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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 12.Oct.21

Cop Secret   Leynilögga
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Hannes Thor Halldorsson
prd Lilja Osk Snorradottir
scr Nina Pedersen, Hannes Thor Halldorsson, Sverrir Thor Sverrisson
with Audunn Blondal, Egill Einarsson, Steinunn Olina Thorsteinsdottir, Sverrir Thor Sverrisson, Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson, Vivian Olafsdottir, Rurik Gislason, Steinthor Hroar Steinthorsson, Juliana Sara Gunnarsdottir, Birgir Gislason, Briet Isis Elfar, Gunnar Hansson
release US Sep.21 ff,
UK Oct.21 lff, Ice 20.Oct.21
21/Iceland 1h38

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blondal and einarsson
Wild and loose, this punchy 1970s-style police thriller from Iceland starts with a bang and never lets up. Hilariously over the top, the film gleefully deploys the tough-guy genre cliches. The film is entertaining both for its gritty crime action and the way it makes the usual homoerotic subtext in a buddy movie much more central to the narrative. But can the nation's toughest cop admit that he's gay?
Bullheaded detective Bussi (Blondal) hates it when a suspect flees into the neighbouring precinct, where his handsome, slick counterpart Hordur (Einarsson) has jurisdiction. But a new case has everyone baffled, as a gang breaks into banks and steals nothing. Assigned to team up to take down the psychotic mastermind Rikki (Haraldsson), Bussi and Hordur discover a mutual attraction that catches them off guard. But they focus on the case, and a high-tech clue leads them into Chinatown. What they discover has cataclysmic repercussions, leading to a series of showdowns as they race against time.
The contrast between these two cops is amusing, as Bussi is a blunt slob whose girlfriend (Gunnarsdottir) has given up on him, while the hyper-successful Hordur, Iceland's most eligible bachelor, worries about his vulnerable little brother (Gislason). The insults Bussi and Hordur exchange are amusingly barbed, as are unexpected moments of tenderness. And along the way, there's plenty of superbly beefy action, including breakneck chases, frantic shootouts and tense countdowns.

As the abrasive Bussi, Blondal has a lot of fun abusing everyone he encounters, while Einarsson deploys his textbook good looks to perfect effect as Hordur, a man much more at ease with his sexuality. So when Bussi finally overcomes his machismo and opens up, the romance is surprisingly involving. And Hordur has a newsflash: "It's 2021 and nobody cares." Throughout the movie, they're surrounded by actors who skilfully play up the nuttier sides of their roles, especially Haraldsson's properly unhinged villain.

Filmmaker Halldorsson strikes a smart balance of action violence and blackly comical pastiche with a disarmingly engaging odyssey of self-discovery. The thriller plot is the most obvious element, and it often swamps the film completely, including several major twists along the way to an elaborate climactic set-piece during which Rikki's nefarious plan finally reveals itself. But the best thing is that, by then, we have more important things on our minds. And the filmmakers hold back a series of punchlines for the end.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 6.Oct.21

Costa Brava, Lebanon  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Costa Brava, Lebanon
dir-scr Mounia Akl
prd Myriam Sassine, Georges Schoucair
with Nadine Labaki, Saleh Bakri, Nadia Charbel, Geana Restom, Ceana Restom, Liliane Chacar Khoury, Francois Nour, Yumna Marwan
release UK Oct.21 lff,
US Oct.21 ciff
21/Lebanon 1h46

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charbel, restom, bakri and labaki
With an earthy pace, this film set on the outskirts of Beirut is both a sparky family drama and a lament for a nation engulfed in corruption. It's skilfully shot in a terrific location, with a few surreal touches that reveal the characters' internal journeys. And its universal themes about justice, regret and expectation carry a nice kick, as the politics are deliberately drowned out by the personal story.
Escaping the city after years as activists, Walid (Bakri) and his wife Soraya (Labaki), a former popstar, are living in an isolated idyll in the hills, growing their own fruit and vegetables, raising chickens and home-schooling their daughters, 17-year-old Tala (Charbel) and the younger, hyper-cheeky Rim (Geana and Ceana Restom). But the government has purchased the lot next door, and is opening a rubbish processing plant there. Walid knows this is a PR stunt before the upcoming election, and waits for a chance to sue. But Soraya has had enough of sitting outside the fray.
Each member of the family has his or her own bristling personality, so their camaraderie and clashes are unusually realistic, egged on by Walid's wry mother (Khoury), who lives with them and begins negotiating with workers to get a smartphone when they bring an internet signal to the area. Meanwhile, Tala develops a crush on the site's young manager (Nour). And Walid is blaming all of this on his sister Alia (Marwan), who sold her adjoining land to the developers.

The actors interact with natural ease, with the parents and grandmother sharing stories from their pasts and children working to make sense of the changing world. Labaki has strong screen presence as Soraya, an astute, observant woman who has happily gone along with her husband's dream, but has a change of heart when it becomes a nightmare. This allows Bakri to give Walid a soulful yearning, lamenting the fact that he might not be able to stay off-the-grid forever and raise his daughters to be wild and free.

Writer-director Aki keeps the focus finely on the family dynamic, allowing the political ideas, including Walid and Soraya's past as frontline activists, to sit in the background. And brief moments of magic offer glimpses into thoughts and feelings, images of the world as they see it rather than perhaps how it has turned out to be. This adds a lovely layer to the idea of a whole nation that has gone off the rails, making the film less of a rant against injustice than a cry for a more hopeful future.

cert 15 themes, language 9.Oct.21 lff

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Alex Camilleri
prd Rebecca Anastasi, Ramin Bahrani, Alex Camilleri, Oliver Mallia
with Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna, Frida Cauchi, Uday McLean, Stephen Buhagiar, Reece Vella, Yuric Allison, Michael Sciortino, Marta Vella, Frank Tanti, Marcelle Teuma
release UK Oct.21 lff,
US 15.Oct.21
21/Malta 1h34

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scicluna and farrugia
The title of this Maltese film is a type of traditional fishing boat locals use to maintain traditions. Writer-director Alex Camilleri creates a documentary-style realism that's instantly involving, following earthy, likeable people through everyday highs and lows. This is captured with a sharp eye by cinematographer Leo Lefevre, both in the sun-drenched seaside scenes and some colourful nighttime sequences. And the complex narrative takes a series of unpredictable turns.
Struggling to make a living as a fisherman with his leaky luzzu, which has been in the family for generations, Jesmark (Scicluna) simply wants to provide for his wife Denise (Farrugia). But their infant son isn't growing as quickly as he should, and the worrying medical bills are complicated by lower prices in the fish market and restrictive European Union regulations. Tempted by the black market trade, Jesmark begins working alongside Uday (McLean) in illicit off-season dealings. Meanwhile, his friends help him repair his boat, and Denise seeks financial help from her disapproving mother (Cauchi).
Camilleri quietly captures details of life in Malta at various layers of society, as old men sit around chatting about a simpler past and younger guys wish the traditional ways were still viable. Essentially, the nation has modernised, making it difficult for people to continue in their family businesses. And climate change certainly isn't helping either. The film's script layers all of these issues in lightly, even as the plot's gears begin to turn. And the decisions Jesmark must make are wrenchingly enormous.

In a cast of first-time actors, Scicluna has terrific presence on-screen, with movie-star looks and expressive physicality. It's a wonderfully understated performance that subtly reveals Jesmark's thoughts and feelings. He's especially strong in naturalistic scenes alongside his real-life cousin David. And his interaction with Farrugia is authentically warm, while also infused with the tension of their prevarious situation, especially when the superbly passive-aggressive Cauchi as Denise's mother is around.

The film's observant approach pulls us into Jesmark's life, peppering scenes with telling details that highlight his hopes and fears, as well as the gritty truth of having an old-world job in a present day that often feels cruel. All he wants to do is take care of his family like he's always been told a man should do. The moving truth is that he wants his son to grow up like him, but maybe it's time for traditions to change. And that's a very bitter pill to swallow for a young man who's proud of his legacy.

cert 15 themes, language 6.Oct.21

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