Friday, May 31, 2013

30 Countries Parts 29 - 30 (The Unknown Woman/Esma's Secret)

The Unknown Woman (2006) Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Part 29 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Italian origin as per its listing on imdb.

Directed by the man behind the acclaimed Cinema Paradiso this Italian suspense thriller won multiple Italian Film Industry awards but failed to win me over. Irina is a Ukrainian immigrant in Italy. She has your typical back story and demonstrates the typical hard working attitude of people trying to create a better life for themselves. Only, typically, things are not that straight forward because this isn't a Dardenne Brothers picture, it is a generic Euro thriller trying to emulate Hollywood, so enter stories of prostitutes, Russian mafia, child trafficking,a plot filled with deceit and lies. But that isn't the worst part, the worst part is the cynical nature of storytelling adopted by the director, making liberal use of flashbacks to add unnecessary drama and back story, creating tension with tricks and an overbearing score.

Ksenyia Rappaport on the other hand is wonderful and deserves more success as an actress. It's a shame that she's working in a national cinema that is, in the 21st century, pretty much bereft of interesting ideas, whose major exports are charming comedies for old ladies and the worldwide Italian diaspora who want to see movies from the old country about olive groves and nonnas.

Esma's Secret (2006) Dir. Jasmila Žbanić

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Part 30 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Bosnian origin as per its listing on imdb.

In the end I chose a Bosnian movie dealing with the aftermath of Yugoslavian genocide over Lars von Trier's Breaking The Waves because it seemed easier.

Esma is a single mum, struggling to give her teenage daughter a good life, working multiple jobs. Her daughter, Sara, is noticing boys for the first time and wondering about her origins.

It's award winning Eastern European cinema with a story filled with potential but written and directed by an average talent. There's a big "reveal" which is telegraphed early on and the composition uniformly messy throughout which does nothing to add to the intended tone of repressed fear and memories of horror.

These films that deal with the horrors of the recent past are important social commentaries and reminders of things that should never be repeated but that alone does not make for a good film. I expect more from art than to be told something sad and then be told it is time to feel bad about it.


  1. I'm not sure I'll watch either of these, but I'm curious about Ksenyia Rappaport's performance. I might give The Unknown Woman a look.

  2. 2.5 isn't a don't bother rating but really should be a why bother? one. That being said if you haven't just seen 100 other films these might seem better than they did for me and the lead actresses in both films deserve their performances to be witnessed.