Winner of the Best Actor and Best Screenplay awards at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Christian Vincent’s dryly comic courtroom drama was selected as the opening film for the 44th Hong Kong French Cinepanorama on 18 November.
We first meet a young Hibat in 1955, growing up as a one of 12 children, in southern Iran. As he gets older, Hibat (Kheiron) blossoms into a brilliant student, but also becomes politicised, angry at the oppressive rule of the Shah. He becomes a leftist agitator and soon finds himself in prison, serving a ten year sentence for political activism.
By the time he leaves prison, change is sweeping Iran, but the rise of the Ayotollahs is not the kind of revolution Hibat hoped for. He meets and falls in love with the beautiful Fereshteh (Leïla Bekhti), however, any future life together, as well as the safety of their newly born son, is threatened as Hibat again finds himself persecuted for his political beliefs. The family decide find to leave to leave Iran, making a hazardous mountain crossing to Turkey, before eventually settling in France.
Once there Hibat’s story changes and becomes a classic immigrant tale as the family struggles to adapt to life in a new country. However, Hibat’s social conscience doesn’t stay idle for long and he soon takes on a local government role, managing a run down community centre in a poorly serviced housing block.
Kheiron, a popular French comedian directs and stars in this film, based on the true story of his own father, who defected to France in 1983. This accounts perhaps for the slightly breezy portrayal of Hibat. While his imprisonment is bleak and bloody, we don’t see much darkness or self-doubt in his decision to leave Iran or in the face of the struggles he faces in France.
Thankfully, this isn’t at the expense of giving us an immigrant’s view of social change. Few recent films I can recall do as good a job of capturing the humour new settlers experience as they find their closest friends not in the locals of their host nation, but in the opportunity seeking folks who’ve come from other countries and whose cultures and customs are every bit as new and strange as those of the country in which they’ve all chosen to settle. The richness of this in the final act, is what gives All Three Of Us it’s wonderfully memorable humanity.
One reviewer posted on Twitter that this film was too beautiful to be true, which is at best the jaundiced view of a critic out of touch with the human condition and at worst, the voice of privilege and perhaps even racism, out of touch with the plight of immigrants around the world. The triumph of All Three Of Us, a success that far outweighs the films other possible limitations, is the way it manages to sympathetically portray the contribution immigrants can make to their new host societies at a time when the debate around immigration in so much of the world and especially in Europe where this film is set, has become so charged and toxic. This allows All Three Of Us, to not just be beautiful and true, which it is, but also timely, important and perhaps even revolutionary.
And, it helped All Three Of Us secure the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival.
Chet Baker was sometimes called “the James Dean of Jazz.” His film star good looks, seductive vocal style, smooth trumpet playing and bad boy persona made him a hit, especially with female fans. In the early ’50s Miles Davis was seen as the hot up and coming jazz trumpeter, especially by critics and hard core fans. But, Baker was often pulling bigger, more vibrant audiences, especially when he and Davis were billed on the same nights for two weeks at the legendary Birdland venue. Baker also managed to beat Davis to the DownBeat magazine’s poll for best jazz trumpeter for two years running.
Born To Be Blue opens during this period. Chet Baker is playing the early set at Birdland in 1955 with Miles Davis in the audience. Later, when they meet, Miles criticises Chet’s playing as simplistic, telling him to come back when he’s “lived a little.” What the film implies, but does not directly show us, was that for the next few years Baker’s career would spiral downwards. Jazz is a genre that demands constant invention in order to achieve critical acclaim and Baker’s style didn’t evolve beyond his melody-oriented 50s approach. Conflict, controversy and a raging drug habit ending the brilliant opening chapter of Baker’s career.
After this opening scene, Born To Be Blue takes us to an Italian prison cell in 1965, where Baker is sprawled on a concrete floor, hallucinating that tarantulas are coming out of his trumpet. Baker’s salvation is a movie director, who arranges for him to fly to Hollywood, to star in a film about his own life. So, Chet Baker is now cast in a semi-fictionalised account of his own life, playing himself, with actors playing composite roles of the main figures in his life.
Of course, none of this sequence from the 60s actually happened, at least not in the way portrayed in Born To Be Blue. To be fair, the film is honest about this, pitching itself as a “re-imagining” of Baker’s career. It’s a fascinating move for writer and director Robert Budreau. Partly, because despite previous attempts, this is the first biopic of the jazz trumpeter’s life. But mostly, because the vast majority of the stories Baker told about himself, including his often-quoted first audition with Charlie Parker, where he alleged the jazz great picked him out from a room of young hopefuls, were simply not true.
Born To Blue focusses on a brief period in the mid 60s, when Baker tried to resurrect his career after being brutally beaten, suffering an injury that threatened his ability to play. The film manages to effortlessly convey the jazz world of that time, from the pressure cooker environment of big name jazz in New York, to the moneyed comfort of Californian studios, the breezy and youthful hipster cafe scene, while also acknowledging the dark side of drug addiction amongst musicians. There is even a brief but well drawn introduction to Baker’s roots in rural Oklahoma.
But, this film isn’t a thorough biography, origin story or jazz documentary. The focus is squarely on the myth of Chet Baker, or to put it another way, on how Baker created the myth of Baker to rebuild his stalled career. Ethan Hawke is in fine form playing the fragile and contradictory character of Baker, the needy seducer, the artist whose style is as attractive as it is limiting. He fully inhabits Baker’s contradictions, the kindness and destructiveness, the charming cool and the alarming helplessness. And, Carmen Ejogo delivers an impressive performance as Baker’s love interest Jane.
Chet Baker’s actual life story was wilder, more unhinged and out of control than anything we see in Born To Be Blue. And, yet, the film feels true to Baker’s legacy, to the way he is remembered by fans, critics, casual and serious listeners of jazz music. Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo are sensational in their respective roles and the whole production works well as an introduction to changing face of jazz in the 60s. Born To Be Blue is an unusual biopic, one that is open about the way it blends and plays with the facts to tell its story. It shouldn’t be taken as the final word on the Chet Baker story. But, as something to be savoured, late at night, perhaps after a few drinks, when you want to put your troubles behind you by immersing yourself in another world, it’s every bit as comfortable, light and enjoyable as Baker’s own, iconic style of jazz.
Few films signal their intentions in their title quite as directly as Cold Of Kalandar. Set in the mountains of Turkey’s Artvin province, above the Black Sea, the impending cold of winter is almost like a character itself, in this thoughtfully constructed parable of rural life.
In the opening scenes, we see Mehmet (Haydar Şişman) prospecting for gold and other precious metals. He’s clearly no novice, but the samples he takes to a local mine are not commercially viable. Soon we learn that he is prospecting as a way to support his family, including his wife, mother and two sons, one of whom is handicapped. The family are in debt and struggling to live of their meagre income as goat farmers.
Mehmet’s prospecting has been successful in the past and he had hoped to find another commercially viable seam before the winter. But, early snows have limited where he could prospect and he is starting to lose hope. He then hears of a nearby bullfight, which offers rich prize money and decides to train his animal for the event.
The bullfight itself pits two animals against each other in a large dusty bowl, surrounded by makeshift tarpaulin grandstands, with little interference from humans. It’s an unusual and extraordinary spectacle and the event, along with Mehmet and his son trying to train their bull for it, forms much of the middle of the film.
Cold of Kalandar is director Mustafa Kara’s second feature film. It’s not surprise to read he had a background in documentary making, because a lot of this film feels like a well made documentary about life in this part of Turkey, especially the rich and subtle details in scenes in the family’s home (like their meal times) and the whole bullfighting sequence (which was also reminiscent of the Oscar-nominated short, Buzkashi Boys).
As the film progresses it acquires an almost dream-like quality, as chronology and perhaps even reality, seem to break down in the struggle to face a precarious and uncertain future. Cold of Kalandar is exquisitely photographed film which reveals the culture and challenges of life in this part of the world with a sympathetic eye. There really aren’t any villains or human evils to speak of (depending on your view of the bullfighting itself)and even the tough and dangerous landscape is seem as a thing of wonder and majesty.
Cold Of Kalandar is not a film for everyone. The pace is glacially slow and the story, is as thin and fragile as Mehmet’s prospects for finding wealth in the mountains. Still, patient viewers, especially those with an interest in the way cinema can reveal to us the details of human condition, will find plenty to ponder and reflect upon in the film’s rich visual vocabulary and the symbolism of Mehmet’s interactions with people and his landscape.
Mustafa Kara won the Award For Best Director at 28th Tokyo International Film Festival and the film was also the winner of the Viewer’s Choice Award
A Monster With A Thousand Heads opens with a late night medical emergency. A father, Guillermo, is ill and in need of care. As the drama moves from home to hospital and back, we realise this middle-class Mexican family is struggling to obtain the best course of treatment. Standing in their way is a faceless, compassionless insurance firm, intent on burying their claim in red tape.
Guillermo’s wife Sonia (Jana Raluy), will not take no for an answer and set about forcing the company to reconsider the case. She finds herself having to take ever more drastic, desperate and dangerous steps in order to try and secure approval for her husband’s treatment. The stakes get higher and higher and the tension keeps ramping up as the action unfolds in near real time.
There is a lot about A Monster With A Thousand Heads that is clever, from the way the story is told, to the constantly inventive cinematography. The telling contrasts between the plight of struggling family and their limited access to healthcare, to the way the elite that run the health system live and the protections and access afforded them are well drawn. The action is relentless and the pacing is crisp, with the film coming in at a tightly edited 74 minutes. Even as the credits roll, there’s a wonderful postscript as a pair of football commentators discuss the fairness of a refereeing decision, during a cup final that forms and intermittent backdrop to the film’s action, their discussion seeming to be a metaphoric assessment of the the family’s entanglement with the medical insurance industry. .
But, perhaps there is too much cleverness, because despite the constant tension and Jana Raluy’s excellent lead performance A Monster With A Thousand Heads feels forced. It asks a lot of viewers before they’ve evan had a chance to care about the main protagonists, and it careens towards its inevitable denouement without giving the audience much chance to contextualise what is happening onscreen. Maybe this disorientation is the whole point of A Monster With A Thousand heads; the absurd and cruel circus of modern healthcare gives people no chance to properly process the grief and pain that accompanies suffering and death. Even though we know how the story ends and we are given no choice but to go crazy in the face of it.