Sex, Leins & Videotape #41. Paignton film critic Tom Leins investigates this week’s most interesting Art House DVD releases.
Although the name Pablo Trapero may not be particularly familiar to mainstream film fans, the Argentine director has earned widespread plaudits in world cinema circles for his taboo-busting dramas. His latest movie Lion’s Den (Axiom) focuses on the trials and tribulations of a pregnant woman imprisoned for a murder that she may or may not have committed.
Despite waking up covered in blood, Julia Zarate (Martina Gusman) has no recollection of murdering her boyfriend in a jealous rage. Unfortunately for her, his sleazy gay lover Ramiro (Rodrigo Santoro -Paulo from Lost) does everything he can to discredit the unfortunate Julia and protect his own back. Housed on the mother’s wing of a tough Argentine prison, Julia quickly realises that she is out of her depth, and relies on the help of haggard motherly figure Marta to cope with her new arrival -baby Tomas. The law dictates that young children are allowed to stay in jail with their mothers until they reach the age of four, but Julia’s own mother is quick to intervene when she decides that the child’s best interests would be better served outside of the prison gates.
Inevitably, young Tomas is the only thread connecting Julia to her sanity, and when he is snatched away from her all hell breaks loose. But will Julia keep her head down and serve her time, or will she hatch a desperate plan to reunite herself with her son? Martina Gusman gives a startlingly raw performance as Julia, and the fact that she is married to director Pablo Trapero seemingly allows Gusman to immerse herself in this tough role far beyond the call of duty. Peculiar and compelling, Lion’s Den is unlike any prison movie I’ve ever seen, and will enthral fans of grubby, intimate dramas. Impressive stuff.
Ramin Bahrani is one of the most intriguing directors currently plying his trade on the fringes of Hollywood, and after the success of his most recent movie Goodbye Solo, its predecessor Chop Shop (Axiom) gets a well-earned DVD release. The movie focuses on the exploits of Alejandro, a tough Latino street orphan who works in a sprawling, unruly auto-body repair shop in Queens, New York. Despite being dealt a tough hand in life, Alejandro’s ambition knows no bounds, and he is determined to make a better life for himself and his 16-year-old sister Isamar. The two dream of saving up for a fast food van, but, little does Alejandro realise, whilst he is out hawking candy bars and bootleg DVDs, his sister is busy turning tricks for truckers in order to contribute her own share.
Gritty and charming in equal measure, Chop Shop is easily as impressive as the better-known Goodbye Solo. Pitch-perfect scenes melt into one another and Bahrani’s perfectionist stance ensures that he draws compelling performances out of his untried lead actors. No one else is producing naturalistic, character-driven movies as interesting as this at the moment, and Bahrani deserves all of the neo-realist platitudes being heaped on him. After carving himself a formidable reputation by chronicling outsider culture in all its grubby, colourful glory it will be fascinating to see what he comes up with next. All in all: a small movie with a big heart.
After directing arguably the most mainstream movie of his career with Where The Truth Lies in 2005, Atom Egoyan returns with Adoration (New Wave Films) , a typically strange tale about identity, history and human interaction. When his French teacher gives her class a translation exercise about a terrorist who plants a bomb in the luggage of his pregnant girlfriend, precocious student Simon (Devon Bostick) feels compelled to draw parallels between the story and the mysterious lives of his own dead parents. Sabine, the French teacher encourages Simon to immerse himself in this unusual project, and the story soon takes on a life of its own, going viral and causing a stir online.
By convincing himself that the story is true, Simon builds up an increasingly complex false identity, which allows him to delve deeper into his own past, and come to some startling conclusions. The first half of Egoyan’s fascinating movie is undeniably compelling, but the veritable house of cards collapses during the later stages, and the unusually simplistic resolution isn’t half as satisfying as the intriguing premise. Fans of Egoyan’s slow-moving, at-times hypnotic filmmaking style will find much to sink their teeth into, but Adoration is likely to be too strange for fans of the sleazy cross-over hit Where The Truth Lies. (If nothing else, comedy fans can get reacquainted with Rachel Blanchard, who played Nancy -Jez’s American wife in Peep Show!)