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

Clara Sola  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Clara Sola
dir Nathalie Alvarez Mesen
scr Nathalie Alvarez Mesen, Maria Camila Arias
prd Nima Yousefi, Alan McConnell, Marcelo Quesada Mena, Karina Avellan Troz, Geraldine Sprimont, Anne-Laure Guegan
with Wendy Chinchilla Araya, Daniel Castaneda Rincon, Ana Julia Porras Espinoza, Flor Maria Vargas Chavez, Laura Roman Arguedas, Fabrizzio Josue Vallecillo Vargas, Maria Belen Roman Quesada, Rodolfo Esquivel Gomez, Luis Gerardo Cruz, Kianny Castro Bravo, Yeimy Tellez Meneses, Ashley Campos Villalobos
release US 1.Jul.22,
UK 18.Nov.22
21/Costa Rica 1h46

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From Central America, this is a bracing tale of a woman struggling to escape the constraints of her culture's traditions and religious expectations. The film is an unusually complex portrait of someone who is seen in the simplest of terms by those around her. Director-cowriter Natalie Alvarez Mesen takes a sharply observant approach, along the way finding wider insight into the ways outsiders struggle to find their voice.
In rural Costa Rica, 40-year-old Clara (Chinchilla) is feeling suffocated by her community's demands. People see her as a mystic healer who has been accompanied by a loyal white horse named Yuca ever since a rumoured encounter with the Virgin Mary. Her mother Fresia (Vargas) protects her, but also encourages this mythology, pushes her into awkward situations and refuses to allow surgery that would cure her painful spinal condition. She's closer to her 15-year-old niece Maria (Porras), but that relationship is about to be tested by the arrival of hot farmhand Santiago (Castaneda).
Cleverly shot and edited to pull the audience intimately into Clara's astonishingly alert perspective, this tactile film contains a steady stream of intrigue. Is Clara just naturally curious about everything, or is there an intentionality to the way she interacts with everyone? She certainly has an intense bond with the natural world, which is something only Santiago seems to respect. But even he pushes Clara's limits, and where the narrative goes in the end is both provocative and empowering.

Chinchilla's performance is astonishing, bringing Clara's crinkled physicality to life in a way that's almost surreal, as if she really is a magical being who can raise animals from the dead. Her piercing eyes miss nothing, and yet most people assume that she's slow. Fascinatingly, each person around her sees her in a slightly different way, although none seem able to understand her. Her scenes with Porras and Castaneda are particularly strong, conveying superbly nuanced connections.

While the film seems to meander, circling around to repeat its ideas, it has a mesmerising quality that holds the attention. Indeed, neighbours seem frightened whenever Clara shows her independent side, preferring to control her actions and exploit her gifts. So it's sometimes harrowing to watch her struggle to make her own way in life. But her confidence in herself is inspiring, as she expects others to take her at face value and refuses to change herself to be who anyone else wants her to be.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 14.Nov.22

RRR   Rise Roar Revolt
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir-scr SS Rajamouli
prd DVV Danayya
with NT Rama Rao Jr (NTR), Ram Charan Teja, Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt, Olivia Morris, Shriya Saran, Ray Stevenson, Alison Doody, Samuthirakani, Chandra Sekhar, Makrand Deshpande, Rajeev Kanakala
release Ind/UK/US 25.Mar.22
22/India 3h07

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ntr and teja
A thunderous action film that makes most Hollywood productions look timid by comparison, this Indian blockbuster mixes real history with some heavy fictionalisation to tell a thumpingly entertaining epic tale. It's so far over the top that it often feels like a pastiche, but the underlying themes add surprising edge to even the most extravagantly fantastical set-pieces. This also makes it impossible to dismiss as a mindless popcorn movie.
In 1920s India, a vicious British governor (Stevenson) and his even nastier wife (Doody) cruelly take a girl from a village to become their servant. So according to their tradition, her family sends the intrepid Bheem (NTR) to bring her back. Knowing someone is coming, the governor hires fearless soldier Rama (Teja) to go undercover and find Bheem. But the two men meet without knowing the other's identity, and their shared bravery leads them to become close and loyal friends. The question is what will happen when they discover that they are actually mortal enemies.
Over the remarkably brisk three-hour running time, the film powers into a series of complex confrontations and revelations that continually twist the tale in unexpected directions, adding fascinating side characters, romantic subplots and several full-on music and dance numbers that are integrated into the plot (plus a joyous Bollywood closing credits sequence). It's such an enormous production that the vast spectacle continually takes the breath away. As do the darker historical observations about the unspeakably barbaric way the British treat the locals.

Because writer-director Rajamouli so gleefully abandons notions of logic and gravity, the film has a bonkers tone that makes the audience want to stand and cheer as each injustice is avenged. Both NTR and Teja are terrific at bringing out humanity even in the most wildly heroic bare-chested nonsense. Indeed, after keeping us gasping and laughing for three action-packed hours, the film leaves us in a state of exhilaration.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Nov.22

You Won’t Be Alone  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

You Won't Be Alone
dir-scr Goran Stolevski
prd Kristina Ceyton, Samantha Jennings
with Anamaria Marinca, Alice Englert, Noomi Rapace, Carloto Cotta, Felix Maritaud, Sara Klimoska, Arta Dobroshi, Anastasija Karanovich, Danilo Savic, Irena Ristic, Daniel Olsen, Marija Opsenica
release US 1.Apr.22, UK Oct.22 lff
22/Serbia Focus 1h48

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englert and maritaud
Delighting in a particularly yucky grisliness, this dramatic horror film has a timeless quality to it, playing almost like a tone poem as it explores elemental feelings in an almost primordial setting. Writer-director Goran Stolevski has a wonderfully original approach to building tension in mostly wordless scenes, playing with light and sound while dipping into some genuinely nasty imagery. And a deeper exploration of gender makes the film haunting.
In 19th century Macedonia, scary woodland witch Maria (Marinca) lays claim to infant Nevena, transforming her into a witch when she's a teen (Klimoska). Having been hidden away as a child, Nevena is curious about the world and won't accept Maria's claim that other creatures merely exist as blood for them to devour. Nevena's first transformation is almost inadvertent, inhabiting the form of a strong woman (Rapace) on a farm. Later she becomes a young man (Cotta) and discovers great freedom in being male. Then as a young girl (Kranovich then Englert) she experiences motherhood.
Through each of Nevena's transitions, Maria watches with malevolent intent, furious that Nevena has rejected her instruction but also yearning to understand why she is so fascinated by the pathetic, difficult existence of humans. There's very little dialog in the film, which is narrated by Nevena in the hesitant, often convoluted phrasing of a young woman who grew up alone in a cave. Her observations have an often lyrical quality as she yearns to feel what other people feel from crying and laughter to sexual pleasure. This gives the film a bracingly tactile authenticity.

Because of the film's earthy aesthetic, performances are full-on across the board, requiring a lot of physicality to express deeper thoughts and feelings. Marinca gives Maria a wry, sardonic attitude that augments her hideous inside-out appearance (which a flashback sequence explains). Nevena's various incarnations evolve from feral to confused to exploratory to celebratory, played skilfully by Klimoska, Rapace, Cotta and Englert. And Englert has additional weight in a superbly depicted romance with the excellent Maritaud.

Set at a time when women were essentially slaves, the film cleverly explores the strong internal drive for independence and agency. Nevena is ecstatic when she becomes a man who is not pushed around cruelly, but she also discovers a new kind of stress. And her ultimate discovery is love for the vulnerable boy that still exists within a man. These kinds of properly meaty ideas sit intriguingly well alongside the film's gruesome body-horror moments, offering some strong resonance.

cert 12 themes, language, violence, sexuality 7.Oct.22

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