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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 29.Dec.19

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Mikhael Hers
prd Pierre Guyard
scr Maud Ameline, Mikhael Hers
with Vincent Lacoste, Isaure Multrier, Stacy Martin, Ophelia Kolb, Marianne Basler, Greta Scacchi, Jonathan Cohen, Nabiha Akkari, Bakary Sangare, Claire Tran, Elli Medeiros, Zoe Bruneau
release Fr 21.Nov.18,
UK 3.Jan.20
18/France 1h47


lacoste and multrier
For a film about the fallout from a harrowing event, this French drama plays out with a remarkably honest, everyday tone, remembering to catch moments of lightness along with the subtly devastating emotions. It's a beautiful, effective little film, packed with characters who are very easy to identify with, even if their extraordinary situation feels overwhelming. Thankfully, filmmaker Mikhael Hers never lets them be defined by it.
In Paris, 24-year-old David (Lacoste) works several jobs and enjoys hanging out with his sister Sandrine (Kolb) and her curious 7-year-old daughter Amanda (Multrier). He's also just met the charming Lena (Martin). Then a horrific tragedy changes everything, and David must decide whether he can take custody of Amanda. His Aunt Maud (Basler) steps in to help, as does his injured friend Axel (Cohen), but as he tries to get on with his life, he has some major decisions to make. And maybe it's time to reconnect with his estranged mother (Scacchi) in London.
The connections between these characters are vivid right from the start, without any unnecessary filmmaking manipulation or plot exposition. The actors create powerful camaraderie without doing much of anything, as the film's gently rolling pace carefully avoids soapy fireworks to focus on real-life interaction. Huge things happen but are never blown out of proportion. So the film feels often unnervingly authentic, almost like a particularly astute fly-on-the-wall doc. And by remaining so subtle, the drama and emotion find a range of telling nuances.

Lacoste is terrific at the centre, a smiley nice guy who rolls through life at ease, even if he's had some difficult issues to work through in the past. The actor generates powerful connections with Kolb and Martin, and has a special bond with young Multrier, who brings unusually textured depth to such a young character. In smaller roles, Basler and Cohen provide some understated support, while Scacchi's character offers some provocation without being pushy about it.

Compared to other films at the moment, this feels almost shockingly slow and quiet. Not a single moment is forced or rushed, no one tries to steal a scene and even the most massively wrenching events play out in ways that are layered with earthy humour and genuine feeling. It's the kind of movie that explores how all of us are dealing with our own issues in our own ways, getting on with life as best we can in the circumstances. It can't help but offer hope and inspiration.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 12.Dec.19

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir Kantemir Balagov
scr Kantemir Balagov, Aleksandr Terekhov
prd Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergey Melkumov, Natalia Gorina, Ellen Rodnianski
with Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov, Kseniya Kutepova, Konstantin Balakirev, Alyona Kuchkova, Timofey Glazkov, Denis Kozinets, Veniamin Kac, Olga Dragunova, Alisa Oleynik
release Rus 20.Jun.19,
UK Oct.19 lff, US 29.Jan.20 19/Russia 2h27

london film fest

Perelygina and Miroshnichenko
A provocative drama set in post-war Russia, this quietly involving film is often very unpleasant. Filmmaker Kantemir Balagov tells the story with style and an unusual sense of warmth, even in moments that are darkly disturbing. It's a beautifully observed story, with characters that connect in unexpected ways. At its core, this is about love between two women who would do anything for each other.
In 1945, Leningrad has been left shattered by the wartime siege. Tall, pale, thin and prone to paralysing panic attacks, Iya (Miroshnichenko) is nicknamed Beanpole by the women in the communal building where she lives. They help her care for her frail son Pashka (Glazkov), who charms the injured soldiers in the hospital where Iya works. Then her friend Masha (Perelygina) returns from the front covered in medals. The truth is that she's Pashka's mother, and Iya cares so deeply for her that she's willing to consider bearing another child for her.
Designed with dense reds and greens, Balagov infuses even the most wrenching moments with raw tenderness. These people have only barely survived certain death, so they seek joy even while still in pain. There's an amusing sequence in which Masha sets up a sexual encounter with two young men (Shirokov and Kac) that doesn't go as anyone expects. Quadriplegic patient Stepan (Balakirev) cheerfully flirts with Iya, has a past with Masha and also has a wife (Kuchova), who asks blankly when he'll recover.

Performances are heartfelt, with sharp edges that reveal deeply personal yearnings. Miroshnichenko brings an intriguing blankness to Iya, conveying feelings with the subtlest flicker of her eyelids. Her awkwardness is deeply endearing. Perelygina is more up-front as Masha, likeably letting everyone know what she wants. Bykov also registers strongly as the senior doctor trying to help in various difficult situations while also watching out for the vulnerable Iya.

This is not a film about the horrors of a brutal war, it's about the repercussions of inhumanity and the resilience of the spirit. Cruelty doesn't just change life for a time, it permanently alters reality. For these characters, the idea of romance is so alien now that they can't even see the possibility arising. But the deep need for connection remains, as does the desire for moments of playfulness and a sense of being in control of what happens next. It's not quite healing, but it might be all this generation can expect to find.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 26.Dec.19

Weathering With You 
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Weathering With You
dir-scr Makoto Shinkai
prd Koichiro Ito, Noritaka Kawaguchi, Genki Kawamura, Wakana Okamura
voices Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri, Tsubasa Honda, Sei Hiraizumi, Yuki Kaji, Sakura Kiryu, Ayane Sakura, Kana Hanazawa, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Chieko Baisho, Mone Kamishiraishi
release Jpn 19.Jul.19,
US/UK 17.Jan.20
19/Japan 1h54


hina and hodaka
Gorgeously animated, this Japanese film has a strong attention to detail and powerfully involving characters. The story mixes real-life issues with a touch of magical realism to continually surprise the audience. While it centres on teen characters, the film is made for an older teen audience, exploring some very grown-up issues as the complex plot unfolds. It's sometimes a bit tricky to connect with, but its craft and originality makes it gripping.
Arriving in Tokyo during a rainstorm, 16-year-old Hodaka (Daigo) is looking for a job. The city is scary and expensive, but he'd still rather be here than at home. He finds work with Kei (Oguri), who edits a scandal-sheet newspaper with the feisty Natsumi (Honda). After 18-year-old fast-food worker Hina (Mori) offers him a burger, he returns the favour by rescuing her from a predatory club owner. And he discovers that she's a "sunshine girl" who can pray the rain away. So they team up and create a booming business brightening up the weather.
Abrasive and impulsive, Hodaka is hilariously terrified of his feelings for Hina. Her younger brother Nagi (Kiryu) is more assured, challenging Hodaka to make a bold move. There are wrinkles in each character, such as how Kei tries to clean up his act so he can visit his young daughter, taken from him after his wife died. Or when the kids have a wacky adventure in a hotel room as a burst of joy amid intense pressure. And then there's perhaps the most important message of the year: "Remember, the world has always been crazy!"

The animated imagery has a remarkably cinematic sense of photography, direction, editing and visual effects. The rendering of rain and sunbeams is stunning, as is a spectacular firework display. Action sequences and cityscapes are beautifully detailed, particularly amid the abnormally persistent low-pressure system. Is this deluge connected to Hina's fear? She feels like she must sacrifice herself to return the weather to normal.

While sidestepping climate change, the story includes two plot points that centre on social services splitting up families, while the police are looking for Hodaka. This leads to moments of dark desperation that are infused with strong emotions. This is a skilfully made film that gets under the skin of its characters to tell a big story. It may sometimes be a little uneven in its narrative flow, but its complex situations involve evocative imagery and moments of intense resonance. And the climax is breathtaking.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 26.Dec.19

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