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|Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 27.Mar.22
BFI Flare: Five Films for Freedom 2022
Reviews by Rich Cline
Presented by the British Film Institute and the British Council, this annual collection of short films taps into enormous global issues with deeply personal dramas. This year's inspiring shorts come from five countries and represent a range of experiences that have much wider resonances beyond the LGBT experiences they depict. They're also superbly well-made films made by skilled cast and crew members who should be praised for taking on these important themes.
dir-scr Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor
with Ann Akinjirin, Marcy Dolapo Oni, Damola Adelaja, Diana Yekinni
A warm, earthy tone captures the human side of this story, which centres on immigrants in a lively household in London. But what the characters are facing is potentially earth-shattering, and writer director Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor beautifully captures the emotional stakes involved, allowing these people to emerge with colour, life and, most importantly, dignity.
The film opens as Nkechi (Oni) gets up before dawn to head to her job as a cleaner. Then back at home her girlfriend Martha (Akinjirin) and housemates Dolapo and Tolu (Akinjirin, Yekinni and Adelaja) quickly hide her from immigration officers who suddenly turn up. Nkechi is exhausted after being on the run for three years and decides to turn herself in and claim asylum, desperate to be able to live openly with Martha.
Turning to her friends for advice, Nkechi reveals her terror that she might be arrested. They remind her that the Home Office is supposed to remain impartial, but that the officers are also human, so anything can happen. All Nkechi and Martha want is the freedom to exist together, but the UK isn't known for being terribly fair or compassionate to people who are desperate. This is a skilfully shot and sharply well-played drama that puts a hopeful personal face to a vital political issue.
dir Judith Corro
scr Judith Corro, Luis Alfaro
with Anthony Chersia, Antonio Andres Rosello, Maripaz Salamin, Mariela Aragon, Aquilino Arias, Nilka Solis, Larry Diaz, Victoria Alicia Vasquez Padilla
Birthday Boy Vuelta al Sol
Evocative and emotional, this lushly shot short from Panama gets under the skin of its central character, seeing the world through his yearning eyes. It's a sharp expression of personal identity that carries an important kick. And without being pointed or pushy, filmmakers Judith Corro and Luis Alfaro reveal the coldhearted hate that runs underneath values that aren't remotely Christian. And also the empowerment of actual love and support.
On his birthday, trans teen Cesar (Chersia) is struggling against the strict religious approach of his parents (Aragon and Arias), longing to be himself to his family. Memories of past birthdays flood his mind, as they have always ignored his identity, treating him as the girly Camila (Salamin in flashbacks). His big brother Fernando (Rosello) tries to encourage Cesar in the face of his parents stubborn rejection of his wishes.
The pressures on Cesar are enormous, and strongly felt in this brief film. Everyone pushes him on the topic of marriage, always giving him a dress as a birthday gift and simply ignoring anything he or Fernando tries to say. "This is who I am," Cesar says, begging for understanding, longing for his parents to actually see him, so he can exist. And each moment is beautifully shot and acted to adeptly bring out internal thoughts and feelings.
dir-scr Arun Fulara
with Shrikant Yadav, Prakash Joshi, Shreyas Chougule, Shareef Bhai, Zubair, Saddam, Ambika, Akshara Solanki
There's an earthy honesty to this Indian short that gives it an almost documentary tone. Strikingly well-played by lead actor Shrikant Yadav, the film is a lovely depiction of thoughts and feelings that can never be spoken. It's a gently pointed reminder of the power of small pleasures as a way to break out from the constrictions the world puts on us.
The camera follows the middle-aged Kamble (Yadav) as he crosses town and heads to a barbershop to get a shave from the handsome and smiley young Jaan (Joshi). It's clear that Kamble has a crush on Jaan, and simply enjoys being in his hands for a few minutes of pure joy. So he lets himself go while he's in the chair, living his true life just for these few precious minutes before heading home to his wife and daughter (Ambika and Solanki).
Writer-director Arun Fulara captures details beautifully, simply observing the scene as the bustling streets give way to the busy shop, then things become much more intimate as Kamble quietly revels in Jaan's attentions. We can almost feel the spray from the water bottle, and Jaan's gently facial massage. And when it's over, we have a deeper understanding of Kamble's bittersweet emotions.
dir-scr Marko Djeska
voice Matia Anna Plese
All Those Sensations in My Belly
Sve te Senzacije u Mom Trbuhu
Inventively animated with simple line drawings and colour washes, this short recounts a personal journey with style and insight, as filmmaker Marko Djeska finds ways to illustrate events with stunning observational touches. It's the earthy, personal story of a trans woman who longs to find a man as a partner. And the combination of humour, tension and romance is utterly mesmerising.
As Matia recounts her story in voiceover with often bracing honesty, it is animated on screen with impressionistic flourishes. She recalls being brutally bullied as a young boy, diving into books and playing video games with her best friend. But her longings for him are crushed when he finds another girlfriend, ghosting Matia when he discovers her feelings. Thoughts of suicide follow, as well as some violent outside menace.
As the film digs deep beneath the surface, the childish lines give way to some remarkable performance-capture moments. Each sequence has a striking visual sensibility that makes situations come to life in ways that are easy to identify with. And they also take us under the skin of someone who simply realises that she doesn't need to prove herself anymore. She's who she is, and just wants to live as an average girl who will one day find true love.
dir-scr Hao Zhou
voice Hao Zhou
Set in snowy Iowa, this film centres on a young Chinese immigrant who is searching for his identity in a strange new world. It's an artfully well-assembled expression of a deeper yearning for home and understanding in a world that is constantly changing. Artist-filmmaker Hao Zhou sets this out as a letter home to his family, writing about how he is trying to make sense of how much everything has shifted around him.
With poetic voiceover narration, Hao repeatedly asks who he is and where his story will go. Scenes of him walking through fields, frozen lakes and forests are intercut with echoing imagery from his childhood in China with his little sister. He speaks of his "problem", which resulted in his departure. And he makes sharp observations about the perplexing new environment he now has to call home.
The imagery is seriously striking. Hao talks about leaving home just as it was being "improved", with scenes of bulldozers burying the pastoral farmland in mountains of dirt to make way for anonymous blocks of flats. And these changes back home almost seem insignificant compared to the seismic shifts in his family relationships and within his own identity as a queer artist. He's still the person he always has been, except that in this new place he is finally allowed to embrace who he is and live his life freely.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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