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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 11.Feb.20

Les Misérables     MUST must see SEE
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5

les miserables
dir Ladj Ly
prd Toufik Ayadi, Christophe Barral
scr Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini, Alexis Manenti
with Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga, Issa Perica, Al-Hassan Ly, Steve Tientcheu, Almamy Kanoute, Raymond Lopez, Jeanne Balibar, Nizar Ben Fatma, Luciano Lopez, Jaihson Lopez
release Fr 20.Nov.19,
US 10.Jan.20, UK 24.Apr.20
19/France 1h42


bonnard, manenti and zonga
First-time feature filmmaker Ladj Ly boldly invokes Victor Hugo's classic 1862 novel with this almost unnervingly realistic present-day drama set on the edge of Paris, where Hugo lived. The film bristles with wit as it explores endemic injustice from a range of remarkably subtle perspectives, finding some very uncomfortable truths in the notoriously rough Les Bosquets neighbourhood when cops find themselves squaring off against children.
As plain-clothes officers Chris and Gwada (Manenti and Zonga) head out to patrol the area and diffuse criminal situations, they're joined by Stephane (Bonnard), who has just transferred in. They're also quickly pulled into a situation involving a missing lion cub, with the local Mayor (Tientcheu), Muslim leader (Kanoute) and mobster (Fatma) helping track down the culprit, cheeky teen Issa (Perica). Then when a confrontation spirals out of control, Chris is less concerned with finding medical help than with tracking down Buzz (Ly), a teen who piloted the drone that filmed a violent policeman's reaction.
Stephane is quickly unsettled by how Chris' brutal sarcastic mockery stirs up conflict rather than calming it. Frankly, it isn't clear what these cops' role is aside from verbally and physically intimidating the largely immigrant population of these apartment blocks. They're certainly not making the city safer; if anything they are stoking anger and frustration that's likely to erupt at any moment. So as events accelerate into what seems like it might be all-out warfare, the film tightens its grip on the audience.

This is largely because of the offhanded filmmaking and acting, weaving everyday humour into each encounter. Actors add distinct blasts of attitude to their roles: these three cops and three community leaders approach things in very different ways. Even the kids bristle with humour, passion and a desire to make things better in his or her own way. Some of the most powerful scenes involve mothers fed up with people in power trying to control their children.

The film closes with a telling quote from Hugo: "There are no bad plants or bad men; there are only bad cultivators." Ly cuts into this idea at every point, finding textures in a community created by generations of oppression and fear. It's an audacious film that ripples out to explore why people rise up to protest the abuses of those in power who have tried to keep them quiet for decades. So where this film goes is both jaw-dropping and deeply unnerving.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Dec.19

No Fathers in Kashmir  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

No Fathers in Kashmir
dir-scr-prd Ashvin Kumar
with Zara Webb, Shivam Raina, Ashvin Kumar, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Natasha Mago, Maya Sarao, Soni Razdan, Anshuman Jha, Sushil Dahiya, Thevindu Edirisinghe, Sagil Saifi, Hanan Baba
release UK 24.Jan.20
19/UK 1h48

webb and raina
Based on a range of true stories from the horrific decades-long conflict between Pakistan and India, this drama is beautifully observed, with strong characters who add personal insight into a thorny situation. Although overlong, the film highlights the complexities of the political and religious issues swirling in this region. It's also beautifully shot in sunny locations, with moments of joy, intrigue and suspense along the way.
To get closure on the disappearance of her father, British 16-year-old Noor (Webb) returns with her mother Zainab (Mago) to Kashmir, which she barely remembers from her early childhood. She's full of questions for her grandparents and her late father's best friend Arshid (played by filmmaker Kumar) about both her past and the ongoing political situation. Meanwhile, Noor befriends local teen Majid (Raina) and learns that her father didn't actually abandon the family. He was abducted by the army and probably killed. And Noor needs Majid's help to find his grave.
The film is packed with fascinating cultural details, from salty tea to walls riddled with bullet holes. There are constant ripples of violence in every corner of this society, a reality that locals struggle to accept from generation to generation. To get a death certificate, Noor's grandparents will have to admit that their son is dead, which means confirming the rampant violence and injustice of their daily life. And Arshid will have to face up to his own kidnapping and torture, and how these events continue to shake his own religious piety.

The young Webb has a strong screen presence, adding a subtle emotive reaction to events that's earthy and real, taking the audience on Noor's journey with her. She has a lively spark with the magnetic Raina, who is superb as the cheeky boy whose world is broadened as he sees it through the eyes of a girl who grew up abroad. Majid is also taken aback by, and attracted to, her easy flouting of cultural regulations. Side roles are also strong, most notably Kumar's thoughtful, morally complicated family friend.

The main body of the film centres on the journey the teens take into the mountains, revealing spectacular landscapes, dark discoveries and a thriller element in the plot. This is a skilful depiction of the entangled complexity of this region, explored through the eyes of characters who are easy to identify with. The voracious dogs and bears are frightening, but it's the cruelty of men that's most unsettling. Thankfully, Kumar makes a point of finding hope even in a desperate situation.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 16.Jan.20

Orpheus’ Song  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Orpheus' Song
dir-scr-prd Tor Iben
with Sascha Weingarten, Julien Lickert, Henry Morales, Kristina Kostiv, Murat Dikenci, Wolfgang Reeb, Flamur Aljiji, Jasper Joseph, Astrid Kohrs, Thomas Wiesenberg, Yonatan Berman, Stefanie Alder
release US Jun.19 ohnff,
UK 10.Feb.20
19/Germany 1h22

weingarten and lickert
Low-key and observational, this quietly involving odyssey begins in the very real world and, with a bit of mythological magic, slips into a thoughtful, complex take on the fantasy of a gay man in love with his straight best friend. Filmmaker Tor Iben lets events unfold without pushing things, which helps the audience identify with the emotional undercurrents, creating an internalised love story.
In Berlin, Philipp (Weingarten) is annoyed that his workouts aren't producing results quickly enough. When he wins a trip to Greece, he invites his training partner Enis (Lickert) to go with him. After hitting the hotel gym and getting into a bit of trouble with a married woman (Kohrs), they decide to explore the island. Lost in the woods, they run into local boy Hercules (Morales), who takes them to his cave, tells them fanciful stories and gets them drunk on firewater. And what happens next puts a strain between them that follows them home.
Iben quietly builds the characters in the opening scenes, with Philipp's insecurity mirrored in Enis' busy life with his girlfriend Kristina (Kostiv). Their friendship is relaxed, echoed in their loose physicality, which includes boyish machismo and a hint of mutual attraction. But when that boils over into passion, everything changes. Now Enis can't face his usual workouts with Philipp, leaving Philipp even lonelier than he was before. Especially since Enis is so reluctant to talk to him about what happened between them.

Performances are offhanded, reflecting men who are used to behaving the way their culture expects them to, never rocking the boat. Weingarten offers a refreshingly subdued portrait of a young gay man who is at ease with his sexuality and never allows himself to lust after his straight best pal. Opposite him, Lickert has a trickier role as a guy happy in his life with his girlfriend, but perhaps struggling with other feelings he prefers to suppress. Both of these men take understated journeys over the course of the film. Side characters are much smaller, but add some earthy authenticity exactly where it's needed.

By taking such a soft-spoken approach, Iben sometimes risks letting the film get a bit mopey, but the feelings churning under the surface are strong enough to hold the interest, almost like an underdeveloped but charmingly visceral romantic comedy-drama. The subtle intensity in the performances brings proper tension to the scenes between Weingarten and Lickert, a realistic mix of friendship, camaraderie and affection that might perhaps be able to overcome fear if they let it.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 10.Feb.20

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