Archive for the ‘DIFF’ Category

The Pink Whale

The Rain Falls Where it Will

Director: Majid Barzegar

Cast: Nazanin Ahmadi, Mazdak Mirebedini Alireza Sani Far, Arshia Nikbin, Hamidreza Maleki, Kaveh Hadi-Moghaddam

This film is in Farsi with English Subtitles

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

The 2020 film The Rain Falls Where it Will is Iranian director Majid Barzegar’s contemplative multi-generational character study of a family in crisis.

Majid Barzegar has not achieved the international status of his fellow Iranian director Asghar Farhadi who walked away with the Best Foreign Language film Oscar in 2016 for his superb film The Salesman, however Barzegar does explore the intricate relationships of a family as his nuanced story with the somewhat lackluster title of The Rain Falls Where it Will which follows a middle aged nurse Sara expertly played by Nazanin Ahmadi who is sent away from Tehran up north to look after a wealthy patriarch who has had a stroke.

Sara arrives at a remote and somewhat palatial mansion near the ocean and has to deal with a Grandfather whose three children, a son and two daughters are all pessimistic that their father won’t recover as he lies bedridden with a stoke.

As a nurse, Sara intuitively feels that her patient has a chance of recovery and that the family should not make the critical decision to switch off the life support machines which are keeping the patriarch alive.

The emotional crux of this nuanced Iranian film are the scenes between Sara the hired nurse and the grandson Aria who explains that he thinks his grandfather has a chance of recovery. Upon further discussion, Sara discovers that the cheeky and petulant grandson had given his grandfather weed which possibly made his grandfather see a Pink Whale on the shoreline near their family estate.

The Rain Falls Where it Will is a slight and fascinating film about a family who are contemplating the impending death of their patriarch while the nurses discovers that sometimes questions of life and death are sometimes more intuitive than medical.

This nuanced family drama is a melancholic contemplation of life, death and family from an entirely different perspective. Iranian cinema is rarely seen in the Western World so it is always a treat to watch some brilliant cinema even if it is that brief glimpse into a nation which is exiled from the media and labelled a pariah state.

Cinema transcends geographic boundaries so viewers take a chance on The Rain Falls Where it Will, which gets a film rating of 7 out of 10, which is recommended viewing.

What Gabriel Found

Sons of the Sea

Director: John Gutierrez

Cast: Roberto Kyle, Marlon Swarts, Brendon Daniels, Nicole Fortuin

This Film is available to watch on the DIFF 2021 website – https://www.durbanfilmfest.com/collection/features/

Please note this film has violence and strong language has not been rated yet by the South African Film and Publication board.

Afrikaans with English Subtitles

Winner of Best South African Feature Film at the 2021 Durban International Film Festival

American director John Guiterrez debuts his feature film Sons of the Sea at the 2021 Durban International Film Festival all set in Simonstown and the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. This tightly wrought action thriller focuses on two brothers Mikhail and Gabriel played respectively by newcomer actors Roberto Kyle and Marlon Swarts, whose fraternal bond is stretched beyond breaking point when the younger brother Gabriel finds a dead foreigner in the small boutique hotel he is working at in Simonstown.

The foreigner is a Chinese man who has been stabbed and was trafficking abalone or perlemoen which is common off the rugged Atlantic coastline of the Western Cape.

Gabriel’s more violent and headstrong brother Mikhail convinces him that it is a brilliant idea to steal the abalone so that they can resell it. Soon a corrupt government official Peterson is onto their trail. Peterson is played by another screen newcomer Brendon Daniels. Peterson has his own worries to deal with, with a drunken mother-in-law and a young son to take care of.

Gabriel mistakenly confides his secret find to his girlfriend Tanya played by Nicole Fortuin (Flatland). Gabriel’s job at the boutique hotel and his naïve dream of becoming a photographer is shattered when Peterson starts chasing him and his brother Mikhail as they head out of Kalk Bay area over the mountainous Cape of Good Hope region where tragedy strikes.

Writer and director John Gutierrez has a firm grip on the action genre although some of the scenes are messy and he does not provide sufficient back story about the characters or about the larger issue of abalone poaching which is an ongoing problem in the Western Cape.

Gutierrez fails to contextualize the action within the broader city landscape of Cape Town, which is massive and diverse. The actors do a good job in the three respective leads and Sons of the Sea is a proudly South African film.

Sons of the Sea is a tightly wrought action film which focuses on the brother’s relationship and how Gabriel’s find leads him and his sibling into deeper trouble.

Sons of the Sea gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is worth seeing, it’s light on characterization but heavy on suspense. Recommended Viewing

The Tear Drinkers

iGilbert

Director: Adrian Martinez

Cast: Adrian Martinez, Dascha Polanco, Raul Castillo, Socorro Santiago, Mozhan Marno, Emilio Delgado

Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10

English and Spanish with English subtitles

Once Upon Time in Venice and Focus actor Adrian Martinez writes, directs and acts in his directorial debut film iGilbert about a diabetic overweight man who lives with his overprotective mother in a Manhattan brownstone and secretly takes pictures of beautiful woman while also spying on his mother’s tenant the voluptuous exotic dancer Jana wonderfully played by Dascha Polanca (Joy, In the Heights).

Psychologically iGilbert is a fascinatingly complex film yet Martinez as writer, director and actor of this film, unfortunately cannot view himself from a distance, so there are unexpected directorial flourishes which detract from the overall narrative. Nevertheless, iGilbert is interesting and disturbing.

It’s a bizarre tale of morally flawed characters that are all cloying at each other’s emotional boundaries, tear drinkers, waiting for the final combustion to occur. There is Jana’s aggressive boyfriend Tony, well played by Raul Castillo who is both possessive and unhinged, an ex-Army War veteran suffering from severe PTSD.

There is Gilbert Gonzalez’s mother Carmen who constantly plies her overweight son with more food despite his obesity, feeding his own insecurities and heightening his secretive voyeuristic tendencies. Carmen is expertly played by Socorro Santiago last seen in director Steve McQueen’s heist film Widows back in 2018.

Then there is detective Rivera who comes to Gilbert’s aid when he reports a rapist to the police. Detective Rivera is played by character TV actress Mozhan Marno who soon realizes that Gilbert has lots of psychological issues which he needs to explore and play out.

There is also Gilbert’s late step father who appears to him in surreal dream sequences: Rodolfo Delgado, a bizarre Charlie Chaplinesque type figure that antagonizes Gilbert adding to his psychological angst and his neurotic voyeuristic tendencies.

Most of the action takes place in and around a Manhattan brownstone, so if audiences are looking for an angst ridden, claustrophobic psychological drama then iGilbert is both entertaining and disturbing.

As a director Adrian Martinez should have handed the project to someone with more experience although he doesn’t do a bad job but his talent is nowhere near the likes of actors turned directors like Ben Affleck, Kenneth Brannagh and Clint Eastwood. Acting, directing and writing your own story is a tough act to follow.

 iGilbert gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is an unsettling piece of urban cinema all set in New York City.

Places Are Like Lovers

Granada Nights

Director: Abid Khan

Cast: Antonio Aakeel, Oscar Casas, Quintessa Swindell, Virgile Bramly, Julius Fleischanderl, Laura Frederico, Alice Sanders

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

This film is in English with minimal subtitles.

This film has not been released commercially yet and is only available to watch in South Africa as part of the Durban International Film Festival DIFF2021 online program

Writer and director Abid Khan takes the viewer through a whimsical and exploratory film about young people travelling in Southern Spain in his delightful debut film Granada Nights which follows the adventures of Ben, a young British Pakistani man who arrives in Granada in the Costa do Sol in search of his girlfriend Helen.

When Helen has moved on and at the urging of a complete stranger Amelia played by Quintessa Swindell who encourages him to live life spontaneously and not be such a tourist but a traveller. Ben decides to remain in Granada to study Spanish at the Centre for Modern Languages. He moves into an apartment and meets Lucas played by Oscar Casas; Oscar played by Julius Fleischanderl, a wealthy Scandinavian and Silvia played by Laura Frederico.

Ben soon forgets Helen and joins his new friends in an endless series of late night parties and fiestas in Granada, a decadent mix of youthful nonchalance encouraged by the drifter barman Big Dave played by Virgile Bramly.

Abid Khan’s fun loving and incredibly light film Granada Nights is a wonderful story of a young man who grows up emotionally from being a nerdy tourist to an adventurous millennial who realizes that he has to experience life and not take it so seriously.

Inspired by Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy, Khan’s direction perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the modern traveller a group of transient young people that drink, party and socialize while he demonstrates how Ben grows from being a shy young tourist who transforms into a modern traveller who soaks up all the excitement and experiences that Granada has to offer from the late night parties to the strange Catholic parades that occur on the cobbled streets of this ancient Southern Spanish town with the Alhambra at its centre.

The well-scripted snappy dialogue also captures how millennials converse without taking on the bigger responsibilities of the 40 something generation such as job status, marriage and children. 

There is a poignant scene in Granada nights when Ben has a late night discussion with a Pakistani flower seller in the Arab quarter of the Moorish styled Granada about such contemporary issues as islamophobia and the concept of being an immigrant in Europe.

A critical moment comes when Ben finally does reunite with Helen his lacklustre British girlfriend played by Alice Sanders just as he falls in love with Spanish beauty Ella played by Tabata Cerezo.

As Amelia so aptly states at the film’s beginning, places are like lovers, so Ben decides to take a chance on a more flamboyant side of Granada complete with flamenco dancing, broken hearts and late night shots. Granada Nights will make viewers want to be 20 again and travel the world. It is a carefree film without taking its storyline too seriously.

Granada Nights gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes, a lovely film that beautifully embraces all the energies of the transient youth. Highly recommended viewing.

Repression and Desire

Firebird

Director: Peeter Rebane

Cast: Tom Prior, Nicholas Woodeson, Diana Pozharskaya, Oleg Zagorodnii, Jake Henderson

This Film is available on the DIFF Website to be viewed and has not had a cinematic release yet https://www.durbanfilmfest.com/collection/features/

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

This film is in English with no subtitles.

Young Estonian director Peeter Rebane’s heart-warming 2021 film Firebird is a must see at this year’s Durban International Film Festival to be viewed online.

Firebird focuses on the forbidden and touching love story between Sergey wonderfully played by the gorgeous British actor Tom Prior (The Theory of Everything) and Roman played by Ukrainian actor Oleg Zagorodnii set during the cold war in a Soviet Airforce Base just before the impending Soviet invasion of Afghanistan placing the timeline of the film set in the early 1980’s.

Beautifully filmed, Firebird refers to the Stravinsky ballet of the same name and centres on a young private soldier Sergey in the Soviet military who falls in love with his hopelessly dashing lieutenant and aircraft pilot Roman. 

In the midst of this extremely macho world of the Soviet military is this lyrical and beautiful love story that unfolds unexpectedly which director Peeter Rebane treats with sensitivity and grace, without demeaning desire while highlighting the extreme repression that both men were living under whereby any form of suspected homosexual activity was punishable by 5 years in a Soviet labour camp.

Roman is forced to completely hide his sexuality, while Sergey’s true sexuality blossoms as he leaves the military as he pursues a career in the dramatic arts, while studying lines for Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

The fact that both actors are so utterly convincing and easy to watch, makes Firebird excellent viewing, a film very similar to the BAFTA nominated South African 2020 film Moffie directed by Oliver Hermanus. Rebane also draws much inspiration from the Oscar winning Ang Lee film Brokeback Mountain which caused quite a stir upon its first release in 2005.

Repression and desire are intermingled as Roman and Sergey attempt to hide their love for each other not only from the spying military but also from an extremely conservative Soviet society in which men must marry women and reproduce to increase the population of the Soviet Union.

Homosexuality is still banned in Russia but the daring bravado of Estonian director Peeter Rebane’s beautiful and fascinating portrayal of forbidden love both before and during a heteronormative relationship is both informative and exquisite. Roman marries Luisa played by Diana Pozharskaya and even has a child with her, while continuing to keep in touch with the flamboyant thespian Sergey who finds unadulterated acceptance within the Soviet theatre and ballet community.

Rebane’s film is melancholic without being morbid, sensual without being contrived, held together by two decent performances by Prior and Zagorodnii.

Firebird gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended for those viewers that enjoyed Brokeback Mountain and Moffie. A fascinating tale of a true story adapted to film.

Departure Lebanese Style

The Sticky Side of Baklava

Director: Maryanne Zehil

Cast: Claudia Ferri, Jean-Nicholas Verreault, Raia Haidar, Genevieve Brouillette, Zenab Jaber, Michel Forget

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Genre: Family Comedy

French with English Subtitles

Beirut born Canadian film director Maryanne Zehil’s delightful family comedy The Sticky Side of Baklava or La Face du Baklava in French is a must see at this year’s Durban International Film Festival DIFF 2021 which is being screened virtually from Thursday 22nd July until Sunday 1st August 2021.

Zehil writes and directs this delightful family comedy about a couple, Houwayda a Lebanese immigrant woman and her French Canadian husband Pierre who live in Montreal and face the prospect of a year’s internship at a prestige academic institution in Montpellier in France.

Houwayda, wonderfully played by Claudia Ferri dreads the prospects of breaking the news of their imminent departure to her extended expat Lebanese family especially her crazy sister Joelle played by Raia Haider. The couple plan a farewell brunch to their closest family. The husband’s family are all French Canadian so that aspect of the farewell in a plush Montreal home goes perfectly well, despite Pierre’s anxiety about leaving Canada to go and live in France for a year.

Nothing prepares Pierre for Houwayda’s Lebanese brunch on the Saturday before their departure as unbeknownst to her, Houwayda’s sister has invited an entire section of the glamourous and raucous Lebanese family. Because in Lebanon, extended family is everything. Even in the tranquil surroundings of a the Montreal based French Lebanese community that have all emigrated to Canada following the civil war that ripped Lebanon apart for a decade in the 1980’s.

Another Lebanese tradition is that the woman must look after their husbands first and with family gatherings, there has to be sufficient food to feed everyone including all the relatives. Houwayda is also trying to establish her own identity as a philosophy academic and as a woman away from her clinging family while trying to deal with her unpredictable sister Joelle who keeps leaving her husband to come and live with her.

Having grown up myself with a Lebanese paternal grandmother and attending Lebanese gatherings in the expat community in both Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa, I easily related to this film easily especially all the family foibles, the chaos and the general excitement. Not to mention the glamour.

The Sticky Side of Baklava is a light-hearted comedy that takes a comic look at an immigrant community in Montreal as they struggle to blend into a larger Canadian society while still retaining their Lebanese heritage. The scene at the family brunch with three men trying to change a faulty lightbulb is hilarious.

Set in Montreal and Montpellier, catch The Sticky Side of Baklava online at the Durban International Film Festival, a light-hearted comedy which is both American, European and slightly exotic in nature. This film gets a rating of 7 out of 10 and is recommended viewing.

Brooklyn Jazz Hustler

Noah Wise

Director: Ben Zuckert

Cast: Mat Vairo, Raffaella Meloni, Kevin Kilner, Craig Newman, Kate Middleton, Meg Gibson

Spoiler Alerts Valid for Date of Commercial release

Writer, director and composer Ben Zuckert’s second feature film Noah Wise also premiered at the 40th Durban International Film Festival and basically tells the quirky story of a Brooklyn Jazz Hustler played by Matt Vairo.

Audiences should not expect too much to occur in this film, suffice to say it is more a humorous commentary on one young man’s journey to maturity as he navigates the perils of being broke, independent and trying to hit the big time as a saxophonist.

Noah Wise encounters several setbacks including his quartet taking a break due to a lack of performance gigs, and then Noah find a stable job teaching primary school children how to play musical instruments.

Along the way he meets the brash singer-songer writer Rachel played by Rafaella Meloni who has recently moved to New York from Minneapolis.

Quirky independent American cinema doesn’t get better than Noah Wise as he battles through the journeys of unrequited love, dealing with his parents who keep telling him that he desperately needs to take a real interest in current affairs and revealing to Rachel that he is just another broke young jazz hustler who cannot cook and eats canned Sardines.

Noah Wise is a slow moving film, sprinkled with intelligent dialogue about a young couple’s challenge to achieve their individual dreams even at the detriment of their own shifting relationship.

Perhaps, the narrative structure of Noah Wise could have done with less nuance and more action, but overall, it is a gentle compelling tale about a young couple’s love for music in the Big Apple.

Director Ben Zuckert’s Noah Wise received its international premiere at the 52nd Hof International Film Festival in Germany in 2018 before being screened at the 40th Durban International Film Festival in July 2019.

Noah Wise is recommended for audiences that enjoy American independent cinema where action is overtaken by subtle dialogue and episodic events. Noah Wise gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 as the storyline needed to be injected with some dramatic conflict to propel the narrative further.

The Skin We Live In

The White Line

Director: Desiree Kahikopo

Cast: Jan-Barend Scheepers, Girley Charlene Jazarama, Sunet van Wyk, Mervin Uahupirapi

Director Desiree Kahikopo’s stunning Namibian film The White Line had its South African film premiere at the 40th Durban International Film Festival and I was lucky enough to catch a screening of it at the Suncoast Entertainment Complex.

The White Line had a Theatrical release at Ster Kinekor Cinemas in Namibia on 13th November 2020.

Admittedly, I have not seen many films from the Namibian Film Commission or films that deal so brilliantly with Namibia’s tortured past prior to independence in 1990 when it was called South West Africa which fell under the special administrative region of the then South African Apartheid government.

The White Line superbly deals with the complexities of an inter-racial relationship when it was a crime for black and white persons to have a sexual relationship under the immorality act. Set in 1963, The White Line tells the story of a young South West African white policeman Pieter de Wit played by Jan-Barend Scheepers who falls in love with his black domestic worker Sylvia Kamutjeno wonderfully played by Girley Charlene Jazarama.

More significantly, The White Line deals with the ugly overt racism that existed in South West Africa especially evident in the Afrikaner rural community displayed by the policeman’s sister and husband who are inevitably shocked when he confesses his affair to his brother-in-law.

The consequences are far worse for the domestic worker who is imprisoned for breaking the immorality act. In a particular poignant scene, the two main characters have an argument in the desolate Namibian countryside at dusk whereby Sylvia tells Pieter that he has no idea how difficult it is to live in the skin she has.

The White Line is framed by the 1990 opening scenes of Namibia’s formal independence as a newly formed African country and how that independence comes with the gradual reconciliation of past secrets and a passionate plea for acceptance and diversity for Namibia’s post-independence born free generation.

The White Line is a stunning film, simply told with most of the dialogue in Afrikaans with English subtitles and is a superb example of the emerging talent of Namibian cinema.

At the Q and A after the screening, I asked the director if The White Line is going to receive a commercial release in South Africa and she assured me it will. When The White Line completes the festival circuit and does receive a commercial release, audiences should make an effort to watch it.

The White Line is a fascinating portrait of interracial love at a time when immorality was infused with political supremacy and the desires of the individual was crushed by the unjust laws of the pre-independence Apartheid South African state which governed the barren South West African territory.

Namibian director Desiree Kahikopo’s engrossing film The White Line gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is recommended viewing. Audiences should watch this film, but be aware that it deals with the issue of racism explicitly.

The Vipers of Sophiatown

Back of the Moon

DIFF winner – Best South African Feature Film 2019

Director: Angus Gibson

Cast: Richard Lukunku, Moneoa Monash,Lemogang Tsipa, Israel Matseke-Zulu, Sicelo Dlamini, Siyabonga Thwala

One of the best films I saw at the 40th Durban International Film Festival http://ccadiff.ukzn.ac.za/ was director Angus Gibson’s period gangster film Back of the Moon featuring an all-star South African cast including Lemogang Tsipa (The Eye in the Sky, Beyond the River) as the ruthless gangster Ghost.

Back of the Moon deservedly won Best South African Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival #DIFF 2019.

Back of the Moon is set in Sophiatown in 1958 as the South African Apartheid government are about to enforce removals of the Sophiatown residents out of the district to Meadowlands which is on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Director Angus Gibson captures all the brutal essence of a gangster film, with the notorious gang The Vipers causing havoc at the Back of the Moon, while Sophiatown’s local celebrity Eve Msomi glitters as the main act at the more upmarket Casablanca nightclub.

Eve and Badman one Fateful Night

The Vipers gang go behind their leader Badman’s back and unbeknownst to him kidnap Eve as she dazzles the crowd at the Casablanca nightclub on a fateful night. Badman was asleep and woke up to discover his gang taunting Eve. Badman orders the Viper gang to leave but orders Eve to stay. Eve is on the verge of leaving Sophiatown for London to start a new life with her kind manager but as they plan to escape the brutality of Apartheid South Africa in the 1950’s which threatens to strip Sophiatown of its precarious glamour and all that it represents, they inadvertently get caught up in a fateful night they will never forget with Badman and his vicious Viper gang members.

In a wonderful scene between Badman and Eve, he makes her a couple of tea and Eve replies by saying “I didn’t know gangsters make tea.”

Badman has to contest with Eve’s boxer boyfriend while Ghost makes a dangerous bid to control the Vipers. Ghost is brilliantly played by Lemogang Tsipa whose lethal addiction to the gangster life takes its toll on all those around him.

The Viper Gang

Back of the Moon is gorgeously filmed, extremely well-acted and offers a unique and often forgotten snapshot of the half demolished ghetto Sophiatown before it was obliterated from its location while the ambiance and memories of Sophiatown linger on in the collective national psyche filled with elegy and brutality.

Sophiatown in 1958 the scene of Back of the Moon

21st century audiences must view Back of the Moon as a period gangster film, with the femme fatale, the evil gangster and all those caught in between, a sort of South African retro version of director Barry Levinson’s Oscar winning 1991 American gangster film Bugsy starring Warren Beatty, Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening.

Back of the Moon gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is one of the best South African period films about Sophiatown and will surely add to South Africa’s growing and impressive film canon.

Highly recommended viewing but not for sensitive viewers due to some disturbingly violent scenes.

39th DIFF Winners

Winners of the 39th Durban International Film Festival #DIFF2018

announced at Suncoast Casino Supernova Cinema on Saturday 28th July 2018 –

https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Best Feature Film: The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Best Director: Constantin Popescu – Pororoca

Best Actor: Bogdan Dumitrache – Pororoca

Best Actress: Maisa Abd Elhadi – The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Best Screenplay – Jennifer Fox – The Tale

Best South African Feature Film – High Fantasy directed by Jenna Bass

 

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