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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 7.Nov.21

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Tracey Deer
prd Anne-Marie Geinas
scr Tracey Deer, Meredith Vuchnich
with Kiawentiio, Rainbow Dickerson, Violah Beauvais, Paulina Alexis, D'Pharaoh McKay Woon-A-Tai, Joel Montgrand, Taio Gelinas, Brittany LeBorgne, Kelly Beaudoin, Jay Cardinal Villeneuve, Dawn Ford, Ida Labillois-Montour
release Can 30.Mar.21,
UK Oct.21 rff, US 5.Nov.21
20/Canada 1h32

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kiawentiio and friends
Recounting an involving story that's set during a 78-day land rights stand-off in 1990 Canada, this involving film skilfully mixes dramatic and documentary elements. Seen through the eyes of an alert child, the story has an earthy resonance that has strong echoes in current conflicts on a range of issues. In addition, writer-director Tracey Deer infuses the film with autobiographical elements that add insight and unexpected emotions.
Bright, curious 12-year-old Tekahentahkwa (Kiawentiio), whom everyone calls Beans, is hoping to transfer to a posh school that will help her achieve her ambitions. Living with her parents (Dickerson and Montgrand) and little sister (Beauvais) on Mohawk land, they attend a peaceful occupation that devolves into violence. Her dad joins the group holding a bridge, while the girls help him build barricades and their mother finds inventive ways to have fun. Then Beans befriends the tough rebel April (Alexis), who encourages her to do her own thing, even if that means going against her parents.
Deer uses extensive news footage of actual events as they play out, cutting away to Beans as she begins to understand what this conflict means to her and her people, especially when she witnesses unspeakable racism aimed at directly at her. Her responses are complex and revealing, and the story takes a turn as she looks to the fierce April for advice. And she watches carefully as her mother uses very different methods to help diffuse the growing violence between the Mohawk men and the police.

The film's easy naturalism makes it involving. Kiawentiio is excellent in the central role as a smart girl who is genuinely wrestling with some confusing and sometimes downright terrifying truths about the world. She's likeable and observant, and fiercely protective of Ruby, played with an openness by Beauvais as a girl too young to understand any of this. By contrast, Alexis is unapologetically harsh and intense as April, steering the story in a direction that's scary and honest.

Because she can see the opposition she will face for the rest of her life, Beans is learning that she will need to toughen up as she gets older. And it's hard to watch her lose her childish innocence over the course of this story, discovering the power of a well-timed punch or swear word. Deer is unafraid to allow Beans to encounter some real danger on a variety of fronts. So the lessons are sometimes very difficult, and there's always a glimmer of hope.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 30.Oct.21

Father of Flies  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Father of Flies
dir Ben Charles Edwards
scr Nadia Doherty, Ben Charles Edwards
prd Kirsty Bell, Ben Charles Edwards
with Keaton Tetlow, Page Ruth, Camilla Rutherford, Nicholas Tucci, Colleen Heidemann, Davi Santos, Sandra Andreis, Malik Ibheis, Cark Prekopp, Lida Fox
release US Oct.21 shff,
UK Oct.21 rff
21/US 1h18

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Building a queasy sense of unease with disjointed imagery, writer-director Ben Charles Edwards further augments this horror film with cheap filmmaking tricks using music to create jump scares. While the tone is effectively nasty, and there are quite a few superbly chilling moments along the way, the film as a whole feels like a somewhat thin variation on the solid freak-out concept of the wicked stepmother.
In his family home in a snowy forest, preteen Michael (Tetlow) is struggling to get along with Coral (Rutherford), the pregnant girlfriend of his father preoccupied Richard (Tucci). Not only does she wear a creepy face-covering mask for either a medical or cosmetic reason, but her interaction feels oddly off kilter. Teen sister Donna (Ruth) is old enough to sneak out with boyfriend Sam (Santos), but Michael continues to yearn for his unstable mother (Andreis). Then when dad goes away on business, Michael is terrified that something evil is lurking inside the house.
Essentially a fairy tale about children trying to escape an evil witch who has taken over their home, the plot feels rather simplistic and slow. Instead, Edwards' focus is on the atmospherics, using quite a lot of background TV footage (vintage cartoons, yucky nature docs, a hideous clown) plus jarring audio and visual weirdness to keep the audience feeling off-balance. There's also a wild-haired neighbour (Heidemann) who has a book of spells that seems to be causing strange things to happen to this family. But of course nothing is as it seems.

Performances are nicely understated, sometimes almost stone-faced even as inexplicable things swirl around the characters. At the centre, young Tetlow is sympathetic enough to pull us in even when little seems to actually be happening. Through his eyes, the whole world seems to be off the rails, so the things that seem supernatural are genuinely frightening. By contrast, Ruth brings a welcome sardonic sulk to the movie. Rutherford thankfully downplays Coral's quirks, which makes everything about her behaviour feel unnerving.

Edwards skilfully deploys both well-lit eeriness and threateningly inky shadows, so his reliance on well-worn shock tactics feels unnecessary. More character development might have added texture and depth to pull us into the situations. As is, the film feels like a bare hint of a plot filled with a random collection of outrageous shiver-inducing gimmickry. Although it does get crazily freaky in the more action-packed final half hour, mixing a whole range of potential horrors into something darkly horrific.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 30.Oct.21

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir Ana Rocha De Sousa
scr Ana Rocha De Sousa, Paula Vaccaro, Aaron Brookner
prd Rodrigo Areias, Aaron Brookner, Paula Vaccaro
with Lucia Moniz, Sophia Myles, Ruben Garcia, Maisie Sly, James Felner, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Brian Bovell, Simon Bass, Agustina Figueras, Susanna Cappellaro, Kem Croft, Geoffrey Kirkness
release Por 22.Oct.20,
UK Nov.21 rff
20/Portugal 1h13

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sly and moniz
Quietly observational, this astute London-set drama captures the situation for people who are squeezed by a system that claims to offer help but is actually making life horrifically difficult. Director Ana Rocha De Sousa tells the story unflinchingly, allowing the audience to vividly see both the truth and the injustice. And events that play out are often utterly unthinkable. So the film carries a powerfully emotional gut punch.

In London, social services begin looking into Portuguese immigrants Bela and Jota (Moniz and Garcia), alerted by their struggle to pay for hearing aids for their deaf 7-year-old daughter Lu (Sly). Bela has to care for baby Jessy even while she works as a cleaner. And teen son Diego (Felner) is unwell, which is keeping Jota from his job. Clearly this isn't a good day for a home visit, and the officials who arrive see the children as at risk. Seeking help, they contact former social worker Ann (Myles), who tries to find a solution.
With a Loach-style approach to the story, this family's growing desperation is difficult to watch. They are doing their best, terrified of callous officials who don't actually care about their well-being, look at all the wrong things and ask all the wrong questions. At the centre is a concern that Lu has been physically injured, and the script maintains a remarkable complexity about this, never playing into it melodramatically. So it feels almost horrific when word comes that the children will be forcibly adopted into three separate homes.

Performances are open and transparent, as even the lighter offhanded moments provide insight into the characters. Moniz and Garcia are terrific as parents shaken to the core by multiple layers of cruelty within the British system, from institutional bigotry to casual prejudice and ignorance. Their reactions to these things are visceral and wrenching. Both Sly and Felner are excellent, shining brightly in layered, demanding roles. And Myles quietly provides a steely voice of reason.

This is a knowing, clear-eyed depiction of a situation that is probably far more common than we would like to imagine. Everything about this process is badly broken, starting with the safety net for families that are struggling, plus clearly inadequate casework and unjust court decisions that pull a family apart at the seams. Bela is even prohibited from communicating with Lu using sign language. That the filmmakers find a note of hope in this situation is remarkable.

cert 12 themes, language 1.Nov.21 rff

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