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Cinequest 16 - Film Reviews
March 2006 - San Jose, CA
(Films highlighted can be purchased online by clicking the links)
Kiss Of Winter (Vinterkyss)
A well-done film from Norway, shot in many flashbacks and side-stories. It follows a bit on how many Norwegian films are made, with the slow pacing against the crisply cold northern Scandinavian snow. The tale concerns Victoria, a female doctor in a small country town in Norway. She is just fitting in, as a boy's body is found in the snow. An autopsy is called to find if the body was involved in foul play. The story of the dead boy - a Muslim refuge immigrant - falls in with a side story-line of Victoria. Victoria is continuously calls to her estranged husbands' home in Sweden to see how her potentially ill son is doing. Along the story path, different twists form as blame for the snow-found boy's death seems to point in different directions. Ultimately, along with the mystery, the film really tells several moral tales, primarily about parenting. The physician mother who pays little attention to her own son, a dead boy's father coming to terms with his own culture's attitudes, and a suspect who is a seemingly good father, but yet has his own intentions and well-being in mind first. The cultural differences of an American audience with life in Norway might seem stark by comparison, but is well portrayed. The film itself, in how the story is told, is a bit confusing at times, but does tie in neatly at the end. Some viewers might not be able to follow all the side-flashes and flashbacks, which could slow the ending's meaning, but overall, this is a film well worth viewing. In addition, "Wynterkiss" featured a Leonard Cohen penned song, "Hallelujah", hauntingly performed by the late Jeff Buckley.

Next Door (Naboer)
A Norwegian thriller to challenge any American made thriller. This was a movie not to be missed. For any fans of truly disturbing psychological thrillers, "Naboer" is right up there on the "must see" list. To call this film a "psycho-sexual" thriller is to put the term mildly. The film concerns John, a man whose apparently cheating girlfriend leaves him to be with her new boyfriend. After grieving her loss for a very short while, he comes upon two girls who are his next door neighbors. When coming home from work one evening, one of the girls, Anne, requests a favor of him in her apartment. He reluctantly obliges and thus begins a truly extravagant mind-twister. John finds Anne and her roommate Kim to be a bit odd, and potentially mentally off-balance. As he decides to leave their apartment abruptly, it is too late as their entanglement has already begun. Anne finds John the next day and again requests a favor - to watch over her "sister" next door, as she is not to be left alone due to some previously dire incident. Upon entering their apartment, John is overwhelmed by the psychological torture that begins. He is trapped, abused, lost, and frightened, all before getting involved further into a sick, sexual game that would really give this film a guaranteed X-rating in a standard American market. Although "Naboer" really doesn't have the overt bloodshed (but still a fare share) that typical slasher fare films do, the horror of it all is presented mentally - and rightfully so, as the mind is much more powerful in suggestions that celluloid could ever be. As the story unravels, more and more questions pop up as to why everything is suddenly happening to John. What has his part been in possibly causing everything to happen? Is it his current situation, or perhaps his past? How do the neighbor girls know so much about his most intimate relationship details? How does it all tie in with his recent break-up, and why? The mental roller-coaster continues to pick up the pace until the very end, and the end is definitely worth the wait. A different view of an already normally over-saturated market. "Naboer" works, and it works well. It would be hard-pressed to find a viewer who would leave the theater without a feeling of awe or shock. Excellent in every way.

Occupied Minds
An exceptionally timely film about how the neighboring states of Israel and Palestine agree to disagree. Two naturalized American journalists - one Israeli and one Palestinian - take a trip back to their homelands to see why all the fighting continues, and to attempt ideas at solutions. In the end, it is found that any solutions to be had will be much harder to reach than one could hope. Everyone talks of peace, but yet - as children - everyone still says "You first" as an answer to any problems. It is long known that ego-driven solutions never come to fruition. Unlike much of what we see on the media-driven TV and in newspapers, this film does a better job at capturing what life is really like in that begrudging area of the Middle East. Many homes are destroyed, soldiers and checkpoints everywhere, bigotry and bias reign supreme, and everyone still claims to want peace. So what can be done? Not much currently, short of making a documentary. An interesting twist of social views can be seen during an interview in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, which seems to be described as more of a vacationers Mecca, something akin with New York or Paris or any other major city. It is fancy and chic, and the inhabitants are seemingly (though not actually) clueless to what is going on around them (as described in the film). The rest of the scenery really appears as a third world nation, not two countries vying to make bigger plans for themselves. Ultimately, it is a true shame from both sides - and one that needs a solution quickly before much more suffering is to be had. There is an almost accidentally humorous scene in which an older Palestinian woman is illegally making her way through a crack in the dividing wall. As she fumbles through and finally makes it, she outwardly curses all Jews to hell. As she straightens herself out and looks up, she realizes the heritage of the majority of the film crew and understandably looks a bit embarrassed as she mumbles something akin to, "Oh no, they are Jews?". Overall, "Occupied Minds" is a rather gritty expose into the mentalities of two begrudging factions, both willing to chatter and blame, but neither one really willing to make any concessions. As a documentary, this film is excellent.

Freedom State
The cast is brilliant as a batch of quirky characters caught up in their own magical mystery tour, as they embark upon a whimsical journey through the countryside of a perceived post-Apocalyptic world. "Freedom State" is one of those films that really captures the attention more through character development rather than today's flash and floundering. Written and directed by Oregonian Cullen Hoback, this film has a vision that is really less purpose and more introspection into how different minds and personalities meld in an almost surreal world. The main character Krystal - as played exceptionally by Megan Murphy - is bored and attention-deprived in her lackluster marriage and home life. She wants something else, but isn't sure what that something is. She visits a "mental rest home" (as opposed to an outright mental hospital) which is more fictional than reality-based, in which she hopes to enroll as a patient. Her wish is to "learn to be crazy," because "being normal is crazy." In many ways, these lines ring true. Upon being admitted, Krystal sets about meeting the small group of "guests" at the Lost Hills home. One day the patients are left alone as the nurse takes off to parts unknown. During the nurse's departure for the day, the eight patients find "signs" signaling that an apparent Apocalypse has happened and they are now witness to the end of the Earth. Whether or not they actually believe this to be true is indeterminable, and doesn't really matter. What matters is that this change in life has suddenly given them all purpose. They decide to embark upon a journey to pick up "survivors." A while later, they also come to the conclusion that the "end of the Earth" is more of a literal translation in a physical sense as the look for the end of the road. In this sense, "Freedom State" could almost be viewed as a modern-day more abstract and adult "Wizard Of Oz," as nothing is real but all are involved. The fact that their surreal journey takes place in the vehicle of the rest home's yellow short bus also adds the Beatle-esque "Magical Mystery Tour" aspect ("Yellow Submarine" anyone?).

Coming in at just about one hour long, it is exactly as long as it should be for the story contained within. This film is enjoyable as any family-fare light-hearted drama that has played in the major theaters. As an independent film, "Freedom State" has real production value. The film color and ambiance is fantastic, as the camera captured some inspirational colors in the outdoor shots. As well, sound editing is usually a major problem for many independent films, while "Freedom State" has it all down pat. In respect to production, I cannot say enough good things.

"Freedom State," although seemingly popular with the disenfranchised 40-ish housewife crowd, is fun, captivating, and enjoyable in a variety of ways. No matter what one might think while viewing it, it leaves a lasting impression in the mind and the desire to see it again. Although there is not a direct story outright, the circumstances make it all very watchable and carries the film to the end. Again, the characters are what really drive the film and give it its magic. Rarely is seen a film with as well-matched a cast as in "Freedom State." If this is what this director can do on his first-time outing, one can only expect to see good things in the future.
Other Cinequest Film Festival Coverage
Written by Philip Anderson / Keith Denison

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

All rights reserved © KAOS2000™. No portion contained herein, either text or graphics, may be reproduced anywhere or reposted on any other website for any purpose without the expressed permission of the publisher. All violations shall be punished as the law allows.

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