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

Coup de Chance   Stroke of Luck
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Coup de Chance
dir-scr Woody Allen
prd Letty Aronson, Erika Aronson
with Lou de Laage, Niels Schneider, Melvil Poupaud, Valerie Lemercier, Gregory Gadebois, Sara Martins, Elsa Zylberstein, Guillaume de Tonquedec, Anne Loiret, Arnaud Viard, Sam Mirhosseini, Jamel Elgharbi
release Fr 27.Sep.23, US 29.Mar.24
23/France 1h33


Is it streaming?

schneider and de laage
Set out as a breezy comedy, maintaining its jaunty tone even when things turn rather nasty, this is one of those French films in which the characters talk incessantly. There's barely a single quiet moment, which makes reading subtitles somewhat exhausting. It's also Woody Allen's first French-language project, and it's a quietly gripping story that evolves from a romantic comedy-drama into a tense but very low-key thriller.
On a street in Paris, Fanny (de Laage) is surprised to run into Alain (Schneider), who had a crush on her when they were teens in school together in New York. Fanny is now happily married to the charming, wealthy Jean (Poupaud), but she begins meeting up with Alain to chat about his writing over lunch. Soon she starts to question her marriage and falls easily into an affair. Sure enough, Jean begins to notice her odd behaviour. Meanwhile, Fanny's mother Camille (Lemercier) drops in to visit, and she hears something that makes her suspicious.
Obvious cracks appear in Fanny's marriage early on, as she accompanies Jean on hunting weekends in the country, even though she'd rather stay in the city. Fanny often feels like a trophy wife, while Alain appeals to her freer artistic side. But Jean is fiercely possessive and used to being in control, and his jealous actions turn the story into something much more serious, even if the film never drops its sunny, jazzy ambience. It's a slightly odd concoction, but it comes together with a pinch of intrigue, anchored around strongly sympathetic characters.

As played effortlessly by de Laage, Fanny is self-aware enough to understand that her actions are irrational, but she also listens to her heart. Poupaud adds some complexity to Jean, a charismatic, successful man who reveals shiftier things under the surface, starting with his enormous train set and spinning into obsessive paranoia. By contrast, Schneider is loose and open-hearted, so deeply likeable that it's easy to see why Fanny is thinking of overthrowing her luxury lifestyle for him.

Fanny is startled that this chance encounter has derailed her happiness so suddenly. But Jean doesn't believe in luck. Yes, this entire story circles around the randomness of life. This may make a few of the plot points feel somewhat convenient, but it also gives the entire narrative a nice kick as it encourages us to embrace the miracle of whatever life we have.

cert 12 themes, language 3.Apr.24

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
dir-scr Venci D Kostov
prd Antonio Hens, Vanya Rainova, Miguel Torrente, Bin Fang
with Dimitar Nikolov, Bojidar Asenov, Dimitar Banenkin, Stoyan Radev, Stefan Denolyubov, Antonia San Juan, Bedros Aleksanyan, Ivan Matev, Nadyara Dimcheva, Daria Simeonova, Emil Stratev, Ramon Esquinas
release UK 26.Feb.24
23/Bulgaria 1h49

Is it streaming?

nikolov and asenov
Strangely, and not particularly adeptly, dubbed into Spanish, this Bulgarian drama is rather awkwardly written and directed. But it's also a warm, engaging glimpse into rural life on Europe's eastern edge. So the film is watchable, even if the relationships are so ill-defined that they're difficult to identify with, especially when things get melodramatic. It's a bold, occasionally astute attempt to explore a migrant's sense of identity.
When his grandfather dies, Victor (Nikolov) returns from Spain to his childhood hometown in Bulgaria for the funeral, and he decides to stay for the summer after meeting Liuben (Asenov), the super-friendly guy who sells melons alongside the road. It's been 12 years since Victor was last here, so everywhere he goes sparks memories. But he still hasn't told his father (Banenkin) about his boyfriend (Esquinas) back in Madrid. And Liuben has a pregnant girlfriend (Dimcheva) who aggressively pushes him for cash. Then Victor and Liuben begin to bond over their dreams for the future.
Victor has fond memories of summers here as a child without responsibilities. So he is relishing this freedom, riding around on his grandpa's old motorcycle and spending time with his philosophical, understanding dad and a favourite uncle (Radev). Meanwhile, due to their cultural backgrounds, both Victor and Liuben have badly warped feelings about masculinity and sexuality. No wonder victor hasn't been back for so long.

Nikolov has strong screen presence as Victor, an open-handed nice guy. So it's never clear why he becomes so besotted Liuben, whose behaviour seems so random and thoughtless, and much of what he says is inappropriate. But even when he's overacting, Asenov is so smiley that he's hard to dislike. Aside from his obvious wealth, Liuben only seems to like Victor because he offers him a chance to be his true self.

Even though they were born here, everyone in the village thinks of both Victor and Liuben as foreigners, because Victor lives abroad and Liuben has Romani heritage. Writer-director Kostov has a great eye for details about this society, capturing local traditions, culturally tinged interaction and darker activities that are provocative and deeply disturbing. This is a rather bleak portrait of how, even within the European Union, bigotry and injustice are allowed to flourish.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 8.Apr.24

Opponent   Motståndaren
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Milad Alami
prd Annika Rogell
with Payman Maadi, Marall Nasiri, Bjorn Elgerd, Diana Farzami, Nicole Mehrbod, Ardalan Esmaili, Arvin Kananian, Ahmed Abdullahi, Magnus Mark, Joonas Saartamo, Sonja Lindblom, Mikael Nevalainen release Swe 31.Mar.23,
US May.23 siff, UK 12.Apr.24
23/Sweden 1h59


Now streaming...

elgerd and maadi
While it remains virtually unspoken, the central theme of this film emerges vividly through emotive performances and expressive camerawork. It's a story about a refugee family struggling to get their balance in a new country, but an underlying issue refuses to let them move forward. Even with some telling touches, filmmaker Milad Alami forces the audience to dig into scenes themselves, which gives the whole film an enigmatic tone.
After a mysteriously violent incident in a gym, wrestler Iman (Maadi) flees from Iran with his family, and they end up as refugees placed in rural, snowy Sweden. Waiting for their case to be settled is exhausting, so they stress the danger of returning home, that Maryam (Nasiri) is pregnant, and that their daughters (Farzami and Mehrbod) are learning Swedish. Then Iman begins training to wrestle for Sweden, knowing that this is setting up a confrontation with his former Iranian teammates. And his friendship with local wrestler Thomas (Elgerd) offers him a sense of belonging.
Surreal touches add telling details, observing events through Iman's mind's eye, including sensual imagery, momentary fantasies and metaphorical elements like a wolf that's prowling the Scandinavian countryside. Some of this feels a bit on-the-nose, but truths cleverly emerge without words being spoken. So while it becomes clear that Iman had an ill-fated romantic encounter with a wrestling partner back home, he can't even begin to admit it to himself. And he is also incapable of acknowledging his attraction to Thomas.

Maadi delivers another finely tuned performance as a man who has a battle waging inside him. Each encounter pushes him in ways that seem almost unbearable. He deeply loves his wife and children, and desperately doesn't want to accept the truth about himself. Opposite him, Nasiri is excellent as Maryam, who is also reluctant to see Iman for who he is. But she knows something has to change. Each of the actors around them brings an earthy naturalism to the screen.

What's most impressive is how the refugee experience is presented without sentimentality. Details are raw and unsettling, from the tiny rooms this family lives in, moving constantly while worrying that they could be deported at any time. Is this limbo any better than living in fear of arrest back home? The question is asked in ways that are remarkably complex, pushing the audience to understand real-world issues even within the frame of a topic such as queerness, which is often depicted as politically defiant. This film makes it almost unnervingly personal.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 17.Jan.24

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