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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 16.Jan.22

Hive   Zgjoi
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir-scr Blerta Basholli
prd Yll Uka, Valon Bajgora, Agon Uka
with Yllka Gashi, Cun Lajci, Kumrije Hoxha, Aurita Agushi, Adriana Matoshi, Molike Maxhuni, Blerta Ismaili, Kaona Sylejmani, Mal Noah Safqiu, Xhejlane Terbunja, Astrit Kabashi, Adem Karaga
release US 5.Nov.21
21/Kosovo 1h24


Is it streaming?

gashi and friends
Based on a true story, this drama from Kosovo takes on a sexist society in which women are forbidden from doing anything on their own. Writer-director Blerta Basholli maintains a superbly understated approach, allowing big feelings to gurgle strongly under the surface. She captures the textures of this culture beautifully, finding powerfully warm expressions of humanity in between the darker ones. It's an important cry for compassion and equality.
Still waiting for news about her missing husband seven years after the war ended, Fahrije (Gashi) doesn't qualify for assistance given to war widows. But she needs to support her surly teen daughter Zana (Sylejmani), younger son Edon (Safqiu) and disabled father-in-law Haxhi (Lajci). So she starts her own business with a group of local women, keeping bees and producing avjar chutney. But the men in the village do everything they can to discourage her, and she also faces resistance within her family. Persevering, she knows that she's not doing this just for them.
In this place, the men feel they are justified in harassing and violently abusing Farije for just about everything she does. Basically, they think she's a prostitute simply because she dares to get a driving licence. Meanwhile, the village women gather regularly to discuss the situation and support each other. They are also strikingly honest in the way they both crack jokes and confront each other. Most are harshly intimidated by the men in their lives. For Farije, Haxhi is prickly but ultimately supportive, and she also desperately misses her husband.

Performances are grounded and naturalistic, anchored by Gashi, who brings engaging internalised tenacity to Fahrije, an inspiring leader who quietly takes on the patriarchy. Her approach is remarkably positive with everyone she meets, including those who oppress or even attack her. And it's no surprise when she starts to hit back and defend herself. Scenes with her children ripple with earthy realism. And side characters have strong personalities, most notably Lajci as the irascible Haxhi, a man crippled by pride.

There's a wonderfully telling moment when Fahrije watches her preteen son, clearly wondering what kind of man he will become in this relentlessly vile society. It's shocking to see a present-day European story that reflects such hideous bigotry and oppression. And Basholli cleverly centres the film around the hope these women find as they refuse to give in to the injustice all around them. Perhaps their actions in this tiny corner of the world will make a difference. This film certainly will.

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

The Pink Cloud   A Nuvem Rosa
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
The Pink Cloud
dir-scr Iuli Gerbase
prd Luciana Tomasi
with Renata de Lelis, Eduardo Mendonca, Girley Brasil Paes, Helena Becker, Kaya Rodrigues, Livia Perrone, Antonio Ramos, Gabriel Eringer, Henrigue Goncalves, Fernanda Carvalho Leite, Isadora Pillar, Lauro Fagundes
release Br 29.Jan.21,
US 14.Jan.22
21/Brazil 1h44


Is it streaming?

de lelis and mendonca
Written in 2017 and shot in 2019, this Brazilian sci-fi drama is eerily prescient, as writer-director Iuli Gerbase explores the effect of sudden isolation on a new couple. This is an astute, riveting exploration of how it feels to have life disrupted, separated from loved ones and unsure about the future. The script is superbly naturalistic, weaving in humour and emotion while vividly capturing the necessity of physical contact.

As toxic pink clouds appear around the world, the public is forced to take cover. Having only met yesterday, Giovana and Yago (de Lelis and Mendonca) take refuge in Giovana's apartment with windows tightly closed. Waiting for the cloud to lift, they can only chat with friends and family on video calls. Initially playful, their relationship takes turns as this new extended reality sets in. Supplies arrive through tubes, but the government takes a divisive approach to the crisis, releasing information that's minimal and confusing. So rumours begin to take root and people get desperate.
Settling into this life, Yago asks, "Are we a couple?" Giovana replies that it's like an arranged marriage, as they're only now getting to know each other. Days include quiet birthday celebrations and working out how to make a living and pay bills without going outside. They're also forced to further define their relationship, including what they'll do if the cloud persists and they have to raise a child indoors. Indeed, several years pass. Some put positive spins on the cloud, while others contemplate murder.

Both de Lelis and Mendonca deepen their characters through a variety of interaction and soul-searching. This includes Giovana's conversations with best friend Sara (Rodrigues) and little sister Julia (Becker), while Yago tries to keep his father (Paes) at peace with his live-in nurse (Goncalves). The forced intimacy resonates strongly as Giovana and Yago grapple with complex thoughts and feelings. And shifts in their relationship are powerfully insightful.

Younger people are particularly aware of the things they can't do because of this lock-in, but they can accept it more readily. Others question whether the cloud is some sort of punishment for humanity. But there are odd gaps in the script's logic, such as how no one devises a protective suit so people can move around (couldn't they at least seal the apartment blocks?). And video calls can't address all medical issues. These kinds of things make the film drag, even as it delivers a series of kicks that are both familiar and painfully sharp.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 14.Jan.22

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy
dir-scr Ryusuke Hamaguchi
prd Satoshi Takada
with Kotone Furukawa, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Katsuki Mori, Shouma Kai, Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai
release US 15.Oct.21,
Jpn 17.Dec.21, UK 11.Feb.22
21/Japan 2h01

london film fest

Is it streaming?

kai and mori
Three self-contained stories feature women examining their fateful romantic choices. Japanese writer-director Ryusuke Hamaguchi maintains a naturalistic approach that cuts through the surfaces of the interaction, finding a range of thoughts and feelings that are sometimes startlingly easy to identify with. Each chapter has a twist in the tale, and each is a lovely plea for self-acceptance, refusing to let society define who you are when it comes to love.
Magic (or Something Less Assuring) follows Meiko (Furukawa), whose friend Tsugumi (Hyunri) excitedly recounts an evening with hot colleague Kazuaki (Nakajima). Meiko conceals her history with Kazuaki, then confronts him about it. In Door Wide Open, Nao (Mori) is having a fling with the younger Sasaki (Kai), but he takes it more seriously and asks Nao to help take down a professor (Shibukawa) who humiliated him. And Once Again centres on Natsuko (Kawai), back home for a class reunion when she runs into old friend Aya (Urabe). As they catch up, they realise that they can't remember each others' names.
Much of the film consists of extended conversations about conflicting feelings, opinions and recollections, even as the people talking remain remarkably close. Characters explore each others' motivations and actions, and responses reflect a deeper sense of self-doubt and regret. While each sequence is serious, there are undercurrents of wit running through them, often based on misunderstandings or clashing perspectives. And the final segment is set after a virus has destroyed the internet, forcing people to communicate using the old methods.

Performances are earthy and understated, but each bristles with resonant emotions. These people have hidden their true feelings, even as they find unexpected freedom in expressing themselves. The way the actors catch their characters' public personalities and underlying thoughts is almost uncanny, tapping into our own memories of experiences and relationships. And there are layers of meaning in each conversation, so the script's rather relentless talkiness never feels dull. Standouts in the cast include Nakajima's squirming man in the middle, Shibukawa's determinedly muted professor and Kawai's nostalgically yearning Natsuko.

While it perhaps feels a bit on the light side, the film vividly captures the messier elements of romance, including lingering feelings of resentment and affection. So when Kazuaki asks, "Why do you keep hurting me?" Meiko replies, "I don't know, it might be love." Each of the stories becomes a beautifully nuanced exploration of how passions can make it difficult to work out the right thing to do. So as these people grapple with their desires, we see our own romantic histories through new eyes.

cert 15 themes, language 16.Jan.22

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