“We Come as Friends is terrifyingly direct and intimate,” begins Chuck Bowen in Slant. “Portraying the neocolonialist exploitation of the recently established South Sudan, director Hubert Sauper devises a metaphor that’s both risky and brilliantly evocative. The filmmaker links the first world’s invasion of the country—and the prevailing legacy of Europe, China, and America’s respective occupations of Africa in general—with the famed American moon landing in 1969. That’s a pivotal, often unambiguously celebrated, moment in our country’s history, but to an elderly Sudanese man it’s yet another illustration of the entitled colonial desire to gobble up whatever it wants while egotistically fashioning what remains in its own image.”
“Sauper wanted freer access than he was afforded in Darwin’s Nightmare, so he designed and built his own lightweight plane, Sputnik, and flew it from France to Africa,” explains Howard Feinstein in Filmmaker. “What Sauper reveals can be summed up by the example of a tribal leader who discovers he has been ripped off in the sale of land to a profit-seeking foreign company, even though he had fought for 21 years to gain freedom and independence. Colonialism has reappeared with a new face: capitalism.”
When We Come as Friends premiered at Sundance, where it won a World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematic Bravery, Manohla Dargis, dispatching to the New York Times, “had reservations about Mr. Sauper’s use of jazz, which felt formally and tonally at odds with a movie about South Sudan. Yet there’s no denying the ferocious intelligence and visceral power of We Come as Friends, which Mr. Sauper has aptly described as a ‘psychoanalysis of the pathology’ of ‘the colonial mind-set.'”
Updates, 3/29: “Critics will watch We Come as Friends and compare it to Darwin’s Nightmare,” writes David D’Arcy, introducing his interview with Sauper at Artinfo. “Some of them have already told me that the loosely-structured journey falls short. I disagree—it’s a different kind of film—a road movie (albeit in the sky) that offers a road map for one of the last battles over unclaimed territory—unclaimed, that is, until major political and religious powers stake claim to it. Eclipsed by new violence among factions with South Sudan and by the latest world crises, this is not a film to be ignored.”
Christopher Bourne at Twitch: “All the foreigners who have their hands in Sudan—the Chinese oil drilling company poisoning the water in the surrounding villages; U.S. evangelicals setting up religious shop; self-absorbed UN case workers; rapacious US-based land developers—have in common the shockingly freely expressed desire to take what they can from the country while giving very little back to the Sudanese people. Sauper’s images lend a darkly alluring beauty that being this woeful situation into even sharper relief.”
“Chilean director Alejandro Fernández Almendras has little patience for waste,” writes Calum Marsh in the Voice. “His superb dramatic thriller To Kill a Man makes every one of its lean 81 minutes count; there’s not an ounce of fat on it…. Almendras here poses a simple, unpretentious question: What does it take to kill a man? And then, just as simply and unpretentiously, he sets about answering it.”
“This tightly structured gem follows two cases of revenge,” writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. “One involves a lowlife drug dealer from the projects, Kalule (Daniel Antivilo), who shoots a teenaged boy, Jorgito, who is trying to retrieve the diabetes medication stolen at the community soccer field from his father, Jorge (Daniel Candia, the film’s protagonist in an outstanding, underplayed performance), a forest ranger on the way to his house in the working-class neighborhood nearby…. The other case of revenge is the one associated with the title. After Kalule sexually molests his teenaged daughter, the otherwise passive Jorge returns to the barrio, rifle in hand.”
“This Chilean revenge flick is uniformly economical,” agrees R. Kurt Osenlund at Slant. Yet it’s “also too restrained for its own good. As quietly, meticulously handsome as the film is (the use of lens flares alone is a decisive color-enhancing, compositional component), there’s precious little juicy subtext to its design, and in the end, it’s not much more than a tragic vigilante tale for the art house.”
Jordan Cronk here in Keyframe on the winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) at Sundance: “There’s been an unfortunate trend in contemporary Latino cinema to depict the most ruthless and unforgiving aspects of the culture—surely a byproduct of the social turmoil within various countries, but one that was taken to numbing new ends recently with Amat Escalante’s Heli. Almendras’s film doesn’t refrain from such depictions of violence—in fact, it’s an almost procedural documentation of the steps one man will take to exact revenge on a neighbor who continues to torment his family—but there’s a far greater sense of conscience and consequence in its steely-eyed presentation.”
Update, 3/29: Erik Luers has a few questions for Almendras.
“Mouton presents a French coastal town as a fully realized universe that feels as if it lives beyond the confines of the screen,” writes Wes Greene at Slant. “In their remarkable debut, Gilles Deroo and Marianne Pistone structure a multifaceted narrative around the minutiae of daily life, where a reflexive quality turns even the most everyday routines into intimate life-affirming moments. The filmmakers create an atmosphere where sights unseen and sounds unheard interconnect with the action presented on screen; contextual scenes are excised through the frequent use of elliptical fade-outs, which, in a nod to the ocean setting, suggest the ebb and flow of a tidal pool of memories.”
“The film opens as Aurelien (David Mérabet), condescendingly nicknamed Mouton (‘Sheep’), is freed from his unfit mother and sent to live on his own in a seaside village where he finds work as a chef’s assistant,” writes Jordan Cronk. “In tone, style, and subject matter, the first half of the film plays like a now-familiar post-Dardennes tale of proletariat struggle. And while a fine example of that particular mode of storytelling’s realist intrigue, Deroo and Pistone swiftly expand the coordinates of their narrative.
“D.P. Eric Alirol shoots most of this brilliant, deceptively complex film in documentary style, which is fitting for the theme of randomness that runs through it,” notes Howard Feinstein. Jay Kuehner interviews the directors for Cinema Scope.
The NYT‘s A.O. Scott on Quod Erat Demonstrandum: “In the waning years of Ceausescu’s dictatorship, Sorin, a young Romanian mathematician still living with his mother, attracts the attention of the secret police when an article of his turns up in a Western journal. It doesn’t help that his best friend has emigrated to France, or that the friend’s wife, who has stayed in Bucharest, might be the secret love of Sorin’s life. Andrei Gruzsniczki, the director, tells a story of paranoia and betrayal—part thriller, part comedy of manners—with meticulous care and detachment, implicitly challenging the notion that the totalitarian societies of the old Eastern bloc were neatly divided between innocent persecutors and monstrous villains.”
Drew Hunt at Slant: “Whether dealt with directly (The Paper Will Be Blue and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, both period set) or through its lingering influence (Beyond the Hills, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), the ghosts of communist Romania, specifically Ceaușescu’s reign, continues to haunt the minds of young Romanian directors, whose films, despite their diverse aesthetic and formal strategies, seem to have a presiding bottom line: ‘Never again, never forget.’ The same can be said for Quod Erat Demonstrandum, though unlike its politically charged ilk, it’s not a repudiation of communism as much as it is a repudiation of those who permit and otherwise promote the despotism, nepotism, and general oppressiveness of any corrupt political system.”
“Vivi Dragan Vasile’s photography is a bleak black-and-white that pulls you right into the period,” adds Howard Feinstein. But here in Keyframe, Jordan Cronk suggests that “there’s more to glean of the dictatorship in the margins of Corneliu Porumboiu’s latest film The Second Game—which essentially consists of a father and son sitting down to discuss a soccer match—than the entirety of this far-too-polite film.”
Update, 3/29: Quod Erat Demonstrandum “unfolds as a historically rooted nail-biter with romantic undertones—Bucharest’s answer to The Lives of Others—with a graceful piano score and acts of true if understated heroism,” writes Steven Mears for Film Comment. “Gruzsniczki opts not to demonize anyone on screen, not even the bureaucrats who incite treachery because they too felt the crushing weight of Ceausescu’s administration. He renders a climate of dread, but one (as informed by hindsight) where altruism and loyalty can triumph over coercion. You might not expect an uplifting aftertaste to come out of a Romanian meditation on its Communist past, but through Gruzsniczki’s elegant proof, quod erat demonstrandum.”