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

The Male Gaze: Nocturnal Instincts  
Reviews by Rich Cline
Nocturnal Instinct
release UK 15.Mar.21
21/UK NQV 1h38

With bold films from five countries, this collection features a series of dark stories that are jarring and deeply moving. Each short movie sends its characters to the brink, forcing them to grapple in a very personal way with some enormous issues. They may be rather gloomy at times, but each one engages on a variety of levels, which makes the films warm, sexy and hopeful. Even so, these films won't make you feel happy, they challenge you to think.

lindberg and abdallah dir-scr Gustav "Goodboy" Olsson
with Alexander Abdallah, Emil Lindberg, Par Malmstrom, Alioune Ndaw, Al Mamour
18/Sweden 16m


spiral This Swedish short opens with a bang, then unspools its story with an artful eye that combines warm drama and unsettling horror. Writer-director Gustav Olsson has a terrific visual style, with often outrageously intense imagery, a dense sound mix and beefy performances from the earthy, hyper-masculine cast.

Set in Malmo, the story centres on Karim (Abdallah), who is badly shaken when his adoring partner Dan (Lindberg) vanishes just hours before they head off on holiday. Karim worries that Dan has fallen off the wagon, so he searches for him in the city's drugged-up nightlife, following leads from Dan's sketchy friends, This leads Karim to a confrontation with Dan's fearsome dealer Marco (Malmstrom).

The tone is heightened to keep the viewer nervous, with a barrage of loud arguments and intense images modulated by moments of surprising silence. Although the urgency never lets up for a moment. Many of the most gruesome scenes seem to be in the imagination, but we can't quite be sure. Where the story goes is genuinely disturbing, pushing through the surfaces into something much more elementally nightmarish. It's also surprisingly moving for such a harsh little film.

chen and liu dir-scr Roberto F Canuto, Xu Xiaoxi
with Vincent Chen Xi, Celia Yu Yinmeng, Wen Sirui, Xu Xu, Ariel Pei Zimu, Li Wen
15/China 19m

Floating Melon  

Floating Melon There's an intensely personal sensibility to this Chinese drama, which gets into the mind of the central character while recounting a story we rarely see from this part of the world. Filmmakers Roberto Canuto and Xu Xiaoxi make sure that each moment feels current, like it could take place in any city on earth. This adds a strong resonance to every scene. And while some of the shaky-cam documentary touches are a little overdone, the film has a remarkably earthy, involving tone.

In the mega-city of Chengdu, Xiao (Chen) is shaken when he has a bad drug reaction with his partner Kwan (Xu). Terrified of being arrested by the fearsome police, he flees into the night, turning his friends Lola and Fiona (Yu and Wen) for help. Eventually, they come up with an ambitious plan to deal with this incident and keep it outside the system. But of course nothing quite goes to plan.

The actors are bracingly realistic, giving understated performances that reflect a generation of bored young people navigating everything that urban life throws at them. From the opening sweet-sweaty sex scene to a meal in a bustling open market, the film offers a fascinating glimpse into life in this part of the world, most notably in the back streets the government tries not to show to tourists. And the film gets under the skin as it explores the very real perils of both casual drug culture and an oppressive regime.

nord and higson dir Dean Anderson
scr Matthew Bates
with Aiden Nord, Miles Higson, Howard Harling, Belle Lamond
18/UK 17m


poof There's a relaxed honesty to this short British drama, which explores thoughts and feelings beyond the UK's gay-friendly cities. It's sharply well written and directed, with a wonderfully natural cast that brings the likeable characters to life. This is a coming-of-age story that feels both vintage and fresh at the same time, a story we may have heard before told with a gently updated attitude.

The story centres on 18-year-old Aaron (Nord), who works for his dad Terry (Harling) in a small northern town. His life is livened up by a house party where he meets Mike (Higson). And Aaron is taken aback by how he feels when Mike kisses him goodnight. One night when Terry is out on a date, Aaron invites Mike around to watch telly. And suddenly Aaron begins to worry about how his father might react, thinking that it would be too painful to tell him.

The relaxed chemistry between Aaron and Mike is beautifully played by Nord and Harling, contrasted tellingly by the tension that emerges between Aaron and his father, whom Harling plays as gruff and perhaps understanding. Or maybe not. Director Anderson captures the settings and landscapes skilfully, while Bates' script never overstates the issues at the centre of the story. And where it goes is powerfully moving, making an urgent point in a deeply personal way.

biedron and govaerts dir-scr Nicolas Graux
with Piotr Biedron, Tijmen Govaerts, Izabela Gwizdak, Lydia Indjova, Jakub Kesy
17/Belgium 24m

After Dawn  
Passée L’Aube   4.5/5

After Dawn Shot in deeply shadowed locations surrounded by the clutter of real life, this hushed drama is involving from the start, finding remarkably tactile moments in a story of a man who's afraid to emerge from his own darkness. Writer-director Nicolas Graux carefully observes the characters, revealing the story in between the lines of dialog. It may be slow and thoughtful, but it carries a strong emotional kick.

Set in Poland, the story centres on Pawel (Biedron), who is living in isolation, pouring himself into his work after a painful breakup, watched over by two caring flatmates (Gwizdak and Indjova). And he's profoundly unnerved when Clement (Govaerts) turns up. An old friend from Brussels, Clement doesn't want to leave Pawel alone. Over the course of a long night, he slowly draws Pawel out of his shell by reminding him of who he used to be. But this definitely won't be an easy journey.

The actors deliver remarkably internalised performances that allow emotions to emerge from their pores. Without ever overstating the themes, the film grapples with some enormous feelings, touching on the power of human connection and the absurdity of expecting a normal life, whatever that is. Even more potent is how it examines the dangers that come with denying deep feelings. And the joy that comes with letting them back out into the light.

lindberg and abdallah dir-scr Omri Loukas
with Omri Loukas, Sasson Betzalel, Imri Sagi, Shauli Mamon, Shahar Koren, Mattan Kedem, Ofra Gilaadi
18/Israel 25m

Night of Love  

betzalel and loukas An unflinching depiction of gay life on the edge of self-destruction, this drama follows a young man trying to work out what kind of life he will lead and if anyone cares about him. As the film delves into his thought processes, it's clear that he's struggling with the clash between his bodily urges and his heart's desires, instant sexual gratification or a warm hug. Actor-filmmaker Loukas skilfully digs beneath the surface of a tantalising lifestyle.

Taking a break from his military service, 18-year-old Yonatan (Loukas) tries to reconnect with his ex (Kedem), but is flatly rejected. He has nowhere to stay, so uses a hook-up app to meet 40-year-old Said (Betzalel), who is hosting a sex party with three friends (Sagi, Mamon and Koren). Intrigued, Yonatan decides to dive down this rabbit hole into a forbidden night of drugs and sex. This is great for one night, but he begins to wonder if he might want something different.

Adeptly shot and edited, the camerawork maintains Yonatan's perspective all the way through the film, never shying away from the things he's witnessing and experiencing. The imagery is often very full-on, which adds to the pressure as these four men insist that sex with them is safe because they're HIV levels are undetectable. This adds to the film's slightly preachy tone, but it remains earthy and real, centred in Yonatan's thoughts and feelings. And it leaves us thinking too.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 12.Mar.21

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