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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 4.Nov.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Zeina Durra
prd Mohamed Hefzy, Gianluca Chakra, Mamdouh Saba, Zeina Durra
with Andrea Riseborough, Karim Saleh, Michael Landes, Shereen Redha, Salima Ikram, Janie Aziz, Trude Reed, Indigo Ronlov, Shahira Fahmy, Aziza Sherif, Stephanie Sassen, Nada Ahmed El-Dardir
release UK 6.Nov.20,
US 4.Dec.20
20/Egypt 1h25

sundance london

Is it streaming?

saleh and riseborough
Strikingly filmed on location, this drama captures a terrific sense of present-day Egypt along with the closely observed characters. British filmmaker Zeina Durra elicits thoughts through often wordless interaction. It's a slow burn of a film, taking its time to circle around to the core of the story. This makes the story feel like a mystery, because the central character hasn't a clue how to fix herself.
On a break before an assignment in Yemen, British aid worker Hana (Riseborough) returns to Luxor in an effort to get herself back on track personally. She meets Carl (Landes) in her hotel bar, then struggles to avoid him. She also retraces her steps by visiting several tombs. Along the way, she runs into her former flame, the archaeologist Sultan (Saleh). And they travel around catching up, visiting friends, exploring the ancient sites and just hanging out. But she avoids rekindling their romance, because she knows that she can't keep living in the past.
Durra's approach skilfully embraces the story's ambiguities, which might test the patience of some audience members. Hana and Sultan are surprised to meet up, but Hana's awkward reaction hints that she was hoping for this. Conversations explore the impact of ancient places and objects on people today, and these ideas provoke Hana and Sultan as they revisit the expectant days of their relationship. There's also a scene of silly physicality that adds further resonance to Hana's journey.

Riseborough gives another deeply felt performance, drawing the viewer into her yearning without seeming to act at all. Hana clearly has an intense connection to this place and the people here, and she seems to be hoping for something more from Sultan, whom Saleh plays as charming, funny and perhaps oblivious. The characters are surrounded by real people who seem to be accidentally captured on film, documentary style. As their expert friend, Ikram is a standout, recounting seemingly random tales that offer telling textures to the story.

The film ripples with ideas that inventively connect history to Hana's rather unfocussed search for meaning. It's never clear what she's looking for on this trip, but everything she finds seems to hit her strongly. Perhaps this is a story about that moment when we pass a point of no return between youth and middle age, trying to accept that life hasn't gone the way we'd expected. This idea helps make sense of Hana's sudden emotional highs and lows, as well as her dreamlike expressions of hope.

cert 12 themes, language 31.Oct.20

True North  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
True North
dir-scr-prd Eiji Han Shimizu
voices Joel Sutton, Michael Sasaki, Madison Champine, Sammy Anderson, Steven Gillespie, Calvin Ray, Tobi Idol, Zachary Westerman, Brandin Stennis, Emily Jerez, Mike Moman, Jeffrey Carisalez
release US Oct.20 nff,
UK Nov.20 rff
20/Japan 1h33

raindance film fest

Is it streaming?

insu and yohan
This English-language animated film is certainly not meant for children, as it depicts the horrors of the North Korean prison system. Based on firsthand accounts, the story unfolds in a series of set-pieces that reveal hideous inhumanity. Often painful to watch, this is a terrific example of the kind of movie that can only be made with animation, revealing a truth that very few have lived to tell about.
At a Vancouver Ted talk, a man tells the story about how he defected from North Korea. Back in 1995 Pyongyang, Jung-hwan (Stennis) is arrested for undefined crimes against the party, after which his wife (Champine), 9-year-old son Yohan (Sutton) and little sister Mihi (anonymous) are shipped off to a forced labour camp where the inmates are treated like brutalised animals. As he grows up, Yohan befriends the orphaned Insu (Sasaki). And after a stint working with the guards, he begins to quietly subvert the system, plotting a daring escape with Insu and Mihi.
The digital animation is slightly unpolished but still looks amazing. It's also bursting with earthy realism and seemingly throwaway micro-details, all rendered in a way that's beautifully cinematic. Lighting and camera angles are skilfully crafted to pull the audience right into this nightmarish story. So almost every aspect of life in this camp is nightmarish, with a nonstop stream of degradation and threats of being sent to the "total control zone". But there's also a warm sense of camaraderie among the prisoners, and even some joy that comes from supporting each other.

The characters are powerfully involving, so the things they go through feel staggeringly personal. Scenes of torture, rape and murder are sensitively portrayed with the worst moments off-screen, but they're still awful. In a way, the slightly blocky animation, anecdotal structure and stilted dialog (all in English) combine to help the viewer maintain a distance from the material. Even so, the finely crafted scenes are hugely moving, especially as Yohan begins to understand who he really is and who he needs to become.

There are several breathtaking sequences as this story unfolds, including some evocative black and white animation. There are tiny moments of compassion dotted throughout the narrative that feel like a loud blast of hope in a place where there's no future at all. It's a vivid reminder that no matter where people live, we all have need for love and dignity, in whatever quantity we can find it. And it's not surprising that this attitude turns out to be infectious.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Nov.20 rff

The Woman With Leopard Shoes   La Femme aux Chaussures Léopard
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Woman With Leopard Shoes
dir-scr-prd Alexis Bruchon
with Paul Bruchon, Pauline Morel, Philippe Bruchon, Blandine Boucheron, Anaele Pelisson, Danielle Bruchon, Louis Nebinger, Coline Munier, Lucile Bouquet
release UK Nov.20 rff
20/France 1h20

raindance film fest

Is it streaming?

Shot in deeply shadowed black and white, this French thriller has a saucy tone that's both gripping and enjoyable. With a strong mystery at the centre, it provides proper intrigue and suspense. The film demonstrates how much can be accomplished with a tiny crew, as ambitious writer-director Alexis Bruchon and family seems to have done pretty everything on a reported budget of just €3,000. And it looks like a million.
With a hood covering his eyes, a burglar (Bruchon) is hired by a mysterious woman to steal a small locked wooden box. As planned, he breaks into the country house and retrieves the item, but the residents arrive before he can leave, and they're accompanied by a crowd of people attending a raucous party. Trapped in a bedroom, he overhears hushed conversations and makes a startling discovery. As he investigates what's going on, he stumbles upon an elaborate conspiracy. He also has to dodge cops while sending frantic texts to the woman who hired him.
The inky monochrome causes a bit of eye-strain, although it looks simply gorgeous. So while the storytelling is somewhat gimmicky, Bruchon adds plenty of witty directorial touches in the way our hero encounters characters and clues. The entire film is shot tightly from the burglar's perspective, so other people are only seen partially, identified by their shoes. The title refers to the way he knows the woman who hired him. Meanwhile, there are hints dropped into each scene that expand the noir-style mystery, pulling the burglar (and us) in further.

The entire film rests on one actor's shoulders, as Bruton's hapless thief creeps around this room hiding from partygoers, unearthing information and making sense of the evidence he finds. It's an expressive, wordless performance that's sharply effective, bringing the audience right into the situation to ramp up the dread, as well as his determination to find a way out of a threatening situation. Only one other person's face appears on-camera, with remaining characters played by feet and legs that tell their own stories, often amusingly so.

This is a terrific filmmaking debut, confident and endlessly inventive. Even without back-story, this burglar is a hugely sympathetic character, hired for a simple job that turns into a crazy odyssey. Most of the film's dialog is exchanged through text messages, and the silence adds to the intensity, accompanied by the director's clever vintage thriller-style score. And along the way, there are several terrific twists and turns that crank up some proper Hitchcockian thrills in the superb final act.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 3.Nov.20 rff

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