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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 17.Oct.21

The Grand Duke of Corsica  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
The Grand Duke of Corsica
dir-scr Daniel Graham
prd Matt Hookings, Chris Hardman
with Timothy Spall, Peter Stormare, Matt Hookings, Alicia Agneson, Noeleen Comiskey, Lucy Martin, Ali Cook, James Mackie, Elvira Out, Pia Zammit, Edward Mercieca, Lara Heller
release US 15.Oct.21
21/UK 1h33

Is it streaming?

spall and stormare
This offbeat comedy recounts parallel true stories set in Malta 800 years apart. Writer-director mixes smutty slapstick with yearning spirituality in some odd ways, but the characters and situations are intriguing enough to hold the interest. So while the script has a tendency to bog down in dense philosophy and uneven plot points, a tetchy sense of humour keeps things feeling fresh. And the picturesque settings help as well.
In 1221, a group of young monks ponder their future, including the thoughtful Francis (Hookings), who comes from Assisi and is bound for sainthood. But he's struggling to face his fears. In 2021, blunt architect Alfred (Spall) has offended his latest clients when he's contacted by a fatally ill billionaire who calls himself the Grand Duke of Corsica (Stormare). He wants Alfred to build him a memorable mausoleum. With limited time to work, Alfred sets out to learn more about this so-called Grand Duke and what he wants his monument to say about himself.
While Francis confronts his aversion to leprosy, curing a young woman (Martin) of the rampant disease, the present-day sequences are accompanied by news reports of a drug-resistant strain of malaria sweeping the Mediterranean. At one point, Alfred watches a film about St Francis starring the arrogant actor Leos (also Hookings), who later contracts malaria himself. These echoing ideas are a bit of a stretch, and never quite gel. Dialog and narration are packed with overwritten stories and philosophising, and Alfred's romantic entanglement with a writer (Comiskey) also doesn't connect.

Spall has a great time as the snappy, acerbic Alfred, whose confidence rattles everyone he meets. As an artistic genius, his stark, sometimes profane opinions are jolting, and often very funny, although his meandering voiceover feels more perplexing than explanatory. The terrific Stormare chomps gently on the scenery as the wealthy eccentric who rattles Alfred's carefully controlled life. Their scenes together have a nice unpredictability as they discuss their plans and simply hang out, getting to know each other.

As Graham over-eggs the script and imagery, the film begins to get a bit wobbly and sometimes downright awkward. There are a lot of big ideas swirling around in this film, and quite a few are overstated in the dialog and narration. More interesting is the less obvious way the narrative explores issues of ambition and mortality, as well as the commonality between all people. Graham has ambitious ideas about what he wants to say here, but working out what they mean is a challenge.

cert 15 themes, language. sexuality 12.Oct.21

On the Fringe of Wild  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
On the Fringe of Wild
dir Emma Catalfamo
scr Sorelle Doucet; prd Eric Bizzarri
with Harrison Browne, Cameron Stewart, Mikael Melo, Andrew Bee, Adam Jenner, Andrea Pavlovic, Bernadette Medhurst, Audrey Nesbitt, Grace Mclean, Sarah Pufek, Hollyanne Campbell, Jonathan Glendon
release US 15.Oct.21
21/Canada 1h23

Is it streaming?

stewart and browne
There's an awkward low-budget charm to this Canadian drama, which is set in a snowy rural community rife with ignorant bigotry. While the script and direction are rather obvious, there are strong themes that hold the interest, reminding us that there are many places where LGBTQ young people still live under threat. The settings are beautifully shot, although the constant presence of scared rabbits is a little on-the-nose.

In northern Ontario, the sensitive, artistic Peter (Browne) is targeted by high school bullies Miles and Candace (Melo and Pavlovic). And his homophobic father (Bee) is even worse, thinking he'll make Peter "more of a man" on a wintry hunting trip. Meanwhile nearby, the timid Jack (Stewart) has his own violently prejudiced dad (Jenner) and is terrified of coming out. As they both run away, Peter and Jack meet in the woods, then hide out in an isolated cabin. But as they have small adventures and fall in love, they worry about the consequences.
When they meet, neither Peter nor Jack is willing to admit that he's gay, for obvious reasons. So it takes them awhile to drop their guard, finding common ground and enjoying this chance to escape the harsh realities of their families. They also begin to hope for a life they thought they'd never be able to have, even as they understand that they will need to return to face their fears. Because the film has raised a vague Romeo and Juliet vibe, it becomes difficult to hope for a happy ending.

There are issues with casting, but the actors make it work, generally underplaying roles apart from some oversized emotional outbursts. Browne and Stewart generate nice chemistry, and find dark camaraderie as they discuss suicidal urges. Side characters are less developed, only coming to life in brief moments along the way, generally as antagonists who simplistically stir up the nastiness. Melo's self-loathing gay is a rather standard villain. As Peter's mother, Pavlovic plays the only person who accepts Peter, but her brutish husband dismisses her.

The truth is that many gay teens in rural areas struggle to find a reason to keep living, because the people who should offer love and support are the ones who cruelly reject them. Writer Doucet's approach to this theme lacks nuance, and the trajectory of the plot feels choppy, but at least it confronts the issue head-on. And in the end, it becomes clear that for these kids getting far away from home is the only option.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 14.Oct.21

7 Days  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
7 Days
dir Roshan Sethi
scr Roshan Sethi, Karan Soni
prd Liz Cardenas, Mel Eslyn
with Karan Soni, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gita Reddy, Zenobia Shroff, Vinny Chhibber, Asif Ali, Mark Duplass, Jeffery Self, Aparna Nancherla, Deborah Baker Jr, Liz Cardenas
release US Jun.21 tff,
UK Oct.21 lff
21/US 1h26

london film fest

Is it streaming?

viswanathan and soni
There's plenty of charm in this contained romantic comedy, which mixes the pressures of Indian culture with the uncertainty of the pandemic. It feels both improvised and somewhat constructed, and wins over the audience with the awkward but cute chemistry between charismatic actors Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan. It's also a clever look at issues specific to a subculture that will have a far wider resonance for audiences.
After their mothers (Reddy and Shroff) use an arranged marriage app to set them up, Ravi and Rita (Soni and Viswanathan) are on a clumsy first date when the lockdown hits, shutting transport options and stranding the fastidious Ravi in Rita's less-than-tidy apartment. He also discovers that she's not remotely as traditional as her mother said she was. As they provoke and challenge each other, both of them also find their perspectives widened. So Ravi is sympathetic about Rita's messy relationship with a married man. And she appreciates the way Ravi looks out for her.
Even with some darkly serious moments, the storytelling feels lightweight, indulging in a few thudding plot points that don't add much to the deeper ideas. But the generally witty tone, with zinging dialog that plays knowingly with the Indian culture, keeps the film engaging. Ravi and Rita are the only proper characters, with everyone else showing up on phone calls. And their prickly interaction is fun to watch, especially as secrets begin to emerge along with some unexpected understanding.

Soni has a wonderfully awkward energy as the hyperactive Ravi, eager to find his expected dream woman even as it's clear that the idea terrifies him. His desire to do everything exactly according to custom is hilarious, especially in the face of Viswanathan's sardonic Rita, who breaks rules with abandon ("Don't let him see the real you," Rita's mother warns her). As they finally drop their carefully manufactured facades, their connection takes some pointedly honest turns.

The writers strain to weave the pandemic into the narrative, so the way it interrupts the plot is frustrating, even as it carefully elicits an emotional response. More engaging is the clever exploration of how Indian family traditions relate to the modern world, and this allows the characters to be realistic and funny in the process. A bit more depth in the side roles might have added some extra textures, and the ending feels a bit sudden. But it's all so charming and likeable that we're happy to just go along with it.

cert 15 themes, language 20.Sep.21 lff

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