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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 20.Jan.21
The Exception Undtagelsen
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Jesper W Nielsen
scr Christian Torpe
prd Marcella Linstad Dichmann, Miriam Norgaard, Mille Bjorke
with Danica Curcic, Amanda Collin, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Lene Maria Christensen, Olaf Johannessen, Magnus Krepper, Simon Sears, Borut Veselko, Susan A Olsen, Sergej Trifunovic, Morten Hauch-Fausboll, Likho Mango
release US Jan.20 sbiff,
Den 2.Jul.20, UK 22.Jan.21
Is it streaming?
Issues flutter through each relationship in this dramatic thriller, from insecurity to micro-aggression to murder. While it brushes against enormous global themes, the film's actually a psychological unpicking of connections between four women. But even if the idea is ambitious, taking an inventive look at a seriously dark side of human nature, it's impossible to ignore the fact that it's a female-centred thriller written and directed by men.
At a Copenhagen charity that responds to genocide, librarian Anne-Lise (Knudsen) is feeling isolated from her colleagues. So there's already a rift when researchers Iben and Malene (Curcic and Collin) receive grisly death threats that relate to a study they did on a Serbian war criminal (Veselko). Then secretary Camilla (Christensen) gets one too, and they all begin to suspect Anne-Lise. Director Paul (Johannessen) just wants everyone to calm down, but as strange things begin happening, and when someone dies, the women turn on each other.
Slick and overlong, the film is peppered with intriguing notes from Iben's research into war criminals, who aren't hugely different from anyone else in their reactions to extreme situations. And each woman has issues with her man: Iben is intrigued by shaggy journalist Gunnar (Krepper) and haunted by the ghost of an African child soldier (Mongo), Malene (Collin) worries that her arthritis is jeopardising her relationship with her boyfriend (Sears), Camilla fantasises about her affair with a thug (Trifunovic), and Anne-Lise gets stoic support from her husband (Hauch-Fausboll).
Performances are nicely understated, capturing the inner thoughts of these four women as they circle around each other with increasing anger, paranoia and mistrust, which pushes them to some seriously bizarre behaviour. So even if the plot feels somewhat contrived and corny, the actors keep scenes grounded. This allows the connections between these women to become gripping even if they never reveal as much about humanity as is clearly intended, because the demands of a deranged thriller take over.
The title obliquely refers to how there's always an exception to the rule: everyone feels killer impulses, and almost all of us control them. The provocative ways these characters react raise some issues to think about. So it's a shame that neither Nielsen's direction nor Torpe's script allows a female perspective to emerge, essentially defining everything through the eyes of the men. This leaves the story's twists and turns feeling both clever and strangely anti-climactic, because they sidestep some far more interesting ideas.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Vadim Perelman
scr Ilya Zofin
prd Ilya Zofin, Vadim Perelman, Timur Bekmambetov, Rauf Atamalibekov
with Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Lars Eidinger, Jonas Nay, Leonie Benesch, David Schutter, Luisa-Celine Gaffron, Alexander Beyer, Andreas Hofer, Nico Ehrenteit, Giuseppe Schillaci, Antonin Chalon, Serge Barbagallo
release UK 22.Jan.21
BERLIN FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Based on an extraordinary true story from 1942 Nazi-occupied France, this drama has a riveting narrative that pulls the viewer into the story. Director Vadim Perelman creates a skilfully unfussy period style, avoiding genre cliches to focus on characters who are finely brought to life by an excellent cast. The running time is a little long, but the story is so vivid that it remains both fascinating and involving.
As he tries to escape to Switzerland, Gilles (Biscayart) is captured by the Germans. The son of a rabbi, he claims to be Persian, simply because he has a Persian book in his possession. And since frazzled officer Koch (Eidinger) dreams of opening a restaurant in Tehran after the war, he asks Gilles to teach him. But Gilles knows only one word of Farsi, so he has to invent a fake language word by word, memorising it himself while teaching Koch. Meanwhile, hotheaded young guard Max (Nay) is determined to expose Gilles as a fraud.
The film has an eye-catching production design that's cleverly lit to draw the eye into the scene, while the character-based story offers an unusual take on the usual Nazi wartime setting, finding complexities even in the most casually cruel people, including the rather too-villainous Max. Violence is horrifically ever-present in the background, which makes it unusually chilling. And when Gilles and Koch begin speaking "Farsi" to each other, there's a lot more going on than just speaking a fake language.
Biscayart sharply captures Gilles' precarious existence, as he miraculously makes it through various perilous situations, knowing how lucky he has been. The performance highlights his quick wit, which makes him engaging, so it's clear to see why Koch is drawn to him. Eidinger adds terrific nuance to Koch, including some dark emotions and snappy attitude. Nay's Max is also an intriguing character, even if he seems to be the designated baddie of the piece. His messy romantic triangle with Gaffron and Benesch adds a refreshing distraction.
The relentless viciousness of the Germans runs like a current under each scene, fuelled by their vile bigotry. But Perelman carefully avoids sensationalising anything, adding little points of sharp suspense in unexpected places. When the prisoners are shipped off to Poland, everyone knows the fate that awaits them. But Gilles' journey continually takes unexpected turns, and when he realises that just keeping himself alive isn't enough, it takes on an even more powerful resonance. And the story carries a stunning final kick.
The White Tiger
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
Is it streaming?
Opening with a swirl of flashbacks, this energetic Indian drama bristles with life and humour even as it promises that things are going to take some very dark turns. It's a clever depiction of how societies keep people in their place, and how intelligence has nothing to do with education or wealth. Writer-director Ramin Bahrani tells the story skilfully, creating vivid characters while layering in a range of pungent themes.
In a poor rural village, Balram (Gourav) is a bright spark who thinks of himself as a white tiger who comes around once in a generation. So he plots to become the driver to Ashok (Rao), son of local gangster The Stork (Manjrekar). The American-educated Ashok and his untraditional wife Pinky (Chopra Jonas) decide that Balram represents the new India, an untapped market, and they take him to Delhi with them. In the big city, they encourage him to develop his own dreams, which might be dangerous for a servant whose fate is pre-determined.
Bahrani sets the scene bracingly, depicting how difficult life is for the poor in the "world's greatest democracy". Then Balram gets a glimpse of charting his own course in life and being treated like a person with value, so when reality closes in on him, his emotional reaction has a powerful kick. And Ashok's inner life is just as complex, a collision of conflicting dreams and responsibilities. Based on Aravind Adiga's novel, the story uses these things to play with audience sympathies and grapple with much bigger issues.
Gourav gives Balram a blast of cheeky physicality, always thinking ahead to his next move, never accepting his lot in life. He learns quickly not to say what he thinks, and the performance shines both in moments of smirking humour and pitch-black emotion. Rao gives Ashok a fascinating inner life, struggling against the injustices he sees in his country and the fact that he has to play the game. So he befriends Balram, breaking the rules. And his relationship with Chopra Jonas' expressive Pinky also goes against the grain.
Balram observes that, unlike the poor, rich men are born with opportunities they can waste. So the film sharply captures the love-hate relationship between masters and servants. These ideas sharply echo far beyond Indian society. The simmering rage of the oppressed is palpable, as is the fact that for them, being good isn't an option: they have to survive and even sacrifice their past. Which allows the film to offer a staggering glimpse of the future.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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