Foreign Film

REVIEW: Capernaum (2018)

While serving a five-year sentence for a violent crime, twelve-year-old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) decides to sue his parents for the neglect and the life they’ve given him.

Capernaum begins with Zain being led to court in handcuffs to sue his parents and then the story goes back so you can see how he ended up in this situation. To say that Zain’s life is a tough one would be an understatement but it’s how the film shows how so many people in his life struggle. While his parents are certainly at fault in the way they treat him and his siblings, it’s through the quieter moments that you can see that they are second guessing themselves and are making terrible choices as none of the options available to them are good ones. Zain is such a resourceful and strong boy, who has a great sense of empathy in spite of, or because of, the world he’s grown up in that doesn’t see value in children. He’s someone who tries to do the right thing by those he cares about, even if it might mean doing some light thievery to achieve his goal.

When Zain runs away from his parents, he meets undocumented worker Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her baby son Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole). She takes him in and the three of them form a new kind of family. The whole cast is brilliant, but this trio were phenomenal. Al Rafeea is an incredible young performer and the way that director Nadine Labaki captures the dynamics between the children in this cast brings out some wonderful performances. There’re moments between Zain and Yonas that can’t have been perfectly scripted due to one of them being one years old, but they feel so sweet, intuitive and natural. The scenes with Zain and Yonas are so natural and are both sweet and heart-breaking at times.

It could’ve been so easy for Capernaum to just be sad and bleak but thanks to an organic screenplay and true to life oddities, there’s laughter to be found here. It also shows that while life and so many of the people in it can be terrible, there are kind people who want to help others with no ulterior motives as well. The way Capernaum is shot neither romanticises nor demonises the poverty Zain and the people he meets face. It’s an honest look at what’s life like for some people and, with its script that has so much natural dialogue, it makes Capernaum feel like you’re a spectator to Zain’s life for a while.

Capernaum is sad but it’s also funny and thoughtful. With a great cast led by Zain Al Rafeea, it’s a film about family, compassion and survival. It’s a film that’s often like a punch to the gut but it’s one that leaves a lasting impression. 5/5.

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Thoughts on… Foreign Language Films

I’ve realised that this year I’ve watched way more films that aren’t in English, than I have in previous years. In fact, in the Spring I watched more films in a foreign language than I had in the last couple of years combined.

I’m not sure why I don’t watch more films that are in another language because there’s so many films out there that could be great and to not watch them just because I’ve got to read subtitles is just silly.

I’ve noticed that when I watch films with subtitles, I pay more attention to the film and can therefore get absorbed into the story and characters more. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve found some random film in English on Netflix that I’m not super excited about and it’s just something to watch, I often find myself scrolling through Twitter etc as I can still hear and understand what’s happening even if the film doesn’t have my full attention. When I’m watching a film that’s not in English and has subtitles, I don’t touch my phone for the full runtime of the film and I get so much more out of it because of that.

One of my favourite foreign language films is Banlieue 13. It’s a French action film full of brilliant stunts and it’s a lot of fun. The first time I saw it, I watched it dubbed as it was playing on a coach on a school trip to France. I loved it as soon as I saw it and bought my own copy, including the sequel, as soon as I could. Ever since then I watch it with the subtitles.

I prefer to watch films not in English with the subtitles, as then you get to hear the voice performance of the actors as the filmmakers intended. I get pulled into foreign language films and barely notice the subtitles once I’m 10 minutes into the film.

Some of my favourite films not in English that I’ve watched this year is the South Korean Train to Busan and the Danish The Guilty. Both are fantastic and super tense and, or course, they are both set to get American remakes. It’s a shame that so many people don’t step out of their comfort zone and won’t watch something that’s not in their native language. There’s so much out there and I know there’s more I want to catch up on so give me all your foreign language film recommendations!

REVIEW: Train to Busan (2016)

When a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, businessman Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), his young daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) and fellow passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.

I’d heard a lot of positive things about the Train to Busan over the past year or so, and I had meant to watch it sooner, but you know how these things work. Last week it was announced that there was going to be an American remake and my Twitter feed went slightly mad for Train to Busan, so it gave me the push to finally watch it.

And I loved it.

The zombie element was brilliant. It looked like it was mostly tonnes of extras used rather than computer generated zombies when there was. The actors who played the infected characters must be either contortionists or dancers (or both) because the way they moved their bodies was unnatural and with the added makeup made it very unsettling.

It’s not only the infected people that the passengers of the train have to deal with, but each other. Mistrust, greed and self-interest are a big part of some of these characters motivations. Some put themselves before others, while others learn to work together in order to keep their humanity as they try and survive.

The action sequences are utilised well, and the film knows how to build tension and have a decent payoff. While Seok-woo and his daughter are the characters you’re first introduced to, and are probably considered the main characters, there’s so many other characters introduced that due to performances and the script are instantly likeable and sympathetic. There’s a lot of people you want to survive but due to the nature of the film, you know that’s not going to be the case.

Train to Busan is a zombie-horror film but it is a film that has a lot of heart and there are a lot of moments that pull on your heartstrings due to the tension and the performances. It’s a film with a lot of surprises and it puts your emotions through the ringer.

Train to Busan is exciting, emotional, thrilling and all in all is a fantastic film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Talvar (2015)

When a teenage girl and her family’s servant are found dead, the police investigation is incompetent from the outset, contaminating evidence and accusing a controversial suspect. When experienced investigator Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) joins the case, he must make sense of the little evidence available and several conflicting theories about what really happened.

Talvar is a fictionalised and dramatized version of the 2008 Noida double murder case, a case I personally hadn’t heard of before but one that got the media into a frenzy and all people connected to the case were put on trial by the media before the police or courts could do much else.

You see the night of the murders retold multiple times from different perspectives. Each one using various witness testimonies but also disregarding some other piece of evidence that doesn’t fit the prevailing theory. As the scenes are so different each time, it never feels like you’re retracing old ground, and each flashback serves a purpose.

There’s no getting around the fact that the police originally at the crime scene, did a terrible job, not calling in forensic teams and letting family member, neighbours and journalists walk into the crime scenes with no bother. It’s quite incredible how bad these men were at their jobs. From then on, the film does a good job at presenting all the evidence and suspects in a largely unbiased way, leaving you to decide who you believe.

With so many members of the police force being either unlikable on incompetent (or both) Ashwin is a beacon of sanity in this circus that is an investigation. He’s smart and sympathetic and you can feel his exasperation with this almost impossible case and the bureaucracy surrounding it.

Talvar is a gripping mystery albeit it a frustrating one due to the inept police work that could lead to such a heart-breaking and horrible situation for this family who has lost their daughter. 4/5.

REVIEW: Sand Storm (2016)

When a Bedouin patriarch Suliman (Hitham Omari) takes a second bride, his first wife Jalila (Ruba Blal) struggles in her new role while their oldest daughter Layla (Lamis Ammar) strives for her independence.

Sand Storm is a riveting film. While it seems like a small family drama, it’s scope is much bigger as it’s an insight into a culture that will certainly be unfamiliar to many people. While it might be a culture that’s somewhat unknown, the themes Sand Storm deals with certainly aren’t. Modernity vs tradition. Freedom of choice vs family duty. It’s painful to see these women faced with these dilemmas but at the same time it’s inspiring to see their strength and love for one another.

The conflict between Layla and her mother feels incredibly real. Layla wants to choose who she falls in love with and get an education and while at first it seems her mother is standing against her for the sake of it, you soon realise it’s because she wants her daughter to be safe. The way their relationship develops into a mutual understanding, with so much of it left unsaid is beautiful really.

Tasnim (Khadija Al Akel) is one of Layla’s younger sisters and while she’s a lot younger than Layla you can already see how fiercely strong-willed she is. She enjoys being outside with the goats, wearing jeans rather than dresses and the moment she begins to see what her future is likely to hold is a bitter pill to swallow.

Sand Storm is a touching tale, it shows the everyday life of this family and it’s through the mundanities of their life that you become connected to them, wanting them to get what they want in life. Sand Storm is a thoughtful and memorable film due to the great rapport between its characters and some touching performances. 4/5.

REVIEW: Mustang (2015)

mustang-movie-posterWhen five sisters are seen innocently playing with boys on the beach, their conservative guardians confine them to the house and make plans to marry them all off.

The five sisters are each unique in their personalities and how they deal with the situation they find themselves in. Their home becomes a fortress with high gates and bars on the windows but they still manage to find their own small ways to rebel or to still have fun. While their struggles affect them all, you see most of what happens through Lale’s (Günes Sensoy) point of view. She’s the youngest so she has to watch her sisters get forced into marriages while she dreams of escape to Istanbul. Through her you see the effect’s the sisters’ confinement and arranged marriages have on all of them and how these five sisters have such a strong bond.

Throughout Mustang there’s reference to feminism and female empowerment. In one scene you can hear people on the TV saying that feminists are against motherhood, and the idea that the girls have to be virgins when they are married is important to all the older family members.

The thing about Mustang is that there are shocking moments but they all happen off screen, it’s as if it’s trying to protect Lale’s innocence. There’s also many moments of humour as the sisters find something to laugh about even though their situation is suffocating, like when Lale and Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu) say they’re going swimming but really they pretend on blankets and towels in their bedroom.

The cast is phenomenal, especially the five young actresses and the way the film is shot makes everything look beautiful. Mustang is a wonderful film that looks at the complexities of siblinghood and how sisters will always look out for each other. There’s moments of laughter and sadness as the sisters slowly discover that if they really want something in life, they will have to take it. 5/5.

W is for Wadjda

wadjda1Wadjda is a fun-loving ten year old girl who is determined to own her own bicycle and even uses her school’s Koran recitation competition as a means to get the money.

Wadjda is so great because she is so relatable. She is just like any other young girl but she lives in Saudi Arabia so there’s restrictions put on her because she’s a girl. Wadjda doesn’t let these restrictions get her down though, she works hard raising the money for her bicycle and borrows her friend’s bike to learn how to ride in secret. She forges her own path and is constantly rebelling the strict rules put on her by society and by her school – she wears Chuck Taylors under her abaya and can’t help but talk back to teachers.

Wadjda is an enterprising young woman and I love her relationship with her mother who doesn’t always like the fact that Wadjda is so independent but she still loves her. Their relationship has its problems but it’s easy to see how much Wadjda loves her mother.

Wadjda is a child who wants to do her own thing but deep down she knows she won’t always be allowed to, that doesn’t stop her trying though and that is admirable.

You can read my review of Wadjda here.