Friday, July 6, 2012

Housemaids Whistle in Darkness

     In today's very international (I know, again) installment of DVD reviews we will visit with a nanny in Korea, refugees in Poland, and a prisoner in Romania.  This, by the way, will probably be my last all 2011 films set of reviews.  Look for reviews of 2012 films to begin in earnest.  After all these obscure films I've been covering lately, even I'm ready for a little spring sprung popcorn.  But before we get there...

If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle - This film tells the story of Silviu, a young inmate, days from being released, who finds out that his mother is moving his little brother to Italy with her.  After she was a neglectful, fickle influence in his own life, Silviu wants to keep his brother in Romania and out of her clutches. Unfortunately, he won't be released in time.  As the last days of his incarceration pass, he grows more and more agitated and desperate.
     The first half of this film is a little scattered, and could easily lose many viewers' interest.  After Silviu's mother visits, though, the story becomes more focused and very engaging.
     The real "wow" factor of If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle, however, is young actor George Pistereanu who plays Silviu.  This picture actually marks his acting debut, but you would never guess it. The entire film really hinges on his performance, and he pulls it off like a pro, using his big soulful eyes to maximum effect.
     The rest of the cast is fairly forgettable, largely stacked with "stock" characters (stereotypes of narrative fiction), which, along with the lack of focus in the first half hour or so, kept this good movie from really being great.  Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play.  3 1/2 of 5*

The Housemaid - Critical opinion was sort of divided on this flick by Korean director Sang-Soo Im.  After careful consideration I have to say that I fall strongly in one camp...I loved it.
     My very first review on The Movie Frog back in August of last year was for The Help, and my favorite thing about it was the strong ensemble female cast.  In this regard, it and The Housemaid make perfect bookends for my coverage of 2011, because this film is about five women, each strong and weak in their own respective ways, and how they contend with one another in a luxurious mansion (kudos on the Art Direction and Set Decoration).
     Do-yeon Jeon plays Eun-yi Li, the naive young governess.  Woo Soo plays Hae-ra, the very pregnant (with twins!) lady of the house.  Ji-Young Park is Hae-ra's sly mother.  Seo-Hyeon plays Nami, Eun-yi's young charge.  All these ladies give exceptional performances.
     The real stand out, though, is the quintet's fifth member, Yeo-jeong Yoon as the older domestic Byung-sik.  She is the most conflicted of the characters and the actress really puts you inside her character's struggles.
     Besides the strong acting, the film also has great narrative structure and lots of cool little flourishes I don't want to go into too much for fear of spoiling it.  I will say, pay attention to the use of fire throughout.  The film's last few minutes get very "artsy", but by then I was caught up in the thing enough that I bought it.  Oh, and it's a thriller with the best rampant bitchiness this side of Kill Bill.  Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play.  5 of 5*

In Darkness - This Polish film was a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards back in February, and knowing what suckers the AMPAS members are for films about World War 2, it is easy to see why.  The film is basically Diary of Anne Frank meets Schindler's List but set in a sewer.  Which is not to say that it CAN'T be a good movie, just that it has the hurdle of overcoming the "seen it done before" effect to get past before it can stand on its own.
     Director Agnieszka accomplishes this task...mostly.  Her film is supported by a strong ensemble cast, that is so universally believable in their roles that it is difficult to really single anyone out.  It is a little predictable, and there are some moments at the end that are a little too precious for my tastes, but it is an effective film that squarely hits some familiar emotional buttons.  Available on DVD.  4 of 5*

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