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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs, revivals and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 22.Dec.19
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Armando Praca
prd Joao Vieira Jr, Nara Aragao, Armando Praca
with Marco Nanini, Demick Lopes, Denise Weinberg, Gretta Star, Roberto Diogenes, Edneia Tutti, Felipe De Paula, Fabiano Rocha, Fabiola Liper, Layla Sah, Julior Martins, Pedro Domingues
release Br 10.Oct.19,
BERLIN FILM FEST
Earthy and understated, this gentle Brazilian film is adapted from a stage comedy, but the only humour that remains is in the ironic plotting. Otherwise, this is a sober drama about people struggling to be treated with dignity on the edge of society. The title refers to the lead character's obsession with Greta Garbo, and his realisation that perhaps, unlike his idol, he no longer wants to be alone.
In Fortaleza, 70-year-old nurse Pedro (Nanini) is trying to help his ailing trans friend Daniela (Weinberg), who's in need of a hospital bed. Refused a place in the women's ward, Pedro helps murder-suspect patient Jean (Lopes) escape from police, allowing Daniela to be handcuffed in his bed instead. But Jean is injured, and he needs Pedro to care for him, and he needs a place to hide. So he doesn't mind starting a sexual relationship while indulging in Pedro's desire to be called Greta. But as they get closer, Pedro begins to panic.
The story takes place in rather grubby sets that are lit and shot to reveal hints of beauty in some rather rough locations. Colours are deep, textures battered and worn, and the characters look like they've had very tough lives. Jean has a wife (Star), but is in need of someone who cares. Pedro prefers to keep sex anonymous in murky gay clubs. And now his only friend Daniela, who runs a brothel and uses all of her energy to perform in cabaret shows, is dying.
The low-key tone works especially well in the performances. Nanini gives Pedro a vivid internal life, a self-proclaimed loner connecting with someone against his better judgement ("You're too complicated for my taste"). Lopes brings unexpected tenderness to the tough-guy Jean, who bonds on a more openly affectionate level than Pedro can muster. And Weinberg's Daniela has several surprises up her sleeve, revealing how her friendship with Pedro is deep but still prickly.
This means that the plot feels almost irrelevant, since the interesting things unfold in these three characters' minds as they grapple with mortality, identity and connection. The intriguing inversion on the stereotype is that Pedro deflects his emotions, while Jean is more open to them. Where this goes is so subtle that it's difficult to work out what Praca is saying. Is this a story about the emptiness of being alone? Or maybe the life-altering effects of finding love in an unexpected place? Either way, it definitely gets under the skin.
Long Days Journey Into Night
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Bi Gan
prd Shan Zuolong
with Tang Wei, Huang Jue, Sylvia Chang, Lee Hong-Chi, Chen Yongzhong, Luo Feiyang, Zeng Meihuizi, Tuan Chun-hao, Bi Yanmin, Xie Lixun, Qi Xi, Ming Dow
release Chn 31.Dec.18,
US 12.Apr.19, UK 27.Dec.19
CANNES FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
Right from the opening moments, there's a languid, dreamlike ambiance to this gorgeously directed Chinese mystery. Indeed, this is an exercise in mood rather than storytelling, as writer-director Bi Gan takes a Lynchian approach to plotting, letting scenes swirl in and out of each other, never making it clear whether they are new experiences, dreams or memories. And the film's entire second half is a bravura single-take 3D trip into the protagonist's mind.
Hongwu (Huang) is struggling to get a former lover out of his mind, and the prostitutes certainly aren't helping. Full of regrets, he travels back to his hometown after his father's death, also remembering his murdered youthful partner-in-crime Wildcat (Lee) and the tantalising Qiwen (Tang), a mysterious woman in green who was living in fear of her mobster boyfriend Zuo (Chen). But Hongwu isn't quite clear whether she was real or a hallucination. So he starts looking into his past for some answers, including his plot with Qiwen to kill Zuo in a cinema.
Bi creates a sense of atmosphere that's superbly engulfing, filling scenes with subtle touches that add intrigue to a narrative that has very little pace. Scenes drift into each other out of sequence, with moody voiceovers and eye-catching visual touches like apples, red hair, broken clocks and constantly dripping water. Superficially, this is a noir detective movie, but Bi is clearly less interested in finding answers than in illuminating feelings and playing with the unknowable aspects of both the people we meet and our own fuzzy recollections.
Because of the filmmaking style, the performances come across as enigmatic and sultry. At the centre, Huang has a muted, gravelly charm that internalises Hongwu's odyssey, remaining engaging even when he's speaking off-screen or shot in blurry reflection. Opposite him, Tang has an offbeat feistiness that's muted by her complex character's inner turmoil. But then everything and everyone in this movie is muted, including expert scene-stealing side players like Chang as Wildcat's lively mother.
This is a resolutely arthouse movie that's more engaging for its intricate filmmaking than its coherent story. Bi's surreal approach echoes filmmakers like David Lynch and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, as emotions wash over the audience rather than fully connecting. The astonishingly elaborate final 59-minute take is a stunning, otherworldly climax to the hypnotic epic journey of a man delving into his past to find some hope for the future. As Hongwu observes, movies are always false, while memories mix truth and lies.
Sons of Denmark Danmarks Sønner
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Ulaa Salim
prd Daniel Muhlendorph
with Zaki Youssef, Mohammed Ismail Mohammed, Rasmus Bjerg, Imad Abul-Foul, Olaf Johannessen, Asil Mohamad Habib, Ivan Alan Ali, Morten Holst, Ozlem Saglanmak, Ali Hussein, Elliott Crosset Hove, Ari Alexander
release Den 11.Apr.19,
US May.19 siff, UK 6.Dec.19
A harrowing drama about the rise of far-right racism in Europe, this Danish film thankfully includes real-life lightness to bring the characters to vivid life before sending them into some nightmarish situations. The second half of the film is very difficult to watch, but filmmaker Ulaa Salim refuses to pull any punches, keeping the issues intense and horrific without pushing them over the top.
In Copenhagen, 19-year-old Zakaria (Mohammed) lives with his refugee mother (Habib) and little brother (Ali). As bigoted nationalist politicians take over the immigration debate, he connects with Hassan (Abul-Foul), who coordinates a response that's initially peaceful. Then Hassan's sidekick Ali (Youssef) arrives, training Zakaria to assassinate the casually racist leader (Bjerg) of the right-wing party. But it turns out that Ali is actually Malik, an undercover cop. And as the political situation gets increasingly ugly, Malik realises that his boss (Johannessen) is more concerned with chasing Muslims than stopping the true source of the violence.
Writer-director Salim uses offhanded humour in the early scenes to establish relationships outside the central storyline, so Zakaria's family life has a remarkably authentic feel to it, including his mother's concern about his new friends. Visiting desperately poor migrants and hearing a variety of stories, it's easy to understand why these people are so angry, especially since the violence in their home countries (mainly Iraq and Syria) was caused by the West.
Youssef is superb, creating a character who is complex and thoughtful, letting the audience into his inner life without being obvious about it. His alert eyes and soulful attitude make him likeable, especially as he has doubts about his job and worries about his family. He also has terrific energy when he's in scenes with the Mohammed, vivid as a sharp-but-naive young man entrapped by the system. Habib has the other strong role as a woman who has survived too much to let her son go.
Thankfully, the titular radical white supremacist group remains largely in the background, turning up masked at rallies. But their hatred fuels everything that happens as they follow Bjerg's deceptively soft-spoken politician, who carefully resists admitting that he is their leader. The way he manipulates his followers is echoed in how the police operates, tricking Muslims into prison while allowing the white monsters to proliferate. It's definitely not a pretty picture of far-right surges around the world, so instead of offering false hope, the film leaves the audience badly shaken.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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