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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 26.Feb.21

Boys on Film 21: Beautiful Secret  
Reviews by Rich Cline
Beautiful Secret
release UK 1.Mar.21
21/UK Peccadillo 2h14

My Dad Works the Night Shift
Peccadillo's 21st collection of award-winning short films includes nine terrific little epics that explore queer life from a variety of perspectives. Each of these films explores the ways young men (and some not so young) must emerge from the shadows to face who they are. It's an eclectic collection that's packed with humour and a whole range of emotion. And along the way, some of the most pungent themes are so cleverly woven in that they take us aback.

piesbergen et al dir-scr Joe Morris
with Hans Piesbergen, Simon Eckert, Will Hearle, Martin Hamann, Catalin Jugravu, Laurean Wagner, Zhenja Isaak, Max Henhappel
19/UK 30m

We Are Dancers  

We Are Dancers Finely produced with a remarkable sense of the attitudes of the period, this dark drama set in pre-war Germany builds intensity as it goes along, digging into deeper layers within the characters. It's also finely directed and shot, with lavish sets, costumes and makeup that never distract from the tight focus on the characters, each of whom is sharply played with bright sparks of personality. At a half-hour long, filmmaker Joe Morris has time to dig deeper into both people and themes, while adding superb textures to the atmosphere.

Opening with newsreel footage from 1933 Berlin and Hitler's rise to power on promises of purging polllutants from society, the story centres on colourful performer Hansi (Piesbergen) and his cabaret troupe. He's visited in his dressing room by his friend Ulrich (Eckert), a Nazi officer who warns Hansi to get out of the city to avoid being taken into "protective custody". Indeed, all of Hansi's fellow performers warn him not to sing his signature song poking fun at the regime.

Ulrich notes that Hansi's show is making officials uncomfortable. "That's what it's here for," Hansi replies unflinchingly. Ulrich argues that this new regime brings a chance for the country to build wealth and power, while Hansi's lively young friends discuss the nature of the political situation, adding some powerfully current resonance. The film is a reminder that being cautious in the face of oppression means censoring yourself. And failing to act in the face of injustice is an act of betrayal. It's also a chilling cautionary tale about the fragility of freedom.

boudreault and l'ecuyer dir-scr Zachary Ayotte
with Victor Boudreault, Antoine L'Ecuyer, Francois Trudel
18/Canada 14m

My Dad Works the Night Shift  
Mon Père Travaille de Nuit   4.5/5

My Dad Works the Night Shift Beautifully shot and edited, this French-Canadian short centres on a teen in the early throes of attraction, trying to work out how he should respond without any outside assistance at all, because he's gay in a straight world. Filmmaker Ayotte adeptly captures this character's youthful imagination, depicting a range of feelings that get under the skin in cleverly surreal ways.

At age 14, Felix (Boudreault) has his eye on older boy Vincent (L'Ecuyer) at the local swimming pool changing room. And he's not sure how to react when Vincent begins overtly flirting with him. Naturally, this is all he can think about during church choir practice. Felix lives with his strict single dad (Trudel), who suspects Felix is entertaining guests while he's at work. Which of course gives Felix an idea.

There's a terrific sense of physicality in this film, with underwater sequences and provocative conversations in the locker-room. Scenes between Felix and his father have a realistic hesitance to them, as Felix displays both his rebellious adolescence and his childish naivete. And his yearning for more physical contact with Vincent is powerfully visceral. It's a tough, provocative depiction of that fierce need for independence and companionship.

girard and abi-ayad dir-scr Loic Hobi
with Hubert Girard, Youssouf Abi-Ayad, David Charcot, Mathis Ernoult, Valentin Berneau, Augustin Gabriel, Jean Hugues, Aymeric Leroux 19/Switzerland 21m

L’Homme Jetée  

L'Homme Jetee There's a remarkably hard edge to this colourful, lyrically assembled Swiss drama set in a busy port city. It's a bold, visually ambitious mini-epic, packed with visual intensity and remarkably tactile imagery, connecting life between rusty fishing boats, rocky beaches and sweaty nightclubs. It's also a strikingly artful exploration of machismo and desire, both gritty and yearning at the same time.

It centres on Theo (Girard), a young man working on the dock in a busy port town. After his shift, he hangs out at the seaside watching the tough-guy sailors jostle with each other on the shoreline. Eventually he befriends one of them, the Italian Guiseppe (Abi-Ayad), and asks about joining his crew. This will mean going through a gruelling hazing process to join them, but Theo has been practicing for this. And it will be worth it to be close to Guiseppe. But Guiseppe might be reluctant to take Theo to sea with him.

Filmmaker Hobi gives the film a 1970s Fassbinder-style sensibility using lighting and colour, plus rounded corners on an Academy ratio screen. He also creates a vivid sense of masculinity among characters who watch each other closely. Both Girard and Abi-Ayad are terrific in this sense, making the most of the intensely suggestive dialog. But it's their underlying sensitivity that makes the film riveting, bringing up deeper themes and ideas that resonate strongly even as they remain almost subliminal. Because of course these manly men will never admit what they're feeling.

baldwin and menkin dir-scr Sam Peter Jackson
with David Menkin, Nancy Baldwin, Christy Meyer, Ambur Khan, Nigel Pilkington, Alessandro Gruttadauria, Daniel D'Alessandro, Sam Peter Jackson
18/UK 23m

Clothes & Blow  

Clothes & Blow With a comical tone, this breezy short takes a witty look at single life in a big city. Writer-director Jackson packs scenes with hilarious details that add riotous little touches alongside some more pointed moments that explore more serious themes with a wry sense of humour. It's a clever look at family dynamics, especially the surging emotions that come with confronting long-repressed truths. And Jackson remembers to include the humour even in heavier moments.

In between his voiceover jobs, American-in-London Daniel (Menkin) keeps busy hooking up with random men on dating apps. Not all of these go very well. Then he's shocked when his super-friendly mother Stephanie (Baldwin) arrives with very little warning and wants to do all the usual tourist things. She also suddenly asks him why he never came out to her. And invites his high-powered banker sister Chrissie (Meyer) to join them from her home in Switzerland.

The story moves at a brisk pace, while the engaging characters hold the interest. Personalities are sharply developed by the actors, creating a range of wrinkles in the relationships between them. And little throwaway moments catch much deeper ideas with real resonance. Menkin adeptly plays the conflicting thoughts, feelings and desires of a single gay man in his early 40s who feels like his mother never tried to understand him. But Baldwin's Stephanie has some surprises up her sleeve as well. And the film's light-handed approach gives it a terrific kick.

birzanu dir-scr George Dogaru
with Vlad Birzanu, Pedro Aurelian, Ilona Brezoianu, Alexandru Bogdan, Marin Grigore, Florin Fratila, Andrei Mateiu, Paul Dunca
19/Romania 14m

A Normal Guy  
Un Băiat Normal   4/5

A Normal Guy Superbly shot to create a robust, realistic tone, this Romanian drama centres on a young man just trying to have the everyday life he thinks someone like him should be able to have. Filmmaker Dogaru is taking a clever look at how our expectations can sometimes be rather removed from reality. And he's also quietly noting that thorny romantic problems are basically the same for everyone on earth, regardless of our sexuality.

In a Bucharest gay bar, Daniel (Birzanu) meets the super-hot but sullen Vlad (Aurelian), who immediately offers to go home with him. But there are a minefield of obstacles, starting with a lack of cash for the taxi and Vlad's paralytic inebriation. Then after promising not to come home tonight, Daniel's sister Ilona (Brezoianu) turns up, brazenly invading his space. The next weekend, Daniel and Ilona hit the bar together, and that night also takes a series of turns.

The film has a remarkable slice-of-life approach, catching a range of attitudes among the characters that reflect more widely across society. This includes Daniel's casually bigoted taxi-driving cousin Sendel (Bogdan), who advises him to look for a normal guy rather than trying to hook up with model-like jerks. Their climactic conversation is downright hilarious, as Sendel refuses to let Daniel take himself too seriously. He also reminds Daniel that his problems have nothing to do with his sexuality, and that he's much more normal than he thinks he is.

altunsoy and norman dir Pierce Hadjincola, Sinclar Suhood
scr Pierce Hadjincola
with Orlando Norman, Mert Altunsoy, Nicole Yardley, Melanie Jarnson, Rob Holland, Nick Cimino
20/Australia 9m

Pretty Boy  

Pretty Boy Understated and intriguing, this Australian short pulls the viewer in with its askance approach, making some important points even as it becomes rather overwrought. This is partly because the characters are over-emotional about everything, which often makes the film feel somewhat cliched. But even if the story itself is well-worn, it's a terrific reminder of some deeper truths.

Kevin (Norman) is a teen who's so quiet that his friends and family are all worried about him. Both his mum (Yardley) and his sister Tara (Jarnson) reach out to him in their own ways. But he says nothing about the fact that he has a boyfriend, the hotheaded Nico (Altunsoy), who's tired of being a secret. Kevin is struggling with the fact that not everyone is going to accept who he is, and he's about to let the cat out of the bag.

This is a bleak coming-out story, as Kevin finally works up the courage to reveal the truth to his blinkered mother. "No," she angrily yells before throwing him out of the house. There are several more intriguing elements at work under the surface, including Kevin's Aboriginal ethnicity. But the filmmakers keep things fairly simplistic, using the typical dialog for these kinds of dramas while pushing the likeable actors (Norman has notable presence) into some pointed melodramatic corners.

A L S O   O N
Beautiful Secret

dir-scr Abel Rubinstein
with Pete MacHale, Ludovic Jean-Francois
20/UK 5m 3.5/5

Reviewed at BFI Flare 2020

My Sweet Prince
My Sweet Prince

dir-scr Jason Bradbury
with Yoni Roodner, Jacob Avery
19/UK 12m 4/5

Reviewed at BFI Flare 2020

Memoirs of a Geeza
Memoirs of a Geeza
dir-scr Theo James Krekis
with Elliot Warren, Tony Richardson
19/UK 3m 5/5

Reviewed at BFI Flare 2020

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 23.Feb.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall