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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 7.Apr.21

The Drifters  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
The Drifters
dir-scr Benjamin Bond
prd Iona Sweeney
with Jonathan Ajayi, Lucie Bourdeu, Jonjo O'Neill, Tom Sweet, Joey Akubeze, Ariyon Bakare, Tia Bannon, Thom Petty, Hanna Brooks, Sarah McCourt
release UK 2.Apr.21
19/UK 1h3

Is it streaming?

bourdeu and ajayi
There's a sparky sense of humour washing through this gentle romantic comedy-drama, which touches on issues of immigration and community while its engaging narrative unfolds. It's loose and fragmented, with a rolling conversation that's as random as the plot itself. This leaves it feeling tonally uneven, as writer-director Benjamin Bond allows us to simply spend time with some colourful people while their challenges remain somewhat blurred in the background.
While studying English in London, African migrant Koffee (Ajayi) meets French waitress Fanny (Bourdeu) and they begin to hang out together. Underpaid and overworked, Koffee is struggling to repay his debts, while Fanny is living in a fancy flat that belongs to an older man. When Koffee robs his boss Doog (Akubeze), he and Fanny run off to a small seaside town, squatting in an empty house and living like they're vacationing a deserted island. They also meet a few locals, including the curious young Leon (Sweet) and his hotheaded dad Chris (O'Neill).
In a whimsical stylistic touch, Fanny occasionally speaks teasingly directly to camera, spouting her free-spirited views on life. She listens avidly to Koffee's stories, even as he initially avoids personal details, sparking interest because of the things he won't talk about, like the scars on his back. It's all very cute and sweet, with the constant whiff of a thriller-like undercurrent as Doog tries to track Koffee down. This results in a few dramatic shifts in mood, as the breezy way the film is put together sits at odds with its jarringly violent plot points.

Both Ajayi and Bourdeu are earthy and relaxed, interacting in a lively way that's laced with flirtation. Koffee is more interested in pushing their connection further, while Fanny is happy to just tease him. They frolic in a series of terrific settings and montage sequences. Everything is beautifully shot and played with a low-key honesty, but it often feels like they're going nowhere. Their interaction with Sweet has an easy authenticity, as do the more complex scenes with O'Neill's xenophobic fisherman.

Filmmaker Bond has a terrific eye for catching telling details in the connections between characters who live in society's margins. Although the light-hearted tone he creates often feels like it's sidestepping the darker, more serious issues that are lurking in the premise. And of course there are other shoes that will have to drop: Koffee will need to face up to his situation, and he and Fanny will need to work out who they are to each other. And their precarious position in society limits their choices.

cert 12 themes, language, violence, sexuality 30.Mar.21

Like a House on Fire  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Like a House on Fire
dir-scr Jesse Noah Klein
prd Fanny Drew, Sarah Mannering, William Woods
with Sarah Sutherland, Jared Abrahamson, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Margaux Vaillancourt, Amanda Brugel, Hubert Lenoir, Michael Riley, Sheila McCarthy, Yanna McIntosh, Kayla Hutton, Erin Noble, Michael Buchanan
release US 2.Apr.21
20/Canada 1h25


Is it streaming?

abrahamson and sutherland
Writer-director Jesse Noah Klein takes a tactile approach to this story of a young woman trying to get her life back on track. It's hugely emotive and delicately serious, although the whispery dialog and downbeat moods leave it feeling plaintive and mopey. Still, urgent issues woven into the structure of the story help it connect, and might have been even more forceful if scenes weren't so relentlessly intense.
Two years after she abandoned her family, the sullen Dara (Sutherland) returns home unannounced, expecting to step back into her old life. But her 4-year-old daughter Isabel (Vaillancourt) doesn't remember her, and her husband Dan (Abrahamson) has moved on with new girlfriend Therese (Provost-Chalkley), who is seven months pregnant. Staying with her father and stepmum (Riley and Brugel), Dara is wallowing in her loneliness on a park bench when she befriends the colourful Jordan (Lenoir). But coming home isn't going to be easy for Dara, and it's not entirely her fault.
Naturally, everyone is feeling hurt, so each encounter is awkward. Interaction plays out with huge emotions that nobody seems able to express; conversations are so tentative that it's unclear where they might go. Eventually, morsels of information emerge about why Dara she left and what she went through to put herself back together, as well as the fact that her mother walked out on her when she was 4. But each scene feels painfully morose. Even Isabel's birthday party is tinged with gloom.

Oddly, the actors all looks like they're half asleep. So it's notable that Sutherland makes the most of a difficult role, revealing micro-glimpses of life even though she never smiles. Dara's stubborn refusal to accept help makes it difficult to sympathise with her, although her honesty is refreshing, as is her yearning, sensitive maternal instinct. The supporting cast is nicely grounded, drawing her out in a variety of ways. Abrahamson is particularly good as a guy who is doing his best in this confusing new reality.

The central themes are vivid, exploring how life changes without notice and how difficult it is to confront or make up for past mistakes. More important is the way the film grapples with how people misunderstand each other. A confrontation scene in which Dara finally expresses herself is riveting, bringing her thoughts into sharp relief to show how marginalised she has always felt, without anyone to support her through her internal struggles. It's a vivid reminder to be patient with each other, and with ourselves.

cert 12 themes, language 29.Mar.21

Sequin in a Blue Room
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Sequin in a Blue Room
dir Samuel Van Grinsven
prd Sophie Hattch
scr Jory Anast, Samuel Van Grinsven
with Conor Leach, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Anthony Brandon Wong, Ed Wightman, Samuel Barrie, Simon Croker, Patrick Cullen, Tsu Shan Chambers, Damian de Montemas, Joshua Shediak, Nancy Denis, Darren Kumar
release Aus 20.Aug.20,
UK 9.Apr.21, US 17.May.21
19/Australia 1h20

bfi flare

Is it streaming?

A bold, stylised exploration of a young man working out who he is and what he wants out of life, this Australian drama takes an unblinking look at a generation of young men who prefer to seek instant gratification rather than a relationship. Filmmaker Samuel Van Grinsven takes an inventively visceral approach to storytelling, revealing the plot and characters through internalised feelings and sometimes jarringly tactile imagery.
At 16, student Sequin (Leach) regularly uses dating apps, where he claims to be 18 as he goes from one anonymous hook-up to the next, never seeing the same man twice. He lives with his dad (Taylor), who's also single and dating. Then he's invited to an anonymous sex party, where he connects with a stranger (Barrie). Searching for him afterwards, Sequin meets an older man (Wightman) who begins stalking him, drag queen Virginia (Wong) who rescues him at a time of need, and fellow student Tommy (Croker) who shows a different kind of interest.
This young man gets his name from a sequinned undershirt, his metaphorical armour, which often makes him glisten in the dark blue shadows. Scenes are shot through his hormonally driven gaze, so often crop out irrelevant elements while locking onto people he finds attractive. This skilfully crafted perspective gives the film a dreamlike tone, especially in the way other characters are depicted as enticing and mysterious, constantly surprising Sequin with the various ways they react to him.

Leach has terrific presence at the centre, both knowing and naive at the same time. His curiosity is fascinating, as is the way he draws self-protective lines around his experiences. As his father, Taylor provides layers that imply a separate life off-screen, giving Sequin independence but also increasingly concerned about his erratic behaviour. In fact, each of the smaller roles is remarkably textured, hinting at a larger world Sequin can't quite grasp. But then, he's only just beginning to grow up, and he's not necessarily taking the easy route.

As events unfold, the story takes some turns into thriller territory, as Sequin haplessly creates several rather dodgy situations around him. There's always the sense that he's a teen who isn't as in control as he thinks he is. The narrative's loose structure sometimes makes it feel a little draggy or indulgent, but the steady escalation of tension keeps it riveting. And the deeper issues that gurgle quietly under the surface make it important as well.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 8.Mar.21

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