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Review of Emir Kusturicas Underground (1995) By Tanya Pikula As Kusturicas anti-heroes, Marko and Blacky, explode onto the

screen in the opening shots of Underground, followed by their usual train of blaring horns and gold-toothed gypsies, one is hardly prepared for the next three and a half hours of multi-sensory decadence. Most films with such an overload of Fellinesque wackiness are monotony-bound, but Kusturica has a steady grip on the pulse of his film, and with superb pacing and a talented cast, he manages to pull it off. A rather blatant metaphor for the rise and demise of Titos socialist regime in the Former Yugoslavia, the story follows Marko (Miki Manojlovic) and Blacky (Laza Ristovski), two carousing Belgrade thugs, whose arms-trading operations burgeon as the WWII begins. After Blacky becomes a wanted man, Marko hides him in an underground cellar for the duration of the Nazi occupation. Becoming increasingly infatuated with Blackys mistress, Natalia (Mirjana Jokovic), Marko continues to hold his friend under the misapprehension that the war rages on. As Blackys cellar community develops, driven by its blind patriotism and anti-Nazi ideology, the chameleon-like Marko and Natalia prosper above ground as war profiteers, con artists and communist politicians. Inevitably, illusions and dynamite explode simultaneously, and the films most touching moments feature the childlike inhabitants of the underground paradise venturing into the Hades above them. Not surprisingly, it is the cellars pet monkey, Sammy, who drives an army tank into a wall and leads his people towards the light. The film is Kusturicas ode to the country of his youth, and while it is peppered with piercingly nostalgic moments, the visceral and self-parodying edge of its emotionalism never allows it to sink into the melodramatic. He exploits the stereotypes of the Balkan wild-man, the war-profiteer and the femme-fatale, but ultimately presents the violence of the 1990s as an outcome of prolonged political exploitation. As the lives of Kusturicas characters rush headlong towards their ends, the director is not afraid to soak in the images of stark savagery with long takes and slow pans (just as he accentuated the exuberance of his earlier shots with a more upbeat rhythm). At least a substantial portion of Kusturicas talent lies in his ability to cast and re-cast superb European actors. French-Serbian actor, Miki Manojlovic, the infamous father from Kusturicas socialist drama When Father was Away on Business, re-claims his classic role as the grinning, mustache-pulling debaucher. His face is a mixture of Rabelaisian playfulness, poetic sensitivity and slyness, and the glint in his eye not only adds energy to the film, but suggest that he is having wild fun with Markos character. Laza Ristovski, on the other hand, is the comedic centre of the film. He uses his sturdy body and psychotic stare to perfectly depict the physical presence of the Balkan strongman. Unlike the polished Marko, Blacky is all body, slamming his head (literally) against any object that stands in his way: the intense, heroism-obsessed, easily manipulated ass of political schemes. Although Jokovics Natalia is not quite as attractive as to explain the infatuations of the men surrounding her, she is the very epitome of flakiness. The fact that Jokovic manages to add a certain likability and vulnerability to this unsubstantial character is a feat in itself. (Notwithstanding Jokovics layered performance, I am disappointed at Kusturica for settling on the age-old women as root of all conflict device. No matter the epoch, geography or the artist, poor Helen is the easiest and most attractive of all explanations). Mind you, for all the poetic imagery, the actors well-timed sleaziness and Kusturicas clever filmmaking, the film does feel long-winded at times, most notably in cellar wedding scenes. A somewhat shorter sequence would have worked perfectly to set the calm before the climax, but as it is, by the time

Titos Yugoslavia and Blackys cellar are balkanized into tatters the viewer is bound to be somewhat frustrated. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this behemoth of a film. It is bound to tire you out and it takes a while to gestate, but Kusturica being one of the few contemporary directors who can pull-off this much self-indulgence, it is worth witnessing how he goes about putting his Yugoslavia to rest.

Review of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes LEnfant (2005) By Tanya Pikula The best thing about Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes new film, LEnfant, is the promo poster: two sexy blond heads snuggling in front of a landscape that hints at Europe and the even sexier Palme dOr stamp. Who could resist it? I sincerely recommend you do. The only noteworthy thing about this film is that Jeremie Reniers (Brunos) hair looks ultra hip even after days of shelter-hopping. The story follows Bruno (Renier) and Sonia (Deborah Francois), a young and glaringly callow couple. They bum around the industrial Belgian town of Seraing, where Bruno runs a small-time crook operation with his two pre-adolescent protgs. Always on the lookout for a quick and easy buck, Bruno shells out money faster than he gets it, and although this character trait promises charm at the onset of the film, Reniers Bruno is so one-dimensional he hardly lives up to it. Unfortunately, the forces of nature have given Sonia and Bruno the ability to procreate, and when Sonia returns from the hospital with a newborn, Jimmy, one is not surprised that Bruno finds it difficult to grown paternal feelings. As a talented man of business, he naturally sells his firstborn for a nice sweaty wad of cash. This seems like a juicy plot-line, but Brunos ecstatically ingenuous feelings for Sonia make his interesting business transaction seem totally unrealistic, especially considering he is not in any dire need of money. Basically, what you have here is a script that sacrifices any semblance of character depth and reality to its didactic plotline. With their unbearably long, almost real-time takes, Dardennes make sure we really get the point that in this film we have more than one infant, some oversized. It seems as though they were so fascinated with their ability to conjure up a catchy simile, that they were deathly afraid the audience might miss the profound connection. Thanks guys, we got it. No one ever compared a young egocentric male to a baby before. Of course, the movie is all about Brunos maturation. In an unprecedented plot move, the main character learns to love and care. By the time he sobs his tears of regret though, however, one is hardly interested. More importantly, it seems as though his burgeoning feelings are suspiciously connected to the fact that his comfort zone has been messed with: Sonia, his all-giving nurturer, kicks him out of her apartment, in the only scene of the movie that is worthwhile watching (Francois gives an intense performance of a female stripped of all but her primordial mother-instinct). Altogether, a surprisingly unremarkable film. So blatant and naive, youd think the directors were children. How do you say that in French?

Review of George Hickernloopers Factory Girl (2006) By Tanya Pikula What makes Factory Girl attractive is the same thing that makes it somewhat tedious: ah, how lured I am by the tales of the rich and famous and how well do I know their generic plotlines. Yes, human lives are unique and all that jazz, but ultimately I am always watching a charming, talented someone descend into the vice-infested inferno of their choice. Factory Girl is just such a movie, but its cast being chock-full of talented Hollywood cherubs, it ends up being fun regardless of its predictability. Sienna Miller's Edie hooks us with just the right mixture of naivet and naughtiness as she makes her entrance into the New York 1960s social scene. Edie locks eyes with the enigmatic Andy Warhol (Guy Pierce) at an art-gallery and the film proceeds to tell the story of the most tempestuous kind of relationship: that of a artist and his muse. As the film rocks and pops with the pulse of young egos and hormones, so we witness Edie's growing addiction to drugs and Warhol's rejection of her. What makes this plotline somewhat different than the ones we have seen in recent biographies is that Edie is ultimately not a tortured artist, but a suffering muse. Her fame is not dependant so much on an extraordinary talent as it is on Andy Warhol himself: and it is this which adds to the film, for it gives Edie's situation that special vulnerability. By the end of the film, we are left fascinated at the evanescence and mystery of that complex cultural phenomenon called the "it" girl. Sienna Miller gives a highly-stylized, yet perfectly-paced performance: her haircut and mannerisms smack of Edie's imp-like seductiveness and her scatter-brained exclamations set the tone for the 1960s high that Hickenlooper is attempting to depict. Guy Pearce's Warhol is the superb real centre of the film, however, the spectral presence that at times looks like the hollow victim of the body snatchers and is at other times quivering with adolescent emotion. Hovering beside Edie with his thin smile, he makes her seem both fascinating and incredibly fragile: for he foreshadows both her success and her doom. The weakest point of the film, and I'm sad to say this, is the Bob Dylan character. First of all, Hayden Christensen? That casting is the most glaring proof of Hollywood's vulgar choice of looks over edge and substance. When Mr. Christensen mutters the "Musician's" words into his perfectlychiseled chin, somewhere very close the ghost of Bob Dylan past is turning in his grave: the boy next door is utterly wrong for role of the gritty, soulful musician who is supposed to spark controversy in the hardcore avant-garde New York scene. All in all, I would recommend this film simply because any story of an "it" girl is so utterly fascinating: they are so damn charming, they ride so damn hard and they fall so damn low. As an ever-pleasant bonus, this version of a decadent life is acted with superb skill and it looks so hip it is almost pop art.