By Roger Costa
How would you react if your best friend’s 9 year-old son had just abused and attacked your 4 year-old daughter during a Summer gathering?
It’s a very complicated situation, utterly uncomfortable and dysfunctional. It involves kids, modern behavior and bad influence, hormonal confusion, violence, precocious sex.
And if such scandal happens to be in a small, conservative community, including a politician’s reputation, things can get out of control, for the sake of good values.
Writer-Director Michael Bentham’s debut feature isn’t shy of putting all the controversial matter on the table, as the couples, parents of the children, are reunited to discuss the issue and solve it at whatever cost it will take. The film opens with a slow-motion, friendly-like look at the community in movement through the sidewalks, and immediately cuts to the climax of a sexual activity between a couple, enjoying it while recording themselves. It’s a sign there’s something bizarre about to happen, as the residents of such a quiet community seem to have unusual, straight-forward habits. The use of slow motion continues through the film, especially highlighting moments of extreme distress. Cinematographer Mark Carey does a fabulous job with enhanced lights on the sunny, green-filled Australian estate, with beautiful observations on insects, shades into the woods, the shining water, the heat, fire, leaves, and of course, the facial confrontations.
The four actors who play both couples dealing with this disturbing moral issue give courageously convincing performances, roles influenced by stage-techniques but in complete harmony with the magic imagery of the screen.
Another fascinating attribute to the film is the fact we barely see the children. There’s a glimpse of the boy in an euphoric attack at the beginning, and we finally see the accuser, the 4-year-old Natasha at the very last scene. With the premise of abuse predominating throughout the narrative, many ideas are proposed, with relevance on modern adults’ behavior, and children’s behavior, resulting in a stirring, investigative and thought-provoking analysis on loyalty, righteousness, acceptance, frustration, privilege and sexual taboo.
Director Bentham masterly pushes the players to drastic conclusions, as they insist on their distinctive perspectives on the case, hurting, offending and committing attacks to each other’s privacy in order to save themselves from the scandal.
A very satisfying and well-done dramatic production, it suffers from repetitive dialogue, but despite that flaw, it’s a controversial, gripping, intense and authentic account on human instinct and priorities.
(Breaking Glass Pictures. 6/30 on VOD and 7/7 on DVD.)
Winner of the Jury Prize at Newburyport Documentary Film Festival, Bill Gallagher’s heart-wrenching feature debut tells the story of Guor, a South Sudan war survivor Athlete fighting borders and bureaucracy to accomplish his objective: run in the Olympics. A thrilling, inspiring and detailed account on the country’s starving issue, civil war and humanitarian negligence, Gallagher brilliantly blends truthful testimonies, relevant facts, animation, and personal drama, creating an accomplished statement on freedom and acceptance. It’s a triumphant look at the notorious human rights’ battle that gained attention worldwide, showcasing a man’s determination and passionate dreams.
(Lucky Hat Entertainment. Now playing on VOD.)
THE LAST TREE ⭐⭐⭐
One of the most celebrated British indie films of the year (it earned award nominations at both British Independent Film Awards and Sundance), writer-director Shola Amoo’s sophomore project proves him to be an exciting new cinematic force. Told in two parts, it depicts the emotional distress of a boy, as he puts up efforts to re-adapt to the mother who once abandoned him. Refusing to leave behind his friends and the “mom” who had taken care of him, he reacts harshly to the new neighborhood, the school and even more, to the complicated relationship with estranged mother. In the second act, the film explores his transitions from a teen to an adult, as he experiences love, greed, competition and inclinations to criminality. Sensitive, thrilling and stylized, Amoo scored a top-notch insightful drama about a dysfunctional family and a boy’s self-identity journey.
(ArtMattan Films. Now playing at BAM’s Virtual Cinema and other platforms. Visit https://www.africanfilm.com/blogs/artmattan-films-virtual-cinema/the-last-tree for details.)