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|Shadows off the beaten path
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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 30.Jul.23
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Christopher Murray
scr Christopher Murray, Pablo Paredes
prd Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain, Rocio Jadue, Nicolas Celis
with Valentina Veliz Caileo, Daniel Antivilo, Sebastian Hulk, Annick Duran, Daniel Munoz, Neddiel Munoz Millalonco, Mat√≠as Bannister, Iker Echevers, Juan Cayupel, Pedro Cayupel, Sergio Sauvalle, Francisco Nunez
release US Jan.23 sff
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
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With its gloomy skies and hazy cinematography, this Chilean drama features a powerful intensity that runs through a darkly mystical clash between cultures and religions in a place that feels otherworldly. Based on a true story, it's grippingly directed by Christopher Murray and played in an often unnervingly understated style. So it goes far beneath the skin to provoke us with insistent ideas about colonialism and nature.
On Chiloe Island in southern Chile in the 1880s, German settler Stefan (Hulk) badly overreacts when his sheep mysteriously die, sending his attack dogs to kill the father of his 13-year-old Huilliche maid Rosa (Veliz Caileo), who watches in horror. For justice, Rosa turns to the mayor (Munoz) then the priest (Sauvalle), who points her to local leader Mateo (Antivilo). But he dismisses her because she converted to catholicism, rejecting her people's mystical beliefs. So she visits notorious witch Aurora (Munoz Millalonco) asking to reclaim her heritage so she can reset the balance of power.
Moody cinematography by Maria Secco and Leonardo Heiblum's wonderfully atonal music add to a steadily paced narrative. As the story unfolds, layers of hushed drama and tactile details pile on top of each other. Mateo is arrested when Stefan's two sons (Bannister and Echevers) go missing, or maybe they turned into dogs. And soon the entire native population is incarcerated, waiting for the mayor to pronounce an inevitable death sentence. But the local sorcery might show everyone a way out. And Rosa begins to take a leading role in the outlandish events that follow.
A wide range of characters is played with nuanced subtlety. As Rosa, Rain has a naturally inquisitive approach to nature and her connection to it, which ultimately leads her back to native beliefs in magic that are tightly connected to the sea, land, animals and plants. Around her, most of the men are bullheaded in their own specific way, while Duran (as Stefan's wife) shows more cultural intuition and Munoz Millalonco's Aurora sees through male bluster.
This is gorgeous filmmaking, understated but bursting with huge themes. The script cleverly juggles this sternly religious German family, dismissive politicians, a hapless catholic priest and the local Huilliche who aren't considered people by the interlopers. So it's unsurprising where blame is assigned. Murray beautifully captures their strong sense of shared indigenous identity, echoed in birds, dogs, water, caves and trees. It's a reminder to mess with the mysteries of nature at your peril.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Karoline Lyngbye
prd Amalie Lyngbo Quist
scr Karoline Lyngbye, Mikkel Bak Sorensen
with Marie Bach Hansen, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Mihlo Olsen
release Den 23.Mar.23,
US May.23 siff
Is it streaming?
Strikingly well shot and edited, this Danish thriller has a premise that's intriguing and entertaining, tapping into some pungent themes relating to identity and gender politics. So it's a bit frustrating that the writing and direction leave very little to chance, carefully identifying each plot nuance and therefore eliminating some of the story's proper surprises. But the provocative ideas swirling around in here get deep under the skin.
Driving from Copenhagen to a forest in Sweden, a family is planning to spend a year in complete isolation from the world. Stine (Hansen) hopes she can finally write that novel, while Teit (Folsgaard) is documenting the experience for his podcast. Each needing time, they quickly start arguing about who should care for their cheeky young son Nemo (Olsen). One day he starts acting traumatised, but they discover that they are unable to leave this place. Then their doppelgangers appear at the door looking for Nemo, who clearly knows which Stine is his mum.
Spiralling in involving directions from here, the story plays with the concept of honesty, as Stine still struggles to forgive Teit for lying about an affair, and he argues that a little untruth can be healthy. Of course, tables are turned and craziness ensues as these two identical couples tackle the situation in distinct ways. Director-cowriter Lyngbye makes sure that we always know exactly who is doing what, holding the attention but eliminating much of the mystery. But the way the story plays out has fascinating repercussions.
Hansen and Folsgaard deliver performances that reveal underlying personalities, highlighting hopes, connections and lingering bitterness. There's warm humour in their close relationship, but neither can forget. And one version of this couple is more open than the other. Directing and acting touches make it clear which variant of Stine and Teit we are watching at any time, so there's a realistic edge to the connections, fights and swaps, although Nemo always knows. Eventually, all four sit and talk it out, wondering whether this is psychosis or a parallel reality. This leads to some bonding, but the script stops short.
Pristine cinematography brings the isolated setting to life with a crisp authenticity, while skilful lighting, sound and editing offer eerie echoes and hints. It's a captivating idea to live naturally with no outside contact for a year. But while some want 100 percent honesty, others want to edit their lives to eliminate anything messy. So reality splinters as this marriage and family begin to come undone. Where this story goes is chilling and entertaining, and also rather tidy.
Review by Rich Cline |
CANNES FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
There's an engaging animalistic tilt to this adolescent body horror from Malaysia, as a young girl taps into her feral nature when puberty makes her feel like she's turning into a monster. Writer-director Amanda Nell Eu maintains a blackly comical undercurrent even as things get very freaky indeed, exploring big themes through lenses of culture, gender and religion. And Zafreen Zairizal shines in a complex and physically demanding role.
Sparky 12-year-old Zaffan (Zairizal) pays little heed to the stuffy rules at her girls school, egging on her best pals Mariam (Piqa) and Farah (Ezral), a class prefect. But this keeps her in trouble with both teachers and her frazzled mum Munah (Lojong). Then Zaffan is the first classmate to get her period, sparking rumours and suspicions and shifting her friendships. She also begins to worry about what's happening to her physically as her voice turns to a growl, her nails change into talons, she grows a tail and develops a taste for small animals.
Mixing Malaysian folklore with the TikTok generation, the film opens with schoolgirls doing an illicit video dance in the senior toilet, playing with a bra, which enrages the principal. Later everyone is watching a viral video of a tiger strolling into the village. And Zaffan's classmates torment her by posting a humiliating clip. The film cleverly weaves these things together with the beautiful locations, inventively shot and edited to sharply focus Zaffan's shifting perspective.
Naturalistic performances keep things grounded even when situations become heightened. Zairizal makes Zaffan a likeable free spirit, a girl who thinks for herself and is unapologetic about how she feels. Even as Zaffan becomes increasingly menacing, the way she uses mass hysteria to fight back against those bullying her is sympathetic. Opposite her, Ezral brings out Farah's inner mean girl with complexity, while Piqa's Miriam may often seem like just a follower but reveals a surprising layer of compassion and understanding.
At the centre, Zaffan simply can't understand why everyone is so overwhelmingly concerned about shame. Rather than being repelled, she is drawn to the local superstition about another girl who went mad and was shunned. So the smiling doctor brought in to "fix" her is played as the true monster of the story. She sees this clearly, and acts accordingly. The movie may be repetitive and uneven, but it's packed with moments that take the breath away. And the way Eu keeps things current, while harking back to ancient legends and cinema history, marks her as a filmmaker to watch.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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