Appearing in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, the fifth edition of the Rome International Film Festival did not have the start it was planning on. A large protest on the opening night saw actors, writers and directors taking over the red carpet in response to government funding cuts to the arts. The much anticipated Studio Ghibli retrospective has been a huge disappointment too. Arguably the most eagerly awaited part of this year’s Japanese Focus Section, the RFF decided to screen the Japanese classics in dubbed Italian and, bizarrely, without subtitles. It appears the festival has chosen to ignore its own slogan ‘all films for all people’ and the section in the programme which states that all films will be screened in their original language. Despite these setbacks however there has been a rich mix of world cinema; you just have to know where to look.
An interesting, if uncomfortable look at modern day Iran, this original film follows the lives of six young Iranians living in its capital, Tehran. All find themselves misunderstood by their families and the conservative and oppressive laws of modern day Iran make it hard for minorities to have a voice. Hossein Keshavarz’s debut looks at addressing this. Shot in a semi-documentary style, the film concentrates on a confused feminist who is having an affair with a married man, a female pop singer who risks exposure and imprisonment by singing in public, a grieving son who lashes out to fundamentalists for their views, young lovers searching for a place to be alone and a gay man forced into an arranged marriage out of shame. Filmed secretly over a period of years and funded by US money, each story is explored delicately but thoroughly and Keshavarz deserves to be applauded for exposing an alternative side to a country, which is rarely revealed in this way.
Oranges and Sunshine
For his debut feature Jim Loach, son of legendary British director Ken Loach, has chosen a particularly poignant subject to transfer to the big screen. Full of grace, heart and integrity, Loach tells the incredible story of the Margret Humphreys (Emily Watson), the whistle-blowing social worker from Nottingham who was responsible for uncovering and exposing the truth about children forced to emigrate to Australia where they were abused and put to work under terrible conditions. Watson’s portrayal of Humphreys is as emotive and harrowing as the tale she is telling, while Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith from the Matrix trilogy) deserves a special mention for delivering a stunning performance as Jack, one of the orphaned children who spent his whole life wondering where he came from. Heavy and insightful, Oranges and Sunshine is British cinema at its best.
La Scuola e Finita
Valerio Jalongo’s latest feature is one of four Italian films in the running for this year’s main prize. Alex is a struggling and confused teenage boy in his final year of school. Everything changes for him when he forms strong bonds with two of his new teachers. Both see a potential in him that everyone else, including himself, has failed to recognise. Everything around Alex begins to collapse as he finally starts to take his learning more seriously, and his reckless antics put the people trying to help him at risk. A touching story about the difficulties associated with growing up, there are solid performances from all three main characters, but ultimately La Scuola e Finita is too predicable and there is little in the way of originality.
The opening night of this year’s RFF featured a 20-minute preview of Tron: Legacy, the sequel to the cult pre-digital classic Tron. The teaser begins with Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) accidentally discovering his missing father’s old workshop. Hacking into the computer system he manages to transport himself into the high-tech landscape which swallowed his father Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) twenty-five years earlier. First impressions are that in Legacy, Disney has tried to squeeze in a bit of something for everyone, following the well-established recipe for blockbuster success. Apart from the spectacular action scenes and cyber-fights, there are hot girls, emotional family reunions and romance. There is also a superb soundtrack composed by electronic-music duo Daft Punk that almost takes over the entire journey into the world of virtual reality. Whether or not Tron has a strong enough story to back-up the audio and visual immersion remains to be seen.
Massy Tadjedin’s directorial debut, Last Night, is a relationship drama about a young married couple, Joanna (Keira Knightley) and Michael (Sam Worthinghton) who, during the course of one night spent apart, have their loyalty tested by an ex-lover (Guillaume Canet) and a work colleague (Eva Mendes). The central themes are fidelity and marital trust, which are discussed continuously by all of the characters throughout the film. Lacking the depth it is striving to achieve, the unnatural and largely irrelevant conversational script grows boring after a while and, at times, even irritating. As a result, the film’s pivotal scenes fail to achieve the reaction they desire due to a lack of empathy for any of the key characters. At times you could even be forgiven for thinking you were watching a feature-length Chanel commercial.
Eight months after the death of their four-year-old son who was killed in a car accident, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) have failed to regain a grip on reality and are lost in an abyss-like state paralleled by the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Attempting to come to terms with their loss, things are not helped by Becca’s unstable mother (Dianne Wiest) and pregnant sister (Tammy Blanchard). Shutting herself off from society and everyone she knows, Becca eventually seeks console with the young boy who killed her son. Taking you through a rollercoaster of emotions from start to finish, Kidman does a superb job playing the aggrieved mother, while Wiest and Blanchard deliver first-rate performances as her direct relatives. Eckhart tries his best to keep up, but fails to shake of the clean-cut, all-American persona he exudes and subsequently lacks the hard-edged, bleak demeanor of the character he is attempting to portray. John Cameron Mitchell’s intriguing investigation into the deeply-harrowing grief associated with losing a young child, Rabbit Hole is a bleak, heavy and hard-hitting piece of cinema, but achieves its aims in an expertly subtle and delicate way. The depth of the main characters is particularly strong with the only real fault of any note is the suffocating, repetitive score, which takes away more than it adds.