By Roger Costa
MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE
Life is never the same when you lose a loved one. Especially if you are a teenager seeking identity and acceptance, this inevitable disturbance becomes unbearable. It’s the case of our heroine, Sammy, an Asian-American girl trying to figure out the essentials of life alongside her father and older sister. She is struggling to accept the harsh reality of losing her mother so young, while trying to adapt to the new cycle of life and to be cool with the “anger-management” rules she’s been punished with in order to recover from her uncontrollable behavior. She is stuck in a delinquent phase, always getting herself in trouble, bullying or hitting other kids. This social conflict is the result of her emotional condition, her longing and loneliness, as she hides her sorrow behind an aggressive, tempestuous act that insists in blocking her initiation into maturity and womanhood. When Sammy meets an aging magician and forms a special bond with her, she will discover the meaning of hope and resilience, attempting to embrace the beauty of life, even though some important pieces are missing.
In the role of Sammy, young actress Miya Cech grabs the viewer by the heart and never quits the enchantment. Her breakthrough performance is a revelation, an affecting, utterly touching and irresistible portrait of juvenile delinquency seeking her place in the world. She struggles to maintain a peaceful relationship with her father, her sister and her father’s love interest. Her talents, determination, empathy and strong will are revealed through the interactions with the magician and her secretive group of friends, as they all co-participate on some amazing magical adventures. The always reliable and irreverent Rhea Perlman brings enlightenment and guidance to our little wizard-apprentice as the professional magician, building up a mysterious persistent character destined to have all the keys for those doors the heroine is attempting to unlock.
Winner of the Audience Award at Sun Valley Film Festival, writer-director Kate Tsang’s feature-length debut is a wonderful coming-of-age tale filled with a unique sensibility and relevant approach to the grieving, loss material. Addressing the uneasiness of the young generation, and how the world reacts to it, she scored a precious and crowpleasing dramedy, a delightful meditation on humanitarian bond.
(FilmRise. 4/22. Village East Cinema.)
HIT THE ROAD
Influenced by the aesthetic found in master Kiarostami’s works as well as his father’s, Jafar Panahi, first-time director Panah Panahi crafts an amazingly funny, lovely and inspirational tale about the effects of separation and the perseverance of family values. Through the story of a family, father, mother, younger and eldest sons (as well as their sick dog), engaged on a road trip through the Iranian countryside, driving forward to a crucial, life-changing situation that will affect them forever, the director displays all of his talents and aspirations on screen, a sort of response to his father’s cinematic efforts to express the oppression he continues to endure, forced to remain in exile in his own country by its authorities, completely unable to leave the country. A collection of wondrously shot images of the gorgeous Iranian landscape reveal the powerful sensibility printed in every frame: there’s a frenetic sense of adventure permeating the narrative, as it is conducted by the younger son, an active, wise and annoying kid who seems to be in control of the situation, while the older remains mostly silent. But he is the only one spared of the truth: they are on the road, on a mission to dispatch their son out of the country, getting themselves into risky circumstances to reach their point of separation. The sequence of the transaction is amusingly shot from a distance, observed through the colors of a sunset, a single lonely tree and the arid sounds of the desert. It proves the director’s commitment to storytelling and his engagement in the artistic elaboration of a new cinematic language. The beautiful piano music punctuates the rhythms of the story, while showcasing perfect, memorable performances from the eccentric clan, leaving the viewer stunned by their chemistry. Capturing delicacy and uplifting moments at equal levels, and offering a deeply contagious observation on family virtue and co-dependence, Panahi announces himself as a major world-cinema filmmaker. Undoubtedly, the best film of ’22 so far.
(Kino Lorber. 4/22. Film Forum.)
THE WHITE FORTRESS
Set in the aftermath of the war, Bosnia’s Oscar entry is a passionate, beautifully observed and executed romantic drama about two young lovers who battle their different social concepts in order to surrender to their mutual attraction. In an ordinary and criminal occupied suburb of Sarajevo, writer-director Igor Drljaca discloses his tale of young lust, pure love and petty crime. Using a poignantly deep and impressive soundtrack, the director follows the troubled Faruk, as he navigates a world of crime, missed opportunities and failed romantic connections. Orphaned and lonely, he works collecting scrap metal with his uncle and responsibly cares for his ill grandmother. His highest interest though, lies on a chance to gain prestige and respect among his pals, as he accepts participating in criminal activities. One of those consists in bringing a call girl over, but that goes awkwardly wrong, and turns out he meets up Mona, a decent young girl who belongs to a respected family, but longs to escape the dysfunctional reality she experiences at home. Both will rely on each other to self-redeem and overcome their own traumas and fears, while deeply, magically and spontaneously falling in love. Enigmatic, lively and honest, this is a must-see romantic tale about the mysterious ways love uses to promote life affirming events.
(Game Theory. 4/22. Cinema Village.)
Written and Directed by Kota Yoshida, this eccentric and wisely sexy Japanese dark comedy explores the connection between food and sexual activities. Using an aphrodisiac aesthetic, and a rousing seductive language, Yoshida divides the narrative in three acts, pierced together by the presence of an intruder who shows up unexpectedly and confronts people he might have met in a previous situation. In the first one, he emotionally tortures an impotent man, revealing details of his affair with his wife; In the second, he stalks a woman struggling with physical trauma, luring her to run him over. In the final episode, a woman decides to leave her lover, looking for motivation at a filthy Ramen shop. Each story is filled with sarcasm and a great sense of eroticism linked to their favorite dishes and the pleasures found on their eating habits. Yoshida sets the screen on fire, making great use of the upbeat soundtrack, unconventional cinematography and lusty performances, displayed through the sexually-charged dialogue, cooking process and revelations, all based on the characters’ fantasies, secrets and food fetish. Funny, irreverent and sensual, the result is like having a sudden, triple cinematic orgasm.
(Film Movement. 4/22. In Virtual Cinemas and On Demand.)