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last update 19.Apr.15
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Hidden Away
4/5   A Escondidas
dir-scr Mikel Rueda
prd Eduardo Barinaga, Fernando Diez, Karmelo Vivanco
with German Alcarazu, Adil Koukouh, Joseba Ugalde, Moussan Echarif, Ana Wagener, Alex Angulo, Eder Pastor, Mansour Zakhnini, Khalid Ghiyar, Garazi Navarro, Itziar Lazkano, Sara Cozar
alcarazu and koukouh release Sp 10.Oct.14,
UK 27.Apr.15
14/Spain 1h36

BFI Flare
Hidden Away A loose, ambiguous style makes this Spanish teen drama remarkably involving. It's a bit elusive about developing the central relationship, and much of it seems to be off-screen. But the film beautifully gets under the skin of the two central characters, teens struggling to admit that they don't fit in as expected.

In Bilbao, 14-year-old Moroccan Ibra (Koukouh) keeps getting in trouble with racist locals. After an altercation in a nightclub, Rafa (Alcarazu), also 14, makes a point of apologising to Ibra for his loutish water polo teammates. As they become tentative friends, Ibra is realising that he'd rather be in school than working with the local dealer Youssef (Echarif), who's just trying to survive. And when Ibra runs afoul of the immigration authorities, he needs a charity lawyer (Wagener) to help him. He also needs Rafa as a friend, and possibly more.

Writer-director Rueda gives the film an earthy, honest tone that reflects the attitude of a teen who doesn't want anyone to know who he really is. And these are extremely authentic kids, flexing their independence, rebelling against authority, hating their parents' attitudes and discovering things about themselves that scare them. They're also so likeable that we worry that the plot will pull them apart before they can even get started, due to Ibra's threatened immigration status and Rafa's pushy teammates.

The structure is sometimes jarring, veering back and forth from happy to tense, but the actors deliver raw, engaging performances that balance it out. Koukouh and Alcarazu are superb as young guys seeking to belong in their respective groups for company, camaraderie, physicality and purpose, even though that's not enough. They also know they don't quite measure up to expectations. Their secret friendship develops tentatively and innocently; it's a tender connection that grows closer through moments of intimacy and doubt.

All of this is beautifully shot to capture both joy and genuinely wrenching emotion. It also takes a no-nonsense approach to the racial tensions, including constant bigotry against Arabs and casual homophobia from friends and police. So it's lovely to see these two young teens find a common ground, a mutual acceptance that has previously eluded them, even if it means possible trouble with their respective communities. And it's also nice to see a film that remains truthfully gritty without losing hope.

15 themes, language, violence
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A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
4/5   En Duva Satt på an Gren och Funderade på Tillvaron
dir-scr Roy Andersson
prd Pernilla Sandstrom
with Holger Andersson, Nisse Vestblom, Charlotta Larsson, Viktor Gyllenberg, Lotti Tornros, Jonas Gerholm, Ola Stensson, Oscar Salomonsson, Roger Olsen Likvern, Mats Ryden
gyllenberg, anderson, vestblom
release Swe 14.Nov.14,
UK 24.Apr.15
14/Sweden 1h41

abu dhabi film festival
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch With a cheeky sense of humour, Swedish filmmaker Andersson explores the bizarre ways people deal with thoughts of human imperfection and mortality. It's a disarmingly silly film with dark undercurrents of deep thought, although it might be too bonkers for fans of mainstream cinema. And much of the meaning may be lost on those unfamiliar with Sweden's history.

The film is a series of seemingly disconnected narratives and random scenes. The most central figures are Jonathan and Sam (Andersson and Vestblom), morose door-to-door novelty salesmen who want to bring fun into people's lives. But sales are down and their clients can't pay their bills, causing trouble with their supplier and tension between them. Meanwhile a captain (Stensson) seems to be missing every event in his life, a dance teacher (Tornros) is rebuffed by her favourite student (Salomonsson), a barmaid (Larsson) remembers how things were 60 years ago, and a dashing 18th century king (Gyllenberg) stops at a present-day diner in his way to war.

Each element touches on how people ultimately travel through life alone, making decisions that affect their moods and the people around them. Empty interest is a recurring theme, as they repeatedly say into the phone, "I'm so glad that you're ok." And one character concludes that his life has been miserable probably because he's been so greedy and ungenerous. Another asks whether it's right to use people only for your own pleasure.

Andersson plays up the Pythonesque absurdity, inventively observing everything from askance, fixed angles that force us to find the action within the muted colour palette of each minimalist set. As a result, we find tiny details in every corner and moments of awkward energy in each performance. And even though it's essentially about fate and death, it's utterly hilarious. The actors use deadpan timing while bringing emotion into scenes that are never played for laughs but get them anyway.

The title refers to a museum display in the opening scene, and each vignette is staged as a similarly preserved view of life. With their slightly too-white faces, the people actually look dusty. They also occasionally break the fourth wall, addressing the audience as if to say, "You understand what it's like, don't you?" And indeed we do. Even though the film is utterly nuts, it captures something almost unnervingly truthful about the general chaos of being human.

15 themes, language, violence
25.Oct.14 adff
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Rigor Mortis
dir Juno Mak
scr Philip Yung, Lai-yin Leung
prd Juno Mak, Takashi Shimizu
with Chin Siu-Ho, Kara Wai, Nina Paw, Anthony 'Friend' Chan, Lo Hoi-Pang, Richard Ng, Chung Fat, Billy Lau Morris Ho, Zip Ho, Oggy Ho, Bobo Tsang
xhin release UK 24.Apr.15
13/China 1h43

london film festival
Rigor Mortis From Hong Kong, this action freak-out is fragmented and confusing, but it's also inventively stylised, packed with wit and attitude. Filmmaker Mak is playing gleefully with the usual imagery and action beats of the horror movie, so it's of course seriously violent but also a swhirl of supernatural ideas and gonzo mayhem.

Out of work and suddenly single, actor Siu-Ho (Chin) moves into a grubby concrete block of flats. "Someone famous has never come to live here before," exclaims security guard Uncle Yin (Lo). But then, Siu-Ho isn't here to live. When his suicide attempt is interrupted by Yau (Chen), Sio-Ho begins to discover the building's mythology, which revolves around vampires and ghosts. He also meets Feng (Wai), who's struggling to cope with her brutal past. And it's all about to kick off as Auntie Mui (Paw) tries to reanimate the body of her dead husband (Ng).

The script includes hilarious how-to details, from instructions on how to turn a corpse into a vampire to helpful facts such as that the undead hate glutinous rice. The neighbours takes these things as mundane daily details, although it's a rather steep learning curve for Siu-Ho. Mak fills the screen with freaky dreams and visions plus flashbacks to each resident's violent past. This is rendered with a sparing use of colour (mostly red splashes) and lots of eye-catching effects work. But the scattershot plot is an illusion: it's busy but ultimately simplistic.

Thankfully everything is underscored with a sense of humour, and the witty characters in this closed-in community offer lively roles for an up-for-it cast. Playing a version of himself, Chin makes an engaging protagonist. His scenes with the emotive Wai are surprisingly moody, and Paw also brings a sense of yearning to her role, longing to have her husband back even though he was a monster to her.

There's definitely a sense that this building is forgotten in time and space, infested with ghosts and visions of the past. So even as the script flails about, it's underscored with thoughts of immortality and the desperation of people who have fallen off the grid and are left to fend for themselves. Yes, the dead are lurking around people who are only barely alive themselves. The film is too hyperactive to say anything meaningful about these ideas, but at least Mak proves that he has a strikingly original approach.

18 themes, language, violence, nudity
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Silent Youth
dir-scr Diemo Kemmesies
prd Diemo Kemmesies, Hannes Hirsch, Albrecht Von Grunhagen
with Martin Bruchmann, Josef Mattes, Linda Schule, Mathias Neuber
bruchmann and mattes release UK 27.Apr.15
12/Germany 1h13
Silent Youth This understated German drama works its way under the skin as it explores sexuality from a realistic angle. But it does so in a low-energy way that almost swamps the honest, engaging characters and situations. Still, it's an important look at how people are conditioned to resist a spark of attraction because society has instilled within them a deep sense of fear about themselves.

Shy young Marlo (Bruchmann) arrives in Berlin to visit his friend Franzi (Schule), who's busy with her own life. Wandering around the city, Marlo meets Kirill (Mattes), a guy his own age who has just returned from Moscow, where he was attacked and beaten. Over the next few days, Marlo and Kirill hang out, each recognising a spark between them, but neither having the nerve to say anything about it. Even when they get themselves into situations involving forced intimacy, they remain awkwardly aloof, wondering if it's possible for anything to happen between them.

This is a strikingly introspective idea for a film, although the gloomy tone and underlying yearning leave some scenes feeling less than convincing. (A playful shower scene is unlikely for one obvious reason.) But writer-director Kemmesies continually catches telling, moving details, as well as the battle raging within each of these young men. Since they're both so repressed and reticent, the film consists mainly of long silences, as if the camera is as shy as the characters themselves. Which makes the movie feel somewhat indulgent.

Both Bruchmann and Schule deliver muted, natural performances that make the most of vague dialog that talks around the issues. It's fascinating to watch them as two boys clearly drawn to each other, even as they resist opening up. So they ask superficial questions and give misleading answers ("Have you ever done it with a guy?" "No, I had a girlfriend once"). But since they refuse to make any move, the attraction can't help but feel tentative, mainly because they remain so resolutely hidden.

There are glimmers of hope here and there, including a sense that they've found each other and might be able to move forward. An awkward first kiss is very sexy, even if it leaves the audience waiting for even a hint of energetic chemistry between them. But then, everything about the movie is mopey, including the rainy weather. So even if the script taps into some truths about how tricky it is to go against the flow, a bit more youthful energy would have made it a lot more engaging.

12 themes, language
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