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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 28.May.20

forbes dir-scr Kyle Laursen
with Luke Forbes, Kevin Dunn, Mather Zickel, Melanie Chandra
19/US 20m


Josiah With this complex and strikingly well-observed short drama, writer-director Kyle Laursen explores unconscious bias. The clever narrative follows the talented undiscovered actor Brandon (Forbes), who gets a chance to audition for a TV pilot set after the American Civil War. His role would be as a freed slave who develops a mutual respect with his former owner, a military officer. Brandon reads the scene for writer-director Jack (Dunn), the casting agent (Mark) and his assistant (Chandra). Then after a conversation about the nuances of the scene, he is asked to read it again with the freedom to express how he feels about the dynamics between the characters and the racist language in the dialog.

The film is very well shot by Jenn Gittings, with some impressive camerawork that allows the audience to prowl around the room from person to person in a long continuous take, highlighting the uneven power dynamics both in the script and in the room itself. Laursen's screenplay is insightful, cycling over, under and straight through some very strong, important issues. This includes Jack's desire to use authentic language, even if it feels horrific today, not to shock the viewer but also never tiptoeing around reality. This is a provocative film that thoughtfully grapples with the impact of language and the complexity of respecting history while also confronting it. So when Brandon replays the audition scene at a gut level, it's seriously chill-inducing.


Lycanthropy dir-scr Alexander Black
with Paul Duncan, Stephen Clark, Daniel Knight, Jon McKenna, Laura Bayston, Venetia Twigg, Sydney Clark, Daniel Marson
20/UK 16m


clark, duncan and knight Intercutting police drama with red-hued scenes of a wolf on the hunt, this short has a properly gritty tone. Hardboiled detectives Kessler and Mills (Duncan and Clark) arrive to question Johnson (Knight), who has been caught selling images of children online, including a photo of a young girl who has gone missing. As Kessler sinks into anger, Mills worries that he might do something rash. So when the body count starts rising violently, the detectives begin to suspect each other and take out their frustration on anyone they find nearby.

The film is nicely shot in a rather standard cop-show style, with glowering glances and freaky cutaways. The tone is super-serious, so tempers fray wildly as the dialog continually explains the somewhat opaque plot. The actors do what they can in this archly heightened tone, providing plenty of attitude to add subtext to the blunt script. But there isn't a moment that feels even vaguely realistic. And while there's a certain urgency in the film's tone, writer-director Alexander Black never quite finds the core of the story, so the ending is somewhat awkward. It looks stylish, but a more grounded approach would have made it gripping as well.


The Male Gaze: Strikers & Defenders  
Reviews by Rich Cline
Strikers & Defenders
release UK 31.Jul.20
20/UK NVQ 1h34

play it like a man
This next collection of gay-themed shorts centres around sporting teams, as young men face stark machismo in the locker room and at home, challenging their friendships and relationships. This makes all four of these films darkly involving, with realistic characters and situations that are never approached in a simplistic way. So each drama packs a proper kick, as it were...

Islands dir-scr Ron Jager
with Andreas Klinger, Julian Mannebach, Lennart Hillmann, Marius Rohmann, Leon Mamic, Dominik Blenau, Linus Shutz, Jannes Repke, Jakob Ehlers
18/Germany 19m

Inseln   3/5

Hillmann and Mannebach This sensitive German drama touches on some powerful issues, finding resonance in the way teens feel like they're alone in the situations they are facing and the feelings they're having. Writer-director Ron Jager approaches this with sensitivity and insight, even if the filmmaking and performances sometimes get a bit pushy. But it's also remarkably moving.

In a school locker room, the bully Fabian (Rohmann) is accusing Theo (Mannebach) of trying to destroy a relationship. But the supposedly wronged boy, Linus (Hillmann), refuses to join in beating Theo up. Just then, Mr Kruger breaks up the fight. The boys think of Kruger (Klinger) as a weirdo, but he's more savvy than they know. And as substitute coach, he introduces a hand puppet to teach them a lesson.

The tone is melodramatic, as the actors are encouraged to overplay their emotions, which makes this look like a public service announcement. It's staged and edited in a way that feels theatrical, and the script is a bit evasive. But a strongly emotional undercurrent emerges along the way, as Theo struggles to admit how he really feels about Linus, and as Kruger takes the time to help Theo by recounting his own experience, reminding Theo (and himself) what it means that no man is an island.

Play It Like a Man dir-scr Laurent Lunetta
with Simon Boutin, Matthieu Lucci, Samuel Theis, Karl Guilly, Quentin Valois
18/France 22m

Play It Like a Man  
Un Été Viril   4/5

Boutin There's a very hard edge to this French film that often takes the viewer aback. The story is tough and pointed, and filmmaker Laurent Lunetta tells it with a provocative complexity that's unnervingly realistic. There are moments of gut-wrenching emotion along the way, as well as some harsh honesty.

It's set in sun-drenched southern France, where youth football teams are squaring off as tempers rise on the pitch. And afterwards it's unbridled joy for the winning team, except for 15-year-old Loris (Boutin), who is clearly bothered by something. When he steals Coach Francis' (Theis) phone, he discovers a series of photos taken of him in the showers. So Loris and his mischievous pal Thomas (Lucci) decide to take action, vandalising the coach's house.

Expertly shot, Lunette captures the exuberant youthful camaraderie in the locker room, as well as the complex intimacy between friends. The actors play this interaction in ways that are startlingly realistic on a variety of levels. There's also an unexpected, and challenging, connection between the boys' voyeurism, spying on couples at the local nude beach, and their coach watching Loris in the shower. Where the narrative goes is both surprising and seriously intense, right to an unusually open-handed conclusion.

Colours dir-scr Peter Lee Scott
with Harry Jarvis, Makir Ahmed, George Somner, Connor Catchpole, Billy Dumore, Frankie Clarence, Conor Mannion, Katie Lambert, Lauren Tetteh
15/UK 25m


Ahmed and Jarvis Relaxed and offhanded, this English short has a terrific slice-of-life quality, with a cast of realistic teens in earthy situations. It's skilfully shot, edited and scored. And filmmaker Peter Lee Scott keeps the camera up close and personal, allowing the audience to feel the brunt of some harsh words and huge emotions.

Star of his youth football club, Tom (Ahmed) is very popular with the female fans, teased mercilessly by his best pal Adam (Jarvis). Meanwhile, hothead team captain Mike (Somner) bullies the weaker teammates while laughing about his homophobic slurs. Adam knows he should stand up to Mike, but bites his tongue. Then they discover that Tom is secretly gay, and Mike demands loyalty, forcing Adam to choose sides as he sets out to publicly tear Tom down.

Even if the feelings are rather heightened all the way through, the actors create believable characters who are easy to identify with. Adam's moral dilemma is pungent, as he has allowed himself to be pushed into this corner. It's never obvious which way this is going, which helps make the film both strongly involving and darkly provocative. This also makes this an important confrontation of everyday endemic bigotry, reminding us that staying silent is as vile as attacking someone who's vulnerable.

Through the Fields dir-scr Camille Melvil, Fabien Cavacas
with Pierre Prieur, Maxime Taffanel, Theo Pittaluga, Philippe Frecon, Claire Semet, Stephane Bernard, Maxime Ogier, Pauline Superville, Manuel Ferez
15/France 30m

Through the Fields  
Passer les Champs   4.5/5

Prieur and Pittaluga Shot like a feature, this strikingly well-made French drama features a group of superbly realised characters who are grappling with a range of issues. Filmmakers Camille Melvil and Fabien Cavacas are exploring identity from a number of provocative perspectives, including yearning sexuality, repression and underlying prejudices.

At 17, Theo (Prieur) is only just starting to grapple with the realisation that he's gay. The only person he has told is his 22-year-old brother Lucas (Taffanel), who plays for the local football team and is being pushed by their parents (Semet and Bernard) to move out and get a job. Lucas warns Theo to be careful about meeting guys online, notably the 40-something Henry (Frecon). And he's even more nervous when he sees how his friend and teammate Nathan (Pittaluga) flirts with Theo.

Of course, the more the aggressively Lucas pushes him, the more the razor-sharp Theo does his own thing, discovering his own desires and making his own mistakes. More complex are Lucas' motivations, including his growing anger at everyone around him. Superbly well-played by the actors, this adds intriguing angles to the way the story plays out, challenging the audience with a narrative that's both messy and hopeful.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, nudity 30.Jul.20

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