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last update 11.Jun.08
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aka: April in Love
dir-scr Gérald Hustache-Mathieu
with Sophie Quinton, Miou-Miou, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Clément Sibony, Richaud Valls, Geneviève Casile, Monique Mélinand, Anna Mihalcea, Claude Duty, Frédéric Quiring, Mathilde Mignot, Milo Hustache-Mathieu
quinton and sibony release Fr 14.Jun.06,
UK 9.May.08 dvd
06/France 1h36
avril Gentle and introspective, this absorbing French drama takes a meaningful look at themes of regret and forgiveness with an unusual story that mixes religion and sexuality.

After growing up in a strict Trappist convent, the young novice Avril (Quinton) is ready to pledge her life to the order. But Sister Bernadette (Miou-Miou) quietly tells her she should spend her two-week retreat looking for the twin brother she never knew she had. Unsettled by this news, she sets off on a quest, helped by the friendly Pierre (Duvachelle), and finds her brother David (Sibony) on a beach holiday with his boyfriend (Valls). As they tentatively begin to bond, they make a few more discoveries about their past.

Writer-director Hustache-Mathieu creates a vivid tone that shifts and changes throughout the film. From the moody and dark convent, Avril's journey to the sunny seaside is complex and difficult; dropping the restraints of her oppressive childhood isn't easy. And the film unhurriedly reveals the intricacies of the characters, constantly undermining first impressions. Even the nuns are more layered than we expect, from the controlling mother superior (Casile) to Bernadette's tumultuous internal battle.

The young cast is very good, allowing their characters to blossom steadlily. Quinton uses her remarkably open face to full effect, as Avril leaves her cloistered life and discovers strong connections to what she's always been told was a big bad world. Her interaction with Duvachelle is especially vivid, as Pierre moves from being a kindly stranger to a true friend. And Sibony also gets the chance to find surprisingly levels in the previously thoughtless David.

While the story exists in a kind of nostalgic haze (it's set in 1986, but could be any time), Hustache-Mathieu builds a vivid sense of physicality between the four young people that's both sexy and innocent at the same time. Like Avril, the film feels timid and naive, and yet open to the realities she's discovering. So as the barriers between characters begin to come down, and as they begin to understand their own need for forgiveness and understanding, the film takes on an engaging emotional depth. And we identify with Avril's journey, small step by big step, from comforting ignorance into a world that's scary but fully alive.

15 themes, language, nudity
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Keillers Park
dir Susanna Edwards
scr Pia Gradvall
with Mårten Klingberg, Piotr Giro, Robert Jelinek, Karin Bergquist, Gösta Bredefeldt, Ia Langhammer, Karin Sjöberg, Tova Magnusson-Norling, Jan Holmquist, Lina Mattsson, Cayenne Odelberg, Christian Hollbrink
klingberg and giro release Swe 24.Mar.06,
US 26.Jun.07 dvd,
UK 12.May.08 dvd
06/Sweden 1h30
keillers park This Swedish melodrama clearly aims to examine sexuality in the context of an unusual relationship. But a simplistic plot and clichéd characters keep it from ever really coming together.

In Gothenburg, 40-ish civil engineer Peter (Klingberg) is arrested for killing Nassim (Giro), a man he has strong feelings for. In flashbacks we get their story: Peter had a fiancée (Bergquist) and was given control of the family business when his father (Bredefeldt) retired. But his secret sexuality emerges when he sees the overfriendly Nassim on a bus, then arranges to meet him in Keillers Park. Their affair gets quickly serious, with all sorts of ramifications for Peter's work and family.

In addition to the gay themes, this film feels like a bitter attack on the harsh realities of Swedish society, with heavy-handed police techniques, insidious homophobia at every level and even a marauding gang of disenfranchised devil worshippers. This rant-like approach gets tiresome, especially when director Edwards insists on shifting from colour to monochrome for no discernible reason. It looks great, but has no connection to the fragmented flashback structure, which is what keeps us interested as we wait to find out what actually happened in this fiery flare of a relationship.

Against the odds, Klingberg makes the naive, inarticulate Peter a rather likeable guy, while Giro camps it up gleefully as Nassim. Their chemistry is a problem, though, since they're such an unlikely couple and they fall for each other far too quickly. Still, Peter's voyage of self-discovery is at least handled with sensitivity and real emotion, especially the fallout as he starts neglecting his work and, even more severely, when his father finds out.

With this kind of honest drama, it's frustrating that the script continually resorts to contrived plot points and mopey sentimentality. The jumbled structure almost obscures the whopping holes in the story, but it never allows things to deepen into anything terribly meaningful. Every character reacts in sudden, inexplicable ways to whatever they're faced with, which leaves them disconnected and artificial. You can see what the filmmakers were trying to do, and that's admirable. But the result is badly undercooked.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Rock Haven
dir-scr David Lewis
with Sean Hoagland, Owen Alabado, Laura Jane Coles, Katheryn Hecht, Erin Daly, David Lewis, Johnny Yono
hoagland and alabado release US Nov.07 dvd,
UK 26.May.08
07/US 1h18
rock haven This is another film that bravely tackles the awkward collision of religion and sexuality. And while its heart is in the right place, the filmmaking is extremely uneven.

At 18, Brady (Hoagland) is a devout Christian who has just moved to a coastal town with his mother (Coles). While studying his Bible on the beach, he meets the sexy Clifford (Alabado), who also lives with his mother (Hecht) and decides to downplay his sexuality, because Brady isn't ready to face up to his own internal struggles yet and has a tentative girlfriend (Daly). Of course, their mutual lust boils over, and Brady will have to face his own self-loathing, as well as the righteous anger of his mother. Although the local minister (Lewis) is more understanding.

As a filmmaker, Lewis assembles the story with a gentle, slow pace that echoes Brady's gradual inner journey. But this also makes it feel like a low-budget TV movie, full of long melodramatic pauses and infused with so much naiveté that it seems like a film by and for people who have never actually thought about sexuality before. Within this, the acting feels rather stiff, especially when the cast members try to deliver some extremely corny lines of dialog. And Jack Curtis Dubowsky's bland muzak score doesn't add any energy.

That said, Lewis does manage to capture the raw natural beauty both of the Bodega Bay locations and his fit young cast members. There is definitely a spark of attraction between the central trio, and their exploratory expressions are genuinely sexy. In addition, the story addresses some extremely important themes, even if it never really gets terribly deep. The characters are all recognisably real people dealing with some pretty huge issues in their lives.

Essentially this is a 15-minute short that's been padded out with long montage sequences and random filler scenes. But amid the dodgy filmmaking (such as a silly pan away from the one sex scene) and flat acting (Lewis should have stayed behind the camera), the film does have some important things to say. If you stick with it, there's plenty in here to get you thinking.

15 themes, language, nudity
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Socket 3/5
dir-scr Sean Abley
with Derek Long, Matthew Montgomery, Alexandra Billings, Rasool J'Han, Allie Rivenbark, Sean Abley, Jay Costelo, Georgia Jean, Victor Lopez, Amy Sidney, Bridgette Wright, Staci Mallett
release US 31.Mar.08 dvd,
UK 9.Jun.08 dvd
07/US 1h33
socket An homage to David Cronenberg's more colourful movies (like Videodrome or eXistenZ), this barmy low-budget thriller shows real nerve as it plays with themes of obsession and self-control. Which also helps it overcome the stiff acting and filmmaking.

When surgeon Bill (Long) is struck by lightning, something changes inside him. One of his interns, Craig (Montgomery), notices this and invites him to a support group for people who are addicted to electrical charges. Bill's best friend (J'Han) is worried about what's happening to him, but is distracted by her high-maintenance partner (Rivenbank). Meanwhile, Bill and Craig begin a relationship that's threatened by Bill's ravenous obsession with electricity in all its forms, especially the charge he gets when he kills a homeless guy.

Yes, not only does the film touch on issues of sexuality, addiction and fetishism, but there's also a psychopathic vampire subtext in here as Bill's life spirals out of control, threatening everyone around him. But writer-director-costar Abley isn't particularly interested in offering any serious commentary on these issues; he wants to freak us out. So he deploys every method at his disposal, from wonderfully jittery editing to cranked-up sound effects. He also fills the movie with snappy dialog that helps make the characters sharp and engaging.

The actors really throw themselves into this gonzo movie, so even when they're not hugely convincing, they're still great fun to watch. Long and Montgomery are a rather amusingly underdeveloped couple. And the slightly clunky acting style actually works perfectly in a corny movie like this, playing the silliest plot turns with deadly seriousness while brushing over the more outrageous story elements as if they're things everyone has to deal with.

Meanwhile, Abley never gives up, stirring in some icky Cronenberg-style grisliness (the addicts install electric plugs in their wrists) and even some random Lynchian surrealism (such as blank-spined books, slow zooms and a moody underscore). The most refreshing thing about this film is that there's never a moment of satire or postmodernism; Abley isn't making fun of the link between humanity and technology, and he isn't commenting on the repetitive all-consuming gay subculture. He's just making a hilariously nutty horror romp.

18 themes, lanuage, sexuality
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall