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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 5.Apr.23

El Houb   aka: The Love
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
El Houb
dir Shariff Nasr
scr Philip Delmaar, Shariff Nasr
prd Joram Willink, Piet-Harm Sterk
with Fahd Larhzaoui, Lubna Azabal, Slimane Dazi, Emmanuel Ohene Boafo, Sabri Saddik, Shad Issa, Yahya Gaier, Britte Lagcher, Nasrdin Dchar, Walid Benmbarek, Esma Abouzahra, Rayan Belrhazi Alaoui
release Ned 13.Oct.22,
US 7.Apr.23
22/Netherlands 1h42

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larhzaoui, saddik and azabal
Set within a Moroccan family in the Netherlands, this drama is assembled by director Shariff Nasr using a swirl of internalised feelings that allow the central character to interact with his memories. Even if the story feels a little unfinished, authentic dialog ripples with enormous ideas. And connections between characters are often very difficult, a sharp reminder of how hard it is for people to let go of fear.
Returning to his childhood home, Karim (Larhzaoui) confronts his father Abbas (Dazi) for rejecting him because of his homosexuality. Then his mother Fatima (Azabal) has an even harsher reaction. So Karim reverts to his childhood behaviour and locks himself in a cupboard until they agree to talk to him. In there, he revisits his 10-year-old self (Issa) and thinks about his romance with Kofi (Ohene Boafo). Then his younger brother Redouan (Saddik) comes home, and they have an honest chat that doesn't go much better. Soon this family conflict leaks out into the community.
"Do you know what you're asking," Abbas pleads. "The truth isn't always the answer," his mother says. But Karim only wants a little understanding, and he reminds his parents this issue won't go away simply because they refuse to talk about it. He also urges them to remember his cousin Soufian (Dchar), who came out to his family and died tragically. And then there's his attempted relationship with a Dutch woman (Lagcher), whom his mother now sees as a better option.

Within the flashback structure, actors play various ages, which can be awkward. But they find sharp realism in intense scenes. Larhzaoui gives Karim a yearning soul, longing to be seen by his family. He has spent his life worried that he didn't walk, breath, act normally, and has had enough. Fine performances from Azabal, Dazi and Saddik bring this vividly to life. And Ohene Boafo adds a breath of fresh air, even in some tough moments.

Moving in and out of memories, the film touches on issues from various sides, isolating places where religion, ethnicity and sexuality meet or clash. So most scenes bristle intensely, with very few moments of offhanded humour. But there is tenderness woven throughout the interaction. The film's clever, subtle point is that our understanding of rules changes all the time, but people refuse to budge to justify personal bigotries. And religion is merely an excuse. The film's provocations may go over the top, but the point is made without flinching.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Apr.23

Sound of Silence  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Sound of Silence
dir-scr T3 (Alessandro Antonaci, Stefano Mandala, Daniel Lascar)
prd T3, Raffaele Rinaldi, Riccardo Scalva
with Penelope Sangiorgi, Rocco Marazzita, Lucia Caporaso, Daniele De Martino, Chiara Casolari, Peter Stephen Wolmarans, Alessandra Pizzullo, Alessandro Marmorini, Micol Damilano, Claudio Dughera, Valeria Di Nunzio, Guido Carta
release US 10.Mar.23
23/Italy 1h33

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With a fiendishly clever sound mix, this stylised Italian horror quickly unsettles the audience. Writing-directing trio T3 also create cleverly stylised imagery to tell an intriguing tale, intriguing the audience by briefly introducing characters and relationships before unleashing the nastiness. While the filmmaking is skilfully inventive, packed with touches that catch the eye and ear, the script feels perhaps underpowered, relying on scary-movie gimmicks rather than suspense or resonance.
When Peter (Wolmarans) finds an old radio in the attic, it conjures a ghostly apparition of a woman (Caporaso) who attacks him and his wife (Pizzullo). In New York, their daughter Emma (Sangiorgi) is struggling to kickstart her singing career when she hears about her parents. So she rushes home to Italy, accompanied by her boyfriend Seba (Marazzita). But making sense of what happened is difficult. And soon Emma realises that there's more than one spirit in her childhood house. She also works out that they are triggered by sounds. But what do they want?
Alongside the murky atmospherics, jolts are of the cheap variety, using deafening noises and sudden appearances. Cinematography is relentlessly muted and dark, with the occasional red-hued flourish. While this gives the film an arthouse sheen, adding visual interest to each scene, it also implies more is going on than meets the eye. But the film is jarring rather than scary, and it takes its time to reveal a back-story that might have made the narrative more involving. At least the extended epilogue adds a nice kick.

Because the characters lack depth, the actors feel like props for the filmmakers to deploy with whizzy directorial flair. Sangiorgi is the only person on-screen who has an emotional life, disturbed long before she has an encounter with this ghostly infestation. Marazzita has his moments, although Seba isn't developed much beyond the hapless boyfriend who has a comical mini-adventure before encountering the spectres himself. Later, there's the hint of a darkly emotional history, but the actors are directed to surreally overplay it.

Amid the creative audio and visual freak-outs, there are silly plot points like often-dead phone batteries or a convenient sound-proof recording studio that provides refuge within the house. And the events seem to take place over the longest night imaginable, as inky darkness alternates with eerie light shining through windows. It's an effective style-over-substance approach, which could have been even more chilling with more attention to dialog and characterisation. Even so, it's cool enough to become a cult classic.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 9.Mar.23

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir-scr Hassan Nazer
prd Nadira Murray, Paul Welsh
with Reza Naji, Hossein Abedini, Parsa Maghami, Helia Mohammad Khani, Malalai Zikria, Ezzatollah Ramezani Far, Mahmoud Ja'fari, Mir Taher Mazloomi, Ava Asilian, Shahrzad Kamalzadeh, Asghar Semsarzadeh, Rahman Mohammadi
release UK 17.Mar.23
22/Iran 1h25

raindance film fest

Is it streaming?

naji and maghami
With a lively collection of characters, this UK-produced Iranian film centres around a mini-adventure that's closely connected to a love of the movies. Shot in colourful locations, this meandering tale explores the idea that one man's treasure may seem worthless to someone else, largely through the eyes of some cheeky children. Writer-director Hassan Nazer packs the film with clever references that will particularly delight fans of global cinema.
In rural Iran, a woman accidentally leaves an Oscar in a cab, so local post office employees plan to send it to its owner in Tehran. But Ezzat (Ramezani) wants to show it off in his small village first. When he loses it, it's found by energetic preteen Yahya (Maghami), who works in the local dump recycling plastic. Yahya loves movies, and is pestering collector Sabir (Abedini) for the Cinema Paradiso DVD. But only their boss Nasser (Naji) understands what this Oscar means to its owner, because he has a past he's been carefully hiding.
With its gently witty tone, this engaging film plays on the irony that a Western audience will immediately recognise the importance of an Oscar statuette, while Iranians take a more organic approach to this mysterious object, wondering what it means or even dressing it up like a doll, as Yahya's sidekick Leila (Khani) does. This is augmented by the movie-centred plot threads that swirl around Yahya, Nasser and Sabir, leading to moments that are both emotional and hilarious. So while the larger plot points feel a bit contrived, the way it plays out has a documentary-style authenticity.

Performances are earthy and honest, anchored by young Meghami as the curious and remarkably intentional little Yahya. As he moves to his own insistent beat, his patient mother (Zikria) has little choice but to give in to his puckish demands. And he similarly charms grown-ups Nasser and Sabir, who are played with a mischievous sense of self-preservation by the terrific Naji and Abedini. Intriguingly, Meghami's chemistry with the lively young Khani has its own distinctly engaging rhythm.

Relational textures ripple throughout the film, adding to the larger themes relating to the passion that accompanies artistic expression. Each of these characters is driven by something inside of them, leading to a final sequence in the big city that ripples with witty, knowing ideas and images, especially for fans of recent Iranian cinema. So even if the plot feels a bit tidy, the boisterous undercurrents keep it enjoyably messy, pulling us into the story while celebrating the power of cinema.

cert pg themes, language, violence 13.Dec.22

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