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

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom
dir-scr Hannes Hirsch
prd Hannes Hirsch, Diemo Kemmesies
with Lorenz Hochhuth, Gustav Schmidt, Oscar Hoppe, Cino Djavid, Marie Tragousti, Aviran Edri, Cat Jugravu, Sebastian Stielke, Rabea Egg, Karim Alexandre Howard, Elaine Cameron
release Ger Feb.23 bff,
UK Mar.23 flare
23/Germany 1h19

bfi flare film fest

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schmidt and hochhuth
This is one of those films that frustrates you while you're watching it, then ends on an oddly unsatisfying note. But on reflection it becomes apparent that filmmaker Hannes has made an extraordinarily perceptive movie about a young man searching for identity and connection while making several bad decisions along the way. So the more we think about it, the film becomes increasingly provocative, involving and even moving.
Soon after arriving in Berlin, Moritz (Hochhuth) finds himself at a loose end when his partying boyfriend Jonas (Schmidt) breaks up with him. He moves in with projectionist Noah (Djavid), who has a complicated living situation. Moritz also has various encounters with fellow musician Stefan (Hoppe), then has to be blunt about his disinterest. Eventually he finds his feet, emerging with a buzz cut, tattoos and a new appetite for the drug-fuelled club culture, including a bit of sex work and some fabulous fashion choices. So with a community around him, surely he's happy now.
Yes, the underlying themes here are fairly wrenching, as so many gay men find themselves rejected by family and society, then simply dive into a mindless world of drugs and sex with no emotional connections at all. And yet there's a feeling that this may be better than the alternative. The film is shot in an astonishing documentary-style, with dialog that feels improvised and a range of fascinating, realistically random side characters. These bring up some huge issues, such as parenthood and commitment, but the strands remain authentically messy and unfinished.

Performances feel so naturalistic that the film often becomes almost voyeuristic. Parties are lively and chaotic, with intriguing people in every corner. At the centre, Hochhuth has terrific presence as a nice guy who learns how to be a vacuous member of the subculture. Although he never loses his wry observational approach, and develops textured connections with the people around him, each of whom has their own story to tell. So it's natural that the audience longs for at least one deeper relationship for him.

Most impressive is that writer-director Hirsch creates a narrative that can be read as either positive or negative, depending on how you choose to look at it. Is this a cautionary tale about a caring guy who becomes a hollowed-out club kid, or an empowering adventure about a lost young man who finds his community? Either way, the film's powers of observation are remarkable. And the cast and crew have produced something that demonstrates impressive storytelling skills.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality 25.Mar.23 flare

Lie With Me   Arrête Avec Tes Mensonges
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Lie With Me
dir-scr Olivier Peyon
prd Anthony Doncque, Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto
with Guillaume de Tonquedec, Victor Belmondo, Guilaine Londez, Jeremy Gillet, Julien De Saint Jean, Pierre-Alain Chapuis, Cyril Couton, Marilou Gallais, Laurence Pierre, Dominique Courait, Julie Pepin Lehalleur, Guillaume Le Doner
release US Oct.22 afff,
Fr 22.Feb.23, UK 18.Aug.23
22/France 1h38

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belmondo and de tonquedec
Surging with deep emotions that are never sentimental, this French drama explores the power of narratives themselves as a writer confronts an unfinished relationship from his past. Writer-director Olivier Peyon deploys gorgeous cinematography and skilful editing to keep scenes grounded in realism while cranking up seriously intense feelings. So the film is romantic, sexy and also provocative in the way it challenges us to meaningfully confront our own history.
Returning to his hometown to deliver the local cognac's bicentenary address, celebrated author Stephane (de Tonquedec) can't help but remember 1984, when at 17 (then Gillet) he met his first love, classmate Thomas (De Saint Jean). But Thomas made him promise to keep their romance secret. As he prepares his speech, Stephane meets Lucas (Belmondo), who turns out to be Thomas' adult son and begins asking about his father. Both Stephane and Lucas are reluctant to admit the truth to each other, but it will all need to come out before either can move forward.
Peyon and his cast maintain a nicely realistic tone, with earthy humour balancing big emotions. This is mainly provided by the chatty event organiser Gaelle (Londez), who continually throws herself into Stephane's business. But even she has surprising nuance. Based on Philippe Besso's novel, the story is is about trying to escape a small-town past, and it's packed with vivid details in characters, settings and situations. So the viewer can't help but layer personal experiences into the narrative.

Naturalistic performances brim with underlying emotions that are often strongly moving. As Stephane, both de Tonquedec and Gillet portray a sensitive guy who feels everything intensely. Belmondo's Lucas has a terrific complexity that cleverly echoes how the broodingly charismatic De Saint Jean both conceals and reveals Thomas' love for Stephane. The scenes between these men bristle with unspoken thoughts, conveying deeper meaning through eye contact and, for Stephane and Thomas, youthful physicality.

The original title Stop With Your Lies refers to a running comment from Stephane's mother about his storytelling. Peyon's script uses various elements to deepen its themes, from Stephane's writings to the traditional cognac industry. And the nostalgic premise can't help but touch a nerve. Some of these parallels are a bit heavy-handed, but they add to the impact of a film that challenges us to face the truth in our lives, because repressing it will only make dealing with the present that much more difficult.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 20.Mar.23 flare

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Makoto Shinkai
prd Koichiro Ito, Genki Kawamura
voices Nanoka Hara, Hokuto Matsumura, Eri Fukatsu, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Ann Yamane, Shota Sometani, Sairi Ito, Kotone Hanase, Kana Hanazawa, Hakuo Matsumoto, Akari Miura, Aimi Terakawa
release Jpn 11.Nov.22,
US/UK 14.Apr.23
22/Japan 2h02


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souta and suzume
Beautifully designed, this Japanese animated adventure evokes an unusually visceral style of cinematography, quickly getting under the skin with its colourful story and intriguing characters. The plot charges at a fast pace from one outrageous situation to another, building comedy, drama and suspense. It's visually dazzling, and the story is as charming as it is riveting. It also reminds us that humanity only needs willpower to save the planet.
Haunted by dreams about her mother, who died when she was little, 17-year-old Suzume (Hara) is on her way to school when she meets Souta (Matsumura), a mysterious young man who closes doors to prevent catastrophes coming through from another dimension. Suzume has the rare ability to see these things happening, and soon her life is turned upside-down by a talking cat (Yamane) that sparks bonkers magic and leads her on an epic journey across Japan. Along the way, she gets help from friendly locals, but her guardian Aunt Tamaki (Fukatsu) thinks she's run away.
Details fill the scenes, both visually and in the narrative, as Suzume finds herself on an epic quest that spirals in unexpected directions. The central element here is a ferocious worm that escapes from these open doors in derelict buildings, wreaking havoc that has echoed throughout history. In order to close the doors, Suzume has to try to hear the voices of the people who lived in these abandoned places. At each stop along the road, she becomes entangled in yet another nutty situation, with amusing people and a more riotously perilous menace.

Suzume feels guilty that she stole her aunt's best years, because Tamaki had to give up dating to care for her. So Suzume's relationship with Tamaki is pushed to the breaking point, especially in the final act. And Suzume and Souta have terrific chemistry, which is particularly remarkable because Souta is transformed into a chair for most of the film. Each character along the road has his or her own vivid bundle of personal issues. So memorable side characters abound, most notably Souta's goofy friend Serizawa (Kamiki).

Because the threat to humanity can only be seen by Suzume and Souta, there's a strong sense of how the public blindly goes about its business oblivious to potential disaster around them. Meanwhile, Suzume's journey has a startlingly serious weight to it, with dark moments that are harrowing on an increasingly grand scale. And yet there's a tender emotionality throughout the story that continually catches us off guard, leading to a staggering final sequence.

cert pg themes, language, violence 3.Apr.23

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