Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before The Sun (Canada 2023) ***

Directed by Banchi Hanuse

 

Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before The Sun is an intimate and thrilling portrait of a young Siksika woman, named Logan and the deep bonds between her father and her family, as she prepares for one of the most dangerous horse races in the world, the Indian Relay.  The documentary follows Logan Red Crow on the golden plains of Blackfoot Territory, as she trains for a relay race that will propel the determined and skilled young woman into the male-dominated Indian Relay Racing world, where riders vault bareback from horse to horse. As she pushes towards her goal, the connections between animal and human, family and community, ancestral tradition and contemporary life are profound and lasting.

Director Hans reveals the stunning landscape of Blackfoot Territory, the open lands and the rivers, many from aerial shots.  One can understand the father’s love for the land and his ambition to, as he says in the film, be his own boss and rear horses and cattle.  Everyone had horses in the day, he tells the audience in the film.  Logan, his daughter is the most hardworking of all his workers.

The film covers several key issues including the daughter and father relationship, horse racing, coming-of-age, sickness as in dementia, indigenous education and land and horse, horses and horses.

Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before The Sun is an earnest no-nonsense decent Canadian documentary premiering on Paramount+ on December 22nd.  It is a Telus original documentary.

The film, which had its world premiere at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and won the prestigious Big Sky Award has been on a successful film festival run at some of the top film festivals in the world including Hot Docs. Aitamaako’tamisskapi Natosi: Before the Sun was shot on location in beautiful Siksika Nation, Tsuut’ina, Îyâxe Nakoda, Blackfoot Territory, Enoch Cree Nation ᒪᐢᑫᑯᓯᐦᐠ Maskêkosihk, Casper, Wyoming.

The multi-award-winning film will be available to audiences across Canada on December 22nd on Paramount+ and available free on demand on TELUS Optik TV (channel 8). Produced by BC-based Taxam Films, this compelling documentary has earned numerous accolades globally and had sold-out premieres at Hot Docs and the Vancouver International Film Festival. It also won the Audience Choice Award at the 2023 Calgary International Film Festival.

An easy watch at only 90 minutes, this indigenous Canadian documentary is also informative on the history of our land.

ANSELM (Germany 2023) ***½

Directed by Wim Wenders

 

ANSELM is shot in 3D as in Wim Wenders’ other documentary PINA.  German director tackles the works of German artist/sculptor Anselm Keifer with little compromise making the doc a likely difficult watch for those uninterested in art or the artist.  On the other hand, Wender’s film is meticulous and mesmerizing work and a pleasure for those in the field.  Dialogue and voiceover are used at a minimum.

Spanning 50 years, the film features Wenders’ young great-nephew Anton Wenders and Kiefer’s adult son Daniel Kiefer playing the artist in his earlier days, with the now 78-year-old Kiefer as himself.  

 The audience is at first introduced to the enormity of Anselm’s works.  The film opens as the camera glides around Kiefer’s plaster wedding dresses with “heads” of twigs, bricks, steel, and lead – various materials he is famous for using.  Wenders also reveals the innovative methods he employs to create paintings, whether he’s applying thick paint, torching straw to create ashes, or pouring molten lead onto his canvases.  Many paintings are enormous, requiring hydraulic-powered elevating platforms so he can work on them.   Anselm uses a bicycle to move around his works as they are stored in a high building.  The comparison of his person and his works shows the huge size of his works.

This is not 3D as in commercial films where objects are flung off the screen at the audience but a more subtle and effective 3D where the audiences can observe the depth and texture of the artist’s work.  The doc, obviously looks stunning, even more so because 3D has been absent in use in films recently.

Anselm Kiefer is a German painter and sculptor.  He studied with two other well-known German artists, Peter Dreher and Horst Antes at the end of the 1960s.  His works incorporate materials such as straw, ash, clay, lead, and shellac, and his works-in-progress are shown by director Wenders on the screen.  This is arguably the film’s most fascinating segment.  The poems of Paul Celan have played a role in developing Kiefer's themes of German history and the horrors of the Holocaust, as have the spiritual concepts of Kabbalah.  Kiefer reached international fame in the 1980s via his retrospectives held in Chicago and New York, with critics proclaiming “America has a new superstar.” 

It should be noted that this is a film on ANSELM’s work and not a biography, though this is some mention of his influence and past.  Anselm is also one of the wealthiest artists of his time, a fact that is not mentioned in the documentary.

According to the press notes, ANSELM  took a good two years to shoot.  Among the locations is Barjac, a 200-acre site in the south of France that, without the help of architects or engineers, Kiefer turned into one the world’s most jaw-dropping works of art, with underground tunnels and crypts that connect to numerous installations.

The documentary debuted in Special Screenings at Cannes 2023 and opens in theatres on December 22nd.

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ANYONE BUT YOU (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Will Gluck

 

ANYONE BUT YOU is the new American romantic comedy film starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell.  It is directed by Will Gluck, from a screenplay he co-wrote with Ilana Wolpert, based loosely on Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.  There are many references to William Shakespeare in the movie from signboards and other headings.

Two people who despise one another cannot seem to get away from the other while they vacation in Sydney for a wedding.

The film starts pretty badly with the meeting of Ben and Bea at a coffee shop following a bed romp the same night of the meeting.  A misunderstanding causes them to hate each other, but both are coincidentally invited to an Australian wedding in Sydney.  Bee has a sister to the bride while Ben’s best friend’s sister is the other bride.  In Sydney, the wedding couple believes that Ben and Bea would spoil the wedding for them.  The story requires Ben and Bea to pretend to be the perfect couple for the duration of the wedding - and they rekindle the fireworks of the first night of their meeting.  Of course, like Harlequin novels, there is a terrible misunderstanding and a cliched rush to the airport to make up and thus prevent the other from leaving the city.  Audiences have seen this kind of story time and again, but the film contains enough distractions and a certain charm that lets the movie get away with murder.

The film’s supporting cast is nothing short of excellent.  Being filmed in Sydney, it is no surprise to see Aussie heavyweight Bryan Brown, who champions Australian film playing the father of one of the brides.  Brown seldom plays comedy but succeeds well here.  Dermot Mulroney, also seen in the rom-com MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING plays the other bride’s father.   But the prize and most hilarious performance deserving of a prize belongs to Joe Davidson who plays the goofy Australian surfer, dumb boyfriend, Beau, aka Crocodile Beau.  He brings out a laugh-out moment (from me) of everything he shows up in a scene.  This guy, who so far has appeared mainly in TV series should be given bigger roles.

At its best, ANYONE BUT YOU reminds one of the romantic comedies made with Doris Day and Rock Hudson, a sort of almost perfect pairing of actors that play characters that both despise each other before falling in love.  This silly premise would work anytime given a few different scenarios and different characters.  ANYONE BUT YOU succeeds in this respect.

Don’t expect anything too much in terms of message or insight,  As a silly romantic comedy, ANYONE BUT YOU provides sufficient entertainment while updating the Shakespearean play to the modern world, complete with a fully accepted gay lesbian wedding that would make the Bard turn in his grave.  Bud judging from the 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating at the time of writing this review, ANYONE BUT YOU looks like a hit. 

ANYONE BUT YOU is the only rom-com Christmas movie and opens December 22nd.

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AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM (USA 2023) *

Directed by James Wan

 

AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM is the sequel to the equally awful AQUAMAN that takes place several years after Aquaman (Jason Samoa, looking equally untidy and unkempt with his uncut hair) becomes the King of Atlantis.  Arthur Curry has married Mera (Amber Heard aka Johnny Depp’s ex-wife) and has a son, Arthur Jr., while splitting his life between land and sea.  Meanwhile, David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) continues to seek revenge against Arthur for his father's death, working with marine biologist Stephen Shin (Randall Park) to find Atlantean artifacts. He finds a black trident that possesses him, its creator promising to give him the power to destroy Arthur.  David Kane aka Black Manta is a ruthless pirate and high-seas mercenary who uses an Atlantean armoured suit and wields the powerful Black Trident, seeking to kill Arthur and his family as revenge for the death of his father

Five months later, David attacks Atlantis and breaks into its orichalcum reserves to power Shin's Atlantean machines. Arthur learns that this usage of orichalcum, which emits high quantities of greenhouse gases (the film’s attempt to put some climate change message into the story), has not only raised planetary temperatures and caused extreme weather and ocean acidification but nearly caused a planetary extinction when used by an ancient Atlantean kingdom. To learn where David is hiding, Arthur breaks his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) out of prison. The two meet with the crime lord Kingfish, who provides information leading to a volcanic island in the South Pacific.

There is nothing innovative or new in this movie.  Sadly, the highlight of the film is Patrick Wilson as Orm eating a live cockroach not once but twice in the film, the second during the closing credits.  But wait, Dustin Hoffman had already seen eating a live cockroach in the prison movie in Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1973 PAPILLION.

It is time to put AQUAMAN to rest.  Jason Mamoa was reported in the local press saying that the Studio heads are not hoping to make another sequel after this one, but Momoa hopes the audience for the film will prove otherwise.  Judging from the film and the audience’s reactions so far, it looks like Aquaman will be as lost as the city of Atlantis.

Director James Wan disappoints with lazy direction and an equally lazy script that somehow manages to touch all the cliches found in an action film.  Despite the 3D and special underwater effects - It is a complete bore!  I have to confess that as much as I tried to stay awake during the film, I dozed off several times.  I thought being a critic and not part of the general public, I was the only one, but I overheard the guy sitting next to me saying to his friend on the other seat:” I saw you fell asleep behind the 3D glasses and I did not want to wake you.”

AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM opens in theatres on December 22nd.

Trailer: 

 

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT (USA 2023) ***

Directed by George Clooney

 

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is a 2023 American biographical period sports drama film co-produced and directed by George Clooney from a screenplay by Mark L. Smith, based on the 2013 book of the same name by Daniel James Brown.

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is about the University of Washington eight-oared rowing crew that represented the United States in rowing at the 1936 Summer Olympics – Men's Eight in Berlin and narrowly beat out Italy and Germany to win the gold medal.  The main character is Joe Rantz (Callum Turner). Rantz had a tough time growing up and was abandoned by his family for several years to fend for himself.  The film also opens a fair amount of emphasis on the coach (Joey Edgerton), the man who fought to get the team to win and to participate in the Berlin Olympics despite all odds and prejudices against the underprivileged, 

All nine members of the Washington team came from lower-middle-class families and had to struggle to earn their way through school during the depths of the Depression.   Joe is shown living much like a hobo with holes in the soles of his shoes.  Along with the chronicle of their victories and defeats in domestic competition, the audience learns the importance of the synchronization of the eight rowers as they respond to the commands of the coxswain and his communications with the stroke, consistent pacing, and sprint to the finish.  Joe is thrown out of the team at one point humility taught him a lesson that allowed him back into the team.

In the book, there is the second backstory of Hitler decreeing construction of the spectacular German venues at which the Games would take place.  Along the way, the book also describes how the Nazis successfully covered up the evidence of their harsh and inhumane treatment of the Jews and other minorities to win worldwide applause for the Games, during the United States Olympic Committee, among others.   This backstory is largely pitted in the film.  For one, the inclusion of this story would distract and undermine the feel-good spirit of the film.  Perhaps there could be another film dealing with this story.  In THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, director Clooney includes brief glimpses of Hitler, mainly comical, attending the regatta, one that includes him exiting in disgust after the Americans won the race.

The cast is made up of a combination British and American actors, Joe Dantz, the American played by a Brit.  To give him credit, Callum Turner is quite good as is Edgerton as the coach, highly serious most of the time.

The regatta races are executed with sufficient excitement with the usual expert edits that should have the audience cheering in the aisles.

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT succeeds at being a feel-good sports drama, hitting all the right buttons, though many of these buttons have been hit before.  The filmmakers have taken many of what they now call ‘artistic liberties’ with the story to dramatize the story. 

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT had its world premiere in Los Angeles on December 11, 2023, and is scheduled to be released by Amazon MGM Studios in the United States on December 25, 2023. The film opens on Christmas Day in theatres across North America.

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THE COLOR PURPLE (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Blitz Bazawule 

 

THE COLOR PURPLE - the film's musical version based on the Alice Walker Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the 1985 Steven Spielberg film is hardly a Christmas film for the reason of its dark themes of rape and racism, though the wickedness of man, not only the white but the black man is somewhat softened by the music numbers.

The 2023 American musical coming-of-age period drama film directed by Blitz Bazawule from a screenplay by Marcus Gardley, is based on the stage musical of the same name, which in turn is based on the 1982 novel of the same name by Alice Walker.  It is the second film adaptation of the novel, following the 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Spielberg and Quincy Jones. Spielberg and Jones return as producers for the 2023 film along with the stage musical's producers Scott Sanders and Oprah Winfrey, the latter of whom also starred in the 1985 film

Celie (Fantasia Barrino as the adult Celie Harris-Johnson and Phylicia Pearl Mpasi as young Celie), a poor African-American girl, lives in rural Georgia in the early 1900s. She writes letters to God because her father Alphonso beats and rapes her. Due to the rape, she has two children, Olivia and Adam, whom Alphonso takes away. A farmer identified as "Mister" )Colman Domingo) asks to marry her younger sister Nettie, but Alphonso offers him Celie instead. Mister abuses Celie physically, sexually, and verbally, and his prior children mistreat her as well. Nettie (Halle Bailey)runs away and stays with Celie, but Mister eventually makes her leave. Nettie promises to write but never does, and Celie concludes that she is dead.  The story goes on to include the reunion between Nettie and Cleo (the reunion scene being a bit overdone).  As the story progresses, so does Celie’s character as she learns to survive and not succumb to life’s bad dishes at her.

The film contains excellent performances from the three female leads, Fantasia Barrino as Celie (the part originally played by Whoopi Goldberg); Taraji P Henson as the singing star Shug Avery (Margaret Avery in 1985) and Danielle Brooks in the role of Sofia (in which Oprah Winfrey once made her film debut).  The question is how far these three will go after the film’s debut.

The question is whether one needs a musical version of the book - be it on Broadway or in another film.  Though not perfect and with rough edges, Spielberg’s one still makes an impression after more than 25 years.  Who can forget the scene in which Whoopi Goldberg (in her most dramatic role?)  She was placing a saving blade beneath the head and on the neck of the man she so despises.  This new version also incorporated this unforgettable scene that sends shivers down one’s spine.   Goldberg has a welcome cameo as a black midwife delivering a baby.

The power of Alice Walker’s novel cannot be denied and this musical version still reveals the story of Walker’s book.  The cruelty by the Blacks is revealed to be just as bad as the white racism present throughout the story.  This is what makes this 2023 version still entertaining, though less from its musical numbers, though executed with sufficient aplomb.

THE COLOR PURPLE opens Christmas day in theatres.

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FERRARI (USA 2023) ****

Directed by Michael Mann

 

Many names in the film’s credits should attract audiences to watch this sports drama this Christmas.  One is the strength of the star Adam Driver and yet another is Spanish actress Penelope Cruz.  Another is the director Michael Mann who has made some really good classics in the past.  The name Michael Man should attract cineasts worldwide.  Watch the racing car accident scene near the film’s end and one can see the reason.  But foremost is the name of Ferrari, both the name of the Italian car brand and the sports car racer, Enzo Ferrari played by Adam Driver.

It should be noted that this is not a film on the biography of Ferrari, though there is mention of his background. It is based on the 1991 biography Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine by motorsport journalist Brock Yates.  The film follows the personal and professional struggles of Enzo Ferrari, the Italian founder of the car manufacturer Ferrari S.p.A., during the summer of 1957.

In the summer of 1957, Enzo Ferrari, reeling from the death of his son Dino, the deteriorating marriage with his wife Laura, and his company's impending bankruptcy, enters his racing team to the 1957 Mille Miglia.  He supposed that winning is what makes his company tick and winning will improve car sales while he steers the company towards increasing production.

The setting is the summer of 1957. Enzio’s marriage is falling apart, he sleeps with other women countless times.  But he still lives with his business partner and very angry wife, Laura (Penelope Cruz) who does not care if her husband sleeps around and with many women, as long as he returns to the home before the maid arrives in the morning.  Like Driver, Cruz plays the role of a very angry person, and there is hardly a scene in which she is seen smiling.  The confrontational scene w between Laura and Enzio is one of the film’s highlights.

Adan Driver portrays Enzio Ferrari with all the ferocity and aplomb of the car manufacturer and racer.  He is dead serious in the role and his face shows it.  There are no smiles at all during his portrayal.  The reason is obvious as it is the most crucial time in his life when everything is falling apart.  Yet, he is seeking an heir to the Ferrari throne.

The film’s best scene must surely be mentioned in this review.  This is, however a spoiler alert, so what follows in italics, is a spoiler that should be skipped if one wishes to do so.  The best-filmed segment has the car hit an object on the road, sending it flying up into the air and diverted after hitting a huge pole and then crashing into a line of spectators.  The spectators do not have time to run, and the destruction is devastating to the eyes.  There is decapitation of bodies with arms and ages everywhere, Though gruesome the scene is, it is the best in the film, and well worth the price of the admission ticket.  Director Michael Mason captures the spirit of racing and the environment of the racing business.

The trouble with films like NAPOPEON and FERRARI are the American actors playing European subjects.  Phoenix speaks English with a French accent while Driver does Ferrari with an Italian accent - which seems acceptable to Hollywood audiences as most would not go see a subtitled film.

 

FERRARI opens on Christmas Day.

Trailer: 

THE IRON CLAW (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Sean Durkin

 

Written and directed by Sean Durkin, the film attempts to tell the true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s.  Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach, the brothers seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.  THE IRON CLAW is the wrestling hold made famous by the Von Erich father.

The Von Enrich name is quite famous in the history books of wrestling.   Originally from Texas, their actual surname is Adkisson, but every member who has been in the wrestling business has used the ring name "Von Erich," after the family patriarch, Fritz Von Erich (Jack Adkisson). Jack took on the name as part of his wrestling gimmick (i.e. in-ring persona) as he originally portrayed a Nazi heel, hence his use of a German name.

There are too many deaths in the family, as the film goes to show that the family has the Von Enrich Curse.  When Fritz died of cancer in his Denton County home in 1997 at the age of 68, five of his six sons had predeceased him. His firstborn, Jack Jr., was accidentally shocked and drowned in a puddle at the age of 6 in 1959, outside his Niagara Falls home. In 1984, David Von Erich died in a Tokyo hotel from enteritis at the age of 25. Mike, Chris, and Kerry all died by suicide; Mike took an overdose of Placidyl near Lewisville Lake in 1987 at the age of 23, Chris shot himself in the head with a 9mm handgun in 1991 at the age of 21, and Kerry shot himself in the chest in the family yard in 1993 at the age of 33. Kevin Von Erich (portrayed by Zac Ephron) is the last surviving son.

Ephron has gained major muscle for the role while sporting a most horrid haircut.  Ephron used to be so cute but is now likely considered too big for his own good.  He performs well in the role of Kevin, the main protagonist of the movie. 

Director Durkin omits certain important parts of the family history in lieu of the other parts that involve Kevin, primarily for the obvious reason that Ephron is the star of the movie.

 The wrestling match in which Kerry won the championship title bringing the championship belt to the family for the very first time is clearly omitted in the movie.  The major wrestling matches shown in the movie all involve Kevin.

Director Durkin captures the most important points in the cautionary tale.  The dangers of the sport of wrestling are shown from the injuries suffered by the wrestlers to pushing their bodies past their limits to the psychological effects of losing and trying too hard.  The sibling rivalry and the detrimental effects of the father’s demands are also well documented.  One could fault the father and mother for doing too much without much thinking.

For a Christmas movie, THE IRON CLAW is a most depressing one- as good as the drama it is.  The warning is given to the audience at the very start of the film in voiceover that the family is cursed from the very beginning with one mishap after another.  It is as if God had forsaken the family even though the mother is a devout God-fearing person.  So if depressing films at Christmas are not your forte stay away from this one.

Trailer: 

MIGRATION (USA 2023) ***

Directed by Benjamin Renner

 

From the ILLUMINATION company, the one responsible for those too-cute minions arrives MIGRATION, with a few nods to the minis.  The feature MIGRATION is preceded by an ILLUMINATION -Mionin short, which is of course, cute and entertaining.

MIGRATIPN is a film about a duck family with an overall message for kids and the family.  The loveable family of odd ducks is ruled by the father (Kumail Nanjiani) with a strong hand or wing, that could be easily persuaded otherwise.  The family comprises the mother and 2 ducklings (voiced by Elizabeth Banks, Tresi Gazal, and Caspar Jennings) who mostly try to convince their overprotective father to go on the vacation of a lifetime by following a flock of birds on migration.  The father is initially intent on staying put in their comfortable and well-stocked pond while the ducklings want to wander outside their comfort zone of the pond.  Curiosity gets the better of the family. 

The danger facing the family occurs with that dreaded species called humans.  When the family descends upon a metropolitan city for the first time, there is danger involved,

Heavyweight actors Danny DeVito, Awkwafina, Carol Kane and Keegan-Michael Key round out the voice cast with the latter earning the most laughs with his Jamaican-accented humour.

The animation is fancy and inventive enough but one wishes there was more innovation in the overall storytelling than the Christmas message of being one as a family.

MIGRATION opens on December 22nd, 2023.

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SOCIETY OF THE SUN (La Sociedad de la Niece) (Spain 2023) ***½

Directed by J. A. Bayona

 

Hardship, disaster and the triumph of the human spirit.  These are the three themes of the December 22nd Christmas movie from Spain entitled SOCIETY IF THE SNOW, largely shot in Spanish, Spain’s entry for the Academy Awards category for Best International Feature.  It is an account of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash and the crashes survivors, an adaptation of Pablo Vierci's book of the same name, which documents accounts of all 16 survivors of the crash, many of whom Vierci knew from childhood.  The cast is composed of Uruguayan and Argentine actors, most of whom are newcomers.

  This chartered flight of a Fairchild FH-227D from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Santiago, Chile, crashed in the Andes mountains on October 13, 1972. The accident and subsequent survival became known as the Andes flight disaster.

The film running more than 2 hours tells the story leaving no stone unturned.  The filmmakers interviewed the survivors as well as the families of the non-survivors.  The flight was carrying 45 passengers and crew, including 19 members of the Old Christians Club rugby union team, along with their families, supporters and friends.  This fact is shown at the beginning of the film as well as in flashbacks.  Three crew members and nine passengers died immediately; several more died soon afterward due to the frigid temperatures and the severity of their injuries. The wreck was located at an elevation of 3,570 metres (11,710 ft), in the remote Andes of far western Argentina, just east of the border with Chile.  Authorities flew over the crash site several times during the following days, searching for the aircraft, but could not see the white fuselage against the snow. Search efforts were canceled after eight days.  The film shows the survivors getting discouraged after hearing this news on a radio they managed to hook up.

The audience is not spared any grueling details of the following 72 days,\ when the survivors suffered extreme hardships, including exposure, starvation and an avalanche, which led to the deaths of 13 more passengers.  The remaining passengers resorted to cannibalism. The film dives a bit into the act, whether it is a crime.  But many permit their bodies to be eaten when they perish.  The act of eating human flesh and the cutting up of the bodies are examined in the film.  As the weather improved with the arrival of late spring, two survivors, Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, climbed a 4,650-metre (15,260 ft) mountain peak without gear and hiked for 10 days into Chile to seek help, traveling 61 km (38 miles). On 23 December 1972, two months after the crash, the last of the 16 survivors were rescued. The news of their miraculous survival drew worldwide headlines that grew into a media circus.

Meticulously executed a riveting account of surviving an air crash in the Andes that looks almost too incredible but is true, SOCIETY OF THE SBOW, a Netflix original film,  opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on December 22nd before going on to streaming on Netflix.

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THE ZONE OF INTEREST (Poland/UK/USA 2023) ***** Top 10

Directed by Jonathan Glazer

 

Winner of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes (2nd Best Film), Jonathan Glazer’s (UNDER THE SKIN) THE ZONE OF INTEREST is a horror film about the Holocaust without a single scene of concentration camps.  It depicts the banality of evil so well put forward that the audience is left just as silent as in the recent Christopher Nolan nuclear war vehicle, OPPENHEIMER.  

Auschwitz commander is the main subject - Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), who is always dressed in white as if to symbolize purity with his wife Hedwig (Sandra Huller), live so close to Auschwitz camp that one can hear the horrors from the nearby camp (as in a prisoner drowned by the guards for fighting for an apple).  They live in a beautiful home, with food, vegetables, fruit and herbs cultivated next to a swimming pool and river flowing with clear water close by.  They argue about household problems and are oblivious to the horrors of the war that are going on.  The thousands gassed are discussed as a matter of efficiency of transportation in a meeting among Nazi officials.  

The most catastrophic scene in the film of Hedwig’s life is when she freaks out at her black dog vomiting in the corridor - never mind the gassing of thousands of Jews in the concentration camp next door.  Hedwig is so obsessed with her residence that she insists that her husband write to Hitler to allow her to stay at the residence when news of her husband’s transfer gets to her.

The film is an art film as observed in the first 5 minutes of the film’s opening.  The title of the film, THE ZONE OF INTEREST is seen in white on a black background while disturbing sounds/music can be heard on the soundtrack.  The scene stays for a whole minute before the whole disappears and a total black screen is observed for the rest of the 5 minutes.  This is a visual metaphor of the beautiful and immaculate residence of the Höss’s, and when the black appears, it represents the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp that is the main subject of concern.

The residence is a stunningly beautiful one with a beautiful garden that grows all the fresh vegetables and fruits, all organic.  The Höss’s are self-sufficient and also have servants to tend to their needs.  The husband and wife are seen sleeping on separate beds.  It appears too, that their marriage is a matter of convenience and show. They throw lavish parties and are also dressed immaculately,  Another chilling scene is the Nazi board meeting where the Nazi Officers praise themselves and talk about the efficiency of transporting the Jews by train to the concentration camp, calculating the number by train and how many can be transported by day.

The most chilling film of the year that many critics claim should have won the Palme d’Or Prize for its groundbreaking filmmaking.  THE ZONE OF INTEREST is currently standing on most of the film critics’ Top 10 Best Films of 2023.  The Toronto Film Critics Association has selected THE ZONE OF INTEREST as the best film of the year.

Trailer: 

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