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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 8.Nov.20

The Act dir Thomas Hescott
scr Pete Lawson, Matthew Baldwin, Thomas Hescott
with Samuel Barnett, Simon Lennon, Cyril Nri, Annette Badland, Tracy Anne Green, Jim Conway, Ian Hallard, Matthew Baldwin
20/UK 18m

raindance film fest

The Act  

Barnett A period piece set in 1965, this short British drama harks back to the 1957 Wolfenden Report, which debunked misconceptions about homosexuality and concluded that criminalising men for being gay was a violation of civil liberty (it would take another 10 years for the government to change the law). Filmmaker Thomas Hescott uses first-rate production values, but the script is painfully obvious, like something written closer to 1967 than today.

It's set around closeted young office worker Matthews (Barnett), who has to keep his private life secret as he visits underground gay bars and looks for a man to love. A flamboyany barfly (Nri) assures him, "We're a family here," but the guy (Lennon) he takes home seems to only be interested in sex, not a relationship. Then in a public toilet, he's entrapped by cops.

Matthews gives a rousing counter-argument to the cops about being labelled guilty not because of what he did, but who he is. This is something echoed in Wolfenden, which is read in voiceover almost like a narration throughout the short. All of which means that the script is relentlessly overstating its themes at a volume that drowns out what might have been a genuinely moving personal drama. Because the film is beautifully acted by the cast, and shot in a way that's moody and intriguing, with deep shadows in murky rooms. And a more subtle approach would have also given the title more of an impact, as it carries multiple meanings, including the act of defiance against an unjust system.

7.Nov.20 rff

The Hat dir Darren Strowger
scr Johnny Cooke
with Raff Law, Jude Law
20/UK 5m

raindance film fest

The Hat  

raff law Shot on an epic scale with a bellowing score, this tiny film certainly feels enormous. And director Darren Strowger creates a properly intense atmosphere. But there's no discernible story, which leaves it feeling like an action set-piece shown without the context of the entire movie. Still, even if there's explanation about what or who we're watching, there are some intriguing things gurgling under the surface.

It opens with a young man (Raff Law) strolling in a ploughed field, picking up a hat and putting it on. As he quietly smokes a cigarette, he sees another man (Jude Law) running toward him, and he runs too. They head into a village, through a large house and back into the field.

The film is gorgeously filmed with swooping cinematography, and the flickering editing rhythms create some haunting ideas, making it unclear who's chasing whom. So since the two characters are played by a father and son who look remarkably alike, there are all kinds of meanings to infer. It's about the things fathers pass to their sons and vice versa, the urgencies that echo through generations. And it's also about an older man chasing his youth, and vice versa. Even if the intention isn't clear, it's a very cool little movie, and it has a visceral impact.

7.Nov.20 rff

U Up? dir Viktoria Szemeredy
scr Baptiste Charles
with Barnabas Rohonyi, Miklos H Vecsei
20/Hungary 9m

raindance film fest

U Up?  

Rohonyi and Vecsei This Hungarian short is strikingly well shot in sunny rooms with crisp light colours and expressive handsome faces. It's a clever approach to modern-day dating, where social expectations for a quick fix clash with deeper yearnings for a more substantial connection.

It opens one bright morning as Ben (Rohonyi) receives the titular text message from his friend Nico (Vecsei), who wants to come over for casual sex. They don't waste any time, and afterwards Nico is using a hook-up app when he comments that he's met another guy who wants to join them. Ben says no, clearly because he wants to actually get to know Nico.

The actors create a vivid connection between these two men, a familiarity that seems to run deeper than either acknowledges. But their chemistry is tinged with awkwardness, perhaps because both continually check their phone screens. Charles' screenplay says a lot with its minimalistic dialog, letting the feelings grow strongly in the silences. And Szemeredy's direction elegantly captures the spaces between these men. All of which allows the film to say some powerful things without ever being preachy. and the lingering question is whether we're all looking for something different. Or maybe we actually want the same thing, if only we'd admit it.

7.Nov.20 rff

Jackplot dir Marco De Luca
scr Hannah Hooton
with Jack Parr, Adam Redmore
20/UK 11m


parr and redmore An offbeat conversation between a newly married couple, this film is sharp and pointed, with some offbeat twists in the tale. It's a relatively simple idea, but director De Luca and writer Hooton pack each moment with details that are nicely shot and played to bring out some intriguing character insight, even if the story as a whole is rather gimmicky in the way it generates some dark thrills.

After winning a stash of cash at the horse races, Kevin and Jay (Parr and Redmore) have different ideas about what to do with it. Kevin wants to invest in his brother's business, but Jay wants to finally take their long-delayed honeymoon. And Jay claims the prize is his because he placed the bet. But they have more pressing problems when they begin to think they're being followed, and the question is whether they're paranoid or just greedy.

A flickering image of Kevin badly injured in an ambulance hints at what's to come, which adds a blast of horror to the film. This also oddly diffuses the tension by revealing where things are headed, even though the full extent of the nastiness comes through a flashback as a vicious sting in the tale. It's a feisty little film that definitely provokes a response, as the characters are forced to decide what's truly important to them.


retford and webster dir-scr Lloyd Eyre-Morgan, Neil Ely
with George Webster, Sam Retford, David Tag, Rebecca-Clare Evans, Sarah Byrne, Sadie Latham, Bethany Kerrigan
20/UK 16m

bfi flare fest


S.A.M Light and witty, but carrying a pungent kick, this breezy short finds a strong sense of camaraderie between its characters as it explores public attitudes toward people who have disabilities. And there are also some knowing touches that bring sexuality into the mix. The warmth of the central friendship is beautifully written and played, and there are surprising little details scattered through the running time.

At the centre are a group of teens who hang out in the park in the afternoons. Sam (Webster), who has Down Syndrome, admits that he has a crush on the loner (Retford) who hangs out on the swings, so he goes over to say hi. His name is Sam too, and they launch into a lively chat. The first Sam admits that he's studying to be a dancer, demonstrating his moves and encouraging his fellow Sam to strut his stuff too. And while Sam 1 is annoyed that his parents are so overprotective, the more troubled Sam 2 wishes he had a parent who cared.

The film has a wonderfully loose tone, often feeling improvised as it moves through a variety of scenes and shifting emotions. These two boys find a connection that helps make sense of the harsh aspects of their very different lives. And there might be something more there as well. The themes are sometimes punched somewhat forcefully, and performances are a bit uneven. But both young actors are hugely engaging, making us root for them to stick together and take on the world.


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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall