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Capsule Film Reviews: “Decision to Leave,” “Holy Spider” and “Aftersun”

With the preponderance of international films vying for a variety of awards, including the coveted Academy Award as well as the US Gotham and International Press Academy awards, I’ve chosen three films that are particularly award worthy.

“DECISION TO LEAVE”
Directed by: Park Chan-Wook
Starring: Park Hae-il, Tang Wei, Lee Jung-hyun

Did he jump off the mountain or was it a rock-climbing accident or was this middle-age successful businessman given a little push by Song Seo-rae, his beautiful, young, mysterious wife well played by Tang Wei, whose sexuality is palpable This is the beginning of a complicated spiraling trajectory of events trapping a seasoned, albeit bored, married detective Hae-joon, intensely played by Park Hae-il. He soon finds himself caught in a web of obsessive attraction invading all aspects of his life. With the death of her second husband, the detective’s obsession with this woman, appears to be mutual. Is it mutual or is she just manipulating him? Stunningly directed by Park Chan-wook, who won the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this extraordinary neo-noir film digs deeply into the obsessive behavior of his characters with a haunting denouement almost operatic in its grandness. With subtle reminders of the directing style of consummate auteur, the late Alfred Hitchcock, the brilliant DECISION TO LEAVE, which has already won several awards, is South Korea’s Official Oscar entry for Best International Feature Film.

“DECISION TO LEAVE”
Directed by: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Park Hae-il, Tang Wei, Lee Jung-hyun
Written by: Park Chan-wook & CHUNG Seo-kyung
Cinematographer: KIM Ji-yong
Music by: Yeong-wook Jo
Edited by: Sang-beom Kim
Languages: Korean & Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 138 minutes
Unrated
(Currently at local theatres including Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica.)

“HOLY SPIDER”
Directed by: Ali Abbasi
Written by: Ali Abbasi & Afshin Bahrami
Starring: Zar Amir Ebrahimi & Medhi Bajestani

Iranian investigative journalist Rahimi, hauntingly played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi, is intrigued by a serial killer in the holy city of Mashhad. Despite the challenges she faces as a female reporter, and the machinations she must employ to get the facts, she insists on interviewing the authorities about the ongoing murders of women of the night. Under Ali Abbasi’s intense direction, we learn that the very religious killer, Saeed Hanaei, well played by Medhi Bajestani, believes he is doing God’s work by ridding the streets of these evil women. His modus operandi is consistent in that riding through the dark streets on his motorcycle, he flashes money enticing women to hop on at which point he often takes them to his home where he offers them a drink and then strangles them. As the body count mounts, he is dubbed the “Spider Killer,” with some locals even embracing him as a hero. With the police rather lax on bringing the murderer to justice, Rahimi comes up with a plan of her own that could be dangerous but thinking she has back-up for protection, she puts her idea into action with potentially life-threatening results. HOLY SPIDER is based on a true story of the actual serial killer named Saeed Hanaei, who, during his two-year crime spree, killed over a dozen women. This intriguing thriller, the Danish Submission for Academy Award Consideration for Best International Feature, is one that will keep you on the edge of your seats. He is greeted as a hero and it looks like he will not be held accountable for his actions, or will he?

“HOLY SPIDER”
Directed by: Ali Abbasi
Written by: Ali Abbasi & Afshin Bahrami
Starring: Zar Amir Ebrahimi & Medhi Bajestani
Cinematographer: Nadim Carlsen
Edited by: Olivia Neergaard-Holm
Music: Martin Dirkov
Languages: Persian
Running time: 117 Minutes
Unrated
Check your local theatre listings for or “JustWatch” for possible
streaming information.
(Danish Submission for Academy Award Consideration for
Best International Feature

“AFTERSUN”
Written & Directed By: Charlotte Wells
Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio & Celia Rowlson-Hall

Charlotte Wells’ film “Aftersun,”which made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, is a nostalgic walk back in time 20 years after 11-year-old Sophie, brilliantly played by newcomer Frankie Corio and her playful dad Calum, skillfully played by Paul Mescal, enjoyed an unforgettable holiday together at a Turkish beach resort back in the 1990s. Looking at old photos and camcorder recordings, the now grown-up Sophie, played by Celia Rowlson-Hall, relives that special time with her dad. He was a free spirit introducing her to experiences she might be missing such as playing computer games at an amusement arcade or doing Tai Chi on the beach or dancing to pulsating music in a club or enjoying ice cream, or meditating or just have her cuddled up in his arms. Their relationship is complex and in retrospect, the grown-up Sophie, whose parents are now divorced, is trying to fit all the pieces together reconciling her memories with the dad of today. Underlying the joyous moments, although we don’t know the root cause, there is also a deep sadness emanating from dad. She remembers him quietly smoking on the patio deep in his thoughts or wading into the ocean late at night. Despite the laughter, dad seems to have a touch of melancholia. As the camera closes in on scenes of their relationship, we see the love and warmth between them and the special love father and daughter have for each other. This film has gotten rave reviews but that said, there are some technical elements that I found difficult. For example, some of the scenes were shot with a hand-held camera which resulted in rather jerky takes while other very brief scenes did not seem to have a connection to the prior scenes. All is forgiven, however, for this young director, clearly has the sensitivity to become a director whose future films we look forward to.

“AFTERSUN”
Written & Directed By: Charlotte Wells
Starring: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio & Celia Rowlson-Hall
Cinematographer: Gregory Oke
Music by: Oliver Coates
Edited by: Blair McClendon
Music: Oliver Coates
Language: English (United Kingdom)
Running time: 102 Minutes
Rated R
Check your local theatre listings and JustWatch

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