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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 10.Aug.21

The Male Gaze: Three’s Company  
Reviews by Rich Cline
three's company
release UK 27.Aug.21
21/UK NQV 1h39

kiki's saints
These six sharply well-made short films explore the shifting dynamics when outsiders enter a relationship. The films are pointed, bracingly provocative and full of thoughtful, insinuating touches as they circle around unresolved attraction, drunken revelry, life-changing kisses and a bit of sexy frolicking on a seemingly empty beach. And there's also a range of tones here, from tense family moments to some refreshing silliness.

Golden Boys dir Jill Riley
scr Andrew Musselman
with Kristopher Turner, Steven Pigozzo, Steven Yaffee, Alex Harrouch, Robbie Graham-Kuntz, Michael Kaplan, Andre Kim
16/Canada 9m

Golden Boys  

Golden Boys With a lively, comical tone, this short from Canada takes unexpected turns as it shifts between silliness and some surprisingly dark honesty. Director Riley and writer Musselman maintain a series of insinuating moments that hint at a range of possibilities. This punches the issue a bit forcefully, but it's sharply well shot and edited, and the performances add a jolt of authenticity.

It's set on a night out with three buddies (Turner, Pigozzo and Yaffee) in their 30s who have been friends since they were teens. As they get tipsy, they decide to break into their old school, revisiting old pranks and traumas as they tease each other. But they also remember a dark moment as teens (Graham-Kuntz, Harrouch and Kaplan) when they viciously teased an Asian classmate (Kim) about his sexuality. At the time, all three knew this was wrong, but only one of them felt guilty. And as those feelings flare up, he needs to decide if he will finally confront his friends about this.

The film is an astute exploration of toxic masculinity and homophobia, strongly using close-ups and jump cuts between the time periods to highlight both the issues and the characters' private feelings. Both the older and younger actors are excellent, naturalistically establishing the camaraderie between the friends and layering their interaction with doubts. Director Riley plays all of this with rather overwrought emotionality, which undermines the nuance, and the editing also blurs a possibly grim plot point. But the issues the script grapples with are provocative and important.

kronenberg and reusse dir-scr Richard Kranzin
with Philipp Kronenberg, Linn Reusse, Lukas T Sperber, Zarina Zoller
17/Germany 25m

In Beating Cells  
In Pochenden Zellen   3/5

In Beating Cells There's an initially playful, relaxed physicality among the characters in this German drama, using knowing glances between intriguing people to propel the story. With earthy performances from the cast, writer-director Kranzin captures the youthful joy of nature, friends and partners in a beautiful wilderness location. So even if the events turn a bit messy, and the film gets rather pretentious, it's sexy and thoughtfully provocative.

It opens in a swirl of nostalgic images and voiceover, remembering an experience one summer as anti-establishment hippies Rico and Friedrich (Kronenberg and Sperber) took their girlfriends Eva and Julia (Zoller and Reusse) on a camping trip in the countryside. Body paints lead to skinny dipping, hikes in the woods and dancing around the campfire. But there's unspoken tension between Rico and Friedrich, especially after they share a drunken kiss. And when they acknowledge their attraction, ripples of reactions disrupt the happy atmosphere.

The loose filmmaking skilfully highlights the differences between these young men: Kronenberg's Rico goes with the flow, while Sperber plays Friedrich as a guy who thinks deeply about things. This adds a vivid strain in their very different responses to what happened between them. Kranzin shoots this awkward morning beautifully in a long static shot, letting the story play out with minimal dialog as everyone wonders exactly who here is attracted to whom. This offhanded approach makes the film feel overlong and a bit draggy. But it has a haunting kick.

The Middle of a Lake dir Guillaume Mainguet
scr Guillaume Mainguet, Jeremie Dubois
with Antoine Gouy, Satya Dusaugey, Nicole Turpin, Prune Beuchat, Martin Buraud, Emmanuelle Cartron
16/France 22m

The Middle of a Lake  
Le Milieu d’un Lac   3.5/5

The Middle of a Lake A complex drama from France, this short has a remarkably hushed quality, letting the tension churn under the surface before it emerges into a bustling, strikingly realistic family dynamic. Director-cowriter Mainguet observes this with skilful fly-on-the-wall style camerawork, capturing snippets of conversations that offer details about the characters and their connections. And while the dull, washed-out colours leave everything looking drab, this definitely matches the mood.

After his father's funeral, Vincent (Gouy) brings everyone back to the family butcher shop for dinner, commenting that he and his boyfriend Olivier (Buraud) still plan to leave tomorrow for a planned holiday. Vincent's controlling brother Thierry (Dusaugey) is annoyed by this, trying to guilt Vincent into sticking around. And as this conversation escalates among the entire family, Thierry turns angry, shouting vile homophobic insults and sparking a brawl. Is it possible to find peace after this?

Because it's shot in a documentary style, everyone is bracingly naturalistic, so the improv-style dialog overlaps and flows in realistic rhythms as the evening rolls on. Until the confrontation, it feels completely unscripted, even as it reveals subtle angles on family expectations, tensions and intrusions. It takes a while to locate the central characters in the ensemble of aunts, uncles and cousins. And the series of mood shifts is a bit jarring over the course of the night until it's time to scatter the ashes at dawn in, yes, the middle of a lake.

van de vijver, muller, mamdi dir Jordi Wijnalda
scr Wander Theunis, Ashar Medina
with Mattias van de Vijver, Sofiene Mamdi, Michael Muller, Anthony Ortiz, Chiel Christiaans, Sam Azzi
16/Netherlands 6m


Gilles Short and very sharp, this Dutch film is a strikingly pointed depiction of how prejudice has absolutely no foundations at all. The tone is pulsing and energetic, as the film bristles with the externalised rage of the central character. Even more intense is how it reveals how people who hate each other will unite in their loathing for someone else.

It's set at a Paris nightclub, where a working class thug (van de Vijver) becomes out of control on the dancefloor and gets thrown out. As he leaves, he verbally assaults the doorman (Ortiz), then turns his fury on a Muslim-looking young man (Mamdi) in the queue. He in turn is dismissively turned away from the door, so he casually taunts the angry guy, who then launches a physical attack. The fight is broken up by Gilles (Muller), a friendly American who is clearly gay. Suddenly, the original two guys discover their common homophobia and turn their violence toward Gilles.

This is a bracing depiction of how hatred crosses lines of race, class and education, causing people to erupt in angry, rude behaviour that can become viciously horrific even if it remains verbal. All three of the central characters here are reduced to stereotypes by society, so the filmmakers are perhaps trying to explore who hates whom more. And while this makes the theme feel overstated, director Wijnalda expertly conveys the powerful effect of bigotry on society, and the fact that it has absolutely no grounding in any belief system.

lecuyer, balboni, le peltier dir-scr Ann Sirot, Raphael Balboni
with Jean Le Peltier, Vincent Lecuyer, Thelma Balboni, Gilles Remiche, Raphael Balboni
17/Belgium 14m

With Thelma  
Avec Thelma   4/5

With Thelma From Belgium, this short comedy is wonderfully engaging, carrying a terrific sense of how fate often brings things that are unexpected and rather amazing. It's bright and funny, written and directed with a light touch by Sirot and Balboni, and played with expert timing and a lot of heart by its terrific cast. And since much of the dialog and action are improvised, it's easy for the audience to dive in.

When a volcano erupts in Iceland, Raphael and his wife are stranded in Chicago, unable to return home to their toddler Thelma in Brussels. And their babysitter can't stay on longer. So Raphael calls his friends Jean and Vincent (Le Peltier and Lecuyer) to watch Thelma. Unsure how this works, they struggle with the disruption to their lives while maintaining Thelma's busy schedule and making videos to send to her parents. And when they hire a babysitter so they can go to the theatre, Jean and Vincent are more than a little unnerved that Jill turns out to be the rather swarthy Gilles (Remiche).

The film is an explosion of joy, as these two gay men fall in love with Thelma, finding ways to make her life amazing with music, dance, games and generally laughing a lot. Their initial uncertainty is beautifully played, as is their sudden descent into silence after Thelma's parents return (they figure out a way to maintain the fun). Thelma is hilariously inquisitive and chatty, and her scenes with Le Peltier and Lecuyer are superb. The directors' approach is freeform, a loose collection of witty and sometimes emotional scenes that have something important to say about parenthood and friendship.

A L S O   O N
Three’s Company

After His Death
Kiko’s Saints

Les Saints de Kiko

dir-scr Manuel Marmier
with Lika Minamoto, Francois Burgun, Arthur Gillet, Kengo Saito, Ryohei Tamura
19/France 25m 3.5/5

Reviewed at BFI Flare 2020

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 11.Jul.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall