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On this page: ALI & AVA | BULL | THE FEAST

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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 20.Oct.21

Ali & Ava  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Ali & Ava
dir-scr Clio Barnard
prd Tracy O'Riordan
with Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rushbrook, Ellora Torchia, Shaun Thomas, Natalie Gavin, Mona Goodwin, Krupa Pattani, Vinny Dhillon, Tasha Connor, Macy Shackleton, Ariana Bodorova, Sarlota Nagyova
release UK Oct.21 lff
21/UK BBC 1h35

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akhtar and rushbrook
Here's another Yorkshire-based drama from the gifted Clio Barnard, this time a gently effective romance based around workshopped characters and situations. Anchored with energetic performances from Adeel Akhar and Claire Rushbrook, who are surrounded by a cast of fresh faces, the film traces a surprising second chance at love for two 40-somethings who are caught off-guard by each other. And their likability disarms the audience too.
In Bradford, Ali (Akhtar) is a hyperactive music lover who keeps busy as a handyman, helping family members with school runs and pretty much everything. No one knows he's separated from his wife Runa (Torchia), who still lives with him just for appearances. Then Ali gets to know teacher Ava (Rushbrook), a widow who lives with her hardheaded son Callum (Thomas), who has just had a baby with his girlfriend. Both Ali and Ava are aware of the trouble they'll raise with their relationship. But they find it impossible not to fall for each other.
Larger issues are woven into the fabric of the narrative, including Ali's raucous extended Muslim family and Ava's proud Irish heritage. A chip off his drunken dad's block, Callum has a violently racist reaction the first time he sees Ali in the house. And more details emerge about both Ali's and Ava's pasts that put their situations into sharp context, adding some deeper emotional connections as well as baggage that they will have to deal with. All of this plays out in a refreshingly organic way that draws us in.

None of the cast members seem to be acting at all, including the two stars at the centre. Akhtar gives Ali such a kinetic blast of energy that he's instantly endearing, dancing on the roof of his car to the beat of his favourite rock and punk tunes. Rushbrook plays Ava as more of a country and folk aficionado, which makes her reactions more patient and warmly observant. They seem like an impossible couple, and yet they effortlessly seem just right together. And the people around them provide plenty of texture.

Some of the subplots and side roles feel a little underserved, appearing and vanishing suddenly. This of course adds to the realism, even if some characters aren't around enough to make an impact. But the cumulative effect offers a remarkable depiction of a multicultural community of people who are strikingly different yet need each other to make sense of whatever life throws at them. And without overstating it, this idea provokes the audience to look inside.

cert 15 themes, language 13.Oct.21 lff

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Paul Andrew Williams
prd Dominic Tighe, Sarah Gabriel, Marc Goldberg, Leonora Darby, Mark Lane
with Neil Maskell, David Hayman, Tamzin Outhwaite, Elizabeth Counsell, Kevin Harvey, Lois Brabin-Platt, David Nellist, Jason Milligan, Henri Charles, Laura McAlpine, Mark Springer, Jake Davies
release UK 5.Nov.21
21/UK 1h28

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Fragmented storytelling makes this dark British thriller powerfully internalised. But it's not easy to identify with characters for whom violence is a way of life. And the over-the-top filmmaking doesn't help, shifting back and forth in time to slowly round out the story and motivations, neither of which feels particularly deep. Writer-director Paul Andrew Williams has big things on his mind, but resonance is drowned out by brutality.
After being away for 10 years, Bull (Maskell) quietly returns to town with a vengeance, literally. In search of answers about what happened to his then-young son Aiden (Charles), he leaves a string of bodies in his wake, plus warnings to anyone left standing that he's coming for them too. Family patriarch Norm (Hayman) refuses to believe that Bull is back. But armed with a very big knife, Bull pulls Norm's goons aside one-by-one, menacing them as he tracks down his junkie ex Gemma (Brabin-Platt), Norm's daughter. Nothing will stop him from finding Aiden.
As Williams deploys a swirling collage of violent memories, it takes awhile to work out what's happening now and what's in the past. But the fear in people's eyes when they realise that Bull is back in town is palpable, and everything traces back to a fateful night and a burning caravan. Extended flashbacks help bring things into focus, revealing happier days in the past, although even those are tinged with nastiness. Most scenes feature sudden, horrific violence, which seems eerily normal for these people.

Aside from the innocent Aiden in flashbacks, nobody on-screen is remotely engaging, as they're all capable of astonishing savagery. Almost all of the dialog is blunt-edged and often downright abusive. Maskell has plenty of charisma in the central role, but his viciousness is impossible to excuse, even as it begins to become clearer why he's so determined in his task. Each of the men and women Bull confronts is tough as nails, played with rough attitude by a strong supporting cast.

There's very little lightness in this movie, as emotions are always circling around death and even a trip to a funfair plays like a horror movie. Through all of this, Bull comes across as a ghost from the past on a murderous rampage, evening up the score in the most painful ways possible. Even so, the film is compelling to watch, simply because it generates curiosity about where it's going, and what it has to say about the legacy a violence-obsessed family leaves behind.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 16.Oct.21 lff

The Feast   Gwleðð
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Feast
dir Lee Haven Jones;
scr-prd Roger Williams
with Annes Elwy, Nia Roberts, Steffan Cennydd, Sion Alun Davies, Julian Lewis Jones, Rhodri Meilir, Lisa Palfrey, Caroline Berry
release UK Oct.21 lff,
US 19.Nov.21
21/UK S4C 1h33

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elwy and roberts
Strikingly directed by Lee Haven Jones, this Welsh-language drama has a blackly comical surface with churning folk-tale horror elements underneath it. And Roger Williams' script taps into some very deep ideas along the way, including a wider resonance that relates to the impact greedy humans have had on the planet. It's a gripping, grisly, remarkably assured feature debut for Jones, and it carries a vicious kick.
After replacing her family farm in rural Wales with a modern mansion, Glenda (Roberts) is living there with her politician husband Gwyn (Jones) and troubled grown sons Guto (Cennydd) and Gweirydd (Davies). And she's stressed out tonight, because she's determined that her dinner party will be perfect. She has even hired local girl Cadi (Elwy) to help prepare and serve the food. The guests include voracious businessman Euros (Meilir), who wants permission from neighbour Mair (Palfrey) to drill on her land. But Mair knows the danger of disturbing the earth and awakening nature's wrath.
From the start, it's clear that something is up with the nearly mute Cadi, who leaves streaks of dirt in her wake and begins interacting with the family members and guests in increasingly nutty ways. The writing and direction isolate specific issues in each person's life, including a variety of seemingly unrelated incidents on this fateful day. But while all of this is layered in with a sense of menace, the film remains bright and slick, with a remarkably dry sense of humour that evokes laughter in some seriously nasty moments.

Performances expertly capture these distinct people. At the centre the magnetic Elway stares everyone down while indulging in some deeply freaky behaviour that no one seems to notice. And Roberts' Glenda is a bundle of nerves, hovering around Cadi with jittery tension. As the junkie and predator brothers, Cennydd and Davies are fascinating, respectively wounded and sinister, both a draining disappointment to Jones' superbly inflated self-important father. The balance within this family is delicate and rather terrifying.

Indeed, the whole movie is unsettling. It ultimately also becomes outrageously gruesome, as blood flows first in a drop then in great waves. Since it plays out as an allegory, there isn't much emotional investment on the audience's part: we don't really care what happens to these privileged people who greedily consume whatever they want. But the deeper ideas in here, and the larger point the story is making, have a terrific force to them. If it's not the kind of movie that makes us think, it definitely stirs our rage.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 1.Oct.21 lff

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