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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 3.Oct.21

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir-scr Mamoru Hosoda
prd Yuichiro Saito
voices Kaho Nakamura, Ryo Narita, Rira Ikura, Shota Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Koji Yakusho, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Sumi Shimamoto, Ken Ishiguro, Ryoko Moriyama, Ermhoi, Kenjiro Tsuda
release Jpn 16.Jul.21,
US Sep.21 nyff, UK Oct.21 lff
21/Japan Studio Chizu 2h01

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A spectacularly animated riff on Beauty and the Beast, this Japanese drama layers in social media themes with complex explorations of pungent issues like grief and child abuse. It's a fascinating approach to a story that's packed with surprises, even as it sometimes feels wildly over-emotional or somewhat gimmicky. Filmmaker Mamoru Hosada (see Mirai) is skilled at maintaining perspective to tell a story that's vividly visual and hauntingly resonant.
Still grieving her mother's death, teen Suzu (Nakamura) abandons her musical gifts and withdraws from everyone but best pal Hiro (Ikura). Both join the virtual world U, which creates an avatar based on biometric data. Suzu is shocked that hers, Belle, is glamorous and musically gifted, quickly capturing attention and becoming a megastar in U. Now Suzu is terrified of her classmates learning her true identity. Then in U she meets the disruptive Dragon. Everyone's frightened of this beast, but Suzu is curious, which puts her on a collision course with U's enforcer Justian (Morikawa).
Everything that happens in U mirrors Suzu's real life in school. She struggles with the fact that her closest childhood buddy Shinobu (Narita) has grown into a hotshot jock, and she wishes she had the confidence of popular girl Luka (Tamashiro). And while the film's obvious trajectory is for Suzu to discover her own voice, there's rather a lot more going on with her, as well as in the lives of her friends and people she meets along the way who force her to make some tough decisions.

Intriguingly, Suzu is portrayed as emotionally volatile, erupting into hysterical sobbing at almost everything, crippled by self-doubt and paralysed by the thought of speaking to anyone. But then, most people in this story are afraid to express their feelings. While characters are rendered in traditional anime style, the way they move and interact is eye-catching. And the settings are simply glorious, from U's wildly fantastical population and landscapes to the lush hills and rivers of Suzu's rainy hometown.

Parallels to the familiar fairy tale are woven into the narrative, complete with several pointed visual references to the Disney classic, but events take a few distinctly dramatic turns along the way, drawing on the duality between real people and the faces they present online. And while the vicious trolls are nasty enough, it's the real-world horrors that ultimately come into focus here, highlighting society's struggle to respond to child abuse. And like her mother, Suzu ultimately realises that she can be a hero.

cert pg themes, language, violence 29.Sep.21 lff

Compartment No 6   Hytti Nro 6
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Compartment No 6
dir Juho Kuosmanen
prd Emilia Haukka, Jussi Rantamaki
scr Juho Kuosmanen, Andris Feldmanis, Livia Ulman
with Seidi Haarla, Yuriy Borisov, Dinara Drukarova, Julia Aug, Lidia Kostina, Tomi Alatalo, Stanislav Sergeev, Nadezhda Kulakova, Sergey Agafonov, Viktor Chuprov, Denis Pyanov, Galina Petrova
release UK Oct.21 lff,
Fin 29.Oct.21
21/Finland 1h47

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haarla and borisov
A celebration of brief connections that can change a life, this offbeat Finnish comedy-drama is set on a long Russian train journey. But it isn't the typical road movie that it seems to be, about a budding romance or friendship; it's a more nuanced exploration of self-discovery. Filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen has a terrific eye for detail, both in people and places, so the story reverberates with witty real-life touches.
A Finnish archaeology student in Moscow, Laura (Haarla) has shacked up with her professor Irina (Drukarova), and is annoyed when Irina says she can no longer travel with her to see the ancient petroglyphs in Murmansk. So Laura heads off on her own, and the fellow traveller in her second class train compartment is Ljoha (Borisov), a miner who immediately gets drunk and assaults her. Unable to change compartments or return to Irina, Laura decides to carry on with her trip. And she realises that Ljoha is smart and funny, and also unexpectedly reliable.
Over several days on the train, Ljoha introduces Laura to a riotous babushka (Kostina) with a cat and homemade hooch during an overnight stop, then Laura brings a guitar-strumming Finnish boy (Alatalo) into the compartment. Cinematographer J-P Passi captures this expertly, sticking closely to Laura in confined spaces while offering surprising views of characters and wintry landscapes. And the Murmansk scenes are beautifully understated, accompanied by Desireless' glorious anthem Voyage Voyage.

The camerawork gives the performances a documentary realism, while the actors are expressing deeper feelings under the surface. Both Haarla and Borisov are terrific as flawed young people who begin to question their self-assured views. Each moment is played with attention to telling detail. Their trajectory rejects expectations, as the story isn't actually about their connection, even though it turns out to be powerful. And the side roles burst with personality, notably Aug as the carriage's sardonic attendant and Kostina as a woman who simply knows.

This is a movie for anyone who loves journeys, as it packs a range of experiences along the rails that challenge the intrepid Laura to broaden her view of life around her. The story recognises the inherent value of unexpected side-trips and the importance of refusing to accept that getting there is impossible. It also depicts the life-changing impact of looking at seemingly unlikely people in a deeper way. Because even if these are only brief acquaintances, they can enrich you and linger with you forever.

cert 15 themes, language 21.Feb.21

Paris, 13th District   Les Olympiades, Paris 13e
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Paris, 13th District
dir Jacques Audiard
prd Valerie Schermann
scr Celine Sciamma, Lea Mysius, Jacques Audiard
with Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, Noemie Merlant, Jehnny Beth, Camille Leon-Fucien, Oceane Cairaty, Anaide Rozam, Pol White, Rong-Ying Yang, Genevieve Doang, Xing Xing Cheng, Fabienne Galula
release UK Oct.21 lff,
US Oct.21 ciff, Fr 3.Nov.21
21/France 1h45

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zhang and samba
An intriguing interweaving of stories and characters, this French drama evokes a refreshingly multicultural view of modern society, never making a issue of the ethnic issues between people, because they add to their connections rather than stress them. Filmmaker Jacques Audiard follows three characters through engaging intertwined journeys of self-discovery. Amid the various twists, the film is rather oddly male-gazey, but it's also insightful and likeable.
Working in a call centre, Emilie (Zhang) entertains herself by tormenting the customers, which gets her sacked. She has just rented her spare room to Camille (Samba), a charming doctoral student she can't resist. And it's unnerving that her feelings are stronger than his. Meanwhile, Nora (Merlant) has restarted her law degree at age 33 but finds herself in a viral video nightmare when people mistake her for webcam pornstar Amber Sweet (Beth). So she reaches out to Amber, finding an unlikely friendship. She also finds work alongside Camille, and sparks with him as well.
Shot in pristine black and white, the film has a lovely timeless quality that isolates the characters' resonant thoughts and feelings as they interact with a variety of people around them. Each person is enjoying his or her life while still seeking some sense of security, and where they ultimately find that is a surprise to them (and to us). The skilful camerawork and editing make the most of the urban setting and fascinatingly layered characters. Although the camera does seem over-interested in the naked female form.

Each performance has a raw authenticity that helps draw the audience in, revealing humour and emotion in encounters that are spicy, edgy, warm and moving. Zhang, Samba and Merlant reveal underlying feelings in their characters that make Emilie, Camille and Nora remarkably sympathetic, even when they cause their own problems. Alongside them, Beth has a wonderfully transformative role, while Leon-Fucien (as Camille's teen sister) and Cairaty (as another of Camille's girlfriends) have powerful moments of their own.

Audiard expertly packs scenes with discoveries about each person, revealing passions, yearnings and underlying thoughts as they circle around and connect with each other. There's a lot of teasing and joking, which makes them feel extraordinarily realistic while also exposing some defence mechanisms they use to avoid social pressures. And as their various relationships develop, the common threads have a strong kick to them, encouraging us to love ourselves more and take a chance on others.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 21.Sep.21

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