Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Terri (Tuesday, June 28, 2011) (47)

Azazel Jacob's first major(ish) film was Mama's Man in 2008, an interesting atmosphere piece, in a style that is rather a corollary to mumblecore (mumbleish you could say). It is very rough around the edges (on purpose) and tells the very sad story of a man in a sort of mid-life crisis, moving back to his parents' small apartment and regressing to adolescence while avoiding his own wife and family across the country. I found the film interesting from a style point of view, but ultimately difficult to watch and impossible to connect to because the story never really moved much.

Jacob's newest film, Terri, is a vast improvement on that first work. He maintains the interesting scruffy style of the first, but gives it just enough story (though still not very much) to move our emotions and sympathies. It's a good movie, much better than most, but is still stuck in such a weird place that it's hard to work around a few elemental parts of it.

The film opens with Terri (Jacob Wysocki), an obese giant of a teenager sitting naked in the bathtub of his uncle's house where he lives. This is a terrible, dirty, messy house in the Valley and Uncle James (Creed Bratton... Creed from The Office) is a 50-something man suffering from dementia who is highly medicated and not much of a caregiver to Terri. Terri walks to school through the woods, is laughed at by all the kids he sees on the soccer filed, is called terrible names (one kid calls him "garbage dump") and gets mocked in class with the tacit approval of the teachers who don't seem to care about much of anything.

One day he's ordered to the office of the assistant principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), who tells him they can have a weekly meeting to talk about stuff and help him out. Mr. Fitzgerald says he was a freak as a kid too and that kids laughed at him, but he survived and can help Terri get through it. Terri seems to get along fine (though he's very sad) but he accepts the offer and they two start an interesting, funny relationship that helps to give Terri a boost of self-confidence.

What is hardest for me about this film is that there seem to be two separate tracks of the story that exist simultaneously and never totally get resolved or bump into one another. That is, Terri's home life with his uncle is incredibly sad (and by incredibly say, I mean really, really, really sad) while the relationship at school with Mr. Fitzgerald is sorta goofy funny (as John C. Reilly does very well). I really enjoy both parts independently, but they don't meld well and never really feel like they fit in the same film. I should also say that although they're both done well, neither one is particularly fresh; the home stuff feels very much like the recent trend in movies for showing the "shitiness" of life (see: Hesher, Super, Observe and Report) and the school stuff is very much like the gonzo, biting comedies that have become rather fashionable (see: East Bound and Down, Win Win, Cyrus... in fact Reilly's character here could be the same guy as in Cyrus).

But Jacobs does have a good eye for the look of the film and a good sensibility for actors. There is a scene near the end of the film where Terri and some new friends "experiment" with whiskey and his uncle's pills. I have to say I have possibly never seen a more realistic-feeling drunk/drug scene, let alone one with young actors who probably have little experience with such vices themselves. It's a great job on the actors' parts and a great job of direction. Wysocki is really great throughout, never mugging for the camera, always maintaining a proud exterior even when he's crumbling inside. He really seems like a kid from next door. I think it's a pretty difficult performance, because one's instinct would be to go very hammy and play up the fat thing, but Wysocki avoids that and goes quiet and natural. His performance is largely heartbreaking and very easy to identify with (as I was a ridiculed, misfit kid in high school with a fresh mouth who was mocked by classmates and never defended by teachers).

There is a nice scene in the middle where Mr. Fitzgerald tells Terri that life is generally rotten and that we are all here just trying to "get by". He says that people are shity and make mistakes, but that you have to ignore most of that and just keep living. Although perhaps heavy handed, this dialogue sums up the story and structure of the film. There's no real resolution; it's just about a few weeks in a weird kid's life. He will survive high school (we all did... barely) and keep moving along. He makes mistakes and pays the prices, and then has some small successes. It's a very sweet movie.

Stars: 3 of 4

Friday, June 17, 2011

Even the Rain (Friday, June 19, 2011) (46)

Iciar Bollain's Even the Rain tells the story of a Spanish film crew who show up in Cochabamba, Bolivia to shoot a movie about Christopher Columbus and Bartolome de las Casas. The crew is filled with liberal actors and artists, including director Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal), who all agree that the natives were treated badly by the Spanish explorers, but they are a bit less aware of the sociopolitical situation they find themselves in contemporary Bolivia.

It seems at the exact time of the shooting of this movie, Bolivians are getting upset at the government's agreement to sell water rights to private overseas companies. One of the leaders of the "free water for all" movement is Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), who has been cast as the Indian chief in the film. On top of this, the reason the film is shooting in Bolivia, and not, say, the Carribean where Columbus actually landed, is because they can get very cheap labor there. They're exploiting the people of contemporary Bolivia the same way the Spanish exploited the Indians in the 15th and 16th Centuries.

This all sounds like a very straightforward moral tale about parallels between contemporary times and early precolonial times, and it is. There really isn't that much depth here. Everything is spelled out very clearly in broad moral brushstrokes. At one point, the producer talks on the phone with some financier in the States and says how happy he is to be able to pay the extras $2 a day. Of course Daniel overhears this, and he totally understands the producer because he used to work in the States himself and speaks English. Oh - burn! You see the producer is embarrassed and Daniel is upset.

Toward the end of the film, the story turns into a commentary on civil-disobedience and rioting. It turns into Hotel Rwanda or The Last King of Scotland: lots of overturned cars, fires and hurt children who can't get to the hospital. The problem is that to this point the film has been such a mishmash of political story lines that you get confused about who is doing what to whom and who is responsible for it.

As much as we want to make the moral equivalent between the Spanish explorers, the Bolivian government and the Spanish film crew, it's a false connection. Water rights are a major concern in Bolivia (they have been from Che Guevara to Evo Morales); rioting by people against the government can be dangrous, but film crews who hire extras for $2 are not really the problem in this context.

I couldn't help but think about Werner Herzog as I watched this film and how he used Cochabamba as one of his headquarters when he shot Fitzcarraldo. He had an deep respect for the Bolivian people and understood issues like fair pay, water rights and keeping peace. Not only is this a movie about filmmakers who do the opposite, but it also seems to have been made by a writer/director who never learned Herzog's lessons. For him, the respect was absolutely endemic to shooting the film and he took it for granted; for Bollain it seems like "respect" is enough of a concept to center a story around. It's not really, because it's so banal.

Stars: 1.5 of 4

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Midnight in Paris (Wednesday, June 15, 2011) (45)

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris begins with a five-minute montage of the beautiful sights and parks of Paris. I'm not sure you knew this, but Paris is a very pretty city; there are lots of nice buildings and some lovely parks there. (Strangely, Woody's shots have no people in them... I guess he likes the places more than the people... well, they smell, I guess.) To say this opening is an allusion to the intro to Manhattan, would be to miss the point of this movie.

When basically every scene of a film is taken from one's own oeuvre, they stop being allusions and start being tedious, uninspired, self-promotion. There is nothing fresh in Midnight in Paris, aside from the fact that it's set in Paris and not New York (or London). This is a dull movie with a bizarre, simplistic moral lesson.

Gil, (Owen Wilson) is the Woody character here, is a screenwriter about to marry Inez (Rachel McAdams), a WASP with two super WASPy paretns. They are all on vacation in Paris while Inez's dad finalizes a business deal. Gil, the only cosmopolitan screenwriter in history to have never been to Paris, talks nonstop, mostly about his love for old-timey Paris, when great writers and artists mingled in jazz clubs. One night, when wandering the streets at midnight, he is picked up in an old car and dropped off at a party in the 1920s where he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald and Cole Porter. Somehow Gil is living between the two time periods.

Over the course of several nights he meets basically everyone who was living in Paris at that time, Hemmingway, Picasso, Bunuel, Dali, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Tolkas, Josephine Baker and Man Ray (to name just a few). They help him "finish his novel" and come to realize what is really important in his life. During the daylight hours, meanwhile, he goes on field trips with Inez or avoids her as his heart changes regarding.

Gil is basically like every other nebbishy Woody character you've ever seen on screen. There are brief moments where Inez and him meet Paul (Michael Sheen), a guy who she had a crush on in college, an his girlfriend Carol (Nina Arianda). These scenes are pulled almost verbatim from Crimes and Misdemeanors, where Woody hates Alan Alda and everything he has to say.

I would compliment Wilson on his performance, but it's become so cliche to have a non-Woody actor playing Woody, that I don't think it takes much talent to do - it's basically just an impersonation blessed by the subject (deeper levels of self-obsession). I will say that Arianda is actually really funny and, after seeing her recently on Broadway in Born Yesterday, I can say she really does have something great going for her. She's probably the highlight of the film... and she's in three scenes for about eight minutes.

We never really see much of Paris after that opening montage. Most of the film is shot at night and on sound stages. I'm not convinced this is as much the love letter to Paris that many are making it out to be. It's sort of a love letter to the mentally limited who think that the best time is never now, but always in the past.

Assuming Gil comes to the conclusions he comes to after deep reflection (and not actually talking with Hemmingway), it's an admirable thing. But why then does Woody have to frame it in such a banal context? When was the last time you saw a character of Woody's creation have a deep moment of self-reflection or self-anaysis? Why does he have to put the agency for Gil's changes in the hands of others? Why is Gil with Inez in the first place? They seem to have nothing in common.

I've almost totally forgotten this movie already. The narrative is so silly, it could have been written as a children's book, and the lessons to come out of the story, could have been given by anyone with a rooting interest in Gil's happiness. The style is as flaccid as Woody has been in the last two decades. He really should retire and stop wasting our time.

Stars: 1 of 4

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Super 8 (Sunday June 12, 2011) (44)

Super 8 is J.J. Abrams' ode to Spielberg movies of the 1970s and 1980s, E.T. most specifically. Unlike those film though, this movie has no charisma from its actors or alien. It has a bunch of explosions and nothing exciting or interesting. It's a weird stealth blockbuster, where the moment you leave the theater, you forget what you just saw.

The title of the film comes from the fact that it is set in 1979 in some small Ohio town where there are a group of kids who are making a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera. The main kid, Joe (Joel Courtney) is the son of the deputy sheriff and he's sad because his mother just died (this background is really just noise, because it has nothing to do with the story). The female star of the movie is Alice (Elle Fanning), the school hottie who Joe has a thing for.

When they're shooting a scene outside, they see a big train crash (which goes on for a Passion-like 10 minutes... like, enough already. We get it. It's loud and explosive). Then there's an alien who goes loose in their town banging into things and stealing people, and then the Air Force comes in and locks down the area. Joe and his friends decided they're gonna find the alien (that the Air Force can't find). I'm already asleep. Wake me when we get to the teary alien farewell.

The major problem here is that we never really know what the hell the alien is and why we should care about it (hint: it's got eight legs... get it!?!). It is more than raising the curiosity or tension - it's just frustrating. All we see is that people are snatched up by a weird tentacle/arm thing (see: the first episode of Lost where the pilot is taken out of the plane by Smokey) and a bunch of stuff is blown up and pushed around. I think it's not until the end of the second act that we get a sense of what the thing looks like, and then it's moving around the whole time (it seems to have the vagina dentata face typical of post-Alien, post-Predator monsters). What's worse, we get the whole story told to us in an audio cassette near the end. So at that point we should all just pack our things and go home.

Worst of all is that Joel Courtney has absolutely no screen appeal and is totally forgettable. I guess it's hard to cast kids, but this one is a dud. Fanning is fine. There is almost no meat in her role, but the does well in the one scene where her character is acting. All of the characters are written so broadly there's not much anywhere for them to dig their teeth into.

Aside from being a movie about an alien monster who wants to go back home, this movie has nothing to do with E.T. and is much closer to Shyamalan's laughable The Happening. It's a loser and more silly than compelling or scary.

Stars: 1 of 4

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hesher (Saturday, June 11, 2011) (43)

Spencer Susser's film Hesher is a really difficult but totally fun experience. It's one of the darkest comedies I've seen in a long time and it's also one of the most disturbing. It's a ode to anarchy and the shitiness of life.

T.J. (Devin Brochu) is a high school underclassman whose mother recently died in a car accident. He doesn't have any friends and he and his father (Rainn Wilson) live with his grandmother (Piper Laurie) in her tired house in the Valley. One day on the way to school he stops by a housing development and throws a rock through the window, not knowing that there's a degenerate metalhead, Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sleeping inside. When Hesher is subsequently kicked out the squat, he shows up at T.J.'s house and moves in (after threatening T.J. with a plant clipper).

T.J. is harassed at school by a bully, and one day, he's chased into the parking lot of a grocery store. There he's defended by Nicole (Natalie Portman), a down-on-her-luck twenty-something whose life also sucks and is in a permanent rut. T.J. falls for her (she's at least 10 years older than he is). Aside from living with his family, Hesher mostly enjoys making T.J.'s life difficult, inciting the bully to further acts of violence, mocking him and his crush on Nicole, cozying up to his grandmother and father. Au much as T.J. hates Hesher and wants to get rid of him, he likes the attention he's getting and appreciates that Hesher's the only person in the world who give a crap about him.

I keep feeling this movie is a lot like that '80s Matt Dillon movie My Bodyguard - but much darker and more cynical. Hesher is T.J.'s bodyguard, but as he is an anarchist, he doesn't ask for anything in return and doesn't totally care about anyone. He seems to be hanging around T.J. because it's something to do. He's not really teaching him any lessons or helping him out at all. He's just really bored and the family is so damaged (dad's on anti-depressants and gran is sorta old and loopy) that they don't tell him no. There's a definite Existentialist streak here... Hesher never moves along... there's nothing to be done.

Aside from that, this is a shockingly violent, frank movie. There's one scene involving those plant clippers that's so gross I get sick thinking about it now. There's lots of fire and drinking and puking. It's all a bit funny (though not really as out and out comic book gonzo as in Super).

The film has that 'tired brown' look that lots of movies have now. Every interior is filled with tons of crap. The clothes that everyone wears are out of fashion. Nat Portman wears granny glasses and looks particularly unwashed (one problem is that Portman is simply too good looking that even wearing bad clothes and with bad hair, she's still hot; whatever the inverse of "lipstick on a pig" is what is going on here: bad glasses on a hottie; it doesn't totally work), to say nothing of Gordon-Levitt, who raises dirty to a new atmosphere.

The two lead performances, Gordon-Levitt and Brochu are both fantastic here. Brochu doesn't say much and mostly looks sad, but he's very powerful and his constant misery is great. Gordon-Levitt is great and doesn't go too far with the silliness of the role (which is possible when playing a character with a tattoo on his torso of a stick figure shooting his brains out and one on his back of a big hand with a middle finger). He's almost non-verbal, he's so drunk and sick the whole time. He's really great.

On a scale of from sick to funny, this falls somewhere closer to a horror movie than a rom-com. It really is one of the funniest things I've seen in awhile (thought much of that has to do with Gordon-Levitt's impeccable performance). This is a weird movie because it's so dark that its resolution almost is washed away by the pain and horribleness of the rest of the story... but it's really interesting and I really like what it's getting at.

Stars: 3.5 of 4

Film Socialisme (Saturday, June 11, 2011) (42)

I must begin to say that when i started writing this blog two years ago, I never thought i would be able to review and write about a film by Jean-Luc Godard. This is a real treat for me.. Too bad the film is such a dog. Woof.

Watching Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme is not an enjoyable experience. It's a lot of frenetic cutting, there is footage from all sorts of cameras, including old-style analogue video, digital, celluloid and camera phones. Most of the film is in French, though we also hear English, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Arabic and Greek... and almost none of it is subtitled. In fact the subtitling seems to be specifically directed by Godard as well and he really only translates the gist of what is being said, so that long dialogues are reduced to several key nouns and adjectives, sometimes compounded into a linguistic gumbo gobbledygook.

It seems that Godard is making a comment on the nature of film to mislead and control and the bourgeois nature of contemporary cinema. This is so banal it's offensive (to say nothing about the bourgeois irony of making a movie that costs money and saying that people with money are out of touch).

There are three distinct parts to the film that have specific themes and styles. The first, takes place on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean where you see a bunch of Euros going around on holiday from port to port (North Africa, Spain, Egypt, Greece, Ukraine). There is a mix of documentary stuff and a weird narrative story about a rich business owner and people who don't like him. There is very little here that makes sense other than the general idea of "industrial capitalism is bad". Feh.

The second story, the most traditional in structure, is about a family who owns a gas station in France where there is a documentary crew filming them and they are being compelled to close the pumps. They discuss their lives and feelings. The final part is the most abstract where we go from city to city around the Mediterranean and see how they have changed over the years and the relative highs and lows (and revolutions) in each.

I imagine there are some Big Themes throughout the three parts here, but without a crib sheet it was almost totally opaque. Ever since about 1968 (when the student protests in France affected him politically and aesthetically) Godard has made movies that are more and more non-narrative, abstract and difficult to understand. I guess there's some merit to sitting down and trying to understand the meaning here, but it doesn't really interest me. (This is me saying about contemporary art, "so what? I don't get it.") And I guess that is really what this is. It's an art film, and experimental movie. It's not a narrative story. It has more in common with late Makavajev films like Sweet Movie (a boat that has some revolutionary significance) and Gorilla Bathes at Noon, than Breathless. The symbolism is important. The subtitles are important. The frenetic style is important. It's just that none of it is interesting or easy to watch and enjoy.

Stars: 1 of 4

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Trip (Friday, June 11, 2011) (41)

So the story with the movie The Trip is that it began its existence as a six-part TV show in the UK called The Trip. At some point it was cut down to it's current length of 107 minutes and was released as a feature film. What we have now is a very funny mocu-comedy with no structure that runs a bit too long... because it's really just too short.

The story is that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (if you haven't watched BBC-America or small Brit comedies, you won't know them) go on a trip of Northern England to eat at the excellent restaurants, experience the cozy inns and visit the historical sights up there and write about it all for a magazine. The idea was that Coogan would take his American modelesque girlfriend on this trip as a romantic getaway, but because they're on the splits he asked his sometimes-buddy and former colleague Brydon to join him. It's shot like a mocu-comedy - which is to say it's basically a narrative story shot like a documentary (of course, a comedy not a drama).

Along the way the two annoy one another (and us) constantly. Coogan is totally self-absorbed, sad about his love life and the direction of his career and upset that he's not fucking his girlfriend nightly; Brydon does impressions non-stop (he particularly loves Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Hugh Grant), has a pretty great life and is basically a nice guy... aside from the incessant annoying impressions.

This is a comedy along the lines of the uncomfortable situational things like The Office that are popular in the US and UK now. If you hate uncomfortable silences, nonstop inane blather and don't know every movie that's been released in the past 15 years, you might not like this.

The biggest problem, of course, is that it really should be a 90-minute movie, if it's not a 6-part TV show. It moves along with no real structure and no sense of where they're going or how long it will take (implied internal time flow of a movie should not be underestimated). I happen to really like that just about every night Coogan has a sad reflective moment where he realizes he's not very happy (I like tension like that in a comedy), but it's utterly unnecessary in the context of this film, if it's not going to be played out longer. It would be a good aggregate 20 minutes that could be further cut out.

I am really interested to see the TV show now. What's good in the cut movie version is really enjoyable and very funny and I'm sure that the 65 minutes that was cut out is just as good.

Stars: 3 of 4

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday, After Christmas (Tuesday, June 7, 2011) (40)

Radu Muntean's Tuesday, After Christmas opens with a man and a woman in bed talking after sex. They chat about mundane stuff like the length of his toes and the towns where they're from for about 10 minutes and it is all shown in one-take. This, of course, is a typical scene from the so-called Romanian New Wave. There is very little cutting and a minimal amount of camera movements or changes of focus; there is no score, there are no special effects, almost everything is shot in interiors with unchanging lighting.

Unlike previous RomWave films (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days; 12:08 East of Bucharest; The Death of Mr Lasarescu) the world of this film it totally contemporary and filled with the same new and expensive stuff that we would see in North America or Western Europe - elegant cars, Apple laptops, iPhones, clean dentist offices. This world looks much more like Paris than the Bucharest of Police, Adjective (I don't know if this is a thematic decision saying that contemporary Romania is not what you've seen in recent movies. I don't know enough about contemporary Romania or how accurate those other films are.)

Unlike those other films, however, this one doesn't really have much of a plot. Paul (Mimi Branescu), the man in the opening scene, is a married father in his late-30s who is having an affair with Raluca (Maria Popistasu), the woman in that scene. She's actually his daughter's dentist, and is more than a decade younger than he is. She enjoys the time the two of them spend together and never asks him to leave his wife Adriana (Mirela Oprisor) to date her officially. Paul has other ideas, and decides to spring the news of the affair on Adriana just before Christmas, making the holiday, which they spend with his parents, incredibly difficult.

What is really wonderful about this film is that it doesn't have any of the political/social commentary that you find in a lot of the RomWave films, this is just a slice of life drama, a story about regular people doing what people do. There is as much content in what we don't see onscreen as what we do see. The title refers to the day after the holiday when Raluca is supposed to return to Bucharest from her parents house out of town - the day when Paul and Raluca's life together will begin. But we never actually get to this day as the film ends on Christmas Eve. The suggestion is that we never ultimately know what happens on that day. Paul has rashly forced his will on his wife, daughter and mistress, without considering the effects it will cause.

One of the most emotionally searing scenes in RomWave for me was in 4 Months during the dinner party where we see Otilia sitting at a table with people talking nonsense while she is thinking about her friend, Gabita, getting an abortion from a monster of a doctor. The long, long take with a static camera and wide-angle lens makes us fidgety in our seats wanting to move on to the next break. In Tuesday, we get this discomfort at almost equal level during a sequence when Paul and Adriana take their daughter to Raluca for a dentist appointment. It's clear that Raluca is in terrible emotional pain, but can't show it, for fear of tipping Adriana to the relationship. Again here we see it with a static shot from across the exam room, nervous at the unblinking, voyeristic quality of the shot.

But I think Muntean actually goes a bit farther than his RomWave colleagues by using lenses in a magnificent way. The first part of the film is shot mostly in tight shots with normal or wide-angle lenses, giving a naturalistic quality to the action. There's actually a beautiful rack focus in the first scene that switches from Paul to Adriana and back as they talk. At the point Paul tells Adriana about his affair, there is a switch to longer lenses, making certain action in the foreground seem intimate and close and separating us (and the actors) from the out-of-focus background. This wonderfully mirrors the isolation they feel respectively and is a visual reminder that Paul changed his life and the lives of his loved ones (including Raluca) irreversibly.

There's a wonderful motif that runs through the film of gifts and gift giving. Considering it's Christmas, the adults are all excited to be buying gifts for the daughter (there's a funny sequence where Paul and Adriana have to buy themselves gifts that will be given to themselves by his parents). In many ways, Paul sees his confession to his wife as a gift to Raluca - but it's a gift she might not want. One could see the lush life of these Bucharesters and the lavish gifts they exchange (the daughter gets a snowboard from her parents) as a commentary on the way Romanians have embraced capitalism after years of communist misery, though I think the film works well without such political dialectics.

This is possibly the most small-scale, intimate and subtle RomWave film I've seen, but I think it ranks in the top tier of the class. The acting, particularly by Branescu and Popistasu is wonderful, and the direction by Muntean and script by Muntean, Alexandru Baciu and Razvan Radulescu is nuanced and elegant. It has a beautiful look overall and a very interesting storyline.

Stars: 3.5 of 4

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Colors of the Mountain (Sunday, June 5, 2011) (39)

I can see why some people would really like the Colombian film The Colors of the Mountain by Carlos César Arbeláez: it has a bunch of cute kids (including two albino kids!!), they play soccer and their lives are being upset by FARC-like guerrillas. It's all sorts of sentimental claptrap that many go in for. Sadly, the film is just these things and had no real emotional movement and not much of a plot either.

Manuel is a 9 year-old boy who loves playing soccer with his friends in his remote village in the Colombian mountains. His father is a poor, apolitical farmer, a good man and a careful, concerned parent. One day when the boys are playing soccer, the ball gets kicked far away to another hill where the guerrilla group in the area (something just like the FARC, though the name is never really mentioned) has placed a bunch of land mines. The boys are very sad that they won't be able to play anymore because they're not allowed to go retrieve the ball.

Meanwhile, Manuel's father is trying to avoid the guerrillas who are recruiting in the area. They demand that he show up at their meetings, but he always finds a way of avoiding them. He's worried that if he joins their militia he will be a target of the government army's raids into partisan villages.

All these politics fly over Manuel's head, and all he's concerned about is getting his ball back. As more and more of his classmates are pulled out of his one-room-schoolhouse school, he seems entirely oblivious to the pain and worry the adults are going trough.

There is some nice, subtle style that Arbeláez puts into the film, like how the colors of the mountains (see: title) are rich and beautiful at the beginning of the film and turn to gray and dull as the military conflict intensifies. This elegance doesn't really come through in the narrative, where we see things from Manuel's point of view, so details about the situation are totally obscure.

I appreciate that this is what Arbeláez is going for - rural guerrilla war from the point of view of a kid who can't be bothered by such things - but as a story-telling technique it's very frustrating. Considering I know there's a conflict, I would like to know who the players are in it. Are both sides, the guerrillas and the army, equally bad? Does Manuel's father prefer one side or the other? Why are they fighting?

It's very hard to watch a movie where we know important things are happening in the background, but the main point of interest is a kids lost soccer ball. I don't think it's a very effective way of showing the misery of living in the midst of a guerrilla war. It's just precious and treacly.

Stars: 1.5 of 4