> Volume 5 > Number 19

Volume 5, Number 19

This Week's Reviews:  Lilya 4-Ever, The Purified, Sweet Sixteen, The Real Cancun, A Mighty Wind, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.

This Week's Omissions:  Daddy Day Care, Lawless Heart.

Lukas Moodysson

Oksana Akinshina
Artyom Bogucharsky
Elina Benenson
Pavel Ponomaryov
Tõnu Kark
Tomas Neumann

Release: 18 Apr. 03

Lilya 4-Ever


"Now, dear children, pay attention:
I am the voice from the pillow.
I have brought you something.
I ripped it from my chest.
They came to you in the night
And steal your small hot tears.
They wait until the moon awakes
And put them in my cold veins"
            --Rammstein, "Mein Herz Brennt" (translated)

There is a deep chasm between Lukas Moodysson's first films, Show Me Love and Together, and his latest, Lilya 4-Ever. Early on, this difference becomes clear when Lilya opens with the aggressively loud lyrics of Rammstein's "Mein Herz Brennt," the polar opposite of the songs that marked those previous films, Foreigner's sentimental "I Want to Know What Love Is" and ABBA's bubblegum "S.O.S." Lilya 4-Ever hasn't the hints of pop that can be found in the underlying liberal treatise of those other two films. At first this seems like a welcomed change, but as the movie progresses, the dramatic change Moodysson has made becomes more apparent and more repugnant.

Nevertheless, I can't help but respect Lilya 4-Ever for its deadening, disturbing form of realism, but I also wonder if all the destitution was worth it. This is a movie that remains hauntingly stuck in one's mind days after seeing the film, but the memories are far from fond. This has the earmarks of genius -- a bit of Thomas Hardy remains constantly in mind -- but also the cracks of an overwhelming cynicism and insolvency that makes the film become more distanced and less illuminating. Moodysson's central thesis is strong, but its forgotten within minutes after the film while the memories that do remain only come in reaction to the impoverished feeling it has left in oneself.

Lilya (Akinshina) is a 16-year-old living in poverty with her mother in the former Soviet Union (photography was filmed in Estonia). When her mother's boyfriend offers them a chance to move to America with him, Lilya is elated: this is finally her chance to leave the ugliness of her universally lower class city for the land of promise, where she can follow in the footsteps of her idol Brittany Spears.

But Lilya's mother isn't interested in bringing her daughter along, promptly leaves the child behind, and renounces all custody of Lilya to the state. In the meantime, Lilya is   to be watched by her Aunt Anna (Shinkaryova), but the relative seems more interested in taking the old apartment and sending Lilya to a dump still filled with the trinkets of its recently deceased elderly tenant.

She is an outcast in her own community when her best friend Natasha (Berenson) pimps herself out one night and then explains her earned money to her father as being part of Lilya's prostitution. Since this escalates to the equivalent of a Scarlet Letter on her body, Lilya finds her only form of friendship in another outcast, 12-year-old Volodya (Bogucharsky), who lacks any relationship with anyone else (including his father who often throws him out of the house unprovoked) and must get some attention by dealing glue for huffing to the other kids.

Since there's nothing else to do when the rest of the world seems to hate you, they are forced to sit in Lilya's new apartment (sans electricity), take the old man's prescription drugs, and talk about their dreams. For Lilya, it remains the allure of the West and the chance for her to succeed with rest of the industrialized capitalist world; for Volodya it seems to be some form of happiness, but one forged within his own world, where he has somehow accepted the desolate surroundings as a mere fragment of the imaginary dream world that this former Soviet Bloc could be.

[The succeeding paragraphs reveal major plot elements from later parts of the film. Those who have not yet seen the film are recommended to cease reading.]

Lilya turns to prostitution, befriends a compatriot who says he's visiting from his high-paying job in Sweden, is convinced that he can get the same deal for her, travels solo, and then is pimped out to dirty, old Swedish men. But unlike what she had at home, she gets no monetary payment. Instead, the pimp gives her a sparsely furnished high-rise apartment and locks her in.

The central thesis seems to be that the promises of the West are just as ugly and desolate as the realities of the East. In both homes, Lilya is confronted with the constant availability of McDonalds, which raises the question of whether it is the sudden push of capitalism into these formerly communist states that has facilitated the slow development they have trudged through. If McDonalds brings "McDomination" (as my old college history professor put it), then Lilya is merely part of the army of those dominated. The only problem is that she has always been dominated by one regime or another, beginning in her childhood inside the Iron Curtain and continuing into her entrance into the "potential" of a Nordic (thus, still leftist) capitalist lifestyle.

The continued relationship between Lilya and Volodya (in angel form after killing himself) helps to alleviate some of Moodysson's otherwise ugly moments including a montage of fat, old men coldly pumping their bodies into Lilya (the camera takes her point of view). After a while, the whole things seems so exploitive, so unconditionally sadistic in its presentation that it becomes harder to care about what Moodysson is trying to say.

Young Akinshina amazingly carries the burden of her filmmaker's turn towards Michael Haneke's style dramatics (to his credit, Lilya 4-Ever never becomes as respectfully repugnant as Haneke's Funny Games). Like the surprising level of human realism found by Emily Dequenne in the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta, Björk in Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, and Emily Watson in von Trier's Breaking the Waves (as well as most of the amazing actresses Lars von Trier finds for his borderline misogyny), Akinshina brings so much to the character that it becomes impossible to not feel like Lilya's downfall is exacted on the audience as much as the protagonist. She looks tortured and we, having been tortured in our own way by Moodysson, feel just as ready to make the jump as she is.

I found it interesting to reflect on the use of music within the single film, beyond the aforementioned comparison to Moodysson's other films. When Lilya is at home, she listens to T.A.T.U., the Russian bubblegum pop singers who have sold more records as artificial lesbians to Westerners than any other Russian act. While the rest of Lilya's life is facile and falling apart, this seems to bring a release, one of giddy, childish fun that is otherwise hard to find.

But then there's the Rammstein music that comes in the West. The German band uses such loud, aggressive sounds that their nightmarish lyrics need no translation to get their intended effect. This music also serves as a release for Lilya, but one of a more self-destructive sense. No longer does the music help her to forget, instead, in the West, it only reminds her of everything weighing against her now.

©2003, David Perry,, 9 May 2003

Jesper Jargil

Lars von Trier
Thomas Vinterberg
Søren Kragh-Jacobsen
Kristian Levring
Mogens Rukov

Release: N/A

The Purified


The press covered it as the next Italian neorealist movement and the critics salivated at the promise of something new in the international film market. The Dogme 95 movement was one of great potential and, ultimately, it would prove to be a little lackluster by the time its four founders had turned in their entries. While the first film, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, was all early proponents of the movement could have hoped for, none of the others quite moved out of Vinterberg’s shadow.

In 2000, the Dogme directors released The Name of This Film is Dogme 95, a cinematic manifesto that attempted to explain the reasons behind Lars von Trier’s decision to bring together a collaborative of three other Danish filmmakers (Vinterberg, Kristian Levring, and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen) that would supposedly return filmmaking to its purest form. It was a preface to the first four Dogme films.

Now comes The Purified, an addendum to the first wave of the series. Since the first wave, 29 films have been made under the Dogme banner, all meeting the requirements of the 10 rules of the original manifesto. The series has grown so large that last year, before the release of The Purified, the Dogme office was closed down and ceased to issue certificates to filmmakers who said they had made a work in the vein of Dogme. Their reason was that their movement, which included the 8th rule “Genre movies are not acceptable,” had become a genre of production itself. Still unreleased in America outside of film festivals, The Purified could be the final, though unchaste by the manifesto’s standards, Dogme film.

The film begins reviewing the establishment of the movement seen in the previous film before moving to the home of Lars von Trier where the four founding fathers are assembled to put each other’s work under a microscope. Each one has his own belief in the manifesto and its vow of chastity, admitting their own mistakes while trying to articulate why his misdirection is different from the more damnable mistakes of his brethren.

Coupled with clips from the films and words of wisdom from the wizened old man of the manifesto, screenwriter Mogens Rukov, most of The Purified is spent watching four men fight over which one remained the purest in his attempt at making a Dogme film. And it’s so amazingly interesting.

The film is admittedly only meant for those who have watched and studied the Dogme films as a form of alternative cinema as well as a new artistic philosophy. Much of its duration is spent articulating all the promise that came with the movement as well as all the missed opportunities they now see before them. If watching filmmakers sit on a coach and bicker about their films sounds interesting to you, The Purified is just the movie to watch. It’s mesmerizing quality, though, falls short of the potential a similar effort with De Sica, Rosselini, and the other Italian neorealists, or with Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, and the other French new wavers would have had.

Despite all the adulation I have for the chance encounter with The Purified, it is somewhat depressing to contemplate the finality it brings with it. I was one of those cheerleaders for the movement in its early years and the idea that it is now no more is rather discouraging. I sat through all the early Dogme films and the non-Dogme works that the four founders would make using the trials they learned from their occasion with the manifesto. It was a beautiful experiment and, like all good things, it had to come to an end.

©2003, David Perry,, 9 May 2003

Ken Loach

Martin Compston
Annmarie Fulton
William Ruane
Michelle Abercromby
Michelle Coulter
Gary McCormack
Tommy McKee
Calum McAlees
Martin McCardie

Release: 16 May 03

Sweet Sixteen


If anyone can make a liberal pulpit film, it’s Ken Loach, the Scottish filmmaker obsessed with the plight of the working class and the social downfall that must come with any nation that doesn’t care about its blue-collar workers. His previous film, Bread and Roses, was a call to action for the labor movement, an indictment of the way American employers treat non-union workers. This, admittedly, was more directly political than is usually the case with Loach, which may explain why it failed to reverberate with the audience in the same way Loach’s other, more indirect condemnations have.

Sweet Sixteen is closer in direction to Loach’s 1998 drama My Name Is Joe, which, like the new film, won the Cannes Film Festival screenplay prize for Paul Laverty. While neither film is truly groundbreaking in the way Loach and Laverty evidently think their politicking is, they are still engrossing stories of the inopportunity of modern Scotsmen. With their thick, distinct brogues, the characters that clutter Loach’s tales are almost universally condemned from the get-go. They come into the stories with aspirations, hopes, dreams, and are quick to learn that all this is an impossibility in this scary, uncaring world.

My Name Is Joe features Peter Mullan in one of those performances that defy the meaningless words we sometimes use to describe people whose artistic contributions are more realistic than arty artificial. Mullan, who deserves a few Oscar nominations at this point (did the Academy not see The Claim?), was able to ease the tension created by Loach’s fire-and-brimstone sermon. The fact that My Name Is Joe is ultimately rewarding comes from Mullan’s soulful rendition of Loach’s common man.

The indictment is a little better in Sweet Sixteen, which helps to account for the fact that it is certainly more watchable than Joe. Star Martin Compston, though nowhere near the league of Mullan, captures some of the soul of his predecessor while coupling it with a scarred baby faces that reflects both delinquency and innocence.

It is this duplicity of performer and visuals that makes most of Sweet Sixteen feel like more than another one of Loach’s rampages. The arrested development on exhibit here is frightening because of the possibilities barely beyond his grasp. When things are tough in this film, their reasons seem more out of a lifetime of pitfalls than out of the browbeating whim of a zealous director.

The premise is that of Liam (Compston), a Glasgow youth, trying to make life livable on the days before his sixteenth birthday. At the beginning, he is visiting his mother in prison with his grandfather (McKee) and her boyfriend Stan (McCormack). There, he is forced to take part in a ritual that makes him sick: passing drugs to her while hugging so that she can sell them while in jail. When he refuses, he is beaten by both of the men.

Liam loves his mother more than we can ever comprehend. She is ugly to him, unwilling to notice the fact that her relationship to Stan is not only ruining her life (she is in prison because of him), but also that of her family. Liam is getting the worst of it, unable to completely leave the confines of their home due to his age; his sister Suzanne (Abercromby), meanwhile, sees that she completely disassociate with her own family lest they ruin the life of her baby boy beyond the destruction already created by her poverty and his illegitimacy. One gets the impression that she’s the only smart one in the lot.

Sweet Sixteen plays through this type of muck with a discernable amount of satisfaction with itself, something that causes it to break from the seams by the film’s misappropriated homage final shot. If the film is meant to convey anything other than disparagement, than Loach still needs some time to find a way to bring to the screen more than simply great performers going through the footnotes of his well thought out, though woefully overburdened, college sociology term paper.

©2003, David Perry,, 9 May 2003

Rick de Oliveira


Release: 25 Apr. 03

The Real Cancun


As one of the few people I know who happily (and often) defends the merits of some reality-based programming, The Real Cancun, with its bacchanal connection to the most popular of these programs, should be a treat. Unfortunately, like those debased reality shows it more closely resembles, The Real Cancun serves up little more than T & A, moments of dancers bumping and grinding, and bed sheets conspicuously moving to the curves of two people beneath them.

So, why if I feel this form of reality programming -- common to such shows as the amazingly internationally popular Big Brother (a recent trip to London exposed the obsession Brits have with this show) and Temptation Island -- do I feel the need to defend reality shows in general? Certainly, I am one of the more pretentious voices of film criticism available (and my readers rarely fail to remind me of this fact), which should anoint me as the great offender of the reality shows. Instead, I think it feeds into my respect of them, recognizing the blurred line shared between these shows as some of the finest documentaries that have comes to theatres and television.

Often, it is the drama -- however contrived -- of the people living in these documentaries that make them so mesmerizing. For example, take the grown ups who are revisited every seven years by Michael Apted for his amazing look at the way people change as they age in relationship to their choices in life and the inherited social class: this series, with episodes of more than two hours, is about looking at the fabric of our own human condition, similar to what can be found in such non-elitist shows as Survivor or The Real World. Those reality shows may have the strings of producers touching every part of their preparation, creation, and exhibition, but they also involve the audience in the nature of the characters and their bond with the reality created for them by the monolithic gods of television. While there is not a greater art of machination over reality (and these shows do come from the contrivances that make them popular), I find it hypocritical for media critics to hail the documentary efforts of a PBS reality series while decrying the very nature of its “reality”-based bastard brother.

That said, The Real Cancun fails to ever capture anything natural about its subjects or the reality they have been placed in. Produced by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray and directed by Rick de Oliveira, all of whom worked on the MTV shows The Real World (possible the most reputable of all these modern concoctions) and Road Rules, the new feature fails to find anything about the subjects that might reflect the same amount of inventive detail that makes those other MTV shows interesting. Given a fraction of the time and a nonexistent interest in dramatic storytelling, the filmmakers choose to show the true story of sixteen strangers picked to go to Cancun and have their story taped to show what happens when people change their personalities for camera time and bore theatre audiences to death.

Firstly, there’s the inclusion of people like Alan Taylor, the virtuous Texan who accepted the trip to Cancun with the understanding that his beliefs against drinking and unbridled revelry would be in danger. For the first reel, he seriously seems like the type of person who might generate some drama with the rest of the group (though the producers choose to take little notice of the other two cast members who do not drink, instead obsessing with their longtime friendship that might blossom into romance by the end of the film). However, he quickly joins the lines to take tequila shots and begins cavorting around the place obsessing with seeing some bare breasts.

Secondly, there’s the romances. Constantly, cast members flirt ad nauseum without the least amount of heat generated. When their tryst ultimately ends with the guy cheating on her before they have ever really connected in the first place, the audience can only give careless yawn to the drama unfolding.

Lastly, there’s the time problem. The film follows these kids for a week instead of the months of Real World and Road Rules time. Nothing happens. The film isn’t long -- a mere 96 minutes -- but the lack of anything transpiring makes the whole ordeal seem to take forever. I think it says something that Alan is the only person whose name stuck with me within an hour after watching The Real Cancun.

Andy Warhol once predicted that everyone in the future would have his or her fifteen minutes of fame. If this is what you have to do to get your fifteen minutes, I’m more than happy with obscurity.

©2003, David Perry,, 9 May 2003

Christopher Guest

Eugene Levy
Catherine O'Hara
Harry Shearer
Michael McKean
Christopher Guest
John Michael Higgens
Jane Lynch
Parker Posey
Ed Begley, Jr.
Fred Willard
Bob Balaban
Larry Miller
Jennifer Coolidge

Release: 16 Apr. 03

A Mighty Wind


Christopher Guest and his troupe of improv comedians have somehow hit into the vein of the oddities of American pop culture. They have skewered the place of the community theatre, something that is held on high for the small town, in Waiting for Guffman; and they have recreated the spoiled world of dog shows, something that is overly appreciated by the well-to-do and those who desperately wish to be, in Best in Show. Both films, like This Is Spinal Tap, which was written by Guest and included many of his actors, came from merely a plot outline and some early character development with the rest of the film left to the actors.

For their latest trick, the Guest group has hit on the world of folk music, that great uniter of the 1960s which married the political dissent of the youth with the Woodie-Guthrie-toe-tapping lyrics destined for the Lawrence Welk Show. Guest chooses to glaze over the politics so that he may make a greater statement about the smiles that were painted across those album covers to make these incendiary artists seem more marketable to the conservative non-dissidents. His only moment of politics comes in the occasional reference to the Spanish-American War. This may seem like Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy throwing a punch, but anyone acquainted with their films will instantly recognize the comic potential that such an absurd reactionary stance would bring for any of the improv geniuses found in these films.

The central story is that three important ‘60s folk acts have been assembled for a reunion concert in New York City for airing on public television in memory of their recently deceased promoter Irving Steinbloom. Planned by his son Jonathan (Balaban), an anal-retentive twit who obsesses over every little part of the show, and prepared by Wally Fenton (Miller), a publicist with absolutely no interest or understanding in what he’s supposed to be selling, the show seems to be destined to failure. However, through the perseverance of those involved and the expectations of those three acts (this is, after all, their first chance to see their old comrades and reemerge from a collective obscurity), A Mighty Wind chugs along into the type of folk music show that would make even the most adverse listener tap his toe. After all, who can’t feel slightly freed of the pretensions of the best music and the commercialization of the worst when listening to a song about an Eat at Joe’s diner with a faulty sign including the verse “Ea...a...o’s”?

Those are the lyrics of The Folkmen, a trio that includes Jerry Palter (McKean), constantly certain of his own approaching return to fame, Alan Barrows (Guest) a pippy tenor with tufts of white hair framing his brows, and Mark Schubb (Shearer), the delightfully intellectual bass with a shiny bald head and an Amish man’s beard. Their anonymity is perhaps the most depressing because their own belief in themselves seems to be greater than the bloated corporate packaging of the next Britney Spears or Backstreet Boys. When they reunite before the show, the audience is immediately drawn in with the hope that these kindly old gentlemen are not on the verge of disappointment.

The exact opposite is true of the second act, an annoyingly saccharine troupe of New Age hippies called the New Main Street Singers. The real Main Street Singers are in the distant past and the new group, consisting of nine members and an exaggerated guitar line, seems to be an easy replacement for the organizers of the show. The two leads, Laurie (Lynch) and Terry Bohner (Higgins), aren’t even as in love with the music as the rest of the assembled folk dignitaries; in many ways, they just see this as a chance to purge the ugliness of their pasts and to show the audience the virtues of their religious awakening.

The cornerstone of the show, though, is the reuniting of Mitch Cohen (Levy) and Mickey Crabbe (O’Hara), a married duet that crumbled in the last years of the 1960s when Mickey decided to call it quits with both the band and the marriage. Now Mickey is married to a catheter salesman/train enthusiast and Mitch is caught in a constant state of catatonia. The promise of their early years, which included the ephemeral kiss in “A Kiss at the End of a Rainbow” that held so much for the future happiness of those watching and listening, parallels all the unhappiness that befell civilization in the wake of their breakup. The shellshock of Mitch may seem like much, but you almost get the impression that he is merely capturing the feelings that one should have when faced with all the ugliness of the late 1960s and early 1970s dealt so close to home.

And yet it is impossible to not notice that life, even the slight one she exists in, is happier for Mickey since she left Mitch. There isn’t a member of the audience not torn between hoping that they will once again share that kiss for Mitch and hoping that they don’t for Mickey.

There hasn’t been the same level of pathos in Guest’s previous work compared to what he finds with Mitch and Mickey which quickly becomes the most important part of the film. Their story and the pathetic way Guest, Levy, and O’Hara empathize with them is perhaps the greatest hint that this troupe has found the mature calling that has long been overshadowed by the puerile guffaws of their previous efforts. As much as I laughed at Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, A Mighty Wind is the first film from them in which I felt emotionally attached to a facet for their story. It is the first time I could go through most of a review without finding myself gushing over the virtues of Parker Posey and Fred Willard (both recreating the magic they always have in these films). It is the first time I have felt like a Christopher Guest film was about more than making fun of Americana but out of celebrating it for the garish ways it can morph into. A Mighty Wind is their best film, and, I feel certain, a promise of more to come.

©2003, David Perry,, 9 May 2003

Laetitia Colombani

Audrey Tautou
Samuel Le Bihan
Isabelle Carré
Clément Sibony
Sophie Guillemin
Eric Savin

Release: 14 Feb. 03

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not


Four years ago I wrote a slightly positive review of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense with the woeful attitude of someone who felt like he had to respect a filmmaker because he had been hoodwinked. I wrote of the aggravation the film generated in me with its rote dialogue and scenarios and busy storytelling. I commented that the only good thing about this otherwise bad film was its great ending. Thus, it felt so much better two years later when I wrote a positive review for his follow-up film Unbreakable feeling that he truly deserved it.

And while I’m not quite giving director Laetitia Colombani a pass for her equally impressive mid-film conceit (stop reading now if you would prefer that it remain secret -- it is impossible to review this film without commenting on its major dramatic shift) in He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, I am struck by how unethical it would be for me to write the negative review I have prepared without properly giving the film’s novelty attention.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not begins with Angélique (Tautou) shopping in a Bordeaux florist boutique. She has all the cute, pixie attitude of Tautou’s previous character Amélie, the bizarre little girl of Montmarte who tried to make life easier for everyone else before finally turning to herself. If anyone else finds Tautou’s gushing cinematic personality tired, feel free to cringe at the thought of this opening.

However, the film chooses to only half fulfill the expectations that Tautou and beautiful flowers would represent. Normally, we might expect that this is going to be another romp through the Julia Roberts/Kate Hudson romantic comedies that Tautou seems destined for, even if they are Gallic and thus somehow more highbrow. But what Colombani has under the sleeve is something more surprising and, perhaps, more ridiculous. For, as the audience is left to look at their beloved (or hated) sugarplum attempt to piece together a romance with her wayward lover Loïc (Le Bihan), a doctor with an expectant wife, the movie takes a different turn. Ultimately, Angélique is closer to recreating scenes from The Crush than Runaway Bride.

Now, The Crush is a pretty bad movie, which, apart from the surprise that comes with the shift in tone, means that a French version of The Crush without anything to add to the equation is, almost unavoidably, a bad movie. However, Colombani does add something, which gives her film the nice addendum of inventiveness to go with its story’s unoriginality.

You see, the first half of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not is meant to portray Angélique as a good lover hurt by Loïc’s inability to leave his wife, constantly missing their dates and becoming more unresponsive to her advances. The second half, dedicated to the psycho turn in Angélique is simply the first half shown through Loïc’s eyes. In other words, there never was a relationship to begin with.

The director has established the cardinal exposé of the truthful storytelling: that everything in the story is dependent on what the storyteller is letting you know. It was used expertly in Mulholland Dr. and The Usual Suspects, among others, but here it just feels like a novelty act. One wants to recognize it for what it does until one remembers that everything else is facile, unimportant bull.

©2003, David Perry,, 9 May 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry