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last update 2.Apr.08
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Boystown   3/5   Chuecatown
boystown It's difficult to get a grip on this strangely over-the-top Spanish film, which combines a ludicrously silly story with a darkly comical tone and a fairly sinister undercurrent of violence.

Chueca is the trendy, young sector of Madrid. So the estate agent Victor (Puyol) prowls the apartment buildings convincing old widows into selling their flats, so he can resell at a huge profit to affluent gay men. And if they won't sell, he's not above arranging an "accidental" death. But after one murder, neighbouring couple Leo and Rey (Nieto and Fuentes) inherit the flat and move Rey's domineering mother (Velasco) in. Which is a problem for Victor's big plan, especially as mother-and-son police detectives (Sardá and Soto) close in on him.

The film comes on very strong from the opening scene, combining pitch-black comedy with zany antics and cartoonish characters. No one seems to notice that everyone else is utterly bonkers, most notably the utterly oblivious Rey, who can't even see that his mother is out of control, sabotaging his relationship with Leo in every way imaginable. Director-cowriter Flahn really piles on the nuttiness, with lurid Almodovar-style design and rapid-fire dialog.

And the cast is up to the challenge, diving into the broad characters with abandon, even when things get rather embarrassing, and even as each character undergoes a bizarre personality shift. Soto endures the most in this sense, with his gradual transformation from dutiful son to stereotypical fetish boy. At least Nieto and Fuentes are extremely likeable; they're the film's true heart and soul, although even they get caught up in the plot's crazed mayhem.

Yes, it's all a bit much really. Especially since the film is structured like a standard whodunit, even though we know who the killer is from the opening scene. And also since the black humour never really has the nerve to tip over into something interesting, veering instead into trite clichˇs and various little fantasies. It's colourful enough to be enjoyable, but in the end the corny plot and clunky filmmaking leave us unable to engage with it on any level.

dir Juan Flahn
scr Félix Sabroso, Dunia Ayaso, Juan Flahn
with Pepón Nieto, Carlos Fuentes, Pablo Puyol, Concha Velasco, Rosa Maria Sardá, Eduard Soto, Mariola Fuentes, Pedro Garcia Veral, Joan Crosas, Montserrat Alcoverro, Angel Burgos, Margarita Calatayud
nieto, mariola fuentes and carlos fuentes
release Sp 6.Jul.07;
UK 17.Nov.08 dvd
07/Spain Filmax 1h34

London L&G Film Fest
15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
4.Mar.08 llgff
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Fashion Victims   2.5/5   Reine Geschmacksache
fashion victims Structured like a farce but played relatively straight, this offbeat German comedy has a few likeably manic characters but never quite clicks into gear.

Wolfgang (Selge) is an old-style salesman who prefers to sell quality clothing to long-term customers rather than make a quick profit with trendy, cheap fashions. So of course his chief competitor Steven (Knizka) is stealing all of his clients. After a series of run-ins with the local traffic cop, Wolfgang loses his licence and forces his son Karsten (Bartholomai) to skip his summer holiday to become his driver. Meanwhile, Wolfgang's wife (Walser) has become fed up with his stubbornness, and Karsten has fallen for Steven without knowing what he does for a living.

This playful concoction of flirtation, crossed wires and spiky characters has a bright and breezy tone and a willingness to at least acknowledge some serious issues. The problem is that it centres on the wrong character: Wolfgang is so unlikeable that it's difficult to connect with the film as a whole. His inability to follow through on anything, combined with his financial irresponsibility, thuggish homophobia, boorish yobbery and refusal to face up to the facts make him the villain of the piece. And yet he's clearly meant to be the protagonist.

As the story tips over into complete farce, complete with slamming doors and corny coincidences, we start feeling that he deserves everything he gets. Fortunately, the surrounding characters are much more engaging, mainly Karsten, who's nicely played by Bartholomai as someone we can easily identify with in his frustration and confusion--he's caught in this vortex completely unawares, and his interaction with Knizka is surprisingly sweet. Meanwhile there are plenty of lively and colourful supporting actors, with the scene-stealing role going to Hoss' battleaxe guesthouse owner.

Perhaps if the film had centred on Karsten or his mother it could have generated more sympathy. This might also have helped the filmmakers find a more consistent approach, because with such a nasty undercurrent the broad comedy isn't very funny, and the silly approach to everything from technology to sex just doesn't work without characters we can care about.

dir Ingo Rasper
scr Tom Streuber, Ingo Rasper
with Edgar Selge, Florian Bartholomai, Roman Knizka, Franziska Walser, Traute Hoss, Horst Krause, Gottfried Breitfuss, Waldemar Kobus, Joram Voelklein, Irm Hermann, Tina Recknagel, Elert Bode
selge and bartholomai
release Ger 9.Aug.07,
UK 25.Aug.08
07/Germany 1h34
15 themes, language
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My Super 8 Season   2.5/5   Ma Saison Super 8
my super 8 season Set during a turbulent political period in France, this film skips over the surface without ever really getting under the skin of the characters or setting.

It's summer 1968 in Paris, and students are looking for a cause to call their own; best friends Marc (Philippon) and Julie (Pilastre) unite a gay revolutionary committee with a radical feminist group. Julie hooks up with Stephane (Mory) and discovers she's pregnant just as he leaves, so she joins a women-only commune. Marc films everything with his Super 8 camera and lusts after Andre (Girelli). Over the next four years, these four people move in and out of each others' lives, as love, sex and politics fail to live up to expectations.

Whenever you see a character in a film with a home movie camera, you can be pretty sure the story is at least partially autobiographical, and this definitely has that vibe, with its random details (Marc is writing about gay themes in Shakespeare) and an anecdotal style that lurches here and there along the timeline. The setting and tone has a lot in common with Bertolucci's The Dreamers and Garrel's Regular Lovers, but Avellis never approaches the provocative depth of those much more difficult films.

This is more like a warm home-movie collage of memories, quiet and intimate and yet rather bewildering in the way it jumps around in the narrative. As a result, it takes a long time to establish the characters, and they remain somewhat superficial due to the relaxed, freeform structure. This also leaves the internal melodrama feeling a bit dull and uninvolving, even if there are moments that are sharply passionate and sexy.

Technically the film is intriguing to look at, stirring in occasional 8mm clips with black and white segments as the film alternates between big political sequences and smaller personal moments. But as a whole, it's too clinical and cold to grab hold. Relationships are established and broken without reason, and the problem is mainly with Avellis' deliberately amateurish-looking direction and editing, which makes the film interesting and watchable but ultimately inaccessible.

dir Alessandro Avellis
scr Alessandro Avellis, Gabriele Ferluga
with Axel Philippon, Célia Pilastre, Antoine Mory, Roman Girelli, Magali Domec, Nicolas Quilliard, Thierry Barèges, Marie Casterez, Nicolas Villena, Luisa de Martini, Gis¸le Bosc, Jean-Pierre Frankfower
philippon and girelli release Fr 15.Mar.06 dvd;
UK Mar.08 llgff
06/France 1h14

London L&G Film Fest
15 themes, language, sexuality
3.Mar.08 llgff
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Solos   4/5  
solos Singaporean filmmakers Loo and Kan more than make up for the lack of dialog in this experimental drama by investing it with a powerful sense of artistry, giving a modern spin to techniques used in classic silent movies.

The story centres on the romantic relationship between a schoolteacher (Lim) and his teen student (Loo), which seems fairly physical in nature, without much real emotional connection. The boy's mother (Goh) is not happy about this at all; even as she tries to accept the man into her family, she spies on her son and has a meltdown. Meanwhile, the boy has met a guy closer to his own age, which causes a different kind of emotional turmoil. As does the death of someone very close to one of them.

The most remarkable thing about this film is the way the filmmakers use the physicality of the characters and settings to tell a deeply personal story completely without words. To feel everything these characters feel requires slightly broad performances (albeit with expressionless faces), but each emerges as a complex, unpredictable person we can identify with. And the plot encompasses some extremely heavy events, punctuated with dreamlike cutaways that interpret the reality in almost painterly ways.

These ethereal, abstract clips are shot in lush colours, with textures ranging from thick forests to watery strangeness. And they sit in striking contrast to the bleached-out colour scheme of the characters' everyday urban life, which is cold and minimalist and dominated by random technology (such as the mother's cheeky robotic vacuum or the frequent mobile phone miscommunication). But it's also powerfully human, as the story pivots on emotional collisions between the characters, most strikingly in the wrenching, surprising climax.

The offbeat, sensual style will limit this to more adventurous filmgoers, but any audience will appreciate the gorgeous imagery, vivid colour splashes, moody ambient sound and strikingly long takes. It might not always be easy to fully understand the relationships between the characters but, through sheer filmmaking bravura, we acutely experience their interaction and catch the subtle humour along the way.

dir Loo Zihan, Kan Lume
scr Loo Zihan
with Loo Zihan, Lim Yu-Beng, Goh Guat Kian, Chiew Peishan, Katashi
lim and loo release Sin Apr.07 siff,
US Nov.07 afiff,
UK Mar.08 llgff
07/Singapore 1h09

London L&G Film Fest
15 themes, sexuality
3.Mar.08 llgff
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall