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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 19.Sep.21

A Beautiful Form to See dir-scr Lara Zeidan
with Alicia Agneson
20/UK 8m

iris prize fest

A Beautiful Form to See  

A Beautiful Form to See To follow up her ingenious, award-winning short Three Centimetres, London-based Canadian-Lebanese filmmaker Lara Zeidan takes a pointedly abstract approach to internalised thoughts and feelings. Based on a poem, this Iris Prize-funded project is set entirely inside a kaleidoscope and, because this surreal world is created in-camera without digital trickery, the film has a remarkably tactile quality to it that sparks the imagination.

There's a naked woman (Agneson, her modesty gently blurred) inside a kaleidoscope, embracing all of the colours of her world, watching things shift and change around her while considering each new view. Then she spots the enormous blue eye watching her, and she begins to contemplate both her existence and her identity in this place.

The idea is very simple, and it's depicted in a way that allows the audience to find what they want in the film. There's no overt meaning, and no deliberate event that drives any sort of narrative. It's merely experiential, as Zeidan and the expressive Agneson present a stream of vividly lit and coloured images that are in constant motion, reflecting and refracting around this woman. And the fact that the eyeball is also Agneson's adds to the deeper meaning of the piece.


Far From the Tree dir-scr Natalie Nourigat
21/US Disney 7m

Far From the Tree  

Far From the Tree Using vintage-style hand-drawn animation, this lovely little drama unfolds without any words at all, simply observing a mother racoon and her curious young kit. It's a very simple story, with a rather obvious trajectory and message. But it's engaging and entertaining, and what it has to say will connect with audiences.

It opens as the mother and child raccoon leave the forest and head to the beach to find food. Mother wants her daughter to stay hidden, out of sight of possible dangers, but the little one is just too distracted by the interesting new things all around her, from shiny shells to nosey seagulls. When danger rears its head, mama leaps to the rescue, but is furious at her child's disobedience.

The story then leaps forward to the child as a mother, repeating the scene with her own kit, but with some added understanding. It's a nice comment on parents who, in an effort to be protective, become harshly restrictive rather than helpful. And the traditional animation is seriously beautiful, bringing out big emotions through the expressions in these critters' faces. A bit more subtlety might have made it even even more impactful.

Showing with ENCANTO •15.Sep.21

pirie dir Joseph Daly
scr Stuart Armstrong, Joseph Daly
with Ian Pirie, Noof Ousellam, Isobel Wood
21/UK 15m

The Leerie  

The Leerie Inventively shot in period style with flickering black and white imagery, this witty short thriller explores a point in history when technology created an enormous shift, lighting up the darker corners of the world with electricity. Filmmaker Daly and his three-person cast (plus rodents) have a lot of fun with the time and setting, creating an immersive gothic atmosphere that inventively pulls the audience inside the story.

It's 1899 in Aberdeenshire, where a veteran leerie (Pirie) lights the gas-fuelled lamps on the pathways around his cluttered cottage. Then on a misty evening, an official named John Allan (Ousellam) arrives to tell him that electricity is coming, and lamplighters need to retrain with the new technology. But this old guy struggles to accept the news, imagining a nightmarish future ahead for his quiet community.

The setting is cleverly evoked with the leerie's extra-thick Scottish brogue, hilariously rendered verbatim in subtitles. And his only companions are the rats that creep around his home. This quiet existence is vividly interrupted by John's pronouncement, leaving behind a gadget that sparks the old man's visions of a glowing woman (Wood) who taunts him mercilessly. The actors are terrific, with the scruffy Pirie's thick accent contrasting against the sharply dressed Ousellam's clipped pronunciation. And even if it's set in the distant past, there's a haunting resonance in the premise.


Us Again dir-scr Zach A Parrish
21/US Disney 7m

Us Again  

Us Again This dance-filled animated short feels like La La Land in New York. Using a lively musical score in lieu of dialog, it follows a grumpy old man who rediscovers his mojo and hits the street for a raucous choreographed shuffle with his wife through the rain-soaked city. It's a fizzy production that uses a little magic to shift the characters back and forth between their old and younger selves. And the animation is flat-out gorgeous, with whizzy camera movement and spectacular rendering of watery special effects.

As this couple tries to remain young and bouncy, chasing the retreating magical effects of this rainstorm, a sense of urgency expands into some heartfelt sentimentality. It's a very simple idea, a sweet exploration of how important it is to never lose track of the child inside you. And of course not to forget the power of music to lighten any mood.

Showing with RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON • 1.Mar.21

The Male Gaze: Hide and Seek  
Reviews by Rich Cline
hide and seek
release UK 22.Jan.21
21/UK NQV 1h32

With another five short dramas from five countries, this series of collections continues to challenge audiences as it explores the points where masculinity and sexuality collide. Each of these films confronts deep feelings of yearning, specifically a desire for connection with a loved one who might be out of reach. These are thought-provoking, introspective dramas that will hit audiences with the kinds of emotions that films rarely try to address.

Lolo dir-scr Leandro Goddinho, Paulo Menezes
with Zev Starrett, Sam Atlas, Rhea C Tober, Valentin von Schonburg
19/Germany 14m


Lolo This lively little drama from Germany is in English, and set in what could be a suburban anywhere. Iit features a terrific cast of pre-teen actors who adeptly reveal details under the surface of their characters to bring them vividly to life. And filmmakers Goddinho and Menezes take a free-wheeling, almost absurd approach that sharply captures their youthful exuberance.

At age 11, Lolo (Starrett) is desperate to become official with his first love Max (von Schonburg) at tonight's party. His hilariously colourful best friends Toby and Elena (Atlas and Tober) are trying to encourage him by consulting their tarot cards. But Max is wary about being linked with Lolo because, as he says, "You're a gay gay, and I'm more heteroflexible." Meanwhile, Lolo and his friends discuss what it means to be gay or straight, and whether they have any other options. Or maybe all of this has to do with feng shui.

They may be too young to understand these things, so their interaction is riotously funny, and also remarkably knowing and insightful. The film is a wonderful expression of personal yearning, wildly creative children who haven't yet realised that they're different. And you get the feeling that together, Lolo, Toby and Elena have the ability to make the world a much better place. Hopefully they'll never think that they need to hide their true selves.

mariani and caserio dir Lorenzo Caproni
scr Lorenzo Caproni, Fabio Marson
with Emanuel Caserio, Daniele Mariani, Laura Sinceri, Nicola Linadei Maroder
15/Italy 15m

The Den  
La Tana   4/5

The Den Bright and sunny at the start, this skilfully shot and edited short has insinuating dark undercurrents that come to the surface as the narrative develops. Director Caproni keeps everything subtle and intriguing, pulling the audience in as the characters attempt to control their underlying thoughts and feelings.

At a seaside resort, Luca (Caserio) reintroduces himself to Christian (Mariani), who is relaxing with his wife (Sinceri) and young son (Linadei Maroder) in the sunshine. Luca and Christian used to holiday here as teens, and when they speak together in private about their sexual history, old feelings begin to emerge. Soon, Christian is tying Luca up like in the old days. But maybe his goal is simply to assure his silence.

The actors have an earthy, natural presence on-camera, stirring microscopic details into their performances to offer hints at the reality gurgling underneath. Where the story goes is both provocative and thoughtful, cleverly balancing humour with aggression and yearning. The sadomasochistic reconnection between Luca and Christian is played with complexity, allowing us to ponder our our questions even as deeper truths are revealed. This is a challenging exploration of the sometimes blurry nature of desire, most notably how impossible it is to deny the truth about yourself.

Stanley dir-scr Paulo Roberto
with Carlos Andre, Lais Lacerda, Aelson Felinto, Rafael Guedes, Maria Aparecida
17/Brazil 18m


Stanley An artful exploration of the nature of desire, this Brazilian drama takes an unusual approach, capturing the epic landscapes, colourful homes and specific elements of the local society before honing in on some personal interaction. Filmmaker Roberto takes a loose approach, cutting between seemingly random scenes and unnamed characters to create a sensory experience.

A young woman kills a chicken to prepare it for dinner. A young man practices on his guitar. At a roadside pop-up nightclub, the neighbours drink and dance. A woman provocatively picks up a handsome guy and dances with him, and they're joined by another guy under the flickering lights. As the sun comes up, the three of them take off on a scooter, heading to a reservoir, where the two guys go off on their own for a swim and other things.

The film has a real sense of rhythm to it, cleverly painting a picture of youthful playfulness in a rural setting. The imagery is striking, often tactile in its depiction of the countryside, light, water and skin. The entwined bodies have a sexy ferocity that's rarely depicted on-screen. And when these men finally begin speaking to each other about their mutual friend Stanley, the film becomes both hilarious and powerfully moving, a wry look at a deeply religious culture that isn't something to laugh about.

If Only You Were Mine dir David Benedek
scr Jakub Spevak, Jan Stiffel, David Benedek
with Jakub Jablonsky, Peter Martincek, Judita Hansman, Claudia Pittnerova
17/Slovakia 23m

If Only You Were Mine  
Keby Si Bol Môj   4.5/5

jablonsky and martincek Shot like a feature, this observant Slovak drama has layers of complexity in its simple exploration of a relationship. Filmmaker David Benedek carefully observes details in the performances of fine cast. Each actor skilfully underplays scenes to provide insight into the ways their characters are thinking and feeling. So it's remarkably involving, even as it remains minimalistic.

In Bratislava, university student Dominik (Jablonsky) gets help with studying from his older boyfriend Adam (Martincek), who's part of the city's super-cool art scene. Their relationship is warm, affectionate and passionate, but Dom is afraid to admit that he's in love. Perhaps this because Adam's friends make him feel inadequate. But Dom feels guilty about looking online for someone to date.

In just 23 minutes, this film lightly deconstructs the connection between Dominik and Adam, adding knowing textures in brief scenes with other people. Most notably, the film allows space around these young men to highlight unspoken issues between them, leading to conversations that are laced with subtext. The pointed question is whether Dominik can overcome his self-doubts enough to let himself be happy with Adam. Which of course is important whether or not their relationship survives.

A L S O   O N
Hide and Seek

No Strings
No Strings
dir-scr Eoin Maher
with Aaron Cini, Richard Hay
15/Ireland 23m 4/5

Reviewed at BFI Flare 2016

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 23.Jan.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall