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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 9.Apr.23

Cairo Conspiracy   aka: Boy From Heaven
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Cairo Conspiracy
dir-scr Tarik Saleh
prd Fredrik Zander, Kristina Aberg
with Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares, Mohammad Bakri, Makram Khoury, Mehdi Dehbi, Moe Ayoub, Sherwan Haji, Jawad Altawil, Ramzi Choukair, Samy Soliman, Ahmed Laissaoui, Hassan El Sayed
release Swe 18.Nov.23,
US 2.Dec.22, UK 14.Apr.23
22/Sweden 2h06

london film fest

Is it streaming?

fares and barhom
Exiled Egyptian writer-director Tarik Saleh tells a story from his homeland that could never have been filmed there. Shooting mainly in Turkey, the movie centres on the government's attempt to wrestle power from Al-Azhar, the university established in 970 that elects the Grand Imam, one of Islam's global leaders. It's a riveting film, carefully plotted, skilfully shot and acted with remarkable nuance. It's also understandably banned in Egypt.

From a fishing family, the educated teen Adam (Barhom) is honoured to win a scholarship to Al-Azhar in Cairo. Soon, he's introduced to the city's lively nightlife by Zizo (Dehbi), who is an informant for the Security Service, working with Colonel Ibrahim (Fares). When Zizo is killed, Adam is drafted in as Ibrahim's new contact, and it's the important period when the new Grand Imam is being selected. The government has its preferred candidate, and Ibrahim guides the unsuspecting Adam through various acts of espionage to tilt the vote. But the situation becomes increasingly precarious.
Viewers are pulled inexorably into this political story through its intense emotionality. Adam is a hugely engaging protagonist, an innocent young man thrown into a fiendishly complex and dangerous predicament. It's fascinating, and more than a little heartbreaking, to watch his eyes as he discovers such a shady side of the world, and yet his inner compass is unwavering: he never gives in to the cynicism of those around him. This adds unusual depth to the narrative, contextualising the religious issues in ways that are revelatory.

At the centre, Barhom gives a wonderfully understated performance, allowing Adam's face to quietly reflect his internalised journey. This is an observant, quick-thinking young man who innately knows how to approach even the most precarious situation. So his conversations with Fares' jaded but well-meaning Ibrahim zing with electricity, as if Adam could become Ibrahim if he decides to take this path. Several side characters stand out as well, including Khoury as a blind sheikh who takes a risk to get the truth out and Ayoub as Ibrahim's terrifyingly mercurial boss.

Essentially this is a story about personal integrity, depicting a range of people who break the rules for very different reasons. Only some of them have pure motives, so things get tense and nasty as government and religious leaders jostle for power. Filmmaker Saleh explores these themes with sensitivity and honesty, cleverly humanising conflicts rather than dwelling on the ideology. This makes the film's superb final kick much more universal than expected.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 30.Mar.23

Ride On  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Ride On
dir-scr Larry Yang
prd Victoria Hon, Fu Runqing, Yuan Nong, Belle Lau, Zhung Huixia
with Jackie Chan, Liu Haocun, Kevin Guo, Wu Jing, Yu Ailei, Joey Yung, Yu Rongguang, Andy On, Shi Yanneng, Lang Yueting, Xiao Shenyang, Yu Xing
release US/UK 7.Apr.23
23/China Alibaba 2h06

Is it streaming?

guo and chan
Using Jackie Chan's distinctive brand of whizzy action mayhem, this comical romp takes on the movie industry itself. Writer-director Larry Yang has fun with wacky stuntwork while adding a steady stream of sudsy sentimentality in relationships between a man, his daughter and his horse. An ode to human and animal performers, it's also an enjoyable look at how difficult it is to step down from a job you love.
Making a living as a photo-op alongside his cheeky horse Red Hare, disgraced master stuntman Luo (Chan) is in trouble with old cohort Dami (On), who intends to auction Red Hare to settle debts. Luo turns to estranged law student daughter Bao (Liu) for advice, and she ropes in her just-qualified lawyer boyfriend Mickey (Guo). When a video clip goes viral, Luo and Red Hare are suddenly in demand to appear in action movies. But Bao worries that their stunts are too dangerous. And when Luo reluctantly agrees to retire, he simply can't let go.
Good-natured humour fills each scene, including comical moments in which Luo attempts to teach the timid Mickey to fight, so he can protect Bao. Alongside elaborate stunt sequences on film sets, Luo's predicament leads him into various nutty stand-offs with the debt collectors. All of these are performed with inventive, energetic choreography, often poking fun at how age makes a body weaker while adding experience that stronger, younger people can't match. And alongside the father-daughter stuff, the story nicely explores the tension between personal and professional lives.

Chan goes big as Luo, a man with outsized confidence. Likeable but deeply flawed, he knows that he has failed with his daughter, but he also bullheadedly ignores her very real concerns about his safety. This builds complex chemistry with the sparky, intelligent Liu. And a strong supporting cast provides various humorous or dramatic textures as required. But Chan's most engaging scene partner is Red Hare, who emerges with a lively, mischievous personality, protecting the stubborn Luo rather than vice versa.

Throughout the film, Yang playfully includes references to many of Chan's iconic movies, including clips of his epic stunts and their accompanying injuries. This gives the film an almost elegiac feel to it, as Chan revisits his career and considers the physical cost of never shying away from danger. Then as Luo, he struggles to understand why the industry no longer allows stuntmen to risk their lives. This adds some depth to the emotions that surge overpoweringly all the way through the narrative.

cert pg themes, language 4.Apr.23

Winter Boy   Le Lycéen
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
Winter Boy
dir-scr Christophe Honore
prd Philippe Martin, David Thion
with Paul Kircher, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lacoste, Erwan Kepoa Fale, Adrien Casse, Anne Kessler, Elliot Jenicot, Pascal Cervo, Lawa Fauquet, Mateo Demurtas, Antoine Matanovic, Christophe Honore
release Fr 30.Nov.22,
US Jan.23 psiff, UK 28.Apr.23
22/France 2h02

Flare film fest

Is it streaming?

kircher, lacoste and fale
French filmmaker Christophe Honore tells another remarkably intimate story, once again weaving in autobiographical elements that add a powerfully detailed emotionality to the unfolding drama. While the film is overlong and occasionally feels meandering, it has real strength in the way it recounts events from a teen's specific perspective. This offers conflicting thoughts and feelings that force the audience to get involved. And the cast is wonderfully engaging.
At 17, Lucas (Kircher) is thrown when his aloof but loving father (Honore) is killed in a car crash. It takes awhile for Lucas to regroup, along with his mother Isabelle (Binoche) and older brother Quentin (Lacoste). Then he decides not to go back to boarding school with his boyfriend Oscar (Casse). Instead, he heads to Paris to spend time with aspiring artist Quentin and his flatmate Lilio (Fale). The trip is eye-opening for Lucas, but also overwhelming as he puts himself in some rather extreme situations. And now everyone is worried about him.
Lucas' various adventures are presented artfully, edited slightly out of sequence to add to the emotional disorientation. And scenes are intercut as he expresses inexplicable feelings to-camera, as if speaking to a priest in a confessional. This helps us understand many of Lucas' more outrageous decisions, even if everything remains deliberately out of both his and our reach. Then in a perplexing misstep, Honore shifts the perspective to Isabelle for the final scenes, which may be lovely but ends the film on an alien note.

Kircher is excellent in a demanding, complex role as a young man who feels old inside, sensing that there's been a tidal shift in his life following his father's death. The actor manages to make the infuriatingly evasive Lucas hugely charming, demonstrating gifts for comedy, drama and musicality. His interaction with Binoche, Lacoste and especially Fale is nuanced and often unexpected, reflecting the collisions of people who are dealing with issues in their own ways while also trying to connect with each other.

Along the way, there are earthy moments of grief, compassion, affection and sex. And after dragging a bit along the way, the narrative heads into a final act in which Lucas' frustration boils over to provoke differing reactions for the audience. It's so intense that it threatens to over-balance the entire film, and it definitely muddles any possible thematic kick. This is an unusually textured coming-of-age drama that offers hope without ever taking the simplistic route through a messy situation.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 23.Mar.23 flare

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