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last update 21.Jun.11
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4/5   Broderskab
dir Nicolo Donato
scr Rasmus Birch, Nicolo Donato
prd Per Holst
with Thure Lindhardt, David Dencik, Nicolas Bro, Morten Holst, Claus Flygare, Hanne Hedelund, Lars Simonsen, Michael Gronnemose, Anders Heinrichsen, Jon Lange, Johannes Lassen, Sophie Louise Lauring
lindhardt and dencik release Den 8.Apr.10,
US 6.Aug.10,
UK 6.Jun.11 dvd
09/Denmark 1h36
brotherhood This strikingly well-made film plots a steady, tightly focused path through a volatile story thatcombines racism, terrorism and sexuality. And the thoughtful, personal approach makes it remarkably involving.

After being discharged from the army due to rumours that he's gay, Lars (Lindhardt) refuses to back down when a violent neo-Nazi group confronts him. They're impressed by his tenacity and, since he needs a friend, he pretends to accept their anti-immigrant, homophobic agenda. He's assigned to learn the ropes with Jimmy (Dencik), and they hole up in the isolated cabin owned by the group leader (Flygare). As their friendship deepens, Lars and Jimmy struggle against romantic feelings that creep in, And it's difficult to hide the truth from Jimmy's unstable, power-hungry brother (Holst).

The story is packed with both intense drama and strong surges of emotion. These young men know they can't come out in a gang that regularly attacks gay men, and if they run away they'll be hunted down and killed. So the events take some extremely dark turns, playing on the irony of the situation (then perhaps taking it one step too far). And the intimate approach forces us to grapple with these issues along with the characters.

Lyndhardt and Dencik are superb in the central roles, using a naturalistic style of acting to build camaraderie without speaking. We really feel the bond between them, expressed in physical closeness and sparse conversations that slowly begins to include playful joking, furtive glances and then something much deeper that shakes them to the core. Their shock and confusion about what is happening is extremely believable. And even the most extreme side characters are complex and realistic.

Director Donato uses beautiful wide-screen photography and sharp editing, making the most of the wordless days Lars and Jimmy spend in the cabin, then fires up the energy for the intense encounters with each other, gang members and their victims. For a story centring on such fiery topics, this is a remarkably sensitive film. It's like a kinder, gentler version of American History X, as if directed by Gus Van Sant. And even if it gets a little preachy, it really makes us think.

15 themes, violence, sexuality
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David’s Birthday
3.5/5   Il Compleanno
dir Marco Filiberti
scr Deborah De Furia, Marco Filiberti
prd Caroline Locardi, Agnes Trincal
with Alessandro Gassman, Maria De Medeiros, Massimo Poggio, Michela Cescon, Thyago Alves, Christo Jivkov, Piera Degli Esposti, Paolo Giovannucci, Eleonora Mazzoni, Maria Luisa De Crescenzo, Daniele De Angelis, Marianna De Rossi
jivkov and alves release It 28.May.10,
UK 13.Jun.11 dvd
09/Italy 1h44

david's birthday Combining earthy realism with operatic storytelling, this Italian drama feels a little overwrought. But it's beautifully filmed and acted in a gorgeous setting, and the characters are compelling enough to grab our sympathy.

Diego and Shary (Gassman and Cescon) are spending a month on the coast in a summer house with their best friends Matteo and Francesca (Poggio and De Mareiros). They're joined by Diego and Shary's 15-year-old son David (Alves) and Shary's globe-hopping brother Leonard (Jivkov). It soon becomes clear that the Adonis-like David is tempting women up and down the beach. He also stirs feelings in Matteo that he's tried to suppress all his life. Which Leonard notices. Then on the day of David's birthday party, everything boils over.

The film opens in an opera house, hinting at the over-emotional plot that's coming, even as the filmmaker tries to throw us off the scent with lively dialog and farcical plotting. The interaction between the characters is naturalistic and believable, as is the general chaos of their holiday, with all of the comings and goings, old tensions and new liaisons. But there's a general moodiness underlying every scene, hinting at some sort of shocking confrontation to come.

The cast is excellent, stirring subtext into every scene and keeping us guessing as to how the events will play out. And there are surprises lurking everywhere. Each relationship is a bundle of quirks that undermine the appearance of traditional stability. Director Filiberti captures all of this with a beachy, sundrenched glow that makes us wish we were there with them, tantrums and histrionics aside. And the camera caresses David just as lovingly.

Along the way, the film challenges Italian attitudes towards masculinity, marriage and parenting in some extremely bold ways. And while the film has plenty of light moments, as well as some very snappy dialog, it's also dark and melodramatic. And Filiberti struggles to keep these tones in balance as things shift from light frivolity to heavy emotion. Yes, this makes each situation feel extremely believable, but it never quite lets us feel the emotions ourselves.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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dir Andrew Hull
scr Andrew Hull, Geoffrey Gunn
prd Amina Dasmal, Christopher Granier-Deferre
with Eoin Macken, Anna Skellern, Tereza Srbova, Anthony Jabre, Abdelkader Ben Said, Mohamed Dhrif
skellern, macken and jabre
release US 22.Mar.11 dvd,
UK 27.Jun.11 dvd
10/UK 1h26
siren Despite the sun-drenched settings and gorgeous actors, this film feels dark and dangerously seductive from the start. The filmmakers use the ancient maritime legend to spin a genuinely freaky modern horror movie that feels like Dead Calm by way of Stephen King.

Ken and Rachel (Macken and Skellern) meet up with their friend Marco (Jabre) for an idyllic boating holiday at a Mediterranean island villa. But on the way, they are diverted by a panic-stricken man in the water. He tries to warn them away from an island, but their boat breaks down and they soon meet the almost-silent Silka (Srbova), who casts an enticing spell over all three of them. Soon they find themselves trapped in spiralling visions of lust that become increasingly violent and terrifying. And escape seems impossible.

The film is a bundle of freak-out moments, with red herrings, eerie warnings and horrific visions. The strikingly beautiful actors approach this with naturalistic performance that hold our interest. The sexual tension between the four characters is relentless, with plenty of wrinkles in Marco's long-time pining for Rachel, Ken's delay of their wedding day and Silka's relentless flirting. It also helps they they're often in various states of undress (former Abercrombie model Macken rarely wears a shirt).

The psychological intensity never lets up, as director-cowriter Hull maintains a taut sense of horror all the way through the lean running time. The photography and editing are especially sharp, catching the settings and people with rich colours and warm sensuality. Meanwhile, he characters are continually having outrageously grisly visions that often seem a bit silly, but the actors convince us that the menace is real even if it's inside their minds. As Silka gets into everyone's heads, the bewildering terror gets under our skin too.

As it progresses, we realise that there aren't many ways this can end, so we begin to lose interest in what will happen, who will or won't survive and what the final twist might be. But the imagery is consistently eye-catching, and the story's gruesome twists and turns are extremely creepy. This was a promising, stylsh feature debut for art director Hull, so it's a shame that he died, age 46, just after it was made.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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The Trip
dir Michael Winterbottom
prd Andrew Eaton, Melissa Parmenter
with Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Margo Stilley, Rebecca Johnson, Claire Keelan, Kerry Shale, Dolya Gavanski, Paul Popplewell, Marta Barrio, Elodie Harrod, Timothy Leach, Ben Stiller
coogan and brydon release UK Nov.10 bbc,
US 10.Jun.11
10/UK BBC 2h53

TORONTO FILM FEST london film fest
See also:
The Trip to Italy (2014)
the trip Originally a six-part BBC series (reviewed here), this improvised comedy has also been released as a 107-minute feature. It captures the amazing chemistry between Coogan and Brydon playing fictional versions of themselves.

When his girlfriend (Stilley) can't travel with him across Britain on a travel writing assignment, Coogan takes his colleague Brydon. Their trip is a bundle of logistical obstacles and sparky conversations. As they travel through the country to review regional restaurants, Coogan struggles against bad phone reception to talk with his assistant (Keelan), trying to get better film jobs in Hollywood. While Brydon tries to connect with his wife (Johnson) back home.

Coogan and Brydon have impeccable timing, riffing off each other on a wide range of topics. The funniest running gags feature their duelling impersonations (Michael Caine is the highlight) and career insecurities. "I'd rather have moments of genius than a lifetime of mediocrity," says Coogan, to which Brydon replies, "My life is not mediocre!" This climaxes with a hysterically emotive rendition of The Winner Takes it All.

Essentially, it's a sequel Winterbottom's surreal 2005 Tristram Shandy adaptation A Cock and Bull Story, as they again play with their personas, including Coogan's relentless flirting and Brydon's cocky insecurity. This allows for some amusing character development, especially during conversations about work, relationships, plastic surgery and the poets who lived in the places they visit ("Which version of Xanadu do you prefer, Coleridge's or Newton-John's?").

Winterbottom shoots in close-up like a reality show, using witty editing to find punchlines in the conversations. There's also a terrific sense of each setting, both the restaurants and the open countryside. Intriguingly, it's accompanied by a piano score that brings out some serious underlying themes, including a rather moving look at ageing in show business.

Being a TV series, there are of course a few dull patches, but the longer running time allows for an enjoyably rambling sense of freeform improvisation. It's hard to imagine how they chopped a whole hour of footage out for the feature version, although it would certainly make the piece feel much tighter. But honestly, Coogan and Brydon are so brilliant at this kind of thing that you could watch them natter forever.

15 themes, language
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall