The Uncondemned (2016) Review.

Originally written for and posted on Film Inquiry.

The Uncondemneddirected by Michele Mitchell and Nick Louveltells the story of a group of young international lawyers and activists who fought to have rape recognised and prosecuted as a war crime. Underfunded, inexperienced and overwhelmed, they faced huge hurdles as they pursued their first case against a small town mayor in Rwanda.

THE UNCONDEMNED: A Heartbreaking Real-Life Courtroom Drama That's Slow To Start

Crimes of war against humanity had not been prosecuted since post-WWII, and surviving witnesses feared to come forward amongst death threats against them and their families. The film documents the brave Rwandan women who came forward to testify and win justice for the crimes committed against them.

A Bit of Context

Despite rape being recognised as an international war crime since 1919, no one had ever been prosecuted for it prior to 1997 during the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, which was part of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. However, even though rape during war has been a recurrent feature of wars throughout history, it has always been looked upon as a by-product of conflict, and not an effective military policy.

THE UNCONDEMNED: A Heartbreaking Real-Life Courtroom Drama That's Slow To Start
source: Abramorama

As explained in the documentary, these systematic sexual assaults are something that destroys not just the individual but the familial fabric, the social fabric and the economic fabric of a society. It is something that is used against a population to make it submit. Due to the tireless efforts of the men and women shown in this film, rape was tried for the first time as a war crime and as an aspect of genocide.

Legal Jargon and a Dull First-Half

The structure is in the style of courtroom dramas, moving between archival footage, sound from the testimony and court proceedings, as well as recent interviews with the integral people that are part of the operation. They describe the push-backs from the tribunal to include rape as a war crime charge for the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu.

Whilst some of it was very interesting, I found the first half of The Uncondemned difficult to follow. I had little knowledge of the events that occurred in Rwanda in the 1990s other than being aware of some of the terrible events that had occurred against the Tutsi people. The documentary offers little information about the events leading up to the tribunal and subsequent trial. Many different faces and places are mentioned without much contextualisation that would help the viewer understand the twists and turns of this plot coherently. There are no names or titles overlayed during the modern interview sequences that could help you grasp who is who, and I believe that would have helped a lot with getting to grips with the story. A lot of legal jargon is used, which made it difficult for someone with little to no legal knowledge understand what was going on.

Heartbreakingly Human Conclusion

The last half is where The Uncondemned reaches its climax – during the buildup we are introduced to four Rwandan women who have formed a support group for the rape victims of their village spurred by the victim herself, Godelieve Mukasarasi, and some of the lawyers and activists supporting the case. She realised that it was killing the women to be silent about their trauma, due to culturally not talking about their bodies and the shame associated with the violent assaults they had endured. You immediately are rooting for these women to testify against the mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu and to break the cycle of silence and shame for these victims, especially when they are flown to speak in front of the UN. It makes you feel uplifted and inspired by these amazing women.

Overall, this is a subject matter that outshines its documentary. It lacks contextualisation for the interviewees and makes the first half hard to follow. However, it is the brave women and the inspiring conclusion of The Uncondemned that makes it a heartbreaking, human, and empowering watch, and it reveals an important part of forgotten history.

Do you think it’s important for a documentary to give you the context of the subject matter? Or do you think you should do some research before you watch it? 

The Uncondemned was released on October 21 and 28, 2016 in NYC and LA. 

 

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) Review.

It’s no secret that I absolutely adore stop-motion animation and Laika Studios (Coraline, The Box Trolls)  is in my opinion the best out there at this style. Kubo and the Two Strings, follows young one-eyed Japanese boy named Kubo who is hunted from birth by his grandfather, known as the  Moon King. Armed with a shamisen Kubo is forced to flee the home he shares with his mother and winds up on a scavenger trail-esque adventure with a talking monkey and a samurai beetle.

The film has a fantastic balance of comedy, emotional scenes and genuinely scary moments throughout (that probably would have terrified me as a child!) and it definitely had surprising moments that emotionally cut you right to your core. The animation was fantastic as expected, and even exceeded my expectations. Laika Studios really seem to be pushing what is possible with this medium and it’s absolutely fantastic to watch.kubopuppet

If that hasn’t sold you yet the film features what is believed to be the largest stop motion puppet ever made (pictured above, it’s 16 feet tall!)

Overall, if you haven’t seen this magical adventure film yet please do go buy a ticket to support this amazing animation studio who just keep getting better and better with their storytelling style and I can’t wait to see what they do next!

Film Review Round Up Vol. 3

Everything Before Us (2016)

Directed by Wesley Chan and Philip Wang, Everything Before Us is a unique analysis of love and relationships. I watched this on Netflix, I believe it was never released in cinemas in the UK which is a shame because this is a beautiful, wistful film. Set in an alternate world/ dystopian society in which The D.E.I. – The Department Of Emotional Integrity judges the public’s romantic lives and assigns each individual a ‘relationship score’. Scores influence everything including finances, relationships, employment, etc Everything Before Us  follows 2 couples who navigate this world. One, a new young couple recently registered with the D.E.I beginning a long distance relationship at college. The other, an older ex-couple. The film is incredibly well written, bittersweet and realistic. Although the story line relatively predictable I found myself tearing up at certain moments because the character development makes you care so much about the protagonists through their moments of joy and pain. Pretty much the entire cast is Asian-American which was a refreshing difference to the american romance genre. Overall, I really enjoyed this film and if you have a Netflix account I highly recommend you give it a watch.

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Catch Me Daddy (2015)

Directed by Daniel Wolfe in his first feature, this British thriller follows Laila, (portrayed by Sameena Jabeen Ahmed in her first role) who is hiding out from her family after running away with her boyfriend. Set amongst the backdrop of the Yorkshire moors Laila must go on the run when she learns that her brother a long with a group of men is on the hunt for her in her town. This film is an absolutely terrifying portrayal of a modern day honour killing in Britain although the phrase is never mentioned. Warning, There are gruesome upsetting scenes that stay long with you after watching. Sameena’s performance as Laila is brilliant supported by Conor McCarron who had great chemistry  together. The cinematography is stunning and adds an artistic and unreal element to this otherwise social realist film. Overall, this is a difficult watch and powerful film.

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Life (2015)

I wanted to see this at Berlinale in 2015 so when I saw it available on Amazon Video I snapped up the chance to watch it. Directed by Anton Corbijn it tells the story of the relationship between LIFE photographer Dennis Stock wonderfully played by Robert Pattinson (Maps to the Stars, Twilight Saga) and the actor James Dean played by Dane Dehaan (Kill Your Darlings, Chronicle). Historically, Stock took some of the most iconic images of James Dean during his rise to stardom and the film lovingly re-creates and imagines these moments throughout the film. The production overall was beautiful including the costumes and sets looking exactly like the photographs which they show before the credits at the end of the film. Unfortunately the film itself is relatively dull, it takes a long time before anything happens and there is little character development nor any resemblance of a realistic relationship dynamic between Stock and James Dean. However, the people who made this film clearly loved the subject and it comes through with every scene so I would recommend simply for that if you are a fan of old hollywood and James Dean.

Silent Films on the Big Screen.

I recently saw the 1928 film Underground with a live musical score by HarmonieBand at HOME.  The film explores a love triangle that forms on the London Underground when two men are attracted to the same woman. I really enjoyed this film with its live musical accompaniment, it was pretty impressive to see the band as 2 of the members were constantly switching instruments. The film itself was directed by Anthony Asquith and whilst telling a love story it documented the London Underground system in the late 1920s.

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I absolutely loved Underground, It did the usual love triangle plot device of the rejected man framing the chosen man and making him look unfaithful but rather than doing what I expected and the chosen man trying to seek redemption and win back the protagonist she believed him, trusted him and took it upon herself to seek out what really happened. The cinematography of the escalators and underground trains was brilliant and very familiar despite being shot in 1929.

Earlier in the year there was a special screening of The Son of The Sheik (1926), as part of the season of films exploring sex and sexuality. Valentino, one of the first cinematic sex symbols stars in this film sequel about the son of a sheik and a dancing girl falling in love, he then seeks revenge due to believing she has betrayed him.

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Now, The Son of The Sheik was a film I didn’t quite like as much as Underground. It was a massive cliche of the silent film era, dashing hero, helpless love interest, lots of riding around on horses, that kind of thing. I did enjoy it simply because it was such a cliche film meaning it was hilarious in places and was exactly what you would expect a film like this to be.

I think it’s brilliant that I have been able to see silent films at the cinema, especially with live musical accompaniment, it really brings the films to life and showcases work that isn’t always accessible. I know I for one would love to see more films from that era so I hope cinemas continue to do events like this!

Grad Film Update- “Soul”

I recently finished production on one of Grad films Soul on which I was the Producer. The film is currently in the post-production stage.

Soul is an exploration of a support group for people who believe they have lost their souls. “Every morning at 9am a group gather on an urban wasteland – they are all connected by an emptiness in their lives – a lack of a human soul. Together they try to find meaning in their blank existence. However, their world is thrown into chaos by a jogger.” 

You can follow the project on:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Soul-972150816195370/?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SoulFilmMCR

and I will post more updates here also!

The Danish Girl (2016) Review.

Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables), starring Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, My Week With Marilyn) and Alicia Vikander (Testament of Youth, Ex Machina). The Danish Girl, is loosely based on the relationship between the danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener as well as Lili’s journey in discovering her gender identity and eventually becoming one of the first transgender women to have sex reassignment surgery.

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I’ll be honest, I didn’t really enjoy this film. It felt lazy in many of the ways it depicted Lili’s body dysmorphia, ticking every on-screen transgender cliché in the book. (Shots of Lili examining herself in the mirror, hiding female clothes under male etc) It was incredibly cringe-worthy in places, with cheesy dialogue. “You’re different from most girls” remarks a suitor the first time Lili goes out in public, she replies with a simpering smile “That’s not a very original line”. Lili’s character felt underdeveloped, and her character lacked complexity and depth beyond her gender identity.

Performance wise, Alicia Vikander’s performance carried this film as Lili’s wife. Eddie Redmayne however, is over the top and almost caricature like. Aspects of the film I did enjoy included the beautiful array of costumes designed by Paco Delgado and the chemistry between Vikander and Redmayne in the earlier scenes.

Overall, The Danish Girl lacked subtlety and depth and I was disappointed with it.

My Top Ten Films of 2015.

Another year has passed and I have seen more films than I can count, here are my favourites of the year that came out in UK cinemas in 2015!

1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

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Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, this Iranian, vampire-western (yes, what a combination) was absolutely brilliant. Shot all in black and white it still manages to be visually interesting with compelling, surprising characters. It’s funny, it’s dramatic and there is a huge cat in it. What’s not to love?

2. Girlhood (Bande de filles)

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Directed by Céline Sciamma, this powerful french drama is honest yet non-judgemental. It follows Marieme, a working class, black girl trying to find her place in the world.  The film is structured in an interesting way and the cinematography is bright and colourful amidst often bleak settings.

 3. Inside Out

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This is the best Pixar film I’ve seen in years, funny and clever yet hard hitting at times. Plus some of my favourite TV actresses Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling lend their voices to the film. You can read my review of it here.

4. Whiplash

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Directed by Damien Chazelle in his first feature film. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tense in a film, it was exhausting to watch in the best possible way.

5. Carolcarolll

Directed by Todd Haynes and shot in 16mm, this glamorous, beautiful love story set in 1950s New York at Christmas time was stunning. Amazing performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

6. Selma

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This moving, powerful film directed by Ava DuVernay about the Civil Rights Movement is brilliant and heartbreaking. With David Oyelowo giving a great performance as Martin Luther King Jr. You can read my review of it here.

7. Macbeth

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Directed by Justin Kurzel, Macbeth has stunning cinematography and captivating performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. You can read my review here.

8. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

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This beautiful animation by Studio Ghibli was incredibly unique in it’s style and is very different to anything i’ve seen from the studio before. You can read my review here.

9. Mockingjay Part 2

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The final part in The Hunger Games franchise, featured some amazing acting by Jennifer Lawrence and rounded off the series brilliantly.

10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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I just saw this last week and it has knocked off the film I had originally intended to take the number 10 spot. It’s fun, dramatic and engaging. Full of well developed female characters and I really enjoyed it.

I look forward to seeing more in 2016! I am particularly looking forward to seeing JoyThe Danish GirlThe Revenant and Room.

Steve Jobs (2015) Review.

Last week, I attended a screening of Steve Jobs that featured a Q&A with director Danny Boyle. The film stars Michael Fassbender (Macbeth, Shame) and Kate Winslet (TitanicRevolutionary Road) and was written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network).

I must admit, when I first heard about this film coming out I was not interested in the slightest. Despite owning products by Apple, I’ve always found the strange worshiping of Steve Jobs as a god like figure very disconcerting and assumed that this film would treat him the same. I was most definitely wrong. The best part about this film is that it cuts through the mythology surrounding Steve Jobs to paint this portrait of a flawed man. The plot focuses on the relationship between Jobs and his daughter, who he originally denied paternity of. As she grows, she becomes the catalyst for his character development. I can’t fault the performances of Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Kate Winslet as marketing chief Joanna Hoffman, both played off each other brilliantly. At the Q&A with Danny Boyle, he mentioned that the real the heroines of the film are Winslet’s character and Jobs’ daughter Lisa and I completely agree. Jobs comes across as very unlikeable and is redeemed by the people around him.

Steve Jobs is split into three sections and set in 3 different times each at the launch of a new product, beginning with the original Macintosh and ending with the launch of the iMac. What’s interesting is that each section is filmed with a different camera, the first two acts on film (16mm and 35mm) and the third in digital. The film does feel a lot like a play, it is very dialogue driven without becoming boring and still maintains an interesting visual style without needing elaborate backdrops and settings.

Overall, this film was very entertaining and I really enjoyed it!

Suffragette (2015) Review.

Finally, I was able to see the film I have been excited for since mid-2014 when I stumbled upon them filming outside the Houses of Parliament. Suffragette Directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, This Little Life) and starring Carey Mulligan (An Education, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Great Gatsby), Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech, Sweeny Todd, Les Misérables) and briefly Meryl Streep (Into the Woods, The Hours, Sophie’s Choice).

Suffragette followed Mulligan’s character Maud as she slowly starts to fight back against the systematic oppression of women. The film is definitely a slow burner and I think it does a good job of building up the tension and anger felt by the protagonist as well as developing her character with Mulligan’s terrific performance. I also really enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter’s character as well as Anne Marie-Duff’s (Before I go to Sleep, Nowhere Boy).  They were really great believable supporting characters that added depth to the story.

The film does play out as more of a history lesson and I feel that it fails in some ways to stir up emotion especially if you are already familiar with the Suffragette movement. Nothing was particularly surprising or shocking to me, in fact the most heart wrenching moments were about the life of the ficticious Maud rather than the more historically based areas of the film. However, I think that to someone new to the history that it would be very educational despite being a fictional story because I know that I personally, knew nothing of the suffragettes until my optional GCSE History classes at school meaning that a lot of people that see this film may be shocked by some of the treatment of the suffragettes.

I do feel that perhaps the cast was a bit too small sometimes, you didn’t really feel the scale of the movement. However, I really loved the ending in which they blend the film with real life footage of the suffragettes, it’s the only time in the film it feels like the movement is bigger than the few on screen. I did however, have an issue with the rolling list of dates that stated when suffrage was won for women in different countries right before the credits of the film, because it stated that it was 1920 for the U.S.A. which is forgetting the fact that black women were not able to vote until 1965, I think it’s a shame that they did not clarify this.

I think the film does a good job of telling an important story without glamourising the struggle for women in Britain to get the vote, it also does a good job of not making you feel like the fight for women’s rights is over. I did really enjoy the film and definitely recommend you give it a watch!