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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 13.Apr.22

The French Boys 4  
Reviews by Rich Cline
The French Boys 4
release UK 7.Mar.22
22/UK NQV 1h32

The Edge
In this collection of seven superbly well-made short films from France, the nature of romantic relationships is explored through unspoken feelings, unexpected connections, awkward encounters, surprising intimacy and misplaced jealousy. Most of all, each of these dramas touches on the importance of understanding each other, that being able to see through another person's eye is the key to coming together.

gagnoud and harcourt dir-scr David Chausse
with David Chausse, Simon Frenay
17/France 6m

Scred   4/5

Discreet There's an offhanded, improvisational style to this conversation between two young men, played by actors who are also filmmakers. Shot in one take that quietly zooms in and then out again, it's sharply well-played, shifting through various topics as the unspoken connection between these guys is revealed to be remarkably complex, something they can't predict and perhaps aren't ready to face.

On a park bench, two friends (Chausse and Frenay) meet to catchup on things, starting with the usual smalltalk. One brags about a woman he had sex with, and the other doesn't seem to fully believe him. This evolves into a witty roleplay that one of them takes a bit too far. Suddenly, they're silent strangers. And the question is whether smalltalk can get them out of this awkwardness.

Funny and a little absurd, the film has a terrific sense of attitude, as these two guys flex their masculinity at each other while trying to hide their underlying feelings, from moments of comical flirting to a spat of pushing and shoving that ends in a kiss. This is a short, sharp exploration of how it feels to be deep in the closet about sexuality, hiding even from yourself.

gagnoud and harcourt dir Koeren Moriano
scr Michael Delmar
with Blanca Li, Thierry Harcourt, Arnaud Gagnoud, Fred Bianconi, Anne Loiret, Pascale Arbillot
19/France 11m

Distinguished Feelings  
Sentiments Distingués   4/5

Distinguished Feelings Shifting between a full-colour present and an extended black and white flashback, this adorable French comedy recounts a farcical story about a relationship that spirals out of control. Witty flights of fancy punctuate the story, including wacky musical numbers and hilariously choreographed interaction that's sharply played by a terrific cast.

At a lively New Year's party, Elena (Li) is told by a friend (Bianconi) that her boyfriend Arturo (Harcourt) doesn't love her anymore. In a spin Elena impulsively tells Arturo that they should put their relationship on hold. But Elena still can't accept this, so she asks her young actor friend Bastien (Gagnoud) to seduce Arturo, to help her save face and drive him back to her. Then she's horrified that they might actually be falling in love.

The film is cleverly shot and edited to create elaborate settings using camera trickery, and the stylised approach is hugely entertaining. The brisk plot unfolds in scenes that burst with detail, as director Moriano and writer-lyricist Delmar skilfully add knowing details everywhere. And the narrative's twists are utterly delightful, played for comical value with strong underlying (and sometimes explosive) emotion. So the final call to live life without restrictions feels both playful and pointed.

ducommun and bas dir Patrick Fabre
scr Patrick Fabre, Hieu Cat
with Philippe Bas, Fabien Ducommun, Manon Perrain, Chloe Charrier, Alexia Portal
12/France 15m

Rue des Roses  

Rue des Roses Shot and edited in the style of a feature film, this short drama centres around a moment that clearly shouldn't be as awkward as everyone is making it out to be. Excellent actors bring the characters to life with a spark of wit and underlying emotion, revealing connections between them to subtly make some strong points. It's also engaging, cute and surprisingly moving too.

The film centres on Medhi (Bas), who is happy in his life with boyfriend Axel (Ducommun), but is feeling stress about Father's Day, and how his 10-year-old daughter Alison (Perrain) will react to his relationship when she visits them at their new apartment together. Everything goes well, if a bit strained, before Alison's mother (Portal) arrives to collect her.

Alison is a charming little diva who doesn't give away much about how she feels. And young Perrain gives her a strong sense of intelligence, as she understands much more than she lets on. Then five years later, we catch up with her again (now Charrier) for a lovely scene that pays off on what happened earlier. It's a charming little comedy-drama that quietly affirms the importance of being open and honest with young children

romano and eck dir-scr Florent Gouelou
with Andrea Romano, Romain Eck, Harald Marlot, Mathias Jamain Houngnikpo, Angelique Zaini
20/France 11m

First Love  
Premier Amour   3.5/5

First Love Quick and knowing, this is an astute exploration of a relationship that has begun to feel dry, as it's now less about passion than watching movies under the duvet on a Sunday afternoon. Set in a colourful location, the film is sharply filmed and played with a driving sense of energy and attitude. And filmmaker Gouelou also digs deeply under the skin of the complex characters to reveal internalised emotions.

In a busy bar in Paris, the drag artist Romain (Eck) is about to go on stage as his alter-ego Cookie when his photographer boyfriend Baptiste (Romano) turns up. Baptiste is feeling like their relationship has run its course and is looking for a chance to say goodbye. And it takes awhile for Romain to realise that something is up, although his colleagues have all noticed it.

Even if it feels a little evasive, the film adeptly mines the mixed emotions Baptiste is experiencing, feeling like he's losing track of the man he still loves. He asks why Romain so rarely hangs out with him as a boy, leaving him with more time at home alone with Cookie's wigs than with Romain. Where this goes is realistic and earthy, and Cookie's eponymous final number has a powerfully bittersweet kick.

hey and derriachi dir-scr David Chausse
with Aimen Derriachi, Yuming Hey, Hugo Dillon
19/France 18m

The Edge  
4 Fromages   4/5

The Edge Shot and edited in a documentary style, this two-man drama has an immediate in-your-face intensity that throws us back from the screen. It's a simple idea: trapping a brutish thug with a sensitive gay guy and forcing them to work through their barriers. Without taking any shortcuts, writer-director Chausse finds inventive ways for these young men to connect, including some gorgeous visual touches.

While delivering a pizza, Malik (Derriachi) gets lost in a pitch-black apartment block, finding his way to the rooftop and accidentally locking the door. Spotting Malik as he angrily throws his phone into the street below, the dancer Jules (Hey) is annoyed that his quiet rehearsal space has been invaded and that they're trapped up here. Malik is initially confused by Jules' androgynous appearance, but their antagonistic conversation begins to soften when they make each other laugh.

Malik rages at the situation, shouting furiously at this "alien boy", who begins to worry about being stuck here with this hothead who growls that he'd jump off the roof if he was gay. As the tension between them grows, both actors are excellent, maintaining their forceful attitudes while expressing themselves and tentatively connecting in unexpected ways. And Chausse's terrific camera work, plus moments of dry wit, add some nicely engaging touches.

granier dir-scr Paul Granier
with Paul Granier, Harrison Arevalo, Pauline Deshons, Aza One
21/France 13m

Without Transition  
Sans Transition   3.5/5

Without Transition Beautifully shot to reveal the internal thoughts and feelings of its central character, this relaxed drama tells a quietly moving story about the healing power of connecting with another person. The lead actors have an earthy honesty in their physicality that says as much as the dialog does, gently touching on a range of resonant themes that bring this situation to vivid life.

Struggling to get over a breakup, Leo (Granier) is feeling painfully alone, withdrawing from the world. One day he sparks a tentative conversation with a neighbour, Uruguayan photographer Thom (Arevalo), and they decide to get something to eat. Thom continually jokes about the French language, inviting Leo back home for a beer. And a quiet spark of attraction leads to greater intimacy.

Conversations between these two men are relaxed and realistic, mixing warm humour with intriguing expectations and discoveries. Leo confesses that this is his first time with a man, although he had thought about it before. Actor-filmmaker Granier nicely evokes the combination of senses that mingle to create a memory. The drama feels perhaps a bit idealised, but it's a strikingly moving depiction of a wounded man discovering that maybe there's still promise for the future.

abi-ayad and emo dir-scr Hakim Mao
with Youssouf Abi-Ayad, Pierre Emo, Daphne Huynh
20/France 20m

Babtou Fragile   4/5

Fragile Warm and engaging, this drama infuses its serious plot with earthy, character-based humour. Writer-director Hakim Mao takes a refreshingly unblinking look at random hook-ups, keeping the tone light while including razor-barbed dialog and naturalistic nudity. And where the situation goes is surprisingly edgy, with a topical kick in the way the events unfold.

On a night out, Medhi (Abi-Ayad) and his best friend Olive (Hyunh) tease each other about their love lives, notably how Olive cruelly dumps men she meets online while Medhi hasn't been on a date in eight months. So she encourages him to meet someone from a dating app. And he sends a cheeky message to Felix (Emo). After texting for awhile, Medhi finally agrees to meet.

Medhi has real fears about meeting someone on an app, from catching a disease to being beaten up. So his expectations have an impact on his encounter with this tall, wryly funny man who answers the door in his underpants. Their conversation is wonderfully played by Abi-Ayad and Emo with a fizzy mix of awkwardness and interest, plus a wonderfully casual physicality. And the discovery of Felix's expectations adds a witty twist.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 12.Apr.22

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