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

All the Fires   Todos los Incendios
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
All the Fires
dir-scr Mauricio Calderon Rico
prd Daniel Loustaunau, Francisco Sanchez Solis, Araceli Velazquez
with Sebastian Rojano, Natalia Quiroz, Ari Lopez, Ximena Ayala, Antonio Fortier, Hector Illanes, Iliana Donatlan, Hannah Romen, Leonardo Fabrizio, Edwin Jamir, Constanza Martinez, Gabriel Barragan
release US 19.Apr.24
23/Mexico 1h36

Is it streaming?

quiroz and rojano
Darkly personal, this Mexican drama tells its story through the eyes of a teen who isn't quite sure who he is. It's warm and gentle, with edgy touches and an attention to detail that makes it feel like it must have emerged from the experiences of writer-director Mauricio Calderon Rico. It's a clever, moving and ultimately haunting film that takes a new angle on a familiar important theme.
Still struggling to accept his father's death, teen Bruno (Rojano) spends his time shooting and uploading videos of fires, much to the consternation of his mother Ines (Ayala). And Bruno is annoyed that she has started dating her childhood friend Gerardo (Illanes). When his best pal Ian (Lopez) begins questioning his sexuality, it makes Bruno more determined to hide his own desires. So he leaves Mexico City to meet his online fan Daniela (Quiroz) in Durango. They quickly hit it off and, as he meets her family and friends, they attend parties and videotape fires.
With its shadowy photography and introspective tone, the film feels extremely intimate as it carefully explores Bruno's internalised journey. He was inspired to start fires by the matches his father collected, and he seems to be using the flames as a way to distract himself from both his father's death and his own attraction to men. He certainly doesn't want to talk about any of this with anybody.

Performances are muted, sometimes bordering on mopey, as the characters resist expressing their deeper thoughts and feelings. Rojano is strongly sympathetic as this conflicted young man. As he tries to suppress what he knows to be true, he risks derailing his own future, even though he knows better. As Daniela, Quiroz has the most provocative role, pushing Bruno to face himself.

At one point, Bruno notes that fire has no shadow, as if he is longing to become the flame itself. While this is in some ways the standard queer coming-of-age narrative, the approach is so original that it helps us explore through fresh eyes the issue of young people who struggle to accept themselves in a world that repeatedly insists that they have to to be someone else.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 18.Apr.24

Àma Gloria  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Ama Gloria
dir-scr Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq
prd Benedicte Couvreur
with Louise Mauroy-Panzani, Ilca Moreno Zego, Arnaud Rebotini, Abnara Gomes Varela, Fredy Gomes Tavares, Domingos Borges Almeida, Marc Lafont, Bastien Ehouzan, Delfi Rodrigues Dos Sanches, Manuel Jose Sovares, Denis Ortega Acevedo, Sidney Cardoso
release Fr 30.Aug.23,
US Jan.24 sff, UK 14.Jun.24
23/France 1h23

london film fest

Is it streaming?

mauroy-panzani and zego
Anchored by an extraordinary performance by 6-year-old Louise Mauroy-Panzani, this French slice-of-life drama takes an approach that focusses on the characters' feelings rather than any straightforward plot structure. Writer-director Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq uses naturalistic, up-close imagery to pull the audience into the interaction between these people, provoking us with some enormous emotions that gurgle up from underneath. It's an unusually involving film, warm and also sometimes very intense.
For 6-year-old Cleo (Mauroy-Panzani) in Paris, her nanny Gloria (Zego) is the only mother she can remember. So she's devastated when Gloria has to return home to Cape Verde to care for her teen children. Then Cleo's dad (Rebotini) sends her for a summer visit. On this tropical island, Cleo is ecstatic to reunite with Gloria, meeting Gloria's pregnant daughter Nanda (Varela) and surly son Cesar (Tavares), plus the lively Uncle Joachim (Almeida). But Cleo begins to understand that Gloria can't return home with her, and she starts to wonder how she might fix that.
Virtually narrative-free, this film meanders through scenes observing young Cleo as she goes through a momentous few months. Her everyday experiences in France are a huge contrast to what she sees and learns on Cape Verde. There's a chill of danger simply in the way her father sends her travelling alone, and then it's quickly apparent that Cesar doesn't want her there. Punctuating the film are painterly animated sequences that offer flashbacks, internal thoughts and even an impressionistic climactic event.

Mauroy-Panzani's performance is unnervingly knowing and open, allowing Cleo's inner thoughts and feelings to be seen clearly by the audience. She understands more than anyone thinks she does, and yet she's so young that her naivete leads her in directions that add both quiet suspense and some heart-stopping moments. Zego is excellent alongside her in a complex role as a mother who is more than capable of loving all of these children deeply.

This is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a young child who lost her mother to cancer early on and now feels like she is losing another. The way the camera remains so close to her sometimes feels claustrophobic, but forces us to adopt her perspective, even if we understand what's happening around her far more clearly than she can. And while the film says some provocative things about motherhood along the way, it's this recreation of a child's eye view that makes it worth a look.

cert 12 themes, violence 26.Mar.24

Infested   Vermines
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir Sebastien Vanicek
prd Harry Tordjman
scr Sebastien Vanicek, Florent Bernard
with Theo Christine, Lisa Nyarko, Sofia Lesaffre, Jerome Niel, Finnegan Oldfield, Marie-Philomene Nga, Mahamadou Sangare, Abdellah Moundy, Ike Zacsongo-Joseph, Emmanuel Bonami, Xing Xing Cheng, Samir Nait
release Fr 27.Dec.23,
US/UK 26.Apr.24
23/France 1h46


Is it streaming?

christine, niel, lesaffre, oldfield and nyarko
Opening with a classically chilling "don't mess with mother nature" prolog, filmmaker Sebastien Vanicek gleefully deploys freak-out details to build intensity before a full-on nightmare erupts. He also gives characters superbly fleshed-out internal lives, which makes it easy to identify with even the minor figures. But of course, the main thing here is to play on the audience's innate fear of spiders, and this is a staggeringly effective freak-out.

In Paris, fast-talking 20-something Kaleb (Christine) sells sneakers from a storage room in the grubby basement of his run-down apartment block. He also collects exotic critters, and has just bought a rare poisonous spider. But he's tired of living with his sister Manon (Nyarko), who is always doing noisy repairs on the flat. Then his new spider escapes and begins spinning webs and laying eggs. With the block locked down by police who suspect a virus, Kaleb, Manon and their friends (Lesaffre, Neil and Oldfield) try to take action as the spider population takes over.
Bristling with attitude, these young people only barely communicate, shouting abrasively to make the most unnerving scenes exponentially more intense. This is sometimes rather exhausting, but is balanced nicely by heavy doses of humour and cutaways to neighbours who are dealing with this infestation in their own hapless ways. The nastiness escalates quickly, with increasingly gigantic spiders taking out people in ever-more horrific ways. All of this is expertly staged, using clever sets and inventive effects to create genuinely frightening jolts.

With such vivid characters, the cast is able to layer in properly enormous emotions that tighten the film's grip on the audience. The five central characters display such relatable feelings that it's hard to watch them go through this, including levels of panic and despair that are hugely distressing. So it becomes fascinating as they begin to rely on each other, working together to come up with solutions.

In addition to the arachnid nastiness, the film also touches on social issues such as the dire state of public housing and hideously violent police tactics. These things add knowing subtext to the story, grounding the bonkers craziness in a very real world. And as far as the spiders go, this is one of the scariest, most viscerally unnerving movies in recent memory, with levels of suspense and mayhem that put most horror films to shame.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 23.Apr.24

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