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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 18.Dec.20

The Male Gaze: The Boy Is Mine  
Reviews by Rich Cline
The Boy is Mine
release 18.Dec.20
20/UK NQV 1h35

Five short films from five countries make up this collection, exploring masculinity from offbeat angles. This includes stories of dawning romance, strained family relationships and awkward friendships. Each of these films is a call for mutual respect, expressed through comedy, evocative imagery, sexuality and/or violence. All of them challenge us to think, even as they engage our attention with likeable characters and thoughtful situations. And many of them are exquisitely well crafted.

Uneven dir-scr Rafael Ruiz Espejo
with Nathaniel Medina, Maria Jose Calderon, Javier Ruiz Espejo, Jose Luis Perez, Eduardo Esquivel
16/Mexico 7m

Impar   3.5/5

medina From Mexico, this witty little film follows the absurd journey of a discarded item of clothing. It's a clever idea, and the film is shot with plenty of skill, especially as the camera lingers over the lead actor's body while offering a witty sense of perspective. The joke at the centre of it is rather slight, but the film has some amusing layers to it.

As a young man (Medina) gets dressed to go out, a holey yellow sock watches him with longing, both needing to feel useful and wanting to be closer to this boy. But as a tattered, odd sock, it's simply ignored, so has to content itself with creeping onto the sleeping boy's foot and dreaming of a milky shower (ahem!). And when the sock is thoughtlessly thrown out, the question is whether someone will offer it a place to belong?

The holes provide this sock with a remarkably expressive face, augmented by vocalised noises (there are no words spoken in the film) and some hilariously inventive animation. It's impressive that filmmaker Ruiz makes this character so relentlessly engaging, creating a proper sense of lonely yearning. So as its odyssey continues, there are moments that are sexy, emotional and even suspenseful, which is no mean feat for a movie in which the lead character is an old sock. And in the end this little adventure leaves us smiling.

Wolves dir Fuoco Maria Balduzzi
scr Fuoco Maria Balduzzi, Joachim Neef
with Roly Botha, Jay Walker, Ryan Davies, Will Timbers
16/UK 20m


walker and botha Lushly photographed in eye-catching settings, this British short tells its story without much need for dialog. This is a riveting narrative that's propelled by feelings, which makes the film remarkably involving. Director-cowriter Balduzzi shows considerable skill at bringing the viewer right into the story, aided adeptly by cinematographer Nicholas Nazari and composer Dmitrios Ntontis.

It's set in rural England, where 16-year-old Josh (Botha) needs to find some space away from his hotheaded father (Davies). So he hides out in the woods. Then one day he meets a mute boy (Blaine) who is clearly in need of help. And over the following days they begin to communicate tentatively, trading items and playing little games, growing closer. Meanwhile, Josh's father is still failing to connect with him, trying to push him into his own idea of who a man should be.

The story evolves in carefully textured scenes, as Josh and this strange boy begin to find common ground and a growing sense of affection, while Josh's dad worries that he's losing touch with his son. The young actors are excellent, conveying moods using minimal words. So as Josh begins to understand himself better, he begins to think that he might be better off living full-time in the woods himself. This is a moving drama with strong echoes to it, finding deeper meaning without overstating the themes. And where the story goes has a refreshing hint of hope.

Johnny dir-scr Jerome Casanova
with Roman Kane, Julien Drion, Anais Thomas, Jeromine Chasseriaud
18/France 25m


kane and drion From France, this gentle drama beautifully depicts the internalised yearning of youth, specifically that feeling of being on your own for the first time in your 20s and trying to get your life to kick into gear. It's also an unusually textured story of first love that takes its central characters on a meaningful journey.

At a house party, Aurelien (Kane) is quietly watching the room when he spots the charismatic Johnny (Drion), who casually pushes away the girls who throw themselves at him, then asks Aurelien to leave with him. Johnny turns out to be more sensitive than his wild reputation suggests, and as they open up to each other a connection grows. But Aurelien is unsure how to play this: he's deeply infatuated, while Johnny reminds him that they're just friends. But there must be more to it than that.

Filmmaker Casanova lets the events unfold with realistically earthy rhythms, and the scenes are beautifully shot in a square frame. Each of the actors gives nuanced performances as young people who are perhaps naive, still working out their passions. The whispery dialog often feels obtuse, but it cuts into the characters thoughts and yearnings, and breaks out into telling physicality at various points. It's a messy narrative that moves in fits and starts, taking sudden turns that feel emotionally wrenching. But the film is also infused with a hopeful sense of expectation, cleverly expressed in a ray of sunshine or a silently offered cup of coffee.

Debut dir Anette Sidor
scr Veronica Zacco
with Hannes Fohlin, Karl-Henrik Franzen, Oldoz Javidi, Adia Smith Eriksson, Alexandra Drotz Ruhn
16/Sweden 28m


fohlin and franzen Strikingly shot and edited, this finely made short touches on a range of issues in the modelling industry, including how difficult it is to get into this career, the randomness of getting a break and, even more intriguingly, some darker textures in the relationship between a photographer and her subjects. It's a bold, sexy drama that has some provocative edges.

As he tries to get his modelling career going, barman Philip (Fohlin) tenaciously pursues a chance to work with acclaimed photographer Chloe (Javidi). And when she sees him with successful model Sebastiaan (Franzen), she decides to push the connection that's apparent between them. While Philip is at ease with getting naked, Sebastiaan is less comfortable with this. But Chloe encourages them to go for it, determined that the three of them can push the boundaries together.

The film has an almost dreamlike quality, playing with the power of imagery and the magic it takes to create a perfect photograph. The story is a loose thread that snakes through various layers of interest, sharply well-played by these three actors. Initially, these young men are having some fun while getting to know each other. But where the story goes is increasingly awkward, revealed through glimpses, oddly timid camera angles and flashbacks that explore lines of titillation, manipulation and consent. All of this is rather moralistic, but it's an important point to make.

Guardian dir-scr Nicolas Jara
with Carlos Flores Jr, Virginia Blanco, Connery Morano, Roy Manzanares, Jeremy Champ Morales, Gretchen Klein
18/US 15m


flores Knowingly hesitant, this drama nicely captures the mix of emotions experienced by a teenager who has learned to hide himself. It's skilfully shot and very well-acted by the cast. So even if the script begins to feel gimmicky and melodramatic, it's grappling with issues that are powerfully felt.

Anna (Blanco) is proud of her teen son Manuel (Flores), but can only communicate with him through videotapes recorded from a distance. While this helps him get on with his life, Manuel has to keep his romance with his boyfriend James (Morano) a secret from his homophobic father Howard (Manzanares). Anna worries that Howard will force him into his harsh version of masculinity; she wants Manuel to experience love. And when Howard catches him with James, Manuel doesn't know how to react.

There's a dark shadow hanging over this story, as it touches on the fact that for many teens in this kind of position, suicide is sometimes seen as the only way out. The script isn't terribly naturalistic, overstating the story in the dialog, the drama that unfolds and the revelations that emerge along the way. But the urgency of the topic gives this film an important edge. And as it challenges hard-hearted people to show more compassion, it will also encourage young people in need of hope.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 16.Dec.20

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