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Reviews for April 25th, 2014

Documentary Round-Up

      Desert Riders is a documentary that will shock and enrage given its subject matter: the human trafficking of young boys from Sudan, Pakistan, Mauritania and Sudan who get sold to camel farms, separate from their family and arrive at the United Arab Emirates where they're expected to work as camel jockeys. Camel racing, as it turns out, is a popular sport in the Middle East. In heart-wrenching interviews, many of those underage children recall how they were abused and how they witnessed other children dying from various causes i.e. getting trampled on by camels. Vic Sarin wisely doesn't present this issue in black-and-white: included are a variety of interviews with General Nasser Al Awadi Al Menhali, a representative of the Ministry, Ahmed Al Naboulsi, Director of the Camel Race Association, the children's parents, among others. etting to the root of the trafficking to end it completely is no easy task, so it's a testament to the director's journalistic skills that Desert Riders provides such a wide range of perspectives and thorough analysis of its complex human rights issue. Yes, in 2005, a law was passed requiring all child jockeys to be replaced by robot jockeys and for there to be reparations, but that doesn't guarantee that the law will be implemented by all Middle Eastern countries nor do the reparations eradicate the long-term trauma that the children now must suffer from. If Desert Riders doesn't make you enraged and move you to tears, you must be made out of stone. It opens at Quad Cinema via Garden Thieves Pictures.

The Girl and Death

Directed by Jos Stelling

      In post-World War II Russia, a young doctor, Nicolai (Leonid Bichevin) arrives at a hotel that also serves as a brothel. He instantly falls in love with one of the brothel's courtesans, Elise (Sylvia Hoeks), despite that the madam, Nina (Renata Litvinova), warns him against romancing her. Elise, after all, "belongs" to The Count (Dieter Hallervorden) who owns the hotel/brothel. Nicolai and Elise must keep their forbidden, steam romance on the down low or else Nicolai will get in trouble with The Count's body guard, Bruno (Maxim Kovalevski).

      At its core, The Girl and Death is an operatic love story that appeals more to the heart than to the mind. Writer/director Jos Stelling moves the film along at a leisurely pace that takes a while to grow accustomed to. Could Stelling have omitted the beginning that shows the older version of Nicolai as he's about to recall his first great love from his youth? Probably, but at the same time it doesn't take anything away from the film because the rest of the story stays in the past rather than going back and forth between past and present. Tighter editing during the second act would have kept the pace from dragging. The performance all across the board are natural and the chemistry between Nicolai and Elise can be felt on a palpable level. At times, the plot does feel paper-thin and includes dialogue that's redundant, but those are minor flaws because the film's richness and depth mostly comes from the well-nuanced performances.

      The Girl and Death's strongest elements are its exquisite production values ranging from the lavish costume designs, lighting, musical score, set design and even the hair-and-makeup all of which provide plenty of style. Perhaps one could even say that its style becomes its substance at some point durings 127-minute running time. Either way, you won't be able to take your eyes off of thescreen. If there were any justice, the film would get nominated at the end of the year for Best Costume Design and Best Cinematography.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Shadow Distribution.
Opens at Cinema Village.

The Other Woman

Directed by Nick Cassavetes


*****Full review coming soon*****

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by 20th Century Fox.
Opens nationwide.

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