergren
UK Release Date: 26th October 2018

Written by Elena Morgan

On his last night of dispatch duty, police officer Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) gets a call from a kidnapped woman and it’s a race against time to find her.

Films set in one location aren’t that uncommon anymore, but truly great and gripping ones are – The Guilty is a brilliant addition to the “genre”. Set solely in the dispatch room, the camera follows Asger as he works at his desk, bored of taking calls about muggings and is looking forward to getting back on the streets when fifteen minutes before his shift ends, he receives a call from a woman saying she’s been kidnapped. Frustrated with how slow the police are dealing with it, Asger takes matters into his own hands, calling the woman’s family, the kidnapper, and each call is more compelling than the last.

Like Asger, you only have the information he receives on his phone calls to make your judgement, and with snap decisions to be made, things aren’t always what they seem. There are twists and turns, but as well as being surprising, The Guilty works because you begin to care about who Ager is talking to, and that’s down to the performances. Cedergren gives a fantastic lead performance, it’s his minute reactions that so easily show his frustrations and anxiety – a clenched jaw, a twitch in the fingers – they all show a man that’s on the edge. His unseen co-stars are just as fantastic, the emotions in their voices allow us to visualise what is happening down the phone line.

The Guilty is gripping and thrilling. Director and co-writer Gustav Möller knows exactly when and how to release the tension and then go straight back into building it up again. It’s a film that keeps you guessing and is never what it seems. It’s no wonder The Guilty has been selected to be Denmark’s official Oscar entry for best foreign language film.

 

Elena’s Verdict

4-5

 

LFF 2018: A Private War (2018)

Directed by: Matthew Heineman
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Faye Marsay, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander
UK Release Date: N/A

Written by Dave Curtis

War, what is it good for? after watching documentary filmmaker Mathew Heineman’s narrative debut the answer is clearly absolutely nothing. A Private War is a biopic which follows war correspondent Marie Colvin through her stellar career.

The true horrors of war are never an easy thing to see and war reporter Marie Colvin had been to them all in the last 20 years or so. She dared to go where others wouldn’t (Iraq, Libera and Syria). Rosamund Pike plays Colvin the award-winning journalist who it seems is more at home on the front line and in danger than when she is at home in London. She is not a likeable person, she struggles in social occasions and only seems to find peace when her life is in danger.

The film begins with an overhead shot of Homs (Syria) in 2012. It is completely destroyed, buildings are barely standing and there aren’t any signs of any life. A voiceover of Colvin can be heard being interviewed on why she does what she does. It quickly backtracks to earlier parts of her career. The film sets off re-playing key points in her life that will eventually lead to that fateful day in Homs.

We have seen films like this before but what sets A Private War apart is that this is so recent. This isn’t years and years ago. This is a conflict that is still happening.  There is no turning away and not showing what is actually happening in Syria, it dares to be truthful (much like Colvin). Strong images of dead bodies of adult and children are offered held for an uncomfortable long time. Heineman isn’t doing this by mistake, he wants you to see it, he wants to put you on the front line with Colvin, to see what she saw, experience what she went through.

Rosamund Pike really does capture the spirt and voice of Marie Colvin. This may be her best performance. It is definitely her best turn since Gone Girl. It is frustrating to watch her slip further and further into depression and PTSD. Marie is not really a likeable character, so being invested in her story can solely be attributed to Pike’s performance

There is also strong support from the rest of the cast. Tom Hollander is Sean Ryan her editor at the London’s Sunday Times. His overly caring but really pushy act is well balanced. He wants the stories, but it is really worth putting Marie in those situations? By the end, you can see the torment all over his face. Jamie Dornan’s plays Paul Convoy Marie’s trusted photographer who will follow her anywhere. Dornan’s Liverpudlian accent is just about passable. In some scenes, it just disappears completely. Stanley Tucci also has a small role but he pretty much plays himself (which isn’t a bad thing).

A Private War really lands when it eventually gets to Syria and the final 40 minutes is as tense and dramatic as anything that has been seen this year. The first hour, on the other hand, is a little clumsy. It bounces around from past to present and then back again in an uneasy fashion. It just needed to be a little smoother. It does get a little confusing which doesn’t help when you are just to connect to characters and the storyline.

When A Private War focuses on Marie Colvin covering at the front it really does deliver, but it is when she back in the UK and dealing with her inner demons that the film really struggles. Thankfully, Pike puts in a barnstorming performance which could attract some buzz when it comes to award season. A biopic on a war reporter may not appeal to many but it is worth seeing for Pike alone.

Dave’s Verdict

3

CAMFF 2018: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018)

Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Rooney Mara
UK Release Date: 26th October 2018 (Amazon Prime & select cinemas)

Written by Elena Morgan

After a car accident that leaves him paralysed, John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) tries to become sober and finds he has a talent for drawing funny yet often controversial cartoons.

The title, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, comes from one of Callahan’s cartoons showing some cowboys looking at an abandoned wheelchair and saying they’ll soon catch the guy. This sort of wry, and sometimes near the knuckle, sense of humour is prevalent throughout Callahan’s cartoons, many of which are animated and featured in the film. It’s also very much the sense of humour that’s running through the film, dark and sometimes weird and self-deprecating.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a biopic that’s told in a non-linear way. It’s a bit jarring really, especially at the beginning as scenes are intertwined with one another with no real reference point or understanding of who any of these characters are. The pacing continues to be uneven with the last thirty minutes or so being a drag.

Joaquin Phoenix is naturally great (even when wearing a horrendous range wig), managing to make Callahan irritating and charming in equal measure. Even before the accident and he becomes a little bitter, Callahan is a rude alcoholic that barely functions. After his accident, he’s not much better until he finally takes steps to become sober. Reading up on the real John Callahan after seeing the film, I did find it is a bit weird that 43-year-old Joaquin Phoenix was cast when Callahan had his accident when he was 21. This age discrepancy also makes his relationship with his nurse turned girlfriend Annu (Rooney Mara) seem out of place. She, like many of the characters surrounding Callahan, are never fleshed out more than the archetypes of their character.

The exception to that is Donnie (Jonah Hill), a recovering alcoholic and AA meeting leader. Hill is brilliant, and at times he even manages to outshine Phoenix, as he plays a wealthy gay hippie who is both hilarious and astute.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is more of a character study than a film with a cohesive and compelling plot, but it manages to be a perfectly serviceable biopic. Phoenix and Hill are great but they’re not enough to make this a memorable film.

 

Elena’s Verdict

3

 

REVIEW: Utøya: July 22 (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Erik Poppe
Starring: Andrea Berntzen, Aleksander Holmen, Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne

Written by Elena Morgan

Teenager Kaja (Andrea Berntzen) struggles to survive as she searches for her younger sister during the July 2011 terrorist mass murder at a political summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya.

On 22 July 2011, a home-grown right-wing extremist planted a bomb in Oslo’s government quarter, then travelled north to the island of Utøya, home of the Norwegian Labour Party’s Youth League summer camp, and opened fire on the hundreds of young people there. It’s an event that shocked the world and is an event that’s now embedded in the psyche of Norway and its people.

Perhaps it’s too soon to release dramatised versions of the events that happened on the island. But with Utøya: July 22 director Erik Poppe has made a film that’s as terrifying as it is respectful. It’s a heartfelt and immersive viewing experience, but it never sensationalises the situation these young people are in.

After opening with real footage of the explosion in Oslo, the film moves to Utøya where Kaja is on the phone to her mother, and she and her fellow campmates are just hearing about the explosion. When the gunfire starts on the island, there’s confusion and panic. Miscommunication spreads like wildfire as Kaja and her friends run for cover from a threat they cannot see. Their fear is palatable as the gunfire appears to be coming from everywhere, causing the young people to think there’s more than one person out to cause them harm.

Shot in one take, Utøya: July 22 follows Kaja as she searches for her younger sister. Kaja is a fictional character (as are all the characters named) but her journey around the island and the things she sees are based on witness accounts. Her search for her sister shows both the scope of what was happening, and the sense of there being no escape or refuge from what was happening.

Having the narrative never giving the terrorist a name or a face, instead being a figure barely glimpsed in the distance a few times, means that his story and goals are not important. Instead, it’s the young people on the island who matter, who are the ones worth focussing on.

Utøya: July 22 is harrowing but affecting. For better or worse it puts the viewer in the place of the victims and survivors, never easing up on the tension, but never being gratuitous with the violence.

ELENA’S VERDICT:

4