Foreign Film

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.

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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.

REVIEW: Wadjda (2012)

wadjdaWadjda (Waad Mohammed) enters her school’s Koran recitation competition to raise money so she can buy the bicycle that she wants, even though she’s told girls can’t ride bikes. As she puts her plan into action, she also has to cope with problems at home.

Wadjda is a beautifully shot film that shows the everyday life for a young Saudi girl. She still gets in trouble with her teacher for wearing converse with bright laces instead of sensible shoes and for her money making business of selling wristbands to her fellow students.

The relationship between Wadjda and her mother (Reem Abdullah) is one of the best mother/daughter relationships I’ve seen in film. They fight about Wadjda wanting a bicycle but they also laugh and sing as they make dinner together. Often Wadjda hears her mother and father (Sultan Al Assaf) fighting so she does what any child would do and try and sleep or turn her music up to drown it out.

Wadjda seems to be a bit of a lonely child as she doesn’t have any friends who are girls and her only friend is Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), a boy she shouldn’t be playing with. Their friendship is interesting as they often fight but after saying that girls can’t ride a bike, he helps her to learn how to ride a bicycle and will listen to her talk. It’s definitely the sweet friendship between young children we have all experienced to some extent.

Wadjda is a simple and charming story, but through that story you get to see into the everyday lives of a society and culture that is often viewed as complicated and “other”. Through Wadjda you can gain an insight to Saudi Arabia and how the culture effects women of any age. Wadjda is also notable as it is the first full-length feature film shot entirely within Saudi Arabia and directed by a woman, Haifaa Al Mansour.

It’s the relationships that make Wadjda so great. That and the way it’s shot and edited makes it often feel more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary about an ordinary girl and her family makes Wadjda a very watchable film. 4/5.

TRAILER REACTION: Brick Mansions

The trailer for Brick Mansions was released last week and it’s taken me this long to figure out how to get all my thoughts about it on the page.

Brick Mansions is the American remake of the French film Banlieue 13, or to give it the English title District 13. Now Balieue 13 is not only my favourite foreign film but it is one of my favourite films ever and will probably always be in my top 10. So all those years ago when I first heard they were going to do a remake I was annoyed but at the same time I like to be hopeful, thinking that it’ll bring more people to the original. The biggest plus that the American version had for it when I first heard about it was that David Belle was going to reprise his role – I did read somewhere that Luc Besson would only allow there to be a remake if Belle was in the American version (but now can’t find that information).

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