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last update 31.Jan.16
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Aya Arcos
3/5  
dir-scr-prd Maximilian Moll
with Cesar Augusto, Daniel Passi, Flavia Gusmao, Andre Vieira, Alexandre Mello
augusto and passi
release UK 25.Jan.16
14/Brazil 1h24
Aya Arcos This low-budget Brazilian drama has a home-made quality to it, with its echoey ambient sound and unstructured narrative. But filmmaker Maximilian Moll has a way of finding telling details with the camera, most notably the unspoken feelings in a variety of characters. And the film tackles the huge issue of HIV infection from a provocative, thoughtful angle.

In Rio, middle-aged writer Edu (Augusto) surprises himself by falling in love with 21-year-old prostitute Fabio (Passi). He understands that Fabio is a free-spirit who simply can't change his ways, so Edu accepts his job. But he struggles with the fact that Fabio refuses to use condoms or be tested for HIV. Worried for his own health, Edu has himself tested. And his deepening feelings for Fabio make it increasingly impossible for Edu to make a decision about what to do. Especially when his own friends, and Fabio's fellow rentboys, add their opinions.

Aside from Edu's journey to understanding the nature of his attraction to Fabio, there isn't much in the way of a plot. On the surface, this may seem like a film about changing attitudes to HIV. Fabio says, "If I'm sick I'm sick," while Edu sees the bigger issues, but the film refuses to be moralistic, merely portraying these two mismatched men and observing their complex, often difficult interaction. Their attitudes toward everything from sex in general to the relationship itself are at odds with each other, and yet there is real tenderness when they're together.

Both Augusto and Passi give naturalistic performances, offering an intriguing depiction of a bridge across this generational clash. Fabio is loose and life-loving, Edu is fearful and cautious. And they see something in each other that they don't have themselves. Their friends (played by uncredited actors) add intriguing angles to this relationship, as Fabio's cohorts try to draw Edu in then react badly when he rebuffs them, while Edu's friends watch with bemusement, because they know him all too well.

All of this is realistic, earthy and very rough around the edges. Some scenes feel awkwardly staged, especially when Moll tries to stir up the melodrama, but the people are authentic and their interaction bristles with genuine warmth. The cameras easily capture the characters' open physicality, especially in a scenes in which Fabio hangs out with his almost ludicrously fit and flirty fellow hookers. Edu's internal journey isn't quite enough to sustain the film's momentum, but the ideas it raises get the audience thinking.

15 themes, language, sexuality
24.Jan.16
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Holiday
4/5   Feriado
dir-scr Diego Araujo
prd Hanne-Lovise Skartveit
with Juan Manuel Arregui, Diego Andres Paredes, Manuela Merchan, Peky Andino, Jose Alvear, Irwin Ortiz, Canela Samaniego, Elena Vargas, Cristina Morrison, Sami Maigua, Rosa Maria Ramon, Alex Cisneros
paredes and arregui
release Ec 1.May.14,
US Jun.14 fff, UK 11.Jan.16
14/Ecuador 1h22

BERLIN FILM FEST
holiday Beautifully shot and edited, this darkly emotive Ecuadorian coming-of-age drama sharply captures the thoughts and feelings of its central teen character. Set during a banking crisis in 1999, writer-director Diego Araujo kind of over-eggs the film with social justice issues, but they thankfully remain mainly in the background where they belong.

Teen Juan Pablo (Arregui) travels with his mum (Vargas) to visit his Uncle Jorge and Aunt Vicky (Andino and Morrison) and his feisty cousins Maribel and Jorgito (Samaniego and Ortiz) in the Ecuadorian countryside. Between horseback rides and parties, Juan Pablo witnesses local vigilante violence, teaming up with local biker Juano (Paredes) and his godfather El Pichi (Alvear) to rescue a hapless friend who's been kidnapped by corrupt cops. Juan Pablo prefers Juano's warm, earthy family to his posh relatives. But he can't admit to anyone that he's also falling in love with him.

Through Juan Pablo's eyes, his extended family looks utterly ghastly: loud, pushy and privileged. So the way he feels like an outsider is vividly engaging, especially since his feelings are so thoroughly suppressed. This draws out more intriguing subtext in every scene and helps the film overcome some uneven plot elements. Thankfully, the hints of action thrills and political scandal never overwhelm the more involving central story of a young man gradually discovering the confidence to be himself

Performances are nicely understated, revealing the connections between the characters more through what remains unsaid than the conversations that they have. Arregui and Paredes have a strongly contrasting physicality that makes their friendship unusually intriguing, especially as it is expressed through death metal music and risky waterfall diving, quiet glances and a clear fear of being honest about how they feel. Their almost oppressive paranoia makes the central story feel rather bleak, but there's a surprising moment of honest hope in the end.

This is a powerful exploration of the violence deeply ingrained in many cultures, especially Latin ones. And it also touches on injustice between European descendants and indigenous South Americans. But more important is the story of young men who simply don't have the ability to be themselves in the face of endemic bullying and bigotry. And this gives Juan Pablo's intensely personal story a relevance that might make a difference for people who feel disenfranchised like these guys do.

15 themes, language, violence
3.Jan.16
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Rams
3.5/5   Hrútar
dir-scr Grimur Hakonarson
prd Grimar Jonsson
with Sigurdur Sigurjonsson, Theodor Juliusson, Charlotte Boving, Jon Benonysson, Gunnar Jonsson, Thorleifur Einarsson, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, Ingrid Jonsdottir, Jorundur Ragnarsson, Viktor Mar Bjarnason, Olafur Olafsson, Jenny Lara Arnorsdottir
sigurjonsson
release Ice 28.May.15,
US/UK 5.Feb.16
15/Iceland 1h33

CANNES FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Rams A pitch-black comedy about two estranged brothers, this sly Icelandic film tells its story in a matter-of-fact way without the need for very much dialog. But while there's a wry undercurrent, the overall tone of the film is surprisingly sad, as a series of intensely upsetting events conspires to thaw out these siblings' long-frozen relationship.

In rural Iceland, ageing farmer Gummi (Sigurjonsson) lovingly tends his flock of sheep, while his brother Kiddi (Juliusson) keeps to himself on the farm next door. They haven't spoken for 40 years and are fierce rivals in the local ram competition. Then Gummi notices that Kiddi's winning ram has symptoms of scrapie. And when the local vet (Boving) confirms this, the valley must slaughter its sheep and cleanse their farms for two years before they can restock. Kiddi rebels openly, while Gummi seems to comply. But they'll need to work together to get through this.

Writer-director Hakonarson tells this story with an intriguingly atmospheric style that doesn't need to use many words. Indeed, without speaking the brothers have developed an elaborate way of communicating with glances, grunts and messages carried back and forth by Kiddi's dog. Aside from vividly depicting the physical and psychological isolation, this gives the film a subtle, underlying current of emotion that cuts through the black comedy. And it also makes the bleak setting strikingly important to the story, especially as winter sets in.

Both Sigurjonsson and Juliusson give appropriately subliminal performances, using that deadpan Scandinavian lack of expression while at the same time making their thoughts, feelings, fears and frustrations very strongly felt. In the more central role, Sigurjonsson also has the tricky task of carrying the audience's sympathies, even though Gummi is inarticulate and secretive about everything he does, including his audacious defiance of authority. By comparison, Juliusson's Kiddi wears his heart on his sleeve, so no wonder he's the one who's always in trouble.

As the events progress, the script quietly layers in the brothers' history, which sketchily explains the dynamic that led them to this epic standoff. And it also allows the rams themselves to become important characters in the story, although the headbutting symbolism is a tad obvious. Thankfully, nothing else about the film is remotely pushy, and where it ends up is striking in its simplicity, as it turns the film into an ode to primal connections that are ignored at our peril.

15 themes, language, violence, brief nudity
30.Nov.15
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A War
3.5/5   Krigen
dir-scr Tobias Lindholm
prd Rene Ezra, Tomas Radoor
with Pilou Asbaek, Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim, Soren Malling, Charlotte Munck, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Christian "Krolle" Pedersen, Petrine Agger, Adam Chessa, Cecilie Elise Sondergaard, Andreas Buch Borgwardt, Martin Tamm Andersen
salim and asbaek release Den 10.Sep.15,
UK 8.Jan.16, US 8.Apr.16
15/Denmark StudioCanal 1h55

VENICE FILM FEST
a war Sharply natural, this Danish drama contrasts the life of a soldier with his family waiting for him back home. Writer-director Tobias Lindholm combines their separate experiences to tell the story with very few cinematic flourishes, so apart from the story points, it feels loose, raw and authentic. And it's in the final act that he finds something new to say.

After the sudden death of a 21-year-old soldier, Danish military commander Claus (Asbaek) is struggling to maintain morale among his troops in Afghanistan. With his colleague Najib (Salim), he reaches out to locals and takes on dangerous missions to root out the Taliban. Meanwhile back home in Denmark, Claus' wife Maria (Novotny) has her own battles with three action-packed kids (Sondergaard, Chessa and Borgwardt). Then one of Claus' battlefield decisions gets him sent home. And a decision made in the line of fire results in him being put on trial.

We've seen documentaries (most notably Restrepo) that look exactly like this, and Lindholm recreates the battlefield scenes with uncanny authenticity. It's skilfully shot verite-style to capture both military conflict and home-life scenes almost accidentally, which makes the audience voyeurs into the characters' raw, private pain. The unique aspect here is the home-and-away structure, which mimics Lindholm's A Hijacking (also starring Asbaek, Salim and Malling) before it shifts into a tense courtroom drama.

Asbaek holds the film together with his expressive intensity, a vivid depiction of a man who has to keep his emotions in check so he can do his life-or-death job. His approach is offhanded, confident and firm, nicely balanced with a measure of gallows humour. In her scenes, Novotny has a remarkable steeliness all her own as she deals with Chessa's particularly misbehaving middle son. And as Claus' colleagues, the supporting actors finally get to register strongly in the story's compelling final act.

There isn't a false moment among the cast. These people never feel like actors; their dialog seems improvised. Only the distinct plot points remind us that this is fiction. Some of these are a bit too pointed, such as the juxtaposition of Claus' cheeky children back home with Afghan kids blithely playing far too close to the line of fire and even being used by the Taliban as shields. What's much more interesting is Lindholm's refusal to casually let the good guys off for making decisions that result in casualties.

15 themes, language, violence
28.Dec.15
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