Exploring the world through global cinema

Retro Rockets

This blog features reviews of films from across the world, ranging from the celebrated to the obscure. For the time being, the movies are selected based on alphabetical country order. Read on to find a brief introduction to the ‘A’ series where it all began, giving the reader an idea of what is here already. Click on each film title where it appears in blue to be taken to the full review.

The Films

Marina Golbahari stars in 'Osama', where women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan fare little better than cattle. The film's strongly one-sided stance capitalises on our lack of sympathy for the extremist Muslim regime.

It all began with ‘A’ for Afghanistan, and Siddiq Barmak’s powerful drama showing the plight of women under Taliban rule. “Filmed on location in Kabul, Osama needs do little to show the horrors of war – the evidence is all around and the locals are so used to it that many have never known anything different. The complete undermining of Afghan civilisation by the Taliban is omnipresent in every scene where they are not in frame.” – Osama

Next, communist extremism sent 1970s Albania into a cultural cul-de-sac, in Gjergj Xhuvani’s darkly-humourous Slogans. “The film is an excellent study in farce, and claiming to be based on real events, it is a very welcome and healthy progression for Albanian society to be able to laugh at the absurd, almost Orwellian blind alley they once stumbled down.” – Slogans

Extremism of a different kind ripped apart 1990s Algeria, and in Yasmina Bachir’s heart-wrenching drama on this chapter in recent history, one woman who lived through it all finally decided she’d had enough. “In every group, there is always one person who stands up to the madness, not borne of heroics, but because they cannot do otherwise – it’s simply who they are.” – Rachida

Unbridled lust and stalking are the focus of 'Amor Idiota', a dubious Catalonian comedy starring (L-R) Cayetana Guillén Cuervo and Santi Millan.

Catalan director Ventura Pons took the madness of love to crazy extremes in his film Amor Idiota. “While I’m not a devotee of the romance genre, I can’t help feeling that it’s so over-mined that the sub-oeuvre of ‘misfits in love’ itself is bound to have been explored to better gain elsewhere.” – Amor Idiota

Since the above was more Catalonia than Andorra, I later discovered Josep Guirao’s short film, Don’t Take The Name Of God In Vain, a condensed adaptation of a Mike Resnick sci-fi novel. “The script as executed feels slightly ‘Dan Brown’ – excessively didactic without ringing true, and having rather foolishly worked my way through The Lost Symbol recently, the overblown lecturing smarts all the more.” – Don’t Take The Name Of God In Vain

The action then returned to the African continent and the nation of Angola via Antonio Duarte’s half-animation, half live-action short, Momentos de Gloria. “An interesting series of vignettes depicting life in modern Angola, with the country’s many conflicts, from the recent civil war to rampant street crime forming the story lines to each segment.” – Moments Of Glory

Unrequited love forms the basis of the Antiguan independent film 'Hooked'. The pain of heartbreak doesn't even come close to the suffering endured by anyone watching it.

My Caribbean keen was severely curtailed when I turned my attention to Antigua & Barbuda for the independent drama Hooked, which “suffers from some truly horrendous, clichéd dialogue that even dialogue disaster master Dan Brown wouldn’t touch. This might almost be mitigated by the presence of creative acting talent, however Hooked is not at any time populated with anyone skilled in the craft.” – Hooked

Fortunately, things picked up dramatically with Juan Jose Campanella’s masterful historical Argentinean romance/crime drama, The Secret In Their Eyes. “If you’ve never truly loved and lost, much of the film simply won’t resonate as anything more than a tired cliché. Likewise, if you don’t care for a study on the mechanics of human behaviour, this isn’t for you.” – The Secret In Their Eyes

Next, Canadian-Egyptian Atom Egoyan explored the uglier side of relationships with Armenia forming the backdrop to a masterstroke in minimalist unease. “It’s certainly not a pleasant cinematic adventure, but anyone who has experienced that phase of a relationship will at least know the horrible awkwardness created between two people who were once close, and the helpless feeling of loss as a result.” – Calendar

Oscar Redding stars as the famed colonial Australian outlaw with a taste for the other white meat in 'Van Diemen's Land'. The film is an exploitative dumbing down of the real story, but still very entertaining.

The dark underbelly of Australian colonial history was next, in which writer/director Jonathan auf der Heide introduced audiences to the mottled sepia world of one of the country’s most notorious figures. ”The story of Alexander Pearce is perhaps not unsurprisingly missing from the school curriculum in Australia, and it was only through this film that I myself became familiar with this dark chapter of White Australia.” – Van Diemen’s Land

Over in Austria meanwhile, Götz Spielmann forced spectators to question how they would react to extreme loss in his soul-wrenching human drama, Revanche. “It is a film that not only challenges you to predict what comes next, but one that forces you to decide whether revenge ever makes sense, to confront feelings of anguish and make decisions you can live with.” – Revanche

Finally, bad film-making and karate joined forces in Azerbaijan to form the impenetrably-bad Şeytanın Tələsi, a film that “contained acting more wooden than a pine chest, the production values of a finger painting and fight scenes seemingly choreographed by a coma patient. I quickly found myself in more pain than anyone having their face rearranged on screen, and constantly fighting the urge to walk away and stare at the wall in search of something more entertaining.” – Şeytanın Tələsi

'Phantom Power': the album.

In between each main series of reviews, World On Film also takes short-trips and side-steps into other topics connected with cinema in general. In 1989, keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman was asked to create a new and contemporary alternative score to Rupert Julian’s celebrated 1925 adaptation of Phantom Of The Opera. “It’s almost hard to believe that the late 80s/early 90s faux vibraphone and harpsichord were as in vogue as one could get at the time, yet they are now just as anachronistic and primitive-sounding as the computers that powered them – the eternal evolutionary punishment for digital hubris.” – Phantom Power

Around the same time, I had the good fortune to catch a couple of days of South Korea’s largest global cinema extravaganza, the Pusan International Film Festival. “In Korea’s highly familial and patriarchal culture, no film touches the hearts of the locals quite like the concept of brotherhood: the deep and unbreakable bond forged between two men (who may or may not be actual brothers) by blood, sweat, and above all, tears.” – Secret Reunion (Also reviewed: Voice Over from Bulgaria and Honey from Turkey)

Film as a means of chronicling history as it happens was explored through a journey back to Iceland of 1974, when an island was forever altered by one of the most famous volcanic eruptions of the 20th Century. “A seemingly never-ending ocean of lava now poured unchecked by even the mountain itself toward the town, accelerating the growth of the lava field, intent on closing the harbour forever.” – The Coming Of The Church Mountain

Henry Chapier's film is a voyage of sexual awakening, where the lines of reality and unreality are blurred.

Finally, the question, is a soundtrack still a soundtrack if you’ve never seen the film it was made for? was asked, and I offered two of my all-time favourite examples up for analysis. “From the reverberating keyboard offsetting an almost visceral scraping of metal-on-metal into an unaccompanied, yet insistent quasi-tribal drumming of the introduction, to the hauntingly-beautiful Mediterranean acoustic guitar melody reappearing in multiple forms across the album, sometimes accompanied by Vangelis on piano and a small choir peppered with swirling keyboards and spangling percussion, Sex Power offers many of the sounds Vangelis would continue to develop and repeatedly delight music fans with for decades to come.” – The Independent Soundtrack, or Sex Power Meets Fire & Water

…But Also

The above entries are occasionally bolstered by additional reviews and commentary. There’s only so much you can say about a 10-minute short film, for example, or the question may arise as to why a particular country hasn’t been represented.

Early reviews would typically begin with a few comments on whatever I’d also seen that week, but when Don’t Take The Name Of God In Vain proved especially short, I decided to introduce readers to the vagaries of the South Korean cinema complex.” Within, you will find the same kiosks selling chocolate covered sugar bullets, caffeine and snow-covered popcorn at prices designed to belittle you for your weak glucose-dripping willpower.” – Where I Live

Three friends explore 'Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel' in this generally-enjoyable British sci-fi comedy.

When a similar problem presented itself with Moments Of Glory, I found myself explaining why the Åland Islands, “the attractive Finnish archipelago of 6,000 islands and skerries populated by Swedish-speaking natives”, wouldn’t be featured (although there is an interesting tourist film on offer), as well as a review of the British postmodern sci-fi comedy Shaun Of The Dead-style, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel.In This Place I Call Home

Atom Egoyan’s dark drama Calendar was followed by my account of the closing ceremony of Seoul’s Chungmuro International Film Festival 2010, of which I have mixed feelings. “The warning bells were ringing, but it was too late. I was committed by this point no matter what happened. Nonetheless, I was still upbeat about the whole thing, and with the silliness of the interview over, I sat back in anticipation. Then the singers arrived.” The film of the evening was Tony Chan’s saccharine-filled fluff, Hot Summer Days. – Sugar Bullets

The even darker Van Diemen’s Land was followed by a brief trip to Aruba, where the pickings were very slim indeed, as evidenced by the short film Marry Me. “Well, at least it was shot in Aruba – as indeed I wanted to be by the end credits.” – Do You Wanna

Killer convoys and crazy kids in 'Road Train', an Australian horror film so bad it'll make you long for death.

Why didn’t I spend more time reviewing Revanche? I now ask myself. Why did I let myself write about one of Australia’s worst horror films? Road Train does not have re-watch value, being about as irresistible as the chance to fly a hang glider held together with paper clips. The script is about as bulletproof as a KFC refresher towel, while the only formula it adheres to is that of a Molotov cocktail, bombing as it does with unsanctioned alacrity not long after the opening credits.” – Road Train (aka Road Kill)

Finally, when it came time to visit Azerbaijan, I found myself “reminded of Donkey Kong” with the amusing short entry Bu da belə, a far more enjoyable trip to Baku than the main, karate-infested feature. – Bu da belə


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5 responses

  1. jasetv

    I’m a sucker for the caramelled popcorn; it just smells so nice…

    May 22, 2011 at 9:36 pm

  2. I prefer Jaffas myself.

    May 23, 2011 at 7:48 am

  3. jasetv

    Unfortunately, as you know, they’re no longer made : (

    May 23, 2011 at 9:02 pm

  4. Yes indeed, and absolutely shocking of Cadbury New Zealand to keep pretending that they are. Someone should complain.




    May 23, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    • jasetv

      And it’s a JAFFA race. Rolling giant sized jaffas down a street. They’re goading us, that’s what they’re doing!

      June 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

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