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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 10.Jan.24

Disco Boy  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Disco Boy
dir-scr Giacomo Abbruzzese
prd Lionel Massol, Pauline Seigland
with Franz Rogowski, Morr Ndiaye, Laetitia Ky, Leon Lucev, Matteo Olivetti, Robert Wieckiewicz, Michal Balicki, Prince Bara, Dimitri Pacalo, Wahab Oladiti, Salem Kisita, Mutamba Kalonji
release Fr 3.May.23,
US 2.Feb.24
23/France 1h32


Is it streaming?

Quietly observational, this multi-national drama is beautifully shot by gifted cinematographer Helene Louvart in a series of fascinating settings from the Poland-Belarus border to the Niger Delta. As the tone shifts from warm drama to intense thriller and then into something unnervingly introspective, writer-director Giacomo Abbruzzese maintains an intensely intimate perspective that draws the in audience. And it's anchored by another terrific performance from Franz Rogowski.
After a wrenching eight-day journey from Belarus across various borders, Alex (Rogowski) arrives in Paris as an illegal migrant. To earn his citizenship, he joins the Foreign Legion and begins a five-year term of service alongside a group of young men who will become close friends. Meanwhile in Nigeria, charismatic freedom fighter Jomo (Ndiaye) dreams of a normal world in which he could simply dance in a nightclub. When Alex's unit arrives to rescue hostages, an intense encounter with Jomo leaves Alex deeply shaken. Back in France, he finds himself preoccupied with his thoughts.
Much of the film is silent, without the need for dialog, allowing the story to play out on the faces of the characters, while the settings speak to the state of civilisation. Rivers feature heavily in several scenes throughout the film, echoing an early event to rattle Alex's calm exterior. There's an intense sequence that's filmed with infrared vision, and several fantasy sequences offer insight into Alex's searching mind. So while the way his situation spirals into the final scenes is somewhat bewildering, it's also resonating on an almost subliminal level.

Beautifully playing Alex's sheer determination, Rogowski is both likeable and enigmatic. He's far too quick to throw a punch, but also feels things deeply and stands up to his laddish comrade Francesco (Olivetti). And the way we can see emotions flicker across his face is hugely sympathetic. By contrast, Ndiaye is an explosion of energy on-screen, absolutely riveting and physically imposing even when he's standing passively. Both actors have the ability to convey complex characters without needing words.

It's moving to see Alex become overwhelmed by his memories, transforming himself into the ghost that's haunting him. This gives the film a jolt of sensual energy that's pulsating and almost startlingly involving, even as it begins to turn surreal. Where this story goes is a direct homage to Claire Denis' 1999 Foreign Legion classic Beau Travail. Indeed, Abbruzzese is playing with light, colour and music to create a powerful mood piece. It's a bit loose, but has a lingering kick.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 29.Dec.23

Norwegian Dream  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
The Zone of Interest
dir Leiv Igor Devold
scr Justyna Bilik
prd Havard Wettland Gosse
with Hubert Milkowski, Karl Bekele Steinland, Edyta Torhan, Oyvind Brandtzaeg, Jakub Sierenberg, Izabella Dudziak, Simonas Dovidauskas, Piotr Czarnecki, Jakub Nosiadek, Berit Rusten, Natalie Bjerke Roland, Carl Martin Eggesbo
release Nor 17.Mar.23,
US 2.Jan.24
23/Norway 1h37

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milkowski and steinland
Maintaining a sharp sense of perspective, this drama centres on a young migrant worker trying to build a new life. But this is about more than simply earning cash to send back home. Polish director Leiv Igor David takes an earthy, almost documentary-style approach, observing scenes through the protagonist's eyes as he opens up to his own truth. It's a familiar story, but carries a strong emotional kick.
Leaving Poland, 19-year-old Robert (Milkowski) starts a job in a fishery in Norway, with colleague Ivar (Steinland) mentoring him on the job. There are plenty of laddish Polish guys to socialise with, although Robert feels uncomfortable with their casual racism and homophobia about Ivar's colourful drag performances at a local bar. Robert reaches out, but Ivar doubts he's any different. Eventually, Robert opens up about his closeted sexuality, and they discover a mutual attraction. Then Robert's mother Maria (Torhan) arrives, pushing him to earn more to pay off her debts. And her presence causes problems.
Various issues swirl through the story, including how the fishery is breaking employment law in the way it treats foreign workers. As they vote to join a union, it's unsurprising that everyone has their guard up. And Robert's mother not only brings bad news, she jeopardises his living situation. At the centre, with so many obstacles in their way, Robert and Ivar's relationship never has a chance to develop smoothly. Instead, it plays out with darkly honest uncertainty.

Milkowski has terrific screen presence as a young man who is escaping violent bigotry back home and is still afraid of his shadow. His wariness remains even as he begins to feel safe with Ivar, who is played with open-handed charm by the charismatic Steinland. The actors create a nicely jagged tenderness between them, as Robert and Ivar provoke each other while finding a safe space together. Side roles are nicely played to add texture, even if these people remain somewhat sketchy.

There isn't much that's original about this story, but it captures a lovely sense of these young men as they navigate the issues in their lives. And the multi-lingual, multi-ethnic cast adds strong narrative textures and a vivid sense of youthful physicality. While it's sometimes frustrating that the employment drama leaves the romantic story feeling somewhat undercooked, the real-life pressures are very easy to identify with as they threaten each of these characters in distinct ways.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 29.Dec.23

Race for Glory: Audi vs Lancia  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Race for Glory: Audi vs Lancia
dir Stefano Mordini
prd Riccardo Scamarcio, Jeremy Thomas
scr Filippo Bologna, Stefano Mordini, Riccardo Scamarcio
with Riccardo Scamarcio, Daniel Bruhl, Volker Bruch, Katie Clarkson-Hill, Esther Garrel, Giorgio Montanini, Gianmaria Martini, Haley Bennett, Giulio Brizzi, Simone Goldoni, Rosario Terranova, Carlotta Verny
release US 5.Jan.24,
It 29.Feb.24
24/Italy Lionsgate 1h33

Is it streaming?

bruhl and scamarcio
Based on a true story, this film centres on the rivalry between the iconic German and Italian racing teams at a pivotal moment for the Rally World Championships. The multi-lingual script is rather talky, featuring many more loaded conversations than thrilling vroom-vroom action sequences. But director Stefano Mordini uses the colourful locations well, nicely recreating the period, and the passionate competitors to set this apart from similar movies.
In 1983, the manager of Team Lancia, Cesare Fiorio (Scamarcio), is determined to take on the powerhouse Audi Team led by Roland Gumpert (Bruhl). With their technical expertise and lavish funding, Audi seems unstoppable to the far smaller Lancia, which can barely afford to meet minimum requirements. Looking for any advantage, Cesare works on advancements to Lancia's designs and coaxes top German driver Walter Rohrl (Bruch) out of retirement. He also hires nutritionist Jane (Clarkson-Hill) to get his drivers into peak physical shape. Then as their performance improves, victory seems to be within reach.
Moments along the way capture the feeling of speed, as well as deep determination to triumph over sporting adversities. And the film creates a strong sense of how racing works behind the scenes. Although, because it centres around calmly calculating team leaders, it feels perhaps less exciting than expected. The dialog is overwritten, packed with moody aphorisms. And the grounded filmmaking approach makes the racing sequences gritty and realistic, rather than pulse-quickening. But then this is the kind of movie that never leaves its ending in any doubt.

Intriguingly as a writer-producer, Scamarcio reins in his usual charisma as Cesare, a tough-minded strategist who admits that obsession drives him. There are occasional moments of charm, as he dominates the film completely, and he also creates jagged chemistry with both Bruhl (as a relaxed, observant rival) and Bruch (as a stubborn cohort). And with Clarkson-Hill, whose character is the daughter of a driver who died in a crash, there's a hint of discussion about why anyone would do this.

The narrative will feel very familiar to anyone who has seen Rush, Ford vs Ferrari or Ferrari, as ambition leads to triumph that's emotionally tempered by fatal accidents. The usual questions linger about whether any sport is worth pursuing if someone might die. And for Cesare this is more about business, gaining glory and success for his company by defeating a global monolith. So while the slice of history is interesting, it's frustrating that the characters remain rather opaque.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 7.Jan.24

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