Wednesday, 7 November 2018

TIFF: Personal space

I'm perhaps watching too many films here at the 59th Thessaloniki International Film Festival, which has now passed the halfway mark and is in the homestretch. It's been good to catch up with films I missed at London Film Festival last month, including the Berlin winner Touch Me Not (above) and Kenya's Rafiki. I'm seeing four or five films per day here - excessive even for me - so have been using the time in between to walk around this city - a colourful, busy place. Here's what I've been watching...

Touch Me Not 
dir-scr Adina Pintilie; with Laura Benson, Tomas Lemarquis 18/Ger ****
Exploring the concept of intimacy using a blended approach that includes both fictional narrative and documentary elements, this film isn't easy to categorise. Its plot is very loose, but there's a strong sense of momentum in the internal journeys of a handful of characters, including filmmaker Adina Pintilie herself. Rather too full-on for mainstream audiences, more adventurous viewers will find themselves prodded into examining their own physicality more honestly.

dir Wanuri Kahiu; with Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva 18/Ken ****.
Small and perfectly formed, this subtle but hugely involving romance takes on a powerfully taboo topic in its homeland of Kenya: same-sex romance. Without either preaching or pushing the premise too far, filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu follows two likeable young women who simply feel drawn to each other. Reactions from the people around them are surprising and darkly provocative, making this quiet little movie deeply important.

dir Alex Moratto; with Christian Malheiros, Tales Ordakji 18/Br ****
Produced by a workshop of young people aged 16 to 20, this Brazilian drama takes a bracingly realistic approach to its story of a teen living, in more ways than one, on the margins of society. Addressing economic issues, religion and sexuality, the film never tries to preach, instead offering an open-handed, humane approach that seeks compassion and hope in a situation that is increasingly desperate. It’s a remarkable little film, beautifully shot and edited, and deeply moving.

All Good [Alles Ist Gut]
dir-scr Eva Trobisch; with Aenne Schwarz, Andreas Dohler 18/Ger *** 
There's an earthy, realistic approach to the difficult situations in this German drama, and the dilemmas the characters face are both timely and involving. But writer-director Eva Trobisch overeggs the script with events that are predictable, over-complicated and ultimately badly contrived. And this pushiness undermines the film's important exploration of the complexity of the #MeToo era.

Smuggling Hendrix
dir-scr Marios Piperides; with Adam Bousdoukos, Fatih Al 18/Cyp ***
Cute but formulaic, this Cypriot caper relies on rather a lot of ramshackle charm as it cycles through a series of slapstick set pieces. But it never manages to surprise us, and filmmaker Marios Piperides never makes anything of the political conflict that provides the entire premise. Still, his script has frequent splashes of very sharp wit, so the movie becomes a crowdpleaser. Well, it’s difficult to hate a film that so shamelessly relies on a mischievous dog.

Holy Boom
dir-scr Maria Lafi; with Luli Bitri, Nena Menti 18/Gr ***
An ambitious multi-strand drama centred in among Athens’ immigrant community, this film’s emotional moments almost make up for its contrived melodrama and moralistic tone. At least writer-director Maria Lafi keeps the situations complex enough to avoid easy answers, even if parts of the story play into the hands of those who falsely believe that migrants are the cause of all problems. And even if the heavy reliance on corny criminal plotlines undermines the more interesting issue-based narrative.

dir Isabella Eklof; with Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lai Yde 18/Den *.
A sunny vacation spot is the setting for this rather perplexing Danish melodrama. Populated with undefined characters who are reprehensible, it's a difficult film to engage with, especially since the plot is so sketchy and unconvincing. There are some chilling observations on tough guy masculinity, but the film's message never makes it through the murky narrative. And a startlingly graphic sex scene seems here just to give the film notoriety.

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After the blinding array of movies I'm watching at the festival, I'll be turning my attention back to the regular weekly releases when I get back to London on Monday, chasing down Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and Steve McQueen's Widows, for starters. Other incoming films I need to see include Robin Hood, The Girl in the Spider's Web, Nativity Rocks and Cannes-winner Shoplifters.

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