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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 19.Jul.23

Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Vuk Lungulov-Klotz
prd Alexander Stegmaier, Stephen Scott Scarpulla, Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, Jennifer Kuczaj, Joel Michaely
with Lio Mehiel, Cole Doman, MiMi Ryder, Alejandro Goic, Jasai Chase Owens, Jari Jones, Ben Groh, Sarah Herrman, Naomi Asa, Desmond Confoy, Owen Laheen, Lizbeth Van Zoelen
release UK Jul.23 sfl,
US 18.Aug.23
23/US 1h27

sundance london film fest

Is it streaming?

mehiel and doman
Set over 24 hours in the life of a young trans man, this earthy drama has a sharply engaging spark of authenticity running through connections that are being redefined. Writer-director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz astutely navigates a complex situation without ever resorting to melodrama, creating a casual atmosphere in which big ideas can be discussed without fear. This allows the characters to become hugely engaging even as the film challenges preconceptions.
In New York City, Fena (Mehiel) spots his ex-boyfriend John (Doman) in a nightclub, which is awkward since the very straight John hasn't seen Fena since he transitioned. But they hang out together for the evening, redefining old feelings between them. In the morning, Fena's 13-year-old sister Zoe (Ryder) turns up with questions about why their mother threw Fena out. And now he needs to find a car to drive to the airport to pick up his dad Pablo (Goic), who is arriving from Chile and is still struggling to accept Fena as himself.
Conversations are relaxed, funny and deep, reflecting generational perspectives from Zoe, John and Pablo. Fena just wants to be honest, and asserting his identity is new for him. He has always felt like this, but is only now having to confront the feelings of others who never truly understood him. Once they ditch John's over-talking cousin Jenny (Herrman), he and Fena can discuss the "serious stuff", and the way they interact throughout the film is pointed and involving. Relationships with Zoe and Pablo add other angles of insight, balancing warmth with hard truths and hurt feelings.

With subtle naturalism, Mehiel gives Fena a striking honesty that often catches us by surprise as he openly grapples with thoughts and reactions that seem overwhelming. The lingering bond between Fena and John is beautifully played by both Mehiel and Doman as they explore where they are now and their conflicted feelings about each other. Ryder has strong scenes of her own as an open-minded but confused kid, and Goic brings his own personal energy and point of view.

The film is peppered with observations that are piercingly astute, touching on the themes from a range of angles. John admits that Fena looks more comfortable now. Zoe urges him not to disappear from her life again. And in exasperation, Fena tells Pablo, "If you don't understand me, fine. But do not tell me not to be myself." Their warm, nuanced father-son relationship gives the film a gentle final kick of hope.

cert 15 themes, language 17.Jul.23

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir Claire Dix
scr Ailbhe Keogan
prd Roisin Geraghty
with Barry Ward, Liam Carney, Maureen Beattie, Ericka Roe, Lydia McGuinness, Gus McDonagh, Mark O'Halloran, Sean Stafford, Oren Kinlan, Alex Connolly, Tony Doyle, Adam Hutchinson
release Ire/UK 16.Jun.23
23/Ireland 1h35

Is it streaming?

ward and carney
Earthy and nervy, this Irish drama hinges on a likeably energetic central performance from Barry Ward. Director Claire Dix creates authenticity as the actors inject deeper feelings in difficult situations. But Ailbhe Keogan's script is unsubtle in the way it discusses the issue of assisted suicide, presenting everything with such conviction that there's little space to think about the topic. Even so, the film's scruffy charm is winning.
A gregarious ex-addict, Leon (Ward) is trying to get his life moving again when he discovers that his terminally ill sponsor Iver (Carney) wants to end it all with the assistance of his doctor friend Maria (Beattie). To cheer him up, Leon takes him for a day out in Dublin, and Maria tries to keep up with them. After visiting Ivor's beloved horse stable, then spend the afternoon with his friends in a local pub. Eventually, Iver agrees to wait until sees Leon's new show, combining music and images. Then Leon hatches a send-off plan.
Dialog is seriously pointed, rarely progressing naturally through a scene, as specific details and opinions are carefully dropped into each conversation. The script is also packed with knowing details about Iver's serious medical condition and touching observations about how he's coping with it. Leon's desire to thank Iver for his mentorship is heartfelt. And before he goes, Iver needs Leon to realise that he's a good man. Along the way, it emerges that Leon and Iver invoked Norse gods as their higher power in their 12-step programme, sparking the film's cinematic but unlikely conclusion.

The actors ground their characters so strongly that it's almost possible to look past the screenplay's continual simplification of the situations and themes. Ward has a bright focus as Leon, a man desperately trying to prove to himself that he's no longer a loser. His connection with Iver is beautifully played, as Ward and Carney find unusual textures of chemistry that reflect their years of friendship. Beattie has her own steely energy, stirring some wry honesty into their interaction. And smaller roles offer plenty of colour.

As it circles around the central theme, the film begins to drag, feeling more than a little repetitive. It also becomes clear where Leon and Iver's gentle adventure is heading. So the introduction of a darker drug-centred element is both contrived and oddly underdeveloped, which leaves it distracting and irrelevant. But Dix's direction and the actors' performances continually reveal complexities in both the characters and their connections. As a result, the film is intriguing and even moving.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 15.Jun.23

To Nowhere  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
To Nowhere
dir-scr Sian Astor-Lewis
prd Georgia Hurt, Finbar Somers
with Lilit Lesser, Josefine Glaesel, Orlando Seale, Jane Wood, Sam Larner, Danu Sunth, Michael Warburton, Derek Ryan, Lene Svendsen, Claire Turmel, James Ward, Linda Dootson
release UK 30.Jun.23
20/UK 1h25

Is it streaming?

lesser and glaesel
Sharply well photographed on the streets of London, this edgy drama takes an unusually close look at its central characters. With her first feature, filmmaker Sian Astor-Lewis creates a wonderfully loose atmosphere that bristles with darker themes underneath. This means that, despite a relatively simple premise, there's a lot going on in this film, which explores issues of identity, gender and abuse from various deeply personal angles.
Escaping from her violent father (Warburton), sparky teen Tulip (Lesser) hits the streets with her androgynous best pal Finn (Glaesel), visiting Tulip's dotty nan (Wood) before heading out for a day of smoking and drinking that gets increasingly intense as night falls. Along the way, they also have awkward encounters with Tulip's sort-of boyfriend Charlie (Larner) and Finn's wealthy friend Ellen (Sunth). But Tulip is hiding her romantic yearnings for Finn. They also keep running into Tulip's likeable but secretive uncle Stanley (Seale). And Finn clearly has some serious issues with him.
As their conversation spirals from topic to topic, Tulip and Finn begin to reveal the underlying feelings that define how they feel about each other. And there are other things they are keeping to themselves that will have to come out into the open. Cinematographer Mads Junker skilfully catches unusual angles on the city at large, as well as quiet corners in homes and pubs. But its the two lead roles that fiercely hold the interest, offering some moments of lightness to balance the harder truths that stubbornly refuse to reveal themselves.

Performances have a relaxed authenticity about them, which becomes increasing intriguing as we wait to learn what's driving their emotional reactions. Everyone is barely containing their anger, including the side characters. And at the centre, Lesser and Glaesel beautifully play the affection and rivalry between Tulip and Finn. Their odyssey takes a number of startling turns along the way, as drunkenness makes them more expressive and wearing masks create a startling openness. Meanwhile, Seale is also excellent as a smiley man concealing a grim secret.

This is a beautifully observed little film that establishes the characters and their emotional realities in economic ways that require little in the way of dialog. This is particularly helpful because much of the conversation is spoken in inaudible whisper. And Astor-Lewis also uses some simplistic shorthand, such as how Stanley's visit to a fetish shop implies shady things about him while setting up a moment of truth that evolves into both an unnerving confrontation and a cathartic expression of intimacy and individuality.

cert 15 themes, violence, violence, sexuality 22.Jun.23

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