dir-scr Carter Smith; with Cooper Koch, Jose Colon 22/US ***
Unusually unsettling, this offbeat horror thriller features a line-up of visceral jolts that cleverly play on deeper internalised ideas. Writer-director Carter Smith takes a stripped-back approach to filmmaking, keeping things gritty and loose while honing in on quirky character details and playing provocatively with tropes from both horror and gay cinema. So even if the story and characters are somewhat lacking when it comes to internal logic, the film creates a superbly queasy sense of unease.
Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn
dir Timothy Harris; with Malcolm Kenyatta, Matt Miller 23/US ****
Covering a vitally important political campaign in perhaps too much detail, this documentary is essential viewing simply for what it says about American politics. Using a fly-on-the-wall style over the course of two years, filmmaker Timothy Harris zeroes in on a milestone candidate who simply rejects the idea that only straight white guys can run the country. As a gay Black man, Malcolm Zenyatta knows rather a lot more about the state of his community.
Horseplay [Los Agitadores]
dir-scr Marco Berger; with Bruno Giganti, Agustin Machta 22/Arg ***.
Argentine filmmaker Marco Berger continues to provocatively explore the nature of masculinity in this loosely unstructured comedy-drama about a group of friends who play very close to the boundaries. But the meandering pace conceals a startling swell of very dark emotions, from toxic machismo to self-loathing homosexuality. These things are depicted in ways that force the viewer to think, continually blurring the lines society says are neatly cut and dried.
Wolf and Dog [Lobo e Cão]
dir-scr Claudia Varejao; with Ana Cabral, Ruben Pimenta 22/Por ****
Set in the Azores archipelago, this strikingly visual slice of life is artfully shot by cinematographer Rui Xavier. Writer-director Claudia Varejao tells the story in a way that feels almost accidental, capturing tiny moments that accumulate along the way. The narrative feels meandering and elusive, with only a few sharply pointed events, but this provides the space for us to put ourselves into the situations and consider our reactions... FULL REVIEW >
Bread and Salt [Chleb i Sól]
dir-scr Damian Kocur; with Tymoteusz Bies, Jacek Bies 22/Pol ***
Bracingly shot in observational style, this Polish drama gets up close to its characters even as it neglects the narrative. It's an often harrowing depiction of a small town where young people think it's cool to deal in racism, bigotry and bullying. And the thoughtful central character draws us in, even if his journey remains stubbornly off-camera. Writer-director Damian Kocur has a terrific eye for real-life interaction, so the film has power as a document of a place and time. But stronger storytelling might have made it involving and moving.
BEST OF THE YEAR
dir-scr Elegance Bratton; with Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union 22/US ****.
There's striking artistry in the way filmmaker Elegance Bratton recounts an autobiographical narrative about a Black gay man in US Marines boot camp during the "don't ask, don't tell" years. Never preachy, the film has an earthy, intensely internalised tone that puts its complex characters into a razor-sharp perspective. And its knowing authenticity adds both deep emotion and a textured, vital comment on the nature of bigotry... FULL REVIEW >