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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 23.Oct.19

Burning Cane  
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
Burning Cane
dir-scr Phillip Youmans
prd Wendell Pierce, Phillip Youmans, Cassandra Youmans, Mose Mayer, Ojo Akinlana
with Wendell Pierce, Karen Kaia Livers, Dominique McClellan, Cynthia Capers, Braelyn Kelly, Emyri Crutchfield, Erika Woods
release UK Oct.19 lff,
US 25.Oct.19
19/US 1h17

london film fest

Clearly a fan of Terrence Malick, writer-director Phillip Youmans began making this drama while he was still in high school. And while the themes and characters show maturity and find some resonance, the film itself never quite comes together. Shot by Youmans himself in deep, impenetrable shadows and edited impressionistically, there are moments of beauty even as scenes drift along, just out of reach of the audience. But the tone is over-serious and rather pretentious.
In rural Louisiana, Helen (Livers) lives alone in a cane field, worried about her son Daniel (McClellan), who is drinking himself into a stupor. He's a caring dad to his son Jeremiah (Kelly), but his wife (Crutchfield) refuses to put up with him after he turns violent. Meanwhile, everyone reveres local pastor Tillman (Pierce), whose sermons become tribal call-and-response events. But when his wife finally leaves him, he too turns to the bottle. This causes a dilemma for Helen, who looks up to Pastor Tillman, but sees in him the same flaws her son has.
These ideas are very strong, and they are handled with sensitivity and even some intriguing layers of understanding. But the film is shot and edited in such a mannered way that many scenes are difficult to unpick, even though the production design repeatedly makes things obvious (such as the broken guitar on the floor of Daniel's childhood bedroom). So this is a story about people who begin life bursting with promise, then have to face up to the grim reality of growing older without realising their dreams.

This makes the young Kelly very important to the film, as he embodies that childhood innocence that the others have abandoned. And this sharp young actor conveys without dialog that Jeremiah has already figured out that an uncertain future awaits. Pierce, Livers and McClellan dive deeply into their roles, and find some strong emotional connections. But there is never even a hint of fresh air in this place, not a single moment of offhanded real-life to offer some insight.

The presence of Benh Zeitlin as an executive producer also hints at parallels to Beasts of the Southern Wild. But where that film excelled in finding visceral links with its characters and settings, this one remains visual and cerebral. There are emotional elements, but they are so dark and pointed that they can't escape from the film's dense gravity. Still, there's a sense of curiosity and ambition in Youmans' filmmaking style that marks him as one to watch.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Oct.19 lff

Give Me Liberty  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Give Me Liberty
dir-scr Mikhanovsky
prd Alice Austen
with Chris Galust, Lauren 'Lolo' Spencer, Maksim Stoyanov, Zoya Makhlina, Darya Ekamasova, James Watson, Arkady Basin, Dorothy Reynolds, Sheryl Sims-Daniels, Steve Wolski, Michelle Caspar, Josette Daniels
release US 23.Aug.19,
UK Oct.19 lff
19/US 1h50

london film fest

spencer, stoyanov and galust
This comedy has vivid characters and subject matter so strong that it becomes hugely important. But the filmmaking itself is exhausting, most notably because the script just won't stop piling chaos upon mayhem. It's definitely a case where less would have said more. But perhaps filmmaker Mikhanovsky does this deliberately, creating a series of events so overwhelming that it snaps viewers out of complacency.
In Milwaukee, Vic (Galust) drives a van that transports disabled passengers, many of whom have become friends. On this particular day, the van is commandeered by a mob of Vic's retired Russian relatives, including his grandfather (Basin), to attend an aunt's funeral. This makes clients like Tracy (Spencer) late, which puts Vic's job in jeopardy. But his boss ignores the other factors, including street protests over a police shooting and the fact that Vic must take responsibility for everything from a mattress stuck in a doorway to a broken-down wheelchair.
Each passenger is so cantankerous that Vic needs the patience of a saint. Pressured relentlessly by his boss on the radio, his mother on the phone and everyone inside and outside his van, he carries on without panicking. Over the course of this day, mini-adventures include a talent show, a hilariously botched funeral and a dangerous street riot. A few cutaways show him chatting to a disabled man (Watson) about his desire to find his passion. Of course it's clear he already has.

The mix of non-actors and professionals is seamless, creating very real, high-energy people. Galust keeps his cool, holding the audience tightly in his grasp, while Spencer who provides the movie's voice as a sharply focussed young woman who doesn't let ALS slow her down. As things get increasingly out of control, her frustration gives way to a "bring it on" sensibility that's infectious. And along with the riotously funny pensioners, Stoyanov steals every scene as a charmer who may or may not be related to the deceased.

With his documentary approach, Mikhanovsky's smoothly integrates an ensemble that transcends age, race, ability and nationality. Each is defiantly human, looking out for their own interests in a society in which passive people are ground into the dust. The comedy sometimes distracts from a deeply grim portrait of American society in which poor people must bend the rules to survive. And the utter havoc on-screen is thoroughly draining after about half an hour. But it's packed with moments of brilliance. And it leaves us with a smile.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Oct.19 lff

Ordinary Love  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Ordinary Love
dir Lisa Barros D'Sa, Glenn Leyburn
scr Owen McCafferty
prd Brian J Falconer, David Holmes, Piers Tempest
with Lesley Manville, Liam Neeson, David Wilmot, Amit Shah, Geraldine McAlinden, Melanie Clark Pullen, Lalor Roddy, Maggie Cronin, Vivien Monory, Esh Alladi, Stella McCusker, Matthew Sharpe
release US Oct.19 ciff,
UK 6.Dec.19
19/UK 1h32

london film fest

neeson and manville
Sensitive and honest, this quiet drama from Northern Ireland captures the earthy interaction between a couple as one of them goes through a round of cancer treatment. Thankfully, the film focusses on the people and their connection rather than the illness. It's a remarkably grounded, often downright matter-of-fact look at everyday life, with added detail in the writing and acting. So even if it's never revelatory, it's involving and moving.

In Belfast, Tom and Joan (Neeson and Manville) seem like just another happy couple, deeply in love and getting on with life following the accidental death of their 23-year-old daughter. Then Joan discovers a lump, which is surely nothing. But before they know what hit them, they're in the midst of aggressive chemo for breast cancer. The treatment takes a toll on them both, from the physical effects to the mental strain. At the hospital they reconnect with Peter (Wilmot), their daughter's teacher, who is being treated while his partner Steve (Shah) waits outside, terrified.
As the title suggests, the writing and directing centre on the commonality of this situation, never getting bogged down in the medical particulars. Instead, this is about people facing momentous issues as a unit. It's shot and edited in a way that's fluid and emotive, allowing the actors to deliver introspective performances that cut through plot points to explore the deeper feelings. This allows the film to be often very funny, putting darker moments into perspective.

Manville and Neeson have terrific chemistry that reflects the years they have spent together and the trauma they have been through along the way. There are moments when the lingering grief about their daughter pushes thoughts of cancer out of their minds. And their conversations are realistically earthy, snappy and sometimes tough. Their interaction with Peter and Steve adds another dimension, and both Wilmot and Shah offer subtle layers of meaning in their scenes.

With a deeply romantic, sweet and honest tone, the film explores feelings of helplessness as each person tries to make this easier for his or her partner. Peter admits wanting to stop prolonging his life with chemo so he can just do nothing with Steve. And both Tom and Joan will need to deal with their buried anger as they try to move forward. There's nothing particularly surprising in this film. In fact, it's so ordinary that it almost feels slight. But the depths of feeling linger.

cert 12 themes, language 12.Oct.19 lff

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