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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Jun.22

The Male Gaze: Fleeting Glances  
Reviews by Rich Cline
The Male Gaze: Fleeting Glances
release UK 3.Jun.22
22/UK NQV 1h48

By the End of the Night
Seven short films make up this collection, each of them zeroing in on a boy or young man who is struggling to cope with his internal desires. Some are only just discovering who they really are and what they are looking for, while others have been hiding so long they barely know themselves. Each clip is quite dark and intense, including one documentary, and all of them are punchy dramas that leave space for audience members to see ourselves on the screen and discover our own meaning.

Franceschini and Rubinelli dir-scr Lorenzo Caproni with Eugenio Franceschini, Giulio Rubinelli, Gabriele Penteriani, Irene Splendorini 12/Italy 4m

The First Time  
La Prima Volta   3/5

The First Time From Italy, this brief drama centres on a moment of possibility. It opens in silence, with only the ambient noise of its outdoor setting. And even when there is some dialog, it's minimal. Writer-director Caproni shoots in closeup in real locations, adding both a strong sense of intimacy and a documentary edge.

It begins in a park, where two guys (Franceschini and Rubinelli) are casually watching each other from a distance, while other people mill around them oblivious. As they show subtle signs of attraction, one of them gets up to leavem and the other follows. In a private space, there's a kiss and a clumsy fumble. And one asks, "Is this your first time?"

Clearly, these two young men have very different expectations here. One is shy and hopeful, the other more insistent and impatient, not in the mood to deal with someone so inexperienced. This of course leaves both of them unsatisfied. The film is sharply photographed and nicely underplayed by actors who quickly manage to create strong characters and a real sense of connection. The film is a bit vague, ending on an unresolved note that echoes their frustration.

aminoff and danino dir-scr Johnny Doov
with Yishai Aminoff, Omri Danino
19/Israel 7m

Kiss Me  

Kiss Me A depiction of a short encounter, this film is infused with ideas about repressed feelings, conflicting expectations and ill-defined masculinity. It never really deals with any of this, merely raising themes to provoke thought. But filmmaker Doov cleverly plays out some complex layers of meaning in just seven minutes, catching the clash between someone who wants romance and another who needs distance.

It opens as Adam is brushing his teeth before his hookup arrives. In anticipation, he answers the door in his underpants. And Shay says, "I told you to wait for me naked." Clearly their expectations aren't aligned from the start, but they get to it anyway. Shay moves quickly, while Adam wants to make a connection. Of course, this leads to a tense conversation.

The title reflects the simple barrier between these two men, and the fragility both are feeling. Doov shoots the film viscerally in closeup, deliberately avoiding showing much of anything that goes on between these two men. He cleverly uses silence in awkward pauses, and keeps dialog to a minimum to reveal each guy's self-image issues and internal conflicts. In the end, it's perhaps a bit preachy about the emptiness of online hookups and the hopelessness of finding true love in a painfully straight-acting world.

Nidhal dir Bassem Ben Brahim
anim Ala Edine Jelassi
with Nidhal Zidi
22/Tunisia 10m


Nidhal This inventively assembled documentary mixes live-action footage with eye-catching animation to tell the story of Nidahl, a refugee who fled Tunisia for the Netherlands. It's a lovely expression of yearning for freedom, and a rare depiction of a devout Muslim who is also openly gay, even defiantly so. The way he stands up for himself and the LGBTQ community is inspiring.

In Tunisia, Nidhal worked at a radio station and specialised in making programmes for queer listeners. But his work was met with harsh homophobia, including from his family. One harrowing clip shows him in a televised debate with an imam who calls for all gay men to be put to death. As a practicing Muslim, he knows that his sexuality has nothing to do with religion or spirituality. But this opens him to criticism and threats, and after being sacked and blacklisted, he flees the country.

While he appears on-screen in clips shot in Amsterdam, Nidhal's story is illustrated with eye-catching line drawings that artfully recreate his experiences. In his work, Nidahl is determined to undermine racism and homophobia in the Muslim world, stressing the need for privacy laws and decriminalising homosexuality. And while he still faces abuse, mainly from Arabs, it's wonderful to see him able to be himself now, living a full life with the same rights as everyone else in the Netherlands while refusing to stop making a difference back home.

Rillstone dir-scr Welby Ings
with Merrick Rillstone, Matthew Arbuckle, Paul Glover, Tama Jarman, Geoff Houtman, Arthur Ranford, Tammy Lee, Darby Mckessar
16/NZ 15m


Sparrow Gorgeously shot with an ethereal, introspective style that brings out big emotions through inventive, artful imagery, this quiet drama from New Zealand seems to exist in the imagination of a young boy. But it's also a layered, engaging story that spans three generations and takes on some hard truths this boy is just discovering about the world around him.

Jim (Rillstone) is a sensitive 10-year-old who believes he can fly and wears a pair of wings everywhere he goes. His father (Glover) tries to get him to man-up like his boxer grandfather (Arbuckle), who died in the war. Viciously bullied at school for being different, Jim is looking through his grandfather's things when he discovers a long-buried family secret. Inspired by this, Jim finds a way to stand up to the mean boys.

Writer-director Ings narrates the story with snippets of poetic text that appear fleetingly on-screen as Jim watches the waves on a beach or explores the woods. His grandfather's story plays out like archival footage, old slides come to life revealing a big story about queer love and death on the battlefield, leading to an unexpected presence. It's all very swirly and evocative, perhaps a bit elusive but also very moving.

nguyen and smith dir Artemis Anastasiadou
scr Brittany Worthington
with Shonagh Smith, Alan Nguyen, Dustin Smith, Lisa Ashby, Sophie Knifton, Emily Weitekamp, Chloe Krause, Eman Esfandi
19/US 20m

I Am Mackenzie  

I Am Mackenzie Set in rural America, this short is nicely shot with an earthy sense of realism that cuts into the imaginative perspective of a yearning teen. The pacing is a bit hesitant, but the film is especially notable for the subtle way director Anastasiadou and writer Worthington acknowledge that not everyone's sexuality fits into a clear-cut box.

In backwoods Texas, androgynous teen Mackenzie (Smith) can't understand why his dad (Smith) is trying to get back with his angry ex Kathy (Ashby). So Mac runs off and goes skating with his friend August (Nguyen). After August tries to get the attention of some girls, Mac suggests that they leave. And when they're alone, they have an unexpected romantic encounter that unsettles both of them.

While other kids call Mac "she", August sees him as a partner in crime. So it's shocking to see August's opinion shift when Mac tries on Kathy's gold sequinned dress. And of course this new sexualised connection proves very complicated for both of them. While the film feels deliberate in its provocations, it's also a powerful reminder that teens are on a journey to discover themselves, who they are and what their deeper desires mean.

De Matteo and Giordano dir Lorenzo Caproni
scr Lorenzo Caproni, Martina Maranelli
with Antonio De Matteo, Sandro Giordano, Alessia Berardi, Enrico Vandini, Lily Rachel, Gabriele Caliari, Alessio De Santa, Martina Maranelli
10/Italy 23m

The Place Between Us  
Il Posto Fra di Noi   3.5/5

The Place Between Us Moody and quiet, this film observes a relationship between two men. Subtext gurgles between and around them, even as they're surrounded by other people. Is their connection heading for trouble, or is there a deeper commitment coming? This is a knowing look at how people are sometimes drawn to those who see the world in different ways. And filmmaker Caproni refuses to take an easy road through the theme.

At their home in the woods, Matteo bugs his partner Giorgio by watching him incessantly through a videocamera. But does he really see him? Tonight Giorgio's artsy friends are visiting from the city for lunch. While they discuss their friends and chat about films, Matteo doesn't know what to say. Frustrated at being unable to join the conversation, Matteo gives up and goes inside. So Giorgio goes to find him.

The dialog bristles with real life, bouncing from topic to topic with improv-style authenticity, played with relaxed ease by the cast. The attraction between Matteo and Giorgio is powerful from the start, subtly acted by De Matteo and Giordano, complicated with underlying feelings that will feel familiar to anyone who has been in a relationship. Director Caproni's approach begins to feel fatalistic and vague, but the film leaves us with plenty to think about.

gimeno and khammes dir Denoal Rouaud
scr Denoal Rouaud, Thomas Pujol
with Sofian Khammes, Jordi Gimeno, Naidra Ayadi, Victoire Du Bois, Malik Issolah, Alexandra Placzek, Nathalie Richard, Chad Chenouga
18/France 20m

By the End of the Night  
Que la Nuit S’achève   5/5

By the End of the Night Beautifully shot and edited like a feature film, this French short drops in on the life of a young man who finds himself at a turning point. Filmmakers Rouaud and Pujol create a terrific sense of characters who have big, complex lives off-screen, which makes them very easy to identify with. It's a remarkably honest, insightful little drama that pulls big emotions and hard truths from a brief encounter that has earth-rattling ramifications.

At 30, Karim (Khammes) is an executive driver whose private life has fallen apart, so he throws himself into his work. His latest client is foreign painter Alex (Gimeno), who invites him to his show. Karem is startled by Alex's homoerotic artwork and the gender-bending crowd in the gallery. But he's also intrigued by a spark of attraction he felt with Alex when they first met. Then Alex invites him to a raucous gay rave, where he instinctually reacts badly to a man who flirts with him.

The film keeps to Karim's point of view as he slowly, almost reluctantly begins to face things he has been hiding his whole life, even from himself. Khammes is excellent as a man who is persistently nudged out of his shell by Gimeno's sensitive, likeable Alex. Running hot and cold, Karim has no idea how to live as himself. But he is learning that he needs to try. And with some family support, he might get there one day.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 31.May.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall