WADJDA (Soda). The first feature film to be shot in Saudi Arabia and, what is most amazing is that it has been directed by a woman (sic, Haifaa Al Mansour).It was a logistical nightmare: women and men can’t work together! There was also, initially. a clash of cultures between the laidback Saudi crew and the hyper-efficient German crew.
This fascinating film deals with the terrible (by our standards) restrictions Saudi women have to put up with. A 10-year-old girl (talented Waad Mohammed), a tomboy and a bit of a rebel, wants to buy a bike. (Girls don’t ride bikes! Women aren’t even allowed to drive cars!).
She takes part in a religious competition on the Koran, hoping to win the prize money. The strict headmistress brooks no feminism in her pupils.
If you want to know what Norman was like when he was a teenager at high school then you will want to watch this American television prequel, somewhat oddly set in the present day.
He is the ultimate mummy’s boy. (“You’ve got to let her go,” advises his half-brother.) The script is absurdly overloaded and unfocused. There are too many distracting strands and the dialogue is laughable; but Freddie Highmore (as Norman) and Vera Farmiga (as his mum) keep a grip on the audience’s attention.
PRISONERS (Entertainment One). The ultimate parental nightmare must be the kidnapping of a child. One father (Hugh Jackman, excellent), in his uncontrollable grief and rage, is driven to torturing a suspect, a retard.
Jake Gyllenhaal (totally unrecognizable), is the obsessed detective; eyes-blinking all the time, he follows false trails and targets the mentally ill. Denis Villeneuve’s dark, violent and convoluted thriller is sometimes painful to watch; and it becomes less and less believable as it goes on and loses its grip towards the end.
ROMEO AND JULIET (Entertainment in Video). Julian (Downton Abbey) Fellows has rewritten Shakespeare!!!! I’m not joking. The actors (led by Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld) spout an awkward mix of his dialogue and the Bard’s. It all sounds so artificial.
But what is so awful is that you instinctively know many lazy teachers up and down the country will be using Carlo Carlei’s film rather than Shakespeare’s text in their lessons. The actual Italian locations (Mantua and Verona) are great; and so much better than any of the acting.
IN THE FOG (New Wave Films). This World War 2 drama is set in Occupied Soviet Union in 1942. A man is believed to be a collaborator because the Nazis hang three of his fellow-workers for sabotaging a train and he is the only one they set free.
Two partisans are dispatched to kill him. Will he be shot in cold blood? Can he escape his fate? The truth, grim, absorbing, directed by an Ukranian, Sergie Loznitsa, is gradually revealed in flashbacks. The brilliant opening sequence could be in any war, any period, medieval, modern, and in any place in the world.
by Robert Tanitch
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