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last update 5.Jun.17
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Berlin Syndrome
dir Cate Shortland
scr Shaun Grant
prd Polly Staniford
with Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich, Emma Bading, Lucie Aron, Thuso Lekwape, Lara Marie Muller, Viktor Baschmakov, Mascha Wolf, Nassim Avat, Elmira Bahrami, Christoph Franken
reimelt and palmer release Aus 20.Apr.17,
US 26.May.17, UK 9.Jun.17
17/Australia 1h56

Berlin Syndrome The premise of this unsettling drama is very clever indeed; think of it as an Australian Taken without the vengeful daddy figure. Instead, it takes an internalised approach to a nightmare scenario for a young single woman abroad. The plot doesn't quite hold water, but it's a riveting little thriller that gets both sexy and gruesome along the way.

After quitting her job in Brisbane to see the world, photojournalist Clare (Palmer) is visiting Berlin when she meets hot English teacher Andi (Riemelt). She decides to get to know him, but on the first morning she wakes up in his flat she discovers she's locked in. Clearly a simple mistake, right? Well, it soon becomes obvious that Andi has decided to keep her against her will, insisting on maintaining the charade that they're a couple. Meanwhile, his father (Habich) isn't well, and he has also locked eyes on a young student (Bading) at work.

The film is beautifully shot by Germain McMicking, and director Shortland keeps it visually sensual. Although she slackens the intensity by continually cutting back and forth between Clare and Andi, neglecting to establish a point of view that might have added a layer of emotion to the situation. Still, it's fraught with creepy tension and some outright nastiness as this obsessive nightmare progresses through a series of carefully plotted events.

Palmer gives a superbly sympathetic performance as a young woman who is falling for this gorgeous man when, in a kind of inverse Stockholm Syndrome, she discovers the nutcase he really is. There's a sense that Andi breaks Clare down, generating some true affection, although Palmer continually reveals that this is a trick to get him to lower his guard. Meanwhile, Reimelt is terrific as the conflicted sociopath who might be a serial killer, or perhaps he's just reacting with thoughtless criminality to a bad break-up.

Alas, the screenplay isn't complex enough to play with either of these ideas. Clare doesn't really fall for Andi, and he's not textured enough to be a good guy doing terrible things. Instead, the movie merely devolves into a traditional suspense thriller, but at least it keeps its intimate approach. There are some final twists and turns that are somewhat nonsensical, but Shortland creates such a freaky atmosphere that by then we're feeling just as trapped as Clare is, looking for a way to get her out of there.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk
dir Eric Stoltz
scr Tony DuShane
prd Kenneth Hughes
with Sasha Feldman, Paul Adelstein, Tara Summers, Rob Giles, Reed Diamond, Charlie Buhler, Nicholas Harsin, Lauren Lakis, Kit DeZolt, Kenneth Hughes, Rod McLachlan, Tegan West
harsin and feldman release US 12.May.17
17/US 1h38
Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk With bright visuals that give it a strongly satirical tone, this pitch-black comedy follows a teen trying to make sense of his physical urges in the context of his upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness. With his feature directing debut, Eric Stolz creates an engaging cycle of humour and drama, playing with situations that seem farcical but which have deeper resonance. And what emerges is a gentle dawning of understanding.

As a straight-laced 16-year-old in 1983 Oakland, Gabe (Feldman) is a favourite of Brother Miller (Diamond) but secretly thinks his church's harsh prohibitions on sex are counterintuitive to his burgeoning adolescence. He has a crush on Jasmine (Buhler), and turns to his drunken-musician uncle Jeff (Giles) for advice, unable to talk to his hyper-religious dad (Adelstein) or his best pal Peter (Harsin) about these things. Then after innocently attending a party, Gabe is cruelly "dis-fellowshipped" by the elders, which only helps him see the world and his own humanity from a more balanced perspective.

Being centred on a pubescent boy, the film is naturally obsessed with sex. But it also touches on religious people who present a wholesome front while hiding transgressions from anger issues to alcoholism. It's a clever way to highlight the dilemma for teens who see this contradiction, because all they can think about is getting married so they can have "lots of sex" with their wives. Screenwriter DuShane (adapting his autobiographical novel) clearly knows what he's writing about, and has a great time pulling at these threads.

The actors never letting these people turn into caricatures, which is quite a feat since the adults are rather outrageous types. But they always feel complex and truthful, offering commentary on the stereotypes rather than reinforcing them. And the teens are realistic too. Feldman is a likeable protagonist, effortlessly conveying Gabe's inquisitive, worried attitude, from the church activities to a day out in San Francisco with his wild cousin Karen (Lakis).

There's a lesson here about the importance of learning to look at your experience from the outside. Gabe knows he's not guilty, no matter what the elders say. And he sees their overreach as they declare Peter apostate for cutting his hair. There is also of course political relevance, although the ideas sit lightly within a story that feels organic and nostalgic. So while the movie's pace may feel a bit low key, it's continually underscoring its themes with complex ideas that challenge us to think too.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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I Love You Both
dir Doug Archibald
scr Doug Archibald, Kristin Archibald
prd Doug Archibald, Ryan Finnerty, Paul Holman
with Kristin Archibald, Doug Archibald, Lucas Neff, Artemis Pebdani, Angela Trimbur, Charlene Archibald, Justin Michael Terry, Sasha Mitchell, Blayne Smith, Henry LeBlanc, Corby Sullivan, Kate Berlant
Doug, Kristin and Neff
release US 9.Jun.17
16/US 1h27
I Love You Both Warm and funny, this comedy meanders through its story about 20-something siblings trying to sort out the uncertainties of their lives. It's a gently witty film that has a nice sense of its characters, but the lugubrious tone prevents the narrative from building up much momentum. And the unstructured plot and engaging conversations actually reveal some intriguing things about this generation.

Twins Krystal and Donny (filmmakers Kristin and Doug Archibald) are feeling annoyed with their lives as a manager and piano teacher, respectively. Krystal's coworker Linda (Pebdani) wants to set her up on a date, while Donny's friends keep giving him career advice. At their birthday party, Krystal meets Andy (Neff), a cool guy who also hits it off with Donny. But as they hang out with Andy, he seems to be interested in spending alone time with each of them. So when all three go away for a weekend together, things should hopefully become clear.

As the title suggests, there's a love triangle developing here, although that's not the filmmakers' main area of interest. The movie is packed with hilariously random moments that make astute commentary on life and relationships. From parties and dates to workplace encounters and bizarre conversations with the parents, each scene is cleverly written and played. Both Krystal and Donny are so awkward and gloomy that it's easy to see why they have trouble making sense of Andy's flirtation.

As actors, the Archibalds kind of drift through their scenes like aimless millennials. Their characters are nicely complex, with a snappy sense of humour that makes them likeable. Although why Donny is always so mopey is never explained. It makes you want to slap them to wake them out of their doldrums. Neff is charming as the far too-nice guy who causes them to rethink everything. And with her stream-of-consciousness comedy chatter, the filmmakers' mother Charlene, playing herself, steals all her scenes.

The easy pacing makes the movie breeze by, generating smiles and the occasional solid laugh. But everything is kind of skipping across the surface, hinting at deeper feelings without ever tapping into subtextual themes or pushing the story to its logical conclusion. This brother and sister clearly have a connection, which they express without really talking about things. Still, this is an entertaining depiction of a generation that can't be bothered to get worked up about anything, and for whom nothing ever becomes much of an issue.

15 themes, language
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dir-scr Alex Taylor
prd Nicola Bowen, Olivier Kaempfer
with Antti Reini, Alexa Davies, Lara Peake, Lucian Charles Collier, Tallulah Haddon, Steven Elder, Jack Winthrop, Kristof Gerega, Harry Jarvis
Davies release US Mar.16 sxsw,
UK 19.May.17
16/UK BBC 1h26

london film festival
Spaceship This film has more than enough visual style to give the audience something to look at, but without a compelling story or engaging characters it simply flutters in place, never going anywhere at all. There's a loose sense of teenage yearning that infuses every scene, but these people are so undefined that they never add up to anything. And there's virtually no plot either.

In Wales, Lucidia (Davies) lives with her Finnish archaeologist dad Gabriel (Reini) after the death of her mother, which may have been suicide. With her hair dyed in rainbow colours, and an elaborate Dirrty wardrobe, Lucidia is clearly art-minded. Her friend Tegan (Peake) looks a bit like her late mum, while her blue-haired friend Alice (Haddon) has a slave (Winthrop) who follows her around. Lucidia is with cute biker boy Like (Collier) when she vanishes in a flurry of lights. Was she abducted by aliens? Or is she just hiding from her emotional struggle?

Despite the too-loose structure, the cast is very good, offering fully fledged performances. These young people feel sharply realistic, despite the over-designed sets and costumes. But they can't make up for a script that feels like it didn't exist while they were inhabiting these roles in front of the camera. Dialog is vacuous and random, full of tediously pretentious philosophical musings that are meant to sound deep but are actually inane. And scenes don't start or stop, they just circle in the air with nothing to anchor them to a narrative.

Adapting his documentary short into a full-length feature, writer-director Taylor clearly has filmmaking talent. But since he never quite clicks into the meaning of his premise, nothing is conveyed to the audience beyond the eye-catching imagery and fantastical swirliness. A climactic underground rave with make-up that glows in UV lighting looks super cool. And the camera continually captures emotive facial expressions from the actors, even if they're not linked to actual emotions.

It's a real problem that the audience is unable to care about the central mystery simply because it contains no discernible detail or resonance. And when the characters are just quirky people wandering aimlessly through a series of inexplicable scenes, it's very difficult for a viewer to stay awake. There's plenty of skill on display here, but it really needs to be channeled into a proper narrative. Even if the structure is loose, there has to be something for the audience to connect with.

15 themes, language

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