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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 14.Feb.21

Boys Feels: Desire in the Dark  
Reviews by Rich Cline
desire in the dark
release UK 8.Feb.21
21/UK NQV 1h32

Kiem Holijanda
Five films from rather grim corners of present-day Europe, these intensely personal dramas find young men at pivotal points in their lives, as they must make key decisions based on their tumultuous feelings. They're remarkably subtle movies that allow enormous emotions to churn just under the surface, skilfully played by terrific actors who are in their teens. The issues explored are enormous, and carry wide-ranging resonance, but the stories remain intimate and movingly personal.

af ornas and lindgren dir Isabella Carbonell
scr Isabella Carbonell, Babak Najafi
with Sebastian Hiort af Ornas, Marcus Lindgren, Rainer Gerdes, Kristoffer Trigell, Gabriel Holmberg, Max Legros Selander, Ola Andreasson, Erik Engel
15/Sweden 18m


Boys Gritty and internalised, this hard Swedish drama centres on a very difficult topic: teen boys who have been imprisoned for sexual assault. The film takes a straight-on approach, as director Carbonell hones in on darkly complex thoughts and feelings while refusing to shy away from the more provocative aspects of the themes and characters. It's a small film that catches us by surprise, delivering some proper gut punches.

In a home for teen offenders, newcomer Markus (af Ornas) finds a kind of mentor figure in Tobbe (Lindgren). At a court appearance, Marcus is ashamed that he sexually assaulted a younger girl. And back in group therapy he struggles to express his feelings to the other boys. But even if Tobbe is shocked, perhaps he can somehow understand what Markus is going through.

The film opens with these young men shaving each other's heads and trying to grapple with the nature of their crimes. So the interaction between the inmates ripples with tricky layers of pent-up anger, fear, humiliation and unexpected brotherhood. The performances are wrenching, especially from af Ornas, whose role is bracingly difficult. But the young actor approaches it with both boldness and a deeply moving honesty. It's the kind of film that might get people talking about an issue most prefer to avoid.

krause dir-scr Simon Pfister
with Max Krause, Julian Lehr, Josefine Voss, Christian Heiner Wolf, Fabio Romano, Marc Strickler, Bruno Kocher, Lionel Podarski
15/Switzerland 29m


Ioana There's a grim authenticity to this Swiss drama about immigrants who resort to desperate measures to survive in a society that simply uses them. While the script is somewhat predictable, tackling the topic in the expected ways, the performances have an earthy honesty to them that brings the characters to life, helping us experience the situation in an unusually involving way.

In Zurich, Adrian (Krause) is working as a street hustler saving up money so his sister Ioana (Voss) can join him from Romania. On the phone, he tells her he's working in an office, while she is terrified of her abusive boss. Unlike Adrian, his friend Sascha (Lehr) likes this work, even if he tends to get beaten up. In need of more cash, Adrian violates his no-housecalls rule and goes to Franz (Wolf) in his flat, where things take a couple of unexpected turns.

This short's extended length allows it to get deeper into the story, as writer-director Pfister paints a remarkably detailed portrait of the life of a young man struggling with a dark and sometimes violent life on the streets of Western Europe. That said, the usual cliches of the genre are here, from clashes with nasty clients to the box of precious cash hidden in his room. While Krause is solid in the role, Pfister falls back on rather a lot of shots of him agonising over his options. And pivotal moments are oddly shot and edited to leave key elements out of the frame. But the film's emotional rawness is moving.

claessen and de kruijf dir Cleo Julia Mullis
scr Cleo Julia Mullis, Maartje Wortel
with Noah de Kruijf, Mingus Claessen, Catalijn Willemsen, Thomas Bijsterbosch, Joost Huisman, Kagiso Kasper, Danielle van de Ven, Joep & Pien Spruijt
16/Netherlands 18m

Tomer & Elias  

Tomer & Elias Quietly witty and observant, this Dutch short catches some amusing details in the lives of a group of young kids who live in neighbouring houses. It cleverly catches how family members can be remarkably similar and yet very different, seen through the eyes of two brothers who have perhaps never clashed so deeply about anything before.

Preteen Sven (de Kruijf) sees his family as three matching duos: his parents (Willemsen and Bijsterbosch), younger twins (the Spruijts), and his brother Alex (Claessen) and himself. Plus an infant Alex calls "the monster". Then a single mother (Van de Ven) moves in next door with her distinctly different sons Tomer and Elias (Huisman and Kasper). Alex is happy to ignore them, but Sven is intrigued, and quietly reaches out to one of them at school.

The film's hushed tone belies rippling thematic undercurrents that are intriguing, thought provoking and even rather bold, such as the ongoing dialog between Sven and Alex as they attempt to work out the meaning how belonging together relates to love and sex. The film is cleverly designed to make each of this family's pairs wear the same colours, while Tomer and Elias dress as individuals. And it's the way this idea preys on Sven's young mind that gives the film a sharp kick of meaning.

music dir Jure Pavlovic
scr Dzejna Avdic, Jure Pavlovic
with Emir Music, Aleksandar Seksan, Senad Alihodzic, Ibrahim Bukva, Muhamed Karic, Koka Halilovic
15/Croatia 13m

Piknik   4/5

Picnic Dry and intensely observant, this Croatian drama remains tightly focussed on its central character, catching his stubborn attitude while skilfully revealing things about him without the need for comment. Director Pavlovic shoots this in close-up on a dusty, glaring day, leaving the setting and side characters in the distant background. This allows some surprising things to emerge from under the surface.

Stuck in traffic in a car with his social worker (Alihodzic), young teen Emir (Music) is running late for a picnic with his prison-inmate father Safet (Seksan). So they only get 20 minutes together. Safet teases Emir about his pierced ear, dismissing his interest in football with yet more tough-guy stories about fighting in the war. After an uncomfortable silence, they bond over some bare-fisted boxing practice, and Safet is proud when Emir gets in with a good jab.

This is a fierce exploration of machismo, tackling the subject in an askance way that continually catches us off guard. So there are moments of wrenching affection stirred in alongside the manly posturing. The screenplay leaves the even bigger thoughts in the subtext, hinting at an even wider gulf between this father and son, as well as perhaps a deeper connection. And it undercuts the overt sadness with a strong hint of hope.

bajgora and bajgora dir Sarah Veltmayer
scr Tom Bakker, Sarah Veltmeyer
with Andi Bajgora, Florist Bajgora, Arbnesha Grabovci Nixha, Xhylsyme Thaci, Sheetim Kastrati, Rexhep Llugiqi
18/Kosovo 14m

Kiem Holijanda  

Kiem Holijanda A rare drama from Kosovo (produced by Dutch filmmakers), this vivid little drama stars sibling actors playing brothers who are facing distinct realities. Their interaction is witty and knowing, and the way they are juxtaposed within the settings is gorgeously captured by director Veltmayer. There's also a remarkably enormous dramatic plot packed into just 14 minutes.

In a desolated beach resort town, 13-year-old Andi is saving up to buy his own smart phone, because his 20-year-old brother Florist is tired of him downloading so much music on his. But they live with their mother and grandmother (Nixha and Thaci), who manage the finances tightly. Then Andi discovers a card advertising Dutch pornstar Kiem Holijanda in their bedroom, and he becomes obsessed with watching her film.

There's a terrific camaraderie between the Bajgora brothers, as they tease each other, roughhouse and discuss some strikingly personal issues. Florist finds it hilarious that Andi wants to watch this porn, but he understands why. Then when Florist makes a surprise confession that night, Andi feels like his whole world is falling apart. This is a powerful little drama that beautifully captures these two brothers who are at very different points in their lives.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 13.Feb.21

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