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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 17.Mar.24

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Amrou Al-Kadhi
prd Savannah James-Bayly
with Bilal Hasna, Louis Greatorex, Safiyya Ingar, Sarah Agha, Tim Bowie, Terique Jarrett, Darkwah, Emma McDonald, Ali Barouti, Rania Kurdi, Adnan Ranan Rashed, Tim Berrington
release US Jan.24 sff,
UK Mar.24 flare
24/UK Film4 1h40

bfi flare film fest

Is it streaming?

With wonderful authenticity, this breezy British drama hones in contradictions in human nature. Writer-director Amrou Al-Kadhi refreshingly resists creating characters who are easy to pigeon-hole, and situations don't resolve themselves in tidy ways we've grown to expect on-screen. Instead, the film has strong things to say about how our self-image is a key factor in our work and relationships. And even more importantly, this is a relentlessly charming movie.
In London, Layla (Hasna) is a crowd favourite as a drag performer in their local club, but they are struggling to find love, because the hook-up apps leave them feeling empty. At a hilariously disastrous corporate gig, they meet the cute, nerdy publicist Max (Greatorex), and there's an instant spark. Max likes every aspect of Layla's various personae, but Layla is struggling with identity issues, most notably playing the dutiful son Latif in visits to their Palestinian family's home. Yes, Layla hides aspects of themself from everyone around them, which is beginning to cause problems.
Layla is marvellously complex, a born performer who takes no prisoners on-stage, then remains unapologetically nonbinary out of drag. There's also an engaging boyish side, and a tight connection with their Arabic heritage. Each of these exist in Layla, and it's clear that they are still making sense of this. So the relationships with Max, family and friends have intriguing textures. All of this is shot and edited in an intensely personal way, getting up-close with Layla to make us root for them imperfections and all, blurring the usual lines problems emerge between Layla and Max.

Hasna's performance is skilfully expressive, intimate and buoyant in both the quieter moments and the fierce drag turns. This is a fascinating character, played unapologetically to resist stereotypes. Hasna also creates unusually sharp chemistry with Greatorex, who adds vivid layers to Max as well. Both of these characters are full of mystery, doing things that are inexplicable even to themselves. This makes them both believable and startlingly easy to identify with.

Al-Kadhi maintains a terrific energy throughout the film, riding Layla's rhythms whether they are boldly speaking their mind or closing in on themself. It's a bold move to leave some questions deliberately unanswered, and to stage scenes that manage to be both darkly pointed and hilariously silly at the same time. This is also a rare movie that allows its characters to have honest sexuality without judgment, remembering that this is as important to our humanity as our links with our families and cultures.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality 13.Mar.24 flare

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Sally El Hosaini, James Krishna Floyd
scr James Krishna Floyd
prd Philip Herd, Trudie Styler, Celine Rattray, Bill Pohlad, Kim Roth, Christa Workman
with Ben Hardy, Jason Patel, Nisha Nayar, Ravin J Ganatra, Sagar Radia, Hannah Onslow, Michael Karim, Saba Shiraz, Ali Afzal, Val The Brown Queen, Grant Davis, Taylor Sullivan, Jaimie Tank
release UK Oct.23 lff
23/UK 1h59

london film fest
bfi flare film fest

Is it streaming?

hardy and patel
With a sometimes dreamlike sensibility, this British drama follows two young men who are struggling to make sense of their lives, and may find the answer together. Directing alongside screenwriter James Krisna Floyd, Sally El-Hosaini maintains an optimistic but clear-eyed and honest tone, even as the film takes on some big issues in a situation that feels impossible. It's also remarkably sympathetic to its very different central characters.
Stumbling into a basement club in his Essex hometown, the blokish mechanic Luke (Hardy) becomes intrigued by flirty, glamorous drag queen Aysha (Patel). But as a resolutely straight single dad, Luke can't cope with feeling attracted to someone who's actually a man named Ashiq. And Ashiq is keeping his life secret from his strict Indian Muslim family in Manchester. But Luke agrees to drive Aysha to her gigs to earn some extra cash, and they begin to bond, growing close and sparking a romance. Although it begins to seem like the world is against them.
As Luke gets to know Aysha and her friends, he begins to see himself through a new perspective. He is also startled by the realities of Aysha's life, with death threats from bigots, outrageous nastiness from a rival drag queen (Afzal) and even darker reactions from family members. Luke admits that he would have had sex with Aysha if she was a woman. "But you're not," he says softly. Through a variety of little adventures and encounters, his thoughts begin to shift.

Hardy gives a beautifully internalised performance that cleverly explores Luke's masculinity and self-perception. He's trying to be a tough guy, but has a thoughtful inner life and begins to open up joyously with Aysha. Newcomer Patel is also terrific in a difficult role, balancing the colourful stage turns with lively attitude as well as more hushed restraint visits to his childhood home. As the connection between Luke and Ashiq grows deeper, we root for them to overcome their respective issues.

While the film's anecdotal structure makes it feel a bit over-long, each scene carries strong emotions. And the extended final sequence creates some additional intensity that's powerfully involving and darkly important too. This is an astute look at the collision between inner desires and outside pressures, and it's a knowing reminder that you can't be true to anyone if you're not first true to yourself.

cert 158 themes, language, violence, sexuality 14.Mar.24

You’ll Never Find Me  
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5
You'll Never Find Me
dir Josiah Allen, Indianna Bell
scr Indianna Bell
prd Josiah Allen, Indianna Bell, Jordan Cowan, Christine Williams
with Brendan Rock, Jordan Cowan, Elena Carapetis
release US/UK 22.Mar.24
23/Australia 1h36


Is it streaming?

Torelli, Auteri, Dastmalchian, Gordon and Bliss
Focussed and claustrophobic, this Australian horror has plenty of atmosphere and nastiness, although it's never remotely scary. Filmmakers Josiah Allen and Indianna Bell create creepy imagery and highly charged situations, but the way they deploy yucky cinematic gimmicks is so indulgent that the movie begins to feel both achingly slow and painfully arch. It also carries a darkly disturbing message about the, ahem, joys of silencing your conscience.
On a dark, stormy night in a trailer park somewhere along the coast, a barefoot woman (Cowan) pounds on the door of a battered mobile home, where lonely Patrick (Rock) is drowning his sorrows. She's unnerved to be asking for help from such a grizzled old man, and he seems far too eager to offer a towel, a warm shower and a bowl of blood-red soup. But she is also having premonitions of violence, and Patrick's calm demeanour begins to reveal some chilling cracks. There's also something rather strange about this particular storm.
Playing out essentially in real time, the movie traces a cat and mouse situation between these two lonely people whose stories and details don't quite add up. There are early hints that this woman might be a ghostly apparition, perhaps seeking revenge, so we wait for the penny to drop. When it does, the film spirals into an over-extended and hugely overstated rampage of noisy grisliness.

Viewers who particularly enjoy a claustrophobic, oppressive tone may find plenty to enjoy here. Although enjoy is perhaps not the correct word, as the imagery plays dangerously close to the edge of female exploitation, even as it attempts to deliver a more empowering kick. But while there are plenty of jarring moments, the film is ultimately a pointless exercise in style that encourages you to get away with murder if you can.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Jul.23 bifan

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