World Cinema’s latest and best DVD releases reviewed

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Although Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro’s cinematic output has slowed down dramatically in recent years – he hasn’t actually directed a movie since 2008’s Hellboy 2 – he remains busy behind the scenes, racking up a series of production credits, the latest of which is for Spanish chiller Julia’s Eyes (Optimum).

When Sara – a woman suffering from a degenerative sight disease that has left her blind – commits suicide under mysterious circumstances, her twin sister Julia (Belen Rueda, The Orphanage) is determined to investigate what actually happened.

Although the police are convinced that it’s a straightforward suicide, Julia seeks to retrace her sister’s final steps, and quickly finds herself drawn into a warped world of malevolent presences and menacing threats. As Julia begins to uncover a series of clues relating to her sister’s death, she becomes convinced that someone is watching her.

As her friends and loved ones start to drop like flies, the stress takes its toll on Julia, and she loses her own sight. Finally, as the plot unravels, Julia finds herself confined to Sara’s house, blindly attempting to fend off her mysterious assailant…

Spanish director Guillem Morales displays some enticing Hitchcock-style flourishes during the cryptic first half of the movie, and although Julia’s Eyes loses it way during the unfortunately stodgy third act, there is much here to enjoy. Radiant leading lady Belen Rueda offers a captivating ‘Hitchcock Blonde’-esque presence at the heart of the movie and keeps you hooked as the movie traipses over old ground towards the end. Admittedly over-long, Julia’s Eyes is slick, morbid entertainment for the most part, and proves that – whatever role he carves for himself – Guillermo Del Toro’s golden touch hasn’t deserted him yet.

Seductive cyber-thriller Black Heaven (Arrow Video) is the follow-up to French director Gilles Marchand’s cult debut Who Killed Bambi? Written by long-time collaborator Dominik Moll (Lemming), the movie focuses on carefree young lovers Gaspard (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) and Marion (Pauline Etienne) who are spending summer in the South of France. After stumbling across a lost mobile phone – full of bizarre text messages – the pair set out to track down its owner, only to find themselves drawn into an increasingly dark world where fantasy and reality blur irrevocably.

The phone leads them to a dead man in a fume-filled car, adjacent to an unconscious girl (Louise Bourgoin), and the pair appear to be the victims of a botched suicide pact. When Gaspard accidentally encounters the woman, Audrey, at a flat belonging to a local drug dealer, he quickly becomes infatuated with the sexy stranger. His pursuit of her leads him to join the compulsive online role-playing game Black Hole, where Audrey’s similarly enchanting avatar Sam seduces strangers into committing suicide with her.

Despite some nice ideas – not to mention a few engaging riffs on Blue Velvet’s peculiar brand of retro-voyeurism – Black Heaven is a seriously uneven piece of filmmaking that only sporadically hits the heights it aspires to. The never-more-sultry Louise Bourgoin (The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec) gives the film its main focal point as enigmatic lounge singer Audrey – who finds herself trapped in a dark place by her own transgressive desires – but her involvement is not enough to raise the stakes sufficiently. In truth Bourgoin’s character feels like she has wandered into Black Heaven from a better movie. All in all: intriguing, but tough to recommend.

Written and directed by Aaron Schock, dust-streaked documentary Circo (Network) follows circus ringmaster Tino Ponce and his family as they haul their dilapidated ‘Gran Mexico Circo’ travelling circus around rural Mexico.

Faced with dwindling audience interest and mounting debt – not to mention the all-encompassing family tension bubbling beneath the surface – the once-illustrious family tradition faces an uncertain future, but Tito manfully attempts to hold everything together despite the seeming futility of the enterprise. With Tito’s four young children pressed into service on a daily basis, wife Ivonne bemoans the family’s hand-to-mouth existence and yearns for the day when her children are no longer exploited by her in-laws for scant reward.

Evocatively soundtracked by cult US band Calexico, Circo conjures up an insightful depiction of a vanishing way of life. Director Schock never seeks to sentimentalise the family’s tense situation, but the issues are plain for all to see, and his even-handed portrait of a family in turmoil is undeniably compelling to watch. The filmmaker spent 22 months on the road with the Ponce family, yet his documentary never attempts to impose a narrative agenda on the family, allowing them to dictate the story as they live through it. Interesting stuff.

French-Canadian film I Killed My Mother (Network), was written and directed by self-styled next-big-thing Xavier Dolan. It first attracted widespread attention when it received an eight-minute standing ovation following its showing during the ‘Director’s Fortnight’ programme at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

Hubert (played by director Dolan himself) is a 16-year-old Quebecois, living in suburban Montreal with his single mother Chantale. The duo live in domestic disharmony, while Hubert barely sees his disinterested father, a fact which only adds to the animosity between mother and son. A revelation concerning Hubert’s secret homosexuality – casually leaked by the other boy’s mother in a tanning salon – drives an additional wedge between them, and it isn’t long before Hubert is dispatched to boarding school where his eyes are opened to another way of life.

Semi-autobiographical – it was written when the precocious Dolan was just 16 – I Killed My Mother is arguably one of the most self-indulgent debut movies in recent memory, and exposes Dolan’s narrative limitations. Nevertheless, the sporadic use of allegorical dream sequences adds a welcome dimension to the insufferable teenage angst, and hints at a promising future if he can find a story to match his vision. If art-house melodrama is your cup of tea then I Killed My Mother is worth a look-in, but it’s a tad shrill for my tastes, and quickly takes on an unfortunately dirge-like quality.