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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 30.Jul.23

Mavka: The Forest Song  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Mavka: The Forest Song
dir Oleh Malamuzh, Oleksandra Ruban
scr Lesya Ukrainka, Yaroslav Voytseshek
prd Anna Eliseyeva, Iryna Kostyuk, Egor Olesov, Sergey Sozanovsky
English voices Laurie Hymes, Eddy Lee, Sarah Natochenny, Tom Wayland, Marc Thompson, Scottie Ray, Nikki Thomas
original voices Nataliya Denisenko, Artem Pivovarov, Elena Kravets, Serhiy Prytula, Nazar Zadneprovskiy, Oleh Mykhailyuta, Yuliya Sanina
release Ukr 2.Mar.23,
UK 28.Jul.23, US 15.Aug.23
23/Ukraine 1h39

Is it streaming?

hush, mavka and lucas
Brightly colourful animation and an involving story make this Ukrainian folktale thoroughly engaging, even if the mix of drama and slapstick doesn't always feel very smooth. This may partly be because of the blandly American voices in the English dub, but the characters are still lively, and the imagery is often spectacular, especially in some ambitious action sequences. There's also a lovely message about humanity's relationship to nature.
After humans betrayed the woodland, sparking mass destruction, the forest's guardian (Thompson) considers people as enemies. Magical creatures maintain a distance from humans for years, until sweet farmboy Lucas (Lee) ventures into the woods, and his flue playing inadvertently entices Mavka (Hymes), the spirit of the forest chosen to be the new guardian. Lucas was inadvertently sent by the conniving Kylina (Notochenny), who wants the forest's life force to maintain her youthful appearance. But he and Mavka fall in love, sparking a series of confrontations between these two realms, and potentially leading to another catastrophe.
Violent intent infuses the actions of Kylina, her camp sidekick Frol (Wayland) and two meathead sibling goons, leading to some genuinely harrowing moments along the way. But the underlying goofiness, including a couple of outrageously silly antics, makes it clear that everything is going to work out just fine. This takes the edge off but never eliminates the tension in the narrative, while some beautifully rendered flashbacks fill in the characters' back-stories. And the expansive landscapes are vibrantly designed to spark the imagination.

Mavka and Lucas are essentially innocents caught up in a clash they don't quite understand. Each is accompanied by various adorable critters that click or bark their reactions, while this young couple makes doe eyes at each other as they fall deeper into love. All of this is charming and very cute, contrasted with the greedy ambitions of angular Kylina and Frol, who casually threaten devastation. Everyone on-screen is vividly designed, with nuanced personalities that bring out the story's themes.

Apparently drawn from real Ukrainian legends, the story has a simplicity that makes its deeper meanings clear and powerful without getting too preachy about it. Along with a story about two people groups struggling to get along, there are some thoughtful comments about the risks and benefits of trusting people we don't quite understand. These are ideas that ripple through most societies, and a reminder to be compassionate is always welcome.

cert pg themes, violence 24.Jul.23

Return to Seoul   Retour à Séoul
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
Return to Seoul
dir-scr Davy Chou
prd Katia Khazak, Charlotte Vincent
with Park Ji-min, Oh Kwang-rok, Guka Han, Kim Sun-young, Yoann Zimmer, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Jin Heo, Hur Ouk-Sook, Son Seung-Beom, Dong Seok Kim, Emeline Briffaud, Lim Cheol-Hyun
release US 2.Dec.22,
Fr 25.Jan.23, UK 5.May.23
22/France 1h59


Now streaming...

kim and park
Based on a true story and expertly assembled by writer-director Davy Chou, this moving and provocative drama explores identity issues through the eyes of a Frenchwoman grappling with her Korean heritage. It's pointed and observant, as Chou and his cast find jarring details in each scene that approach the central theme from unexpected angles. This raises big ideas about the difficulty of finding yourself in a multi-faceted world.
Adopted shortly after birth, Freddie (Park) has no memory life before her French parents. Now 23, she arrives in Seoul to meet her biological father (Oh) and aunt (Kim). Emotions surge as new friend Tena (Han) translates her blunt French into sensitive Korean. Overwhelmed, Freddie spends the next seven years visiting Seoul but avoiding contact with her birth family, drinking and having a string of flirtatious relationships with arms trader Andre (de Lencquesaing), Frenchman Maxime (Zimmer), tattoo artist Kay-Kay (Lim) and fellow adoptee Lucie (Briffaud). Finally, she feels ready to once again face her origins.
Transcending the film's gentle pacing, the characters have a riveting complexity that creates unusual resonance. Freddie is startled to discover the hole she left in this family, and she feels unqualified to fill it. And they immediately see the emptiness of her free-spirited European lifestyle, so it's no wonder that they expect her to be Korean, to live up to her biology. As the narrative revisits Freddie on a series of birthdays in Korea over the years, this miscommunication extends and echoes in a range of directions that are fascinating, funny and heartbreaking.

Performances are intensely introspective. Even if she seems sullen and cold, Park skilfully layers in Freddie's underlying feelings, which makes her hugely involving. She may only feel free expressing herself in a dismissive Western manner, but she begins to wonder if her genetics might help explain why her life is such an unsatisfying cycle of alcohol and excess. And because each person has his or her own inner life, the characters around Frankie feel so real that their interaction is often breathtaking.

This is a beautifully observed drama packed with a startling range of emotional nuance. Chou manages to capture on-screen that feeling that other people simply can never quite understand who we truly are. And perhaps there's something about ourselves that we can't quite grasp, leaving us feeling like we don't quite belong anywhere. Intriguingly, the most moving scenes here are largely wordless, allowing what's unsaid to reverberate in ways that carry a therapeutic kick.

cert 15 themes, language 9.Jul.23

Smalltown Boys   Des Garçons de Province
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Smalltown Boys
dir Gael Lepingle
scr Michael Dacheux, Gael Lepingle
prd Thomas Jaeger, Antoine Delahousse, Gael Lepingle
with Leo Pochat, Yves-Batek Mendy, Edouard Prevot, Serge Renko, Thibaud Boursier, Loic Assemat, Mikarambar, Olivier Normand, Jerome Marin, Cathy Cerda, Gilles Carre, Dimitri Defontaine
release Fr 1.Feb.23,
UK 31.Jul.23
22/France 1h24

Is it streaming?

pochat and mendy
Observant and down to earth, this French drama explores moments in the lives of four artistic men whose interactions have an impact on their expectations and dreams. It's a relaxed, easygoing film that almost feels like a documentary as it observes encounters along the backroads. And in each of the three stand-alone segments, filmmaker Gael Lepingle taps into powerfully resonant yearnings that feel just out of reach.

In sunny France, colourful men head to the middle of nowhere to put on a drag cabaret. Insolent bleach-blond performer Jonas (Pochat) helps local Youcef (Mendy) collect chairs before changing into his makeup and shiny hotpants. Yousef is fascinated by Jonas' stage persona, and gets rather too involved in the after-show festivities. In the next town, a bored teen (Prevot) livens up his day by walking around in heels while he waits for his university entrance exam results. And then there's older photographer Mathieu (Renko) taking snaps of a now brunet Jonas in period undress.
Blending witty touches with an almost mournful tone, the film creates realistic situations that are easy to identify with, especially in the smaller decisions and interactions. Each of the characters on-screen is essentially alone in the way he approaches his life, reaching out for connection in ways that don't always coincide with the needs of others. It's a distinctly original approach to the gay community, especially with the rural setting. And it plays out in a remarkably open-handed way, allowing for the viewer to fill in the blanks and find meaning where it fits.

Pochet is almost unrecognisable from the first sequence to the third one, shifting between a spoiled artist and flamboyant stage performer to a quietly thoughtful young man who is intrigued by Mathieu's professional behaviour. As they spend time together, it's easy to question their motives, but both Pochet and Renko maintain an authentic reticence. "You're pretty good at this," Mathieu says as Jonas flirts. And the film leads to a provocative extended silent sequence played unflinchingly by Pochet.

Even in the nearly silent middle segment, the film is sharply well-shot to capture specific points of view in each scene, noting the behaviour and connections with microscopic precision. This never feels staged or forced, as conversations play out organically, which also means that a lot of things remain unsaid. Each of these men is still working to define who they are and where they are going. So their stories feel both familiar and hopeful.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity 26.Jul.23

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