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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 3.Dec.23
The Eternal Daughter
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Joanna Hogg
prd Ed Guiney, Emma Norton, Andrew Lowe, Joanna Hogg
with Tilda Swinton, Joseph Mydell, Carly-Sophia Davies, August Joshi, Crispin Buxton
release US 2.Dec.22,
22/UK A24 1h36
VENICE FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Creating a darkly atmospheric vibe, filmmaker Joanna Hogg creates her distinctive take on the gothic British haunted house movie. With its contained cast and gloomy location, the film looks like a horror mystery but is actually a prickly mother-daughter drama, with both roles played by the always riveting Tilda Swinton. So while the film is often infuriatingly ethereal, patient viewers will find it intriguing and deeper than it looks.
Driving through a foggy woods to an imperious hotel, filmmaker Julie (Swinton) is regaled by the cabbie (Joshi) with local ghost stories. Then as Julie, her mother Rosalind (also Swinton) and her dog Louis settle into their room, they begin to reminisce about their history in this huge house. While Julie has happy memories of this place, Rosalind's recollections are more complicated. But Julie is determined to come up with ideas she can use to make a film about her mother, and she also has a birthday celebration planned for Rosalind's big day.
From the start, there's a nagging suspicion that not everything about Julie and Rosalind is what it seems to be. But then the hotel is also supposedly fully booked, even though we never see anyone else beyond the overworked receptionist (Davies) and a kindly night watchman (Mydell). All through the nights, the wind whistles and the building creaks loudly. And something is clearly bothering Louis. Then Julie sees a face in a window, and the birthday party sparks some powerful underlying emotions.
Hushed and largely silent, the story unfolds without much help from dialog. Swinton effortlessly creates the brittle relationship between the preoccupied Julie and the calmly engaging Rosalind. Their discussions feel banal, but ripple with underlying emotion. Indeed, their connection feels instantly moving. Julie feels guilty for triggering her mother's sad memories, but Rosalind matter-of-factly accepts the good with the bad. An extended argument about whether or not they're hungry is both revelatory and eerily familiar.
As with Hogg's other films, much of what happens here is actually in between the lines, revealed in what is not said between these two women. This makes it tricky to discover the film's themes and ideas, as it requires us to let go of what's obvious. But Hogg always has knowing things to say about identity and memory, and these things fuel Julie and Rosalind in very different ways. So while much of this movie feels out of reach, it will also be haunting for viewers who allow themselves to travel into the story's shadowy corridors.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Sam H Freeman, Ng Choon Ping
prd Myles Payne, Sam Ritzenberg
with George MacKay, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Aaron Heffernan, John McCrea, Asha Reid, Peter Clements, Charley Palmer Rothwell, Moe Bar-El, Nima Taleghani, Jackson Milner, Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Antonia Clarke
release UK 1.Dec.23,
23/UK BBC 1h39
BERLIN FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Expanding their 2021 short, filmmakers Sam H Freeman and Ng Choon Ping are grappling with the nature of masculinity. Centred around two young gay men who are experts at hiding their true selves to fit in, the film is strikingly shot to capture internal moods. And lead performances by George MacKay and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett are nuanced and robust. Where the story goes is somewhat overwrought, but the point is important.
After his drag show, Jules (Stewart-Jarrett) is confronted and then cruelly assaulted by tattooed thug Preston (MacKay) and his goon-like pals. A few months later, a still-shaken Jules spots Preston at a gay sauna and goes home with him. They're interrupted by Preston's friends, but agree to meet up again. As they hang out, Jules looks for a chance to film and expose the deeply closeted Preston online. But both are in a vulnerable position here, and they begin to connect with each other. Meanwhile, Jules starts to think he's ready to get back on-stage.
Preston has a textbook case of homophobia stemming from self-loathing. He tells Jules to "dress normal" when they meet up, and maintains a relentless tough-guy swagger when any of his gang are around. Then he takes Jules for a nice meal out, and when he begins to see who Preston really is, Jules asks him who he's trying to impress. So on a night out with Preston's mates, the power dynamic between them begins to shift. And with Jules' friends, Preston is able to drop his guard.
Playing far against type, MacKay gives Preston a shocking edginess that's both intimidating and charismatic. And he layers a hint of humanity behind the bravado, which creates an intriguing connection between Preston and Jules. As usual, Stewart-Jarrett is terrific at creating textures on-screen, revealing Jules as a likeable guy and talented performer. But there are knowing depths there as well, as he watches everything carefully and guards himself against further pain.
Because of the early attack, a sense of menace infuses the film, as Jules sees potential danger in each situation. But he knows he needs to regain a sense of direction. When he performs, Jules feels that the woman on-stage is who he really is, but it takes him a while before he's once again comfortable enough to appear in drag again. And Preston's journey is even more intense. The narrative heads into a final act that's bold and unnerving, challenging the audience to resonate with some very complex emotions. It's difficult, but also moving.
The Red Shoes
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr-prd Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
with Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Albert Bassermann, Leonide Massine, Esmond Knight, Austin Trevor, Irene Browne, Hay Petrie, Eric Berry, Ludmilla Tcherina
release UK 22.Jul.48,
48/UK Archers 2h15
VENICE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Gloriously restored for its 75th anniversary, this pungent drama has lost none of its power with the passage of time. It's an intensely emotional tale about the demands of success, shifting skilfully between soaring dance, sweet romance and some very dark confrontations. Powell and Pressburger's films stand up because they tap into the human condition while pushing cinematic boundaries, and this is one of their most indelible fables.
In London, preening ballet company boss Boris (Walbrook) discovers two bright sparks: dancer Vicky (Shearer) wants to prove herself, while composer Julian (Goring) shows shining talent. Boris seems dismissive, even as he hires them and takes them on the road to Paris and Monte Carlo, where he gives both of them a big break on a new production of The Red Shoes, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale about shoes that insist on dancing at the expense of living a real life. Then Boris demands that both Vicky and Julian make a terrible choice.
Jack Cardiff's cinematography looks even more lavish in this restoration, which makes the most of bright colours and deep shadows. Scenes burst with life, with plenty of brightly comical touches sitting alongside the grim villainy of people who feel they have a right to control the success of others. There are times when Walbrook's Boris feels like a James Bond villain, scowling from the shadows as he plots his next menacing move. But he's also a charismatic and witty genius. And while both Shearer's Vicky and Goring's Julian are relative innocents, the characters are deepened by both the writing and acting to give them a real sense of ownership, determination and raw talent.
Powell and Pressburger inventively weave the fairy-tale into the larger plot, creating a bigger trajectory that feels like it will lead to either a glorious triumph or aching tragedy. The film celebrates the wondrous artistry of dance, especially in the extended sequence featuring Vicky's astoundingly staged performance in The Red Shoes ballet. But it's also a cautionary tale about the voracious nature of show business, noting that talent and ambition might not be enough to trump power.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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