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Features Live Action Movies

Playground (Un Monde)

Director – Laura Wandel – 2021 – Belgium – Cert. 15 – 72m

****1/2

A quiet, seven-year-old girl starts school and has to deal with the trauma of her older brother being bullied by bigger boys – out in cinemas on Friday, April 22nd

They hug in the playground before going in. It’s the first day of school for seven-year-old Nora (Maya Vanderbeque) and she doesn’t want to be separated from her elder brother Abel (Günter Duret). When she’s pulled off him, she just wants to hug her dad (Karim Leklou) and doesn’t want him to leave. Eventualy, the kindly lady schoolteacher takes her firmly by the hand and walks her into the building. In class, she’s hesitant about speaking her name. At lunch, she’s not allowed to sit with her brother but must stay with the kids the same age as her.

In the playground, she approaches Abel, but he tells her to keep away as “we’re beating up the new kids with Antoine”. She blunders in anyway and sees him trying to defend her from the bullies. Later, witnessing an incident on the stairs, she reports that older boys are bullying her brother causing a teacher to intervene. He won’t tell the teacher what’s going on, believing that will only make things worse.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu Bucluc sau Porno Balamuc)

Director – Radu Jude – 2021 – Romania – Cert. 18 – 106m

*****

A teacher becomes the subject of controversy after her husband’s private sex tape is posted online – on BFI Player Subscription from Friday, April 1st

Park your prejudices at the door! The opening three or so minutes of this will surprise or possibly even shock you – basically, hard core, live action genital sex images of a man and a woman, no holds barred. Real, not simulated. And real in other senses too – banging… knocking… (oh God, double entendres, can’t see how to avoid them here) on the door as our couple go at it… Her mother, one imagines, heard through the wall… “Emi, are you asleep” – Emi’s reply, “please leave us alone” – her mother again, “the little one hasn’t sanitised”…

Yes, it’s the world of immediate, post-lockdown pandemic, with people wearing masks and social distancing (or not, if they don’t get it). That wasn’t in the script but when director Jude was shooting in Bucharest: Romania was coming out of lockdown, and he decided to incorporate that into his film. Most contemporary films pretend we’re in a world where Covid-19 never happened or isn’t happening, so we just carry on as normal.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Detention (Fanxiao, 返校)

Director – John Hsu – 2019 – Taiwan – 12A – 103m

****

Two Taiwanese students find themselves trapped in their school overnight under that country’s White Terror regime in 1962 – on Shudder (US, Canada) from Monday, February 21st

This is a real oddity: an adaptation of a video game set in a specific historic period of political turmoil. That period is Taiwan’s White Terror (1949-87) under which, among other things, numerous books were banned by the ruling Kuomintang party on the grounds of promoting left-wing or Communist ideas. Merely reading some of these books could provide grounds for execution.

Like the video game, the film is set in the Greenwood High School. It’s 1962 and boy and girl students Fang Ray-shin (Gingle Wang) and Wei Chong-ting (Tseng Jing-Hua) find themselves trapped overnight in the school building after flood waters destroy the access road to the school. What follows isn’t particularly linear in terms of its narrative as school corridors, walkways, rooms and halls are visited by various supernatural beings and become scenes of terror, torture and execution.

The elliptical and sometimes repetitive nature of the storytelling and its component images mean that the film isn’t always that easy to follow, at least not to Western audiences familiar with mainstream Hollywood narrative.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Student ((M)uchenik)

Director – Kirill Serebrennikov – 2016 – Russia – Cert. 15 – 118m

****

An obsession with the Bible drives a Russian secondary school student towards dark designs in a film with both religious and political ramifications – out in cinemas on Friday, March 3rd 2017

Late teenager Venya (Pyotr Skvortsov) needs something to believe in. Both the State and its lackey the Orthodox Church have failed him. He spends much of his time either thumbing through his dog-eared pocket Bible or reading aloud from it to those around him. His lone parent mum (Yuliya Aug) initially thinks it’s a joke but comes to realise that her son’s rebellion is grounded in something she doesn’t really know or understand.

Most of his classmates are more interested in sex and larking about. Venya skips swimming lessons where he objects to the girls’ immodest bikinis. Later in an empty classroom he pushes away Lidia (Aleksandra Revenko) when she removes her top and throws herself at him. He spends time with bullied and disabled fellow student Grigoriy (Aleksandr Gorchilin) whose leg he promises to heal.

For the most part his school’s principal, teachers and even its Orthodox priest (who he dismisses as compromised and Mercedes-driving) can’t handle Venya.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Another Round (Druk)

Director – Thomas Vinterberg – 2020 – Denmark – Cert. 12a – 115m

****1/2

Four teachers decide to test the theory that human beings function better with a little alcohol permanently in their blood – out on rental on various platforms including BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema in the UK from Monday, September 27th

Racing round the lake carrying a crate of beer. Drink a bottle at every stop. Penalty points if you puke, less points if you all puke together as a team. 

That’s a typical weekend activity for their students, but four teachers are an older generation, some of them married with kids and dealing with more mature relationship issues. 

One of them has been reading an academic theory that humans have an alcohol deficiency of about 0.5% and convinces the other three to help him conduct an experiment. They will all consume the amount of alcohol required to bring them up to the theory’s optimum level. 

The experiment is initially successful, but then wreaks havoc within each of their lives as they up the quantity of alcohol to the next level. 

Using intertitles to indicate the increasing percentage of alcohol in the blood as the four drink collectively or individually, this drama charts what happens to the four as they pursue their idea to its logical conclusion and beyond.… Read the rest

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Live Action Movies Shorts

Three Brothers

Director – Aleem Khan – 2014 – UK – Cert. – 17m 11s

****

A teenager must take care of his two brothers when their father vanishes – available as an extra on the After Love Blu-ray released on Monday, August 23rd

It’s not entirely clear what’s happened to London teenager Hamid (Zain Muhammad Zafar) and his two younger brothers Humza (Yousuf Hussain) and Billy (Muhammad Mujahid-Ali Shahzad). An opening family video complete with dropout at picture bottom shows the parental hassle of getting the three boys into the car for a trip, then mum (Sona Vyas) and dad (Kulvinder Ghir) driving, then – presumably – a car accident (because the picture cuts out) in which the mother is kiled (because she’s never seen again (apart from as a presence in a photograph). This is mashed up with footage of the brothers, most notably Hamid caring for his chicken and inspecting eggs he keeps in a little electric-powered hatchery device in his bedroom.

Neither parent is around and there are dire warnings on the phone from school about how this can’t go on. There’s a parents evening coming up, so Hamid takes the other two and sends them in to the classroom alone, but his teacher (Kate Russell-Smith) comes out and demands he stop walking away down the corridor and take off his mask.… Read the rest

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Animation Movies Shorts

Feeling From Mountain And Water (Shan Shui Qing, 山水情)

Directors – Te Wei, Ma Kexuan, Yan San Chun – 1988 – China – Cert. N/C U – 20m

*****

Against a backdrop of mountains, rivers and the sea, a boy learns to play zither from an old master – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th

A bearded man carries a package through a mountainous, water-strewn landscape. A boy gives him a ride on his boat. When the man collapses after leaving the boat, the boy takes him to his house. The package turns out to be a zither. The man plays. The boy learns and is soon playing skilfully.

The plot here, such as it is, is really just an excuse to move the camera around incredible ink and watercolour landscapes and, in places, move objects such as the two main characters, the boy’s boat, fish in the river or water trickling down a mountainside in a style which fits with that. That’s an admirable aim and the film succeeds in spades. 

There are static marks on the screen which you know to be merely brush strokes, yet they convey, for example, an outcrop of rock visible in the snow or a small islet surrounded by water.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

I Still Remember (Er Ci Ren Sheng, 二次人生)

Director – Lik Ho – 2021 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 90m

***1/2

A young loser looks back on his life prior to running a 10K marathon to create an achievement of which he can be proud – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th

If you imagine that a movie with a title like I Still Remember would be chock full of flashbacks, you’d be dead right. Lee Chi Hang (Wu Tar Tung) fondly remembers his primary school teacher Wong Kwok Wai (Patrick Tam Yiu Man) who first encouraged him when he saw him cheering on his friend Yu Leung running the perimeter of a small playground and has continued to do so through most of his life.

Whatever he does today, though, Lee can’t seem to get it right. Working at the sales company run by the now grown up Yu (Johnny Hui), he consistently achieves the lowest scores in the weekly office tables. Lee fails for a long time to notice that co-worker and sometime fellow amateur runner Cheung Chi Ling (Sofee Ng Hoi Lam) is in love with him.

Her attempts to get him to run don’t work out either.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Intimate Strangers (Wanbyeokhan tain, 완벽한 타인)

Director – Lee Jae-kyoo – 2018 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 115m

****

Four couples attend a dinner party where a game with mobile phones threatens to revel all their intimate secrets – online from 2pm Friday, November 6th to 2pm Monday, November 9th, book here, from the Special Focus: Friends and Family strand of the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) taking place right now

A group of male friends since childhood and their wives and girlfriends meet for a house-warming of one of their number. One of the wives suggests a game. Why don’t they all put their mobile phones on the table and share any call, text, email or data that comes in?

Actually, it turns out there are some very good reasons why not – as they will all discover during the course of the evening. Indeed, the film’s final five minutes or so (and, strangely, this is not a spoiler) shows the couples driving home separately and contentedly after a pleasant evening where they wisely declined to play the game. All’s right with the world.

However, in between that coda and the opening, 34 years earlier prologue in which the four men’s childhood selves catch fish through a hole in the ice of a frozen river then spend the evening together round a camp fire in the dark, the four couples do indeed play this game at the present day house-warming.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Young Ahmed (Le Jeune Ahmed)

Directors – Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne – 2019 – Belgium, France – 85m

***1/2

Exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, August 7th

Belgian teenager Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi) is having problems with his teacher Miss Inès (Myriem Akheddiou). As he sees it, she disrespects his Muslim faith. His life timetable is governed by the time table of not, as you might expect, his school but his mosque. He must attend prayers at a specific time. Actually, his teacher and school are more than accommodating of these demands, but that’s not how Ahmed sees it.

He has long and deep discussions with his local Imam, Youssouf (Othmane Moumen), a radical jihadist and frankly a pretty creepy individual. Ahmed looks up to and trusts him. More than he does his teacher who he accuses on various occasions of betraying the faith, having a Jewish boyfriend and being an infidel. (Incidentally, this being a French language movie the word ‘infidel’ has a direct meaning of ‘unfaithful’ in that language, something I’ve never noticed before.) More than he does his mother (Claire Bodson) who he berates for having the occasional drink or two. It doesn’t help that he seems to regard women and girls as unclean and inferior.… Read the rest