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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 11.Oct.20

Never Gonna Snow Again   Śniegu Już Nigdy Nie Będzie
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
Never Gonna Snow Again
dir Malgorzata Szumowska
scr Michal Englert, Malgorzata Szumowska
prd Agnieszka Wasiak, Mariusz Wlodarski, Viola Fugen, Michael Weber
with Alec Utgoff, Maja Ostaszewska, Agata Kulesza, Weronika Rosati, Katarzyna Figura, Lukasz Simlat, Andrzej Chyra, Krzysztof Czeczot, Maciej Drosio, Astrid Nanowska, Wojciech Starostecki, Jerzy Nasierowski
release UK Oct.20 lff,
Pol 16.Oct.20
20/Poland 1h53

london film fest

Is it streaming?

utgoff, simlat and rosati
Polish filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska takes another deep dive into her nation's psyche. Like a meditative balm, the film cuts through the noise of modern life to give its characters peace at the hands of a gifted stranger. A parable about yearning to return to simpler times, the film is expertly written, directed and played by a gifted ensemble. And it cuts through the surface with wit, emotion and brutal honesty.
With his dulcet Russian words, muscled immigrant Zenia (Utgoff) casually worms his way into a gated McMansion community outside Warsaw, working as a masseur whose healing touch helps frazzled rich people calm down. Clients include Maria (Ostaszewska), who badly needs Zenia's help to cope with her chaotic schedule and monstrous kids; Ewa (Kulesza), who worries about her brainy teen son (Drosio); and a cancer survivor (Simlat) whose young wife Wika (Rosati) takes an interest in Zenia. And there's something magical about him, as he even reaches the angry soldier (Chyra) who's been terrorising the neighbours.
Along with filmmaker Englert's exquisite cinematography, the dialog cleverly reveals underlying prejudices. Although everyone makes a joke about Zenia's hometown being near Chernobyl, these Poles have a nostalgia for their Soviet-occupied past, finding his Russian lullabies more hypnotically soothing than their usual drugs of choice. In her riotously cluttered home, Maria glugs wine like water. Another woman (Figura) asks him to massage her beloved bulldogs.

Performances are terrific, adding real-world edge to the satirical tone. Utgoff has a matter-of-fact serenity that makes it easy to understand why everyone's drawn to him. No one bothers to notice his own lonely nostalgic longings; each of his clients has his or her own complicated life. The actors are terrific at digging into the roles, finding cynicism, emotion and pain in unexpected corners. As usual, the radiant Kulesza is a standout as the fiery but exhausted Ewa.

It's fascinating to see the quiet effect this young man has on people distracted by their business, and how they spark something in him as well. The film quickly gets under the skin with its visual and tonal quality, then surprises us as the story unfolds, shifts and begins to reveal its offbeat secrets in fantastical cutaways. It's a fiendishly clever exploration of how modern society has corrupted our ability to be truly satisfied. And in the end, this movie makes us wish we had someone like Zhenia to help us find our happy place.

cert 15g themes, language, sexuality 9.Oct.20 lff

Song Lang  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Song Lang
dir Leon Le
scr Leon Le, Nguyen Thi Minh Ngoc
prd Irene Trinh, Ngo Thanh Van
with Isaac, Lien Binh Phat, Minh Phuong, Tu Quyen, Thanh Tu, Kieu Trinh, Kim Phuong, Huu Quoc, Thach Kim Long, Huynh Ngoc, Ron Vuong, Bao Chau Nguyen
release Vie 17.Aug.18,
US 9.Oct.20
18/Vietnam 1h42

raindance fest

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phat and isaac
Set in 1980s Saigon, this Vietnamese drama is beautifully shot in colourful locations, recounting a strong story that has wider resonance. The plot centres on a gay romance so understated that it's barely visible. But the story echoes with pungent ideas about identity and connection. The film's style sometimes becomes slightly cheesy, with side actors whose inexperience shows, but it's an intriguing, thoughtful story that gets under the skin.
An enforcer for loan shark Auntie Nga (Minh Phuong), Dung (Phat) is the coolest guy in the neighbourhood. But he's hiding a sensitive soul under his "Thunderbolt" bravado. His next job is to collect a debt from a Cai Luong folk opera troupe, but he becomes entranced by their performance, specifically actor-singer Phung (Isaac). Despite the tensions between them, their shared childhood interest in opera helps them strike up a tentative friendship. It's clear that their feelings run much deeper, so the question is whether they'll be able to admit that to anyone, including themselves.
The "song lang" is a traditional rhythmic instrument, guiding musicians along the correct path. And the words literally mean "two men". But Cai Luong stories don't usually end happily, so there's a strong sense that these two men could never hope to be more than friends, and even that seems iffy. Director Le lets all of this play out in gorgeous-looking scenes, especially those set in the theatre with the outrageous sets, costumes, makeup, wigs and backstage camaraderie. And even on the streets and rooftops, he evokes a dreamlike tone.

Both Phat and Isaac have terrific presence on-screen, offering subtle touches that make their characters fascinating, deftly avoiding stereotypes. Isaac (a member of a boyband) also gets to perform some elaborate Cai Luong numbers. The script sets them on pointed parallel journeys: Dung taps into his artistic soul, while Phung finds the real-life experience he needs to emote on-stage. Complicating things, Dung has an angry girlfriend (Tu) and Phung is being set up with his leading lady (Quyen).

With its operatic touches and lush production design, this film often feels almost fantastical. Character interaction is through philosophical dialog and yearning glances, while Le deliberately hedges away from depicting sex. The closest Dung and Phung get to touching is playing Nintendo together, but their attraction is still powerfully felt. And while the film's final act stretches their emotional frustration to the breaking point, where the story ends up is elegantly staged, poignant and moving.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Oct.20

200 Meters  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
200 meters
dir-scr Ameen Nayfeh
prd May Odeh
with Ali Suliman, Anna Unterberger, Motaz Malhees, Mahmoud Abu Eita, Lana Zreik, Nabil Al Raee, Gassan Abbas, Samia Bakri, Maryam Nayfeh, Salma Nayfeh, Tawfeeq Nayfeh, Ghassan Ashkar
release UK Oct.20 lff
20/Palestine 1h36

london film fest

Is it streaming?

There's an everyday authenticity to this Palestinian drama, about a family divided by a series of degrading obstacles. In its specific story, the film reflects difficulties of normal life in this part of the world. Both the family drama and a harrowing road trip are thoroughly engaging, even if plot points and issues are sometimes over-egged. With his first feature, filmmaker Ameen Nayfeh clearly has a lot to say.
Living with his mother (Bakri) in the West Bank, Mustafa (Suliman) communicates with his cheeky daughters (Maryam and Salma Nayfeh) using flickering lights 200 meters across the no-man's land between Palestine and Israel, where they live with his overworked wife Salwa (Zreik) and their older brother Majd (Tawfeeq Nayfeh). When Mustafa's identity card expires, he becomes stranded on the wrong side of the wall, which suddenly becomes even more important when Majd ends up in hospital. At the end of his rope, he hires a smuggler (Raee) to sneak him over the border.
The strain on this marriage is clear from the start, as Salwa complains that Mustafa is always coming and going, never around when she needs help. Because his wife and children are Israeli, Mustafa could easily get a residence permit, but he refuses to submit to a system he considers to be illegitimate. After being stopped at the border, much of the film takes place during Mustafa's epic illicit journey alongside colourful people from key demographics, including an optimistic teen (Eita), woolly activist (Malhees) and clueless German filmmaker (Unterberger).

Always watchable, Suliman digs deep with this performance, adding complexity to each scene. Engaging and expressive, he's a terrific actor who's able to bring the audience with him into even the most difficult situation, while generating superb chemistry with everyone around him. The supporting characters aren't quite as layered, but each offers a sharp perspective, including Zreik's frazzled Salwa and Bakri as Mustafa's matter-of-fact mother. As his travel companions, Eita, Malhees and Underberger bring intriguing textures, even if their roles are much more pointed.

Each of the film's checkpoint sequences is remarkably well-staged, fraught with tension that feels eerily common, which doesn't make it any less terrifying. Nayfeh packs a lot of personal anger into this story, exploring a range of insults that Palestinian people are forced to endure simply to get through the day. So even if the film feels somewhat constructed, it's hugely involving and ultimately moving as it makes a silent plea on behalf of young people whose futures are being discarded.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Oct.20 lff

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