Testimony to man's inhumanity
As If I'm Not There (Cert 16): FIRST-TIME Irish writer/ director Juanita Wilson's Bosnian war drama As If I'm Not There delivers a harrowing journey into the heart of human darkness.
What separates this absorbing piece from so many similarly themed affairs, however, is the artful manner in which it succeeds in making it through to the other side.
Set against the backdrop of the war that raged in the former Yugoslavia during the Nineties, it charts the experiences of a beautiful young schoolteacher caught up in the conflict. Having left her family in Sarajevo to take up a position in a remote rural village, Samira (Natasa Petrovic) believes her outsider status might protect her when a group of marauding Serbs arrive to ethnically cleanse the locality. It doesn't work out that way.
Having watched the men of the village being marched away to an off-camera place of execution, Samira and the remaining women and children are forced on to buses and transported to a make-shift holding centre/concentration camp on an isolated farm. Many of the older women are kept as labourers but Samira is eventually selected for captivity in a "rape room", where a variety of atrocities are perpetrated on her and a number of other women.
These scenes are likely to be some of the most challenging you're ever likely to witness but, while brutal and graphic, they're never gratuitous. And the reality that the drama is based on a book that chronicled the testimonies of women who survived these camps justifies the starkness of the spectacle.
Making her debut, Petrovic is exceptional in the central role while Wilson brings a lyrical sensibility to an experience that is beautifully shot and succeeds with admirable deftness in avoiding a preachy tone. This is man's inhumanity to man writ large but it's also a hopeful validation of the human spirit and its capacity to persevere.
THERE are bad hair days. Incredibly bad hair days. And then there are the sort of days experienced by Liam Neeson's character in director Jaume Collet-Serra's latest action adventure extravaganza. Ostensibly a botany professor arriving in Berlin with his wife (Mad Men's January Jones) for a conference that promises a development that could herald the end of world hunger, he finds himself catapulted into a frenetic struggle for both physical and psychological survival.
A mad-dash back to arrivals after he leaves his briefcase at the airport, precipitates a car crash that lands him in a coma. And that's only because he was saved from drowning by the world's sexiest taxi driver, Gina (Diane Kruger). He eventually comes round to find his world has shifted on its axis. Amnesia prevents him from remembering fully who he is, but his condition isn't helped by the fact that his previously devoted wife fails to acknowledge his existence.
And if that wasn't enough, he's subject to a number of attacks that include him getting tasered and throttled on a regular basis.
If you're after high-octane escapism then this disposable affair should get you where you want to go. Neeson brings a degree of gravitas to proceedings and emerges with his burgeoning Taken-induced status as Hollywood's resident tough guy enhanced.
Inspired by true events, this feature from director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) is a political thriller that doubles as an exercise in exposing alleged Bush administration duplicity surrounding claims about Saddam Hussein's nuclear capacity. Naturally, the reality that the 2005 bipartisan Robb-Silberman report found this to be not the case was deemed not pertinent to proceedings.
Naomi Watts stars as Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative whose cover was blown by the White House in retaliation for what was perceived as her husband's attempt to discredit the Bush administration. Played by Sean Penn, this former diplomat, Joseph Wilson, had travelled to Niger at the behest of the CIA to investigate intelligence claims that Saddam had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium. When, months later, Wilson hears his findings being distorted by Bush in a State of the Union address, Wilson turns whistleblower via a newspaper article.
Casualties of the White House bite-back include his wife's career with the CIA and, laughably, numerous "disappeared" Iraqi nuclear scientists to whom Plame had promised safe passage to the US. It should be stated that this is only laughable because it constitutes a complete fabrication introduced to suit the film's anti-Bush agenda.
As an extended exercise in I can't-believe-it's-not-Michael-Moore style propaganda, Fair Game has much to recommend it. Production values can't be faulted and Penn brings star power to a spectacle that, as expected, doesn't sweat the er... big stuff when it comes to not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.
Opening on Friday
THE Cinema of Cringeworthy Family Dysfunction, as perfected by Mike Leigh, is given a painterly and mesmeric quality by Joanna Hogg in this follow-up to her 2007 debut, Unrelated.
As both writer and director, she takes us to the stunning sub-tropical island of Tresco in the Scilly Isles, off the coast of Cornwall. Here, a family reunion is taking place as a send-off for mild-mannered son Edward (Tom Hiddleston), who looks to alleviate middle-class guilt by enrolling as an aid worker in Africa. Sister Cynthia (Lydia Leonard) is bitchy and unhappy about things in general, while Kate Fahy's mother tries to keep her chin up as relations become strained.
In the wings is Rose (played by non-actor Amy Lloyd) the cook, whose normality only serves to exacerbate the discordant atmosphere. Meanwhile, real-life landscape painter Christopher Baker plays a local art teacher and influential family friend.
Over the stunted silences, bones can be heard rattling in the cupboard in the form of the absence of the father and a mysterious resentment of Edward's girlfriend by the rest of the family. With more emphasis placed on what isn't being said than what is, things as mundane as complaining in a restaurant soon become the stuff of political summits.
Hogg is never afraid to let nature mirror the emotional strife -- the soundtrack comprises of wind, wave crashes and birdsong, while she must have thanked her maker when a storm arrived during shooting. The result is a hypnotic piece of film-making, one that bluntly demonstrates the kind of muted trauma only family members can inflict.
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