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All Around the World: The Best International/Indie Films of 2007

Beginning and ending with the superlative filmmaking of Jia Zhang-ke, traversing the nooks and crannies of the globe, PopMatters presents the 20 best international and indie films of 2007.

Display Artist: Béla Tarr Director: B Director: #233;la Tarr Film: The Man from London Subtitle: Londoni férfi Studio: Ognon Pictures Cast: Tilda Swinton, Miroslav Krobot, Leah Williams, Janos Derzsi, Istvan Lenart MPAA rating: N/A First date: 2007 US Release Date: 2007-09-30 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/t/the_man_from_london_poster.jpg

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List number: 10

The Man from London

Béla Tarr

For such an intensively meditative film, I’ve never attended a screening where a large portion of the audience looked about ready to punch a hole in the wall when they left the theater as after I saw The Man From London. While falling short of director Béla Tarr’s previous masterpieces his Georges Simenon adaptation, stripped to intense psychological minimalism, is still penetrating and horrifying. After the initial set up -- night watchmen Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) steals a suitcase full of money after watching a handoff go awry -- the movie is scarce on defining plot points. Instead the dramatic turmoil of guilt and corruption is etched in Fred Kelemen’s cinematography, whose use of high contrast lighting highlights every pore, wrinkle, scar, and tear duct in character close-ups and landscape shots. From its extended opening shot, one of the greatest of the year (see Stellet Licht for the other), Tarr cements his reputation as master of protracted contemplation. Michael BueningThe Man from London

Director: Ang Lee Film: Lust, Caution (Se, jie) Studio: Focus Features Cast: Tang Wei, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Joan Chen, Wang Lee-Hom MPAA rating: NC-17 First date: 2007 US Release Date: 2007-09-28 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2008-01-04 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/l/lust-caution-poster.jpg

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List number: 9

Lust, Caution

Ang Lee

It’s a shame that so much focus was placed on the sex scenes in Ang Lee's otherwise serious WWII thriller. There is so much more here than bare bodies gyrating, though it is a very important element in the narrative. In fact, the sense of feigned superiority expressed by the Chinese nationals conspiring with the Japanese invaders is far more sly and seductive than the last act showing of skin. It's the lure of power and its impervious, numbing nature that draws the characters in and toward their uncertain fate. That Lee decided to explore this idea physically as well as psychologically speaks to the film's ultimate success. Bill Gibron

Lust, Caution (Se, jie)

Display Artist: David Moreau, Xavier Palud. Director: David Moreau Director: Xavier Palud. Film: Them Subtitle: ils Studio: Eskwad Cast: Olivia Bonamy, Michaël Cohen Website: http://www.them-movie.com/ MPAA rating: N/A First date: 2006 US Release Date: 2007-03-09 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/t/them.jpg

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List number: 8

Them

David Moreau and Xavier Palud

Clémentine and Lucas are a French couple who live and work in Romania, where they lead a contented life until the night when a string of strange occurrences -- their car is stolen, odd noises resonate, the phone won’t stop ringing and then goes dead -- alerts them to impending danger in their large, lonely house. Soon they’re in flat-out panic mode, and they have reason to be: They’re under attack by mysterious enemies who clearly won’t rest until they’re dead. And if you think that’s scary, the explanation that emerges is even spookier than the goings-on themselves. Written and directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, this fact-based horror tale is guaranteed to get under your skin. See it if you dare. David Sterritt

Them

Director: Julia Loktev Film: Day Night Day Night Studio: First Take Studio: IFC Films Cast: Luisa Williams, Josh Phillip Weinstein, Gareth Saxe, Nyambi Nyambi, Tschi Hun Kim MPAA rating: Unrated Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/77/4777/video.php First date: 2006 US Release Date: 2007-05-09 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/d/day-night-day-night-poster.jpg

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List number: 7

Day Night Day Night

Julia Loktev

Alfred Hitchcock once said that dread is best established when the audience is in possession of information that the characters or circumstances would literally die for to discover. This is clearly the set up preferred by filmmaking newcomer Julia Loktev's suicide bomber drama. A nondescript girl spends a day in a NYC hotel room, preparing to walk out into Times Square with a vest full of explosives tied to her torso. Working fear and trepidation out of the mundane premise, the director then drives the point home further by making the conclusion as morally complicated as possible. It turns an unsettling situation into something almost unwatchable. Bill Gibron

Day Night Day Night

Director: Juan Antonio Bayona Film: The Orphanage (El Orfanato) Studio: Picturehouse Cast: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Geraldine Chaplin, Montserrat Carulla, Edgar Vivar, Roger Príncep Website: http://www.theorphanagemovie.com/ MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/99/4899/videos/?s=trailers First date: 2007 Distributor: New Line US Release Date: 2007-12-28 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/o/orphanage-poster.jpg

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List number: 6

The Orphanage

Juan Antonio Bayona

Take one shot of Terry Gilliam, a couple of jiggers of Guillermo Del Toro, and a heaping helping of outright originality, and you've got the amazing first feature from Spanish spook master Juan Antonio Bayona. Using the old school fright film formula of finding suspense within the characterization, the director delivers the kind of grandiose ghost story that reminds us of Gothic days gone by. One of the more visually arresting flights this year, Bayona gets the most out of his sinister seaside locale, making typically tame settings like a broom closet or a potting shed wail with banshee cry creepiness. The results are spellbinding and spine tingling. Bill Gibron

The Orphanage (El Orfanato)

Director: Cristian Mungiu Film: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days Studio: BAC Films Cast: Adi Carauleanu, Luminiţa Gheorghiu, Vlad Ivanov, Anamaria Marinca, Alexandru Potocean, Laura Vasiliu Website: http://www.4months3weeksand2days.com/blog/index.php MPAA rating: N/A Trailer: http://www.alltrailers.net/4-luni-3-saptamani-si-2-zile.html First date: 2007 US Release Date: 2007-09-29 (Very limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/4/4months3weeks2days_poster.jpg

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List number: 5

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Cristian Mungiu

At a time when bogus reality shows pass for true-life realism, this wrenching Romanian drama is a hard-hitting reminder that insightfully crafted fiction is still the surest way to probe the deepest, scariest depths of human nature and its discontents. The story couldn’t be simpler -- a woman helps a friend get an illegal abortion in Romania under the communists -- and the cinematic style of writer-director Cristian Mungiu couldn’t be more straightforward, following the moment-to-moment action with clear-eyed objectivity. The result, thanks to razor-sharp camerawork and stunningly honest performances, is psychological drama of the most riveting and imaginative kind. David Sterritt

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Director: Bong Joon-ho Film: The Host (Gwoemul) Studio: Magnolia Pictures Cast: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hie-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, Ah-sung Ko Website: http://www.hostmovie.com/ MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/magnolia/thehost/ First date: 2006 US Release Date: 2007-03-09 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2006-11-10 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/h/host-poster.jpg

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List number: 4

The Host

Bong Joon-ho

When The Host (Goemul) played at the New York Film Festival in 2006 I hoped that this monster movie would herald a new age of global blockbuster filmmaking, when Hollywood would be challenged and reinvigorated by the ingenuous use of lower cost digital effects and directors would work from culturally specific yet broadly entertaining aesthetics that twist subversive structures into widely accessible pop formats. I thought Bong Joon-ho would be this movement’s Steven Spielberg and Song Kang-ho its slapstick Harrison Ford. At least when it was released in the United States this year, the revolution didn’t happen. But if Bong and Song keep making movies that mix shit-eating action sequences, family drama, and political allegory with such exhilarating expertise, resistance will be futile. Michael Buening

The Host (Gwoemul)

Display Artist: Philip Gröning Director: Philip Gr Director: #246;ning Film: Into Great Silence Studio: Bavaria-Filmkunst Verleih Cast: The Monks of the Grande Chartreuse Website: http://www.diegrossestille.de/deutsch/index.html MPAA rating: N/A First date: 2005 US Release Date: 2007-04-17 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/i/into_great_silence_ver2.jpg

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List number: 3

Into Great Silence

Philip Gröning

In this literally awesome documentary about a Carthusian monastery in the French Alps, filmmaker Philip Gröning captures not only the look, sound, and atmosphere of the place, but also the intimacy of its moods, the textures of its light and shade, and the almost physical quality that time itself acquires in an environment where religious ritual, behavioral regularity, stasis of the body, and inwardness of mind have reigned for centuries. The film has a purity of spirit that, in a profound artistic paradox, further enhances its investment in the bedrock materiality of the perceptible world on which both life and cinema are inevitably grounded. This is one of the rare movies that must be seen to be believed. David Sterritt

Into Great Silence

Director: Satoshi Kon Film: Paprika Studio: Sony Cast: Megumi Hayashibarar, Tory Furuya, Koichi Yamadera, Toru Emori, Akio Otsuka MPAA rating: R First date: 2006 Distributor: Sony Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/p/paprika.jpg

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List number: 2

Paprika

Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon's latest stunner is -- like so many good and bad movies before it -- about dreams. As its hallucinatory narrative steers perilously close to running off the rails, the line between conscious and unconscious space-time grows increasingly ambiguous. Right, this is sci-fi noir so (purposefully) convoluted as to make those damn Matrix movies look down-right streamlined by comparison. It's also just about the most impressive example of Japanese animation I've viewed to date. Check it out if you like anime; absolutely don't miss it if you're still skeptical about the form's capabilities. Josh Timmerman

Paprika

Director: Jia Zhangke Film: Still Life Subtitle: Sanxia haoren Studio: Shanghai Film Studios Cast: Zhao Tao, Han Sanming MPAA rating: N/A First date: 2006 Distributor: New Yorker US Release Date: 2007-03-30 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/s/stilllifeposter.jpg

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List number: 1

Still Life

Jia Zhang-ke

Where Mainland Chinese wunderkind Jia Zhang-ke's first three films registered the influence of gritty Italian Neorealism, Still Life feels more discernibly indebted to Antonioni's architectural mise-en-scene, a trend that first seemed present in his fourth feature, 2004's The World. Without sacrificing a shred of empathy for his cautiously optimistic, mostly working class characters, Jia has progressively heightened the formalist nature of his aesthetic, balanced with a few sly surrealist touches. To be sure, Still Life's lush, almost tropical locale provides a welcome opportunity for Jia's career-long DP Nelson Yu Lik-wai to shine. The high-def DV master lends this one a Malick-like view of natural wonder, of ephemeral beauty in peril. The result is a profoundly sad movie--a masterful meditation on loss. Josh Timmerman

Still Life

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peter blok parker posey michel piccoli into great silence jasmin tabatabai andrew armour michiel huisman istvan lenart megumi hayashibarar vlad ivanov roger príncep lee kang-sheng akio otsuka nyambi nyambi geraldine chaplin song kang-ho eric maahs chen shiang-chyi saffron burrows daniel brühl philip gr jie) the flight of the red balloon park hae-il juliette binoche maria pankratz xavier palud. michaël cohen d.j. mendel kate dickie the orphanage (el orfanato) anamaria marinca leo fitzpatrick catherine scharhon julie delpy alexandru potocean jeff goldblum derek de lint #233;la tarr ah-sung ko tilda swinton montserrat carulla carice van houten the host (gwoemul) adi carauleanu brand upon the brain! miriam toews nathalie press fay grim isabella rosellini thomas jay ryan luisa williams 3 weeks and 2 days guillaume depardieu leah williams christian berkel laura vasiliu i don't want to sleep alone sebastian koch #246;ning 2 days in paris hippolyte girardot norman atun fernando cayo the monks of the grande chartreuse koichi yamadera marie pillet edgar vivar gretchen krich Best Tv Film And Dvd Of 2007 tschi hun kim caution (se han sanming tony curran bulle ogier martin compston ma ke the man from london jeanne balibar pearlly chua 4 months waldemar kobus wang lee-hom red road belén rueda megan gay todd jefferson moore anne cantineau maya lawson bae doo-na b josh phillip weinstein james urbaniak byun hie-bong paprika jacobo klassen luminiţa gheorghiu tang wei adam goldberg halina reijn tony leung chiu wai black book (zwartboek) them lust day night day night miroslav krobot the duchess of langeais useless janos derzsi gareth saxe albert delpy david moreau zhao tao olivia bonamy stellet licht chuck montgomery joan chen elizabeth fehr toru emori thom hoffman tory furuya sullivan brown still life liam aiken
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