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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs and shorts...
|Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 2.Apr.22
36th BFI Flare shorts...
London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival • held at BFI Southbank 17-27.Mar.22
dir Maissa Lihedheb
scr Lamin Leroy Gibba
with Lamin Leroy Gibba, Til Schindler
Skilfully photographed with an introspective touch, this German short centres around a brief encounter that shifts from hopeful to awkward to hilarious. This is a knowing exploration of dominance and submission that contains added elements of race and politics. It's a bold collision of two young men who perhaps aren't as different as they think they are. And where it goes is riveting and also a bit unnerving.
Malik (Gibba) feels alone but isn't lonely, enjoying casual hookups like this one with Philipp (Schindler), who didn't turn up last time they arranged to meet. But here he is now, barking like a dog, and Malik isn't sure what to think. Still, Malik dives gamely in when Philipp produces a set of handcuffs. Then as they relax together, the situation takes an unexpected turn. And as they begin to talk to each other, they discover some startling attitudes.
It turns out that Philipp works with refugees, and he struggles to express himself in ways that don't make Malik feel offended. But Malik's views also reveal a narrow-mindedness, turning instantly angry at the thought of racism. It's hard for Malik to even begin to think that Philipp understands this topic at all. As they open up to each other, it's fascinating to see their interaction, which is written and played with striking insight.
dir Fawzia Mirza
scr Kausar Mohammed
with Kausar Mohammed, Vico Ortiz, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Pia Shah, D'Lo Srijaerajah, Anjali Kaur, Nishima Gupta, Mayank Bhatter
The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night
Cultural issues swirl around riotously in this Canadian short about a South Asian who brings her Latin American partner to a lively family event. The film is sharply well-written and played to capture natural rhythms between siblings who delight in laying expectations on each other. It also features hugely likeable characters whose interactions are a lot of fun to watch. And easy to identify with too.
Noor (Mohammed) is nervous as she brings her girlfriend Luz (Ortiz) to her family's holiday game night at the home of her rather too-excited sister Kiran (Shah). As everyone gets into the spirit of the evening, big sister Soraya (Kumbhani) swoops in imperiously, knowing that Noor didn't expect her to turn up. And her clear objective is to work out if Luz belongs in the family.
The games themselves are shown as a witty social media-style video montage, while the script hones in on the engaging conversations before and after, including lots of amusingly awkward tension. And it's the way these people circle around each other, checking each other out and challenging assumptions that makes the film come to life, worm its way under our skin and leave us with a smile.
dir Charles Lum, Todd Verow
scr Charles Lum
with Charles Lum
This lively short celebrates the outsized personality of late filmmaker Charles Lum, and it's crafted by Todd Verow into a mini-biopic as it spans back to footage from his childhood and youth while following him through his life during the pandemic. The footage is gorgeous, and perhaps the only complaint is that we'd like to see a lot more of this, perhaps even a feature version one day.
The film opens with a written message from Charles about waking up with double vision and learning that there's a mass in his brain. This gives him the idea to start a video diary duel contrasting his personal journey with the world's coronavirus crisis, climaxing with the presidential election and World Aids Day 2020. "I hope we're still here!" he says.
Charles is determined to make this film funny, rather than focussing on illness and death. And indeed he accomplishes this with his signature spark of wit, including wonderful glimpses of him as a young man. The collision of old and new footage carries a terrific kick, capturing tiny details of life in the world during this momentous year while also chronicling Charles' charming approach to life and his own approaching death. He celebrated life a year longer than expected, and died in November 2021.
dir-scr Sean Lionadh
with Ruaridh Mollica, Joshua Griffin, Neshla Caplan, Kevin O'Loughlin, Oliver Wright, Jane McCarry, Tomas Palmer, Janet Peat
There's a muted authenticity to this short drama from Scotland, which taps into a deep-seated fear of bigotry that's felt by a young gay man in a conservative religious family. Writer-director Sean Lionadh gets rather full-on in the depiction, but the film beautifully depicts the trauma that abuse inflicts on children, including lingering layers of fear and humiliation. And it also demonstrates the power of love against hate.
The story opens at a colourful party that grows increasingly woozy. On a drunken dare, Nick (Mollica) invites his boyfriend Charlie (Griffin) to come home with him, even though he lives with his family. But in the morning Nick wakes up in a blind panic because his homophobic parents (Caplan and O'Loughlin) are downstairs. Charlie wants a shower, but Nick says this is out of the question. Then Nick's little brother Adam (Wright) barges in, and things take a turn.
Along the way, Lionadh captures several gorgeous moments that balance out the ugliness. It's a strikingly knowing approach. And the excellent cast adeptly brings out the thoughts and feelings that are swirling around within this family, many of them very, very dark. And it's the interaction between Nick and Charlie that carries the strongest punch, especially as it tenderly blossoms into something that's both urgent and important.
dir-scr Saleh Saadi
with Anan Abu-Jaber, Yussuf Abu-Warda, Sami Hawary
There's a sunny, earthy tone to this Palestinian drama, which unfolds at a superbly unrushed pace to echo the gnawing time pressure the central character is feeling. It's a simple little film, but it carries big emotional meaning, as well as hope for a more understanding future. And it's beautifully underplayed by the two actors at the centre.
With a bag of borekas to snack on, a young man (Abu-Jaber) is heading to the airport, getting a ride from his taxi-driver father (Abu-Warda), with whom he has barely spoken during his two-week visit. But the car won't start, and a mechanic friend (Hawary) is unable to get it running. Stressed out, the father and son begin arguing, then reluctantly address a topic that has never been voiced between them: that the son is moving in with his boyfriend.
As the intensity grows, the conversation between this father and son reveals a nuanced range of underlying tensions. They may be arguing about money to hire another taxi, but it's the unexpressed things between them that are about to come out. The son is terrified to address this topic, and the father is clearly nervous. But perhaps they don't need to be. Because if his mother has always secretly been happy for him, maybe his father can be as well.
dir Shiva Raichandani
scr Amani Saeed, Shiva Raichandani
with Shiva Raichandani, Raimu Itfum, Taru Devani, Aroob Sajjad, Anick Soni, Asifa Lahore, Asad Shaykh, Ritu Khurana
With a splash of bright colour, this short drama is set in around a lavish wedding in Britain's Indian community. Complete with big musical numbers, the film is full of life and emotion, a beautiful affirmation of love in whatever form it takes. And while it gets both serious and sentimental as it goes along, it remains uplifting and powerfully moving in the way it finds hope even when the world is cruel. Nothing is more liberating than living as who you are.
It opens just as Madhav and Sufi (Raichandani and Itfum) begin celebrating their upcoming marriage with a lively dance. Then a mysterious woman (Devani) turns up unannounced. She is Madhav's grandmother Dadi, whom his parents had always told him was dead. Madhav tells her that he was disowned by his parents at 17 when he came out as nonbinary, and it turns out that Dadi was also disowned by them when she and her husband came out as gay and trans themselves.
As an actor Raichandani beautifully captures the sense of a person who discovers a rich queer heritage. The dialog is packed with knowing observations and heartfelt expressions about how important it is to feel love and affection from others, because it allows us to simply be. This vividly directed film is a lovely reminder that if our family refuses to love us, we have the freedom to choose one that will. And it ends in a lingering moment of heart-felt triumph.
dir-scr Adam Ali, Sam Arbor
with Adam Ali, Colette Dalal Tchantcho, Elysia Kozinos, Ali Gadema, Usaim Younnis, Mudar Abbara, Ahmed Elmusrati, Samar Abu Kaf
Set in Libya, this film has an urgent, edgy tone that's thoroughly engaging. While the characters have a relaxed and very colourful honesty to them, the story is tinged with suspense, leading to unexpected discoveries. This is sharply well shot and edited, and performed by engaging actor-filmmaker Adam Ali with a strong sense of humour and emotion. So it's riveting to watch his complex, confusing situation come into a new focus.
Rejected by his family in Tripoli for being far too obviously queer, Britannia (Ali) longs to migrate to the UK so he can be happily out and gay. When he bleaches his hair blond, his friends (Tchantcho and Kozinos) warn him that he'll get the wrong kind of attention here. But he's hopeful about his upcoming interview at the British Embassy. Then he realises that his passport is in back at home, and he'll need to avoid his oppressive father Baba (Gadema) to get it.
Britannia's safe space is a series of lavishly decorated tunnels under the city, where he can fully be himself. But he feels he can only live above-ground as a gay man if he moves to Manchester. In Tripoli he goes out in disguise. As he sneaks into his family's home, the film generates some real heist-movie tension. And when Britannia discovers that his backstory isn't what he thought it was, the film becomes powerfully moving.
dir-scr Dania Bdeir
with Khansa, Mohammad Kamal, Kamal Saleh, Hassan Aqqoul
Bursting with energy and attitude, this short vividly captures the sense of how life feels for a refugee in Lebanon. From shouted insults to poor working conditions, the film is strikingly honest, sometimes almost brutally so. It's also gorgeously well-shot to give the audience an unblinking view of this world, including more than a few vertiginous angles.
The story centres on Mohammad (Khansa), a shy Syrian who lives in communal housing and works as a crane operator in Beirut. One day at work, he volunteers to run one of the city's tallest, scariest cranes. He's nervous about climbing way up there, but when he's far above the rooftops everything becomes peaceful. And finally in private, he can now indulge in his deepest fantasies.
Writer-director Dania Bdeir shoots this documentary-style, capturing a range of telling details about Mohammad's life. His roommates barge in on him in the bathroom, and the lift to the top of the construction site is a noisy sardine can bursting with machismo. Mohammad's ascent up the ladder to the crane's cockpit is frankly terrifying, as is the epic view from his tiny perch. Then the freedom he feels up there is gorgeously depicted in a jaw-dropping explosion of music and colour that also allows performer Khansa to let his spirit soar.
dir Marcelo Grabowsky
scr Aline Portugal, Manoela Sawitzki, Marcelo Grabowsky
with Lucas Galvino, Vinicius Neri, Antonio Miano
Private Photos Fotos Privadas
Set in a high-rise in a Brazilian city, this expertly shot and edited drama is sharply shot and acted to get under the skin of three men who are negotiating a three-way encounter. Like the situation itself, the film is relaxed and unhurried, with a gently growing sense of lusty interest. And where the story goes is dark and serious, twisting in thoughtful ways that feel perhaps a bit cautionary.
Rafa and Matheus (Galvino and Neri) are a cute couple who have invited Felipe (Miano) to join them. Initially, they chat about their lives, getting to know each other. Felipe is impatient with the couple's nervousness, so he lights up a joint and puts on some music to get them in the mood. Soon the clothes come off and their conversation turns to turn-ons and more specific instructions. And Rafa snaps a secret photo.
Performances from all three actors are intriguing and surprising. When asked if he likes having sex with strangers, Felipe replies that strangers stop being strangers in situations like this. Because it doesn't matter, the filmmakers don't initially explain why Rafa and Matheus are looking for a third. But the couple is shaken by this experience, and their conversation after Felipe leaves is revelatory, complex and haunting.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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