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last update 25.Jun.17
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Centre of My World
3/5   Die Mitte der Welt
dir-scr Jakob M Erwa
prd Boris Schonfelder
with Louis Hofmann, Sabine Timoteo, Jannik Schumann, Ada Philine Stappenbeck, Svenja Jung, Inka Friedrich, Nina Proll, Sascha Alexander Gersak, Bendix Hansen, Sarah Fuhrer, Clemens Rehbein, Milena Cestao Kolbowski
hofmann and schumann release Ger 10.Nov.16,
US Jan.17 psff, UK 16.Jun.17
16/Germany 1h55

flare film fest
Centre of My World Sunny and colourful, this inventively written and directed German coming-of-age drama has a light touch that's thoroughly engaging. But there's also an offbeat dark undercurrent that gurgles up as the story continues, sending the characters down into rather disturbing situations. It's a bold, complex film that turns far too heavy in the end, but carries a strong punch.

Phil (Hofmann) sees himself as a normal small-town gay teen with a colourful best friend Kat (Jung), plus nonconformist mum Glass (Timoteo) and creative twin sister Dianne (Stappenbeck). But when he returns home from summer camp, everyone seems to be acting strange and a storm has smashed up the forest. There's also a hot new boy in school, Nicholas (Schumann), who seems to like Phil. But as Phil falls for him, he can't escape the nagging questions: what does Nicholas really think? Why isn't his mother speaking to Dianne? Who is their father?

Along with Phil's voiceover, the story is told in a swirl of flashbacks that gradually reveal an earlier story from this family's past, adding layers to the bonds between the mother and the twins. The mystery of their paternity hangs over their lives, augmented by Phil's questions about what Dianne is secretly up to now. Intriguingly, everyone around him is unapologetic about who they are and what they are up to, and it seems like only Phil is willing to be truly open. But of course we are seeing everything through his eyes.

Performances have an easy, natural quality that gives the film an earthy sensibility. Hofmann and Schumann nicely underplay the blossoming relationship between Phil and Nicholas, including some realistically intimate physicality. Meanwhile, Jung and Stappenbeck add plenty of spark, stirring things up with attitude and elusiveness, respectively. And Timoteo is fascinating as a free-living woman who seems to be in denial about herself and everyone else.

Writer-director Erwa takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride, shifting from youthful exuberance to romantic elation to some intensely perplexing darkness. Some of the plotting doesn't hang together (they seem to have precisely one day of school), and after the film's sensitive first two acts the bombshells feel almost nuclear. It's an intriguing reminder of the power of vulnerability and empathy. And it's a provocative comment on how life is about taking risks. We won't get anywhere if we just sit around waiting; we have to do something.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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dir Bavo Defurne
prd Yves Verbraeken
scr Bavo Defurne, Jacques Boon, Yves Verbraeken
with Isabelle Huppert, Kevin Azais, Johan Leysen, Anne Brionne, Jan Hammenecker, Carlo Ferrante, Benjamin Boutboul, Sophie Mousel, Muriel Bersy, Thomas Coumans, Denis Jousselin, Stefan Kempeneers
azais and huppert
release US Jan.17 psiff,
UK 23.Jun.17
16/Belgium Pathe 1h27

london film fest
Souvenir This gently involving Belgian drama cleverly cuts through its themes in ways that are engaging and evocative. Using a story about unexpected attraction, filmmaker Bavo Defurne is exploring the underlying ambition that drives artists to perform. And since it's anchored by yet another riveting performance from Isabelle Huppert, the film is packed with lovely touches.

Hiding her past as a singer, Liliane (Huppert) works in a pate factory and lives happily alone. So she surprises herself as she flirts with new employee Jean (Azais), an amateur boxer less than half her age. Liliane doesn't sing anymore, but Jean encourages her to return to the stage and sing at a family event, which thrills his parents (Brionne and Hammenecker). With her secret out, the press descends on her. And as she begins to get carried away by her feelings for Jean, she's tempted to follow his advice and relaunch her career.

Filmmaker Defurne has a keen visual eye for detail, with vivid sets and a warm, introspective directing style. He also draws out one of Huppert's warmest performances in years, a woman who is trying to ignore her singing past ("you're like Abba but not so famous") and just get on with her simple life. Huppert subtly reveals Liliane's inability to ignore both the attention of this young man and the temptation to get back on that stage. It certainly doesn't matter that Liliane isn't an amazing singer, because Huppert is magic.

Opposite her, Azais wins us over with his likeable puppy-dog charm, despite an appalling back tattoo and silly moustache. He may be rather dim, but his open heart is hugely appealing. As is the way he continually flings open Liliane's drapes, letting light into her dark flat. The symbolism doesn't end there, as he also encourages her to represent the nation at this year's European Song Contest, which is where she made her name three decades earlier with her ex Tony (Leysen).

The plot smartly plays with its rom-com structure, constantly shifting in surprising directions. Liliane is a woman who has forgotten that she needs applause and admiration, and Jean reminds her of that and more. There are moments of light comedy along the way, but this is essentially a serious exploration of the trickiness of discovering the right way to move forward in life, both professionally and personally. And ultimately it's a tender, sweet film that leaves us with a goofy smile on our face.

12 themes, language, sexuality

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Tom of Finland
dir Dome Karukoski
scr Aleksi Bardy
prd Aleksi Bardy, Miia Haavisto, Annika Sucksdorff
with Pekka Strang, Lauri Tilkanen, Jessica Grabowsky, Taisto Oksanen, Seumas Sargent, Jakob Oftebro, Niklas Hogner, Martin Bahne, Meri Nenonen, Manfred Boll, Haymon Maria Buttinger, Werner Daehn
Tilkanen, Grabowsky and Strang release Fin 24.Feb.17,
UK 11.Aug.17, US 12.Oct.17
17/Finland 1h55

east end film fest
Tom of Finland Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski takes an angled approach to this biopic about Touko Laaksonen, the artist who essentially created gay iconography with his hyper-masculine illustrations. The narrative shifts around in time without providing much context as it covers about 50 years, but it's beautifully shot and punctuated with powerful moments. And it nicely depicts this unassuming man who changed the world.

In the military in 1940, Tuoko (Strang) strikes up an understanding with commanding officer Heikki (Oksanen) about his homosexuality, which is criminal activity at the time. Tuoko hides his orientation from his sister Kaija (Grabowsky), even after starting a relationship with their flatmate Veli (Tilkanen). An advertising illustrator, Tuoko starts drawing sexy pictures of beefy men, signing them "Tom" and sending them to California for publication. Then two super-fans (Sargent and Oftebro) invite him to show his pictures across America. But it isn't until much later that his work is celebrated in his own country.

Beautifully photographed, the artful production design contrasts the deep-colours of Finland with the glaring sunshine of Los Angeles. And the characters echo this approach as well, setting Tuoko's stiff, hidden emotions against the far more expressive Americans. The problem is that this makes the central character difficult to identify with. Tuoko is only engaging when he lets his guard down with Veli. Otherwise, social restrictions force him to maintain an icy exterior, even with his sister.

Strang works to reveal internal emotions, adding bleak wit and wry irony that makes Tuoko likeable. Well-designed make-up helps bridge the decades in the performance, although when the ageing Tuoko begins dressing in leather like his fictional alter-ego Kake (Hogner), it's both unexplained and a little distracting. And the film's anecdotal structure makes it difficult to trace the film's key relationships, leaving Tilkanen and Grabowsky to play compelling figures who remain on the sideline.

As the movie traces the global influence of the Tom of Finland imagery, it touches on much bigger themes. There's the issue of sexism, as revealed in the exaggerated machismo of policemen, soldiers, bikers and construction workers (yes, the Village People were certainly fans). The film never quite escapes from the leather fetish world, but the fact is that Laaksonen's images have extended throughout Western society, creating the work-out culture that defines what it means to be a man just as potently as Hugh Hefner and Barbie dolls wrongly defined femininity.

18 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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Wild Awakening
2.5/5   Salvaje Despertar
dir-scr Joan Fermi Marti
prd Encarna Ramos
with Fabian Castro, Julia Hernandez, Christian Blanch, Richie Ormon, Jodri Pujol, Carlos Plaza, Raul Lopez, Alberto Salvatierra, Kilian Latorre, Jorge Gongora, Abraham Hunt, Angel Lorenzo
blanch and castro release Sp Sep.16 gff,
UK 29.May.17
16/Spain 1h33
Wild Awakening With the production values of a silly soap opera, this comical Argentine melodrama charges into its torrid premise with abandon. Assembled on a very small budget, at least the movie has its tongue set firmly in its cheek as it depicts a simplistic love triangle at an isolated horse ranch. And it has a cast of beautiful actors who keep things sizzling, even as the movie degenerates into a tepid thriller.

In rural Spain, police are investigating a murder, and their key witness is a Sharon Stone wannabe trannie (Pujol) who recounts the messy tale of handsome young Toni (Castro), whose incessant partying and random sex are causing problems on the ranch he has just inherited. His sister Emma (Hernandez) has a crush on hot stable boy Aaron (Blanch), son of homophobic foreman Ramon (Ormon). But Aaron only has eyes for Toni. Distracting Toni from all of this is the re-appearance of his ex Adri (Plaza), who wants to get back together.

With its cheesy premise, leery approach and super-fit cast, the movie feels like porn with the explicit sex edited out. Aaron leers longingly at the showering, primping Toni, whose shirtless muscle-boy pals take him out riding for an afternoon smiling and posing in the countryside before hitting the local gay bar. Then later, Toni catches Aaron grooming the horses naked in the middle of the night, as you do. And there's also a series of random practical jokes that at least remind us not to take any of this seriously.

The actors aren't bad in these undemanding roles, and they hold the interest primarily because they're either under-dressed or soon will be. Even though everyone is chasing the wrong person, the romantic entanglements never crank up even a hint of suspense. Castro has offhanded charm as the irresponsible Toni, while Hernandez gives Emma a bit of sassy edge. By contrast Blanch's closeted Aaron is basically a rent-a-hunk. Only Ormon gets any complexity, although his character is little more than a thug.

Aside from the flimsy production values and tinny score, the movie isn't that badly made. The locations look great, and the there's some lusty intrigue in the ridiculous plot. But filmmaker Marti generates very few sparks from this sexy cast. Everything is so tepid that we almost forget that a murder is coming, until the script sets up various potential culprits and victims. Still, it's so corny that it turns into a guilty pleasure.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence

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