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

The Eight Mountains   Le Otto Montagne
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Eight Mountains
dir-scr Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch
prd Hans Everaert, Lorenzo Gangarossa, Mario Gianani, Louis Tisne
with Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi, Lupo Barbiero, Cristiano Sassella, Elisabetta Mazzullo, Surakshya Panta, Andrea Palma, Elena Lietti, Filippo Timi, Elisa Zanotto, Chiara Jorrioz, Fiammetta Olivieri
release It 22.Dec.22,
US 28.Apr.23, UK 12.May.23
22/Italy 2h27


Is it streaming?

marinelli and borghi
An epic tale of friendship between two men who struggle to express themselves, this film's plot unfolds over two decades, expressing huge emotions in majestic landscapes. Set in the Italian Alps with a nod to the Himalayas, it looks spectacular, and Belgian filmmakers Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch have an equally epic approach as they explore and reveal the central characters. So it's involving and powerfully moving.
In 1984, 12-year-old Pietro (Barbiero) spends the summer in a mountain cabin with his parents (Lietti and Timi). There he meets Bruno (Sassella), a local boy his age, and they click immediately. Each summer, Pietro returns from Turin to deepen their friendship. Eventually they lose touch, reuniting 15 years later. Pietro (now Marinelli) is a rootless 32-year-old who discovers that his late father was planning to rebuild a mountain cabin with Bruno (now Borgi). So the two childhood friends get to work, and their connection is cemented even as they take different paths in life.
While the film's scale is literally mountainous, the story remains internal. Plot points take place within the relationship between these two inarticulate men who struggle to connect with others. So their journeys are into understanding who they are. Pietro enjoys life as it comes, but is searching for meaning; Bruno seems more assured about where he belongs, but hasn't a clue how to contextualise himself. Watching them find a sense of grounding in each other is fascinating because it's so difficult.

Performances have a naturalistic quality, captured by gifted cinematographer Ruben Impens with a remarkable attention to detail. Marinelli gives the bright-eyed Pietro a superb sense of unchanneled energy that becomes more focussed over the years. His chemistry with the wry, bear-like Borghi is powerfully complex, echoing the fine work of child actors Barbiero and Sassella. As the women in their lives, Mazzulo and Panta are excellent, even if their own stories remain largely off-screen.

As the expansive plot rolls on, the film becomes an ode to the nature of friendship and inspiration, as well as a provocative exploration of the things fathers pass on to their children. Both Pietro and Bruno have awkward relationships with their dads, and a key plot point is that Bruno becomes more of a son to Pietro's dad than Pietro ever was. And while the mountaineering metaphor may be stretched to the breaking point, the filmmakers cleverly allow the haunting messages to remain largely unspoken.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 22.Mar.23

Love According to Dalva   aka: Dalva
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Love According to Dalva
dir-scr Emmanuelle Nicot
prd Julie Esparbes, Delphine Schmit
with Zelda Samson, Alexis Manenti, Fanta Guirassy, Marie Denarnrie Denarnaud, Jean-Louis Coulloc'h, Sandrine Blancke, Maia Sandoz, Charlie Drach, Roman Coustere Hachez, Abdelmounim Snoussi, Babetida Sadjo, Gilles David
release US Jan.23 psiff,
Fr 22.Mar.23, UK 28.Apr.23
22/France 1h23


Is it streaming?

Tightly focussed on its 12-year-old title character, this French drama remains thoughtful and internalised even as it grapples with the properly intense theme of how society struggles to help the most vulnerable children. Writer-director Emmanuelle Nicot's approach is bold, but she never sensationalises the increasingly compelling situation, remaining sensitive to the truth while allowing complexities to emerge organically. And young Zelda Samson is superb in the lead role.
After her father (Coulloc'h) is literally dragged off to prison, Dalva (Samson) struggles to understand why she's been taken into care, and why everyone refers to her beloved father as a paedophile. Her care worker Jayden (Manenti) is initially brusque, but eventually softens to her. Meanwhile, Dalva's rebellious new care-home roommate Samia (Guirassy), and indeed most of her classmates, can't understand why the preteen Dalva dresses like a middle-aged woman. When the police track down her estranged but concerned mother (Blancke), Dalva dismisses her. Instead she will do whatever it takes to see her father.
Nicot remains close to Dalva throughout the film. As the cameras quietly capture the inexplicable nature of the turmoil inside this girl, it's powerfully moving to watch her transformation over the course of the narrative. This plays out through her interaction with various people, and each sequence is shot with documentary-style authenticity, always resisting the temptation to give in to cinematic cliches or heightened melodrama. And because Dalva's reactions resist the expected tidy explanations, the audience is virtually forced to take action.

Shifting visibly and emotionally through the story, Samson delivers a remarkably mature performance as a young girl who thinks she's grown-up. Dalva can't understand why nobody will explain anything or listen to what she has to say. Her self-assurance is remarkable, even as it is continually shaken. This perspective viscerally infuses her interaction with the terrific Manenti, who finds his own complex textures in what could have been a thankless role. And as the feisty Samia, Guirassy has magnetic presence tempered by an earthy emotional interior.

This is a profound, defiantly original approach that depicts the fallout from child abuse with insight. The film is notable for turning the gaze away from the perpetrator to explore the inner life of a child who doesn't know she's a victim. The system aims for justice, but Dalva's needs are more urgent than that. So most importantly, Nicot has made a beautiful film that cries out for compassion and patience rather than straining for explanations or answers.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.Feb.23

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir Lee So Yoon
scr Hong Sung Yeun
prd Yu Si Yeon
with Ahn Hyun Ho, Choi Woo Sung, Kim Ji In, Shim Yi Yung, Yun Seo Hyun, Song Yong Jin, Kim kang min, Han Hyun Jun, Kim Hang Yul, Lee Jun Ha, Kwon Yoo Na, Jo Ah Young
release Kor 9.May.22,
UK Mar.23 flare
22/Korea 2h08

bfi flare film fest

Is it streaming?

ahn and choi
We make endless decisions about everything from food to romance, but gender is something few of us choose. This bright and observant Korean comedy-drama follows an intersex teen confronted with this very choice. Rarely depicted on screen, this plays out with wit and insight, relishing awkwardness and misunderstandings between characters. Even if it's aimed at a young audience, the film has important things to say to anyone listening.

Born both male and female, Jay (Ahn) begins high school after studying at home. Since Jay has a mum, gay dad and his boyfriend, they have accepted this without issue. Accompanied by sparky best pal Sera (Kim), Jay decides to simply be themself at school. On the first day, Jay meets hot boy Wooram (Choi) and has an immediate spark. But Wooram is perplexed by his feelings when Jay arrives in class dressed as a boy. Meanwhile, as puberty begins, Jay is told they have to decide whether to live as a man or woman.
How does an intersex child fit into a binary world where, for starters, students have to wear male or female uniforms? And the boys restroom is a minefield. Filmmaker Lee peppers the screen with clever references, from a copy of The Little Prince on Wooram's desk to scenes involving makeup, videogames and basketball. The tone is a bit sitcom-like, but will have resonance for both kids and adults, as the cast members adeptly bridge comedy with drama.

Ahn reveals Jay's inner life with understated emotion. Jay has never considered themself as a man or a woman, so finds it impossible to choose. Is this decision based on appearance, who they're attracted to or some indefinable internal feeling? Meanwhile, Choi engages in a more broadly comical role as the confused Wooram questions his sexuality. And Kim's opinionated Sera, the only classmate who knows Jay is intersex, mixes lively popular-girl vibes with deeper questions about changes she sees in her friend.

While a thriller-like subplot never feels necessary, the story becomes powerfully moving as it tackles how gender identity and expectations placed on children can create a skewed worldview and a warped self-image. Children need to have the freedom to live without fear and to love who they love. The film's most compelling advice is to live our lives with people who accept us for who we are. Perhaps this is the most important decision we have to make.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 21.Mar.23 flare

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