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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 30.Jun.21

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr Zoe Wittock
prd Anais Bertrand
with Noemie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck, Tracy Dossou, Jonathan Bartholme, Eduard Nemcsenko, Noah Daccrissio, Idao Daccrissio, Stephen Rohde, Chris Caligo, Jimmy Raphael
release Fr 1.Jul.20,
US 19.Feb.21, UK 9.Jul.21
20/France 1h33


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Inspired by an offbeat true story, this French-Belgian drama traces a romance between a young woman and a funfair ride. Writer-director Zoe Wittock approaches this as a fantasy, seeing events through the protagonist's eyes. So the narrative unfolds like a fable with pointed parallels to a society in which people reject anything that might be considered deviant. Even if feels somewhat random, the film refreshingly rejects the word "normal".
In a small town, Jeanne (Merlant) works summers in the local amusement park, encouraged by her lively, over-involved mother Margarette (Bercot). Jeanne's new boss is the cute-nice Marc (Bouillon), so her mother encourages her to pursue him, while she hooks up with Hubert (Louwyck). But someone else catches Jeanne's eye: a new twirling-flipping ride she names Jumbo. And this isn't just a one-way relationship, as Jumbo takes her for a spin, chats to her with lights and sounds, and soaks her in oil. Of course, Margarette finds this horrifying, while Marc is deeply confused.
Because everything is seen through Jeanne's perspective, her interaction with Jumbo has a matter-of-fact feel to it, even as it becomes intimate and rather sexy. This makes the people around her look like unbelievers who aren't even trying to listen to her when she clumsily attempts to express herself. Jeanne's age is never stated; she seems perhaps in her late-20s, but acts like a teen is relentlessly bullied by boys who see her as the town oddball. Meanwhile, Wittock depicts her connection with Jumbo as a colourful flight of fancy, with subtle effects work and some genuinely exhilarating touches.

Merlant plays Jeanne with a youthful intensity, a woman who knows that she's an outsider but never doubts her inner voice. It's a remarkably full-on performance, bristling with humour and emotion in each encounter with both humans and inanimate objects. Her scenes with Bercot are particularly complex, balancing security with misunderstanding, so there are expertly played flurries of both love and pain. And both Bouillon and the more sympathetic Louwyck have some powerful moments of their own along the way.

There will be a clear resonance for LGBTQ+ audience members, recognising the onslaught of misplaced expectations, doubt, concern and pushy intentionality. Thankfully, Wittock remains committed to this particular story, never overstating any deeper thematic meaning. Jeanne's journey may feel a bit repetitive, and sections of the movie lack a sense of momentum, but the final act is beautifully written, directed and performed by the entire cast, challenging nonbelievers to confront their own fear and hatred.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 25.Jun.21

The Man With the Answers  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Man With the Answers
dir-scr Stelios Kammitsis
prd Vicky Miha, Fenia Cossovitsa, Luca Legnani, Stelios Kammitsis
with Vasilis Magouliotis, Anton Weil, Stella Fyrogeni, Mauro Racanti, Marc Pistono, Chiara Ore Visca, Brando Rossi, Anita Lorusso, Pierpaolo Vitale, Antonis Katsaris, Rinio Dragasaki, Thodoros Mihopoulos
release UK 29.Jun.21,
US 20.Jul.21
21/Greece 1h21

Is it streaming?

Magouliotis & Weil
With an understated storytelling style, writer-director Stelios Kammitsis takes the audience on a road trip that meanders engagingly while exploring an unexpected connection between two young men. With its gently loping pace and warm comical touches, film is beautifully shot in lovely locations, sharply capturing the characters' personalities and physicality. And it has a lot to say about the freedom that comes from being honest with yourself and others.
In Greece, former diving champ Victor (Magouliotis) maintains his physical fitness while working odd jobs and tending to his grandmother. After she dies, he packs up the car his mother (Fyrogeni) left behind when she moved to Germany, then takes a ferry to Italy. On board he meets friendly German backpacker Matthias (Weil), who's looking for a lift home. The curious Matthias insists that they stick to the side roads, visiting scenic spots and dropping in on a wedding. And as they travel, they begin to open up to each other on a deeper level.
These two young men have terrific chemistry, speaking English as a common language and filling conversations with wry humour. For Matthias life is about the experience, not the destination, and it takes him awhile to loosen Victor up. What follows is a lot of banter, plus swimming, dancing and run-ins with the law. The film's enigmatic structure is inviting, encouraging the audience to lean into scenes, discovering more about these men, just as they do. And when they reach Victor's mother, there are additional challenges to navigate.

Performances match the relaxed pace, playfully revealing details each step of the way. Magouliotis gives Victor a slightly wound-up intensity, as if whatever he's keeping secret is eating him alive. While Weil's likeable know-it-all Matthias is a nice guy who can't help but get involved in Victor's deeper issues. Their slow journey to understanding and romance evolves naturally, quietly catching both by surprise. And as their motivations become clear, the increasing complexity makes each subtle turn of events resonate strongly.

There's a fascinating edge to this story in how Victor struggles to trust Matthias, always second-guessing his actions. So the film's fluid photography and editing weave insistent momentum into the narrative without ever being obvious about it, pushing Victor to deal with his own insecurities. Where the story goes is refreshingly complex, resisting expectations in the way events play out. There are no glib answers, only thoughtful questions, plus an insightful depiction of the simple healing power of human connections.

cert 12 themes, language 11.Mar.21

Rock, Paper and Scissors   Piedra, Papel y Tijera
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Rock, Paper and Scissors
dir Martin Blousson, Macarena Garcia Lenzi
scr Macarena Garcia Lenzi
prd Valentin Javier Diment, Vanesa Pagani
with Pablo Sigal, Valeria Giorcelli, Agustina Cervino
release UK Aug.19 frf,
US 9.Jul.21
19/Argentina 1h23

fright fest

Is it streaming?

saavedra and prenn
A contained thriller about three siblings in a creaky house, this Argentine film finds a blackly playful tone that has echoes of Misery and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. Adapting her play, Macarena Garcia Lenzi works with Martin Blousson to add cinematic touches to a limited cast and setting. The arch madness makes the film genuinely freaky, even if it's too controlled to have a visceral impact.
In their faded family mansion following their father's death, Jesus (Sigal) and his Wizard of Oz-obsessed sister Maria Jose (Giorcelli) ignore the ringing phone and play games to decide who will answer the doorbell. One day, their long-lost sister Magdalena (Cervino) arrives from Spain to claim her portion of the inheritance. But the only thing left is the house, and Jesus and Maria Jose don't want to sell it. When an accident leaves Magdalena bedridden, Maria Jose slips back into nurse mode. With Magdalena in their late father's bed, all three begin jostling for control.
The filmmaking approach sharply isolates this house from the world, muting colours and deepening the shadows inside. Essentially imprisoned in bed, Magdalena is fairly sure her injuries weren't accidental. And it doesn't help that her siblings are such oddballs, with their mercurial reactions and bizarre playacting. But both Jesus and Maria Jose begin to reconnect with Magdalena, even as they challenge each other in ways that are unexpected and very personal. So as things turn startlingly nasty, Magdalena knows she needs to engage in some role-play of her own.

The deadpan performances are effective, drawing us into the interaction while revealing subtext and underlying tensions. Giorcelli skilfully plays Maria Jose as a young woman who might be unhinged, rewatching her favourite movie, cuddling her guinea pig and matter-of-factly noting that she gave up her acting ambitions to care for their father. She's also rather too-attentive to Magdalena, who is played by Cervino with wary intensity. By contrast, Sigal's Jesus seems chillingly oblivious to underlying tensions, videotaping everything and brandishing father's rifle.

As the events spiral unpredictably, some dark family secrets emerge that put various elements of the story into unnervingly clearer context. And the film that Jesus is making is a further deep dive into some rather twisted themes. Most of this subtext emerges in dialog rather than through the imagery, which is a stagey touch that puts a drag on the pacing. But there are some clever cinematic flourishes, as Blousson and Garcia push the boundaries and send this warped family dynamic right over the edge.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 24.Jun.21

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