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Snapshots

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Three generations of women convene at the lakeside residence of Rose Muller (Piper Laurie) to spend the weekend catching up. Rose’s daughter Patty (Brooke Adams), along with Patty’s daughter Allison (Emily Baldoni), both arrive to spend quality family time together. Allison is facing the breakdown of her marriage and her mother Patty attempts to hammer advice home. Fights escalate, long kept secrets and petty grudges come to the fore and across the weekend, the trio hammers out their issues.

The story then flashes back to 1960, to tell the story of a much younger Rose (Shannon Collis) and her torrid love affair with Louise Baxter (Emily Goss). Louise reinvigorated Rose and instilled her with a defiant sense of her own worth and of the possibilities that could await her as an independent woman in the world. This romantic relationship then informs events that unfold in the present day.

Director Melanie Mayron (an actor who started on Thirtysomething and is currently starring in TV’s Jane the Virgin) interprets the painfully rote script by Jan Miller Corran and Katherine Cortez in an utterly mechanical way. It’s a shame really, considering it was apparently inspired by a true story.

While the earnestness of the filmmakers’ intentions are front and center, it tips over into outright cringe-worthy cliché at many points. Structurally (and emotionally) it wants to be The Notebook meets Carol but it just feels bloodless and way too televisual in its pacing and cinematography.

Alternately, it can’t really succeed by leaning into any kind of Douglas Sirk-style melodrama because the dialogue is just so damn flat; it plays like a lifetime movie of the week in tone and feel. When a script is this leaden and by the numbers, a director’s vision could help, but little can be done to save it. The poor actors do their best (Days of Heaven & Invasion of the Body Snatchers star Brooke Adams clearly struggles with the clunkiest dialogue imaginable) but it’s ultimately just stilted and artificial.

 
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Border

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Tina (Eva Melander) is a Swedish border control officer with an almost preternatural ability to smell people’s emotional states, making her extremely effective at seeking out illicit carriers of contraband.

Her almost Neanderthal appearance (protruding teeth, heavy brow, bristled hair and thick set nose) and a lifetime of rejection and stares, makes her withdrawn and cautious of people’s intentions. She keeps to herself, living in a cabin in the woods where her only company is her feckless live-in boyfriend Roland (Jörgen Thorsson), who seems to love his show dogs more than her.  Her only other relationship is with her elderly father (Sten Ljunggren) who she visits often, though he suffers from dementia and struggles to remember her at times.

One day, while working at her border control station, Tina encounters Vore (Eero Milonoff) whose luggage she searches. Vore looks almost identical in appearance to Tina, same features, same teeth, though with a charismatic swagger and intensity that Tina struggles to shake off. Who is he? Where did he come from? Tina can’t ‘detect’ anything about Vore, he’s mysterious and intoxicating to her but she feels something dark and dangerous about him.

While in Vore’s presence, her sixth sense is inexplicably muted, and she’s forced to rely solely on her more ‘human’ frailties: her emotions. Driven to investigate her own murky past, and Vore’s, Tina begins to uncover disturbing revelations about Vore and her childhood and the unanswered questions begin to pile up.

Iranian-born, Denmark-based filmmaker Ali Abbasi has crafted one of the most singular and genre-defying films to come along the pike in a great while. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist, Border (original title: Gräns) is a mind-bending melange of romance, Nordic dark noir and fantasy-horror. It’s almost social realist in its style yet interweaves moments of fantasy with a seamless ease.

Lindqvist co-wrote the script with Abbasi and Isabella Eklöf and it’s a filmic experience unlike anything in recent memory.

Eva Melander and Eero Milonoff’s performances are equal parts subtle nuance and searing, primeval intensity, delivered from under layers of prosthetic appliances. It’s in their characters that the film’s truly haunting edges are revealed and even then, it’s hard to isolate precisely what’s going on in its engine-room; to narrow-down precisely what buttons it’s pushing while you’re watching it. The sheer left-field sideswipe of letting several genres bleed into each other, it creates an unsettling, hypnotic and chilling experience that defies description and prediction. An absolute cracker.

 
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Rafiki

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Within the busy urban sprawl on the edges of Nairobi, Kenya (in an area known as ‘The Slopes’), Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) cruises on her skateboard through candy-coloured streets as children play on bikes, street-side cafés serve soda to local clientele and the bustling neighbourhood bristles with an energy of possibility, where anything could happen at any time.

A tomboy with no female friends, Kena whiles away her days playing soccer and cruising the streets with the affable Blacksta (Neville Masati) who sees Kena as ‘one of the boys’ and never seems to clock that she really isn’t into guys. Kena’s mother Mercy (Nini Wacera) is divorced from her father John (Jimmy Gathu), who is a shopkeeper in ‘The Slopes’ and is currently campaigning in upcoming local elections. Mercy is initially pleased by the fact that Kena has started spending time with Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), hoping that her tomboy daughter is positively affected by the exposure to the upper-class, day-glo dread-locked girl who also just happens to be the daughter of John’s election campaign rival.

Director Wanuri Kahiu and co-writer Jenna Bass adapted a short story by Ugandan author Monica Arac de Nyeko, and the film never shies away from depicting the rampant homophobia that’s endemic in Africa. So, the stakes are definitely high for the couple, though their relationship might just as well be enclosed in a bubble of giddy elation; while there’s a danger in their secret being discovered, we’re also swept up in their romance. It’s on this hinge that the film hangs, and the two co-leads are really effective and engaging.

The storytelling itself is fairly perfunctory but the message is vital and Kahiu’s artistic flourishes are vibrant and at times, visually fabulous, such as the Do The Right Thing inspired depictions of the colourful characters within ‘The Slopes’ as well as an almost bio-luminescent, black-light disco sequence.

Homosexuality is still a criminal offence in Kenya and accordingly, Rafiki was banned for its positive depiction of being gay, which is ultimately something that lends the film an added sense of glorious defiance, as it sticks its middle finger up at the government.

 
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Silvana

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Born in Lithuania, raised in Sweden by a Syrian father, rapper Silvana Imam has a lot to say about her roots, her gender and her sex. She’s a queer voice trying to be heard in a genre more likely to lean towards misogyny and violence, and when we first meet her in Silvana, it looks like Sweden is ready to listen.

Directed by Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring, and Christina Tsiobanelis, the documentary follows Imam over three years as she copes with fame and finds love. Dropping in on her in 2013, Imam’s new single has hit number one on the charts and she’s practically bouncing off the walls. The rapper appears to relish the opportunity to get her message out there and is unafraid to admit that she enjoys the recognition. To be fair, it’s not like she initially hides herself from the adulation; stalking around Sweden in an oversized black hoodie and clutching a megaphone, both emblazoned with her name and logo.

This, we soon realise, is just surface level Imam; the documentary’s directors quickly cracking through this layer to show us what runs underneath the posturing, and a large part of it sees Imam utterly head over heels in love with fellow musician, Beatrice Eli. Imam doesn’t hide her affection for the singer, whose music tackles the same themes with a pop music coating, and the filmmakers capture gorgeous glimpses of Imam watching her from a far. These moments will resonate with anyone who has been in love and it makes it all the more heart-warming to watch their fledgling romance become Europe’s answer to Jay Z and Beyoncé. Eli cuts through Imam’s pretence, and gleefully shows off her partner’s softer side for the camera.

Mixed into the music and romance are flashes of Imam’s life growing up with conservative parents. Knowing she liked girls from a very young age, Imam experimented with wanting to be a boy called Eric. Something which the rest of the family went with for some time. The documentary follows Imam on a trip to Lithuania to visit her mum, where the performer must hide her sexuality and relationship for fear of some kind of retaliation on her mother. The most sobering moment comes when Imam meets a priest who, following a long diatribe about why women are basically just necks for men (no, we don’t get it either), reprimands her for her musical themes.

It’s all fascinating to watch unfold, but there’s so much going on in Silvana that, at times, the documentary picks up threads only to forget about them later on. For example, Imam’s burnout from her sudden rise to fame is only touched upon in a montage that doesn’t really add anything to the discussion on mental health, even though that appears to be the aim.

However, with so many different facets to Imam it could be argued that focusing too closely on one or two would do a disservice to the artistic talent as a whole. With that in mind, think of Silvana as more of a living, breathing portrait than a documentary.