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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 19.Oct.20

After Love  
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
After Love
dir-scr Aleem Khan
prd Matthieu de Braconier
with Joanna Scanlan, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss, Nasser Memarzia, Sudha Bhuchar, Nisha Chadha, Jabeen Butt, Subika Anwar-Khan, Elijah Braik, Adam Karim, David Hecter, Pierre Delpierre
release UK Oct.20 lff
20/UK BBC 1h29

london film fest

Is it streaming?

richard and scanlan
Written and directed with sensitivity by Aleem Khan in his feature debut, this British drama approaches weighty themes with a remarkably light touch. It's a tender, internalised story that pulls the audience in deeply without the need for much in the way of dialog or exposition, skilfully revealing a complex story through observations and reactions. And it compassionately speaks to major cultural issues without ever pushing a message.
In Dover, Mary (Scanlan) struggles to get on with life after her beloved husband Ahmed (Memarzia) dies unexpectedly, turning to their Muslim faith for comfort. Then while going through his things, she discovers a connection with a mysterious woman 21 miles across the Channel. So she takes a ferry to Calais and works up the courage to introduce herself to Genevieve (Richard), who mistakes her for the new cleaner. Mary quietly plays along, while secretly looking for signs that Ahmed was here. Then she meets Genvieve's teen son Solomon (Ariss), who has his own secret.
For strength as she approaches this task, Mary re-listens to a warm voicemail from Ahmed as if to remind herself that she did truly know him. So it's almost overwhelming when she sees a home video of him joyfully playing with Solomon on a beach. Khan adds the occasional little touch to echo Mary's internal flood of feelings, such as a collapsing chalk cliff or a crack creeping across the ceiling. And her growing sense of maternal affection for Solomon is remarkably touching.

Scanlan is a minimalist actress who can express oceans of feelings while seeming to do nothing at all, which is simply perfect for this role. Her alert eyes catch everything, and her emotions are powerfully understated. Eventually she recounts her story in hushed conversations with Solomon, who is beautifully played by the young Ariss as a typical teen with layers of frustration and yearning. Richard has a trickier role, and she makes Genevieve remarkably sympathetic as she grapples with her own shifting realities.

This is a finely crafted film that carefully hones in on the people rather than the plot, while at the same time touching on issues relating to religion, ethnicity and identity. The story also works up a strongly compelling momentum, building tension because the truth simply must come out. And when that confrontation finally arrives, it's remarkably honest and very tough to watch. Khan's lyrical, economical approach to filmmaking is hugely involving, refusing to take expected routes through the narrative then discovering several lovely echoes in the final act.

cert 12 themes, language 14.Oct.20 lff

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Ben Sharrock
prd Irune Gurtubai, Angus Lamont
with Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Kenneth Collard, Kais Nashif, Sanjeev Kohli, Cameron Fulton, Lewis Gribben, Silvie Furneaux, Grace Chilton
release UK Oct.20 lff
20/UK Film4 1h44

london film fest

Is it streaming?

el-masry, orebiyi, ansah and bhai
An offbeat approach to storytelling sets this film apart as it recounts the experiences of a refugee. Writer-director Ben Sharrock sees the narrative through a cheeky, artful eye, catching tiny absurdities and deeper resonance. With snappy production design, bleak landscapes and expectant faces, this is a wonderfully human approach to an important topic. And it worms its way under the skin, surprising us with laugh-out-loud humour and strong emotions.
Syrian refugee Omar (El-Masry) is stranded on a Scottish island waiting for his asylum hearing. Officials Helga and Boris (Knudsen and Collard) clumsily teach the migrants about British society, while locals are friendly but rather dim. Omar keeps in contact with his mother using a phone box in the middle of nowhere. A promising musician, he's worried about picking up his oud after six months without practice. His flatmates are Afghan exile Farhad (Bhai), who has been waiting in this purgatory for almost three years, and two Africans (Ansah and Orebiyi) dreaming of footballing glory.
Sharrock assembles this cleverly, capturing the people and settings with quirky wit. Omar has little in common with the other guys, but they're the only people he knows. His flashbacks are snippets of video on an imagined mobile phone. Supermarket items are baffling. In their flat, the only TV they get is Friends reruns, leading to the usual arguments about Ross and Rachel being on a break. Meanwhile, they share their wrenching stories of fleeing their homeland. And freak out when Farhad adopts a chicken.

El-Masry has a terrific face, wryly reacting to this bewildering place. He underplays scenes superbly as Omar navigates the minefield of British culture while worrying about his family in Syria. The haunting question is who he was, who he is now and whether he would go back if he could. As Farhad, Bhai delivers his often ridiculous dialog with deadpan skill. Knudsen and Collard are hilarious as the clueless officials trying their best. Indeed, everyone around the edge of Omar's story is vivid and often surprising.

There are hints of deeper themes woven throughout the story, such as Farhad's veneration of Freddie Mercury and acknowledgement that he can't be himself back home. And of course there various misunderstandings with locals, both amusing and harsh. Plus surreal moments of sadness, confusion and tragedy. Sharrock doesn't feel the need to over-explain these things, merely allowing them to float in the air, adding thoughtful angles to a complex situation and reminding us that these people are as messy as we are.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 14.Oct.20 lff

Lovers Rock
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5     MUST must see SEE
Lovers Rock
dir Steve McQueen
scr Courttia Newland, Steve McQueen
prd Anita Overland, Michael Elliott
with Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Micheal Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Francis Lovehall, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Kadeem Ramsay, Ellis George, Daniel Francis-Swaby, Marcus Fraser, Saffron Coomber, Romario Simpson, Frankie Fox
release UK 22.Nov.20,
US 27.Nov.20
20/UK BBC 1h08

40th Shadows Awards

small axe

london film fest

Is it streaming?

st aubyn and ward
Bristling with energy and colour, this 1980-set drama unfolds to the beats of the eponymous musical genre. Without a pushy narrative, this is pure cinematic bliss, a blast of happiness in a safe space away from the racism and riots in the streets. Steve McQueen, with cowriter Courttia Newland and ace cinematographer Shabier Kirchner, skilfully depicts one Saturday night, and into Sunday morning, when the world belongs to hopeful youth.
In West London, an epic house party is being held for the mainly first-generation Caribbean community with a kitchen full of food and a sound system blasting disco and soulful, sexy reggae. Martha (newcomer St Aubyn) is excited, attending with her friend Patty (Okwok), and both catch the eye of the boys, including the cool Franklyn (Ward) and his friend Reggie (Lovehall). The overgrown back garden offers some privacy for people to get a bit closer. And out front, white neighbours gather to taunt the partygoers. But nothing is going to sour the buzz inside.
Early on things kick off, literally, when the DJ cranks up Carl Douglas' Kung Fu Fighting. Wearing a jaunty hat, the dandy Bammy (Francis-Swaby) confidently chats up girls in the queue for the loo. Later, Martha's provocative cousin (Williams-Stirling) causes a shift in tone. Even with the short running time, McQueen doesn't rush things, letting songs play out while cameras prowl through the house, catching revellers in pure ecstasy, singing along as they dance. And the editing smoothly matches the musical rhythms, bringing us into the celebration.

Even with a minimalistic plot, the busy characters provide an involving structure. St Aubyn has the most defined role, intrigued and determined to enjoy herself as she gets to know Ward's charming Franklyn. Both actors beautifully underplay their roles, so their connection has weight to it even as other girls flock around Franklyn. Each person at this party feels fully authentic, including those we never properly get to know. And they're so vibrant that we want to.

This film is so achingly gorgeous that we don't want this party to end. The way the cameras capture these people expressing their emotions within the context of the period and subculture is exquisite. There are serious topical elements peppered around, from open bigotry on the street to inebriated machismo that's both high-spirited and darkly disturbing. These things ground the story and add to the exuberant texture without taking over the film. And it leaves us with a big smile.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 17.Oct.20 lff

Nb. This film is part of McQueen's five-film series Small Axe, exploring Britain's black culture. It's named after the Bob Marley song, based on an African proverb about how people working together can take down a big tree.

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