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Review – Rose (DVD)

RoseRose (2012)
Genre: Urban Drama
Producer/DirectorKemal Yildirim
Writer: Stephen Loveless
Stars: Mike Mitchell, Helen Clifford, Patrick Regis

The feature film Rose is a giant step forward for the British filmmaker, Kemal Yildirim, whose 2008 short film Rose was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. The short version was a difficult but redemptive tale based on a true story. A promising film, it was well received by several charities and proactive groups. But the latest incarnation of Rose takes the story to a whole new level.

This suspenseful, sophisticated drama stars Helen Clifford as Rose who, to quote from the film, is “a worn out hooker with a habit.” An otherwise girl next door type who also starred in the previous adaptation, Clifford manages to look godawful through most of the footage (with a little help from talented makeup artists). And totally in sync with Rose‘s stepped up production values, her performance is far more powerful and nuanced than it was in 2008.

Rose falls into deep trouble when her callous pimp, Blondie, (Mike Mitchell) gets word that she’s been taking customers on the side—“freelancing.” Blondie is handsome, wears fine suits, and imports sex slaves from southeast Europe.

Mike Mitchell, who appeared in Gladiator and Braveheart, plays this creepy kingpin to a tee. As the resident crime lord and club owner in Hellville (a metaphorical underworld with a bit of a comic strip feel), Blondie is one bad dude. If anyone crosses him, chances are they’ll get a knife at their throat (or worse) within 48 hours. It’s that bad. And Rose is trapped.

Like many of the main characters in other Yildirim films, the traumatized Rose longs for release. And her angelic young daughter, Ellie, (marvelously played by Chelsea Alcock) reminds us that tenderness, beauty and hope are always possible, even amid the worst kinds of tawdriness, violence and neglect. Rose’s love relationship with Tony (Patrick Regis) also calls to mind the importance of caring. One of my favorite scenes is when the troubled Rose, Tony and Ellie are at the beach, and Ellie is entranced by the sight of a well-to-do couple and their contented child.

Tony, himself, is a favored goon and washed up boxer who fights in backrooms for the amusement of Blondie and his jaded inner circle (these scenes reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes). But Tony is an enforcer with a conscience, and doesn’t like what he sees—especially when Blondie decides to teach Rose a hard lesson for moonlighting.

Regis’ compelling performance as the tough but puppy-eyed Tony is another nice surprise in Rose. After seeing how Blondie hurts Rose and, later, getting thrashed in another backroom brawl, Tony’s not going to kiss up to Blondie any longer. And so the film heads into its gripping climax.

No review of Rose would be complete without tipping one’s hat to actors Eileen Daly (Yondra, a retired prostitute), Lucy White (Magdelena, a statuesque heavy) and Rami Hilmi (Baldo, a mindless stooge), along with several relative unknowns who add texture and intrigue to Rose’s life story.

The impressive cast is augmented by Rose‘s innovative cinematography and minimalist soundtrack. Altogether, Yildirim creates the haunting ambiance that audiences have come to expect from his movies. But this one is different. The director’s considerable talents and influences have fused into a laser-sharp focus. And it shows.



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Review – Secrets: The Director’s Cut (DVD)

Image courtesty Knight Productions

Title: Secrets: The Director’s Cut
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Production Company: Knight Productions

Last November I reviewed Kemal Yildirim’s film, Secrets (review is here). Now, with The Director’s Cut I’ve been scratching my head over what to say. The two movies are strangely similar but somehow miles apart.

The closest analogy I can come up with is a stereo signal. Have you ever listened to a favorite song through just one stereo channel, with the other one muted? That might sound okay to most listeners. But to anyone loving that song, something’s not quite right (Try it with Sgt. Peppers and you’ll see what I mean).

Also, I’m not the same guy who wrote about Secrets last November. My perspective on life has evolved during the past three months, so my resonance with the film has likewise shifted.

This review, then, is something of a completion, sort of like the yin-yang symbol. I’ve seen both sides and, today, am coming from a different angle. You can look over my first review (here) before going any further. Otherwise, what follows probably won’t make much sense.

So… The Director’s Cut.

Well, to begin, some longer scenes are clipped for faster pacing, others are deleted. On the whole, these edits are a good move. The original film was provocative, partly because it challenged some of my cultural expectations about filmmaking. I was able to shift gears and appreciate Secrets for what it is (just as I did, for instance, with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). But, again, The Director’s Cut moves faster. And since I’m to some extent a socially conditioned creature, this works better for me.

In addition, some new scenes – and snippets of scenes – are interspersed throughout The Director’s Cut, making this revamped Secrets feel a bit more fleshed out and humane than its predecessor.

Moving toward the close, a prominent part of the first film (where characters privately confess into a video cam) is completely axed. Quite a gutsy move, and an effective one.

My November review also says I couldn’t really identify with the characters. But for some reason, I was right “in there” this time around. Did I feel for the characters more because of the extensive editing, or was it more about me and my updated outlook?

I can’t be totally sure. And that’s okay. Because both versions of Secrets are all about ambiguity. The film’s twisting storyline leaves just as many questions as answers. And its character development takes place within a tight-knit circle of increasingly confused relationships, where friends become lovers and lovers friends.

The Directors Cut‘s portrays a curious mix of merrymaking, musing and mayhem. But among this, the timeless capacity for joy and sorrow stands out crystal clear. And this might be the keystone that connects this vibrant indie film to a larger audience.


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Review – Rose (DVD)

Knight Productions

Title: Rose (2008)
Genre: Crime, Drama
Production Company: Knight Productions

There’s something about a Kemal Yildirim film. Just what it is isn’t easy to put your finger on. But it’s certainly there. In spades.

His short film Rose is based on a true story and shot, in his own words, on a “miraculous” budget. This might contribute to the film feeling something like an early performance of Shakespeare, where the key actors apparently pulled together to get the most out of their modest resources.

Over the years, Shakespeare’s troupe got bigger budgets and more elaborate staging. And from watching Rose, one would expect a similar evolution with Yildirim’s work.

Also like a Shakespearean play, Rose’s direction gazes from an almost mystical, mind’s eye. That is, Yildirim’s films can deal with the harshest of topics with unruffled focus and calm compassion. This rare perspective arguably takes Rose to a spiritual plane, even though the film deals with some of the rough and disturbing aspects of contemporary society.

The film features Helen Clifford, a pretty 20-something actor who convincingly portrays the distressed character of Rose. Rose could be your little sister, daughter or niece. She’s a “nice girl” who’s made some very bad choices, finding herself tragically hooked on junk.

To make matters worse, Rose doesn’t have a lot of money to fuel her addiction. Her struggle for inner and outer peace is brought out by Clifford’s promising performance and by a solid supporting cast. Add to that the director’s unique way of getting to the point without lapsing into sheer vulgarity, and Rose comes out a winner.

Without giving away the details, suffice it to say that the opening and closing scenes involve light—first in darkness and last, shining through a cross.

Rose is a pleasant surprise, to be sure. And for a film that deals with such difficult subject matter, that’s quite an achievement.

Extras include some extensive behind the scenes footage, a five minute promo, a photo gallery, along with trailers for additional Knight Productions.


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Review – Shades of a Killer (DVD)

Knight Productions:

Title: Shades of a Killer
Production: Knight Productions
Genre: Drama, Action, Neo-noir

Some say that if the German poet Goethe had written in English he’d be a serious contender for the crown of “Greatest Writer Ever,” which many believe Shakespeare wears in literary heaven.

Goethe’s lasting masterpiece, still talked about by scholars and art lovers today, is the tragic play Faust.

What does Faust have to do with British film maker Kemal Yildirim’s Shades of a Killer? Well, for starters, I was exploring Goethe’s imaginary world for the first time when Shades of a Killer appeared next on my list of pending reviews.

The two seemed to fall together nicely, helping to make sense of both Faust (who sells his soul to the devil but ultimately is redeemed) and Jaan, the reflective assassin played by Yildirim in the film that he also writes and directs.

Like Faust, Jaan realizes that life is largely about ethical choices. Some folks nurture love, others hate. Others try to straddle these disparate worlds by respecting their enemies. And others, represented in both the characters of Faust and Jaan, find themselves enmeshed in darkness but are always hoping to find their way back into the light.

Theologians describe this as a developmental approach to redemption (i.e. “don’t give up, you’ll get there in the end”), a dynamic portrayed in Goethe’s interplay between Mephistopheles and Faust.

Mephistopheles is the devilish character who tempts Faust and, theologically speaking, represents the idea of necessary evil. Thinkers like John Hicke (and St. Irenaeus before him) contend that, without the likes of Mephistopheles, mankind would never be compelled to choose, overcome the bad, and nurture the good. Accordingly, Mephistopheles calls himself:

Part of that force which would
Do evil evermore, and yet creates the good.†

As a sort of composite of Mephistopheles and Faust, Jaan sinks deeper and deeper into the grim complexities of violence and turf warfare, but he and his wife are forever hoping to make a clean break and start again.

This is the most encouraging aspect of the film. Another interesting aspect is that Jaan is not just a top gun but also an accomplished martial artist. In several scenes, leather clad combatants drop their weapons in favor of good, old fashioned Kung Fu kickout–scenes which, on the whole, are well choreographed.

A very intense film, to be sure. It does, however, contain moments of sincere human tenderness. While some of the secondary characters are a bit one dimensional (perhaps because the film was inspired by comic books), the main players are fully human. Indeed, the gentle and loving “we can work it out” scenes with Jaan and his wife give the story some necessary breathing space, balance and hope.

And this brings us back to the comparison with Faust, a play that runs the whole gamut from heaven to hell. Like Faust, Shades of a Killer is paradoxically realistic and hypnotic, hard hitting and dreamlike. The film’s uneasy tension – both moral and stylistic – grips our attention right up to the final scene. Without giving out a spoiler, the story ends on an ironically humorous note, revealing a directorial style reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino and other masters of film noir.


† Quoted from Walter Kaufman, Discovering the Mind: Goethe, Kant and Hegel, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980, p. 30.