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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 24.Mar.21

The Dose   La Dosis
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
The Dose
dir-scr Martin Kraut
prd Pablo Chernov, Martin Kraut
with Carlos Portaluppi, Ignacio Rogers, Lorena Vega, German de Silva, Alberto Suarez, Arturo Bonin, Ramiro Vayo, Maitina De Marco, Ernesto Rowe, Julia Martinez Rubio, Gonzalo Martinez, Pablo Cano
release Arg 22.Oct.20,
US Oct.20 hiff, UK Mar.21 flare
20/Argentina 1h33


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portaluppi and rogers
From Argentina, this darkly involving thriller quickly pulls the audience in with its shadowy production design and intriguing characters. While adding plenty of pitch-black comical touches, writer-director Martin Kraut maintains a low-key pace that continually reveals creepy details about characters who are superbly underplayed for maximum effect. All of this creates wonderful freak-out interaction that quietly raises the tension and skilfully keeps the viewer on the wrong foot.
A giant teddy bear of a nurse, Marcos (Portaluppi) has unusual connections to his patients, which sometimes extends to mercifully ending their suffering during a quiet night shift. And his unsuspecting colleague Noelia (Vega) thinks Marcos is a shoo-in to become the new supervisor, as does their boss (Suarez). Then bright young nurse Gabriel (Rogers) joins the team, befriending both the staff and the patients. He also worms his way into Marcos' personal life and works out his secret. Then Marcos begins to suspect that Gabriel is murdering patients with more cold-blooded intent.
Gabriel is a superbly seductive antagonist, an attractive guy who wins people over while casually manipulating everyone and everything with a smile. And his jarring mix of charm and villainy keeps Marcos on his toes. And us too. This approach sets up a number of shockingly clever sequences, such as when Gabriel stitches a grisly wound he caused by startling Marcos. And it leads to a final act that's properly terrifying, a superb culmination of Kraut's skilful writing and directing, plus pitch-perfect acting by the leading players.

Performances are subtle, even within the heightened intensity of the situation. Portaluppi brings an earthy likability to the experienced Marcos, who remains calm even as he's pushed into this nerve-wracking corner. This makes his sudden moments of outrage particularly striking. Opposite him, Rogers has such a wonderfully hapless manner that Marcos doubts that he could possibly be such a monster. It's a wonderfully nuanced turn that continually undermines expectations. And the terrific supporting cast adds layers to this insidious atmosphere.

The film cleverly taps into familiar fears that some inexperienced upstart is going to come along and take away the job to which you've devoted your entire life. And by making Gabriel such a sexy, unassuming villain, Kraut adds additional layers of churning suspense that resonate on a personal level. These deeper touches make the story profoundly involving. So where the narrative goes is skilfully unsettling, combining warm drama with alarming undercurrents bleak humour and a gently queer twist.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 21.Mar.21 flare

Kiss Me Before It Blows Up   Kiss Me Kosher
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Kiss Me Before It Blows Up
dir-scr Shirel Peleg
prd Christine Guenther, Chevy K Chen
with Moran Rosenblatt, Luise Wolfram, Rivka Michaeli, Juliane Kohler, Bernhard Schutz, John Carroll Lynch, Irit Kaplan, Salim Dau, Eyal Shikratzi, Aviv Pinkas, Naama Amit, Sarah Markowitz
release UK Mar.21 flare
20/Israel 1h45


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rosenblatt and wolfram
Busy and funny, this Israeli comedy follows the transgressive romantic adventures of a young woman and her grandmother. Writer-director Shirel Peleg keeps the tone light even as serious themes gurgle up from the subtext. Things wobble a bit later on, both due to the serious topics and of course the requirements of the romcom formula. But the characters remain sympathetic, and the movie has a warmly affirming message.
As Maria (Wolfram) arrives in Tel Aviv from Stuttgart to visit her Jewish girlfriend Shira (Rosenblatt), Shira mistakenly thinks she's proposing marriage. So Maria just goes along with it. Shira's parents Ron and Ora (Lynch and Kaplan) and younger siblings Liam and Ella (Shikratzi and Pinkas) are overexcited about planning a wedding. On the other hand, Shira's sardonic grandmother Berta (Michaeli) struggles with the thought of having a German in the family, even though she's secretly involved with Palestinian doctor Ibrahim (Dau). And things get increasingly farcical when Maria's parents (Kohler and Schutz) turn up.
The smart, snappy script lets the obvious issues linger in the background from the start, peppering dialog with throwaway jokes about Nazis and witty observations like Ron's reference to how Shira has won the holy trinity: "lesbian, gentile, German". As Shira says, everything Jews do has something to do with the Holocaust. And of course the increasingly heated dinner table conversations also range through all kinds of current political issues.

Rosenblatt and Wolfram play their romantic scenes in a sweetly likeable way, exploring Shira and Maria's connection even as they know they're moving too quickly. They're easy to root for even if their clashes feel obvious, from family chaos to corny surges of jealousy. The extended ensemble around them is packed with larger-than-life characters, from Michaeli's hilariously blunt grandmother to Shikratzi's goofy aspiring filmmaker, who provokes everyone as he makes a documentary about Shira and Maria.

Juggling such intense themes makes it tricky to maintain a comical tone in every scene, but Peleg adeptly gives it a go. Still, the realities of lingering Jewish anger and German guilt are played with a wrenching honesty that's refreshingly complex. As a result, even if the plot is somewhat predictable and silly, the film has some vital things to say about how the borders we place between each other need to be torn down one by one. It's also a reminder that the messiness of love is something worth celebrating. And the refreshingly goofy coda is hilarious.

cert 12 themes, language 20.Mar.21 flare

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Cassio Pereira dos Santos
prd Erika Pereira dos Santos
scr Cassio Pereira dos Santos, Camila Machado
with Thiessa Woinbackk, Guta Stresser, Romulo Braga, Ronaldo Bonafro, Leticia Franco, Paula Passos, Rodrigo Lelis, Joao Gott, Pedro Diniz, Maria de Maria, Aryadne Amancio, Guilherme Almeida
release US Aug.20 ofla,
UK Mar.21 flare
20/Brazil 1h35


Is it streaming?

woinbackk and bonafro
Infused with earthy realism, this Brazilian drama highlights the enormous obstacles a trans teen faces in a society that's tilted against her. Using handheld camerawork to create a fly-on-the-wall style, filmmaker Cassio Pereira dos Santos recounts a series of everyday situations caused by people who are thoughtless and sometimes outright hateful. And the film sharply depicts intrepid people who stand up to hate in whatever way they can.
To escape an escalation of abusive behaviour, Marcia (Stresser) moves with her trans teen daughter Valentina (Woinbackk) to a new town. Marcia hopes this new home will offer both of them a fresh start, but they immediately hit a roadblock when the school requires a signature from Valentina's estranged father Renato (Braga) to enrol her as a girl. Meanwhile, Valentina makes new friends in Amanda and Julio (Franco and Bonafro), who offer to help her track down Renato. But rumours about Valentina begin to travel around this small, close-minded town.
The film opens with a complex sequence in which Valentina is assaulted by a transphobic man on a dance floor, even as she's defiantly living her best life. The filmmakers continue to highlight urgent themes in offhanded moments ranging from mildly awkward interaction to some realistically nasty encounters. It's great to see Valentina find a sense of security with Amanda and Julio, even if she's reluctant to share her truth. Then when she's forced to do so, she discovers she has more allies than she expected.

Woinbackk's performance is bold and staggeringly honest, revealing Valentina's innermost thoughts and feelings as she copes with a wide range of situations, fighting to be herself in the face of a mind-boggling range of adversities. She's finely supported by Stresser, who takes Marcia on her own parallel journey as a woman desperate to protect her daughter. And both Franco and Bonafro have strong scenes as young people who know how it feels to live in the margins.

Much of what happens to Valentina is flatly illegal, so it's infuriating that the police won't enforce the law. In addition, the system itself makes it endlessly difficult for Valentina to live as herself. Perhaps the biggest shock is the way the school cruelly caves in to community prejudice. And there's real power in Valentina's supportive parents, as well as the strength she builds with Julio and Amanda as they stand together against loathsome thugs in a society that's slowly changing in the right direction.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 21.Mar.21 flare

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