This film successfully shows a different perspective of a war where religion is centered, and the women are both warriors and marginalised. While the more violent scenes are present throughout the film the female-driven cast shows the equally lighter sides of the family which they find in each other, although from vast backgrounds.
It was interesting; during the happier scenes with the women, the suspense of the film made me half expect something horrible to happen and when it doesn’t, and I was relieved. It probably comes from watching a lot of war films where the happiness tends to be cut short to remind us of the reality of war. But this story is not about the action of war, but the humans involved. The most powerful scenes in the film tended to be the emotional and heavier injustices towards them, particularly Zara.
The scenery and events that take place show sincerity through the camera, there is no spectacle or over-exaggeration in the visual style which many war films utilise. This doesn’t impact the story, it in fact compliments the female-orientated vision. Utilising the camera in such ways that treat the audience as intelligent equals. As an example, the opening scene shows Zara and her brothers in a field of poppies. While they are happy, and the scenery is beautiful and calming. The visual representation of the poppy is one of wartime and used to remember those who died on the battlefield.
There is a lot in this film and Fourest’s writing and directing style is a pleasure to watch. Her ability to mix the emotional, nurturing, and warm female elements with the harsh realities of war was a powerful reminder of the diversity and stringency involved. She has credits in directing documentaries and visually this is seen in this film. Both taking advantage of the fictional camera and the ‘untouched’ camera of documentary filmmaking.
OPERATION RED SNAKE is, as one of the French female soldiers says, the all-female platoon was a “feminist revolution.” Equally brilliant in its filmmaking and telling of the female perspective of this particular war. Following the true story, the pace, tension, and emotional journey keep the audience engaged from the beginning to the very last scene. Fourest’s vision is inspirational and truly deserves to be praised for weaving such an intricate tapestry of stories.
In both short and feature length versions of this strange little story, Emerson (Pavlo Lehenkyi) a lonely, isolated man pays an odd assortment of locals to impersonate the members of his family. He writes scripts for them to follow and then uses a video camera to record ‘family movies’. From his demands on these faux family members, we get a sense that there was an original family that is being replicated by these strangers but we never come to know where the real family has gone and why he is alone.
At the beginning of the film, we meet Ericka (Liudmyla Zamindra) who is being inducted into the role of Emerson’s sister but she is not yet quite a perfect fit (‘my sister would not wear a skirt so short’). The rest of the family have already been ‘cast’ – Mother (Larysa Hraminska), Father (Mykola Bozhko) and Brother (Maksym Derbenyov) and together they sit down to Christmas lunch.
The first half of the film very closely follows its short predecessor (it’s on Vimeo – Google it), albeit with a new cast and new location. But in the second half, the relationship between Emerson and Ericka changes quite dramatically on both a personal and fabricated level. As good as The Family is, it’s this extension of the original idea that makes A Family so powerful. Stevens approached this expansion of the original story with some very strong ideas that work well for the finished product. For a start, he chose to shoot the film in Ukraine (inspired by photographs his co-writer and cinematographer, Tom Swinburn had shown him of a recent trip there). This, along with the distinctly 90’s technology they use (which could simply be kinds of phones and computers and televisions available in Ukraine) creates an ‘otherness’ to the film. It’s shot in what seems to be a faded palette of earthy colours that somehow enhances the isolation, grief and loneliness we feel in Emerson and helps us to accept the improbability of the story. Working with actors who speak a language other than the language of the director is risky enough, but Stevens adds more levels of difficulty to this by casting mostly non-actors in the roles (Derbenyov’s day job is as a dentist and Zamidra is a receptionist).
Not only do the actors and director not speak the same language, they don’t even share a cinematic vocabulary with which they might communicate. This, of course, makes it hard to praise the performances as good acting, but these first timers do a pretty good job and the ‘amateurish’ feel actually builds a certain authenticity to the film as does the mundanity of the screenplay. The words spoken (as translated in subtitle) are awkward and perfunctory as befits the situation so it is up to the performances Stevens is able to draw from his actors and the remarkably evocative imagery and sympathetic lens of Swinburn’s cinematography to carry the narrative and between them they tell the story in perfect ‘film’ language.
I’ve seen quite a bit of commentary about this film that focuses on the European-ness of its filmmaking and it certainly has a European sensibility to it but, for me, it’s the Australian-ness that creates the balance and tempers the story allowing it to be more than a bleak and dour study of grief and loss to being something that also has the capacity to bring a smile to the audience’s faces. But don’t be mistaken; A Family never exceeds the comic to become comedic. Don’t expect a laugh anytime soon but do expect that this film might well leave you with a sense of hope and optimism for, whilst Emerson’s plan to manufacture a living memory of a lost family might allow him to assuage his grief without losing his isolation, it’s the redirecting of his absurd idea by Ericka that could well bring him back into the world. But, in the end, we don’t really know. This film is as much about what is not said, as it is about what the narrative tells us. And whilst that’s a pretty brave and risky way to make a film, in this case Jayden Stevens manages to pull it off.
Swab uses the character of Utah and narrator Vin (Frank Grillo) to uncover the incredibly lucrative business of getting bodies into beds at these treatment facilities with a revolving door. The treatment facilities get the government kickbacks, which are filtered down to the brokers who find the vulnerable and pay them to attend for 30 days. With a 10% success rate, business is booming for Vin and Wood. This premise finds Utah as he successfully goes through treatment and finally decides to become a broker himself.
Visually isolating the outdoor scenes are empty and the characters take center stage. Interestingly, Utah’s involvement in the brokering is shown in a cold and sterile way, while the drug den’s and external drug rehab groups are represented in warm lighting and a cluttered atmosphere. Enhancing the sense of Utah wanting to have his foot in both camps but unable to truly make a decision between the moral or immoral path not having much guidance.
BODY BROKERS is an uncomfortable and eye-opening film that keeps you engaged until the end. This is mostly to do with the interesting choice in storytelling, which made it hard to pinpoint the direction. It made the slow burn feel like a climactic build that eventually led nowhere. Saying this, the expose itself on the business of drug treatment facilities was performed and portrayed in such a way it felt uncomfortable and sleazy to even be told this information.
A lot like Vin, who was exceptionally acted by Grillo, the two paths for Utah are plain to see. His life with drugs or the life that can get him out – which unfortunately means he has to play the game and play the system. The balance between his newfound love interest, the human stories, and Wood’s life kept you invested in Utah. Hoping his decisions will get him to a good place, or at least make a stand against the heartless acts of this system.
BODY BROKERS produced a lot of insight that makes this an important film. Unfortunately, the lack of direction in the filmmaking style made it difficult to know if this was a drama or redemption story, or both. It may have worked in Swab’s favor in the end because it keeps you on your toes throughout. The film attracted a great cast of actors who were well placed in their roles. This film leaves the audience with a lot to think about, which is exactly what this kind of film needs to do. While the moral of the story is vague (and probably very realistic), it is successful in creating a unique mood and style of storytelling which keeps you guessing. As Vin says, “How do you end a never-ending story?”
BODY BROKERS is available on DVD from Eagle Entertainment.
Visually we are placed in the snowy mountainous regions, muted colours, and gentle lighting. We meet Ethan and Josh, amidst the snow creating a dream-like haze, they have a father and son lesson in defending themselves from the infected. The more interesting elements of the back-story start straight away where they reveal that the infected are attracted to heat. The infected themselves look understated but are very effective, with minimal make-up or special effects. This first scene results in the first series of events, Ethan gets bitten.
In between the main storyline they provide flashbacks of their lives before the virus took hold. The first flashback scene was one of my favourite scenes of the film. It set up Joe and Ethan’s relationship in an effective and clever way, which provided the initial empathy towards their current dynamic, which after Ethan is bitten is very distant and cold.
The way Tobias and Reisner built-up character development, ended up overshadowing the storyline of how the virus got out. Mostly because the long conversations seemed less important than the action sequences. Meanwhile also in combination with that, trying to foreshadow scenarios that just fell short and were too generic for a well-established genre.
The realism of this world works well and compliments the focus of the story, which is essentially the relationships between the family members. Josh, the son, is by far the most interesting character. He is quite optimistic and realistic when interacting with his parents, who tend to be sombre and corny at times.
This is interesting when Ethan and Joe are trying to teach Josh how to survive when they quite clearly have no idea what they are doing. Josh steps up to the responsibility when needed and is the unsung hero of the film. He even has his own bad-ass weapon, a slingshot. Which is surprisingly effective but again under-utilised. These elements made it feel like Josh is the one that needed redemption, but it is obvious that Ethan and Joe were meant to be the main focus.
F.E.A.R is more of a drama than an action-orientated horror which misses the story beats that could have elevated it to a great film. The overarching story got lost in character development which caused the ‘build and release’ scenarios to be less impactful. It is instead, a technically successful film with great visual appeal and brilliant acting. While it reminds me of a modern-day version of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, it could have (but doesn’t) brought something new to the zombie genre.
Signature Entertainment presents Forget Everything And Run on Digital Platforms 16th June