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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 24.Mar.20

Darkroom: Drops of Death   Tödliche Tropfen
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr-prd Rosa von Praunheim
with Bozidar Kocevski, Heiner Bomhard, Katy Karrenbauer, Christiane Ziehl, Bardo Bohlefeld, Lucas Rennebach, Christian Dieterle, Ulf Peter Schmitt, Sohel Altan Gol, Henry Morales, Bastian von Bomches, Maksim Djadjov
release Ger 30.Jan.20
19/Germany 1h29

kocevski and bomhard
There's an eerie understated quality to this low-budget German thriller, which is loosely based on real events. Filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim gives the film a deliberately theatrical feel, using a fragmented narrative, limited cast and simply staged scenes that are loaded with subtext. It's a strikingly original way to tell a darkly disturbing true story, even if it's almost clinical in its intensely overserious approach.
A nurse training to become a teacher, Lars (Kocevski) moves to Berlin to be with his boyfriend Roland (Bomhard), who's in a band with best pals Bastian and Manuel (Bohlefeld and Rennebach), although they're dubious of Lars. As Lars and Roland renovate their flat, they build a happy life together, casually maintaining an open relationship. But Roland doesn't know that Lars is roaming gay cruising grounds giving men potentially fatal drops of a homemade drug. Then at his murder trial, the ruthless prosecutor (Karrenbauer) calls a range of witnesses and survivors to testify against him.
The story is told out of sequence, framed with scenes of Lars on suicide watch in prison while flashing back to both the trial and earlier parts of his story. Everything is filtered through Lars' imaginative perspective (for example, he envisions a disco ball in his prison hospital room). And his mind also flickers back to earlier points in his life, from his childhood (played by Djadjov) to various points in his seven-year relationship with Roland, including key events with both Manuel and Bastian. By jumping around in time, von Praunheim removes much of the emotional momentum, although there are some pungent moments along the way.

Kocevski has an offhanded undercurrent of charm as a reticent young man with seriously freaky obsessions. His awkward interaction feels both naive and sinister at the same time, a disconnected performance that cleverly matches the filmmaking approach. The surrounding cast is equally heightened, reflecting Lars' point of view as events spiral around him. Opposite him, the likeable Bomhard builds some nice chemistry as a nice guy who missed all the signs that Lars wasn't who he thought he was.

The heavily stylised visual design and narrative structure are a bit distancing, adding a stagy documentary tone and sometimes beginning to feel a bit preachy. But there are clever touches throughout the film that bring the story and themes to vivid life in ways that continually surprise the audience. And the deadpan direction and acting create an intriguing mix of realism and almost fantastical nightmarish nastiness.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 14.Mar.20

Top 3   Topp 3
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Top 3
dir Sofie Edvardsson
scr-prd Simon Osterhof
voices Eric Ernerstedt, Jonas Jonsson, Caroline Johansson Kuhmunen
release US Jun.19 fff,
Swe 30.Jul.19, UK 9.Mar.20
19/Sweden 45m

david and anton
Snappy and clever, with eye-catching animation and a snarky sense of humour, this Swedish romantic-comedy takes a fresh look at issues of self-confidence and relationships. Not only is it gorgeously hand-drawn in a distinctive style, but the story and characters resonate on a variety of layers, including how the central character defines his life based on witty top three lists. It's a beautiful little story packed with insight.
"OK: top three idiots I hate," Anton (Ernerstedt) begins, starting with Sweden's Prime Minister and continuing with his own self-loathing and feelings of frustrations about his ex David (Jonsson). Flashback to Anton's happy childhood, lifelong best pal in Miriam (Kuhmunen) and feelings that his goals were never urgent because life was already "perfectly fine". Then David's family moves to Japan, leaving a hole in his life, and studying economics at university isn't as satisfying as chatting online to David. As their connection grows, Anton visits Tokyo and David spends an idyllic, loved-up summer in Sweden.
The colourful imagery quickly cycles through an inventive range of scenes and graphics that pull us into Anton's perspective, including his easily identifiable feelings of inadequacy: he wants to be charismatic and ambitious but instead feels clumsy and lazy. He considered himself dull and ordinary until he met David. Then his dreams and expectations create a whole range of emotions. All of this is rendered in simple animation that's brightly hued and packed with amusing detail.

Characters are remarkably complex considering the film's postmodern storytelling. Anton narrates his life from his own skewed perspective, complete with pointed observations on politics, culture and the people around him. There's an ongoing sense of how society has let him (and his parents) down with the steady decline of community values. But it's Anton's emotional vulnerabilities that make him so likeable, highlighting his gentle clashes with the far more adventurous David. This becomes even more apparent during their holiday in India.

Anton's top threes are hilarious, from reasons to procrastinate to his fears about air travel or the fact that two chillies on a menu back home are not the same as two chillies on a menu in Mumbai. The conversations between Anton and David ripple with humour and warmth, constantly spinning in telling directions while observing their increasing closeness. Knowing that this is heading for a breakup is a little niggle, but the way the film explores how tricky it is to merge two people's separate desires and yearnings is both smart and moving. This plays out in ways that are realistic and beautifully observant, with lingering ripples of emotion.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 13.Mar.20

The Truth   La Vérité
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Truth
dir-scr Hirokazu Kore-eda
prd Muriel Merlin
with Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Clementine Grenier, Manon Clavel, Alain Libolt, Christian Crahay, Roger Van Hool, Ludivine Sagnier, Laurent Capelluto, Maya Sansa, Jackie Berroyer
release US Oct.19 ciff,
Fr 25.Dec.19, UK 20.Mar.20
19/France 1h47


deneuve and binoche
Japanese maestro Hirokazu Kore-eda brings his gentle powers of observation to France for another warm drama with witty undercurrents. The film has an enjoyably offhanded, relaxed tone, livened up with barbed dialog and spiky character interaction that offer clever insight into the nature of family relationships. And even if it feels rather slight, it's played to understated perfection by gifted cast who fill each scene with telling details.
Just as outspoken veteran actress Fabienne (Deneuve) publishes her memoir The Truth, her New York-based screenwriter daughter Lumir (Binoche) travels to Paris for a visit, accompanied by her actor husband Hank (Hawke) and their observant daughter Charlotte (Grenier). Convinced her next movie, a sci-fi drama about an ageless woman, will be a bomb, Fabienne is unbothered by Lumir's annoyed reaction to the fibs in her autobiography, such as neglecting to mention her loyal assistant (Libolt) or claiming that Lumir's dad (Van Hool) is dead. But then Fabienne is a master at creating her own reality.
"My memories, my book," Fabienne says defiantly. While prowling around the connections between these people, Kore-eda's script quietly explores how unreliable memories can be, mainly because we are always changing. The film within the film (which is based on a short story by Ken Liu) cleverly toys with this idea using darker drama and an offbeat premise. So Fabienne is taken aback to meet the actress (Sagnier) who plays her character at age 38. Or the even younger actress (Clavel) playing her mother. Indeed, Kore-eda is having fun with the surreal realities of a movie set, subtly touching on bigger themes.

As always, Deneuve commands the screen, layering in fascinating details as a woman who is blithely unapologetic. Binoche meets this with a wonderfully textured turn that captures a range of emotions in her messy relationship with her mother. These two women dance around each other in complex ways, continually shifting roles. The supporting cast remains nicely around the edges, with a standout role for Clavel as the young actress playing the forever-young mother.

This isn't a film about big family melodrama, but rather the microscopic details in lifelong relationships. "Take better care of your entourage," says Fabienne's partner Jacques (Crahay), who knows better than to ever share his true opinions with her. The catharsis in this film isn't a giant one, but rather something finally spoken aloud with unexpected ripples. It's a lovely story about the everyday accumulation of fiction we accept about ourselves and each other.

cert pg themes, language 20.Mar.20

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