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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 15.Jun.21

Half Brother   Meio Irmão
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Half Brother
dir-scr Eliane Coster
prd Rogerio Zagallo, Roberto Eiti Hukai
with Natalia Molina, Diego Avelino, Francisco Gomes, Dico Oliveira, Andre Andrade, Eduarda Andrade, Aury Porto, Clayton Mariano, Kiara Faria, Lucas Oranmian, Luiz Eduardo Frin, Pedro Basilio
release Br 5.Mar.20,
US 15.Jun.21
18/Brazil 1h38

Is it streaming?

molina and avelino
With an earthy, naturalistic approach, writer-director Eliane Coster follows two teens on unexpected odysseys. Set in Sao Paulo, the narrative feels loose and unstructured, catching offhanded moments of both comedy and drama. The script is a bit uneven, but holds the interest with intriguing characters who are facing serious issues in their lives. It's an unusual combination of grit and sensitivity that refuses to shy away from difficult details.

With her mother missing for a week, 16-year-old Sandra (Molina) has run out of money and food. So she tracks down her estranged half-brother Jorge (Avelino). He works installing surveillance systems with his father (Gomes), and is struggling with his own problem: after recording a violent homophobic attack on his best friend Rui (Oliveira), the attackers viciously threaten Jorge. This is complicated by the fact that Jorge is deeply in the closet, hiding his real feelings for Rui. And neither Sandra nor Jorge has a clue how to get through their own situation.
The minimalistic filmmaking makes it tricky for the audience to understand nuances in the story, as characters and connections are initially undefined. It's clear that Sandra isn't helping herself, barging in on people and refusing to accept assistance. And Jorge is so repressed that he's missing his own life. Their confrontations with friends, including those they are attracted to, are beautifully staged to convey the messy web of emotions that both Sandra and Jorge are trying to keep hidden beneath a tough surface.

With raw honesty, each actor infuse his or her character with beautifully subtle character quirks. Molina's hot-tempered Sandra is stubbornly independent, getting right in the face of anyone who crosses her. And she even has the rap skills to back up her attitude. By contrast, Avelino is thoughtful and private as Jorge cultivates his macho image, irritated that Sandra has invasively figured out his secret. Scenes with side characters are strikingly well-played by the supporting cast as well.

While never seeming to contain any messaging, the film quietly explores some darkly important themes, from the way Sandra finds herself in such a precarious economic position to how Jorge feels unable to reveal himself. Coster's direction is so intimate that we can't help but feel for these young people as they face things they've never been taught to deal with. And without ever being obvious about it, the film reminds us that facing difficulty with someone, even if they can't actually help, is far better than doing it alone.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 14.Jun.21

It Must Be Heaven  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5   MUST must see SEE
It Must Be Heaven
dir-scr Elia Suleiman
prd Edouard Weil, Laurine Pelassy, Elia Suleiman, Thanassis Karathanos, Martin Hampel, Serge Noel
with Elia Suleiman, Kareem Ghneim, Tarik Kopty, Vincent Maraval, Nancy Grant, Gael Garcia Bernal, Stephen McHattie, Kwasi Songui, Gregoire Colin, Claire Dumas, Fadi Sakr, Guy Sprung
release US Oct.19 ciff,
UK 18.Jun.21
19/Palestine 1h42

flare film fest

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grant, suleiman and garcia
From Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, this is a witty exploration of the points where culture and religion collide and overlap. Packed with knowing observations and details, the film travels on a journey through a series of absurd moments that wryly depict human nature. It's a consistently engaging and surprising film, with a steady stream of telling gags sharply photographed by Sofian El Fani and edited by Veronique Lange.
In his hometown of Nazareth, Elia (Suleiman) silently observes the colourfully varied people around him, including Christians, Arabs and Jews, his bickering neighbours (Kopty and Ghneim), gangs of energetic youth, and various police officers and soldiers. Then he takes a bumpy flight to Paris, where he watches beautiful women in the streets, as well as a column of tanks. He also meets with a verbose, dismissive movie producer (Maraval). On to New York, Elia makes a couple of oddly pointed public appearances, then is brushed aside by another producer (Grant) and visits a fortune-teller (McHattie).
With his watchful eyes and trademark hats and glasses, there are echoes of Monsieur Hulot and Mr Bean in Suleiman's comical adventures, including well-staged moments of broad slapstick and quite a few laugh-out-loud situations. Each sequence touches on something that's both everyday and extraordinary, depending on the perspective, from ambient sounds in the streets to what's acceptable and what certainly isn't. And the contrasts are hilarious, with Israeli soldiers swapping sunglasses, French policemen on skates or one-wheels, and Americans toting big guns.

It's unusually easy for us to simply accompany Suleiman on this odyssey, seeing everything through his eyes. The lack of expression on his face allows us to infer our own thoughts and feelings, even as he guides us with the direction of his gaze. His blankly deadpan responses to the ridiculous people he meets are hilarious, and actually say something urgent. Many encounters he witnesses are amusingly choreographed to create clever visual punchlines. His visit to airport security is particularly astute, and very funny too.

Common threads in each location offer a connective narrative, for example acknowledging that most people are trying to get something for nothing. Along with various expressions of religion, language and gender, there are a wide range of angles on military presence, observed through a bemused eye, which makes a remarkably fresh point. Most important is how his observations cut straight across lines created by age, traditions and politics, revealing a picture of a world at peace.

cert 15 themes, violence 9.Jun.21

To the Ends of the Earth  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
To the Ends of the Earth
dir-scr Kiyoshi Kurosawa
prd Eiko Mizuno Gray, Jason Gray, Toshikazu Nishigaya
with Atsuko Maeda, Adiz Rajabov, Shota Sometani, Tokio Emoto, Ryo Kase, Yunusjon Asqarov, Zulfiya Raimkulova, Mexmonali Salimov, Muyassar Berdikulova, Mirza Azizov, Ma'ruf Otajonov, Jaxongir Tokiddinov
release Jpn 14.Jun.19,
UK Oct.19 lff, US 11.Jun.21
19/Japan 2h00

flare film fest

Is it streaming?

A loose, freeform comedy-drama about a hapless Japanese television crew on location in Uzbekistan, this film holds the interest with its unpredictable characters, unusual settings and events that aren't as random as they seem. Writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa maintains an honest tone with a documentary style, adding unexpected humour while digging into deeper themes. And flights of fancy allow us to see further into the central character's musical imagination.
Host of a vapid Japanese travel show, Yoko (Maeda) is visiting Central Asia with a three-man television crew. Missing her boyfriend back in Tokyo, she's clearly not enjoying this, moving from one awkward situation to another assisted by sensitive Uzbek driver/translator Temur (Rajabov). The show's director Yoshioka (Sometani) dismisses visiting cultural sites, preferring silly stunts, so Yoko suggests freeing a neglected goat. And later she has a scary and sharply pointed run-in with the police. Meanwhile, Yoko has other things on her mind, and needs to make a big decision about her future.
Varied locations offer fascinating textures and knowing cultural observations. Yoko is unsure about everything here, from sexist attitudes to undercooked rice to rickety funfair rides, but once the camera is rolling she puts on her chirpy smile and pretends that everything is amazing. Alone she's more thoughtful and curious, exploring the streets and interacting with perplexed locals. A moment when she sees herself singing with a Tashkent orchestra is beautifully played, as are sequences that are comical, suspenseful and wrenchingly emotional.

Maeda has terrific presence as a young woman who feels like she's on the wrong career path: she'd rather be a pop singer (which Maeda actually is). She gives Yoko a remarkable sense of uncertainty, which adds a vivid undercurrent to her resilient work ethic and helps us sympathise with her odyssey of self-discovery. The engaging Rajabov offers charm and intelligence in his role, while the crew hilariously treats Yoko like a prop, worrying passers-by who think they're abusing a young girl.

Ironically, Kurosawa's footage is far more entertaining than anything Yoko's crew captures. This film should be mandatory viewing for anyone who aspires to become a TV presenter, and several characters admit to doubts about the circumstances that have derailed their ambitions. Perhaps if they'd explore their passions their work would come to life, raising the level of the low-brow travelogue they're producing here while discovering the deeper human connection between these two very different countries. And Yoko's final epiphany is witty and moving.

cert pg themes, language 8.Jun.21

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