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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 19.May.24

In Flames  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
In Flames
dir-scr Zarrar Kahn
prd Anam Abbas
with Ramesha Nawal, Bakhtawar Mazhar, Omar Javaid, Adnan Shah Tipu, Mohammad Ali Hashmi, Jibran Khan, Vajdaan Shah
release Pak 20.Oct.23,
US 12.Apr.24, UK 24.May.24 23/Pakistan 1h38


Is it streaming?

Inventive filmmaking makes us feel almost queasy watching this dark Pakistani drama, as a mother and daughter strain against patriarchal rules. With his first feature, writer-director Zarrar Kahn cleverly puts the audience into the shoes of these women, so each injustice they encounter is both disorienting and vicious. And the approach is so personal that the film never feels like a political treatise. But it certainly is one.
In Karachi, 25-year-old Mariam (Nawal) is preparing for med school exams when her grandfather dies, leaving her single mother Fariha (Mazhar) in a vulnerable position. Uncle Nasir (Tipu) offers to help, but Mariam spots his true motives. Meanwhile, she meets Asad (Javaid) a fellow student who's perhaps too nice. After he convinces Mariam to skip town for a day at the beach, Mariam begins having frightening visions that blur lines between past and present. And Fariha realises that she needs to do something drastic to save the family home. And to save Mariam as well.
Slow-burning intensity creeps in from the beginning, further crossing boundaries between living and dead with glimpses of ghostly male figures watching from the shadows. And then there are the random men on the streets who interrupt them to assert moral superiority. The film is skilfully shot and edited to pull us into each encounter in ways that are jarringly uncomfortable, carefully making important points simply as we react to such an out-of-balance culture.

At the centre, Nawal and Mashar are excellent as very strong women who have been told all their lives that they have no agency, often by each other. But there's a begrudging respect between them as they rebel in their own ways. Both actors find a terrific mix of steeliness and emotional resonance, creating remarkably complex characters who interact realistically with the people around them. Javaid and Hashmi (as a friendly rickshaw driver) are also strong as genuinely kind men who may or may not cross a line.

There are a few moments that feel oddly timid in the way they are shot and edited, and the plot itself is so off-handed that the ending relies entirely on how much we are invested into the situation. But there is so much going on here, and the knowing approach finds often astonishing insight, digging deeply beneath the surface. It's also a fiendishly unsettling movie, so it keeps us entertained even as it makes us think.

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 14.May.24

Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In
dir Soi Cheang
prd John Chong, Wilson Yip
scr Au Kin-Yee, Chan Tai-Lee, Shum Kwan-Sin, Jack Lai-Chun
with Raymond Lam, Louis Koo, Sammo Hung, Terrance Lau, Tony Wu Tsz-Tung, German Cheung, Philip Ng, Richie Jen, Wong Tak-Pun Kenny, Cecilia Choi, Chu Pak Hong, Fish Liew
release Chn 1.May.24,
UK 24.May.24
24/China 2h06


Is it streaming?

cheung, lau and wu
A satisfyingly robust story, vivid characters and cool fight choreography give this 1980s-set Hong Kong action movie a bit boost. It's about gangsters and henchmen reigniting an old rivalry in Kowloon's Walled City, a bustling hive of activity that's a terrific setting for eye-catching battles that push friendships to the breaking point. Director Soi Cheang gives the film a slightly fantastical look, complete with a spark of magical realism.
With no papers, illegal migrant Lok (Lam) inadvertently steals a bag of drugs from gang boss Mr Big (Hung) and flees from super-charged henchman King (Ng) to hide in the Walled City. But this place is run by another mobster, Cyclone (Koo), who takes Lok in after a scuffle. Lok finds camaraderie with his fellow goons: knife-expert Shin (Lau), generational gangster Twelfth Master (Wu) and darkly scarred AV (Cheung). But Cyclone's fellow boss Chau (Jen) has a deep desire for vengeance against the man who killed his family years ago, and new information reignites it.
Complex power plays fill the narrative, including age-old rivalries, opportunism and brute strength. Remarkably, the sharp writing and direction make sure we keep all of these people and their various factions straight, which is especially impressive as things get very messy in the final act. Intriguingly, the fighting is brutally bone-crunching, although there's not much on-screen blood. And while the camerawork and editing are extremely choppy, they skilfully capture the impressively stylised stuntwork.

Lok is a terrific character, played by the charismatic Lam as a guy who is simply trying to survive when he sparks all of this mayhem. And he never runs from a fight. A fatherless loner, he has a strong connection with Koo's calmly efficient Cyclone, who hides the fact that chain smoking is killing him. And between the eye-catching action set pieces, there are several entertaining scenes featuring banter and brotherhood between Lam, Lau, Wu and Cheung.

While there's a lot going on, the story's gyrations never get lost in the mayhem. Although since it's grounded and gritty, the present of one seemingly indestructible character rings a little false. Still, this is a sharply well-constructed film with snappy characters battling their way through a series of tense relationships to work out both who they are and what's most important to them. So choosing greed over friendship leads to trouble. These ideas emerge strongly through the narrative, giving us ideas to chew on while we enjoy the superbly staged action.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 9.May.24

Two Tickets to Greece   Les Cyclades
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Two Tickets to Greece
dir-scr Marc Fitoussi
prd Caroline Bonmarchand, Isaac Sharry
with Laure Calamy, Olivia Cote, Kristin Scott Thomas, Panos Koronis, Alexandre Desrousseaux, Nicolas Bridet, Leelou Laridan, Marie Mallia, Marianna Bozantzoglou, Mathias Minne, Thodoris Smeros, Leontine d'Oncieu
release Fr 11.Jan.23,
US 24.Jul.23, UK 17.May.24
22/France 1h50

Is it streaming?

cote, calamy, scott thomas and koronis
There's a wonderfully loose honesty to this film that catches the imagination, finding serious insight even in silly situations. And the sunny Greek island locations add another layer of interest. Thankfully, the skilled actors bring effortless charm and unusual depth to the characters, even if the central figure is almost painfully insufferable. And writer-director Marc Fitoussi, reteaming with Call My Agent star Laure Calamy, keeps things bouncing along entertainingly.
After a painful divorce, Blandine (Cote) is pushed by her 20-year-old son Benji (Desrousseaux) to get out and reconnect with childhood friend Magalie (Calamy). But Magalie is as over-the-top as when they were teens. She lives with no responsibilities, oblivious to the way she annoys people. Then she joins Blandine to travel to their dream destination on the island of Amorgos, causing a couple of detours on the way, including meeting Magalie's old friend Bijou (Scott Thomas) on Mykonos. But Blandine isn't looking for these adventures; she just wants to relax in a luxury hotel.
Much of the set-up plays on the contrast between down-to-earth Blandine and in-the-clouds Magalie, which is first seen in a prologue when they were girls (played by Laridan and Mallia). Blandine has a proper job as an X-ray technician, while Magalie does odd journalism jobs, never stops partying and boisterously disrupts every situation she's in with her little scams, wacky ideas and thoughtless comments. She's also the life of the party.

Essentially, Magalie is a narcissist, oblivious to the needs of anyone else, although both Calamy and the screenwriters layer more endearing personality traits in there as well, with a late revelation designed to trigger sympathy. Calamy is such a smiling, happy-go-lucky presence that it's difficult to remain angry with her for long. And while Cote's Blandine is clearly withdrawing due to deep pain, she takes some steps to open up to a hunky surfer (Bridet) and, most notably, Scott Thomas' incandescent Bijou, who beautifully bridges the comedy and drama in a surprisingly complex way.

Intriguingly, Magalie's relentless optimism is her most grating trait, and yet it's nice to see her whittle away at Blandine's gloominess. So while both the problems and solutions presented in this script feel more than a little glib, they are elevated by earthy performances from the extended cast. And it's never too difficult to spend a couple of hours in the Cyclades, even if Scott Thomas doesn't burst into an Abba song as expected.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 7.May.24

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