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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 14.Apr.24

If Only I Could Hibernate  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
If Only I Could Hibernate
dir-scr Zoljargal Purevdash
prd Frederic Corvez, Maeva Savinien, Zoljargal Purevdash
with Battsooj Uurtsaikh, Nominjiguur Tsend, Tuguldur Batsaikhan, Ganchimeg Sandagdorj, Batmandakh Batchuluun, Batzorig Sukhbaatar, Davaasamba Sharaw, Sukhee Lodonchuluun, Urnukhbayar Battogtokh, Batsaikhan Battulga, Purevdulam Natsagbadam, Taivanbat Alexandar
release US Oct.23 pff,
UK 19.Apr.24
23/Mongolia 1h38

london film fest

Is it streaming?

Uurtsaikh, Tsend and Batsaikhan
A bracing look at present-day Mongolia, this drama takes an essentially bleak story and injects continuous blasts of humour, warmth, sharp observations and hope for the future. Because it focusses on children, we are quickly invested in the story, so colourful characters feel almost like family. And they are easy to identify with as they face a painfully difficult situation. But filmmaker Zoljargal Purevdash never gives up on them.
As a top physics student in 9th grade, Ulzii (Uurtsaikh) gets help from his teacher (Sukhbaatar) to enter a national competition to win a university scholarship. And Ulzii will need it, because he lives in an inner-city yurt with his alcoholic mother (Sandagdorj), feisty sister Tungaa (Tsend), cheeky little brother Erkhemee (Batsaikhan) and lively baby brother Garig (Batchuluun). When their mother leaves to find a job, Ulzii has to help his siblings survive the winter, and just maintaining a supply of coal and wood for heating is a serious challenge alongside preparing for this competition.
These sparky siblings shout and swear jokingly at each other, as do Ulzii and his pals (Battogtokh and Battulga), who live in nicer homes. Ulzii's yurt looks cozy but cold, and everyone notes how society has shifted from old ways to urban life. Ulzii's family lives below the poverty line, and a visit from the state welfare office is downright farcical. But there's an engaging sense of community, and things people do to survive knowingly blur morality.

Assembled documentary style, no one on-screen ever seems to be acting. Uurtsaikh is excellent, a real-life teen experiencing his situation in ways that have parallels anywhere. His sharp humour and heavy sense of responsibility are both astonishingly vivid, as are the gleefully silly moments when he's having fun with his friends. Each of the people around him has his or her own journey through this series of events, textured with a remarkable attention of detail.

It's often difficult to watch these young siblings trying to survive in such harsh, icy weather, even right in the middle of a city. So we quickly empathise when Erkhemee muses that it would be so much better if they could hibernate through the winter. But of course, this is also a comment about going through a tough period in life, finding the resilience to get through and remembering to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It's a lovely reminder, and a bracingly powerful look into a fascinating culture.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Apr.24

Omen   Augure
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir-scr Baloji
prd Benoit Roland
with Marc Zinga, Yves-Marina Gnahoua, Marcel Otete Kabeya, Eliane Umuhire, Lucie Debay, Denis Mpunga, Bongeziwe Mabandla, Guetty Lembe, Linda Ikwa, Chimene Barthez, Romain Ndomba, Mordecai Kamangu
release US 12.Apr.24,
UK 26.Apr.24
23/Belgium 1h32

london film fest

Is it streaming?

Kabeya and friends
Bursting with Congolese culture and traditions, this multi-layered drama is a fascinating collection of big ideas and resonant themes. Writer-director Baloji takes the viewer on an odyssey into identity, exploring the push and pull between families, societies, traditions, desires and experiences. It's warmly involving and also darkly complex as scenes flow out of sequence. So while it can be tricky to clearly understand the nuances, the film reverberates deeply.
After 18 years in Belgium, Koffi (Zinga) is worried about returning to rural Congo with his Belgian girlfriend Alice (Debay), who is pregnant with twins. Indeed, his mother Mujila (Gnahoua) and sisters are distant, regarding him as a curse, so Koffi and Alice find refuge with another outcast sister Tshala (Umuhire). Meanwhile in Kinshasa, teen Paco (Kabeya) lives in a school bus with his performing gender-queer family. They are tormented by street gangs, challenged to prove themselves in organised fights. Months later, Koffi and Alice return with their babies for a very different family ritual.
Even marginal characters have huge personalities, while Christianity and tribal beliefs are blurred together in everyday life, even in medical practice. Following a freaky exorcism ceremony in the village, the film dives into a wildly colourful street parade in the city. There are also feverish dreams, cutaways and flashbacks that fill in details, often surreally. Intriguingly, Koffi and Paco are connected by the seizures they suffer in times of stress, so there's also a strong sense that Paco is part of Koffi's long-suppressed past.

Characters are intensely played with open emotionality. All of them are oppressed by the requirements and restrictions of their cultures in one way or another. The charismatic Zinga and Debay have textured chemistry as Koffi and Alice, continually making telling observations. As Koffi's stubborn mother, Gnahoua has a steely presence that's almost frightening since her resolve is underscored by a flicker of doubt. Umuhire and young Kabeya also ignite the screen with expressive performances.

With imagery and situations that are both joyous and harrowing, this is a powerful fable of people who struggle to reconcile their birthrights with who they actually are. Each of the central characters has fallen afoul of expectations and is fighting to maintain their space in the world. Some of them stay and fight, others leave and start over. These are feelings and situations that connect with us no matter where we're from.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 12.Apr.24

Spy x Family Code: White  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Spy x Family Code: White
dir Kazuhiro Furuhashi
scr Ichiro Ohkouchi
prd Mirei Tsumura, Masaya Saito, Shoichiro Saito, Mirai Yamauchi, Tetsuya Nakatake
with Takuya Eguchi, Saori Hayami, Atsumi Tanezaki, Ken'ichiro Matsuda, Banjo Ginga, Ayane Sakura, Yuko Kaida, Shunsuke Takeuchi, Tomoya Nakamura, Kento Kaku, Kensho Ono, Hiroyuki Yoshino
release Jpn 22.Dec.23,
US 19.Apr.24, UK 26.Apr.24
23/Japan Toho 1h50

Now streaming...

bond loid and anya
Colourful and gleefully chaotic, this animated Japanese action thriller traces the adventures of an assembled family of secret operatives. Based on the manga books and anime TV series, it's an often laugh-out-loud rollercoaster ride, with gorgeous visual flourishes, plus lots of silly mayhem and witty throwaway gags. But while it's enjoyable, there's plot is very thin, feeling like a stretched out episode that's afraid to rattle the sitcom foundation.
Top spy Twilight (Eguchi) lives undercover as the psychiatrist Loid with his assigned family. He has no idea that his wife Yor (Hayami) is actually the fearsome assassin Thorn Princess. And neither knows that their 5-year-old daughter Anya (Tanezaki) is telepathic, and can communicate with their dog Bond (Matsuda), who can see the future. Trying to connect as a family, they take a holiday in a snowy northern city to collect a recipe for a famous dessert, but they end up entangled in a nefarious plan by ruthless Colonel Snidel (Ginga) involving vitally important microfilm.
While the central plot is rather basic, it's livened up with random sideroads and riotous characters. We hear the thoughts of Loid, Yor and Anya in voiceover, revealing that each is riddled with insecurities about both work and home lives. The pace is brisk, bordering on frantic, as almost every scene spirals out of control, shifting things into new directions. So the animation is a mixture of that oddly stop-and-go anime style along with lushly cinematic effects work in the huge set pieces, including a multi-strand climax on a burning airship.

While Anya's impulsive outbursts amusingly demand attention, textures in her character catch us off guard. And both Loid and Yor are also surprisingly nuanced, balancing whizz-bang efficiency at action stuff with underlying thoughts and feelings. Although it's a bit of a problem that the two main female roles, Yor and Loid's spy colleague Fiona (Sakura), are capable, feisty women crippled by their amorous crushes on Loid. And Snidel's viciousness is so extreme that this film can't be recommended for children.

By contrast, Anya's insane fantasy about the Poop God will have youngsters (and everyone else) giggling helplessly. And virtually every scene features someone saying something absurdly funny. This snappy writing elevates the movie above its somewhat haphazard narrative, which leaps around so awkwardly that it's never quite satisfying. That may make it tricky for the film to attract new fans to the franchise, although these characters are so endearing that we might be enticed to take another look.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 11.Apr.24

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