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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 19.Mar.21|
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Peeter Rebane
scr Peeter Rebane, Tom Prior
prd Peeter Rebane, Tom Prior, Brigita Rozenbrika
with Tom Prior, Oleg Zagorodnii, Diana Pozharskaya, Jake Thomas Henderson, Margus Prangel, Nicholas Woodeson, Ester Kuntu, Kaspar Velberg, Sergei Lavrentev, Deni Alasaniya, Henessi Schmidt, Markus Luik
release UK Mar.21 flare
Is it streaming?
Based on a true story, this Cold War drama traces a romantic triangle in a Russian military setting. Director Peeter Rebane keeps the focus on the characters as they navigate a perilous situation, pulling the audience into the story. This adds vivid personal emotions to the visually stylised filmmaking, and also adds wider resonance. Some earthy grit might have helped, but the film is strongly engaging and very moving.
In Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1977, young Private Sergey (Prior) is anticipating the end of his military service, considering what to do next. He's developing a relationship with Luisa (Pozharskaya) when handsome new pilot Roman (Zagorodnii) arrives, catching his eye. As Roman teaches him photography, they begin to bond on an emotional level. They pursue each other in secret, while Luisa's feelings complicate their romance. But being gay is a criminal offence, and someone has tipped off the base commanders (Prangel and Woodeson). Over the following years, their strong affection is seriously put to the test.
It's understandable why the film was shot in English, even as this seems to put stress on the cast, adding a layer of artificiality. Even so, the internalised narrative unfolds with feelings that are easy to identify with, as Sergey and Roman's relationship is far more about love and belonging than sex. The film's second half follows Sergey to Moscow drama school, dramatically changing the tone and drawing out additional themes over the following five years or so.
Performances have a period theatricality, with strongly intimate touches in the unspoken interaction. Because of the forbidden nature of these relationships, the actors reveal layers of intrigue as men who are only rarely able to drop their guards in private. Prior and Zagorodnii have terrific chemistry, echoing the elemental aspect of Sergey and Roman's connection, especially in the superb offhanded moments. And Pozharskaya gives Luisa an honest, knowing quality that of course makes everything rather knotted.
As the story continues, the themes evolve in various directions, making comments about the dangers of living a lie, especially when you're lying to yourself. It's an bracing exploration of the idea that love and attraction can't simply be willed out of existence. As it cycles through events over several years, the plot feels a little formulaic, scrubbed oddly clean by Rebane's over-lit approach to production, which cleverly makes it look like a Russian movie from the early 1980s. So it's consistently entertaining, and the emotional honesty connects on several levels.
The Obituary of Tunde Johnson
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Ali LeRoi
scr Stanley Kalu
prd Zachary Green, Jason Shuman, Marni Bond, Chuck Bond
with Steven Silver, Spencer Neville, Nicola Peltz, David James Elliott, Tembi Locke, Sammi Rotibi, Joey Pollari, Alessandra Rosaldo, Shalin Agarwal, Shoniqua Shandai, Dior Allen, Micah Hauptman
release US 26.Feb.21,
UK Mar.21 flare
Is it streaming?
Taking on enormous issues in an inventive way, this brightly well-made drama is superbly directed by Ali LeRoi from an astute script by Stanley Kalu. The film takes on huge things things people face in seemingly perfect lives, hinging on the experience of a wealthy Black teen. It's long and a little scattershot in its approach, but the vivid characterisations make it riveting. And the raw urgency is breathtaking.
Born into an affluent Nigerian-American family, aspiring 17-year-old filmmaker Tunde (Silver) is wrongfully killed by trigger-happy Los Angeles police. Then jarringly he wakes up at home, and now finds himself living the same day over and over again, including the moment he comes out as gay to his supportive parents (Rotibi and Locke). During the schoolday, he playfully banters with his best friend Marley (Pelz) and secretly kisses class hot guy Soren (Neville), who's afraid to come out for his own reasons. And Tunde isn't sure how to make any of this better next time.
The repeating set-up lends itself to being interpreted as a nightmare triggered by the stress of opening up to his parents, the built-in fear of police violence and the prescription meds he uses to dull the stress. Varying angles on the same scenes add a range of telling insights, while seemingly harmless casual comments carry subtle homophobia and racism. Other moments are far more intense, even horrific, in their depiction of thoughtless bigotry.
Relaxed, realistic performances add layers of meaning at every point in the story. Silver is terrific as Tunde, charismatic and smart, beautifully engaged with the people around him even as he keeps secrets from them. Tunde is only honest when alone with Soren, and Silver's chemistry with Neville is warm and easy, revealing sharp angles on their relationship and their separate lives. Peltz also has a strong presence in a smaller role, as do Rotibi and Locke as Tunde's busy-but-engaged parents.
Each time the film rotates through the momentous events of this particular day, they are seen from a distinct perspective, shifting the point (and the events themselves) in ways that knowingly highlight the issues and challenge the audience to think more deeply. Each cycle digs further into Tunde's thoughts and feelings, skilfully catching the idea that, no matter what he does or who he is, making it through all of this might be down to luck. And indeed, survival shouldn't be this difficult for him.
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Marley Morrison
prd Michelle Antoniades
with Nell Barlow, Jo Hartley, Ella-Rae Smith, Sophia Di Martino, Samuel Anderson, Tabitha Byron, Steffan Cennydd, William Andrews, Spike Fearn, Anna Antoniades, Celeste De Veazey, Elizabeth Grace Hartley
release UK Mar.21 flare
21/UK BBC 1h34
Is it streaming?
Packed with jaggedly witty observations, this British comedy gets into the mind of a teen who thinks her life couldn't get any worse. Writer-director Marley Morrison tells a hugely engaging story about a character brought to vivid life by gifted actor Nell Barlow. The pacing may meander in the middle, but this is a breathtaking feature debut, and one of the most astute movies about adolescence in recent memory.
Surly 17-year-old AJ (Barlow) reluctantly goes on holiday with her sparky mother Tina (Hartley) and little sister Dayna (Byron) to the English seaside, dreading every minute. On arrival, they're joined by pregnant older sister Lucy (Di Martino) and her open-hearted boyfriend Steve (Anderson). Obsessed with the troubles of the world, AJ has few friends and is used to be treated as a boy because she's not remotely feminine. So she hides from everyone. Then at the pool she spots lifeguard Isla (Smith), who smells like chlorine and seems interested in being her friend.
The deadpan stream-of-consciousness narration is hilarious. "She acts like I could become a heroin addict," AJ moans about her over-attentive mum, "in a week!" AJ is baffled that the other kids her age look happy. Indeed, she seems oblivious about the way she perks up around Isla, suddenly dressing in a way that doesn't conceal herself from the world. And as she hangs out with Isla and her colourful crowd, AJ starts to reveal what an interesting person she actually is. Not that her mother will notice.
The actors hit comedy beats expertly while keeping characters sympathetic and grounded. Barlow is terrific as AJ, maintaining the crankiness while offering glimpses of the life-loving woman she could possibly become. She jumps to conclusions and makes terrible decisions, but is hugely likeable. Especially in comparison to Tina and Lucy, played with nuance as controlling but never monstrous by the terrific Hartley and Di Martino. By contrast, Anderson's Steve adds a blast of genuine understanding. And Smith's Isla is a ray of sunshine.
Morrison gets into the teenage mindset so vividly that the film grabs hold from the start and never lets go. This means that when AJ becomes fascinated by Isla, so do we, marvelling at thoughts and feelings that are both scary and rather thrilling. When the characters start speaking honestly to each other, it's downright nasty. And because of the fresh approach to storytelling, its unnervingly difficult to predict where the story might go next. So the tactile joy in the final act honestly feels revelatory.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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