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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 20.Feb.21

Night of the Kings   La Nuit des Rois
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5   MUST must see SEE

Night of the Kings
dir-scr Philippe Lacote
prd Delphine Jaquet, Yanick Letourneau, Ernest Konan, Yoro Mbaye
with Kone Bakary, Steve Tientcheu, Jean Cyrille Digbeu, Rasmane Ouedraogo, Issaka Sawadogo, Abdoul Karim Konate, Denis Lavant, Macel Anzian, Laetitia Ky, Goneti Oscar, Gbazi Yves Landry, Marie-Josee Nene
release US 26.Feb.21
20/Ivory Coast 1h33

41st Shadows Awards


Is it streaming?

A mystical sense of tradition floods through this earthy, urgent prison drama from West Africa. Beautifully written and directed by Philippe Lacote, the film features a thunderous ensemble of characters. And the gripping narrative forces us to lean into the screen to soak it all in. While it may feel a bit high-minded, the film unfolds in a visual way that's utterly electric, evoking the visceral power of storytelling itself.
A young man (Bakary) is transferred to the notorious Maca Prison in a forest outside Abidjan, where prisoners run things themselves. The chief Blackbeard (Tientcheu) is waning due to illness, and to consolidate his power he designates this newcomer as "Roman", the storyteller. So with the blood moon in the sky, Roman must now spin a yarn to mesmerise the assembled prisoners all night. But Blackbeard's rival Lass (Konate) is plotting to seize power. And Roman is beginning to understand what's in store for him when he gets to the end of his epic tale.
The cultural traditions in this prison are depicted with a raw intensity that's infused with poetry and power. Each person here has a role to play within this closed-off society, and they're vividly written and played to draw the audience deeper inside. As Roman tells his own story, he realises that his audience is obsessed with with a notorious thief (Oscar) he grew up with. They interact boistrously with the narrative, chanting, reacting and acting out key moments. And both Roman's unfolding narrative and events in the prison span wider elements of history and traditions.

The magnetic Bakary holds the screen as the young storyteller, revealing the observant, quick-witted Roman's inner thoughts as he grows up over the course of this momentous night. And the characters around him are wonderfully complex, including Tientcheu's doomed Blackbeard, who has his own story to tell, plus Konate's prowling Lass and a range of fascinating inmates like Silence (the great Lavant), Sexy (Landry), Razor Blade (Ansian) and the power-seeking Half-Mad (Digbeau).

Lacote fills the screen with dreamy, fantastical imagery, including flickering scenes from Roman's story, depicting provocative elements of Ivory Coast's history and culture, including some documentary authenticity. These stunningly echo in the theatricality of the prisoners' lyrical reactions to each chapter of the tale, as well as the shattering events inside the prison. This is an ambitious, inventive odyssey through some enormous societal themes, refusing to offer simplistic answers. It's a proper stunner.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 18.Feb.21

A Skeleton in the Closet   Todos Tenemos un Muerto en el Placard o un Hijo en el Clóset
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
A Skeleton in the Closet
dir-scr Nicolas Tete
prd Nicolas Tete, Maria Vacas
with Facundo Gambande, Maria Fernanda Callejon, Diego De Paula, Antonella Ferrari, Mateo Giuliani, Pablo Valdes, Norma Argentina, Lucas Ferraro, Ramiro Delgado, Monica Diaz, Abril Beltran, Daniela Otta
release US 20.Oct.20,
UK 12.Feb.21
20/Argentina 1h43

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gambande, giuliani and ferrari
From Argentina, this bouncy comedy circles around the likeable members of a family, never wallowing in their darker moments. The plot unfolds gently, cycling through a series of strikingly natural interactions as the young man at the centre faces big questions about his future. As the narrative builds to a series of confrontations, it finds resonance in unusually honest conversations. And the bittersweet tone gets under the skin.

After passing a university architecture exam, Manuel (Gambande) heads to his hometown to surprise his parents (Callejon and De Paula), who are delighted to see him but worry that he is planning to abandon his studies to go travelling with his boyfriend Maximo (Delgado). Then on a video call, Maximo dumps him. So Manuel's teen sister Clara (Ferrari) nudges him to go out with her literature teacher Martin (Ferraro), and indeed there's a spark between them. Meanwhile, tennis-star brother Luis (Giuliani) arrives home from Spain for a family party, stealing the spotlight from Manuel.
The original title translates as "we all have a body in the wardrobe or a son in the closet", hinting at a farce, but secrets and revelations emerge in earthy, organic ways. Conversations around the dinner table have a terrific improvised quality, revealing attitudes and feelings among people who care about each other but have their own issues going on. And while Manuel's family has accepted his sexuality, except for his bigoted grandmother (Argentina), they've lost track of him in the process.

Gambande has terrific physicality, always on the move as Manuel is loving his life until Maximo wrecks his plans. Even then he's alert and curious, rediscovering a passion for cooking. And to deflect from his troubled feelings, he gets involved in another family crisis. Everything is seen through his eyes, which keeps everyone else's issues in perspective. And the surrounding cast is just as natural, creating realistic people who have their own obsessions, opinions and busy lives off-screen.

The film is packed with tiny observations on family relationships, cleverly noting the security of having people around who love you no matter what, as well as the pressures relatives can't help but lay on you. Manuel finally confesses that he's tired of being the black sheep; their acceptance isn't enough if they resist being fully invested in his life. Intriguingly, when things finally come out in the open, it's played for drama rather than comedy. And even if it's a little uneven, the film has several powerful things to say.

cert 12 themes, language 9.Feb.21

Twilight’s Kiss   Suk Suk
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
twilight's kiss
dir-scr Ray Yeung
prd Michael J Werner, Teresa Kwong, Sandy Yip, Chowee Leow
with Tai Bo, Ben Yuen, Au Ga Man Patra, Lo Chun Yip, Kong To, Lam Yiu Sing, Wong Hiu Yee, Hu Yixin, Lau Ting Kwan, Shmily, Gordon Wong Kwok Fai, Chak Tse Kwan
release Chn 12.May.20,
US 12.Feb.21
19/China 1h32


Is it streaming?

yuen and tai
With an observant slice-of-life approach, writer-director Ray Yeung puts a spotlight on a group of people who are falling through the cracks. It's a beautifully shot and edited film, played with delicacy by a terrific cast. And it addresses the complex issue of being closeted in a homophobic society with grace and honesty, never pushing a political message. Instead, it remains pointedly personal, offering wide-reaching resonance.
At 70, Pak (Tai) has no intention to retire as a Hong Kong taxi driver, a job that balances life with his wife (Au), children and granddaughter. Then he befriends 65-year-old Hoi (Yuen). Long divorced, Hoi lives with his strictly religious son Wan (Lo) and family. Both Pak and Hoi are secretly gay, and as they speak about their years in the closet, their interaction shifts slowly into romance. When he invites Hoi to his daughter's wedding, Pak is sure no one will suspect anything. And they begin to think about planning a future together.
The film's relaxed tone quickly gets under the surface, revealing details about lives and personalities with nuance. Hoi is a member of a group of gay men over 60 that is petitioning the government for retirement housing, but since most of them are still closeted, no one's willing to share their thoughts publicly. Meanwhile, Pak is struggling to accept the fact that he's an old man now. And Hoi is worried that his son will reject him if he learns the truth.

Tai and Yuen have an earthy chemistry that quickly becomes more about affection than sex. The tenderness between them is both physical and emotional, as they speak about their families and issues they've faced hiding themselves from the world. Their secret social groups, both with the activists and at the bathhouse, offer warm camaraderie that is far more honest than their happy-but-stressed home lives. It's lovely to watch them open up and start teasing each other, revealing a long-concealed boyish charm.

This is a beautiful depiction of a relationship that blossoms in secret. Both men are facing a point in their lives when things naturally change, and their thoughts and feelings add a strong kick to their decision-making. Scenes are packed with observant details that touch on a range of momentous ideas swirling around in their minds. And while this new relationship doesn't remotely change the way they feel about their families, it definitely helps them see themselves more clearly.

cert 15 themes, language 11.Feb.21

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