HORROR/FANTASY RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (15) 82min ●●●●● DRAMA MIRAL (12A) 112min ●●●●●
Artist Julian Schnabel has made a habit of turning real life subjects into difficult, provocative films. At his best, Schnabel is able to entwine the neo- expressionist aesthetic of his gallery work with cinematic narratives to stunning effect as with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. With Miral, the director just seems confused. Schnabel, a Jew by birth, has made a film based on his Palestinian girlfriend Rula Jebreal’s semi-autobiographical novel. But he has lost himself in the crossfire as he tries to balance arguments and deliver a message that calls for tolerance in a shrill film that is packed with clunky dialogue, particularly the spouting of political slogans and expository lines by Arab characters. Coming after the exceptional Diving Bell it’s also visually disappointing.
Schnabel tries to fit too much into
the story that spans over half a century of Middle Eastern history. The action revolves around a school for orphans, which is opened by Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbas) after the creation of Israel. The second half of the film is taken up by the title character Miral (Frieda Pinto), born in 1973, and placed into care by her father (Alexander Siddiq) four years later. Miral grows up wanting to help the Palestinian liberation movement to the consternation of her father. The trouble here is that Schnabel tries to educate as well as entertain, but does neither as he delivers a potted history couched in a confusing and meandering narrative. (Kaleem Aftab) ■ Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 3 Dec. GFT, Glasgow from Mon 27 Dec.
From Finland comes this bizarre Christmas tale, an off-the-wall horror fantasy pitched halfway between The Polar Express and Let the Right One In. Evil Father Christmases are a rarely mined cinematic seam, but not since Edmund Purdom tracked down a Santa-obsessed serial killer in Don’t Open Till Christmas has there been such a dark take on seasonal mythology. After two amusing shorts on the
same subject, Rare Exports Inc and The Official Rare Exports Inc Safety Instructions, director Jalmari Helander musters an impressively sweeping, epic feel for his debut feature. Set in and around a chilly corporate excavation in the Korvatunturi mountains, Rare Exports is a prequel to his earlier shorts, featuring youngster Pietari (Onni Tommila) as a boy who discovers Santa’s frozen prison. When his widowed father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) happens upon a heard of dead reindeer, and a number of local children go missing, Pietari launches his own investigation, putting him on collision course with the excavators and a not-so-jolly Father Christmas (Peeter Jakobi).
More suitable for twisted adults than wide-eyed kids, Rare Exports is an accomplished and enjoyably perverse sleigh ride on the wild side of the St Nicholas folklore, and, like Joe Dante’s Gremlins, benefits from a tight focus on a child’s point of view. With blood aplenty and frontal male nudity, this isn’t the Santa Claus mummy used to kiss, but it is an enjoyably dark Yuletide nightmare. (Eddie Harrison) ■ Selected release from Fri 3 Dec.
46 THE LIST 2–16 Dec 2010
DRAMA OF GODS AND MEN (DES HOMMES ET DES DIEUX) (15) 121min ●●●●●
‘It goes beyond religion: the film is about men,’ is how French writer- director Xavier Beauvois has described his serenely controlled drama Of Gods and Men. Inspired by real-life events from the mid-1990s, it chronicles the experiences of a group of French Cistercian monks, who find themselves fatefully caught up in a civil war unfolding in an unnamed North African country. The ever-deteriorating security situation means that they are urged by both the civilian and military authorities and by Islamic militants to flee their monastery. But should they abandon their mission or is it their duty to continue serving the local population, whatever the risks to their own safety? As one of their number explains to a villager, ‘We are like birds on a branch, not sure whether we should fly away.’ To which the person replies that the monks themselves form the tree, which protects the community from fanatics.
The monks suffer abductions and killings, but rather than focusing on
these events Beauvois concentrates on the months leading up to their disappearances. He patiently immerses us in their daily rituals and tasks and their spiritual dilemmas. Their mission is not to proselytise on behalf of their Catholic faith. Instead, led by their abbot Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), they actively engage with the local community, by running a free medical clinic and taking part in Muslim celebrations.
Acted with powerful understatement by its ensemble cast, Of Gods and Men is also masterfully photographed by cinematographer Caroline Champetier. The interior scenes mainly rely on static, deep focus takes, which allow us to adjust to the rhythms of the religious order, whilst elegant tracking shots convey the epic quality of the surrounding landscapes. And the climactic, dialogue-free ‘last supper’ sequence, in which the camera passes over the faces of the doomed monks as they share red wine and listen to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is almost unbearably poignant. (Tom Dawson) ■ GFT, Glasgow & Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 3 Dec.
SCI-FI/HORROR MONSTERS (12A) 94min ●●●●●
Gareth Edwards’ astonishing science fiction thriller combines the immersive excitement of Cloverfield with the astute political allegory of District 9, and, far from being a rip-off, is actually a much better film than either. That would be a great achievement in its own right, but the revelation that not only did Edwards write and direct his debut but also shot it, sourced the production design and created the visual effects marks the arrival of a supremely promising new talent. Set in the near future, six years after the Earth has succumbed to an extra-
terrestrial invasion, Monsters tells the story of a cynical American journalist (Scoot McNairy) who reluctantly agrees to escort a traumatised tourist, his boss’ daughter (Whitney Able), through an infected zone in Mexico to the US border. Thrown together by close encounters of the alien kind, the odd couple fall for one another and their romantic union offers them a startling new perspective on the gigantic squid-like invaders. As a spooky and special effects-driven thriller, Monsters works remarkably well. And filming in Mexico, Edwards makes extraordinary use of several eye-catching locations. But what’s most striking about the film is the way in which it smartly undermines audience expectations by overturning genre conventions. Terrific. (Miles Fielder) ■ General release from Fri 3 Dec. See interview, page 45.