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

My Friend the Polish Girl  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
My Friend the Polish Girl
dir-scr Ewa Banaszkiewicz, Mateusz Dymek
prd Ewa Banaszkiewicz, Mateusz Dymek, Sebastian Petryk
with Aneta Piotrowska, Emma Friedman-Cohen, Daniel Barry, Andy Abbott, Darren Rose, Max Davis, Ketorah Williams, Calum Carr, Jeremy Preston, Richard Myers, Paul Smith, Nenaa-Jo Uraih
release UK 19.Jul.19
18/UK 1h27

Set out like a documentary, this fictional drama feels almost unnervingly of the moment, merging politics with a social media sensibility. Filmmakers Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek take a rather bleakly satirical approach to this story about two women who team up to make a movie, sending themselves in unexpected directions. It's a provocative, bold story told with an inventive approach to how cinema works today.

Katie (Friedman-Cohen) is making a Brexit documentary about how migrants are used and discarded. As a subject, she chooses out-of-work actress Alicja (Piotrowska), a Polish-immigrant whose boyfriend Michael (Barry) doesn't want to make their private life public. Alicja has been living in London for 12 years but doesn't have many friends, so to liven things up Katie provokes her and Michael on-camera. As a result, Alicja's life takes a desperate turn, so Katie helps her land a role as a prostitute in a movie by Leave-voter Alex (Abbott). Indeed, Katie's film isn't going as planned,
The film's clever structure is dotted with geotags, hashtags and emojis, plus offbeat clips that playfully create the sense of a homemade movie using animation and elements like FaceTime and Google Maps. The main footage is in black and white, with splashes of colour and a terrific sense of the variety and contradictions of London itself. Adding a layer of darkness, Katie's camera continually objectifies Alicja, while both women cross several unexpected lines. This adds a cat and mouse tone to the film's narrative, as the story playfully remains elusive even as the themes ripple powerfully.

Piotrowska offers an almost unnervingly straight-faced performance as a woman who has left her family, friends and culture behind and refuses to even consider what that has meant for her life. Her blank stares cause Katie to open up to her, which adds surprising textures to their interaction. As Katie, Friedman-Cohen watches invasively from behind her camera, failing to remain objective as a documentarian. But perhaps that isn't possible for anyone. Occasional side characters are voyeuristically realistic.

The filmmakers subtly reveal glimpses of Alicja's backstory by simply keeping the camera on her. "Were you abused as a child?" Katie asks, but Alicja never answers. As these two women dance around each other, where they go is increasingly uncomfortable, mainly because it reveals deep-seated attitudes without ever saying them out loud. Eventually, Katie realises she needs an ending, and what happens is creative, deeply disturbing and a provocative, deliberate head-spinner.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality, violence 19.Jul.19

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir-scr Thom Fitzgerald
prd Thom Fitzgerald, Doug Pettigrew
with Sofia Banzhaf, Shelley Thompson, Bailey Maughan, Callum Dunphy, Stewart Legere, Gil Anderson, Hugh Thompson, Deb Allen, Juanita Peters, Keelin Jack, Jennifer Overton, Daniel Lillford
release Can Sep.18 tiff,
UK Mar.19 flare
18/Canada 1h34

flare film fest

banzhaf and thompson
Warm and sensitive, this drama by Canadian arthouse filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald is based on a stage play, with complex characters and a relatively simple plot. The film is augmented with flickers of memory, revealing internal thoughts and feelings. The pacing is a little slow and circuitous, and the moods are muddy and sometimes undefined, but the central ideas about legacy and acceptance are powerfully resonant.
After years away from home, Belle (Banzhaf) returns to Nova Scotia for her father's funeral, rekindling the clashing relationship with her mother Nancy (Thompson) and brother Greg (Maughan). When Belle's friend Rob (Dunphy) arrives, Nancy hopes that Belle might not be lesbian after all. Indeed, after the trauma of coming out as gay, Belle can't admit that Rob is actually her boyfriend. Greg finds out, learning that Rob is planning to propose, which might not be the best thing to do at a funeral. Especially since Belle has just rekindled her relationship with Clara (Anderson).
The theatrical roots of this material show in the way it largely centres on conversations in the kitchen between four characters who are circling around each other, sharing and concealing their thoughts and feelings. The physical and emotional connections are cleverly played out in tangential dialog that often seems off the topic, but of course is revealing something much deeper about motivations and yearnings. Conversations are packed with superb anecdotes, and they also bring up more unsettling things that put Belle on a collision course with herself.

Performances are easy and realistic, underplaying the dramatic undercurrents of tension swirling between this group of intriguing, involving people. Banzhaf is terrific as a young woman whose identity is compromised by being home, struggling to maintain her sense of self as old memories and new feelings mingle. Opposite her, Thompson, Maughan and Dunphy all have very strong scenes, creating vivid characters who are very easy to identify with as they grapple with emotions that surge in unexpected directions.

There's an intriguing angle to this story in the way it explores the small lies we tell our families about oureselves without even thinking about them, whether it's withholding information, offering false opinions or allowing untrue assumptions to continue. And the converse is also explored here, namely the often unspoken pressures we put on our closest loved ones to live up to the expectations we have for them. So it's no wonder that we need to find outsiders who will accept us for who we really are.

cert 15 themes, language 26.Mar.19

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir Steve Barron
scr Andy Briggs, John Niven
prd Steve Barron, Kieran Corrigan
with Tom Berenger, Beau Bridges, Louis Gossett Jr, Fionnula Flanagan, Fiona Glascott, John Kavanagh, Elya Baskin, Clive Russell, Ned Dennehy, Aaron Heffernan, Hiran Abeysekera, Lochlann O'Mearain
release US 19.Jul.19
19/Ireland 1h27

flanagan, bridges, berenger and gossett
Cleverly playing with the idea that even superheroes have to deal with growing older, this playful and knowing comedy romp is packed with witty touches, from the strain of doing what used to come easily to the annoyances of super-farts. With an energetic but never breakneck pace, the film is steadily entertaining, especially when it finds comedy in the characters. The cheap gags aren't quite as funny.
In an Irish retirement home, ageing superheroes aren't quite as in control of their abilities as they used to be. At least they don't have to wear lycra like current celebrity hero Celestro (Abeysekera). When Madera (Flanagan) turns up, she relishes living near two exes, former leader Ray (Berenger) and speedster Pendle (Gossett). When one friend dies, Ray suspects something isn't right, but no one will listen to the ravings of an old man. So he convinces his old sidekick Ted (Bridges) to get the gang back together and save the world one last time.
The screenwriters have a lot of fun with the premise, taking their time setting up the characters by sending them into a variety of amusing situations, from a not-so-impressive fan day to a bit of crime-fighting that backfires. Meanwhile, the villainous undertaking is also barbed, as local teens are vaping stolen superpowers for a temporary kick. The bigger plan is of course much more menacing, and it's engaging to watch these pensioners show that they still have some spark.

The acting is deliberately deadpan, the only way to maintain dignity in a movie that's so resolutely silly. Playing things straight allows these veteran actors to deliver some terrifically sarcastic zingers while building a nice sense of camaraderie between each other. Best of all, Berenger, Bridges, Gossett and Flanagan never forget that they're playing retirees; there are no idiotic Expendables-style antics here. And Abeysekera's Celestro is a hilarious poser. So even if the villain is a little nonsensical, the action scenes have a raw nuttiness that carries an emotional kick.

The central nefarious plan is hinged on the fact that no one will miss a few old people, so why not steal their supernatural abilities and take over the world? And since the effects are more eye-catching for their simplicity, there's a loose honesty that makes even the most absurd wackiness rather endearing. It's also nice that the film doesn't wear out its welcome, quietly layering in its themes then wrapping up the corny plot with another dumb joke.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 10.Jul.19

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