1. Something you should see… A Kid With A Bike

    The director/brother combo of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have created a film I would describe as very… ‘French’. In this context, it means a film that is wonderfully dissimilar to the Hollywood approach to story-telling. It also means a film based in reality, which has been shot simply and beautifully.

    This is the story of Cyril, a twelve-year-old boy abandoned by his father in an orphanage. On impulse Cyril asks Samantha, a woman who kindly restores his bike to him, if he can stay with her on the weekends and Samantha agrees. However, distraught by the rejection of his father,  Cyril turns from Samantha to those who are affectionate only as a means of manipulating him.  The frightening question of this film is whether Cyril will not only destroy Samantha’s love for him but himself.

    The Dardenne brothers have an incredible skill for summarising a complex situation in a few seconds. A prime example of this is the opening scene where Cyril is on the telephone dialling and redialling his father’s now disconnected number. That kind of image plunges you right into the heart of the matter, however, much of the film is not as forthcoming. The motivations of Samantha and Cyril’s father are purposely subterranean leaving much open to your own interpretation and this is where the power of the film lies. It invites you to become involved and form your own understanding rather than telling you what to think.

    A Kid With A Bike is a testament to those few and extraordinary people with an exceptional capacity for love and it’s difficult not to be moved by that. (Words: Beth Downey)

    In cinemas

     

  2. Something you should see… The Artist (London Film Festival)

    What a joy it is to finally respond to the slighting “they don’t make them like they used to” –a remark that has gained ground in the current cinematic climate of soulless remakes -  with these five little words: Have you seen The Artist?

    The film by French director and scriptwriter Michel Hazanavicius has caused a sensation in festivals around the world (from Cannes to London) and is a passionate love letter to silent cinema. Shot in black and white in the 1.33 aspect ratio and wordless (for the most part) it plunges the audience right into one of Hollywood’s golden decades, the 1920s. The wonderful cast could have come out of a Tinseltown production of that era. Jean Dujardin (who won the Best Actor award in Cannes) plays George Vlaentin, a movie megastar whose fame is threatened by the advent of “talkies”. He channels the legendary silent actor John Gilbert, while Bérénice Bejo mesmerises with her elegance and perkiness in the role of Peppy Miller, a young actress discovered by Valentin who quickly becomes the “It Girl” of the era. They are supported by great character actors like John Goodman and James Cromwell, effortlessly excelling in pantomime acting.

    The Artist, though is not a complete pastiche of a silent film. Ludovic Bource’s continuous score is distinctly more elaborate that the orchestral music that would normally accompany the major film events of that era.  Similarly, Hazanavicius uses a more sophisticated visual style from the one you could find in a 1920’s production making the film more accessible to modern film-goers.

    The film’s story itself doesn’t need such innovations. While the decline of a film star is presented in a more dramatic manner compared to the similarly themed Singin’ in the Rain, The Artist doesn’t opt to be a thorough character study or a realistic expose of the ruthless Hollywood system. Instead, it aims to convey to the audience such vital emotions like sadness, happiness and love and it does so with the immediacy that characterises the work of directors like Charlie Chaplin. And it reminds us the kind of magic that cinema can still offer. (Words: Apostolos Kostoulas)

    The Artist will be released nationwide on December 30.

     

  3. Something you should see… Weekend (London Film Festival)

    "Resonating" - This is the first word that springs to mind after seeing Andrew Haigh’s award-winning film Weekend. An instant sell-out at this month’s London Film Festival and a seemingly modernised version of 1996’€™s Beautiful Thing, Weekend is an honest and naturalistic observation of yet another story about attraction.

    Described as “an unconventional love story between two young men trying to make sense of their lives” this is a story about love and acceptance and how not knowing if you really are loved or accepted can impact the way you approach relationships and in essence, life. Brave in its retelling of initial attraction and common apprehension, Weekend is even complete with characters gloriously mocking the fact that they’€™ve ended up in their very own Notting Hill.

    Tom Cullen and Chris New’s chemistry, with the help of some striking cinematography, is really what defines Weekend as the kind of film you go to sleep still thinking about. What you’€™ll find quite refreshing in Haigh’€™s writing is the quality he has in being able to hint at reasons behind the characters’ apprehension in sex and relationships, without ever confirming them. And it’s that honest perplexity that resonates - and makes this altogether, an effortlessly striking film. (Words: Syriah Bailey)

    In cinemas November 4th (part of the 55th London Film Festival programme)

     

  4. Something you should see… When China Met Africa

    With signs that China will emerge as the next global superpower becoming more and more apparent, a documentary about China’s economic foray into Africa, is undoubtedly timely.

    It its opening minutes, When China Met Africa informs us that in November 2006,  Beijing cemented its long-term relationship with Africa by hosting a summit of 48 African heads of state. Fast-forward three years later, and filmmaking brothers Nick and Marc Francis examine the current state of this relationship by following the lives of three people from different social classes in the country of Zambia: Mr Liu , a farmer who has just bought his fourth farm and sees his business booming, Mr Li , a road project manager, who is upgrading Zambia’s longest road and Mr Mutati, the country’s Trade Minister who is planning to go to China to secure millions of dollars of investment.

    What is evident throughout the film is the inherent tendency of Chinese to jump at every opportunity that comes their way and try to get the best out of it, demonstrated for example in the story of Mr Liu who quit his office work in his country looking for a better future and in the Minister Mutati’s apposite description of the different method of approach that the Western and Chinese investors use.

    However, while the film makes a strong case for China’s entrepreneurial spirit being a cardinal reason for forging a relationship with Africa, there are only glimpses of how this partnership has affected the lives of the locals.

    Final verdict:  An interesting but somewhat one-sided approach to a really complicated yet  important subject.

    (Words: Apostolos Kostoulas)

    In cinemas October 7th.  For more info visit: www.whenchinametafrica.com