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

Close to You  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Close to You
dir Dominic Savage
scr Elliot Page, Dominic Savage
prd Daniel Bekerman, Krishnendu Majumdar, Elliot Page, Dominic Savage, Richard Yee, Chris Yurkovich
with Elliot Page, Hillary Baack, Wendy Crewson, Peter Outerbridge, Janet Porter, Alex Paxton-Beesley, David Reale, Andrew Bushell, Daniel Maslany, Sook-Yin Lee
release Can Sep.23 tff,
UK Mar.24 flare
23/Canada 1h40

bfi flare film fest

Is it streaming?

Shot improv-style, with intensely intimate camerawork, this Canadian drama relies on the strong presence of Elliot Page as a trans man confronting his connections with family and lingering feelings for an old flame. Director Dominic Savage finds moments of honest insight within scenes continually heightened by conflict. This allows the actors to play emotional scenes with unusual nuance, but it also leaves the film feeling somewhat meandering and indulgent.
Living in Toronto, Sam (Page) decides to return home for his father's (Outerbridge) birthday, knowing that his family will awkwardly try to signal relentlessly progressive and supportive attitudes. Sure enough, Mum (Crewson) is concerned, Dad is proud and his siblings (Porter, Paxton-Beesley and Maslany) are happy that he's happy. But brother-in-law Paul (Reale) can't conceal his anti-woke bigotry, which pushes Sam into a corner. Then he reconnects with his old flame Katherine (Baack), who is now married with children. And both are surprised that there's still a spark between them after all these years.
Cinematographer Catherine Lutes shoots in natural light using long takes, with handheld cameras often in extreme closeup. This puts the audience uncomfortably close to each conversation, forcing us to react to stiff jokes and painful attempts to diffuse tension. It's a startlingly effective way to depict how a trans man feels in a place where everyone reminds him who he used to be. So when Mum says, "Family is the most important thing," we know Sam will offer a dissenting viewpoint.

With relaxed authenticity Page plays Sam as a man who simply wants to exist without any fuss. His emotions are vivid, stirred by stinging comments that are meant to be kind. But he also has strong connections with these people, and Page elicits wonderful chemistry with each costar. Baack offers a luminous note of longing, while both Crewson and Outerbridge boldly dive into their parental roles. As the most prickly character, Reale offers disarming textures that are far too easily recognisable.

While the themes here are important and punchy, the loose nature of the filmmaking sidesteps any big message, which is perhaps a good thing. But it also makes it tricky for the audience to get a grip on the story, because scenes seem to tumble along without much narrative momentum or direction. Still, the observations are powerful. As is the reminder that Sam is just a person with the full range of thoughts and feelings, not a political issue that needs to be explained, promoted or approached using proscribed language.

cert 15 themes, language 15.Mar.24 flare

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir Michael Mohan
scr Andrew Lobel
prd David Bernad, Sydney Sweeney, Jonathan Davino, Teddy Schwarzman, Michael Heimler
with Sydney Sweeney, Alvaro Morte, Benedetta Porcaroli, Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi, Dora Romano, Giorgio Colangeli, Giampiero Judica, Simona Tabasco, Niccolo Senni
release US/UK 22.Mar.24
24/Italy 1h29

Is it streaming?

di renzi, sweeney and friend
Gleefully deploying religious iconography alongside dark themes and extreme grisliness, this thriller is the definition of a guilty pleasure. So while the filmmakers use cheap thrills to get pulses racing, actor-producer Sydney Sweeney layers in enough pointed drama to hold our sympathies. The story is frankly nuts, essentially a monastic Get Out, but the film maintains a sharp perspective to provide some emotional engagement alongside the visceral thrills.
Arriving at an isolated convent in Italy, Cecilia (Sweeney) takes her vows and joins nuns running a hospital. But things quickly get strange as fellow novice Gwen (Porcaroli) warns her about the creepy priests in charge, namely involved Father Tedeschi (Morte) and aloof Cardinal Merola (Colangeli). Mother Superior (Romano) is also rather sinister, while Sister Isabelle (Di Renzi) is instantly annoyed by virginal Cecilia, especially when she discovered to be pregnant and celebrated as a miracle. But Cecilia quickly begins to suspect that Dr Gallo (Judica) is lying to her. And freaky things keep happening.
While set in the present day, the film feels like a vintage movie. Director Mohan delights in adding barmy details, opening with a manic escape-attempt freak-out and continuing with wildly outrageous dreams, an ominously odd hospital patient and some increasingly ghastly violence. Meanwhile, the script layers in its own chilling details, including how Cecilia died for seven minutes at age 12 after falling through a frozen-over lake. Or the fact that the convent's chapel contains a nail from Jesus' cross.

The excellent Sweeney goes all-in with this performance, establishing Cecilia as a likeable young woman early on, then properly pushing to her limits and beyond. Her resilience is powerful to watch, as she unearths the mind-bending conspiracy and refuses to accept being told that she can never leave this place. Morte is also terrific as the hot priest who is clearly up to something nefarious. And Porcaroli registers strongly as Cecila's one confidant, a fellow rebel who sees through the artifice.

Many of the scariest moments involve simplistic jump cuts and loud noises, but wacky touches include birds flying into windows, nuns falling from the roof, branded crosses on the soles of feet and a renegade tooth. Whenever a scene gets quiet, we brace ourselves for a barrage cinematic nastiness augmented by an effective sound mix. And then there's the squirm-inducing plot, which plays knowingly on the idea of women having agency over their own bodies and leaves us with something to think about. Once we recover from the yuckiness, that is.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 14.Mar.24

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Benjamin Howard
prd Benjamin Howard, Tommy Anderson, Laura Scarano
with Jake Holley, Colin McCalla, Riley Quinn Scott, Connor Storrie, Rib Hillis, JB Waterman, Rene Ashton, Marcus Winchester-Jones, Nigel Siwabessy, Dallas Perry, Alyssa Latson, Kaleti Williams
release US Oct.23 bff,
UK Mar.24 flare
23/US 1h33

bfi flare film fest

Is it streaming?

mccalla and holley
Earthy authenticity infuses this warm drama, as writer-director Benjamin Howard knowingly captures the pervasive masculinity in sporting culture, which expresses itself in ignorant homophobia. He also gets into the mind of a teen athlete grappling with his sexuality. As the drama gets increasingly serious, the film grabs hold powerfully. So even if things begin to turn a bit melodramatic, there's truth in the way the story plays out.
A star American football player in high school, Dakota Riley (Holley) trains all day with his best pal Jaeden (McCalla), dates hot girl Skylar (Scott) and exceeds the expectations of his coach dad Carson (Hills). And while he is having feelings about boys, he isn't quite willing to accept that he's gay. This becomes an issue when Skylar wants to take things further, and then his French classmate Liam (Storrie) figures him out and makes a move. But Dakota knows he needs to understand who he is and then decide who he wants to be.
Framed by an awkward hookup sequence involving an older guy (Waterman), the film digs deeply into Dakota's deeper thoughts and feelings, including an underlying yearning to be loved for who he is. So he struggles to accept his sexuality, determined to be straight even as he reluctantly connects with the school's queer subculture. There are sharply pointed moments along the way, most notably as Dakota grapples with his complex friendship with Jaeden. Impressively, the script never tries to have all the answers.

The relaxed, offhanded cast may look like they're in their mid-20s, but they vividly bring these teens to life. Holley gives a deeply committed performance, revealing Dakota's darker emotions in realistic, resonant ways. It's moving to watch him work out how to move forward, and his entire physicality expresses the sense that his future hangs in the balance. McCalla, Scott and Storrie are excellent alongside him, providing textured reactions that illuminate the film's central ideas.

There's nothing particularly new here, as these themes are frequently explored on-screen. But Howard's frank approach is refreshing, offering insight that clearly comes from personal experience. Because of the pressures of society, teens go through this kind of turmoil all over the world, confronting tension between who they need to be and who they really are. And the film offers some wise advice: If you don't know what to do, flip a coin; but don't act on the result, act on how the result makes you feel.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 15.Mar.24

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