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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs and shorts...
|Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 19.Oct.20
dir Ravi Ajit Chopra
scr Gavin McClenaghan, Ravi Ajit Chopra
with Andrew Scott, Jeremy Irvine, Lucy Russell, Wolf Kahler, Milo Panni, Georgia Sandle, Prince Gaius Osi, Damola Onadeko, Ramesh Lard, Ben Mansell
release UK 16.Oct.20
Produced on an impressive scale, with expansive effects work and a wall-to-wall orchestral score, this miniature sci-fi epic spins a big story that's packed with action and emotion. It opens on the planet Vega, as 10-year-old Abner (Panni) and his father Elias (Scott) are dreaming of exploring the galaxy when they're attacked by masked men who drag them to the city. After 14 years of indoctrination, Abner (now Irvine) is now an agent working for this evil empire, but on a mission to Earth the implant that controls him malfunctions And his memories wash back over him at just the wrong time.
Filmmaker Chopra stages this with a sweeping tone, mixing dramatic location work and elaborate digital environments that might be a bit cartoonish but are very effective. From big action sequences to some striking dramatic events, the film is thoroughly engaging, telling a story that's just twisty enough to require the audience to lean into it. There may not be many big themes in here, but there's a nice sense of the power of memory and the lingering pull of a family connection.
Scott is terrific in his role, offering some intensely moving moments as the story continues. And Irvine brings his everyman quality to the role, pulling us into Abner's internal odyssey, including the need to make a huge decision at a key point in time. The range of big and small moments makes this feel like an fully formed movie that plays out in just half an hour, so with a bit more character detail, some beefed-up side roles and stronger thematic resonance, Chopra could definitely expand this to feature-length.
dir-scr Pedro Almodovar
with Tilda Swinton, Agustin Almodovar, Miguel Almodovar, Pablo Almodovar, Diego Pajuelo, Carlos Garcia Cambero
release UK 7.Nov.20
VENICE FILM FEST
The Human Voice
Based on the Jean Cocteau play, this is Pedro Almodovar's first English-language film, and it's a remarkable bit of surrealism with a sustained emotional intensity. It's also as sumptuously designed as you'd expect, with lashings of primary red and a fiercely dedicated performance from Tilda Swinton. Boldly conceived and directed, this is a remarkable exploration of the messiness of romantic emotion and how reality fades away when there's passion involved.
It opens as a woman (Swinton) enters a hardware shop with her dog and buys an axe. Back home, she is waiting for her ex, remembering all the times she waited for him over four years. His things have been packed in suitcases for three days, but he hasn't returned to collect them. She knows the dog doesn't understand why she has packed up these bags. And he's also clearly worried about her violently angry flare-ups, plus the handful of pills she glugs with a glass of wine. That'll teach her ex a lesson. Or maybe she should throw herself off the balcony. Or burn it all down.
The lavishly detailed apartment set is built inside a warehouse, which adds a witty theatricality to the film, as the camera peers down into the rooms and Swinton roams out into the void while expressing her complex inflamed emotions on a rambling phone call monolog with her ex. In a tour-de-force role, Swinton portrays these feelings beautifully, effortlessly combining humour, joy and pain in each moment. It's a reminder that the highs always go with the lows, neither cancels out the other. And that memories of a relationship are stronger than the physical detritus.
dir Montague FitzGerald
with Aysha Chamberlain, Brandon Okeke, Diva Miyake-Mugler, Karteer Miyake-Mugler, Kenzo Miyake-Mugler
A virtual reality short, this documentary features colourful comments from dancers who have found a place where they can relax and express themselves. Director Montague FitzGerald deploys a series of vivid visual touches that are eye-catching, using effects and settings that create a bigger picture around some fascinating interviewees. It's not a particularly deep doc, but its exploration of an under-seen segment of society is essential.
The topic is the emerging ballroom scene in the UK, which was set up as a safe space particularly for trans and queer people of colour who find themselves unwelcome in other venues. These scenes exist around the world, following on from America's vogueing culture of the early 1980s (see Pose). The participants love the fact that they can express themselves and dress however they want, using styling, props and costumes that fit into each stated category. They also speak about how joining this scene has helped them develop confidence in who they are, both at the events and in other areas of their lives.
The interviews are given in an inky void with rich-hued swirly dancing figures in the background and brief immersive clips of ballroom nights. It's a bit choppy, but it looks terrific, and the glimpses of crowded events, rehearsals and some terrific outdoor locations are fabulous. Making these segments much longer would have given the audience a much better chance to soak in the atmosphere. And so would more ambitious interviews. While what these people say about finding a place where they are accepted is important, it's both repetitive and familiar. But it makes it clear that we need more movements like this that are aimed at vulnerable segments of society. So while this film may feel like a first draft, it has an urgency that shouldn't be ignored.
New Queer Visions: Right Beside You
Reviews by Rich Cline
release UK/US 31.Aug.20 20/UK NQV 1h35
There are five dramatic short films from five countries in this collection, each exploring unexpected angles on companionship. There are queer elements within the stories, but none of them are actually about sex or sexuality. They centre on evolving friendships that take a turn, and the filmmakers intimately catch how important it is to have someone to connect with. And how painful it is to even contemplate going through life alone. The final film (pictured above), from the Netherlands, is a mini-masterpiece.
dir Samuel C Montes de Oca Leon
scr Elizabeth Moleres
with Cesar Acosta, Alonso Esponda, Sandra Burgos, Francisco Torres, Regina Ortega, Natalia Aguilar, Giselle Martinez, Hugo Trevino
My Mothers Lovers Los Novios de Mi Madre
There's an ethereal quality to this Mexican short that makes it feel almost fantastical, with slow camera movement, quiet conversations and internalised performances. It's a sharply well shot drama with a familiar premise and a nicely offhanded sense of honesty about the characters and the situation they find themselves in.
A shy teen, Cesar (Acosta) has a secret crush on his best friend Pablo (Esponda), who wants to become a model, or maybe a football star, and is very popular with the girls at school. Seeking a chance to express his feelings, Cesar invites Pablo to stay over for the night. While Cesar tries to be cool, his mother Luisa (Burgos) asks too many questions and also flirts openly with Pablo, who returns interest. After they go to sleep, Pablo sneaks out of the room to see her, leading to some painful conversations in the morning.
The interaction between the young actors is strong, and they play each scene with natural rhythms that hint at a range of layers in their friendship. The dialog is written with a strong sense of the characters and their inner struggles, and much of what happens is heartbreaking as seen through Pablo's yearning perspective. This is a dark and truthful look at how it feels to hide yourself from everyone around you, looking for someone who understands. And because the writer resists finding an easy answer, the film is genuinely moving.
dir-scr Francois Barbier
with Flore Bonaventura, Karim Camara, Lea Lounda, Julien Lerigoleur, Jean-Francois Ballanger, Arthur Gillet
There's an earthy, almost fly-on-the-wall authenticity to this witty French short, which photographs the characters in close-up as they interact, right next to each other, pushing each other's buttons. It's a beautifully observed slice of life that has something important to say about how important it is to make the effort to understand each other.
When the colourful Sacha (Camara) arrives for an evening of drinking and dancing, Estelle (Bonaventura) isn't sure what to make of him. Heavily made-up and dressed in revealing clothes, he's unlike anyone she's ever met. She finds it hard to accept it when he tells her that he's gay, and she still tries to seduce him. But he's the one who seduces her with his confident sexuality and deep-running feelings. As they go out dancing with party-girl Garance (Lounda), the night takes several unexpected turns. The biggest is when Sacha is cornered by an aggressive guy (Lerigoleur) in the club.
The actors play the roles with relaxed energy, sparking off each other in a way that's funny but never comical. Each is likeable and real. And the contrast between Sacha's unapologetic flamboyance and Estelle's buttoned-up awkwardness is played without resorting to cliches. It's especially nice to spot her quiet curiosity early on, then later as she begins to understand the reality of Sacha's life. So the way they meet in the middle is properly touching.
dir-scr Maria Augusta V Nunes
with Alice Doro, Aleff Resler, Rafael Gregorio, Joao Henrique Lemos, Gabriel da Silva Velho, Larissa Neves, Berra, Zalui
Only What You Need to Know About Me
Apenas o Que Você Precisa Saber Sobre Mim
Edgy and intimate, this Brazilian short centres on two skaters who develop an unexpected friendship. It's skilfully shot mainly using handheld camerawork that catches the feeling of young people hanging out in a variety of real-world locations. The storytelling is extremely subtle, leaving the audience to fill in the details. And the settings are superb, including an energetic rap battle.
The story centres on Laura (Doro), who injures her hand in a fall. Fabio (Resler) comes to her assistance, and there's a spark of interest between them as they meet up for subsequent days of skateboarding around the city. But as they become closer, Laura continues to maintain her distance. And when she suddenly vanishes Fabio doesn't know how to find her, since she won't answer her phone and she doesn't use Facebook. So he starts searching for her, and discovers her secret.
There's a gentle sense of urgency to this drama, as it becomes clear from the start that Laura is wary of everyone around her, afraid to let Fabio in. She's not hiding per se, but is guarding her privacy as the title suggests. Both actors play their roles with offhanded authenticity that's beautifully understated. So their confrontation scene is quiet and powerful. In the end, the film says several important things about how our culture conditions us to respond to anyone who isn't like us. And of course how vital it is to be true to ourselves.
A L S O O N
Right Beside You
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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