DVD Review: I Hunt Men (Mannaveiðar)

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Happiness is a Warm Gun: Compelling mystery is a prescient and exhilarating Icelandic Noir.

Two mismatched detectives investigate a serial killer and uncover a dodgy banker’s conspiracy to land-grab.
When a serial killer targets goose hunters a newly formed police department pairs by-the-book detective Hinrik with dishevelled and disorganised Gunnar. Overcoming their distrust of each other’s methods, the pair race against the clock to solve the killer’s riddles and crack the case before more hunters are slain.

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Adapted from Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson’s novel Daybreak, I Hunt Men aired in the spring of 2008. Anticipating the economic meltdown which occurred later that year the series highlights shadowy practices bankers were routinely practicing before the system crashed. The smart and searing screenplay rams home the fact that Iceland’s bankers acted without considering the consequences of their policies and thought they were above the law. Believing they live in a separate self-contained world, the bankers in this series buy up valuable land at bargain-basement prices and evict the tenant farmers without thinking about the lives they have just destroyed.

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Famously setting a record for viewing figures, it was seen by 60% of the available audience. The TV adaptation presents a streamlined version of Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson’s novel that features all the key beats but is leaner and more focused.
Not afraid to proudly wear its influences on its sleeve, the script is peppered with references to crime books and TV series. Aside from shots of Iceland’s breathtaking scenery, the glue that holds the series together is the engaging performances by Gísli Örn Garðarsson and Trapped‘s Ólafur Darri Ólafsson. At times the interplay between the two characters is more engrossing than the investigation. Produced when Nordic Noir was in its infancy the producers may not have thought about capturing lightning in a bottle and commissioning a follow-up. Now that both actors have gone on to enjoy international success it’s unlikely they will return to play these characters so I Hunt Men offers an intriguing glimpse into what could have been a highly successful long running series.

A rock-solid thriller which meshes tried and tested techniques with all too timely criticism of Iceland’s economy. Proof that Iceland was producing exciting thrillers long before Trapped and Case, I Hunt Men is worth tracking down.

A subtitled DVD is available to order from nammi.is

Film Review: Land of Soul

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A derelict church stands in a forest six hours drive from Chicago. Battered by weather, it’s a monument to forgotten waves of immigration from Estonia in the early years of the Twentieth century. One of the last surviving monuments to the hopes and dreams of that first group of settlers from the Baltics it’s a historically significant building.

When it seemed that the church might be lost forever due to the elements a saviour arrived determined to restore the building to its former glory and remind the descendants of Estonian immigrants about their heritage.

In 1900 large numbers of Estonians fled the country in search of a better life. Some went to Australia and Russia. For those who arrived in America, the land of opportunity promised greater religious and political freedoms. Close to 200 newly arrived migrants relocated to Gleason when an Estonian language newspaper published an article that noted similarities between the Wisconsin landscape and Estonia’s countryside. In 1907 the community purchased a stretch of land and established its first church on American soil.

Disused for more than half a century this church was forgotten as successive generations left the village and migrated to cities. Abandoned and later vandalised, it looked as though the elements would destroy this touchstone to the first wave of Estonian migration. When it looked like all hope of preserving it was lost a film director came to the rescue. For several decades Bill Rebane has written, directed, and produced low-budget cult movies. The great nephew of the church’s first minister of faith, his emotional attachment to the building galvanised Estonians into banding together to restore the church.

Kullar Viimne and Erik Norkroos documentary follows  Bill Rebane and his band of committed volunteers as they endeavour to restore the building to its former glory. The film successfully communicates why it is so important to preserve this place of worship. More than a testament to long gone generation’s hopes and dreams it’s a physical embodiment of a group of people’s one remaining symbol of home and spiritual freedom.

As the band of volunteers busy themselves restoring the building’s foundations and installing a new roof, Estonian Rock-star Tõnis Mägi is invited to fly to America and play at a benefit concert. Documenting the last few weeks of work on the church, it follows  Tõnis Mägi as he prepares to perform in it’s grounds. Land of Soul shows how song and prayer have united successive generations of Estonians.

Enlightening and moving, Land of Soul reminds descendants of immigrants about the importance of not forgetting their cultural history.  The film is a fitting memorial to those early settlers and a celebration of what their descendants have achieved in America.

The film is available to watch exclusively on Baltic View.

If you want to see Land of Soul send an email to hello@balticview.online to register your interest.

Follow @baltic_view on Twitter.

A Facebook page has the latest information on screenings.

The Bureau – Complete Season One

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Tinker Tailor Gallic Spy: Masterly stylish slow burning espionage series is a gripping drama.

As the spy who came in from warmer climes, French intelligence operative Malotru is recalled to Paris after spending six years in Damascus. Leaving behind a life recruiting new agents in the field he struggles to cope with the prospect of a desk-bound job at the Directorate General of External Security (DGSE).

Mathieu Kassovitz (Malotru)

A world away from Ian Fleming’s view of spycraft, at times The Bureau plays out like an anti-Bond. Cynical, complex, and realistic, the series channels John Le Carre’s pessimistic view of the intelligence community. Expertly sketched atmosphere pours through every frame in this portrait of tradecraft and it’s consequences.

Based on accounts by former agents, The Bureau also draws from contemporary geopolitical events. Though France’s operations in Syria serves as the story’s backdrop, the narrative’s main focus is an agent’s behaviour threatening to bring down the entire department and put France’s security at risk.

Film actor Mathieu Kassovitz plays Malotru, an operative suffering from an acute case of Post-Mission Syndrome. After a six-year absence from his homeland, he is reunited with a daughter who barely remembers him and knows nothing about his work.  During his time in Damascus he fell in love and is now forced to relinquish all ties with his undercover identity. Convinced he is one step ahead of his enemies and allies, Malotru breaches security protocol and reaches out to his former girlfriend unaware that she is already in Paris on the false pretence of attending a UNESCO sponsored course.

Mathieu Kassovitz (Malotru)

In a world of secrets and lies knowing when to ditch a false identity will save countless lives. Nadia (Zineb Triki) only knows Malotru’s undercover alias. She believes he is a teacher taking a sabbatical to write a novel. His superiors are unaware that he has reactivated “Paul Lefebvre” and begun living a double life. As their relationship blossoms the lovers will be forced to choose sides in a war against terror.

Less stylised than Homeland and more authentic than Spooks, The Bureau has a strong claim to being the most realistic depiction of twenty-first-century espionage on TV. Series creator Eric Rochant’s 1994 thriller The Patriots is used as a training film by the French intelligence community which led to the showrunner and his team being given special permission to visit the DGSC and speak with former agents.

Expertly building tension throughout the season, it’s a perfectly paced excursion into a world of subterfuge and betrayal. Distinctively directed, this understated show is filled with enough edge of the seat moments to make you devour it in a single sitting. Undeniably the best French show to reach these shores since Spiral‘s first season, The Bureau is an exceptional series.

The Bureau is available to order from Amazon.

Film Review: The Green Musketeers

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You Gotta Fight for the Right to Garden: How an environmentalist movement planted a seed which grew into Lithuanian independence.

As the Soviet Union started to crumble Mikhail Gorbachev introduced a number of reforms intended to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure. He may have ended the Cold War but the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union inadvertently brought about the downfall of Communism in Europe.

Under Soviet rule since 1944, the Communist Party of Lithuania governed with an iron fist. The implementation of Perestroika was meant to reform Soviet Communist parties but it led to citizens experiencing greater freedoms for the first time since the Iron Curtain fell across Europe.

In Lithuania, a group of young idealists enraged by plans to drill for oil in the Baltic Sea organised a large-scale protest. This band of ecologically conscious Lithuanians established a community “Atgaja” and defined the zeitgeist for a nation heading towards independence.

Swedish director Jonas Ohman’s documentary shines a light on a moment in history largely unknown outside Lithuania. Interviewing surviving members of the community and using archive footage he demonstrates how a single idea can overthrow a tyranny. Focusing on the community’s charismatic leader Saulius Gricius, the film explores the community’s considerable legacy.

The Green Musketeers has an undeniable environmentalist message but it also drives home the importance of standing up to oppression and injustice no matter how high the personal cost may be.

The film is available to watch exclusively on Baltic View.

If you want to see The Green Musketeers send an email to hello@balticview.online to register your interest.

Follow @baltic_view on Twitter.

A Facebook page has the latest information on screenings.

Baltic View – Your New Obession

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Eclectic collection demonstrates Baltic cinema has a wealth of talent awaiting discovery.

A new platform to view the latest films from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Baltic View launched with a free-to-view showcase selection of shorts. In the ever crowded online marketplace, new content needs to be distinctive to stand apart from the rest of the crowd and hook an audience. Does Baltic View’s collection demonstrate freshness and originality? The answer is a resounding yes.
Delivering 25 films in time for Christmas the collection was more offbeat than Call the Midwife‘s festive special and had more to say about the human condition than ITV’s turkey Maigret. Still available to watch, the films are grouped into four collections: Baltic Party Time, Animation for Thought, Our Baltic Obsessions, and Family & Children’s Films.

At last year’s Nordic-Baltic Film Festival Mother demonstrated that Baltic Noir might be the next big thing. Overlooked for too long, Baltic cinema is on the verge of a breakout moment. If you are looking for an ideal place to start your journey into the vibrant and often experimental filmmaking from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania sign up for Baltic View. Not just a one-off film festival, further titles are going to be added to the portal in the coming days.

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With so many hours of exciting stuff available where to start? Check out the delightful stop-motion animated film No Routine. Director Jurate Samulionyte’s fifteen-minute film is a Latvian The Red Balloon but made for adults.
Ivars Zviedris documentary Man Who Plays is a screen poem which plays out like a distant cousin of the British Documentary Movement’s pioneering work. It is guaranteed to reawaken your inner child.
Marija Kavtaradze’s I’m Twenty Something marks her out as a talent to watch. A comedy by and about twenty-somethings. Expect great things when the director graduates to feature film production.

If you want to see the short films send an email to hello@balticview.online to register your interest.

Live screenings and events are planned for 2017.

Follow @baltic_view on Twitter.

A Facebook page has the latest information on screenings.

DVD Review: Hitchcock/Truffaut

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The story of what happened when two giants of European cinema sat down to discuss their approaches to filmmaking.

In 2012 Sight & Sound published the British Film Institute’s Greatest Film poll. Conducted every ten years, critics, academics, and distributors are surveyed. Bicycle Thieves won the first poll in 1952. Since 1962 Citizen Kane sat in pole position and many thought it would reign supreme as the unbeatable champion. Although it came close to toppling Kane in 2002, news that Vertigo had finally taken the crown in 2012 was met with surprise.  That it had won the poll by a very wide margin suggests it will probably retain the title when the next survey is conducted in 2022.

Vertigo‘s achievement was surprising because it was not always held in such high esteem. Taken out of circulation after it failed to meet expectations at the box office, the only way to see the film until the mid-80s was via illicit screenings of bootleg 16mm prints. Since it’s mid-80s re-release the film and it’s director has undergone a complete critical reevaluation.

61fq3ayehul-_sl1000_Today regarded as one of Europe’s most significant directors, Hitchcock was not always held in such high esteem. Further proof of his continued cultural significance was offered by the BFI who ran a retrospective of his surviving works. In 2013 UNESCO added the nine existing Hitchcock silent films to its archive to represent the UK’s cinematic heritage. Hitchcock’s influence over modern cinema is undeniable and contemporary film fans are often surprised at learning that he was once regarded as a mere peddler of mass entertainment.

French critic and director, François Truffaut regularly visited the Cinémathèque Française as a teenager and was exposed to numerous Hollywood films. Befriending André Bazin  the co-founder of influential film publication Cahiers du cinéma, Truffaut joined the magazine’s writing team and developed the auteur theory which noted the recurrence of themes and techniques in the work of “great directors.” Emphasising the director as author of a film, his theory was initially controversial.

While in France filming To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock was interviewed by Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut for  Cahiers du cinéma. The magazine had published an issue celebrating the director’s work in 1953 and was planning another to be published in the summer of 1956. Challenging the then widely held view that Hitchcock was merely a director-for-hire churning out lurid schlock,  Truffaut and  Cahiers du cinéma helped define the modern sense of  Hitchcock as one cinema’s greatest artists.
American film critic Andrew Sarris applied Truffaut’s Auteur Theory to  an analysis of Hollywood cinema and declared “Hitchcock is the most daring avant-garde filmmaker in America today.”

025-francois-truffaut-tribe-theredlistFeeling that Hitchcock had been evasive in their first meeting, Truffaut wrote to the director and proposed a lengthy interview conducted over several days which would discuss the core elements of a Hitchcock film, approaches to filmmaking, and theories of storytelling. Hitchcock agreed and  Truffaut flew to Hollywood with translator Helen Scott. Eight days of discussion cemented Hitchcock’s critical rehabilitation. The recordings were transcribed and published in France. An English translation was issued in 1967.
Demystifying filmmaking, the book has for decades been regarded as one of the foremost texts of cinema appreciation and analysis. In recent years the authenticity of Hitchcock’s statements has been questioned due to his responses being translated into French and then translated back into English.

Kent Jones enlightening film tells the story of what happened when the Master of Suspense met La Nouvelle Vague’s shining light. Using extracts from the tape-recorded conversations we finally have an unambiguous record of what Hitchcock said over the course of those eight days.

A key moment in the history of film criticism,  Truffaut’s credentials as a director and intimate knowledge of Hitchcock’s work keep the veteran filmmaker on his toes and ensure the interview never descends into effusive gushing. Hard-core Hitchcock enthusiasts and newbies will be educated by this engrossing documentary.

hitchcock-truffaut-2015_t658Analysing key sequences from several Hitchcock films, most notably Vertigo and Psycho. The documentary also includes Hitchcock’s critical comments on a Truffaut’s shot by shot breakdown of a sequence from The 400 Blows.

Recorded when film criticism was still in its infancy, Truffaut’s encyclopaedic knowledge of thematic continuity in Hitchcock’s still stands up today as a superb work of scholarship. It’s easy to forget in the age of DVD and online streaming how hard it was to gain access to films for study purposes back then. Detecting a recurrent thread of Roman Catholic symbolism he verbally pins down Hitchcock until the veteran admits how his formative years are continually woven into his films.

Modern day perspectives from David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Martin Scorsese, Arnaud Desplechin, Wes Anderson, James Gray, and Richard Linklater highlight why Hitchcock’s fingerprints are all over contemporary cinema.

A must-have DVD for anyone who wants to learn more about the Master of Suspense.

Hitchcock/Truffaut is available to order from Amazon

Blu-ray Review: The Blue Lamp

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Caught by the Fuzz: Sentimental police drama with a shocking twist.

Although Ealing Studios is synonymous with comedy it’s output was more diverse. Alongside genteel fun fare such as Passport to Pimlico, The Ladykillers, Whisky Galore, I’m Alright Jack, The Maggie, and The Man in the White Suit, it produced costume dramas, documentaries, war and crime films. Founded in 1902, the studio’s golden period began in 1938 when Michael Balcon took over as chief executive and steered the company away from escapism and embraced realism. During the 1950s Ealing Studios took inspiration from the British documentary movement and produced realistic depictions of post-war life, most notably Pool of London and The Blue Lamp.

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Seen from a twenty-first-century vantage point, The Blue Lamp offers a view of policing far removed from today’s impersonal and target-driven forms of crime enforcement. As “everyman” police officer George Dixon, Jack Warner created a role which would influence screen cop shows for decades. The character and his portrayal were etched into the hearts and minds of a generation and Warner was asked to reprise the role for a TV series (Dixon of Dock Green) which ran 21 years. At his funeral officers from the police station featured in the film acted as pallbearers.

Crime rose in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. Police Constables were the first line of defence in the war against a new breed of criminality. Long-serving officer George Dixon takes new recruit Andy Mitchell (Jimmy Hanley) under his wing and tutors the youngster in what it takes to be an effective member of the force.

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Driving home the dangers officers face when they pound the beat, the shooting of George Dixon by a young hoodlum played by Dirk Bogarde still has the power to shock nearly seventy years after the scenes were filmed.

Filmed in a style which came close to approximating the then-current trends in documentary, The Blue Lamp may seem occasionally stagey to modern viewers but to its original audience it was thrilling stuff. Well paced and with a terrific performance from Bogarde this is top-flight stuff from the UK’s most famous studio.

The Blue Lamp is available to order from Amazon.