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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 25.Jul.23
Afire Roter Himmel
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Christian Petzold
prd Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber, Anton Kaiser
with Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel, Enno Trebs, Matthias Brandt, Jennipher Antoni, Esther Esche, Assunta Hamm, Markus Schweiger, Ralph Barnebeck, Sven Tarnowski, Mario Furstenberg
release Ger 20.Apr.23,
US 14.Jul.23, UK 25.Aug.23
BERLIN FILM FEST
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Expertly written and directed by German filmmaker Christian Petzold, this darkly comical drama inventively taps into thoughts and feelings among four people who meet in an isolated place. With a razor-sharp perspective, the film is exploring the insecurities of an artist who is afraid that inspiration may never come. And when it does, the film finds a powerful emotional kick that reveals a startlingly complex portrait of humanity.
On holiday at a cabin near the Baltic Sea, happy-go-lucky Felix (Uibel) is enjoying the surroundings while his friend Leon (Schubert) sulks in silence. This is partly because they have to share the house with Nadja (Beer), who is having noisy sex with muscled local lifeguard Devid (Trebs) all night. But Leon also develops an awkward crush on Nadja, and Felix becomes close to Devid. Meanwhile in the forest around them, fires are turning the sky red, adding subtle tensions throughout the community that emerge in unexpected places between these four young people.
Contributing to the layers of stress, both Leon and Felix are trying to kickstar their futures: Leon is writing a second novel, which he's not sure is very good, and Felix is shooting pictures for a portfolio he hopes will launch a photography career. While Leon doubts Felix's idea for his images, he lets Nadja read his book, with messy results. And the arrival of Leon's publisher (Brandt) shifts things further, because he takes extraordinary interest in both Felix's and Nadja's work, which leaves Leon feeling even worse because he simply assumed Nadja was an ice cream seller, not a literary scholar.
Performances have an understated, naturalistic quality that offers insight into each of the characters, highlighted in the way their interaction with each other shifts and evolves. Schubert is excellent as the miserable loner who watches others have fun while he's crippled by self-doubt. His inability to see what's happening around him is highlighted when the wildfire comes closer, ash starts to fall, and everyone else kicks into action. Uibel, Trebs and especially Beer are riveting as they struggle to connect with him.
The way the story comes together in the strongly emotive final scenes is absolutely stunning, as it offers unusual insight into the creative process and the loneliness that often comes with it. Because of his social clumsiness, Leon isn't a very sympathetic character, and yet watching him find his voice is moving in a way that stops us in our tracks. It's a delicate, provocative, haunting story.
Review by Rich Cline |
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Virtually silent, this short Belgian feature focusses on imagery rather than dialog, which can make it tricky to engage with the unnamed characters. Rather than spoken words, narration and most conversations appear as on-screen text, leaving scenes with only background ambient sound. It's an odd approach, but writer-director Karel Tuytschaever draws us in with suggestion, forcing us to look under the surface and see ourselves in a complex situation.
Longing for a normal life, a psychiatrist (Pelissier) ponders why he and his doctor girlfriend (Castioni) never married. Now he finds himself increasingly watching men, specifically a deaf patient (Wubbolts) traumatised by his boyfriend's death. After their first hook-up, he feels new satisfaction in his growing relationship with this patient. But he neglects to tell his girlfriend, adding a strain between them. So the patient tells him that he needs to grow up and practice his own advice. The patient then surprises the couple on a trip to the seaside, creating a new dynamic.
Cameras capture scenes with a hushed stillness, mainly revealing details through the characters' physicality, with conversations that play out in either silence, sign language or whispered words. Some of the events are rather jarring, such as watching the protagonist have a camera pushed down his throat or a difficult whispered chat with his mother (Wils), who no longer recognises him. Scenes between the men are tender and sensual, and their connection feels warm and genuine, even if the psychiatrist can't stop looking at other men.
Even without dialog, the performances remain remarkably subtle, forcing the viewer to lean into scenes seeking underlying thoughts and feelings. So each strikingly photogenic actor reveals these things in ways that are unusually moving, allowing their actions and hidden expressions say what the characters can't. Pelisser has superb chemistry with both Castioni and the charming Wubbolts, creating a terrific balance of lightness and tension between the three central characters as they circle around each other. Each is expressive without ever being obvious.
At the centre of this haunting story is a man who is finally living his life based on who he is rather than who he thinks he should be. He considers this patient the first proper relationship in his life, the first time he felt truly happy. Taking the jump feels unthinkable, even as he questions his tightly held priorities. The film is visceral and involving, even if it remains rather enigmatic. But it finds some powerful truths along the way. "Skin never lies," the protagonist muses about the decision he faces, "it's here and now."
Review by Rich Cline |
Is it streaming?
Set in rural Malaysia, this action thriller includes a serious depiction of human trafficking, which makes it unnervingly involving. Choppy editing and a melodramatic style make it somewhat tricky for Western audiences to engage with it. But while feelings laid on very thickly, a steady stream of vicious, well-choreographed fights keeps things exciting. Fans won't mind that the grisly action completely takes over in the extended final act.
With warring factions of thugs brazenly kidnapping children in the Malaysian countryside, it's up to mothers to fiercely defend their homes. And despite running various operations, the police seem unable to stop them. Voluntarily working with outcast children, caring teacher Walid (Sharizal) takes 10-year-old fatherless immigrant Aisha (Izwandy) under his wing, teaching her to read. Then the gang takes her, and Walid kicks into action, challenging the gangsters one by one to find and rescue her. He gets some help from a tenacious cop (Putra) and a teen boy (Zulfar) who turns on his captors.
Beautifully shot, the film captures landscapes along with a diverse population, while director filmmaker Bakar hones in on emotions, especially with Walid and his bright-eyed pupils. This makes it easy to spot cold-hearted traffickers, who sneeringly discuss children as "items" they can simply grab in broad daylight. Crosscutting between battles, the editing highlights single moves that have gritty desperation. In this bone-crunching, blood-spurting action, it's easy to keep track of good guys even as the plot vanishes.
In the first half, Sharizal gets to play some drama, mainly in his warm mentor relationship with Izwandy's eager-to-learn Aisha. The widowed Walid's only child was also kidnapped, so it's no wonder that he snaps. The actor's stocky physicality may not scream "action hero", but his fights are staged and edited with plenty of energy. The only other character who registers is Aisha's mother, played strongly by Tajudin, who gets an early action scene of her own. While the various tough guys kind of blur together.
Walid believes that religion is the answer, teaching children to give love and care to all people regardless of where they are from. Yes, the film is confronting deep-seated prejudice in a society that hates outsiders, including kids. This is what the traffickers invoke to justify their crimes. But after setting the scene with such detail, it's clear that the filmmakers are less interested in the themes or narrative than they are in staging epic fist-fights. Fans of this kind of stripped-down mayhem will love it.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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