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

A Distant Place  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
A Distant Place
dir-scr Park Kun Young
prd Park Eun-sung
with Kang Gil-woo, Hong Kyung, Lee Sang-hee, Gi Ju-bong, Ki Do-young, Kim Si-ha
release Kor Jun.20 jiff,
US Aug.21 ofla,
UK Mar.22 flare
20/Korea 1h57

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hong and kang
Set in rural Korea, this understated drama explores lingering unspoken homophobia in a progressive country. Writer-director Park Kun Young takes an observant approach, carefully staging scenes to reveal connections between the characters and their environments. This creates a striking and often unnerving depiction of more subtle forms of prejudice like side glances, passive-aggressive silences and exclusion. But the film is also infused with hope for a more compassionate future.
On a farm in the mountains, Jin-woo (Kang) works quietly as a shepherd and takes care of cheeky 4-year-old Seol (Kim), who calls him "mommy". They live happily with owner Joong-man (Gi) and his adult daughter Moon-kyeong (Ki), who has secret feelings for Jin-woo. Then Jin-woo's long-time friend Hyun-min (Hong) arrives to start a new job locally as a teacher. Even though Jin-woo and Hyun-min are discreet about their romantic relationship, both Joong-man and Moon-kyeong work it out. Then Jin-woo's twin sister Eun-young (Lee) arrives to further upset the balance.
Centring around quiet conversations, the film reveals thoughts and feelings in remarkably organic ways. The hitch in the story is that Eun-young is Seol's mother, who abandoned her to Jin-woo at birth and now wants her back. She also has opinions about Jin-woo's relationship with Hyun-min, a tender connection that is delicately revealed in brief glimpses of a touch or embrace. Meanwhile, Jin-woo comments that he moved to the farm to protect Seol from harsh experiences at an urban school. And in a classroom, Hyun-min challenges his adult students to rethink old preconceptions and break fixed ideas.

Kang has terrific presence as a thoughtful young man who doesn't feel the need to prove anything, quietly doing the best he can do while trying to avoid confrontation. Kang and the sparky-smiley Hong have an easy chemistry that makes the relationship warm and affectionate. The women have more difficult roles, especially Lee as the complicated Eun-young tries to amend for her past mistakes without creating new ones. And Ki beautifully portrays Moon-kyeong's yearning amid the pressures of her daily life.

Park skilfully navigates a situation in which what the characters neglect to voice to each other is as important as what they do say. As the narrative continues, it takes sometimes startling turns that bring out intensely resonant deeper emotions. This includes some properly heart-rending confrontations and one scary sequence. And what emerges is a soulful plea for an idyllic escape from the harsh realities of the world. And also the realisation that running away never solves a problem.

cert 12 themes, violence 23.Mar.22 flare

Girls Girls Girls   aka: Girl Picture  |  Tytöt Tytöt Tytöt
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Girl Picture
dir Alli Haapasalo
scr Ilona Ahti, Daniela Hakulinen
prd Leila Lyytikainen, Elina Pohjola
with Aamu Milonoff, Eleonoora Kauhanen, Linnea Leino, Sonya Lindfors, Cecile Orblin, Oona Airola, Mikko Kauppila, Amos Brotherus, Bruno Baer , Nicky Laaguid, Oksana Lommi , Yasmin Najjar
release Fin 14.Apr.22,
US 12.Aug.22, UK 30.Sep.22
22/Finland 1h40

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kauhanen, leino and milonoff
There's a refreshing authenticity to this Finnish coming-of-age drama that continually catches the viewer by surprise, as director Alli Haapasalo continually subverts the usual cinematic tropes in lieu of something that's engagingly honest. The story follows three girls as they face a range of pressures over three Fridays. This contained structure allows for a loosely observational style that feels improvisational and raw. And it also makes it surprisingly resonant.
At 18, Mimmi (Milonoff) and her best pal Ronkko (Kauhanen) work in a shopping mall smoothie shop, supporting each other emotionally as they explore the romantic options available to them. Smart but self-sabotaging, Mimmi falls for the lonely figure skater Emma (Leino), who faces severe pressure from her coach (Lindfors) and her mother (Orblin) as she prepares for a big competition. Meanwhile, the fearlessly oversharing Ronkko is going through a series of guys in search of sexual pleasure, which stubbornly continues to elude her. Finding love certainly isn't easy for either of these girls.
Written and directed with a refreshing openness, this is a rare film that allows young women to enjoy sexuality without becoming either exploitative or cautionary about it. The focus is firmly on characters rather than plot or situations, which means that even encounters that might be outrageous are played with a knowing earthiness. This allows the audience to travel with these three young women as they deal with their personal issues and discover what they want out of life. At least for now.

Each actress is terrific at revealing the internal thoughts of her character. Milonoff manages to keep the hotheaded Mimmi likeable, helping us understand the churning internal turmoil that fuels her harsh actions. Leino captures Emma's enormous sense of longing as she tries to balance personal and professional ambitions. And Kauhanen steals the show as the lively Ronkko, opening each conversation with an inappropriate jaw-dropper comment while also revealing her humour, kindness and curiosity.

Small but perfectly formed, this film effortlessly tackles huge topics in ways that we hardly notice. And because it never falls back on the usual plotting cliches, it remains surprising and involving as it explores powerfully personal issues that are rarely, if ever, depicted on-screen. These three young women are far more mainstream than they seem to be, growing up in a world where their identities aren't proscribed or marginalised. So watching them discover who they really are feels organic and even inspiring.

cert 152 themes, language, sexuality 16.Mar.22 flare

The Swimmer  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
The Swimmer
dir-scr Adam Kalderon
prd Naama Pyritz
with Omer Perelman, Asaf Jonas, Ofek Nicki Cohen, Gal Ben Amra, Roy Reshef, Igal Reznik, Nadia Kucher, Aviv Tommy Carmi, Gil Wasserman, May Kurtz, Yarden Toussia-Cohen, Nili Tserruya
release Isr Aug.21 jff,
US Jan.22 psiff,
UK Mar.22 flare
21/Israel 1h23

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jonas and striks
With a bracingly sensual aesthetic, this Israeli drama explores the strains experienced by top-level sportsmen, touching on pungent themes that exist only in the film's perspective and subtext. Writer-director Adam Kalderon uses bright hues in costumes and sets, plus a lively score by The Penelopes, all of which quietly infuse scenes with a camp sensibility that plays on how the camera lovingly gazes at athletic men in speedos.
Arriving at an elite training centre, Erez (Striks) is competing against four top swimmers to represent his country at the Olympics. He quickly finds friendship with the thoughtful Nevo (Jonas), while alpha jock Dan (Cohen) taunts everyone, creating a mini-gang with the muscly Yoav (Amra) and young Nadav (Reshef). As coach Dima (Reznik) puts them through their paces, there are flickers of tension between the swimmers, including insidious bullying and a relentless pressure to achieve. The question is whether their harsh words are real or mind-games.
Genre cliches turn up along the way, including casual homophobia in the locker-room and the coach's petulant desire to relive his former glory through these rising stars. More interesting is the pressure on Erez to focus only on himself, as he's warned that his friendship with Nevo could scupper his chances. And a couple of young women (Kurtz and Toussia-Cohen) create additional wrinkles. All of this is presented with relentless homoeroticism that offers a glimpse into the movie's true central topic.

Striks is excellent as Erez, a complex character whose internal gyrations are always at odds with each other. Is he in love with Nevo or deliberately messing with him to gain an advantage? It's rare for a protagonist to be likeable and conniving at the same time, and Striks is especially riveting in charged scenes opposite Jonas and Reznik, as well as Wasserman as Erez's demanding father. Meanwhile, Kucher is superb in somewhat distracting scenes as an ex-gymnast who manages the swimming institute.

Kalderon's deliberately elusive narrative approach is boldly provocative and perhaps a bit uneven. As it unfolds, the story seems to focus more on Dima's irrational coaching than Erez's much more engaging internal journey. Because everything remains so unspoken, the film never quite becomes the gay odyssey it seems so carefully designed to be. But it's still a bracingly clever celebration of youthful physicality and the enormous demands of competing with the best in the world. And a rather wacky surreal blast of choreography in the climactic moment adds a wonderful final flourish.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 19.Mar.22 flare

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