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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 16.Jul.21

Carmen & Lola  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Carmen & Lola
dir-scr Arantxa Echevarria
prd Eduardo Santana
with Rosy Rodriguez, Zaira Romero, Moreno Borja, Rafaela Leon, Carolina Yuste, Antonio Heredia, Susana Campos, Juan Jose Jimenez, Lucas Heredia, Jacqueline Jimenez, Carolina Africa Martin, Sandra Toral
release Sp 7.Sep.18,
US Jan.19 psiff, UK 9.Jul.21
18/Spain 1h43

fright fest

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rodriguez and romero
There's an earthy realism to this Spanish drama, which is shot documentary-style to capture details of day-to-day life in a colourful Roma subculture. The film adeptly depicts noisy families, emotionally charged church services and the relentless bigotry in the streets, as well as harsh intolerance from loved ones. Writer-director Arantxa Echevarria has a terrific eye for authenticity, placing a bold narrative in a place and time that's strikingly honest.
In a Madrid suburb, sparky 17-year-old Carmen (Rodriguez) is marrying cheeky-boy Rafa (Jimenez) according to tradition. Then one day working in her family's market stall, she meets 16-year-old Lola (Romero), a self-assured street artist who is bristling against her controlling parents (Borja and Leon). Their mutual attraction is immediate, but Carmen is busy fulfilling her role, while Lola nervously explores her sexuality in private. When Lola opens up about this, Carmen faces a battle between her head and heart. And both know their families will reject them if they fall in love with each other.
Carmen and Lola are continually lectured by their parents about the only role they will ever be allowed to play: devoted wife and mother. Every moment in their life is proscribed, engulfed in reputation-maintaining rules and exuberant rituals. Carmen can't have a mobile phone because, as her father says, they are the root of all evil. Lola can only be herself away from everyone else. So even if the film is infused with lively wit, watching these girls grapple with the idea of forging a future together is provocative and sometimes rather intense.

The filmmaking style makes everything so real that no one seems to be acting at all. But there's powerful drama underneath the lively, energetic surface, mainly in strikingly vivid thoughts and feelings that are sharply played by Rodriguez and Romero. Their scenes have an intimate attention to detail, as cameras capture tiny touches and glances that mean more than anyone watching them will suspect. The moment this comes out between them is revelatory and heart-stopping, as are further beautifully staged moments of raw emotion.

The depth of prejudice revealed in this astute film is sometimes staggering, as it exists on virtually every conceivable level for these young women who simply are not allowed to pursue their own lives. Even Lola's little brother (Lucas Heredia) has learned to constantly disrespect his sister and mother. So the question is whether these young women can find a way to discover themselves and perhaps break free of these oppressive expectations.

cert 18 themes, language, imagery 8.Jul.21

Mama Weed   La Daronne
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Mama Weed
dir Jean-Paul Salome
scr Hannelore Cayre, Jean-Paul Salome
prd Kristina Larsen, Jean-Baptiste Dupont
with Isabelle Huppert, Hippolyte Girardot, Liliane Rovere, Jade Nadja Nguyen, Farida Ouchani, Iris Bry, Rebecca Marder, Rachid Guellaz, Mourad Boudaoud, Youssef Sahraoui, Kamel Guenfoud, Abbes Zahmani
release US 16.Jul.21
20/France 1h44

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Huppert with Guellaz and Boudaoud
A dry sense of humour livens up this French crime comedy, which hones in on its lively characters rather than the details the thriller plot. Based on a novel, it's packed with entertainingly offbeat details and surprising wrinkles. But everything feels somewhat ridiculous, and it's troublesome that almost all people of colour are portrayed as criminals. That said, it always helps to have Isabelle Huppert running the show.
An Arabic-speaking interpreter for the Paris police, Patience (Huppert) spends her days translating surveillance recordings of North African drug traffickers and working with tough-guy cops. She's also thinking about outspoken mother (Rovere), who's been hospitalised with dementia, her grown daughters (Bry and Marder), and her detective boyfriend Philippe (Girardot). Then she discovers that her mother's nurse Kadidja (Ouchani) is connected to her current case. In trying to help, Patience becomes entangled in the drug trade herself. And she's surprised to discover that rather good at it. At least until the big players come after her.
The script is packed with intriguing details that add textures to both personal drama and tense casework while maintaining the absurd subtext. This includes glimpses into Patience's past as a young girl immortalised in a famous photograph, widowed at an early age and now struggling with her finances. Her partner in crime is a retired drug-sniffing police dog she adopts. But she's even better at sniffing out people who can help her newly established empire. Although it's a little doubtful that her daughters and Philippe could be so blissfully unaware.

Huppert has a great time with the role, especially as she transforms into a swaggering, dragged-up power-player. And in her everyday garb, she adeptly plays a woman who's routinely underestimated by everyone she meets, and she uses that to her advantage. While her life on both sides of the law adds an enjoyably slapstick touch, it's not particularly plausible. But Huppert's matter-of-fact performance sells it. And even though they kind of get lost in the scuffle, everyone around her maintains the same naturalistic tone.

There isn't much balance between the more resonant drama and the thrillingly comical set-pieces. And the story's approach to the drug trade is both flippant and problematically racially charged, especially as Parisians with foreign heritage are either knucklehead thugs or criminal masterminds. But Patience's warm embrace of multi-cultural France is nicely depicted, as is the way she takes charge of an increasingly complicated situation, dodging cops and vicious thugs by the skin of her teeth.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 13.Jun.21

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
scr Anjum Rajabali
prd Ritesh Sidhwani, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Farhan Akhtar
with Farhan Akhtar, Mrunal Thakur, Paresh Rawal, Mohan Agashe, Vijay Raaz, Darshan Kumaar, Supriya Pathak Kapur, Gauri Phulka, Hussain Dalal, Deven Khote, Arhan Chowdary, Hitesh Kewat
release Ind/US/UK 16.Jul.21
21/India Amazon 2h43

Is it streaming?

akhtar and thakur
With a title that translates as "storm", this Indian boxing epic follows a street thug who learns to channel his power into a violent sport. Charismatic actor-filmmaker Farhan Akhtar may be miscast in the role, but he effortlessly holds attention both in the riveting boxing sequences and the more sudsy dramatics. And while the plot is predictable, it's entertaining enough to keep us cheering through its extended running time.
Working as a debt collector, the muscly Aziz (Akhtar) isn't one to shy away from a brawl. He's inspired by video clips of Muhammad Ali, but finds the discipline of boxing difficult. Then top coach Nana (Rawal) starts honing his skills, putting him through the paces of a rigid training regime. Already ridiculously fit, he learns to master the sport, earning the nickname Toofaan and rising through the ranks. But he knows he has work to do on himself. And breaking free from his gangster boss Mahesh (Raaz) isn't going to be easy.
Aside from a few musical montages, it's an hour in before the cast bursts into song and dance on-screen with a buoyant, raucously crowded street number. Aziz may be a thug, but he has a heart of gold. So while hot doctor Ananya (Thakur) isn't impressed with his battle scars, she softens when she sees him playing with orphaned street kids. Coincidentally, she's also Nana's daughter, and as a Hindu forbidden from seeing the Muslim Aziz. So the movie's second half has plenty of melodrama to stir in alongside Aziz's boxing career.

At 47, Akhtar is far too old to play a character who should be closer to 20. But he has terrific presence as the cocky Aziz. His physicality is seriously impressive, and he's charming in the romantic and dramatic sequences. As the story spans several years, his transformation is remarkable, allowing him to shine in darker emotional scenes with the superbly steely Thakur. And Rawal is also excellent in a role that's more complex under the surface than above it.

The film's message, that strength must be put to good use, echoes repeatedly through Aziz's mental focus, criminal pressures and forbidden romance. Much of this is fairly soapy, even as it taps into very real feelings that will resonate with audiences. And in the final hour, there is a dual strand of redemptive storylines that might feel rather familiar cinematically, but they play out with earthy, painfully honest touches. And as a story about determination, it's properly inspiring.

cert 15 themes, language violence 15.Jul.21

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