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last update 25.Feb.18
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Dear Dad
dir Tanuj Bhramar
scr anonymous
prd Ratnakar M, Shaan Vyas
with Arvind Swamy, Himanshu Sharma, Aman Uppal, Ekavali Khanna
sharma and swamy
release Ind 6.May.16,
UK Mar.17 flare
16/India 1h35

flare film fest
Dear Dad For Western audiences, the mix of cheerful silliness and earthier realism in this Indian drama will feel somewhat jarring. But there are sharp insights along the way, as the cast and crew invert the usual coming out formula. It's an engaging road movie with a few corny sidetrips, but it grapples with some very big issues with a level of honesty that Western filmmakers should take note of.

As he prepares to return to boarding school, Shivam (Sharma) is annoyed that his dad Nitin (Swamy) wants to drive him the six or seven hours himself. He'd much rather travel with his classmates. But since his mother Nupur (Khanna) agrees, he has little choice. For most of the trip, father and son drive in silence, with Shivam utterly oblivious to the fact that his father is trying to tell him something important. So when he accidentally overhears that his dad is gay, his main concern is the breakdown of his secure family unit.

Nitin's reticence to open up about this topic is understandable, as is the complication that arises when they run into reality TV star Aditya (Uppal) along the road and offer him a lift. Other plot points aren't quite as coherent, including a convenient landslide that sees them stuck in a mountain-top hotel, or Shivam's attempt to get a gay-cure potion from a strange child guru. Plot elements like these undermine the story's momentum, but things do get back on track for an extended epilog.

Swamy is particularly good in the central role, conveying Nitin's complex personality with a likeable energy. As he talks about his life, and the fact that he hasn't admitted that he's gay until he was in his mid-40s, his internal pain is understandable, as is the hope that he can finally begin to live honestly. Sharma has a trickier role, because he has to bridge the emotional and slapstick sequences, but he's a believable surly teen who reacts as if it's all about him. And Uppal adds some enjoyable charm in his scenes.

Director Bhramar makes the most of the film's settings, catching telling details with some nice camerawork (by Mukesh G) and a clever musical score (by Karan Gour). The writer hasn't been credited, but the script's final section includes some nice surprises that push the characters forward and challenge some audience members to adjust preconceptions and prejudices. Without being preachy, it wraps the story up simply and effectively. And leaves us with something to think about.

PG themes, language
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dir-prd Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov
scr Kristina Grozeva, Decho Taralezhkov, Petar Valchanov
with Stefan Denolyubov, Margita Gosheva, Kitodar Todorov, Milko Lazarov, Mira Iskarova, Ivan Savov, Stanislav Ganchev, Decho Taralezhkov, Deyan Statulov, Dimitar Sardzhev, Georgi Stamenov, Hristofor Nedkov
Taralezhkov and Denolyubov release Bul 2.Dec.16,
US 12.Apr.17
16/Bulgaria 1h41

glory This satirical drama from Bulgaria fits well alongside other Eastern European stories of endemic corruption (such as Romania's Graduation). There's an almost Kafkaesque quality to the odyssey of a simple, honest man who gets caught up in a maze of vile bureaucratic mayhem. What this man goes through is painful to watch, mainly because it's so easy to identify with what he faces.

When railway worker Tzanko (Denolyubov) finds a bag of cash on the line, transport ministry PR boss Julia (Gosheva) kicks into action. Tzanko may be inarticulate, but Julia thinks his story will distract the public from a corruption scandal that's brewing. Everyone looks right through Tzanko, ignoring whatever he says to use him as a prop. Tired of being mistreated, he considers talking to Julia's nemesis, truth-telling journalist Kiril (Lazarov). Meanwhile, Julia doesn't want anyone to know that she's going through IVF with her extremely patient husband Valeri (Todorov).

Tzanko is a fish out of water in this media circus. His open approach to life is ridiculed behind his back, while officials portray him as a hero. Of course, he's being ruthlessly exploited by government cronies who dismiss him when he asks about his delayed paycheque or exposes that they know fuel is being stolen in vast quantities. And Julia certainly has no interest in finding the "Glory" watch she took from Tzanko, which was given to him by his father.

Denolyubov is terrific as the woolly veteran worker trying to do the right thing in a sea of sharks. The worst of the lot is Julia, and Gosheva plays her unapologetically as an ambitious woman who takes advantage of everything and everyone. She's witty and charismatic, but heartless. And as she pushes her team to increasingly vile reprisals, Julia hasn't a clue that she's as trapped in this system as Tzanko is. So it's easy to see why Todorov's Valeri is struggling to cope with her.

Even with its archly comical tone, the film feels like a rather forensic dramatisation of a system that's badly out of whack. But there's an even more potent angle here, as the filmmakers explore the chasm between the haves and have-nots, something that will resonate in any society. The reaction to Tzanko speaking the truth is horrific enough, but the people trying to silence him are so privileged that they have lost the ability to see what's actually important. And it's even more horrifying that the public buy into their lies.

12 themes, language, violence

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Jupiter’s Moon
3.5/5   Jupiter Holdja
dir Kornel Mundruczo
scr Kata Weber
prd Viola Fugen, Michel Merkt, Viktoria Petranyi, Michael Weber
with Merab Ninidze, Zsombor Jeger, Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Monika Balsai, David Yengibarian, Sandor Terhes, Akos Birkas, Peter Haumann, Farid Larbi, Mate Meszaros, Szabolcs Bede-Fazekas, Soma Boronkay
Ninidze and Jeger release Hun 8.Jun.17,
UK 5.Jan.17
17/Hungary 2h09

Jupiter's Moon With a stunning sense of surrealism, Hungarian filmmaker Kornel Mundruczo takes on one of the biggest issues in Europe: the flood of immigrants from war-torn Syria. This is bravura filmmaking, visceral and urgent, with lively characters and hyper-real situations. Its imagery is exhilarating, and the plot surges forward with a loopy energy, challenging us to hang on for the ride.

While desperately trying to make his way through Serbia into Hungary with his father (Yengibarian), 20-something Syrian refugee Aryan (Jeger) is shot by border police. But he miraculously survives and is taken to a detention camp. Immediately, the cynical Dr Stern (Ninidze) smuggles him out, because he sees a chance to profit from the fact that Aryan now has the ability to float up into the air. But camp director Laszlo (Cserhalmi) is on their trail as they try to raise money to rescue Aryan's father. And Laszlo has his own need for the cash.

This opens like a war movie, as soldiers hunt down terrified refugees with big guns blazing. Later on, the film resembles a blockbuster spy thriller with jaw-dropping chases. The title itself is ironic: Europa, one of Jupiter's 67 moons, has conditions that could sustain life. Indeed, Hungry's border region has been turned into a battleground not by immigrants but by a gung-ho military force that doesn't see these desperate people as humans. Through all of this, Mundruczo plays with perceptions, twisting scenes beyond the literal, giving the film a loose, askance energy that's infectious.

Ninidze is terrific as the mercenary humanitarian, a sardonic drunk who has clearly lost faith in the world and sees Aryan as perhaps an angel in the flesh. The plot may centre on Aryan's extraordinary odyssey, but it's Stern's surprising journey that draws the audience in with its complex ideas and offbeat touches. Opposite him, Jeger is a terrific counterpoint as a true innocent overwhelmed by what's happening but determined to reunite with his father. And he knows that he must have a purpose.

Cinematographer Marcell Rev skilfully orchestrates long, complex takes augmented by eye-catching effects and stunts that build atmosphere without distracting from characters or themes. There are several audacious sequences, often set around Aryan's flights. But the dramatic and thriller-style scenes each carry a properly pointed kick. And the messy narrative never shies away from thorny topics like terrorism, corruption or the way the media twists the truth to stoke paranoia.

15 themes, language, violence, nudity
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The Young Karl Marx
4/5   Le Jeune Karl Marx
dir Raoul Peck
scr Pascal Bonitzer, Raoul Peck
prd Robert Guediguian, Nicolas Blanc, Remi Grellety, Raoul Peck
with August Diehl, Stefan Konarske, Vicky Krieps, Hannah Steele, Olivier Gourmet, Alexander Scheer, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Michael Brandner, Ivan Franek, Peter Benedict, Niels-Bruno Schmidt, Marie Meinzenbach
konarske and diehl release Fr 27.Sep.17,
US 23.Feb.18
17/France 1h58

The Young Karl Marx Produced to a high standard, this period drama carries a strong kick in its political ideas, cleverly exploring the present-day resonance of 19th century issues. It's almost a shame that the attachment of words like communism and Marxism will limit this film's audience, because it deserves to be seen more widely.

By 1843, the Industrial Revolution has raised the need for workers' rights, so journalist Karl Marx (Diehl) challenges Prussia's corrupt ruling class. Silenced by authorities and editors, he flees to Paris with his wife Jenny (Krieps). Meanwhile in Manchester, Friederich Engels (Konarske) sees injustice in the factory owned by his father (Benedict), so teams up with worker Mary (Steele) to expose the system. They meet up in Paris, and their common worldview grows into a close friendship. Their challenge is to articulate this war between haves and have-nots and restore dignity to the average person.

The witty, astute script explores seriously textured themes relating to the virtual slavery of the working class by the elite, an issue that's once again relevant in today's expanding rich-poor divide. The film captures the youthful idealism of these smart men in their mid-20s, using philosophy to grapple with the real problems around them as they move between Berlin, Paris, Brussels and London, concerned about situations in these and the surrounding nations. But they realise that just criticising the problems isn't making anything better, so they come up with a positive solution.

Diehl brings a bright-eyed steeliness to Karl that makes him both a deep thinker and sometimes infuriatingly confident. He's also smart enough to be realistic about the precarious position he has put his family in with his radical ideas. Krieps is superb as his wife, who understands the importance of the bigger picture. Meanwhile, Konarske has a wonderfully offhanded charm as Friederich, who matter-of-factly undermines the system that sustains his family's wealth.

Director Peck keeps the film centred on characters rather than ideologies, which sometimes threaten to bog things down but are tempered with humour and lively personal interaction. The conflicts, opposition, deportation and surprising cooperations may sometimes begin to feel a little repetitive, but the issues are clearly stated, stressing the brotherhood of humanity and the urgency of creating a fairer society. The way the film remains centred on this unusual friendship makes it both important and involving. So the closing montage is both exhilarating and chilling.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality

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