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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 28.Mar.21

35th BFI Flare shorts...
London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival • held virtually, 18-28.Mar.21

Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: FIVE FILMS FOR FREEDOM | Page 2 of 2

kende dir-scr Moran Nakar
with Adam Kende, Yakir Eliahu Vaknin, Stav Sabag
20/Israel 7m


Cosmopolitan Based on the real experiences of an Ethiopian LGBT activist, this Israeli short observes a grim display of racism in multicultural Tel Aviv. There isn't much of a plot, as the story covers just a brief moment, but filmmaker Nakar finds a lot to say in only seven minutes. Without shouting its themes, this film is a provocative indictment of the endemic bigotry in supposedly enlightened society.

For the first time, Jacob (Kende) works up the courage to attend a gay party at a nightclub, nervous about meeting up with a friend he's made online. Then as he approaches the front of the queue at the door, the doormen dismissively turn him away due to his skin colour. His friend is inside, so he tries his luck a few more times, but the increasingly aggressive bouncers brush him aside to only let light-skinned people inside.

On the bus home, Jacob quietly witnesses a whole range of sexism, racism and homophobia from the other passengers. This is a chilling little film, beautifully shot and edited, and played with sensitive openness by Kende. As a result, everything it observes feels remarkably personal, a knowing slice of life that gently highlights an enormously important issue. And it also tellingly notes that the queer subculture is just as infused with bigotry as society at large.

25.Mar.21 flare

ahmeti dir-scr Sven Spur
with Mustaf Ahmeti, Vincent van Driessche, Dirk Couvent, Ludovic Harnais
20/Belgium 17m


Eden From Belgium, this darkly expressive short wordlessly depicts a young man's yearning for physical contact, and the various places he can hope to find it. Plus a bit of primal dancing in the rain. It's remarkably hushed and earthy, even as the imagery remains artfully lit and visceral. And while the sexuality isn't graphic, it's sensual and realistic.

The cameras remain close to the lusty young Wolf (Ahmeti), who roams the streets of a city at night, starting with a cruising spot in the park. He then moves on to a spa, where he meets another guy in a pool and follows him into a mirrored cubicle. At home, he addresses his physical and emotional needs in a variety of ways before heading back out to a bar to meet someone else.

The film's breathy silence is augmented by a soundtrack that features ambient noises and only a few moments of subtly emerging musical score. Visually, filmmaker Spur focusses on faces as they come together in random moments of intimacy and ecstasy. It's an astute depiction of a young man seeking not only a connection with someone else but also a better understanding of himself. He may seem insatiable, but his face reveals that he's actually longing for something far deeper.

23.Mar.21 flare

Pujol dir-scr Elena Molina
with Paloma Pujol, Paula Sanz, Chaima Khagouya, Lucia Munoz, Alexia Blanco, Carmen Burdalo
20/Spain 17m

All I Need Is a Ball  

All I Need Is a Ball A relaxed fly-on-the-wall doc from Spain, this short follows a tenacious teen who has developed expert skills at freestyling, manipulating a football in street-style performances. She's hugely entertaining to watch, and her strong personality comes through vividly on-screen, as does her determination to build a team of women who can change the sport. It's a fresh little film, using a range of video formats as these teens send clips back and forth on their phones.

After skipping school to make YouTube videos featuring her astonishing freestyle skills, Paloma is proud that her clips have gone viral. And now she's going to Munich to film with a professional TV crew. Back home, she coaches her friends on tricks and techniques for their upcoming battles while working in a bar to earn some cash. She also busks in the street. But she's facing serious obstacles in her goal of setting up a woman's category in the competitive sport.

Paloma comments that there are hundreds of guys freestyling in Spain, but until now she's been the only girl with a public profile. And she's getting noticed on a global scale, demonstrating fierce moves, including a world record for juggling a mobile phone without using her hands. And as she builds a competitive female team, she is inspiring young women around the country to step out of the shadows. So watching her team take on the boys in a battle is thrilling.

27.Mar.21 flare

gallo and torre dir-scr Luke Willis
with River Gallo, Tim Torre, Justin Chien
21/US 10m

Pool Boy  

Pool Boy There's a powerfully strong story at the centre of this short American drama, which cuts through a culture obsessed with appearances. It's a story of repression that quietly encourages viewers to take control of their own lives and stop being who others think they should be. Writer-director Willis nicely lets the point emerge from the characters and situation through strong acting and filmmaking.

While visiting his home on a break from university, the athletic Austin (Torre) is happy to see his parents' non-binary pool cleaner Star (Gallo), who previously helped him develop his drawing skills. They have a clear spark of interest between them. But then Austin's pal Jake (Chien) turns up with a barrage of casually bigoted comments that push Austin further into the closet. But he longs to honestly express his attraction to Star, and the question is whether he can stand up for who he is.

There's almost enough plot in this film to fuel an entire feature, so it's especially impressive that Willis packs so much into just 10 minutes. And without the usual subplots and angst, he finds the core of the story and brings it out through a series of skilfully light-handed scenes, plus a steamy colour-drenched dream sequence. It's a terrific reminder that everybody lives their own life on their own terms. And not everyone fits into a boring box.

25.Mar.21 flare

Rijkeboer and friend dir-scr Manuel Gubeli
with Sascha Rijkeboer, Tyra Wigg
20/Switzerland 35m

Being Sascha  

Being Sascha Shot like a narrative feature, this mid-length documentary is a fascinating portrait of a trans non-binary artist in Basel who refuses to be put into a box. It's gorgeously shot and edited, with a terrific musical score and an expressive voiceover that guides the audience into Sascha's life, which is wonderfully ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. And Sascha's observations brilliantly take on the limited way most people look at gender, and the problems this creates throughout society.

Sascha thinks that defining a person by their genitals is insulting, and finds it ridiculous that people get angry when they don't get an answer. Sascha is a colourful person who expresses layers of energy in everything they do, an artist with a distinct perspective on the world who speaks about a childhood as a girl, teen years as a trans man, and a realisation that gender was actually irrelevant. In performances, Sascha explores seriously deep topics on-stage, pointing out the absurdities of gender expectations and stereotypes. They also understand the importance of being visible, even if it's sometimes exhausting. And they refuse to be called provocative, when it's society's problem with gender that's the issue.

The film is a mix of stylised new footage, fly-on-the-wall scenes from Sascha's everyday life and striking to-camera interviews that are edited in a way that cleverly breaks the fourth wall. Sascha feels most comfortable as a person who lives outside the usual categories, even if that makes others squirm a bit. They know that living outside the boxes requires a lot more effort to explain and endure. But according to Sascha, how you manifest your gender identity shouldn't be any more complicated than choosing to wear your preferred colour of clothing. This is a pointed, powerful, hugely important film.

27.Mar.21 flare

gimelman dir-scr Omer Sterenberg
with Eitan Gimelman, Louis Abd-El-Massih
19/Israel 11m

Listening In  

Listening In Quietly pointed, this drama plays on a political situation to tell a story that's internalised and strikingly sexy too, all while focussing on a young man's face as he overhears a series of phone conversations. The story feels a little unfinished, remaining perhaps too oblique to carry much of a punch. But it's packed with knowing little details that are strongly provocative.

A young Israeli soldier (Gimelman) works in a listening centre, eavesdropping on Palestinian phone calls and writing up people who are breaking the law. When he discovers that one of his targets is gay, he knows he should report it, but this taps into his own repressed longings. So he becomes fascinated with what this couple is saying to each other, how they intimately express their feelings from a distance. Then he hears them plot a way to illicitly meet up.

These chats resonate strongly deep inside this soldier, as he begins fantasising about having this kind of relationship himself, even as he works to remain neutral under the gaze of his colleagues. This adds a thriller-like tension as he works out how to respond to what he hears. Writer-director Sterenberg cleverly keeps the camera tight on Gimelman's subtly expressive but deliberately impassive face, leaving others blurred in the background. He never says a word, but only listens. And it's in the way he questions himself that the film catches our attention.

25.Mar.21 flare

Tracing Utopia dir-scr Theo Montoya
with Camilo Najar, Camilo Machado, Julian David Moncada, Pablo Mejia, Luis Felipe Arango, Alejandro Hincapie, Alejandro Mendigana, Juan Esteban Perez
narr Theo Montoya
20/Colombia 15m

Son of Sodom  

Son of Sodom From Colombia, this narrative doc follows the filmmaker himself on an odyssey involving a colourful young actor. It's assembled from striking footage shot around the city of Medellin, while writer-director Montoya's voiceover tells the story with a droning, hypnotic quality, saying profound things with almost no inflection at all. It's a haunting little film that gets under the skin, making profound observations that have a dark emotional resonance.

In August 2017, Montoya held a casting session to find for the lead actor for his first feature film. As a result, he casts Camilo, a 21-year-old design student and social media star known by the handle Son of Sodom. Then a week later, Camilo dies of a heroin overdose. So Montoya begins to look into who Camilo was, filming interviews with a wide range of his friends and listening to their stories about a queer subculture that's infused with sex and drugs.

These interviews are intercut with Camilo's audition tape, showing this expressive young non-binary man as he speaks about his life, including anecdotes about coming out to his mother and experimenting with sex and drugs. He also notes that his sexuality has never defined him. Intriguingly, the filmmaker filters Camilo's story through the history of Medellin itself, looking at the city's violent past and more peaceful, hopeful present, and the horrible irony that young people are still throwing their futures away.

27.Mar.21 flare

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall