TOFF 2018 Review: ENDZEIT (Germany 2018)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Ever After Poster

Carolina Hellsgård’s occasionally chilling second feature is a zombie philosophical film that follows two women fighting for their lives in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies.  

The voiceover informs the audience at the beginning that a plague has swept the world and that Weimar and Jura are the only surviving cities left.  The two women are Vivi (Gro Swantje Kohlhof), vulnerable and numb and Eva (Maja Lehrer), whose icy indifference make the two initial enemies that eventually bond because Vivi can repair cameras, having experience working on eBay.  It all sounds too silly. 

 The premise of the zombie-ed world is too far-fetched to be believable and who really cares about these two women anyway.  What about the rest of the surviving population?   The only thing going for the film is the cinematography by Leah Striker with nicely shot countryside landscapes.  

The zombie attack scenes are well done though.  The mix of horror and philosophy of friendship does not work.


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Film Review: NICO, 1988 (Italy/Belgium 2017) ***1/2

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Nico, 1988 Poster

The last year of singer Nico’s life, as she tours and grapples with addiction and personal demons.

NICO, 1988 is as the title implies, about Nico during her last years before 1988.  Nico is Christa Päffgen (an outstanding performance by Dane actress Trine Dyrholm), known to the world by her stage name “Nico”.   Nico was one of Warhol’s muses, a singer of The Velvet Underground and a woman of legendary beauty.  But expect a different person portrayed in the film, as Nico says in the film: “Don’t call me Nico.  My name is Christa.”  She admits she does not want to talk about The Velvet Underground followed by confessing that she thinks she is ugly.

The film follows Nico as she lived a second life after the story known to all, when she began her career as a solo artist.  Nico, in the time prior to 1988 is the story of Nico’s last tours with the band that accompanied her around Europe in the Eighties: years in which the “priestess of darkness”, as she was called, found herself again, shaking off the weight of her beauty and rebuilding the relationship with her only forgotten son.   The son, Ari (Sandor Funtek) appears at exactly the half way mark of the film.  Besides the story of an artist and her tour, the film is also the story of a rebirth, of an artist, of a mother, of the woman beyond the icon.

One problem with NICO, 1988 is that the many people familiar with her would have high expectations for this biography, since Nico is a larger than life personality and hard to replicate.  Getting the audience interested and caring for Nico is another thing –  an important task for the director making the film..  

As in most films on music performers, the drug problem needs be addressed.  Nico is no stranger to drugs.  It gets ugly.  She uses the hard stuff – heroin and is not afraid to state it.  In one  disturbing scene set in a Prague restaurant, she goes ballistic when she cannot get some, blaming the communists for stealing her passport.

The last half hour of the 90 minutes film is a powerhouse where director Nicchiarelli

turns up the film full throttle.  The audience sees Nico performing her songs.  One can see the reason she got so popular.  The film ends in the year 1988, which the audience can predict as her end.

The film’s best segment is the one Nico performs at her illegal concert in Prague.  Before she goes on stage, she curses her manager for arranging the gig.  But when the spotlight shines on her on the stage and she starts crooning, director Nicchiarelli captures the singer’s anger, regret and finally respect for her audience.  It is a powerful, unforgettable and rare moment beautifully captured on screen.

What is also interesting is Nico’s despicable personality.  She calls her band members amateur drug addicts.  She springs her drug addicted son, Ari from the sanatorium and drags him on tour believing herself that she is doing good, loving her son.  She also accuses her manager (John Gordon Sinclair who played the main role of Gregory in GREGORY’S GIRL, way back when) of devising different ways of stealing from her.  In one rare mement though, she unexpectedly thanks him.

NICO the film, (like the artist herself), can be best described as an exhilarating feel-bad biography.



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Film Review: THE COMMUNE (Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands 2016) ****

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the_communeA story about the clash between personal desires, solidarity and tolerance in a Danish commune in the 1970s.

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Stars: Ulrich Thomsen, Fares Fares, Trine Dyrholm

Review by Gilbert Seah

The latest from Thomas Vinterberg (CELEBRATION, THE HUNT) details what happens in a commune. Communes were popular in the 70’s in Denmark, also the time when the film is set. Vintergberg does not judge the workability of a commune environment but shows both sides of its workings – both good and bad.

Vinterberg’s film is a detailed study of the start (and end?) of a commune. He begins with a couple’s rationale on starting their commune. It all happens when Erik’s father passes away. The couple must decide what to do with the huge house that Erik grew up in, as it’s too expensive for them to occupy on their own. So, they decide to form a commune. They believe a commune will solve the problem of money and being able to live at a large residence close to sailing and the sea while living with friends. Anna, the wife also desires change. The question then is whether the couple is ready with problems that may arise. This is what the film examines. It is a good observation, too, that people seldom look at the possible problems when they get too excited on a new venture.

The first 30 minute of the film is up-lifting. The couple decide on the commune, interview the other co-communers. They sign the papers, move in, and frolic naked, drink beer, drink and be merry. All this is demonstrated through the downward spiral of a couple Anna (Trine Dyrholm, who won Best Actress at this year’s Berlinale for her performance and is the best thing about the movie) and her husband, Erik (Ulrich Thomsen). Though the problems that ensure are predictable – jealousies; some that do less work than others; untidy habits – the events that occur are still well conceived and well executed.

The film also works on different levels. It is also a family drama that concentrates on the couple as well as a psychological study on human behaviour. The film gets interesting when members of the commune sit down for their annual meeting. Each member is asked “How are you?” Mona is accused of too much traffic in and out of the house (she is seeing too many men) while Allon is crying after being accused of not paying his deposit.

Every scene in the film is also ripe for analysis on behaviour. One scene in which Erik interviews Allon as a possible candidate for living in the house illustrates the interaction of two different characters with intriguing results. Another is Erik’s humiliation of Jesper, one of his students. The reason of his doing so forms a good topic for discussion. Yet another is when Erik’s daughter catches her father cheating on the mother.

Compared to other Vinterberg films like CELEBRATION, the images are crystal clear and there is much less hand held camera used. When the actors are seated, the camera is mounted and when the actors are walking or on the move, it is hand held camera (fortunately held quite steady without noticeable jittery movements). THE COMMUNE is Vinterberg’s most emotional film.

The main message of commune living would be that it works if one works at making it work. An insightful and absorbing film!


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