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last update 26.Oct.10
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dir-scr Joanna Hogg
prd Gayle Griffiths
with Tom Hiddleston, Lydia Leonard, Kate Fahy, Amy Lloyd, Christopher Baker, Andrew Lawson
hiddleston and fahy release UK 4.Mar.11
10/UK 1h54

london film fest
Archipelago A gruelling exploration of middle class angst, this observant film tells its story in a minimalistic, abstract way that may be frustrating for some filmgoers. But it'll chill most audiences to the bone.

A family gathers at its usual holiday home on the Isles of Scilly. Patricia (Fahy) is happy to have her adult children Edward and Cynthia (Hiddleston and Leonard) together, and she's annoyed that her husband's work has prevented him from joining them. Clearly he's the glue in this family, because the other three have almost nothing to talk about, and they find it easier to interact with a painter neighbour (Baker) and the cook (Lloyd) who's taking care of them.

As with her previous film Unrelated, Hogg infuses the interaction with awkward pauses and telling glances that are blackly funny. The static camera work lets us explore the dynamic between the characters in aching detail as they put obstacles and space between each other. There are a lot of grim smiles and non sequitur kindnesses, and the only impassioned dialog is heard through closed doors - arguments, foul-mouthed rants, bitter observations.

In other words, this isn't a hugely easy film to watch. This isn't because of the nasty tension between these people: it's because we see ourselves so vividly in everything they do and say. Even though it's a privileged middle class family, the dynamic is all too recognisable. The key theme is that we can't pick our family members, and although we can't help but love them dearly, we don't always want to spend a week in a house with them.

The cast hit every note impeccably, underplaying scenes and delivering dialog with a hesitant, strained authenticity that makes it feel improvised. Each relationship has a specific connection, both positive and negative, and Hogg's unfussy filmmaking lets us read between the lines. Working with gifted cinematographer Ed Rutherford, she captures scenes with muted yet vivid light and colour, which beautifully echoes in the stark landscapes.

While the film essentially has no plot, and nothing really happens, it's the jagged observations that tell the story. Watching Edward squirm in the face of criticism (both overt and backhanded) about his life choices is unnervingly honest. And in the end, we realise that this impressionistic film is just as telling as the painters' canvasses.

15 themes, language
22.Oct.10 lff
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dir-scr Rikki Beadle-Blair
prd Carleen Beadle, Rikki Beadle-Blair, Diane Shorthouse
with Rikki Beadle-Blair, Lydia Toumazou, Sasha Frost, Duncan MacInnes, Ludvig Bonin, Stephen Hoo, Jay Brown, Rachel Lynes, Jennifer Daley, Davina Dewrance, Jason Maza, Michael Warburton
beadle-blair and friends
release US Jun.10 fff,
UK 5.Nov.10
10/UK 1h48

london l&g film fest
iris prize fest
fit While this film is clearly designed to challenge bigotry in society, it's so entertaining that we don't really mind being preached to. Lively characters and realistic attitudes fill the screen, making it easy to identify with.

Loris (Beadle-Blair) is the new drama and dance teacher at a fairly typical secondary school in London. And he immediately starts clamping down on bullying and intolerance that are rampant - not only the physical violence and verbal abuse, but also prejudicial language like calling an ugly shirt "gay". As he gets to know the students, he realises that all of them are dealing with these issues in intensely personal ways, and they're going to need to open up and be honest with each other if they hope to get along.

Sexuality is the main theme here, and the script perhaps overloads the story with gay characters, but also makes it clear that it's not as easy to tell a person's sexuality in the real world as it is in movies and on TV where stereotypes abound. In fact, the film is quietly dealing with both gay and straight young people who are perhaps overcompensating for their own inner confusion. But the point is that none of that matters if we allow everyone to be themselves without prejudice.

The energetic cast bring these characters to life with loads of personality. They may be a decade too old to play teens, but they nicely capture the youthful physicality. And everything from swaggering bravado to tortured soul-searching rings very true. There isn't a weak link among the actors, although perhaps the thugs are a little too intense. But then some schools are probably a lot worse than this.

By centring on the interaction between six key characters and their friends, the story touches a wide range of important issues without getting overserious. And yet the point is made loud and clear that we all have gay friends and family members, whether we know it or not, and even casual language can cause pain. And along with the lively direction and energetic music, Beadle-Blair makes it clear what kids can do to make their lives easier: to be themselves even when it seems utterly hopeless.

12 themes, violence, language
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Route Irish
dir Ken Loach
scr Paul Laverty
prd Rebecca O'Brien
with Mark Womack, Andrea Lowe, John Bishop, Trevor Williams, Jamie Michie, Stephen Lord, Talib Hamafraj, Najwa Nimri, Gary Cargill
womack release UK 18.Mar.11
10/UK 1h49

london film fest
route irish After the relative whimsy of Looking for Eric, Loach is back in angry political mode for this gritty revenge thriller set around the war in Iraq. It starts out extremely well, but gets rather overwrought in the final act.

Fergus (Womack) is a hotheaded ex-SAS officer who can't come to terms with the death of his best friend Frankie (Bishop in flashbacks), who was working in Iraq for a private contractor. Determined to get to the truth of what happened on Route Irish, the road from Baghdad airport to the Green Zone, he teams up with Frankie's widow (Lowe) and gets in touch with his old pals in Iraq. And what he discovers is a conspiracy of torture and murder that private companies seem able to get away with.

So far so good, and the film is sharply centred on the human side of the story, letting us vividly see the injustices suffered by innocent Iraqis at the hands of trigger-happy invaders. It's an approach that catches us off guard after more Western-centric war movies, and it forces us to consider who the good guys are. Or if there are any good guys.

The problems start with a series of clunky plot points that strain credibility. Fergus has always been driven by his rage, but now everyone is screaming at each other while Fergus launches a ruthless vengeance mission against one of Frankie's colleagues (Williams), who's a pretty nasty piece of work himself. This leaves us with no one we care about, even though the cast adeptly portrays these hyper-emotional people. Womack's fearsome intensity holds the film together, while Lowe is solid in a role that's more complicated role than we expect. But their friendship seems tentative at best, and a brief romantic spark never develops.

In the end the political element of the story is submerged in the carnage. Even the torture theme becomes merely another tool of vengeance in one particular gruelling scene. The script becomes increasingly obvious and heavy-handed, to the point where we're unable to engage with the characters on any level. We might be glad the film has reminded us of the human cost of this messy conflict, but they kind of get lost in the shuffle.

18 themes, language, violence
23.Oct.10 lff
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The Taqwacores
dir-prd Eyad Zahra
scr Michael Muhammad Knight, Eyad Zahra
with Bobby Naderi, Dominic Rains, Nav Mann, Volkan Eryaman, Noureen DeWulf, Ian Tran, Anne Leighton, Tony Yalda, Rasika Mathur, Denise George, John Charles Meyer, Nicholas Riley
naderi and rains release US 22.Oct.10,
UK 12.Aug.11
10/US 1h23

london film fest
The Taqwacores Set in a subculture most people would never guess exists, this entertaining comedy-drama shatters stereotypes in every scene. With so much ignorance and paranoia raging in the media, it's one of the year's most important films.

Yusef (Naderi) is a good Muslim who moves to Buffalo for university. There he moves into an Islamic flatshare, but his roommates aren't what he expects: devout Umar (Mann), punk rocker Jehangir (Rains), shirtless skater Ayyub (Eryaman), anarchic Fasiq (Tran) and burqa-wearing party girl Rabeya (DeWulf). They all gather for prayers in the living room, which doubles as a mosque. And they're getting ready to host a weekend of Taqwacores, Muslim punk musicians from a movement that started on the West Coast.

As these people mix together, it's clear that the only thing they have in common is their strong Muslim faith, which each one expresses in a different way. This of course challenges Yusef to explore his own faith. Some of them have views on sex and drugs that are far from orthodox, but Yusef finds a way to fit in and even embrace the Taqwacore scene, which like the 70s punk scene is a confrontational reaction to the establishment (think stars of David instead of swastikas).

The film has a loose, scruffy tone that skilfully draws us in. The characters are lively and likeable, and they continually defy media portrayals of Islam that are based on fear-mongering, ignorance and bald-faced lies. These are heard coming from the TV and radio, although it's doubtful that these people would be able to stomach quite this much Fox News. And even people with an understanding of the variety of Islamic thought will be surprised by the filmmaker's observations.

The movie strains to be wacky and revolutionary, but it has a strong autobiographical quality to it in that this truth is much stranger than the fiction we have been led to believe. This is a group of Muslims who don't fit in anywhere, and they're frustrated that they're lumped in with a disenfranchised subculture. So their in-fighting and disagreements are extremely plausible. As Jehangir says, "Allah is too big for my religion to be small and narrow."

15 themes, violence, sexuality, violence
26.Oct.10 lff
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