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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 15.Oct.20

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Matthew Fifer, Kieran Mulcare
scr Matthew Fifer
prd Jeremy Truong, Ramfis Myrthil, Matthew Fifer
with Matthew Fifer, Sheldon D Brown, Sandra Bauleo, Michael Potts, Cobie Smulders, Scott Adsit, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, David Burtka, Jo Firestone, Jason 'Freckle' Greene, Beau Curran, Bowen Yang
release US 29.Oct.21,
UK 21.Jan.22
20/US 1h36

flare film fest
london film fest

Is it streaming?

fifer and brown
Based on real events, this gentle drama is beautifully observed by actor-filmmaker Matt Fifer. Shot in a loose documentary style with dialog that feels improvised, the film's natural rhythms are powerfully engaging. A sensitive story about two men in their mid-20s coming to terms with their sexuality as well as past traumas, it's set in the balmy New York summer of 2013, with an intimate tone that's both confessional and nostalgic.
After almost marrying his girlfriend, Ben (Fifer) is seeing men again. A lot of them. Which doesn't help him feel better about himself. Then he meets Sam (Brown) and is surprised to find a deeper connection. As their relationship grows, Sam reveals a story about being shot by someone he let his guard down with. But he also introduces Ben as just a "friend" to his dad (Potts), due to the nagging suspicion that he's a token Black person in Sam's life. Meanwhile, Ben is reluctant to face the fact that he was abused as a child.
Ben is a fit young man who gets a lot of attention from both men and women. He knows there's something wrong, as waves of nausea wash over him when reports of the Sandusky trial play in the media. And while he's sexy in private, Sam's religious background keeps him nervously closeted in public. Their scenes have an earthy, honest edge to them, depicting their physical and emotional closeness as it develops amid their self-doubts and lingering traumas.

Both central performances are revelatory. Fifer gives Ben a likeable hangdog charm that gets under the skin because he's clearly in need of healing. So his interaction with Brown's charmingly relaxed Sam seems like a balm for his soul, opening both of them to possibilities. Their romance shifts authentically from warmth to comedy to darker drama. Side roles add interesting textures, from Bauleo as Ben's complex mother to broader comical scenes for Adsit (as his glib doctor) and Smulders (as his perky therapist).

This is a delicate exploration of how complicated it is to help others when you're dealing with your own issues at the same time. So there are powerful ripples when they meet each others' friends, for example. The feelings the film taps into are so realistic that it has a strong autobiographical tone. And instead of going for big cathartic moments, Fifer instead lets the characters quietly grapple with things that will clearly linger for a long time to come.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 4.Oct.20

Mogul Mowgli  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
Mogul Mowgli
dir Bassam Tariq
scr Bassam Tariq, Riz Ahmed
prd Thomas Benski, Bennett McGhee, Riz Ahmed, Michael Peay
with Riz Ahmed, Alyy Khan, Sudha Bhuchar, Aiysha Hart, Nabhaan Rizwan, Anjana Vasan, Hussain Manawer, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Jeff Mirza, Andrea Hart, Mitesh Soni, Dolly Jagdeo
release UK 30.Oct.20
20/UK BBC 1h29

london film fest

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Shot in an edgy documentary style, this is an intimate drama that often feels claustrophobic with its tight Academy-ratio framing and pointed plotting. An exploration of identity and legacy, the film has a hallucinatory style that plays on internalised feelings rather than plot details. This makes it feel a bit thin, but the central turn from Riz Ahmed has a razor-sharp energy that gives the film a bristly emotional punch.

Packing out New York clubs, British-Pakistani rapper Zed (Ahmed) is finally getting his big break. Before going on tour, his girlfriend Bina (Hart) urges him to spend time back home after two years away. So he heads to London to see his parents (Khan and Bhuchar), and reconnecting with his culture involves facing up to criticism. Then he's diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that causes muscles to waste away, and the experimental treatment has serious side effects. Almost as devastating, his tour slot goes to arch-rival Majid (Rizwan), who surprises him with a hospital visit.
The title is a knowing signpost of Zed's struggle between capitalism and identity. Culture and religion also swirl through the story, never very deeply explored but adding texture to characters and relationships. Zed's brother (Manawer) criticises him for abandoning his real name Zaheer. And as his physical pain increases, he imagines himself entwined with Pakistani history, particularly the 1947 partition from India. He also envisions his career taking a path very different from his plans.

Ahmed bursts from the screen as the impassioned rapper, and is just as magnetic in Zed's more thoughtful moments. He's so easy to identify with that we feel each step in this journey with him, including his anger, frustration and fear. It's a beautiful, harrowingly raw performance. As his strict father, Khan creates intense moments in clashes that bring out both common ground and bitter differences. And other characters are also bracingly realistic as they drift in and out of Zed's experience, perhaps busier with their lives off-screen.

Because of the internalised approach, this movie never becomes a story about an illness. Rather, the focus is on Zed's odyssey of self-discovery when it seems that everything he has taken for granted is being taken away. There are a few scenes that feel a bit overwrought, even as the film remains somewhat superficial as far as these enormous themes are concerned. But it's still a powerfully atmospheric, emotionally resonant drama about a young man facing a momentous challenge.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Oct.20 lff

Rose: A Love Story  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Rose: A Love Story
dir Jennifer Sheridan
scr Matt Stokoe
prd April Kelley, Sara Huxley, Matt Stokoe, Sophie Rundle, Robert Taylor
with Matt Stokoe, Sophie Rundle, Olive Gray, Nathan McMullen, Boadicea Ricketts, Joe Haddow, Nicola Stuart Hill
release UK Oct.20 lff
20/UK 1h26

london film fest

Is it streaming?

rundle and stokoe
There's unnerving horror at the centre of this offbeat British drama, which quietly unpacks a freaky mystery. Writer Matt Stokoe and director Jennifer Sheridan dribble clues carefully into the narrative, keeping the audience off-balance from the start while allowing us to work things out. The film's intense atmospherics are powerfully gripping, finding complex emotions in a story that's properly terrifying, even if it takes us awhile to realise why.
In an isolated cabin in a snowy woodland, Rose (Rundle) struggles to write her novel while husband Sam (Stokoe) hunts for food. Hyper-jittery, Rose suffers from a strange disease that involves treatment with leeches. One day when petrol isn't delivered, Sam has to go to the nearest garage to get some, returning to find Rose petrified due to a power-cut. Then teen runaway Amber (Gray) stumbles into one of Sam's traps and breaks her leg. But having her around upsets their delicate balance, and it isn't safe for her to stay long enough to recover.
After a long time living like this, Sam and Rose have a matter-of-fact approach to their situation, shielded from outsiders for a specific reason. As the nature of Rose's condition emerges, the cast and filmmakers carefully avoid the usual cliches to take us on a harrowing ride with this couple. They're just trying to create a life together, so their relational interaction is progressively involving. And when it cuts loose, it's scary.

Both Rundle and Stokoe deliver terrifically offhanded performances, weaving intensity and levity into their scenes. When together, both are able to relax and even enjoy themselves, but when apart Sam is gripped by stress while Rose's inner demons come to life. Both show a mix of quiet action and interpersonal emotion, and their intimacy comes through strongly (they're a real-life couple). Gray brings a superb sarcastic sulk into the mix, whining about everything as she struggles to understand this couple's bizarre rules.

The film is skilfully shot, largely in close-up with a lush fairy tale sensibility in the forest sequences. As the premise comes into focus, the tension increases, but it's the sweeter side of Sam and Rose's relationship that deepens everything. "Falling in love," Sam tells Amber, "is like being pinned down by some great big animal before you even realise that it's been following you." This is a fiendishly clever approach to the horror genre, with an enjoyably snaky narrative and lots of nasty implications that keep us on our toes right to the abrupt final moments.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 12.Oct.20

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