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Shaping Revolutions, Absurd War, A Boy’s Journey & Family Dilemma

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By Roger Costa

MANGROVE ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Kicking off the much-awaited Small Axe series event, a compilation of five films inspired by the British-Caribbean heritage experience in the 70’s and 80’s, helmed by renowned director Steve McQueen, this first entry centers on the battle against prejudice and discrimination initiated by Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), owner of the popular Caribbean restaurant Mangrove, and Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), the leader of the British black Panther Movement. An energetic place for celebrations and communal entertainment, the owner and his clients are constantly threatened and abused by police force. When some of them are wrongly arrested, a notorious and scandalous trial ensues, provoking a revolution on the streets and calling the world’s attention. As they evaluate their concepts on racial injustices and violence, accomplished filmmaker McQueen explores both sides of the conflict, the horrendous motivations of the racism effect, while also presenting key elements of the community’s pride, traditions and heritage with familiarity. Intense, masterfully performed and stylish, it’s an urgent and relevant production that echoes our troubled and disruptive times.

(Amazon Studios. 11/20. On Amazon Prime.)

DONBASS ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Winner of the Un Certain Regard Director Prize at Cannes and Ukraine’s official selection for the Oscars, prolific filmmaker and documentarian Sergei Loznitsa’s satirical comedy is a clever depiction on the horrors of the country’s contemporary war. Despite its surrealistic aesthetic, the film presents with accuracy and realism the obstacles, humiliation and violence experienced by civilians, refugees and just honest patriots, as they face various confrontations and violations of their human rights. Built on random scenes, presenting the conflicts and bombings surging during the encounters between corrupt politicians, officials, soldiers, a film crew, business owners, and regular folks, the director doesn’t necessarily follow a specific character, and such technique works finely, as the narrative manages to keep it insanely funny and immersive into the war crisis. A powerful and outrageous art-house socio-political statement, Loznitsa crafted an epic-style, well executed, personal/nationalist film, with urgent historical and humanitarian relevance.

(Film Movement. 11/20. On Film Movement Plus Virtual platform.)

AINU MOSIR ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Japanese-born, New York-based filmmaker Takeshi Fukunaga’s delicate and inspirational drama is centered on the stirred emotions of a boy who’s facing a cultural clash. Missing a father figure, the boy tries to avoid his ancestry and indigenous traditions, but soon finds solace with an eccentric musician who leads him through the practices and wisdom of their beliefs. His friendship to a baby bear puts the community’s annual ritualistic festival at jeopardy, while he will gradually learn the hard lessons and inevitable disappointments of the cycle of life. Young talent Kanto Shimokura has a hypnotizing presence as the protagonist, building up a complex character, a lonely and outcast boy struggling with self-confidence and identity, right as he grieves his father’s loss. Director Fukunaga conceives a glorious meditation on humanitarian values, boyhood, faith and comradeship. He also introduces the audience to a unique and exclusive experience, working with non-professional actors- residents of the community playing themselves, displaying their culture and traditions with effective naturalism. Winner of the Best Narrative Feature Special Jury Mention Award at this year’s Tribeca, it is certainly the most thoughtful, heart-warming and contemplative coming of age story of 2020. I am in love with it.

(Array Releasing. 11/20. On NetFlix.)

UNCLE FRANK ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Paul Bettany is the most likely bet on the Oscar race for Best Actor in terms of representing the LGBT community. Here he delivers his most accomplished and courageous performance yet, a life-changing role. He plays a closeted gay man who comes to term with his family (mostly his homophobic father) after a little help from his teen niece during the 70’s political, sexual and social awakening. Directed by Alan Ball, a master of American family conflicts who penned the Oscar-winning classic “American Beauty” the film is a delicate and affecting drama with great doses of humor and warmth focusing on the relationship built between Paul and his niece, played with candor by Sophia Lillies. It’s an accurate double take on the coming of age genre: while Sophia’s character must navigate the challenges of womanhood, her Uncle Frank is struggling with accepting his own sexuality and commitment. Very efficient and moving, Ball’s sophomore directorial effort proves his ability to explore and translate the dysfunctionalities of American society and repressive family behavior. A must-see!

(Amazon Studios. 11/25. On Amazon Prime.)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


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