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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 12.May.20

New French Shorts 2020  
Reviews by Rich Cline
The Distance Between Us and the Sky
release US 15.May.20
20/US Kino Lorber 2h29

Seven short films make up this collection, which is being released virtually to local, independent cinemas. Each of these has played at a major film festival over the past year, including from Cannes, Venice, Locarno, New York and Palm Springs. This means that all of them are finely produced to very high standards. It's a widely mixed bunch, although most grapple meaningfully with serious issues of inclusivity and cultural diversity. There are intriguing angles on ethnic issues (one is set in Greece), sexuality and some very dark internal issues. All of these are worth a look.

Ahmed's Song dir-scr Foued Mansour
with Mohamed Sadi, Bilel Chegrani, Modeste Maurice, Laurent Maurel, Debora Stana, Tabita Stana, Clementine Yelnik, Ali Labidi
19/France 30m

Ahmed’s Song  
  Le Chant d’Ahmed   4.5/5

Ahmed's Song Expertly shot with a strong sense of place, this complex mini-drama centres around a public bath house, where Ahmed (Sadi) quietly keeps things running smoothly, opening up in the morning, assigning shower stalls, mopping the floor. A man who notices the needs of people around him, Ahmed has a simple life in his one-room flat, quietly chatting with his neighbours and praying at his local mosque. Then the boss (Maurel) asks him to train teen Mike (Chegrani) to work at the bath house. The next morning he discovers Mike sleeping in the staff lounge, afraid to go home to his parents. Ahmed can identify with this, so takes him under his wing. And Mike has some important things to teach Ahmed as well.

The film has a documentary feel to it, observing Ahmed both at work and at home, while telling a gripping, deeply felt story. Filmmaker Mansour depicts this with a lovely attention to detail, including witty throwaway moments like Mike trying to pick up an errant bar of soap or an epic water fight. And there are also knowing nods to France's colonial history and the strains of endemic bigotry within society today. With some 40 years between their ages, Sadi and Chegrani play these roles beautifully, finding realistic rhythms in their interaction, leading to a sparky, authentic friendship. Their conversations are lively and pointed, packed with humour and emotion as they almost imperceptibly begin to rub off on each other. It's simply gorgeous to watch these two damaged men open up to the world around them.

Sheep, Wolf & a Cup of Tea... dir-scr Marion Lacourt
19/France 12m

Sheep, Wolf & a Cup of Tea...  
  Moutons, Loup et Tasse de Thé...   4/5

Sheep, Wolf & a Cup of Tea... Animated in a gorgeous hand-drawn style, this short is rendered in vivid colours seemingly lit from behind as pitch black shadows loom around the edges of the frame. It also has no dialog at all, but recounts a punchy story in dreamy images. The setting is a cabin in the woods, where multi-generational family lives. Before going to bed, each person has his or her own little ritual involving a fish, cups of tea, eyedrops, a fan, counting sheep, a wolf-shaped hat and more.

The imagery is full of intriguing details, with textures and colour washes that artfully play on dreams and flights of imagination. The fairy tale tone is inventively infused through everything, as a young boy conjures a wolf and takes an epic journey into the night, to a land of outrageously unexpected adventures. Echoing imagery and bright water-colours make this little epic mesmerising as it gets increasingly surreal. Then the wolf gently tucks everyone in for the night and goes back where he belongs. Filmmaker Lacourt is evoking a sense of childhood wonder and mystery, swirling ideas from bedtime stories with the wild lawlessness of a nightmare. But while it's all rather creepy, it also has a comforting familiarity.

nahmani and friends dir Cecilia de Arce
scr Patricia Mortagne, Cecilia de Arce
with Rime Nahmani, Hicham Talib, Big John, Tobias Nuytten, Rebecca Finet, Chainez Dehchar, Florian Lemaire, Idriss Roberson
19/France 26m

Tuesday From 8 to 6  
  Mardi de 8 à 18   4/5

Tuesday From 8 to 6 At a noisy, normal secondary school, students are up to their usual antics, as monitor Nevine (Hahmani) tries to soften the blows inflicted by angry teachers and administrators. She gets pulled into various altercations, including one with Logan (Talib), whose favourite cap has been confiscated by an aggressive teacher. And when Nevine gives Logan a cap from lost and found, she doesn't know that this will spark a brawl. It seems like all of Nevine's attempts to help these rambunctious kids keep bouncing back to hit her. But she won't give up on them, even if the administrators constantly admonish her. They think the fact that she takes an interest in the children is wrong, when it's clear that the problem is with the rule-bound system. "You're not here to be human," they tell her.

Over the course of this single school day, the film bristles with the energy of these teens who have very little respect for anything and barely make any effort. But what else do you expect from them? The teachers certainly aren't any better, annoyed by these ridiculous adolescents, which results in both the adults and children screaming at each other most of the time. But this boisterous interaction is cheeky, which makes the film amusing even as it grapples with some darkly serious issues. This is a remarkably full-on tribute to someone in a thankless job who wages wars against her small-minded bosses on behalf of these kids. And clearly the world needs more people who care this much.

hahmani dir-scr Vasilis Kekatos
with Nikolakis Zeginoglou, Ioko Ioannis Kotidis
19/Greece 9m

The Distance Between Us and the Sky  
La Distance Entre Nous et le Ciel

The Distance Between Us and the Sky Stuck in the countryside and trying to get back to Athens, a young guy (Kotidis) asks a stranger (Zeginoglou) at a petrol garage for cash, or maybe he'd like to buy some weed, or perhaps tiny origami figures. As these two young men go back and forth, their conversation takes a flirtatious turn. So they keep chatting, haggling over their options, hinting at a deeper interest. Eventually, one offers the other a ride on his motorbike to Athens. But can our hero overcome his fear of motorbikes ... and intimacy?

Set at night, the film is shot in extreme closeup, locking in on the faces of these two young men who seem to be all alone in this garage, which is a splash of light in inky darkness. The film has a compelling tone that pulls the audience in as the conversation shifts. Both Zeginoglou and Kotidis deliver performances that are understated and suggestive, as these two guys speak in circles, provoking and charming each other in equal measure. So even if they never quite get to the point, they understand each other. Yes, writer-director Kekatos is telling a story largely through subtext, and the deeper feelings come through very strongly thanks to the way the film is shot, edited and played.

chegrani and sadi dir Clemence Poesy
scr Clemence Poesy, Eric Forestier
with India Hair, Sabine Timoteo, Eric Forestier, Pierre Lopez, Ava Hervier, Clemence Poesy, Julien Auer
19/France 25m

The Tears’ Thing  
  Le Coup des Larmes   4/5

The Tears' Thing Filmed in a cinematic style, with wide-screen photography and a particularly effective use of locations, this drama centres on Florence (Hair), an actress preparing for a project in which she will play an assassin. She heads to an isolated bunker where Sacha (Timoteo) is teaching her how to fire a pistol. They have a history together, so during the lesson, Florence quizzes Sacha about her trips abroad before erupting in anger that she simply abandoned her four years earlier. Countering Florence's deeply felt anger, Sacha is annoyed that Florence now has a fiancee. Then they head into a forest to practice with much bigger guns. And grenades.

Actor-turned-filmmaker Poesy creates a seriously tense atmosphere as these two women tensely reconnect. Both Hair and Timoteo offer bristling performances that are beautifully understated, rippling with barely submerged emotions. Their evolving conversation takes several unexpected turns, offering glimpses of the affection these two used to share and the feelings that linger. Where this goes is seriously full-on, as these two women begin to challenge each other about their feelings. While holding guns. This leads to very different reactions between them, and some powerful confrontations as well. The way the story develops sometimes feels over-the-top, but it's sharply well shot and played. And the clever final sequence has a surprisingly moving kick.

fradet and vanderweerd dir-scr Marine Leveel
with Gilles Vandeweerd, Victor Fradet, Xavier Clion, Jonathan Turnbull, Thomas Landbo, Bernadette Chapron, Domitille Chambon, Lionel Charbaut
19/France 24m

Magnetic Harvest  
  La Traction de Pôles   4.5/5

Magnetic Harvest Everyone around Mika (Vandeweerd) seems to have paired off into a romantic couple, but he's still alone on his organic pig farm. Then he discovers that his neighbour Paul (Fradet) has returned from a season in New Zealand, and they instantly return to their old rhythms teasing each other. Paul also carries on supplying sausages for a local barbecue party, while fending off accusations that an escaped pig is causing destruction in nearby farms. He also meets his naked friend Ricardo (Landbo) for a bit of fun in a field of tall rapeseed. And when Paul spots them, Mika is afraid to talk about it or admit anything about himself.

Writer-director Leveel takes an inventive approach, shooting scenes with both quirky wit and an artful eye that sharply captures the wide-open countryside. The film begins with long silences before erupting with the earthy joy of friendship between these two young men. And as they hang out, there are intriguing nuances in their connection, including the sense that some of their feelings aren't shared. Leveel also cleverly uses GPS maps and birds-eye angles to depict the emptiness of these fields, with Mika's growing excitement when someone, anyone is nearby. But there's something much deeper going on here, as the film is explores the bonds of friendship against societal prejudice. And in this case, the possibilities are out of this world.

manenti and cholet dir-scr Benjamin Crotty
with Alexis Manenti, Antoine Cholet, Pauline Jacquard, Caroline Deruas-Garrel, Ragnar Arni Agustsson, Rei Yazaki, Christophe Tek
18/France 26m

The Glorious Acceptance Speech of Nicolas Chauvin  
Le Discours d’Acceptation Glorieux de Nicolas Chauvin

The Glorious Acceptance Speech... Lively and energetic, this film is set on a stage on which the notorious, possibly fictitious soldier Nicolas Chauvin (Manenti) accepts an award in full costume and makeup, a wounded survivor of the Napoleonic wars. His speech is full of modern-day bluster, accompanied by a musical duo (Agustsson and Yazaki) that offers the odd timely punctuation. Nicolas speaks about being a peasant in the army, challenging the audience about their prejudice and perceptions while cavorting into the countryside for a Quixotic romp. His words are funny, provocative and often very camp, wistfully recalling sexual and culinary exploits. This man's bigoted nationalism gives us the word "chauvinism".

The camera sticks close to Manenti, both on-stage and out into various locations, where he interacts with other characters. Nicolas narrates his life story in a witty mix of throwaway gags, including a trip to a pub with its disco jukebox and big-screen football. The postmodern, meta-approach plays on the jagged juxtaposition of period and present-day perspectives on things like poverty, war and torture. The wacky mix of ideas feels rather indulgent, as other characters try to challenge Nicolas because he's both offensive and imaginary. But does that diminish his impact on the society France has become today? The film is perhaps too angry, and it's trying to be so witty that it's rarely amusing. But the madcap tone is engaging, and the onslaught of themes intriguing enough to give us morsels to chew on. But we're kind of relieved when the music swells to play him off.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 12.May.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall