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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 23.Oct.22

The Blue Caftan   Le Bleu du Caftan
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Blue Caftan
dir-scr Maryam Touzani
prd Nabil Ayouch
with Lubna Azabal, Saleh Bakri, Ayoub Missioui, Mounia Lamkimel, Abdelhamid Zoughi, Zakaria Atifi, Fouzia Ejjawi, Fatima Hilal, Mariam Lalouaz, Kholoud El Ouehabi, Amira Tiouli, Hanaa Laidi
release UK Oct.22 lff,
US Oct.22 ciff
22/Morocco 2h04

london film fest

Is it streaming?

missioui, azabal and bakri
Opening on luxuriant folds of blue silk, this Moroccan drama maintains a fluid tone that pulls the audience inexorably inside its characters and situations. Set in the present day, writer-director Maryam Touzani beautifully depicts skills that are disappearing in the modern world, where people are too impatient to wait for hand-crafted tailoring. And the narrative is unusually involving, weaving in personal themes that have a strong emotional impact.
In the ancient medina in the city of Salé, Mina and Halim (Azabal and Bakri) run a busy traditional caftan shop specialising in ornate hand-embroidery. To tackle a backlog of orders, they hire young apprentice Youssef (Missioui), who quickly proves to be talented and eager to learn this dying art. But customers want faster, cheaper, more fashion-forward clothing. Then when Halim finds himself attracted to Youssef, the matter-of-fact Mina falsely accuses Youssef of theft and becomes far more attentive to Halim. But Halim will need to rely on Youssef even more when Mina falls ill.
Mina is clearly aware of Halim's homosexuality, but like him never speaks of it. The film reveals a deep affection between Mina and Halim, expressed in jokey conversations and tender moments of yearning. Cinematographer Virginie Surdej captures remarkably personal details along with lush fabrics and golden threads, bustling markets and Halim's secret liaisons in a steamy hammam. While the film feels overlong, each moment is shot with a subtle eye that's discreet but unambiguous. So demanding customers feel like alien invaders.

The terrific Azabal draws the audience in as Mina watches her husband closely, subtly trying to sway him as she has for decades. This is also expressed in sharp criticism and blunt responses to customers. Meanwhile, Bakri gives Halim a thoughtful, observant dignity that's compelling. This is a man who learned this intricate trade from his father and only now has someone he can pass it on to. And Missioui is terrific as the soulful, intelligent Youssef. The chemistry between these men is played with gorgeous sensitivity.

Throughout the script, references to caftans knowingly echo the relationships depicted on-screen, as the garments need to be resilient enough to survive the challenges of time, passed from generation to generation. This of course reflects in the way the film quietly addresses sexuality in a culture where it has to remain hidden. So the moment halfway in when it is finally acknowledged is heart-stopping on a several emotional levels. And where the story goes from here is surprising and infused with hope.

cert 15 themes, sexuality 13.Oct.22

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-prd Lee Jung-Jae
scr Jo Seung-Hee
with Lee Jung-Jae, Jung Woo-Sung, Heo Sung-Tae, Jeon Hye-Jin, Heo Sung-Tae, Go Yoon-Jung, Kim Jong-Soo, Jeong Man-Sik, Derek Chouinard, Paul Battle, Andreas Fronk, William Todd Henderson
release Kor 10.Aug.22,
UK Oct.22 leaff, US 2.Dec.22
22/Korea 2h11

london east asia film fest

Now streaming...

lee and jung
Acclaimed Squid Game star Lee Jung-Jae steps into directing duties for this action-packed political thriller. Set in a period of real-life political turmoil, the script adeptly weaves fictional conspiracies and counterplots that keep the audience guessing right to the end. And the smartest touch is to scramble motivations, questioning what makes someone a hero or villain. This adds something to think about during an adrenaline rush of a movie.
In 1983, South Korea's intelligence agency is still struggling to regroup five years after the nation's president was assassinated and the new leader proved himself to be a murderous despot. Former colleagues in arms, foreign intelligence chief Park (Lee) is at odds with his domestic counterpart Kim (Jung) over their working methods, but they need to team up to find a mole codenamed Donglim, who is leaking information to the North Koreans, turning spy operations into fatal calamities. Then as Park and Kim begin suspecting each other, each indulges in surveillance, kidnapping, torture and murder.
A propulsive cat-and-mouse structure offers continuous action, with furious chases, chaotic gun battles and grisly assaults, all staged with remarkable grit. As a director, Lee never lets up on the pace, so even quieter sequences are infused with tension, adding intrigue to each relationship. It's not always easy to remember which of these men in suits is good or bad (three key women are marginally easier to track). But one of the script's points is that each person has a valid motive.

With terrific on-screen presence, Lee shines as a man who remains cool even when viciously pushed into a corner. Likeably observant and capable, Park is never afraid to charge into the mayhem, he also seems immune to various bombs, bullets and vehicles that are hurled at him. His chemistry with Jung's slicker, steelier Kim is riveting, reflecting their messy history (there are flashbacks). Both men have the posture of a true believer, and both actors let the audience in as the storm escalates around them.

Enormous political themes spiral through this story, as a variety of people grapple with what it means to serve a dictator in a nation that has been split in two by war. So the dance between Park and Kim takes a series of personal and professional spins that become sometimes staggeringly violent. Through all of this, Lee directs the film with a confident hand, keeping even the most frantic action coherent while building to an entertaining climax so enormous that it nearly knocks us out.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 19.Oct.22 leaff

Like Me  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Like Me
dir Eyal Kantor
scr Didi Lubetzky, Eyal Kantor
prd Eyal Kantor, Yoav Keren
with Yoav Keren, Mendi Barsheshet, Gal Amitai, Danny Geva, Itamar Malul, Roni Nadler, Amor Hadaria, Atalya Zehavi, Esti Zakheim, Oded Menaster, Yiftach Kaminer, Yoav Sharabany
release UK 24.Oct.22
22/Israel 1h28

Is it streaming?

amitai and keren
With plenty of youthful energy, this colourful Israeli drama centres on a messy but self-assured teen trying to plot a course in life. Filmmaker Eyal Kantor finds realistic rhythms in the interaction between characters who have quite a lot on their minds. This is an unusually complex approach to the usual coming-of-age narrative, as blurred relationships force these young people to face the realities of who they are.
Always late for work delivering pizza, 18-year-old Tom (Keren) thinks he's all grown up until his father (Geva) gives him two weeks to move out. He loves acting class and posing for his photographer friend Rami (Amitai), who encourages him to go further artistically. Since Tom is concealing his crush on straight best friend Gilad (Barsheshet), he instead falls into a rather strained relationship with the older Rami. But Tom is annoyed that he's merely settling for Rami because he can't have Gilad. Or maybe that door isn't as closed as he thinks it is.
In a photo shoot, Rami encourages the smiley Tom to tap into his hate, leading to a wrenching self-loathing breakdown illustrated with pointed home video clips. These bracing internal glimpses are part of the way Kantor plays with planes of reality, cutting into acting auditions and rehearsals to offer offbeat insight into relationships and situations. Various exercises put Tom and Gilad into close contact physically and emotionally, which offer both parallels and contrasts to their friendship. Although the Dorian Gray scenes feel a bit on-the-nose.

As Tom, Keren has a loose attitude and physicality that are disarmingly attractive, making it clear how he continually talks his way out of trouble. Even as his impulsive decision-making causes problems over and over again. Barsheshet has an easy-going vibe as Gilad, whose main struggle is getting his acting career off the ground. He also has his pick of the girls, and a nasty jealous streak. But he clearly loves Tom as a friend, and maybe more. Meanwhile, Amitai plays Rami sympathetically, aware that his behaviour toward Tom borders on predatory.

As feelings begin to come out into the open, Kantor keeps the film visually striking, using this imagery to explore connections between bodies, minds and hearts. By contrast, the plot feels abrupt and sharply pointed, as the threat of impending military service creates different reactions in the confident Tom and the less assured Gilad. This adds a provocative layer to the story, taking on a macho society in which systemic homophobic deprives young people of their identities.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 21.Oct.22

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