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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 23.Mar.21

BFI Flare: Five Films for Freedom 2021  
Reviews by Rich Cline
Five Films for Freedom
#FiveFilmsForFreedom available 17-28.Mar.21

bfi flare

land of the free
This annual collection from the British Film Institute and the British Council is notable for the fact that it's available around the world during the course of BFI Flare, offering important LGBTIQ+ stories that people in restrictive countries can watch. From five countries, this year's shorts represent a range of experience using comedy, drama, poetry and documentary, plus one that borders on the thriller genre. Each is made to a very high standard, conveying an urgent message without ever pushing it. Which means that each film leaves space for us to have our own thoughts, and to let them simmer.

smith and bartholomew dir-scr Natalie Jasmine Harris
with Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew, Jacob Daniel Smith, Josca Moore, Aaron Casey, Jamon Adams
21/US 12m


pure There's a powerful sense of internalised emotion in this Deep South drama about young people getting ready for their cotillion ball. It's warmly shot and acted with earthy, honest humanity to bring out some bigger themes in teens who are only just working out who they are and what that means for their future.

At a dress rehearsal for the dance, Celeste (Bartholomew) is called out by the teacher (Casey) for not being as good as Joy (Moore), the star debutante in the group. And Celeste already has an eye on her. The moment the class ends, Celeste and her escort pal Amir (Smith) transform back into their fabulous queer selves, and Celeste works up the courage to perform at an open mic night, reciting her poetry about her life. Then at an after-party, she has an encounter with Joy that answers her burning questions.

Writer-director Harris skilfully infuses the entire film with Celeste's yearning for independence, a chance to finally live on her own terms. Then on this night before her big society ball, Celeste gets a taste of the life that's coming for her. And her reaction is wonderfully complex, especially as it plays out in her friendship with Amir. All of this makes her want to take a chance that can't help but put a smile on our face.

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lopez and zamora dir-scr Daniel Toledo Saura
with Abril Zamora, Lorena Lopez
20/Spain 8m


Victoria From Spain, this short drama is superbly well-shot, with a terrific sense of sound and colour in the way it's designed and edited. The story emerges from a single conversation that reveals a complex relationship between two women, one of whom used to be a man. And it's cleverly written and directed by Toledo in a way that makes it seriously gripping.

It opens as Ana enters a florist's shop to check in on her trans friend. After a bit of chitchat, Ana gets town to business, speaking about the 13-year-old daughter they share, and that Ana doesn't want her ex to come to a school event, afraid of what people will think. Their conversation circles around, revealing strong lingering feelings, and it becomes very clear that they both still care for each other deeply.

Eventually Ana produces an emotionally raw letter about flower called the Victoria Amazonica with vast blossoms that change colour and sex as part of their life cycle. And the letter expresses Ana's ongoing feelings in a complex, fascinating way. This is a beautiful exploration of mingling affection, resentment and love. Both Zamora and Lopez play this scene to perfection, never getting sentimental while finding complex reactions at every step. And it's the kind of film that leaves us thinking.

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hirst dir Quinton Baker
with Luca Hirst
20/UK 8m

Trans Happiness Is Real  

Trans Happiness Is Real A slice-of-life documentary, this brief film centres on one person who has found a way to react to a barrage of cruelty directed at transgendered people. Filmmaker Baker takes a straightforward approach to an important topic, and the doc carries a forcefully positive message

Luca is an art student in Oxford who is working with a friend on the Trans Happiness Is Real project, sticking labels up around the city in a mini-war against abusive stickers that appear around town every day. Luca is shocked that someone has so much hatred that they feel the need to express it everywhere. So instead of just removing those cruel notes, Luca replaces them with encouraging messages of support to anyone who feels marginalised, especially trans people. She's also working with textiles and graffiti to have a wider presence both in the streets and in the art world.

Luca's quietly tenacious approach is hugely inspiring, as she aims to do something no one did for her: remind young trans people that they can indeed live happy lives. Her actions are the kinds of things anyone can do, and they will make a massive difference in society. The film is short and to the point, a little unfinished but nicely shot and edited to convey Luca's work and personality in a way that makes us want to be more like her.

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Bodies of Desire dir Varsha Panikar, Saad Nawab
scr Varsha Panikar, Varsha Panikar
with Shreya Sarkar, Meheka Cl, Omkar Sharma, Vaishakh Sudhakaran, Doel Rakshit, Suruj Rajkhowa, Sushant Khomane, Smriti Tiwari, Sachin Das Gupta
21/India 4m

Bodies of Desire  

Bodies of Desire This sexy little collage from India takes a visceral approach to the power of physical contact, flickering rapidly through four scenes in which passion is expressed among a variety of lovers. It's not explicit, but it's still rather steamy, especially as it gets under the, ahem, skin to explore a range of thoughts and feelings.

The film opens with a series of images of people on their own, feeling their skin, while a voiceover recounts Varsha Panikar's poetry to express deeper feelings about self-image and connection with others. Then the scenes develop into encounters that are close, touching, kissing, smelling each other in various couplings. Including one tripling.

The poetry expresses how it feels to be so intimate with someone, the electricity in a touch or a kiss, and the deeper thoughts a romantic encounter sparks, including how companionship boosts our sense of safety and self-confidence. The camera work is up-close and tactile, and it's performed almost as a dance, then artistically shot and edited in a way that encourages us to think about the nature of physical contact, that people come together regardless of their gender, and that love is quite simply love.

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Land of the Free dir-scr Dawid Ullgren
with Razmus Nystrom, Samuel Astor , Carlos Romero Cruz, Bjorn Elgerd, Jessica Liedberg, Jonatan Blode, Susanne Barklund, Bengt Braskered
20/Sweden 12m

Land of the Free  
Du Gamla, Du Fria   5/5

Land of the Free Writer-director Ullgren uses split-screen to juxtapose perspectives, allowing us to watch from two angles at the same time as a confrontation spirals out of control. With a solid ensemble cast that adeptly captures a whiplash of emotions, this is a sharply provocative mini-drama that really gets under the skin.

To celebrate his 25th birthday, David (Nystrom) and a lively group of friends head to a lake for a bit of skinny dipping. While he's swimming with his boyfriend Ramin (Cruz), they watch the action unfold on the shore as two straight couples walk by and challenge their friends (Astor and Elgerd), leading to an escalating arguement. The passers-by are holier-than-thou, protesting that they're not homophobic while berating the boys for their aggressively defensive actions.

The truth of what happens remains cleverly murky, seen through various eyes and played out with very different reactions. Whether there was actually any abusive behaviour, one of these guys is triggered to have a harrowing response. By forcing the audience to lean in to the sutuarion, this becomes a stunning depiction of how even the most subtle prejudice can lead to feelings that are likely to erupt at any moment. It's brilliantly provocative, and hugely important.

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall