Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...
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last update 31.Oct.08
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Broken Lines
dir Sallie Aprahamian
scr Dan Fredenburgh, Doraly Rosa
with Dan Fredenburgh, Doraly Rosa, Paul Bettany, Olivia Williams, Rita Tushingham, Nathan Constance, Harriet Walter, Sidney Kean, Nicholas Le Prevost, Steve Toussaint, Jay Fuller
rosa and fredeburgh release UK Oct.08 lff
08/UK Axiom 1h52

london film fest
broken lines Dark and introspective, this romantic drama develops an intriguingly creepy tone as it follows two not-always-likeable people who can't resist falling for each other, even though it causes significant pain. But it's nicely filmed and has some strong performances.

When his father dies, Jake (Fredenburgh) is sent into a personal crisis. He spends more and more time in his father's old tailor shop in North London, neglecting his fiancee Zoe (Williams) as she prepares for their wedding. He also becomes infatuated with local waitress Becca (Rosa), who returns his affection but is reluctant to go further because of her boyfriend Chester (Bettany), a tough guy who's been disabled by a stroke. Yet Jake and Becca can't stop thinking about each other.

The script, which was written workshop-style by the two stars, is an intriguing blend of subcultures, as Jake abandons his urban professional life for the Jewish traditions of his old-world father and takes a shine to this working-class woman. These lines aren't drawn with much subtlety in the script, but TV-turned-feature director Aprahamian adds texture through her visual approach, using natural lighting to bring out the grainy earthiness in each setting. This gives the film a seductive tone that highlights the emotional struggles these characters have experienced and will soon face.

Fredenburgh and Rosa are good in their roles, but they are outshone by the detailed, much more vivid performances of Bettany and Williams. Frankly, while watching the film you can't help but imagine it with the actors swapped around, and how much more involving the film would be then. Although Bettany certainly has plenty of material to chew on here, and he makes what could be a cartoonish crank into someone genuinely heartbreaking.

As for the lead roles, Fredenburgh and Rosa effectively convey the fact that these two people are vulnerable, damaged souls who need a connection, and their recklessness is the issue here, not their romance. This is a tough theme for a film to tackle, and even though it kind of stretches the story out, repeating the back-and-forth of their awkward courtship, it's still extremely interesting to see filmmakers bravely refuse to follow the formula.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
22.Oct.08 lff
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Frozen River
dir-scr Courtney Hunt
with Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, James Reilly, Michael O'Keefe, Mark Boone Junior, John Canoe, Jay Klaitz, Dylan Carusona, Craig Shilowich, Adam Lukens, Michael Sky
upham and leo
release US 1.Aug.08,
UK 17.Jul.09
08/US 1h37

london Film Fest
frozen river This film couldn't really be more timely if it tried, as it traces the length to which a fractured family is willing to go to survive financial turmoil. And each situation and relationship is beautifully rendered on screen.

In upstate New York, Ray (Leo) is struggling to cope after her husband ran off with their house-payment savings. Her sons TJ (McDermott), 15, and Ricky (Reilly), 5, don't really understand what's happened but want to help. Then Ray meets the Mohawk native Lila (Upham) and teams up to make some quick cash by driving across the frozen river to Canada and smuggling illegal immigrants back into the USA. But this is very dangerous business, and both woman will have to examine the risks they're taking.

With gently rhythmic filmmaking, Hunt carefully builds the setting to such a degree that we actually begin to understand the fragile relationship between the people of the reservation, with their own laws and culture, and the residents of New York state. It's a tricky collision of people with very different backgrounds, and in Ray and Lila the script finds a terrific central duo to explore the issues. These women are warm and steely, and they really shouldn't get along at all, let alone trust each other.

Leo gives a quietly brilliant performance as Ray, a woman pushed beyond desperation to protect her children and make some very difficult decisions. This isn't flashy acting; it's raw and earthy and powerfully involving. And she bounces wonderfully off of Upham's wonderfully sardonic, matter-of-fact Lila. Meanwhile, the various men and boys who float around them add grit and texture, as do the two men we never meet: the ones who abandoned them.

This is an intriguing edge of Western culture, where everyone seems to have a gun that they're not afraid to wave around. Hunt uses the setting to create a real sense of impending tragedy, as we spend much of the film afraid to see what's going to happen to these people next. And since we really grow to care about them, the surprising twists and turns in the final act are both powerful and haunting.

15 themes, language, violence
24.Oct.08 lff
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dir Jed Weintrob
scr Zack Ford
with Angela Bettis, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Christopher Titus, Devon Graye, Monika Mar-Lee, Ben Cotton, Brittney Wilson, Brandon Jay McLaren, Kristin Kowalski, Carey Feehan, Al Sapienza, Bill Baksa
bettis release Can Aug.07 mff,
UK 7.Nov.08
07/Canada 1h30
scar There are some intriguing ideas and narrative touches early on in this rural thriller, but all of that is abandoned as the story turns increasingly grisly. And the performances get kookier by the minute.

After years away, Joan (Bettis) returns to live with her recently widowed brother Jeff (Titus) and his teen daughter Olympia (Blanton). But this only brings back horrific memories of her own childhood, when she and her best friend were kidnapped and tortured mercilessly by a psycho mortician (Cotton). As if the flashbacks aren't enough, the killings start all over again, and now Olympia's friends are the victims. And the problem is that, with the mortician dead, it's beginning to look like Joan might be the new murderer.

Produced in 3D, but never really using the format beyond some nifty graphics, the film is heavy on style from the start, staging most scenes at night in this grim Colorado town, while flooding the flashbacks with sharp colour. This creates an eerily effective parallel structure, as we see Joan's experiences both in the past and present, knowing that her scars are far deeper than the red slash across her chin.

But just when it starts getting interesting, the filmmakers shift gears and start wallowing in the blood and guts. They also start ramping up the melodrama, and the actors reply in kind with wide-eyed, strained performances that get sillier and sillier until we think they might explode from all the overacting. And the sadistic viciousness just gets more and more explicit and gruesome, with all of it cynically aimed at women (any male victims are tortured and killed off screen).

This descent into the worst kind of torture porn leaves the film feeling both pointless and deeply annoying. Sure, fans of bloodbath cinema will probably love it, especially for the inventive, stomach-churning deaths on display (most of the budget clearly went on the gore effects). But after setting up something far more terrifying, it feels like a huge anticlimax to have the film turn into just another illogical, hammy, mindless excuse to splatter several gallons of stage blood all over the screen.

18 themes, language, extreme violence
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Wendy and Lucy
dir Kelly Reichardt
scr Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
with Michelle Williams, Wally Dalton, Will Patton, Will Oldham, John Robinson, Larry Fessenden, Ayanna Berkshire, John Breen, Holly Cundiff, Deneb Catalan, Roger D Faires, Boggs Johnson
williams release UK Oct.08 lff,
US 10.Dec.08
08/US Magnolia 1h21


london Film Fest
wendy and lucy A beautiful performance from Michelle Williams anchors this gentle examination of modern life. It's a warm, insightful film that catches us by surprise with its emotional payoff.

Wendy (Williams) has left her home in Indiana and is driving to start a new life in Alaska. Accompanied by her faithful dog Lucy, everything's going to plan until her car breaks down in a small Oregon town, where Wendy finds herself caught in a series of badly timed incidents and narrow-minded regulations. Then she loses Lucy, and her world starts to crumble. Most people are too busy being officious to help her, but tiny acts of kindness keep her hopes alive. Especially from a friendly security guard (Dalton).

This is a strikingly timely story of a young woman in desperate need of help but caught in a society more concerned with policies and rules than humanity. And the people who should help her are too busy with their own problems to notice someone in need. One telling touch is that most of the compassion Wendy receives comes from older people such as Dalton's security guard or a group of ageing hippies (led by Oldham) in the woods. This echoes the similar themes of modern alienation in Reichert's previous film Old Joy, another paean for lost depth in society.

All of the performances are raw and natural, matching Reichert's earthy filmmaking style. And in every scene Williams shines as a beaten-down but tenacious woman who just wants to live her life but keeps running into immovable walls. And her relationship with Lucy is so vivid and believable that we actually feel the pain of their separation, as if neither is whole without the other.

It's a small film, but its rather simple and linear style really does draw us in, and the pure strength of Wendy's resilient soul gives us hope for humanity. It's also an eerily accurate look at Western culture, and provocatively points a finger without ever being strident about it. Instead, Reichert keeps the focus delicately on Wendy and her odyssey, catching her inner journey in the process.

12 themes, language
22.Oct.08 lff
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall