The Playlist

Rome Review: 'Hand In Hand' Is A Gently Surreal Parisian Romantic Comedy Featuring Your New French Crush

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 18, 2012 9:18 AM
  • |
  • 3 Comments
Whimsical and high-concept, and featuring a standout performance from our new boyfriend Jérémie Elkaïm, who has just won Best Actor at the Rome Film Festival for this role (clearly the jury was crushin' on him too), "Hand in Hand" ("Main dans la Main") is a gentle, quirky take on the mystical and somewhat random power of attraction and love. By contrast with the artifice of the other French rom-com we reviewed in Rome, "Populaire," writer-director (and supporting star and Elkaïm's wife) Valérie Donzelli's lightness of touch evokes more the sensibility of a loved-up Miranda July in its attention to off-kilter but grounded detail.

Rome Review: '1942' Is A Long, Old-Fashioned But Absorbing Epic Of Chinese Historical Cinema

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 17, 2012 7:02 PM
  • |
  • 5 Comments
If the appropriate length of a film were calculated in proportion to the scope of its subject, all 144 minutes of Feng Xiaogang's "1942" (also known as "Back to 1942"), which played In Competition at the Rome Film Festival, would be wholly justified. While the Henan Famine of the early 1940s is not a well-known tragedy outside China, the scale of the suffering, death and displacement it caused simply boggles the mind, the numbers are so colossal. And for the most part, Feng does an impressive job of memorializing the 3 million dead; "1942" is not an unqualified success, but it did retain our interest and engagement across its multiple story lines and over its expansive running time.

Rome Review: 'Tar' With James Franco Is A Dreamy Collage Of Pretty But Overfamiliar Aesthetics

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 17, 2012 1:53 PM
  • |
  • 15 Comments
It's difficult to know quite what to make of 'Tar,' a multi-authored project seemingly coaxed into being by the sheer force of James Franco's current artistic cachet. Playing In Competition in the XXI sidebar of the Rome Film Festival, the film represents the work of twelve newbie directors -- NYU film students all -- and attempts to create an impressionistic interpretation of the work of poet CK Williams, who himself appears occasionally, reading from his collection. Championed by and starring Franco, amongst a starry cast including Mila Kunis, Jessica Chastain, Henry Hopper, Bruce Campbell and Zach Braff, the film shifts around in time and mood, using four different actors (Franco one of them) to depict Williams at different stages in his life, with the scenes sometimes playing out with internal dialogue and mini-storylines, and other times played mute, with snatches of poetry voiced over.

Rome Review: Cesc Gay's 'A Gun In Each Hand' Is A Gem - A Sharp, Witty Look At Masculinity In Crisis

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 17, 2012 11:23 AM
  • |
  • 4 Comments
Not, in fact, the Spaghetti Western from Spain (Paella Western?) that it sounds like, "A Gun In Each Hand" ("Una Pistola En Cada Mano"), which plays Out of Competition at the Rome Film Festival, is a contemporary comedy detailing a series of encounters in which pairs of friends, acquaintances, ex-spouses and potential lovers meet and talk and, well, that's about it. With a logline like that, you need to be sure your script delivers. Thankfully this one, co-written by director Cesc Gay, as is his wont, does; its portrait of a group of Spanish men in their forties is by turns gently scathing, comical and bittersweet, but it never feels anything less than true.

Rome Review: Anthology Film 'Centro Historico' Is Decent, Wearying, Excellent And Slight, In That Order

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 16, 2012 6:56 PM
  • |
  • 4 Comments
Reviewing omnibus films, in which the component parts came from different directors, can be a tricky job because the decision needs to be made whether to review those contributions separately, or to take a helicopter view and treat a film which is being packaged as a feature, as a feature. "Centro Historico," which opened Out of Competition in the XXI sidebar of the Rome Film Festival, poses no such dilemma: the four films it contains are almost as different from one another as it possible to be, and so attempting any kind of synergistic look at the whole would be kind of a nonsense.

Rome Review: Marjane Satrapi Gets Loose, Has Fun In Black Comedy 'The Gang Of The Jotas'

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 16, 2012 7:55 AM
  • |
  • 0 Comments
For her third feature film after 2007's beloved "Persepolis" and 2011's "Chicken with Plums," writer-director Marjane Satrapi changes it up once again with "The Gang of the Jotas" ("La Bande des Jotas") which bows today Out of Competition at the Rome Film Festival. Having made the move, with her previous films, from black-and-white animation, to stylized, heavily art-directed live action, here she throws both those styles out of the window and turns in a loose, black comedy road movie that feels, for the most part, about as un-stylized as you can get.

Rome Review: 'The Motel Life' A Small But Perfectly Formed Indie With A Sweet, Sad Heart Of Gold

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 16, 2012 6:14 AM
  • |
  • 4 Comments
On the surface, there should be nothing particularly special about producer-turned-director brothers Gabe and Alan Polsky's debut, "The Motel Life," which premieres tonight at the Rome Film Festival. Threatening to sound like indie-by-numbers on paper, the film, based on the well-received novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin, is indeed familiar in its downbeat, disenfranchised Americana setting and even some of its themes: familial love, redemption and the fragility of hope in the face of ill-starred circumstance. But while it doesn't reinvent the wheel, or revolutionize the genre, it achieves its modest ambitions affectingly well, in no small part due to a clutch of cherishable performances, especially from leads Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff, as brothers Frank and Jerry Lee.

Rome Review: Johnnie To's 'Drug War' Is A Gritty, Talky Procedural That Amps Up To A Bruising Climax

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 15, 2012 2:45 PM
  • |
  • 1 Comment
Johnnie To is a prime example of a director whose name means one thing to overseas audiences, and quite another to those in his native Hong Kong. While his home fans know him as a prolific genre-hopping polyglot whose production company Milkyway Image is a force to be reckoned with on the national filmmaking scene, abroad, especially in the U.S., he's primarily known as an action/thriller director; a less-stylized John Woo. And so his newest film, "Drug War" ("Du Zhan"), which was a late "surprise" addition to the Rome Film Festival line-up, should export neatly.

Rome Review: 'A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III' Displays The Flair & Flaws Of Roman Coppola's Approach

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 15, 2012 7:02 AM
  • |
  • 5 Comments
Roman Coppola may only be on his second directorial feature, but as a music video and commercials director, and as a writer and frequent Wes Anderson collaborator, not to mention handling the second unit on various films from his famous family members, he has certainly amassed a wealth of filmic experience. All of which he brings to bear on "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III," which premieres tonight at the Rome Film Festival. Destined to be a crowd-pleaser, for its many celebrity cameos, quirky and apropos Liam Hayes music, and lovingly detailed 70s-influenced stylization, the films affords many glossy, knowing pleasures, and we found ourselves really wanting to love it. But that deeper level of engagement just didn't kick in for us, for two main reasons: the lack of a strong narrative through line and the lack of dimensionality to the central titular character. The film delivers on its title, but it turns out we need more than just a glimpse.

Rome Review: Peter Greenaway's 'Goltzius And The Pelican Company' Dazzles & Numbs The Mind In Almost Equal Measure

  • By Jessica Kiang
  • |
  • November 14, 2012 11:20 AM
  • |
  • 0 Comments
Visually extraordinary, but narratively frustrating, "Goltzius and the Pelican Company," which showed here at the Rome Film Festival after premiering in The Netherlands, is every sumptuous inch a Peter Greenaway film. So those who are beguiled by the peculiar rhythms of his filmmaking -- which often give rise to a kind of tidal waxing and waning of the viewers' attention -- will be delighted by its richness, its erudition and its mischievousness. Detractors, however, may well be able to hold up this film as Exhibit A in the "too-clever-by-half" case against.

Email Updates

Recent Comments