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Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 16.Jul.22
The Big City
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Satyajit Ray
prd RD Bansal
with Anil Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Jaya Bhaduri, Haren Chatterjee, Shephalika Devi, Prasenjit Sarkar, Haradhan Banerjee, Vicky Redwood, Tapen Chattopadhyay, Shyamal Ghoshal, Gitali Roy, Samir Lahiri
release Ind 27.Sep.63
restored UK 22.Jul.22
BERLIN FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Nearly 60 years old, this film feels bracingly current in the way it tells the tale of a woman finding her power in a system that sidelines her. Master storyteller Satyajit Ray never flinches from stronger themes that churn under the surface, while also never letting them take over. So this remains a remarkably involving personal narrative, finely shot and edited, and played with open-handed honesty by a terrific cast.
In bustling Calcutta, banker Subrata (Anil Chatterjee) is struggling to support his household, which includes his sharp wife Arati (Mukherjee), their young son Pintu (Sarkar), Subrata's parents (Haren Chatterjee and Devi) and his teen sister Bani (Bhaduri). When Arati suggests that she could help by getting a job herself, Subrata is hesitant but agrees to allow it. While she proves to be excellent at door-to-door sales to wealthy women, her parents refuse to understand the changing world and deliberately set out to make both Subrata and Arati feel guilty about the fact that she's working.
Each member of this family takes a distinct journey through this narrative, so their interaction ripples with complex attitudes both towards each other and the larger societal attitudes all around them. There are also strong side characters such as Arati's firm but kind boss Mukherjee (Banerjee) and Anglo-Indian colleague Edith (Redwood), whose experience highlights some other issues regarding class, ethnicity and endemic prejudice. The layers of meaning are powerfully resonant for viewers even today, as the film takes on sexism, racism, narrow-mindedness and exploitation without flinching.
Shot largely in beautifully framed close-up, the film hones in on the faces of these sympathetic people as they quietly consider what is happening around them. Performances are open and often staggeringly honest emotionally, with a particularly engaging turn from Mukherjee as the cheeky, curious Arati, whose intelligence radiates through her deference. Chatterjee's Subrata is a superbly navigated mix of confidence and frustration. Their scenes together have terrific chemistry that's never remotely simplified. And the surrounding cast is equally nuanced in the way they interact with them.
In his films, Ray captures real life in India with a strong sense of detail, grappling with big issues without ever tipping over into melodrama. This earthy, truthful approach puts vivid, unusually layered characters at the heart of the story, which makes everything that happens on-screen unusually easy to identify with, no matter where we live or how many decades later. So Arati's journey offers remarkably inspiring insight into self-discovery, taking on tradition and succeeding without needing to destroy people on the way.
Brian and Charles
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Jim Archer
prd Rupert Majendie
scr David Earl, Chris Hayward
with David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey, Jamie Michie, Nina Sosanya, Lynn Hunter, Lowri Izzard, Mari Izzard, Cara Chase, Sunil Patel, Rishi Nair, Colin Bennett
release US 17.Jun.22,
22/UK Focus 1h30
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
With disarming charm that sneaks up on the audience, this offbeat British comedy-drama is packed with wonderfully quirky characters who bring a relatively simple narrative to sparkling life. Director Jim Archer takes an amusingly deadpan approach that adds an involving kick to the script, which was written by lead actors David Earl and Chris Hayward. So even if the story is rather silly, it's underscored with real heart.
In rural Wales, Brian (Earl) indulges in wacky inventions on his isolated farm. Lonely, he decides to build a robot (Hayward), a hulking contraption that comes to life and chooses the name Charles Petrescu. While having little adventures, Earl is unable to hide Charles from local villagers. This helps him get to know his crush Hazel (Brealey), but it also puts him in the crosshairs of his neighbour Eddie (Michie), who has bullied him since their school days. And Eddie's wife (Sosanya) and spoiled daughters (Lowri and Mari Izzard) decide they want Charles for themselves.
With a rollercoaster plot, the film continually shifts between goofy comedy and some genuinely nasty confrontations, with a bit of gentle romance smoothing the transitions. Despite his absurd appearance, Charles is almost startlingly likeable, with his eerily inexpressive mannequin head reflecting big emotions through a yearning coming-of-age arc from childhood curiosity through rebellious adolescence and beyond. Meanwhile, Brian's story has its own endearing trajectory as a man who finally takes on the things that have always held him back.
Performances are relaxed, relying on the nutty internal energy that each character brings to the screen. Earl makes Brian likably dopey but never stupid, and he has superb chemistry with Hayward's remarkably cheeky, mischievous Charles. Both are strong-willed, so their clashes are hilarious. And Brealey gives Hazel her own sweet eccentricities. She may be a third wheel, but she holds her own beautifully, adding some lightly unhinged romantic moments along the way. And it's also nice that Michie's cruel Eddie has some surprising complexity to him.
As the story approaches its deranged but satisfying climax, we're so won over that we don't really mind that the resolution is so abrupt. This is because each moment of the journey is packed with tiny details in imagery, sound and dialog that draw us further in, continually eliciting a smile and sometimes a proper laugh. The message about embracing and standing up for one's self might not be hugely original, but it still feels inspiring as it comes from these social outcasts.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Luke Covert
prd Brandon Keeton
scr Samantha Oty, Luke Covert, Matthew Kiskis
with Nicholas Stoesser, Jared Spears, Jordyn Denning, Landon Tavernier, Brooke Maroon, Anthony Notarile, Erin Nordseth, Erik Walker Neill, Michelle Hall, Brandon Keeton, Madeline Pickens, Anreet Kaur Riar
release US 17.Jun.22
Is it streaming?
A goofy charm infuses this teen caper comedy-drama, playing on the characters' sparky personalities. Adapted from a play by cowriter Samantha Oty, the film's tone swerves from silly to serious. It also digs knowingly into how it feels to be a young person at a pivotal point in life. So it's a bit frustrating that the story abandons its more adventurous elements for a simplistic but cool ending.
On New Year's Eve 1999, small-town Michigan high school senior Austin (Stoesser) plans to rob the ATM at the gas station shop where he works. With his goofy pal Swearsky (Spears), he plans a heist involving a Turbo Cola display. Then Austin's new girlfriend Mary Jane (Denning) stops by on her way to the big party, as does her bad-boy brother Jimmy (Tavernier), Austin's childhood friend, who has Y2K paranoia and a gun. And bully Eric (Notarile) and his pushy girlfriend Jennifer (Maroon) try to buy beer. Does Austin's plan have any chance of working?
Director-cowriter Covert keeps things moving, even if the film never kicks into high speed. From the start, it's clear that Swearsky will cause trouble, as he refuses to behave while the smiley Austin tries to keep things under control. Mary Jane is only the first distraction, and she returns a few more times to further spin Austin's head. Then the others turn up with their own disruptions as midnight approaches, including Austin's oddball mother (Nordseth), who wants him to visit his father in prison.
Performances are relaxed and realistic within the heightened narrative, which makes the characters feel more engaging than expected, especially as the story turns edgier. Stoesser anchors the film nicely as the quick-thinking Austin, who is trying to plot his own future while everyone around him has other ideas. Spears is able to subvert the chucklehead stereotype as Swearsky, while Denning cleverly makes Mary Jane more prickly than expected. And the teens played by Tavernier, Maroon and Notarile also nicely push back against cliches.
Instead of cutting loose with teen energy, the plot gets increasingly serious, with arguments and strained relationships that add tension between characters. So as the final act arrives, this feels much more like a darkly disturbing drama in which tragedy is the most likely outcome. Indeed, the stroke of midnight brings a ripple of repercussions to each of the story threads, leading to a climactic decision. And while there's strong resonance and some sharp observations in here, the film ultimately feels rather forgettable.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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