Blu-ray Review: Salvatore Giuliano

29 Sep

Each decade the British Film Institute’s magazine Sight and Sound polls key figures from the industry to crown a film as ‘the greatest of all time’. In tandem with this survey, the publication prints a selection of lists from a cross section of directors, simultaneously showing how the overall data was compiled and giving a window into key creative figures’ influences. Amongst the films cited by Martin Scorsese was the gritty 1962 neo-realist docu-drama Salvatore Giuliano.

On the morning of 5th July, 1950 the body of Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano was found in a courtyard. Leader of a local gang of outlaws from 1943 until his death. The township of Castelvetrano and its surrounding villages saw him as a mythic hero who fought valiantly in the quest for Sicilian independence. A Robin Hood for the post war era pitched in direct conflict with an tyrannical political regime which refused to recognise the region’s right to self govern. Separatist sentiments were encouraged during the allied invasion of 1943.

Four years later, eleven people were slain and thirty three wounded during May day celebrations. Twelve days after a leftist coalition was elected to govern the region a cross section of the populace was preparing to follow the annual parade. A speaker from the local Communist party began to address the crowd when shots ran out from the surrounding hills. In the massacre four children lost their lives.

Taking full responsibility for the atrocity, Giuliano wrote an open letter that was published in several newspapers which stated his intention was to disrupt the political gathering, not to murder innocent citizens. His men, so he claimed, had been instructed to fire their guns into the air.

From this moment onward support for his actions began to wane. Previously loyal champions denounced him and a cash bounty was offered by the Italian government for his successful capture.

Fourteen years after that May morning, events were recreated with meticulous attention to detail in the very same region, survivors of that carnage relived the experiences for a feature film that probed with forensic precision the conflicting accounts of Giuliano’s death. Except for two professional actors, Salvo Randone (President of the Court of Assize) and Frank Wolff (Gaspare Pisciotta), the cast is comprised of local citizens, many of whom knew the deceased bandit.

Drawing from court records, the director (Francesco Rosi) constructed a patchwork narrative, inviting the viewer to piece together events and form their own conclusions. Giuliano is largely absent from the film. He is seen as a corpse and briefly in a pan but his influence is writ large into every frame.

A fragmented and subjective narrative is welded together by echoing Citizen Kane‘s investigative approach to constructing a biography. The ‘facts’ surrounding the titular character’s life and death are presented by people acquainted with him.

Regarded by Martin Scorsese as ‘one of the true masters of cinema’ and considered by film critic Derek Malcom to be ‘the heavy conscience of Italian cinema’ Francesco Rosi is a Golden Lion winning filmmaker that trained alongside Luchino Visconti. His 1972 feature film The Mattei Affair won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

A politicized director, and a key figure in what he termed as the ‘second phase of neorealism’, Rosi’s films frequently expose corruption at the heart of society. This former lawyer who had previously been an assistant to Antonioni is fêted in his homeland but remains less well known in the UK possibly due to the unavailability of his films. Redressing that imbalance, Arrow Films release of a restored Salvatore Giuliano demonstrates that the movie, and Rosi’s singular vision, continues to be felt in Italian cinema and TV. From Gomorrah to Romanzo criminale, the contemporary gangster genre’s DNA is built upon this film’s legacy.

To accompany the film, Arrow have assembled an extensive collection of bonus content, delving deep into the myth behind the man, alongside a wealth of material covering the film.

Salvatore Giuliano can be ordered from Amazon:

DVD News: Crimes of Passion

6 Sep

Arrow Films’ Nordic Noir label has announced the Monday 6th October 2014 UK DVD box set release of thrilling Swedish period drama “Crimes Of Passion”.

The series, currently airing in BBC Four’s coveted Saturday evening slot, is based on six novels by legendary Swedish crime writer Maria Lang, whose work helped shape the renowned Murder Mystery genre in Sweden.

The plot, brimming with thrill and intrigue, whisks you away to the beautiful and picturesque landscape of Bergslagen, where the classic ‘whodunit’ tales delve deep into the lives of main characters Christer Wijk (Ola Rapace), Puck (Tuva Novotny) and Einar Bure (Linus Wahlgren).

“Crimes of Passion” is filled with love, sex, intrigue, betrayal, secrets, lies, and death. It’s a riveting classic Murder Mystery series with a contemporary twist.

“Crimes of Passion” can be pre-ordered from Amazon:

 

 

Nordic Noir and Beyond – Issue 3

12 Aug

On Friday August 15th the latest issue of Nordic Noir and Beyond will be published. Free with copies of The Guardian, the magazine has been edited by Barry Forshaw (author of Death in a Cold Climate, Nordic Noir, and Euro Noir). Packed with features and reviews, the magazine offers the readers the chance to win a trip to Denmark. A cut down version will be included with future DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Issue two of Nordic Noir can still be ordered from Arrow Films:
http://nordicnoir.tv/killingmerchandise/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=66

Film Review: Northwest

25 Jul

Long before the Scandi Crime explosion ushered in a wave of interest in all things Nordic, Denmark was making cinematic waves with the revolutionary Dogme 95 manifesto. Timed to coincide with cinema’s centenary celebrations, the document’s publication proposed a new mode of filmmaking that stripped away the excesses of mainstream production and emphasised the recreation of “reality”. Although the movement was wound down in 2002 due to concerns that its tenets had become a restrictive prescriptive framework its influence continues to be felt in contemporary Danish feature film production.

Honouring Dogme’s core ethos of using the medium of film to reconstruct reality without recourse to technical or narrative trickery, Michael Noer’s début motion picture the prison drama R was an uncompromising visceral tour de force shot with hand-held digital cameras and used non professional actors, some of whom were former inmates. Straddling the boundary between genre and social realism, the film heralded the arrival of a significant screen talent.

For his second feature film, Noer rejects the romanticised version of Copenhagen prevalent in recent films and TV series, offering instead an abrasive and unflinching glimpse at the city’s seedy underbelly. Gritty, tense, and oozing authenticity Northwest is a family drama set against the backdrop of gang war in one of the city’s most impoverished districts.

Casper (Gustav Dyekjær Giese) is a petty thief who dreams of climbing up the gangland ladder. Stealing small scale items for local boss Jamal (Dulfi Al-Jaburi) the young criminal is stuck living at home with his mother (Lene Marie Christensen) who is struggling to raise two other children without a male breadwinner. Yearning to escape from the imprisonment of life under the family roof and claim his place amongst the upper echelons of the local criminal community he starts to moonlight for a rival boss and unwittingly triggers a war between the competing factions. Brother Andy (Oscar Dyekjaer Giese) tosses away his schoolbooks and joins his sibling on a mission that will have repercussions which will be felt for the rest of their lives…

Developed over eighteen months, the storyline was crafted after the director studied the area and its criminal communities with the precision of an anthropologist. Continuing the approach employed in R of engaging members from the area to play roles instead of casting established professional actors Noer is committed to conveying an accurate sense of social realism whilst playing with the conventions of a familiar genre.

Real life brothers Gustav and Oscar Dyekjaer Giese were cast as leads after their mother answered a request on Facebook and sent them along to audition. The director could instantly see the depth of their relationship and knew he had found a pair bristling with raw talent that was equipped for the challenging task of creating two characters bonded by blood that were constantly competing to be crowned senior member of the family.

With R the director formulated a way of making movies that used the screenplay as a blueprint for the story’s structure, allowing performers to internalize what the script was asking from them and improvise. The end results were a composite of scripted moments and primal honesty plucked from the actor’s life experiences. Whilst shooting Northwest actors were specifically instructed not to look at the script during shooting and had to rely on their memories of where characters were supposed to be at the end of a specific scene. Without recourse to the printed text, Noer’s screen talent created new and more authentic dialogue. Encouraged to their character’s inner truth the cast of players drew from their own experiences of living in a crime ridden and socially deprived region.

Shot in a documentary style, this hard hitting thriller is underscored by a a streak of mordant humour. A shock filled eye opening film, Northwest’s recreation of a life trapped in a never ending cycle of poverty and criminality is so successful the film deserves to be placed alongside La Haine, Christiane F, and the Pusher trilogy as peerless examples of European cinema shining a light onto the forgotten and neglected who roam amongst us but are imprisoned by inequality and circumstance.

Northwest can be seen at selected cinemas.

The DVD is available from Amazon and all other major retailers: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Northwest-DVD-Gustav-Dyekj%C3%A6r-Giese/dp/B00JRCR67W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406292409&sr=8-1&keywords=northwest+dvd

 

 

DVD Review: Braquo – The Complete Season Three

21 Jul

 

Following hot on the heels of Barry Forshaw’s recently published indispensable overview Euro Noir, Arrow Films have unleashed a show several shades darker than the Scandi-crime series we’ve come to know, enjoy, and love in recent years.

Frequently compared to The Wire, Braquo is a hard hitting gritty police drama created by former officer turned screenwriter and director, Olivier Marchal (36 Quai des Orfèvres). The title is a French slang term for heist. A uniquely French take on the genre, this treacle thick uncompromising series is loaded with frenetic and electric twists from the opening frames right up until the closing moments of the final episode.

 For two years fans have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment in the misadventures of anti-hero Eddy Caplan (Jean-Hugues Anglade). Plunged head-first into an ever widening spiral of deceit, destruction and corruption after a superior officer is accused of brutally assaulting a suspect during an interrogation. Facing loss of hard earned status and probable imprisonment this long standing member of the force takes his own life. Promoted to the head of the team, Caplan’s immediate priority is to clear his former boss’ name. An attempt to snatch the suspect from a hospital goes wrong with devastating consequences…

From the second season onwards the writing team was bolstered with the addition of Abdel Raouf Dafri (Mesrine, A Prophet). Harder edged than the première series, the adrenaline fuelled sophomore outing for Caplan and his crew ramped up the tension with increased action and intense violence alongside finely tuned characterisations. Pushing the envelope, series two offered up a pyrrhic tale of revenge and redemption that ended with an unexpected nerve shattering cliffhanger which left fans waiting two years to see how the team would deal with the consequences.

Successful in their quest to rejoin the elite unit, celebrations are cut short when Theo (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is caught in an explosion. With their friend and colleague rushed to hospital suffering from 80 % burns, Caplan and the crew are determined to avenge this atrocity. Cautioned by their boss against administering swift, and illegal, punishment the emotionally shattered team regroups to find ways of ensnaring the guilty party. 

Returning to active duty, the unit investigates a human trafficking operation. Caught in the crossfire of a Mafia war that threatens to douse Paris in human blood, the team is plagued by bouts of infighting and must be constantly vigilant against double-crossing by members of their own department. Torn apart by grief and fury, Caplan and his crew continue their walk along the blurred line separating law from illegality. Refusing to let due process stand in the way of punishing wrongdoers this band of maverick cops is prepared to go to any lengths necessary in order to deliver retribution.

 

Shot through with a breathtaking barrage of dynamic action, murky characters who are never quite what they seem, and a constant stream of cigarette smoke, the series packs in layer upon layer of labyrinthine sub-plots. An addictive show that gets under the viewer’s skin and doesn’t shake free until the final credits have rolled. Over eight spellbinding hours a dark and murky tale unfolds at a breakneck speed involving the Eastern European Mafia, a former police officer turned kidnapper, and a woman hell-bent on seeking revenge.

Scripts from the writer of Mesrine and A Prophet have remodelled the show and given it a distinct identity unlike anything else on TV. Suspense filled and littered with twists which will leave the viewer feeling punch drunk. A mesmerizing glimpse into Paris’ darker crevices, Braquo is a worthy companion to the series currently being produced by our Scandinavian cousins.

Braquo – The Complete Series Three can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Braquo-Series-DVD-Jean-Hugues-Anglade/dp/B00KIM2SL4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946618&sr=8-2&keywords=braquo

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Braquo-Series-Blu-ray-Jean-Hugues-Anglade/dp/B00KIM2TGS/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946827&sr=8-2&keywords=braquo+blu

Braquo – Trilogy can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Braquo-Trilogy-DVD-Jean-Hugues-Anglade/dp/B00KIM2SKA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946865&sr=8-2&keywords=braquo+trilogy

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Braquo-Trilogy-Blu-ray-Jean-Hugues-Anglade/dp/B00KIM2RJM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946865&sr=8-1&keywords=braquo+trilogy

Euro Noir by Barry Forshaw is available from Amazon and all major booksellers:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Euro-Noir-Essential-European-Essentials/dp/1843442450/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405947305&sr=8-1&keywords=euro+noir

 

 

 

DVD News: Prisoners of War – The Complete Season Two

21 Jul

Arrow Films’ Noir label has announced  the Monday July 28th DVD box set release of the second season of PRISONERS OF WAR (Hatufim)Gideon Raff’s dark Israeli drama that inspired the US television smash “Homeland”.

Broadcast in Hebrew with English subtitles, PRISONERS OF WAR is currently airing on theSky Arts channel, Tuesdays at 10pm.

PRISONERS OF WAR, or Hatufim (which stands for “abductees” in Hebrew), tells the story of three Israeli Defence Force reservists who are captured behind enemy lines in Lebanon. Their fate is unknown until seventeen years later, when they mysteriously return to their homeland – two of them alive, the third in a coffin.

The series explores the soldiers’ reintegration into Israeli society on both a national and personal level. However, while the soldiers are acclimatising to their lives, a secret investigation begins to unfold about the truth of their capture, and the many discrepancies in the soldiers’ stories.

As the investigators get closer to finding out the truth of what happened in captivity, the two soldiers are even more resolute in doing anything they can to hide the biggest secret of all.

Written and directed by Gideon Raff, Prisoners Of War has proved a big hit with UK public and critics alike. When Season 1 of the show originally aired in Israel, in 2010, it became the country’s highest-rated drama of all time.

Before Raff had even started shooting, the script was snapped up by 24 writers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, who worked alongside Raff on a US counterpart, “Homeland”.

“Homeland” went on to enjoy phenomenal success worldwide. Starring Damian Lewis and Clare Danes the series won a Golden Globe for Best Television Series in 2011, and is said to be US President Barack Obama’s favourite TV show.

PRISONERS OF WAR gives the UK public the chance to see, with shocking honesty, where “Homeland” came from… Hatufim is the real deal.

In addition to the stand-alone Season 2 box set, Arrow Films will also release a combined Seasons 1 & 2 box set, housed in deluxe desert-inspired packaging.

Prisoners of War – The Complete Season Two can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Prisoners-War-Season-2-DVD/dp/B00JRCR5JG/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946115&sr=8-3&keywords=prisoners+of+war

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Prisoners-War-Season-DVD-Zaid/dp/B00KY44P1M/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946144&sr=8-4&keywords=prisoners+of+war

 

 

DVD Review: Amber – The Complete Series

30 Jun

Having bid an emotional farewell to Wallander BBC Four and Arrow Films steadfastly refuse to rest on their laurels and are continuing their quest to reward fans with exciting and innovative quality popular drama sourced from every corner of the continent. The remainder of 2014 will be packed with more examples of Nordic excellence in the form of 1950s detective series Crimes of Passion and costume drama 1864.

Resolute in their determination to source the finest foreign language programming for UK viewers this partnership is moving beyond Scandinavia’s frontiers and has already acquired the intense Israeli drama Hostages. With a commitment from the BBC to maintain its world drama slot for the foreseeable future continent hopping and genre shifting are the order of the day in the quest for thrilling and emotionally potent shows which push back the boundaries of what is expected from a specific type of programme whilst offering glimpses of other cultures. Exemplifying the core ethos behind this daring form of broadcasting is the brave and poignant Irish series Amber.

With the notable exception of Channel 5’s acquisition Love/Hate, in recent years Irish drama has been under-represented on British screens. Redressing this imbalance BBC Four’s screening of Amber affords UK viewers the opportunity to see first hand an example of the vital and powerful drama regularly being produced by our neighbour.

A massive hit when it first aired. Screened over four evenings, according to overnight figures Amber was watched by forty two per cent of the available audience. Filmed in 2011 whilst the country was in dire economic turmoil, Irish broadcaster RTÉ instantly realized that it had something very special on its hands that deserved to be awarded a prestigious slot. Determined that this provoking drama would not be buried under a sea of competing programming the network elected to wait until it could find a window in the schedule enabling Amber to be stripped across a single week. Generating a social media frenzy and column inches in the national press, this show became part of the national conversation. Before crossing the Irish Sea it was exported to Australia, Canada, Denmark, Israel, Latin America, Portugal, and Sweden. Critically acclaimed in each territory, international audiences responded favourably to the show’s universal themes of love, pain and the lengths parents will go to in order to protect their children.

One evening fourteen year old Amber Bailey (Lauryn Canny) fails to return home after visiting her friend. Over the next two years her parents are thrown into a whirlwind of chaos and confusion as they try to discover what happened to their daughter and come to terms with the possibility that she may have been murdered. Presenting the same events from four different perspectives, the story is told in a non-linear format that leaps forward and then back on itself revealing fresh layers of meaning with the addition of each new vantage point.

An uncompromising and unsentimental approach to the subject matter, Amber paints a picture of post Celtic Tiger Ireland in which people vanish every day and investigations are curtailed due to a lack of resources. Caught up in the whirlpool are a diverse cast of characters including a feature journalist, a prisoner, and an economic migrant. Practically demanding the viewer pay close attention to the on screen action, each sequence is written so that every reprise either adds to the viewer’s existing interpretation or forces the audience to reevaluate everything they think is known about what has happened.

The series was inspired by a personal tragedy. Producer Rob Cawley’s brother-in-law went missing (sadly he was later found to have taken his own life). Knowing all too well the near insanity experienced by a family when a much loved member vanishes he drew from that painful moment in his life when devising the show with screenwriter Paul Duane. Unshakeable in his dedication to communicating the many emotions experienced when confronted with such an inexplicably incomprehensible traumatic moment Cawley was firm when stressing he would not be dramatising something that will always remain painful for his immediate loved ones but instead used it as a starting point for a drama focusing on a suburban household and the many people they come into contact with.

With such an emotionally charged subject matter the tendency to be either exploitative or sensationalist is hard to fight against and yet against all odds in every single scene Amber remains grounded in reality due to some very well researched writing and a succession of truthful performances. Eva Birthistle (Waking the Dead) who played Amber’s mother, Sarah Bailey, won the IFTA award for Best Actress. Equally breathtaking in its depth and range is a sublime screen masterclass from David Murray (Silent Witness) portraying a father trapped by feelings of impotent rage and the knowledge he will forevermore be denied closure.

At each stage of the writing process Amber‘s ending was a fixed point in the plot. Controversial and thought provoking, the ambiguous nature of the conclusion positioned the viewers so that they would momentarily experience the confusion and anger endured by the family of the missing teenager. Brave, arresting, and stimulating  TV seemingly tailor made for DVD. The show’s intensity is magnified when watched in a single sitting. Highly recommended.

Amber can be ordered from Amazon:

 

 

 

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