The whole week at the Kansas City Film Festival has been a whirlwind of excitement and the final day was no exception. Eric went to the action comedy Opération Casablanca while Trey screened the anticipated The Flowers of War.
Here are their reviews of each film.
Produced by Switzerland’s Bord Cadre Films with assists from Canada and France, the mistaken-identity action comedy Opération Casablanca never quite reaches the heights of high-stakes action or downright hilarity, but it has a loose kind of charm.
Co-writer/director Laurent Nègre has fashioned a tale of a North African dishwasher working in Geneva named Saadi (Tarik Bakhari) who is thrust into the middle of a kidnapping plot that turns into something way bigger through a series of big coincidences. Partly because of his looks and partly because of bad luck, he lands right in the middle of an Islamist commando group and must find his way to safety with people on both sides of the law out to get him.
Opération Casablanca pokes fun at how illegal immigrants are villianized and stereotyped, yet its firmly rooted in the ridiculous. It works better when it sticks with Bakhari and his plight. The actor’s laid-back demeanor is key to making some of the harder-to-believe scenes work.
The film doesn’t work so good when it gets caught up in too many police drama and buddy-movie cliches, which it seems to as the movie progresses further. Certainly, Opération Casablanca starts with a shaky premise is on shakier ground as it progresses. Even when an unlikely attraction starts to develop between our hapless hero and one of his former captors (Elodie Yung), it’s just easier to shrug your shoulders and go with it because the movie is so harmless.
It is funny to see a comedy like this from Europe because many times in America we just assume that fare from overseas is artier of brainier. This isn’t always the case, though. Opération Casablanca is essentially the Swiss equivalent of something like Tower Heist – a sweet diversion that almost has something to say.
The Flowers of War
Directed by Yimou Zhang, The Flowers of War is a visually stunning story that takes place during the rape of Nanking. Zhang, who is responsible for stylized action films such as House of Flying Daggers and Hero, brings his dramatic visual style to bear on this heavy material.
John Miller (Christian Bale), a mortician and Westerner, finds himself stuck in a Catholic church, which houses a group of young school girls. This refuge does not stay quiet for long when a group of prostitutes takes up in the church’s cellar.
Miller must not only choose between his own safety and that of the women and girls, but must ultimately choose who will live and die when Japanese guards surround the church and demand the girls as spoils of war.
Zhang often balances grotesque and disturbing acts of violence with beautifully crafted shots, giving the viewer a wondrous visual irony. A perfect example comes early in the film, when a Chinese soldier saves the girls in the church by luring a group of Japanese soldiers into a fabric factory. He then blows up the entire building.
We watch as all involved are gunned down and killed, often in graphically violent ways, and then as the building blows up, the explosion sends bolts of multicolored fabric skyward, showering the surroundings with vibrant colors. Tragedy and beauty walk hand in hand in Zhang’s film.
Though it works for him early in The Flowers of War, Zhang has a tendency towards the sentimental, and this paired with the violence he shows the viewer makes these moments vulgar and repulsive in a way that alienates us from his story.
Bale’s performance is strong from the most part, but he gives two speeches towards the film’s conclusion which delve into overly sentimental drivel , and I found myself thinking, “You just saw women and children being killed in horrible ways, Miller. You can’t lather on the syrupy sweetness now.” It seems an odd tonal shift that doesn’t allow for a cohesiveness in Miller’s character.
Still this film is a visual marvel and definitely blurs the line between violence and beauty. If you can stomach strong physical and emotional violence, then The Flowers of War is worth your time.