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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 17.Nov.19

Adonis   aka: Thirty Years of Adonis
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir-scr-prd Scud
with Adonis He, Susan Shaw, Nora Miao, Amanda Lee, Ting Yu Sheng, Cici Lee, Eric East, Jerry Hoh, Justin Lim, Katashi, Daniel Benjamin, Alan Tang
release HK 27.Nov.17,
US/UK 20.Nov.19
17/China 1h30

he and friends
Opening with a group of naked young men walking through a bamboo forest, this strikingly visual drama from Hong Kong is far too fragmented to properly engage with the audience, but its experimental rhythms are darkly intriguing. It may carry the strong whiff of pretension, but Scud (aka Danny Cheng Wan-cheung) is also an inventive filmmaker, capturing inventive imagery on-screen to create a vividly experimental vibe that's impossible to predict.
Unpaid for six months, Beijing Opera performer Yang Ke (He) is struggling to find work as he approaches his 30th birthday. And everyone he approaches for a job wants him naked, beginning with two photographers who get him to pose naked in the street then steal his clothes. And an "arthouse" movie he makes turns out to be an underground porn, with a harrowing climax that hideously initiates as a sex worker. Through all of this, he's guided by his manager (Lim) into increasingly soul-destroying work, as happy memories of his Western boyfriend (Benjamin) fade.
The story unfolds in out-of-sequence fragments, with flashbacks edited in amongst scenes from Yang Ke's career as a naked performer in a variety of settings, leading to a nightmarish encounter with a smirking client (East). This film is certainly never shy about nudity, as Scud has his fit young cast dancing, posing, running in the streets, doing pretty much everything without costumes. The sexual content is considerable, often pushing boundaries by using religious imagery, sex parties, bondage and ghastly violence.

There's slightly more clothing in the film's final act, allowing He to provide more insight into his character, even as the story turns surreal. He skilfully internalises Yang Ke's odyssey, which makes him an engaging character to follow, even if the swirling structure continually pushes us to the outside looking in. Each of the other characters feels like a fully formed person, although they never reveal much. Apart from him, only Shaw's Sister Yin emerges with any real depth in the offbeat closing sequence.

There's a driving sense of fatalism here, as Yang Ke remembers his childhood, raised by his single mother (Miao) and Yin, who predicted his future. As a story about the meaningless of free will, the film feels indulgent, especially as it deploys some heavy-handed Catholic and Buddhist imagery. And also as Scud tries so diligently to make it both artful and pornographic. But the fact that he's tackling such weighty issues in a way that's creative and provocative makes it a film worth looking out for.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 14.Nov.19

Atlantics   Atlantique
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Mati Diop
scr Mati Diop, Olivier Demangel
prd Judith Lou Levy, Eve Robin
with Mame Sane, Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traore, Nicole Sougou, Aminata Kane, Mariama Gassama, Babacar Sylla, Diankou Sembene, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, Abdou Balde
release US 15.Nov.19,
UK 29.Nov.19
19/Senegal 1h44

london film fest

This striking West African love story has both a political edge and some magical realism woven into its structure. It's shot with a skilful mix of documentary style edginess and artful impressionism, and the plot swerves in some fascinating directions that carry strong emotional resonance. There are a few points that feel slightly compromised, but French filmmaker Mati Diop beautifully captures the rhythms of life in this fascinating place.
In a suburb of Dakar, young men constructing a towering skyscraper haven't been paid for months. One of these is Souleiman (Traore), who is keeping a secret from his girlfriend Ada (Sane). She loves him, but she's promised to marry wealthy hotshot Omar (Sylla). Then Souleiman and his coworkers board a rickety boat on a risky journey to Spain. Ada is heartbroken, sullenly going through with her marriage. When her wedding bed bursts into flames, Inspector Issa (Mbow) suspects Suleiman has returned. But there's a fever running around, and bizarre things are afoot.
This film is shot in a vividly creative style. Scenes with actors are mainly filmed in close-up, putting the audience into the interaction. And Diop punctuates with languid shots of the churning ocean, as crashing waves provide a constant soundtrack. And then there's that futuristic mega-tower dwarfing the dusty coastal town sprawling around its base. Gritty and otherwordly at the same time, this is a compelling mix of real-life topicality and eerie supernatural outrageousness.

At the centre, the riveting Mane makes Ada both feisty and moody, funny and surly, clear about what she wants, even if she knows there's little hope things will work out for her. It's never clear why Omar's rich family has chosen this poor girl, but Sylla also has a steely presence as a guy who knows not to tangle with this young woman. Mbow is another standout, making Issa both sharply intelligent and oddly listless as this illness drags him down. And Ada's hilariously pushy friends offer a range of angles on the issues.

There's a sense that Diop is frightened of some of the story's implications, which makes for a few awkward plot elements. But emotions are so strong, and issues so important, that the film still digs deeply. Without preaching, this is a bracingly honest look at the growing income gap around the world, as the wealthy take advantage of the vulnerable, who take increasingly desperate actions simply to survive. So the romance at the story's centre is provocative and moving.

cert 12 themes, violence 6.Nov.19

The Racer   Coureur
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
dir-scr Kenneth Mercken
prd Eurydice Gysel, Koen Mortier
with Niels Willaerts, Koen De Graeve, Fortunato Cerlino, Nicola Rignanese, Karlijn Sileghem, Gunther Lesage, Patrick Tuerlinckx, Loic Batog, Vladislav Prigunov, Anton Petrov, Nicola Morandini, Merlijn Willems
release Bel 13.Mar.19,
UK Sep.19 rff
18/Belgium 1h36

raindance fest

willaerts and de graeve
With a thoughtful tone, this Belgian cycling drama has a notably introspective perspective, based on the firsthand experiences of writer-director Kenneth Mercken. This makes it much more unblinking than other movie biopics examining the distinct issues that surround this sport. This is a sometimes difficult film to watch. And at its core, it's a bracingly complex coming-of-age story centred around a prickly, difficult young man.
"Cycling is in your blood," says Felix (Willaerts). "You can't fight it." Indeed, he tries, as his tough-minded father Mathieu (De Graeve) pushes him relentlessly on his way to becoming Belgium's top champion. As Felix bristles against his father's edicts, he rejects a lucrative but dodgy sponsorship deal and instead joins a small team in Italy. The Italians are hard on him too, and he refuses to play by team rules. And while partying with his Russian teammates (Prigunov and Petrov), the trainer (Cerlino) puts them all on illicit hormones and blood replacement.
The film explores how passion for sport passes from father to son, stirring in some nicely textured ideas. Cinematographer Martijn van Broekhuizen shoots everything with a fly-on-the-wall intimacy, skilfully making it look almost accidental as telling details are revealed in the characters and situations. And the film never moralises in its depiction of drug abuse. Indeed, Mercken depicts the rampant use of illegal substances with documentary objectivity, leaving judgement to the viewer.

Astonishingly, Willaerts never tries to make Felix sympathetic, maintaining his stubborn mindset as a world-class athlete entitled to be the best. It's also, of course, a gruellingly physical performance, with spiky rivalry flaring between Felix and everyone around him. Because of the tight point of view, other characters are understandably more simplistic, although De Graeve gives Mathieu a vivid internal life of his own. And their scenes together have fierce energy.

Mercken uses voiceovers to get inside Felix's head, hearing both his thoughts and the words of others that echo in his head. He also intercuts flashbacks in a disarmingly seamless style. Each scene maintains an edgy realism, intercut in jarring ways that keep the approach internal rather than centred on the bigger issues. In the final act, the film begins to lose focus, just as Felix does, carrying on only because it's pointless to stop now. Again, this is a brave direction for Mercken to take, because it focusses on how it feels to discover the ugly truth about something you've given your life to.

cert 15 themes, language, drugs, violence 28.Sep.19 rff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall