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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 19.May.19

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir-scr Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt
prd Justin Taurand, Maria Joao Mayer, Daniel van Hoogstraten
with Carloto Cotta, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Margarida Moreira, Carla Maciel, Chico Chapas, Manuela Moura Guedes, Hugo Santos Silva, Joana Barrios, Filipe Vargas, Maria Leite, Djucu Dabo
release Por 4.Apr.19,
UK 10.May.19, US 24.May.19
18/Portugal 1h36

london film fest

moreira, cotta and moreira
Awash in pink and blue, this vivid fantasy from Portugal follows a top celebrity athlete with limited intellect but extraordinary compassion. The snaky plot involves a political conspiracy that would feel a lot wackier if these things weren't already happening in the real world. And there's so much going on in this film that it continually wrongfoots the audience with yet another madly endearing twist.
The super-fit Diamantino (Cotta) is a star Portuguese footballer under investigation by the secret police for money laundering. One day on his yacht he rescues a boat full of refugees, never before having imagined such desperation. Then in the World Cup final, he loses his focus just shy of levelling the match, ruining his career. Trying to rebuild his life, he adopts a refugee, Rahim (Tavares), who is actually undercover female cop Aisha. He also doesn't know that his vile, money-grubbing twin sisters (Anabela and Margarida Moreira) have sold his DNA to a geneticist (Maciel).
Filmmakers Abrantes and Schmidt use bold visuals as they get into Diamantino's head, cleverly unpicking his innocent, sexless worldview. He can no longer see the gigantic fluffy puppies that accompanied him on the pitch. And the way he gives Rahim the best life possible is genuinely touching. Their blossoming relationship is simple and beautiful, causing stress for Aisha's girlfriend Lucia (Guedes), a police drone pilot. Of course, the criminality Aisha uncovers isn't remotely what she expected.

To his sculpted Cristiano Ronaldo physique, Cotta adds terrific naivete. Everyone takes advantage of him because he's too nice and too dim to resist. It's a difficult role, and Cotta balances it skilfully, especially as Diamantino copes with rather shocking changes and finds first love, all without sacrificing his simple optimism. Tavares is also excellent as a big-hearted woman seeking the truth. While the other women are fairly monstrous, led by the evil twins and a wicked government minister (Barrios).

The political campaign Diamantino is being used in without his knowledge is a hilarious mishmash of Brexit and Trump. The filmmakers also knowingly lampoon sporting hero worship while, just for fun, stirring in elements of a Bond-like masterplan, which unfolds with a cheeky sense of gonzo humour as it builds to a violent climax. Enjoyably, the savvy political jabs feel offhanded, as the focus remains on Diamantino's much more personal, engaging coming of age. It may be rather uneven and nutty, but its sweetness is disarming.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, nudity 15.May.19

Just Friends   Gewoon Vrienden
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
A Trip to the Moon
dir Ellen Smit
scr Henk Burger
prd Denis Wigman, Marijn Wigman, Roen Kiewik
with Majd Mardo, Josha Stradowski, Jenny Arean, Tanja Jess, Nazmiye Oral, Melody Klaver, Sonia Eijken, Mohamad Alahmad, Anne Prakke, Elene Zuidmeer, Roscoe Leijen, Stan Gobel
release Ned 7.Mar.18,
UK 13.May.19
18/Netherlands 1h20

mardo and stradowski
A cheeky sense of humour gives this crowd-pleasing Dutch comedy an extra kick, as two unsettled guys in their mid-20s do a little romantic dance around each other as they struggle to grow up. While director Ellen Smit finds clever ways to include social media, chat apps, video calls and even drone footage, the script is digging beneath the surface to explore serious issues with a wonderfully light touch.
Still coming to terms with his father's death a decade ago, Joris (Stradowski) lives with his overbearing mother Simone (Jess). Meanwhile, hard-partying Yad (Mardo) has returned from Amsterdam to live with his family, bristling against strict Syrian culture. He gets a job cleaning for Joris' grandmother Ans (Arean), and when the two young men meet there's an instant spark, as they both love music and windsurfing. But Simone is racist, and Yad's mother (Oral) thinks biker-jock Joris is a bad influence. Maybe the only way to escape these conflicts is to just be friends.
Scenes are packed with visual and verbal gags, as Smit adds knowing touches. The screen literally jumps when Joris and Yad meet for the first time, then quietly reveals the instant chemistry between them, which Ans mischievously encourages. Each scene is sharply observed, even allowing side characters to have story arcs within the short running time. This may feel somewhat tidy, but the way it plays out is thoroughly engaging, especially within a variety of parent-child dynamics.

Stradowski and Mardo bring layers of interest to two young men who are uncomfortable in their own skin; together they relax and open up, interacting playfully as they make a physical and soulful connection. Their rockier moments also feel authentic, grappling with how they fit into the world and together. It's may seem simplistic that, to deal with emotions, Joris turns to booze while Yad turns to weed. Thankfully, this never becomes a plot point. And it's nice that Jess and Oral also get to add complex textures to the mothers.

Smit and writer Burger are sensitive to everyday ripples of bigotry, from smirking homophobic idiots to those who blame all of society's problems on Muslim refugees. There are also never-pushy comments about the ways we physically abuse ourselves, from inebriation to body-building steroids to plastic surgery. And the film's nicest message is about self-acceptance, finding the courage to face life head-on, without hiding. As Ans says, "Love can't be controlled. It controls you."

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 23.Apr.19

Knife + Heart   Un Couteau Dans le Coeur
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Knife + Heart
dir Yann Gonzalez
prd Charles Gillibert
scr Yann Gonzalez, Cristiano Mangione
with Vanessa Paradis, Nicolas Maury, Kate Moran, Jonathan Genet, Khaled Alouach, Felix Maritaud, Noe Hernandez, Thibault Serviere, Bastien Waultier, Bertrand Mandico, Romane Bohringer, Elina Lowensohn, Jacques Nolot
release Fr 27.Jun.18,
US 15.Mar.19, UK 5.Jul.19
18/France 1h50

london film fest
flare film fest

paradis and maury
Lurid stylistic flourishes add interest to this offbeat French thriller. Director-cowriter Yann Gonzalez floods the screen with primary colours, bleached blonde hair, fantasy sex and grisly murder, merrily blurring lines between the films within the film. It's too melodramatic to take seriously as a slasher horror, but the camp approach is entertaining, especially in the more playful moments. And there are elements that provoke deeper thought as well.
In 1979 Paris, Anne (Paradis) makes cheesy porn movies for a gay audience. When her editor/girlfriend Lois (Moran) dumps her, she turns to her colourful assistant Archibald (Maury) with an idea to impress Lois by making a movie based on the violent murder of her star young actor (Waultier). But the masked killer is still on the rampage, and Anne's cast and crew are unnerved as more actors die. Then Anne starts looking into old news stories that might crack the case. And Lois notices something suspicious in the background of a shot.
Skilful and audacious, Gonzalez has a lot of fun twisting vintage-style porn into each brutal murder. There's clearly a provocation in this approach, taking sexy scenarios to violent places. Even so, there's never more than a hint of the sex in Anne's films, while each killing plays out in an elaborately gruesome set-piece. And the plot has clever echoes of classic films, most notably The Phantom of the Opera, which adds emotion even if the terror never quite grabs hold.

Performances are stylistically earnest, which adds to the bonkers atmosphere. Relationships aren't terribly convincing, even though they're nicely played. Paradis sharply plays Anne's yearning to rekindle her connection with Moran's subdued Lois. Although Anne's impassive reaction to the murders is alienating, blank-faced even after nasty visions or nightmares. Each young man swirling around her manages to stand out with a distinct feature that's seized on by the director.

The film feels eerily superficial, never quite finding the core of the story. It's intriguing and nutty, with some superbly evocative moments along the way. And there are hints of deeper meaning. It's probably too much to suggest that Gonzalez is exploiting gay porn to make a comment on the imminent arrival of the Aids epidemic. But that element is here, as is the rise of homophobia as LGBTQ people become freer to express themselves. Still, Gonzalez's approach is strong enough to make this a cult classic.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 29.Mar.19

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