Daily | Venice International Film Critics Week 2013

Class Enemy

‘Class Enemy’

Just as we’re gathering notes on several of the films screening in Venice Days in a single entry, this one’s for Venice International Film Critics Week.

“Group dynamics are dissected with chilling precision in Class Enemy (Razredni sovražnik), the assured debut feature of Slovenian shorts filmmaker Rok Biček,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “Loosely based on actual events that occurred at his high school when the now 28-year-old filmmaker was a freshman, the tense and gripping narrative centers on the out-of-control reactions of a class after one of their peers has killed herself and the students gang up on their strict new teacher.”

Variety‘s Alissa Simon, too, finds Class Enemy to be “compelling… Biček demonstrates an impressive control of tension and suspense, making each encounter between class and instructor crackle with the possibility of violence.” But in Screen Daily, Dan Fainaru suggests the film may be “too ambitious,” taking on “a multitude of major issues, starting from coming-of-age discontent and going all the way to the easily provoked eruption of everyday fascism. Though Biček does manage to put most of his points across, the entire exercise looks rather theoretical, carefully manipulated and not sufficiently interested in the particulars of the plot, to generate a significant emotional response.”

“Anyone wondering where to find an elusive feeling of joy in a world remorselessly depicted as ‘crappy’ may find a bit of enlightenment, or at least bemused pleasure, in The Art of Happiness, a thought-provoking animated drama for adults set on the mean streets of Naples,” writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “The story of an angry young taxi driver who refuses to come to terms with his brother’s abandonment recalls Richard Linklater’s 2001 Waking Life in its smart and imaginative exploration of consciousness, with the twist that debuting filmmaker Alessandro Rak inserts an East meets West dimension into a highly naturalistic urbanscape…. [T]his first feature is promising but stuffed with a little too much to finally click, and an noxiously loud, ever-present music track adds to the confusion.”

“Three indigenous sisters in the barren Altiplano of northern Chile confront their increasing isolation in Sebastián Sepúlveda’s starkly handsome debut, The Quispe Girls,” writes Jay Weissberg in Variety. “Based on a true story from 1974, when the claws of Gen. Pinochet’s dictatorship were being felt even in the remotest parts of the country, the pic plays on the intimacy of the sisters in contrast to the monumentality of the landscape, crushing them in its immense solitude.”

In the Hollywood Reporter, Jonathan Holland finds that the film “ripples with universal meanings, its bleak austerity spilling over into the authentically tragic. A thoroughly unsentimental study of the passing of a way of life and of the people who lived that life, Sebastián Sepúlveda’s beautifully written, played and shot feature debut is as dark, pure and bleak as the lives of its subjects.”

“A young Moroccan gay boy tries to make sense of the world around him in Salvation Army (L’Armee du Salut), France-based Moroccan novelist Abdellah Taia’s film adaptation of his autobiographical first novel of the same name,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “The film chronicles the sexual awakening of sorts of a 15-year-old boy from Casablanca who’s obsessed with his handsome older brother, has sex with men from the neighborhood and finally moves to Switzerland, 10 years later. Though the film’s European scenes carry too little dramatic weight and might be confusing for those unfamiliar with the novel, the Morocco-set opening 40 minutes are beautifully and quietly observed.”

Update, 9/9: “Clearly a strongly personal work, it is a spare, understated portrait,” writes Ashley Clarke for Filmmaker. “Framed and edited with careful precision, Salvation Army emerges as an honest and moving meditation on family, home, youth, sexuality and escape.”

Updates, 9/14: Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope: “Salvation Army avoids the usual pitfalls of political cinema, precisely because Taïa is able to remain focused on particulars, the overwhelming feel of things. (Agnès Godard’s cinematography certainly helps in this regard.) But at the same time, Taïa makes sure that we see those specifics as nodes within objective historical formations, in which there are no enemies or smug tellers of truth, only people trying to make their best available move.”

And Variety‘s Jay Weissberg: “Where the book delivered a straightforward, beautifully told story of a gay man negotiating family, desire and the sexual power play behind Arab-European intimacy, the pic largely jettisons the first-person narrative that allowed access to the protag’s head, replacing it with distancing coldness not helped by emotionless perfs.”

“Critics Week has awarded its prize to Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot a sophisticated comedy by first-time Italo helmer Matteo Oleotto,” reports Variety‘s Nick Vivarelli. It “features wine as one of its main characters,” notes Camillo de Marco at Cineuropa. “The first scene features Paolo Bressan (an exhilarating Giuseppe Battiston), a heartless bastard and womanizer with a patron from the Gustino Osteria (Teco Celio), where he spends all of his time. Pieces from the checkers are replaced by glasses of red and white wine. Winners of the game get to drink its pieces…. Gorizia-native Matteo Oleotto, after getting a diploma in directing at the experimental cinema center in Rome (Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia), came back to his homeland with a story in his pocket after meeting a shy boy with a great gift for darts. Paolo is a mixture of people who live in a small town they are desperate to leave but at the same time proud to be living in.”

“A German-Italian-Tanzanian co-production, Noaz Deshe’s White Shadow offered up as pure a vision of hell on Earth as I can remember witnessing,” writes Shane Danielsen at Indiewire, “as we follow a young albino boy, known as Alias, through an indescribably violent and chaotic world, where he is persecuted and hunted by all he encounters. (Albinos, in Tanzania, are little more than walking targets, their flesh and organs sought by witch doctors for use in magic potions.) One night, without warning, his father is murdered, hacked to pieces by local thugs; desperate, his mother sends Alias away to live with his uncle, Kosmos. But there, too, sanctuary proves horribly short-lived. Watching this felt like seeing Elem Klimov’s Come and See for the first time—and like that film, it walked a fine line between spectacle and horror show…. Every sequence here, every new encounter, boasted at least one moment of either visual or aural astonishment, right up to the jaw-dropping final image.”

Update, 9/9: Ashley Clarke for Filmmaker: “Concerned by its levels of violence, I wondered at times if the film had strayed into exploitation territory; however, on balance there was enough tenderness and detail in the characterization to keep my fears at bay. Over and above the grittiness, White Shadow is a portrait of survival and humanity under terrible odds, featuring an unaffected, naturalistic performance from [Hamisi] Bazili.”

Update, 9/11: Camillo de Marco talks with Deshe for Cineuropa.

Jonathan Holland in the Hollywood Reporter: “Full of meanings that reverberate way beyond the small room in which it’s mostly set, Chilean debutante Moisés Sepúlveda’s Illiterate is a richly metaphorical and emotionally subtle two-hander about the painful efforts of a middle-aged woman learning how to read. Partly scripted by Pablo Paredes from his own play and magnificently performed by actresses hired from the stage version, the film paradoxically feels both overlong, due to its occasional longueurs, and too short, in that more detail about this engagingly odd couple could have given it more dramatic vividness and heft.”

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