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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 14.Sep.22

Review by Rich Cline | 5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Romain Gavras
prd Ladj Ly, Romain Gavras
scr Romain Gavras, Ladj Ly, Elias Belkeddar
with Dali Benssalah, Sami Slimane, Anthony Bajon, Ouassini Embarek, Alexis Manenti, Karim Lasmi, Mehdi Abdelhakmi, Birane Ba, Radostina Rogliano
release UK 16.Sep.22,
Fr/US 23.Sep.22
22/France 1h37

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benssalah and slimane
Blisteringly current, this feels like a story that's just about to happen, as social tensions erupt into civil war. French filmmaker Romain Gavras is making a shockingly political statement, but the urgent, involving story centres on deeper emotional connections between three brothers at the epicentre of an epically violent standoff. The film is also skilfully directed with astonishing bravado, using long and exceptionally complex takes that are simply breathtaking.
After video of police killing a teen goes viral, his soldier brother Abdel (Benssalah) is appealing for justice when a gang led by his charismatic brother Karim (Slimane) storms the press conference, raids the police station and takes a military stand on the Athena housing estate where they live. The police lay siege, unable to break through the ranks. Inside, older brother Moktar (Embarek) has his own gang of thugs. And as the situation escalates violently, Karim orders his troops to capture a cop they can use to demand the names of the murderous officers.
Cinematographer Matias Boucard's camerawork is visually and technically accomplished, establishing an urgent, propulsive pace right from the opening scene. Thankfully quiet moments along the way reveal emotions within each brother and also young riot officer Jerome (Bajon), who takes his own harrowing journey through these events. Much of the film looks like medieval-style war, and because it feels like it's playing out all around us, watching it is both terrifying and exhilarating.

Each of the four central actors builds a strongly textured character, balancing high-energy action with subtle soul-searching as each grapples with moral questions and real-world ramifications. Benssalah has visceral power as a natural leader who thinks on his feet but is also emotionally vulnerable. Slimane's Karim has more charismatic, magnetic presence, commanding an army of loyal followers while blinded by grief. Embarek's Moktar is a frighteningly mercurial hothead, while the abject fear in Bajon's eyes is established by an early line of dialog, propelling us through the chaos with him.

If anything, the film may be too full-on, with a musical score that perhaps didn't need to be quite so massive. But the narrative beats rise to meet it, and the sheer spectacle of each set piece makes this a film that needs to be seen on a huge screen. Even so, it's the personal drama that grabs hold, and in the end the bold script takes on the true villain of the situation with unblinking righteous rage. It's so timely and urgent that it's impossible to leave the cinema unshaken.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Sep.22 vff

The Damned Don’t Cry   Les Damnés Ne Pleurent Pas
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Damned Don't Cry
dir-scr Fyzal Boulifa
prd Gary Farkas, Clement Lepoutre, Olivier Muller
with Aicha Tebbae, Abdellah El Hajjouji, Antoine Reinartz, Moustapha Mokafih, Walid Chaibi, Sawaen Kotbi, Samira Oferighe, Jonathan Genet, Ikram Elamghari, Adelkrim Tarda, Souad Charaf, Naima Louadni
release WP Sep.22 vff
22/Morocco BBC 1h50

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tebbae and el hajjouji
Grounded and earthy, this Moroccan drama finds resonance in a complex relationship between a woman and her teen son. It's the kind of film in which the audience must work to discover deeper truths about the events depicted. The premise feels bracingly realistic, impossible to predict as it cycles through events that are hopeful and darkly troubling. And this authenticity in the story and characters bravely takes on the system.
As he gets older, Selim (El Hajjouji) begins to wonder why his mother Fatima-Zahra (Tebbae) always seems to be running from another scandal. When she takes Selim home to meet his grandfather (Tarda), the family confronts the worldly Fatima-Zahra, revealing to Selim that he was born of rape. As a chill descends between mother and son, they head to Tangier for yet another new start. Selim lands a good job in a small hotel owned by the friendly Sebastien (Reinartz). And Fatima-Zahra finds them a nicer flat paid for by married bus driver Moustapha (Mokafih).
Story textures are subtly provocative, as character interaction is continually shifting. Fatima-Zahra and Selim have become reliant on kindness from strangers, but he struggles with random moral dualities in such a religious culture. His first boss Abdou (Chaibi) is a serious fast-talker with no ethics, but he's likeable and helpful. Sebastien is a gay Christian who is far kinder than the devout Muslims who shun him. And writer-director Boulifa sensitively depicts Selim and Sebastien's developing affection, which tilts toward romance until Sebastien's boyfriend (Genet) turns up.

While Fatima-Zahra's journey is strong, the narrative is seen through Selim observant eyes, revealing a reality that conflicts with what people say. Characters develop wonderful complexities as actors reveal deeper thoughts behind conversations. Tebbae is terrific as a quietly tenacious diva who works to elicit sympathy from everyone she meets. And as the uneducated but smart Selim, the young El Hajjouji has an understated charisma that people can't help but be drawn to.

The irony is lost on Fatima-Zahra that she judges her son harshly for working for Christians even as she's mistress to a married Muslim man. But these things niggle at Selim as he works out who he is and where he belongs. And because the truth is so important to him, he's often at odds with accepted morality around him. The powerfully challenging question is whether he can learn from his mistakes and find a way to live honestly in this place.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 29.Aug.22 vff

Skin Deep   Aus Meiner Haut
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5   MUST must see SEE

dir Alex Schaad
scr Dimitrij Schaad, Alex Schaad
prd Tobias Walker, Philipp Worm
with Mala Emde, Jonas Dassler, Thomas Wodianka, Maryam Zaree, Dimitrij Schaad, Edgar Selge, Sema Poyraz, Adam Bousdoukos, Louise von Plessem, Jasmin Cichy, Friedrich zu Rantzau
release WP Sep.22 vff
22/Germany 1h43

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This may look like a body-swapping genre piece, but curiosity and mystery infuse each scene in this film, with insinuating conversations and characters who have tantalising secrets. This is skilfully underplayed by the cast, while director Alex Schaad maintains an enticing visual sensibility. So what the film says about how we define ourselves and each other is seriously profound, challenging us to take a fresh look at the human experience.
After her father's death, Leyla (Emde) and boyfriend Tristan (Dassler) travel to an island community where they're greeted by old family friends Stella (Selge) and Roman (Wodianka). Then the next day, they are ritually inducted along with another couple, Mo and Fabienne (Schaad and Zaree), swapping bodies with each other. As they continue to experiment living in other people's skin, unexpected feelings emerge. Leyla feels like she's been in a rough patch for as long as she can remember. Is this a way out, or will she only pass her despair on to someone else?
Dominated by a mysterious white tower, this island is wonderfully curious, with cultish identity-blurring practices that produce ayahuasca-like reactions. With everyone swapping bodies, keeping track of who's whom is pretty much impossible for both the characters and the audience (chapter headings notwithstanding). That said, each character goes through a pungent crisis as they discover who they truly are and who they want to be. And there are hilarious and darkly moving moments throughout the story.

With actors switching characters, performances are outrageously textured, and somehow depth of feeling never gets lost in the shuffle. Whoever they're playing, the actors find innovative ways to portray connections with each other and the wonder and unease of each body. So it's remarkable to see the chemistry shift along with them. Schaad particularly has fun in the scene-stealing role as the cocky, abrasive Mo. So does Dassler when they swap. And Wodianka finds disarming radiant charm when he's inhabited by Leyla.

While the plot feels a bit scrambled, the script is packed with intriguing ideas, like how people are affected by the biology of and body they occupy, and take that with them permanently. Most inventive is the way the script plays so freely with expectations, exploring the question of whether we love someone's body, soul or both, and what gender has to do with it. The way each person reacts in this respect is fascinating, an important reminder that there's no right or wrong way to love someone.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 27.Aug.22 vff

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