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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 23.Aug.20

Around the Sun
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Around the Sun
dir-prd Oliver Krimpas
scr Jonathan Kiefer
with Cara Theobold, Gethin Anthony
release UK 4.Aug.20
19/UK 1h18

Is it streaming?

theobold and anthony
With just two characters, this small-budget drama has a charming lightness to it, continually revealing smart observations in its puzzle-box narrative. With elements of comedy, sci-fi and romance, the film is directed by Oliver Krimpas and photographed by Michael Edo Keane with real skill, and while Jonathan Kiefer's script is somewhat wordy, its dialog is delivered with natural ease to create all kinds of ripples in the interaction.
In France, location scout Bernard (Anthony) is being shown an isolated chateau by its manager Maggie (Theobold). He's somewhat distracted because he just learned that his wife is pregnant, and Maggie is perhaps a bit too friendly. She tells him about a 17th century scientific novel by Fontenelle that was written here, and their flirtation echoes with the book's plot, as well as its exploration of philosophy and the solar system. And when Maggie thinks this feels oddly familiar, they get a chance to start over again and perhaps get it right next time.
As it jumps back in time, the plot bends back around to revisit their conversation with added wrinkles and unexpected turns. The connections between Bernard and Maggie are witty and sudden, exploring ideas of romance, identity and destiny with a wry wink. Their discussion of the Fermi Paradox (life must exist elsewhere in the universe, so why has there been no contact?) is knowing and involving, cleverly touching on questions of why it's so hard to find someone to love and how difficult it is to imagine becoming a parent.

Anthony and Theobold are terrific in these complex roles, quietly depicting tiny shifts in their interaction. Their banter is relaxed and strongly engaged, full of subtle connections as they reveal their opinions and histories to each other. This chateau seems to exist in a different space and time from the rest of the world, as if whatever happens here is irrelevant to their lives back home. And the real truth might be that they're reliving the events of Fontenelle's novel. Indeed, flashbacks depict them as the book's protagonists.

There's a strong theatrical tone to this film, with its limited cast and dense dialog that playfully explores huge ideas. But the way it's shot is skilfully cinematic, adding interest to both of the characters as well as a setting that has its own unexpected revelations. Krimpas makes sure there's plenty of visual interest, notably in the cheeky costumed sequences but also in the contrast between a library full of books and a cluttered attic with its dusty bottle of apple brandy. It's an amusing, beautifully assembled rumination on love, loaded with ingenious provocations.

cert 12 themes, language 6.Aug.20

Chemical Hearts  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
Chemical Hearts
dir-scr Richard Tanne
prd Alex Saks, Richard Tanne
with Lili Reinhart, Austin Abrams, Sarah Jones, Adhir Kalyan, Bruce Altman, Kara Young, CJ Hoff, Robert Clohessy, Meg Gibson, Catherine Curtin, Coral Pena, Shannon Walsh
release US/UK 21.Aug.20
20/US Amazon 1h33

Is it streaming?

abrams and reinhart
There's a darkly intriguing tone to this thoughtful teen drama. Although it's rather mopey and naggingly disconnected from reality, like most films based on young-adult novels. Filmmaker Richard Tanne nicely captures the angsty, exaggerated emotions of adolescence, assisted by an able young cast. So the movie may connect with teen girls who think this is how life is, or at least how they think it should feel.
As 17-year-old Henry (Abrams) becomes editor of his high school newspaper, he begins working with secretive, quirky co-editor Grace (Reinhart), a new transfer student. Both intrigued and smitten by her wounded, poetic soul, Henry plays it relatively cool, mainly because she won't reveal anything about herself. So he looks into her background and discovers a wrenching tragedy. Then as they spend time together, a relationship develops. Henry knows that he's fallen for her completely, but doubts that she feels the same. Indeed, she has a lot of baggage to deal with first.
"You are never more alive than when you're a teenager," Henry says in the introductory voiceover. So it's improbable that he spends his free time breaking and reconstructing ceramic vases. These astoundingly heavy-handed metaphors upon metaphors loudly proclaim themes about how people change and grow through trauma. But despite telling the story through Henry's eyes, the film has a distinctly female voice, which both throws it off-balance and adds some gently involving textures.

The actors are solid, creating characters who force the audience to lean into the story. So they remain engaging even though Tanne seems to have directed everyone to avoid even a hint of energy. Abrams and Reinhart are a likeable central couple, a guy who's never been in love and a girl who lost hers. Their relationship doesn't develop in a smooth line, and the actors dive deep into each pained moment. Side roles are only cursory, barely defined to add some conflict, light relief, diversity or context.

Much of the dialog is eye-rollingly obvious, as Grace sparks Henry's coming-of-age, while he helps her heal and try, falteringly, to move on. This is accompanied by a range of cliches, from the secret abandoned factory hangout to the "teenage limbo" theme of their final newspaper issue. It's all so wistful that the film becomes a dreamy fantasy depiction of teen romance. "Love is a chemical reaction that comes and goes," says Henry's sister (Jones). "But so is heartbreak." Much better is what the story says about how our scars remind us of who we have become.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 23.Aug.20

Lingua Franca  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Lingua Franca
dir-scr Isabel Sandoval
prd Isabel Sandoval, Jhett Tolentino, Carlo Velayo, Darlene Malimas
with Isabel Sandoval, Eamon Farren, Lynn Cohen, Ivory Aquino, PJ Boudousque, Lev Gorn, Ari Barkan, Mark Nelson, Megan Channell, Andrea Leigh, Roman Blat, Dean Temple
release UK Oct.19 lff,
US 26.Aug.20
19/US 1h29


Is it streaming?

farren and sandoval
Quietly observational, this low-key drama takes a loose but almost clinical approach to its story, as actor-filmmaker Isabel Sandoval looks at event through a variety of perspectives. The naturalistic performances help bring scenes to life, finding powerful moments along the way and making some pointed comments on big themes. But the lack of a central point-of-view leaves the entire film feeling somewhat hesitant.
An undocumented trans Filipina, Olivia (Sandoval) works in Brooklyn as a caregiver to the increasingly forgetful Olga (Cohen), supporting her family back home. Olga's grandson Alex (Farren) has returned to take a job in an industrial slaughterhouse, but he still struggles to escape his family's image of him as a black sheep. So he offers to care for Olga himself. Meanwhile, Olivia plan to get legal residency falls apart, and she's taken aback when she and Alex begin to fall for each other, knowing that marrying him would help her qualify for a green card.
The characters are well-developed, revealing little details and back-stories along the way. Each person feels authentic, easy to identify with as they face up to a range of pressures in their lives, some everyday annoyances and others much more momentous. As a director, Sandoval takes a laconic approach to storytelling, allowing the camera to merely watch these people as they face a variety of internal decisions. It's beautifully underplayed, leaving the details in the mind of the viewer, which makes the film thoughtful but never preachy.

The stresses in Olivia's life are powerfully felt in Sandoval's performance, from day-to-day worries to her fear of immigration officials. She's a strong woman who fully understands the obstacles she's facing and just gets on with it. And Farren has terrific presence as a nice guy surrounded by loutish friends and relatives who expect him to share their machismo. Alex's own journey is intriguing, and also rather underwritten, but Farren plays it engagingly. And the side characters burst with life around them, but have their own things to worry about.

There are several enormous topics swirling around in this narrative, from the combined issues of transgender identity and immigration to ideas about masculinity, endemic bigotry and fear in society, and the difficulty of making a corrective life changes. All of these things are skilfully observed, even if the meandering plot itself never quite clicks into gear. But Sandoval's open-handed approach makes the story involving as it highlights things few movies bother to tackle in such intimate ways.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 18.Aug.20

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