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last update 19.Mar.17
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The Age of Shadows
dir-scr Kim Jee-woon
prd Choi Jeong-hwa
with Song Kang-ho, Gong Yoo, Um Tae-goo, Han Ji-min, Shingo Tsurumi, Shin Sung-rok, Lee Byung-hun, Park Hee-soon, Foster Burden, Seo Yeong-ju, Choi Yu-hwa, Han Soo-yeon
um and song release Kor 7.Sep.16,
US 23.Sep.16, UK 24.Mar.17
16/Korea Warners 2h20

venice film fest
The Age of Shadows Based on real people and situations, this fictionalised thriller is a riveting cat-and-mouse chase between the occupying police force and the resistance movement. The setting will be unfamiliar to Western audiences, but it resonates strongly on a variety of levels. It's also a great-looking film, stylishly produced with an attention to detail. And the cast is terrific.

In the late 1920s, as Japan solidifies its occupation of Korea, police captain Jung-Chool (Song) is horrified by the death of an old friend who had been in the resistance with him years ago in China. But Jung-Chool's Japanese superior Higashi (Tsurumi) wants to crack down on the resistance now, assigning Lee a new sidekick in the wild-eyed Hashimoto (Um). Off they go to Shanghai, chasing resistance leader Woo-Jin (Gong), who unexpectedly befriends Jung-Chool. And as a major explosive operation unfolds, the problem is that Jung-Chool is no longer sure which side he's on.

Filmmaker Kim stages this as a noir Hollywood epic packed with shady characters. Although the presence of the snarling Hashimoto, lit to maximise Um's piercing eyes and razor-like cheekbones, makes it clear who we should be rooting for. Kim also takes time ro build set-pieces patiently, then holds off each violent frenzy until the moment when the tension can't hold out any more. So each chase scene or confrontation explodes with energy. And it's made even more gripping by the complex, layered performances from the cast.

Song is excellent as the reluctant hero. He gives Jung-Chool an empathetic weariness as a man who wants to lay low but ends up at the centre of the fight. His interaction with Gong is terrific, drawing out deep camaraderie and respect along with flickers of doubt. Tsurumi is quietly impressive as the true baddie, Jung-Chool's puppet-master Japanese boss, but it's Um's obsessive henchman who steals the show. Annoyingly, Han is wasted in the only female role, central to the story but sidelined by the script.

The film is a clever mix of classic movie elements from both Eastern and Western cinema, including chase scenes, shoot outs and an extended climactic sequence on a train. It's sumptuously produced and expertly staged, and yet the episodic structure kind of undermines the story's overall momentum. What holds it together is the journey Jung-Chool takes from rebel to collaborator to a man who simply has no choice but to do what he knows to be right. His story is strongly compelling, and very timely.

15 themes, language, violence
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3/5   Como una Novia sin Sexo
dir Lucas Santa Ana
prd Alberto Masliah
scr Lucas Santa Ana, Diego Mina
with Javier De Pietro, Agustin Pardella, Marcos Ribas, Luana Pascual, Alberto Masliah, Lucas Santa Ana, Ivan Masliah
ribas and de pietro
release Arg 10.Nov.16,
US/UK 27.Feb.17
16/Argentina 1h33
bromance Sunny and infused with youthful energy, this Argentine drama explores issues of friendship and sexuality. It's a clever mix of naturalistic settings and social pressures, as a secret crush and an outsider throw three childhood friends out of balance. The pace wobbles as the melodrama gets out of control, and filmmaker Lucas Santa Ana shies away from his central theme, but he touches on some important issues.

As they think about getting serious about their adult lives, Daniel, Adrian and Santiago (De Pietro, Pardella and Ribas) take a camping trip to the beach in 1996. In a tent nearby is Julieta (Pascual), who sparks some interest from the guys, as Santiago and Adrian begin competing for her attention. But there's also a moment of attraction between Daniel and Santiago that gets both of them wondering what might happen. And eventually it's Julieta who has to confront all three of them about their repressed feelings.

Director Santa Ana weaves in Daniel's video-camera footage to add a strong autobiographical tone. And it's smartly written and edited to find telling moments between the characters. Their boyish camaraderie is loose and realistic, funny with an edge to it that hints at their deeper friendship. Where this goes is earthy and emotional, with an underlying intensity that keeps things interesting. Who will end up with whom? Will the guys' friendship survive?

The four actors have an easy physicality that feels unrehearsed and honest. De Pietro has the more internalised role as he explores David's unspoken attraction to Santiago. And Ribas reciprocates with an intriguing hesitancy as a guy who has mastered how to play the straight jerk in a macho society. Meanwhile, Pardella brings an easy openness to the perpetually left-out Adrian, and Pascual revels in her provocative interloper role. The spiralling connections between these characters are clever and vivid.

Yet for a film touching on issues of masculinity and longing, Santa Ana's direction is annoyingly prudish, only reluctantly revealing the story through a strict straight worldview (sex is a hetero act, gays merely kiss). This leaves any point somewhat dulled. Seeing things more truthfully through Daniel's eyes would have added the kick of electricity that's lacking. The film's original title hints at some extra layers, namely how a good male friend is "like a girlfriend without the sex". This is rather more profound than the idea of a bromance, especially when blurred sexuality is involved.

15 themes, language, sexuality

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A Little Lust
3/5   Né Giulietta, né Romeo
dir Veronica Pivetti
scr Giovanna Gra
prd Emanuele Faticoni
with Andrea Amato, Carolina Pavone, Francesco De Miranda, Veronica Pivetti, Pia Engleberth, Corrado Invernizzi, Riccardo Alemanni, Lorenzo Fusconi, Roberta Cartocci, Filippo Dini, Carlina Torta, Sara Sartini
amato pavone release It 19.Nov.15,
UK 13.Mar.17
15/Italy 1h44
A Little Lust Serious issues rattle around in this breezy Italian comedy, which plays with concepts of identity as its enjoyably farcical plot rambles on. The approach is sometimes uneven, but the film has important things to say about issues surrounding sexuality, even for people who consider themselves open-minded.

In Rome, teen Rocco (Amato) is annoyed that his favourite singer has quit his band because the paparazzi outed him, so he and his pals Maria and Mauri (Pavone and De Miranda) decide to go to his last concert. After an incident at school involving a hot new boy (Fusconi) and the class bully (Alemanni), Rocco nervously comes out to his divorced parents, but frazzled mother and womanising father (Pivetti and Invernizzi) react badly. So Rocco, Maria and Mauri embark on a crazy plan to attend the concert.

With its nutty narrative, film takes a refreshingly offhanded approach to its big themes, starting from the position that tolerance is the normal way to behave, so bigotry is the perversion. Rocco's parents are liberal and educated, so can understand him intellectually if not emotionally. No wonder he is enraged when they suggest it's just a phase then refuse to let him work this out himself. The film's jagged dialog is funny and provocative, cutting through to reveal the characters' inner lives.

The actors are lively and natural, with that usual heightened emotionality Italians generally display on-screen, reacting strongly to everything that's said. But they're likeable and easy to sympathise with. Amato is especially engaging at the centre of the story, a young man trying to make sense of what he already knows about himself, especially as he faces unexpected reactions from those he loves. But the real stars of the film are Pivetti and Engleberth (as his sassy grandmother), who liven things up as they chase the three kids through the night.

As it spirals into a madcap road movie, the deeper themes cleverly take root. There are plenty of silly comedy moments, some of which are a bit ridiculous. And underneath the edgier generational clashes ("How can I talk if you keep yelling?") is a lovely depiction of free-spirited youthful confidence flying in the face of parents who cause the very rebellion they're so angry about. In the end, it might be a bit too silly to properly resonate, and the approach to sex feels oddly simplistic. But it makes some clever, salient points along the way.

15 themes, language, violence, innuendo
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You’ll Never Be Alone
4/5   Nunca Vas a Estar Solo
dir-scr Alex Anwandter
prd Isabel Orellana Guarello
with Sergio Hernandez, Andrew Bargsted, Jaime Leiva, Astrid Roldan, Antonia Zegers, Benjamin Westfall, Edgardo Bruna, Gabriela Hernandez, Octavio Navarrete, Eduardo Vargas, Felix Navarrete, Ulises Aburto
hernandez and bargsted
release Chl 10.Nov.16,
UK 13.Mar.17
16/Chile 1h21

You'll Never Be Alone Based on a true story, this pungent Chilean drama has a slice-of-life quality as it follows realistic people through everyday experiences that take a sharp turn. Shot with visceral authenticity, the film depicts some events that are very hard to watch. But it's darkly moving, with a deep sense of urgency.

In Santiago, Pablo (Bargsted) is a gay 18-year-old who moonlights as a glamorous drag queen. He lives with his father Juan (Hernandez) and hangs out with either best pal Mari (Roldan) or closeted boyfriend Felix (Leiva). Then one day he's stalked and viciously beaten nearly to death by Felix's friends. In the wake of this, Juan struggles to cope emotionally, then is faced with enormous hospital bills that aren't covered by his insurance. He also struggles to find sympathy from the cops, his boss (Bruna) or even the surgeon (Zegers) who saved his son's life.

This is an earthy and truthful exploration of a society in which violent machismo is considered a virtue. The local homophobes call Pablo "the girl" and feel entitled to beat him up. These grim attitudes add a growing undercurrent of tension to what starts out as a light-hearted story. But Juan's mannequin factory adds a ghostly eeriness that sharpens the experience of watching the film. And the glaring fact is that Pablo's life should never have been tainted with this kind of horrific brutality. No one's should.

All of the actors deliver off-handed, naturalistic performances that almost make the audience feel like voyeurs. Emotions are under the surface, but only barely. The complexity of Juan's odyssey is powerful; Hernandez plays him as a quietly straightforward man who cares far more deeply than he lets on. His scenes with Zegers are simple and powerful. And as Juan's eyes are opened to his own culture, his journey takes on a shocking resonance.

By showing these event on-screen with unflinching honesty, filmmaker Anwandter reveals the vile cowardice of people to make these kinds of attacks. Even more, he takes the audience down a rabbit hole of intolerance and prejudice, including overt abuse, systemic injustice and the insidious things we brush off every day. It's all rather intense, but the film is so artfully assembled that it can't help but shake us to the core. In this sense, it's essential viewing.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall