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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 3.Oct.21

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn   Babardeala cu Bucluc sau Porno Balamuc
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
dir-scr Radu Jude
prd Ada Solomon
with Katia Pascariu, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Malai, Nicodim Ungureanu, Alexandru Potocean, Andi Vasluianu, Oana Maria Zaharia, Gabriel Spahiu, Florin Petrescu, Stefan Steel, Alex Bogdan, Kristina Cepraga
release Rom Jul.21 tiff,
US 19.Nov.21, UK 26.Nov.21
21/Romania 1h46

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Fiendishly clever and endlessly provocative as it explores the messiness of humanity at this point in history, this satirical Romanian comedy starts with an explicit sex tape then proceeds to unpack and then challenge our reactions to it. Writer-director Rade Jude's approach is endlessly playful and also very pointed, rummaging around in culture and history while allowing a wide range of opinions to surge within the narrative.
Highly esteemed Bucharest school teacher Emi (Pascariu) finds herself in trouble when a lively, explicit video she made with her husband (Steel) is leaked online. She meets with her boss (Ieremia) and runs several errands around the city before heading to her prestigious school for a fateful meeting with the riled-up parents of her students. This encounter is deeply humiliating, especially as it zeroes in on Emi's private life while also becoming into a larger discussion of morality in general. And Emi struggles to maintain her dignity against a flood of bigotry and ignorance.
Structurally, the story is bisected by an extended interlude in which Jude takes the audience on a wildly entertaining trawl through humanity, touching on just about every topic imaginable using images, text and sound in a seemingly random order. Even in the dramatic sequences, the camera drifts away to capture telling juxtapositions that highlight clashing ideas and historical detritus that sit all around us. The themes are enormous and so scrambled together that they can't help but get our minds spinning.

At the centre, Pascariu holds focus as a woman caught in a storm of ideas, in danger of being cancelled because her private life has come to light. Her stoicism is remarkable, perhaps even inspiring, as she defends herself with facts rather than battling the appalling innuendo, gossip and insults hurled at her. Aside from the superb Ieremia as the paralysed headmistress, side characters remain busy in the film's edges, supplying comedy, colour and texture to the bigger picture.

Set during the pandemic, Jude cleverly uses surgical masks to add witty tweaks to characters and their interaction. And while the film seems too madly bonkers to provide a clear message, that's exactly the point: our need for everything to be black or white, right or wrong, is the problem. The world is a wildly inconsistent place, full of quirky individuals who deserve careful consideration rather than quick judgement. It's an entertaining, riveting film that forces us to open our minds and really look at the world around us.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality, violence 23.Sep.21 lff

Natural Light   Természetes Fény
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Natural Light
dir-scr Denes Nagy
prd Marcell Gero, Sara Laszlo, Melanie Blocksdorf, Inese Boka, Caroline Piras
with Ferenc Szabo, Laszlo Bajko, Tamas Garbacz, Gyula Franczia, Stuhl Erno, Szilagyi Gyula, Mareks Lapeskis, Kozo Krisztian, Nanasi Csaba, Fodor Zsolt, Mondovics Mihaly, Barta Jozsef
release Hun 16.Sep.21,
UK 12.Nov.21
21/Hungary 1h43

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With a documentary approach to realism and minimal dialog, this gritty World War II drama relies on the moral dilemmas faced by a central character who gives little away to the audience. Writer-director Denes Nagy creates beautiful imagery in a cold, muddy place while exploring complexities of wartime interaction. So its slow pace is strikingly involving, although the icy approach to emotion leaves it more academic than moving.

As Germany invades the Soviet Union, Hungarian soldiers are assigned to hunt partisans in wintry Ukraine. Thoughtful, observant Semetka (Szabo) is an officer who has just searched a small village when his commander is killed in an ambush. So now Semetka is the leader, and he returns to question the villagers, gathering them in one place by locking them in a barn. But a few manage to escape, and Semetka's old friend Koleszar (Bajko) turns up to assume command, sidelining him while taking a much harder line against the terrified men, women and children.
Opening scenes feature a river flowing through a snowy woodland, crisply photographed by Tamas Dobos with an eye that captures subtle details. The film's design is extremely drab, with dull green costumes that match mud puddles big enough to swallow a horse. And the sound mix exquisitely fills in around the sparse dialog, bristling with triggering ambient noises and churning musical cues. In other words, the atmosphere has a vivid kick to it, forcing the audience to lean into each scene as Semetka quietly grapples with very big questions.

Szabo's performance has a remarkable stillness to it, never speaking unless it's absolutely necessary and refusing to allow even a flicker of feeling to show on his face. But he's watching and considering everything around him, showing aloof compassion where others are brutally cruel. A few other faces become familiar along the way, although most are never proper characters in the story. Only Bajko gets his own punchy moments, including a pointed storytelling scene.

Indeed, pretty much everything about this film is pointed. Each tiny sequence carries an anecdotal moral moment, as decisions are made that reflect on the people involved. The salient, and seriously haunting, question is how complicit a caring man like Semetka is in the thug-like nastiness that he is determined to avoid. Is simply walking away enough? Is omitting the truth from a report an act of injustice? These are big enough issues to make the film important, even if Nagy's approach is somewhat indulgent.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 14.Sep.21

Titane   aka: Titanium
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr Julia Ducournau
prd Jean-Christophe Reymond
with Vincent Lindon, Agathe Rousselle, Garance Marillier, Lis Salameh, Mara Cisse, Marin Judas, Diong-Keba Tacu, Myriem Akheddiou, Bertrand Bonello, Celine Carrere, Adele Guigue, Lamine Cissokho
release Fr 14.Jul.21,
US 1.Oct.21, UK 31.Dec.21
21/France 1h48

london film fest

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An intense, Cronenberg-style provocation, this French odyssey pushes several buttons in its bracingly complex depictions of female empowerment and toxic masculinity, and vice versa. It's relentlessly pungent, as filmmaker Julia Ducournau challenges the audience to invest in the characters and consider seemingly random things that are happening in the context of a much bigger picture. It's too scattered and loose to narrow its target, but thoughts it raises are haunting.
With a titanium plate in her skull after a childhood accident, Alexis (Rousselle) now works as a dancer, gyrating on muscle cars in skimpy outfits. She's also a serial killer, taking out her pent-up rage on anyone who crosses her. With the cops on her trail, she disguises herself as Adrien, a young man who went missing as a child, then moves in with his firefighter father Vincent (Lindon). But as she joins Vincent's crew, Alexis' body suffers from being so tightly wrapped, especially since she's also pregnant after an encounter with a vintage Cadillac.
Yes, among the plot's many layers is a nutty fantastical element involving Alexis' sexual metallic yearning for big, strong vehicles. Meanwhile out of disguise, she looks like another runaway teen with a growing belly, although the oozing oil is a change. So it's no surprise that fellow fireman Rayane (Salamah) begins to suspect something. The film is shot with an attention to detail that often raises a laugh, sometimes with nervous or sardonic edges. And scenes continually subvert the usual imagery, twisting ideas of gender, parenthood and sexuality in spirited directions.

Performances from Rousselle and Lindon are hugely invested, using full physicality to create powerfully sympathetic characters who repeatedly surprise us. Their scenes together range from frighteningly prickly to earthy and tender, ultimately tapping into some sharply moving emotions. Other roles are smaller but memorable, adding an array of fascinating textures that stretch the themes. The crew of fit firemen are particularly well-played, oozing machismo while partying as if they're in a gay nightclub.

Oddly there never seems to be a resolution to all of these swirling ideas. Ducournau simply leaves everything hanging in the air, then adds even more into the mix. The cumulative effect is bold and ambitious, because the urgency of these topics is impossible to ignore as the compelling story itself surges to its only possible conclusion. Perhaps a bit more focus would have helped these big issues gel into something that packed a powerful punch. But as is, the film leaves us with a lot to think about.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 30.Sep.21 lff

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