Lots of small-budget indies opening this week.  The standout of the lot is RIDDLE OF FIRE which premiered at Midnight Madness TIFF last year.

COMING TO YOU (South Korea 2021) ***

Directed by Gyiro Byun


A documentary from South Korea on personal LGBT issues!

Gyuri Byun's emotional heartfelt Korean documentary centres on two working-class mothers, Nabi and Vivian. Like many in South Korea, where there is a distinct lack of legal protections for queer communities and gay marriage remains illegal, neither women gave much thought to LGBTQ+ rights or its growing advocacy among the country's younger generations. Therefore, their lives and perceptions were upended when their respective children came out to them — Nabi's as trans, and Vivian's as gay. Reluctant to accept this news at first, both women's reactions reveal deep-rooted discriminatory beliefs about queerness. This is not uncommon in South Korean society, which makes their respective transformations all the more impactful — both women grew to not only accept their children's gender and sexuality but became activists in their own right as members of Parents, Families, and Allies of LGBTAIQ+ People in Korea. Both Nabi and Vivian grapple with the pain and loneliness their children feel, the struggle to access gender-affirming care, and the yearning for societal and familial acceptance. Without shying away from their initial discriminatory opinions, Byun's impressive film tells an unflinchingly honest story of hard-won allyship and gives faith to the idea that people can change their minds.

Director Byun’s doc can hardly be called groundbreaking as the issues of coming out have been covered countless times since the times when gays were ostracized till now when gays are largely accepted.  However, the emotions experienced by the 4 subjects (each given around equal screen time)  are still felt everywhere and it is still heartbreaking to see what the subjects went through.

The emotions and reactions are different.  Nabi’s trans wishes to do an FTM (female-to-male transition)but the mother disapproves initially.  She says on camera that she hates her mother.  After much thought and examination, the mother, Nabi finally relents.  An emotional “Thank you, Mother” means so much to Nabi after she is acknowledged.  The issue of how difficult the operation needs to be approved (needs to be approved by a judge; needs parental consent despite the fact that the person has come of age) is also observed in the film.   On the other hand, Vivian’s son still loves his mother.  The process of coming out to his mother is a curious one.  He leaves a letter to his parents while returning later.  The letter is a coming-out letter that describes how much he is going through.  The surprise for her is that the son has come out to his friends first.

Vivian 55, is a veteran firefighter while Nabi 50, is a flight attendant.  The process of acceptance of their LGBT children forms a major part of the film.  The climax of the film shows both of them at a support group meeting where they speak out.

  COMING TO YOU has won many documentary awards as it was screened in international festivals.  The film premieres via VOD and digital outlets on March 22nd, 2024



DAD & STEP-DAD (USA 2022) **

Directed by Tynan Delong


DAD & STEP DAD is a micro-budget DIY (Do-it-yourself) movie that prided itself as a film with no script (actually not a thing to be proud of) while containing lots of improv.

An improv film suffers from a lose-lose situation.  If part of the film is changed because the improv did not work - then the film can no longer be considered improv.  On the other hand, if the entire film is improv, then it will have to include the parts that do not work.  A film that is planned and well-written would most likely turn out better than one that is unplanned.

DAD & STEP-DAD  comedy about family, communication, insecurity, and the fragility of the male ego, the film follows Jim and Dave, a dad and a step-dad, as they struggle with bonding during a weekend upstate with Branson, the son they share.

DAD & STEP-DAD first began as a series of improvised shorts created by DeLong, Colin Burgess, and Anthony Oberbeck in 2018, allowing the trio years to hone their characters and comedic sensibility before growing the project to feature-length. Inspired by cinéma vérité documentaries, ASMR, and Japanese environmental music, the formally and tonally unique character-driven slow-burn was shot in four days during the summer of 2021 with a production budget of $18,000 and is entirely improvised, based on a robust outline and several rehearsals.

The three actors are comedians with an impressive acting resume.  To their credit, they interact in their scenes credibly and the chemistry works well.  Though occasionally repetitive in their dialogue, expected for improv, it is what it is.  The characters of the dad and set-dad etch out different personalities.  The character of the mother appears unnecessary, except to put some tension in the relationship between the stepdad and the family.

The 13-year old son Branson is played by 30-year-old actor Brian Fiddyment.  Fiddyment looks 30 despite the way he is wardrobed in the film and not 13.  This is odd casting indeed.  One assumes the credibility of the characters is not of importance.

On the positive side, the film has garnished rave reviews for an improv film.  Already named one of “The Best Movies of 2024 (So Far)” by Esquire, DAD & STEP-DAD became an instant cult comedy hit and screened as part of the inaugural New/Next Film Fest in Baltimore, programmed by veteran curator and taste-maker Eric Allen Hatch, where Paste praised it as, “a movie made for next to nothing by a group of filmmaking friends, Dad & Step-Dad is the closest thing in body and spirit to the kind of DIY cinema that put New/Next’s forerunner, the Maryland Film Festival, on the map some 15 years ago.”

The film is released by NoBudge.  NoBudge, the premiere streaming platform for young and emerging filmmakers launched by filmmaker Kentucker Audley in 2018 —and where 15 of DeLong’s short films can currently be found— makes its first move into the realm of distribution

A year after a packed premiere in New York at the Nitehawk Cinema Prospect Park and a week of sold-out screenings at Spectacle theatre, DAD & STEP-DAD celebrates their long-awaited arrival to digital platforms worldwide on Friday, March 22.



THE FOX (Les Fuchs) (Austria 2021) ****

Directed by Adrian Goiginger


An introverted young farm labourer (Simon Morzé), indentured and seemingly abandoned by his poor family as a child, volunteers for Austria's army but soon finds himself part of Nazi Germany's vast military machine. When he discovers an orphaned fox cub he adopts it and clings to it as the last vestige of his humanity amidst the carnage of WW2. Based on the true story of Franz Streitberger, the director's great-grandfather.

What is interesting to watch and also to note is the behaviour Franz under the circumstances of his youth.  Being sold by his father out of poverty to a richer farm for the reason that he is unable to fend for his son, Franz grew up solitary serving as a farmhand to his new owner till he reached his adult age he was then set free to go.  The scene where the son realizes that he is being sold and yet refuses and has to be taken kicking and screaming by his father is a scene defiantly difficult to forget.  Franz’s new owner wrote about Franz that he is of good character and a hard worker but not a happy one.  After enlisting in the army, his fellow soldier asks him to tell him a story to break away the monotony.  To his surprise, France is silent, giving absolutely no story to tell.  Franz has difficulty adjusting to his fellow soldiers causing him to go screaming in the forest on the first day after an incident regarding him keeping the cheese that is shared with the rest of the soldiers.

The transition of Franz from the boy to the adult is too abruptly done.  It takes a while for the audience to relate to the protagonist of the film.  One might initially wonder the reason for the full half hour of the film devoted to the boy when the rest of the film centres on the adult Franz.  The reason is clearer towards the end of the film, as the audience needs to understand the feelings of the boy.  The story is based on the true events of the director’s great-grandfather.

The story shifts to Franz as a soldier who discovers a fox cub with a broken paw.  Franz gets the paw healed and looks after the cub for a year or so.  And yes, the fox cub is so incredibly cute that anyone would fall in love with it.  But looking after the cub as a soldier out fighting in the war is a dauntless task.  The fox cub is extremely cute, in fact so cute that one can see the reason Franz decided to adopt it.  (It is difficult to dislike a movie with such a cute animal, believe me.

The war fought by Franz is with the Germans against France, Britain and their allies.  The evil of Hitler’s Third Reich clad the Nazis are never their issue here and omitted as it has nothing to do with the story of Franz and his fox cub.

There is a romance in the story as Franz, the solitary and socially awkward Franz deals with his romantic fling with a French girl.

The main purpose of the story is to relate Franz’s attachment to the fox cub to his childhood experience of being sold by his father to the richer farmer who could then tend and feed Franz.  The purpose is made clear as the film’s climax and is emotionally gut-wrenching.

THE FOX (LES FUCHS) is a gut-wrenching emotional true story set in WWII told with conviction and credibility.  From Austria, the film has garnered multiple awards and comes with this reviewer’s high recommendation.  The film opens on Prime and Apple TV on March 22nd.



THE FRAGILE KING (South Africa 2022) ***½

Directed by Tristan Holmes 


The emotional drama based in part on the true events of the director’s relationship with his grandfather forms the basis of this low-budget but effective gut-wrenching film.   The film is not about royalty.   The ‘king’ referred to in the title happens to be the last name of a grandfather and son, the subjects of the story.  The story focuses on the relationship between two estranged characters Michael and his grandfather, Gerald King.

After the tragic death of his mother in a car accident, 15-year-old Michael King (Alex de la Rey) is sent to live with his grandfather Gerald (Andrew Buckland), whom he hardly knows. The emotional gulf between the traumatized boy and cantankerous old man is immense, but during a road trip across South Africa's Northern Cape to reunite Michael with his estranged father, a relationship of understanding and trust slowly emerges. After going their separate ways, the two reunite a year later, and through one final unexpected journey, the King men finally come to realize a true sense of love and belonging in each other.

It is hard not to get emotionally connected with a subject that is unloved by all including family.  Michael is loved by his mother but that love is soon lost.  His mother is not the ideal role model, a woman who brings her son bowling, skipping his school while she skips work at the same time.  Drunk often, Michael feels destitute and can be seen to long for a more responsible parent.  The longing is made worse when his mother dies in a car accident,  He meets his grandfather who had abandoned both his daughter and her son.  Unwanted, Michael is brought to the home of his biological father after a road trip and discovers he is not wanted by the father’s family as well.

Alex de La Rey plays the boy, who is the major focus of the story and film.  Needless to say, the success of the film lies solely on his shoulders.  Fortunately, Alex is a very talented, photogenic and convincing performer for his young age.  He also possesses an impressive bio as follows.  Alex de la Rey is a recent graduate from St John's College, South Africa, where he was enrolled for 10 years from the ages of 9 to 18.  THE FRAGILE KING was his debut in the film industry at the age of 15 in 2019 when the film got started.  Prior to this debut, Alex has been heavily involved in theatre both with and independently from his school.  He was the recipient of 'Best Director' and 'Best Playwright' for his student production "CO7ID" - which tackled the social problems and mental health issues within the privileged first class of South African scholars that arose as a result of quarantining - at the National Festival of Excellence in Dramatic Arts (FEDA).  This South African teen will definitely go far and be an actor to be reckoned with.

THE FRAGILE KING, winner of Best Director at the New Renaissance Film Festival and the Jury Prize for Best International Film at the Overcome Film Festival is a powerful tale of heartbreak, healing and self-discovery.

THE FRAGILE KING makes its North American premiere on SVOD Indiepix Unlimited on March 22, 2024.



Directed by Gil Kenan


The GHOSTBUSTERS franchise has been super successful beginning with the first with GHOSTBUSTERS in 1984 with the cast of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, the late Harold Ramis and Annie Potts.  Two successful sequels followed together with a most horrible reboot in 2016 also called GHOSTBUSTERS, a female version set in an alternate universe.  That was totally awful.  The original GHOSBUSTERS was fun but by no means a masterpiece so thankfully, this new and latest version entitled GHOSBUSTERS: FROZE EMPIRE succeeds easily as an entertaining sequel, also directed by Gil Kenan who also directed the second sequel GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE which is a sequel to it.  The film is co-produced by Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, the director and producer of the original film

The Ghostbusters franchise consists of American supernatural comedies, based on an original concept created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in 1984. The plot ostensibly centres around a group of eccentric New York City parapsychologists who investigate, encounter, and capture ghosts, paranormal manifestations, demigods and demons.

In GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE, the Spengler family decides to leave Summerville, Oklahoma and go back to where it all started – the iconic New York City firehouse – and help the original Ghostbusters, who've developed a top-secret research lab to take busting ghosts to the next level. But when the discovery of an ancient artifact unleashes an evil force, Ghostbusters new and old must join forces to protect their home and save the world from a second Ice Age.

The impressive casting includes the original cast of GHOSTBUSTERS, Bill Murray, Dan Skrpyd and Annie Potts and the cast of GHOSTBUSTERS III: AFTERLIFE which is a sequel of.  A big risk in casting is the introduction of a new character, the Firemaster played by comedian Kumail Nanjiani, best known for the rom-com THE BIG SICK to fight the evil ice villain.  Annoying initially, the Pakistani/American actor eventually proves himself funnier than most of the other cast members.

The film works for a variety of factors.  Firstly, the blend of comedy and scary effects works well, with the ghosts being scary fun while not too frightening for the kids.  The Splenger family (played by Paul Rudd, Carrie Coons, Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace) are the heroes of the film, a family with normal problems with the kids having growing up problems like other families.  There is enough family in the story without boring audiences.  All the beloved in the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise is included, especially the equipment to aid in the capture and containment of ghosts.  Their equipment includes proton packs, used to control and lasso ghosts; ghost traps, used to capture ghosts; and PKE meters, handheld devices used to detect psychokinetic energy.  The famous and catchy GHOSTBUSTERS song is reserved for the end, a song that will have GHOSTBUSTERS fans cheering in their seats.  There is a subplot looking at the ghosts’ perspective of the afterlife with Mckenna Grace as a ghost needing to prove herself.  subplot.  Everything in this film appears to work, and fans and not-so-diehard fans should not be disappointed,

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE is available to be viewed in iMAX and opens in theatres worldwide on March 22nd.



GOLDEN YEARS (DIE GOLDENEN JAHRE)(Switzerland 2022) ***½

Directed by Barbara Kulcsar


GOLDEN YEARS is a sincere senior comedy-drama, unlike most Hollywood senior comedies in which the older stars still cannot get over their aging process.  The aging process in GOLDEN YEAYS is covered with heart and credibility, with the points of view of both the male and female gender.

Alice and Peter are celebrating their retirement – and with it, a new phase in their lives.  The film opens with Peter leaving his office after his retirement.  “Who is taking over the office?” he asks.  He finds out that it is going to be the room for a new computer server,  However, shortly after the couple’s retirement party, a sudden tragedy befalls Alice’s best friend Magalie.  The film shifts, comfortably from Peter to Alice as the film now clearly indicates that both points of view will be examined in the story.   Peter, sympathetic to the suffering of Magalie’s widower, Heinz, invites him on the retirement cruise their children gave them.  Alice had hoped this trip would infuse fresh life into their marriage, but instead of enjoying their time together, they find themselves drifting further apart.

The important question of sex still arises for Peter and Alice and indeed for many older couples as well.  Peter has lost interest in sex, period not particularly for Alice but for anyone.  Naturally, Alice is upset.

Thus, disappointed and hurt, Alice doesn’t reboard the cruise ship during a shore excursion and instead embarks on a journey of self-discovery, taking her across Southern Europe and bringing her into a community of older people finding joy outside traditional notions of gender, marriage, and the later years of one’s life.

During the retirement party at the film’s start, a friend talks about retirement and life’s three regrets.  `1)  I should not have worked so much.  2) I should have shown my true feelings and 3) I should have dared to live one's life.

For the first two regrets, Peter and Alice have those for sure.  As for the third, the film shows them daring to do what they should have done with their life.   As for Alice, this means abandoning the cruise ship and for Peter, to do what he enjoys without Alice’s nagging.  The insightful film shows that the two of them can still have the love they had shared throughout their marriage while still doing the things they wish, with a little separation - no harm done.

GOLDEN YEARS is a different look at one's senior years from both a husband's and wife's points of view, demonstrating that one does not expect that love can still exist through separation and the key is to be able to live one’s life joyously doing what one wants without nagging and restraint,  GOLDEN YEARS is funny, romantic, charming and also entertaining fare.

Barbara Kulcsar (The Two of Us, Blush) directs from a screenplay by Petra Volpe (Heidi, The Divine Order), skillfully balancing drama and comedy in an affectionate story of an older couple.

GOLDEN YEARS opens on digital on March 26th.



Directed by Michael Mohan


Directed by Michael Morgan and written by Andrew Label this under 90-minute horror movie is short and not-so-sweet, but short because it is short of material, which means that the film requires more technique like atmosphere and anticipation to achieve satisfactory scares. 

A devoutly religious woman named Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney from the recent ANYONE BUT YOU) is offered a role at an illustrious convent in the Italian countryside. The explanation for her going to Rome is that her convent closed in the United States. But this eager young beaver is all devout and ready but does not realize what’s in store for her.  Her faith is to be put to the test. On her arrival and introduction to the Reverend Mother, she is warned by the other sisters of some nasty goings-on.   “Death is part of life here,” Cecilia is told.  When she sees that the place is crawling with patients who are not all there in the upstairs department, Cecilia is told to play along, unless the patients get violent.  The audience is put on horror anticipation mode, spoilt by silly jump scares, but a few chills still keep the audience's interest at bay,  Her seemingly picture-perfect new home is soon revealed to hold horrifying secrets.  Sister Cecilia becomes pregnant, apparently without intercourse, and the pregnancy is deemed a miracle by all.

The film, being set in Italy and shot in vivid colours like red, has the feel of an Italian Giallo film and also Roman Polanski’s classic ROSEMARY’S BABY, as Cecilia will eventually give birth to a devil baby.  What she is going to do with that has the same scare as the climax of ROSEMARY’S BABY.  The arrival of Cecelia at the Italian convent also felt similar to the arrival of the girl at the Music Academy, actually a witch’s haven in Dario Argento’s Giallo classic SUSPIRIA, which had been re-made horribly by Hollywood,  A girl alone in a scary and strange environment where evil lurks is an often fond and scary scenario for a horror film.

The film is mostly a one-handler with the success of the film largely lying on Sydney Sweeney’s shoulders.  But she can only do so much as what transpires onscreen has been seen at one time or another in a horror film.  It does not help that nothing is explained about the pregnancy.  The ending before the climax where the priest chases and attacks Cecilia plays like a cheap slasher film where the killer never dies.  The priest is burnt in an explosion in a room but is still able to come after Cecilia.   The climax *(not to be revealed here) sort of sums up the film, but it takes too long to reach this point,

The beginning scenes are effectively scary though they might’ve little to do with the story.  A sister desperately tries to escape the convent before the opening credits roll.  Her legs get caught in the railings of the front gate and the nuns pull her legs back breaking them,  The next scene has her in an enclosed space.  She lights up a match (indeed where would she get a match from at this point in time or place) and it is revealed that she is enclosed in a coffin.

IMMACULATE had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 12, 2024.  The film opens in theatres on March 22nd.



Directed by Julio Torres


PROBLEMISTA is the story of Alejandro, as the voiceover narrates at the start of the film.

Alejandro is an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador struggling to bring his unusual ideas to life in NY.  He wishes to work for Hasbro, the world-famous toy manufacturer, responsible for toys like Lego.  He leaves El Salvador but needs to be sponsored by a company or employer in order to fulfill his dreams of working in the U.S.   As it goes, he gets fired from his first job for the reason that is to be seen to be believed - the segment that could appear as an SNL skit.  As time runs out on his work visa, a job assisting an erratic art-world outcast, Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton)  becomes his only hope to stay in the country.

There is the running joke of updating the file software in order to coordinate all of Elizabeth’s artwork which is quite funny, as is most of Torres's humour.

Julio Torres has the enormous gift of looking below 20 when his real age as of the day is 37.  He wrote, directed and starred as a preschool character in his debut feature PROBLEMISTA.  Who is this Julio Torre?

Julio Torres was born in 1987 in San Salvador, El Salvador. He says he has always wanted to pursue a career in writing for comedy.  Torres worked as a writer on The Chris Gethard Show before he was hired to write for Saturday Night Live.   He worked at SNL from 2016 to 2019, writing sketches including "Papyrus" and "Wells for Boys”  He was nominated for four Emmys as a member of the SNL writing team.  Torres is definitely a very gifted talent and this fact is evident in his debut feature.

Acting heavyweights Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton and Isabella Rossellini (narrating the film) lend their hands to the film, showing their faith in Torres.  Swinton is simply marvellous and unrecognizable as the neurotic Elizabeth.

There is an odd scene in the film where he is invited to an apartment to perform a cleaning that ends with him getting sucked off by the Asian employer.  He gets paid nonetheless and the gay issue is brushed off.  In life, Torres is gay.  He said in June 2020, a fact that is evident in the theme throughout his film, ”I never want to claim to speak for anybody else's experience. I am not here representing gear-paid immigrants. I am not here representing Salvadorians, Hispanics, or gay people. I can only share what's in me and that may or may not ring true with people, but I have never wanted to use any of those things as a calling card.

PROBLEMISTA has the feel of a Spike Jonze film though Torres’s film clearly has a distinction of his own.  Occasionally all over her place with a message that is left ambiguous, the film is still entertaining, inventive and playful showing PROBLEMISTA as a worthy debut for the talented JulioTorres, a new comedic filmmaker and a talent to be reckoned with.



RIDDLE OF FIRE (USA 2023) ****

Directed by Weston Razooli



The film plays like a fairytale that contains witches, a princess with a castle and an enchanted forest,  and three ‘innocent’ children.  They get lost in the woods and encounter evil creatures.  But if one expects to watch a family-type Grimm’s fairy tale - no such luck.  But director Razooli’s film offers quite a surprise.  Director/writer Weston Razooli’s fresh and inventive neo-fairytale RIDDLE OF FIRE marks one of the best surprises this year at the cinema.

Three rascal children run afoul of an enigmatic coven in Weston Razooli’s whimsical neo-fairytale, which evokes a menagerie of esoteric genres and dreamy cult-film vibes.

The film begins with the three rascals riding their bikes and arming themselves with weapons that can hurt like a paintball gun  The three plan to hijack the latest video game from Otomo in a warehouse.  They call themselves the Three Immortal Reptiles, and are made up of two brothers and a girl. For Hazel (Charlie Stover), Alice (Phoebe Ferro), and Jodie (Skyler Peters).   But they are unable to play the game as their game console is password protected by the boys’ mother who is ill in bed with the flu.  The kids beg for the password but the mother utters a very stern no.  But the kids aim to win their mother’s heart and the password, by getting her favourite blueberry pie from the store.  The story goes all over the place - but in a good and humorous way and the kids end up having to bake the pie on their own after getting the ingredients that includes one speckled egg.  The search for the speckled egg ends up with the trio finding themselves whisked away through woodlands dark, running afoul with the infamous Enchanted Blade Gang, an enigmatic coven led by an honest-to-badness witch (Lio Tipton) who is able to cast spells to enchant others.

Director Razooli’s story takes place in the least of expected places for a fairy tale- in the area around Ribbon in Wyoming - which makes the film every weirder and dead-pan.  Razooli is clever enough to get his audience on this side of the kids.  All the adults are enemies or obstacles for the kids with the only adult that has a good heart being the mother with the ultimate prize of the password for the game console.  It is a kids adventure in the spirit of the Enid Blyton children’s books like The Famous Five but for adults in an adult setting.  RIDDLE OF FIRE is that rare film that can play both at a children's film festival and at the Midnight Madness section at TIFF.

The kids are not perfect kids.  They steal and lie and fight among themselves but they are real kids, more real than one can imagine - not like the goody-goody ones in the Disney world.  The dialogue among the adults, the kids and the fairytale poetry is often pricelessly funny.

RIDDLE OF FIRE premiered at the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes followed by screening at TIFF’s Midnight Madness section.  The film is not a horror movie but is more quirky than most.

RIDDLE OF FIRE film in theatres on March 22nd.


SHAYDA (Australia 2023) ***

Directed by Noora Niasari.


Inspired by Niasari's childhood experiences, the story follows an Iranian immigrant woman in Australia, Shayda (Cannes Best Actress Winner for HOLY SPIDER, Zar Amir Ebrahimi) who is raising her young daughter in a women's shelter.

It takes a while for the film to set its footing and for the audience to determine what the story is in SHAYDA.  The audience soon learns that Shayda and her daughter have moved into a female shelter where she looks after her daughter with other mothers facing the same dire circumstances.  There is of course friction between mothers, between the young children, all heightened by the stress of leaving one’s home.  The audience soon learns that Shayda has been abused by her husband.  She is filing for divorce and he is filing for custody.  Presently, the child is with her.  In the preparation of the court case, the audience learns the details of the physical abuse.  He had grabbed Shayda and pushed her against a wall, thus having sex with her claiming that she would not leave him now that she would be pregnant with the second child.  Most of the important incidents are revealed secondhand through words, and not seen in its execution.  Yet the abuse can still be emotionally felt.

SHAYDA is being blamed for the abuse done to her by her husband and for her running away with her daughter.  This the audience learns from Shayda’s telephone call with her mother.  “People are talking,” the mother says.  “He is a good father.  After he graduates and becomes a doctor, he will get his life together.”   Everyone seems to have a good impression of doctors.  But in another scene, the husband tells the daughter that he wants to cure all the sick cows in Tehran.  So, whether he is studying to become a veterinarian or a human doctor is never made clear.

Women in Iran have been portrayed in a really bad light lately.  The film demonstrates the empowerment of women and sends a necessary and strong message that women must stand up and fight for what is right in their lives.  And men should know better and be more sympathetic.  The film picks up when Shayda attempts some normalcy in her.  She wears a shiny dress and goes dancing in a club, wearing what she wants to wear and not dictated by Iranian norms.  But the danger of her daughter being abducted and her worries about her abusive husband still loom in her mind,

SHAYDA has already made the film circuit through film festivals worldwide.  SHAYDA had its World Premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival on 19 January 2023, where it won the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic competition.  In August 2023, it was screened as the opening film at the Melbourne International Film Festival for its Australian premiere, and it closed the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. It was also scheduled for screening at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.  SHAYDA was also Australia’s entry for the Best International Feature Academy Award this year.  It opens in theatres on March 22nd.



YOU’LL NEVER FIND ME (Australia 2023) ***

Directed by Josiah Allen and Indianna Bell

Patrick, a strange and lonely resident, lives in a mobile home at the back of an isolated caravan park.  After a violent thunderstorm erupts, a mysterious young woman appears at his door, seeking shelter from the weather. The longer the night wears on and the more the young woman discovers about Patrick, the more difficult she finds it to leave.  Soon she begins to question Patrick's intentions, while Patrick begins to question his own grip on reality.

The film is essentially a two-hander with two actors enclosed in a claustrophobic setting.  It is a simple premise and a low-budget production, but the directors prove that there can always be more than meets the eye.

So the story has two people stuck in a shack because of a furious storm that shows no relentless stopping.  The girl seeks shelter from the storm.  In an initial scene, she bangs on the door, to which the man responds with a loud: “Fuck Off”.  The man gives her shelter and the cat-and-mouse game begins.

Who is the predator?  It is the mean-looking loner who is different from the world?  Or is it the intruder?  Directors Allen and Bell keep their audience guessing from the very start.  He could be a serial killer hiding out in the woods away from civilization.  On the other hand, perhaps, the girl, the intruder knows the man and has planned a visit to exact an act of revenge.  The plot thickens with lots of lumps in the gravy.  It is near the two-third mark and more hints are given to the audience to bow the audience’s mind with no clear result in sight  It is a good tactic to keep interest at hand with the audience always wondering who the villain is.  Perhaps both of them are.  This could also be a possibility.

“Like I said, I think you will be here for a while.”   The power is out before flicking causing the light to go on and off and the music from the radio to sound intermittently.  All these effects create a more sinister atmosphere of dread and danger.

The title of the film YOU’LL NEVER FIND ME could refer to the old man’s lodging.  “What are you hiding from?” she asks him at one point in the film adding that wherever one might be, tap water will never taste differently.

The grounds where the man resides are locked.  “If the gate is locked, how did I get in?” quizzes the girl to the old man.  “That is exactly what I was going to ask you.” answers the man.  The conversation is left hanging.

“I would like to leave now, “ says the girl.” The gate’s locked,” the man retorts.  “I will find a way for you, “ she replies to which volunteers to take her there when the weather improves.  The question of her earrings comes into the discussion whence finally gets upset saying that she will then leave.

The ultimate segment comes when the two are stuck together in the house and playing cards.  “My name is Patrick, by the way,” the man volunteered his name to which she did not reply with her name.  “You look familiar,  Have we not met before?” he asks.

YOU’LL NEVER FIND ME has an excellent build-up - too good that it is hard to reach a climax that meets the audience’s anticipations.   Watch the film for the buildup anyway, and forget the muddled ending. The film streams on Shudder on March 22nd.


YUNI (Singapore/Indonesia/Australia/France 2021) **
Directed by Kamila Andini 

The third film of director Andini to premiere at TIFF, YNUI is the story of an Indonesian teen school girl by the name of Yuni, played by Arawinda Kirana.  Yuni loves the colour of purple (not THE COLOUR PURPLE film), has a clique of close friends, and characteristically teenage views.  She longs to study in college, hopefully winning a scholarship in the process.  Her loving family is more bound to tradition than she is.  When her family receives the first one, then a second proposal of arranged marriage for her, Yuni’s grandmother urges her not to refuse this “blessing.”  With each passing day, at home and at school, Yuni sees her horizons closing in.  Director Anini paints a troubled teen life and the audience gets to learn what Indonesia is like as well as what teen girls have to face.  But director Andini  takes on a bit too many issues that include her literature teacher turning out gay and proposing to her as well.  Whether Yuni wins her scholarship is not the key issue of the story here, and one wonders what (the key issue) is after the film concludes with an open ending.  Perhaps director Andini wishes her audience to figure it out.

YUNI won TIFF’s Platform prize in 2021.  The film premieres on VOD and digital on March 22, 2024.


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