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Film round up Film round up with MARIA DUARTE: December 1, 2023

Reviews of Femme, Eileen, Totem and Fallen Leaves

Femme (18)
Directed by Sam H Freeman and Ng Choon Ping 

★★★★

 
THIS tense and violent queer noir also centres on embracing your true self and sexuality in a revenge thriller with an intriguing twist. 
 
The protagonist is Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a drag artist whose alter ego is Aphrodite, whose life and career are destroyed when he is the victim of a vicious homophobic attack. When he encounters his attacker again by chance in a gay sauna, he starts plotting his revenge. Out of drag he is unrecognisable, so he is able to infiltrate Preston’s (George MacKay) life and attempt to wreak havoc.
 
This is a complex and thought provoking debut feature by Sam H Freeman and Ng Choon Ping who co-wrote and co-directed it. Stewart-Jarrett and MacKay give extraordinary  performances as two men both of whom refuse to accept their true selves and hide behind their own masks. 
 
It explores masculine toxicity and internalised homophobia in the case of Preston, who is a closeted gay with severe anger issues and seems to have been threatened by Jules’s feminine drag persona. 
 
As Jules slowly gains Preston’s trust so Preston begins to open up and shows a different side to himself (although you are just waiting for the other shoe to drop). Jules is playing a power game in which he weaponises sex to seduce Preston and make him emotionally vulnerable, and hence obtain his revenge. 
 
It is an intriguing film noir which plays with the genre in a refreshing way and which will stay with you long after it is over.  

Out in cinemas today

Eileen (15)
Directed by William Oldroyd

★★★

 
SET during a bitter 1964 Massachusetts winter, a weird and loner young secretary, Eileen, becomes enamoured with the glamorous new counsellor at the boys prison where she works in this slow burning drama with a killer twist. 
 
Based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel of the same name, which he also co-adapted for the big screen, and directed by William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth) this seems like Todd Haynes Carol meets Lady Macbeth. 
 
Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway are absolutely mesmerising as the dowdy Eileen and captivating Rebecca respectively. As the two become firm friends, Eileen begins to emulate her new bestie by being more adventurous in her manner and her dress sense, and she starts to fall for Rebecca.
 
What starts out as a possible lesbian romance transforms into something quite different and unsuspectingly sinister in a delicious denouement that you won’t see coming unless you have read the book. The jury’s still out on the ending. 

Out in cinemas today

Totem (12A)
Directed by Lila Aviles

★★★★

 
A SEVEN-year-old girl realises that her world will never be the same as she helps her aunts throw a surprise birthday party for her father who is terminally ill, in Lila Aviles’s poignant second feature. 
 
Unfolding over the course of one day in the one location, Sol’s (Naima Senties) grandfather’s rambling house, the preparations expose all manner of family tensions which erupt as the adults talk cryptically and Sol attempts to make sense of it and their erratic behaviour. 
 
Intimate, claustrophobic and exquisitely acted, it features an impressive performance by Senties in her first ever film role who, along with Saori Gurza as her younger cousin, steal the film.
 
It feels like you are eavesdropping on a real-life family as they laugh and cry and shout at each other as they try to come to terms with the inevitable in this moving farewell party to Sol’s father. 

Out in cinemas today
 
Fallen Leaves (12A)
Directed by Aki Kaurismaki

★★★★

 
IF you prefer love stories off beat and off kilter then Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki’s romantic comedy drama, which won this years Cannes Jury Prize, https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/c/gen-cannes,, may be for you. 
 
Set in modern day Helsinki and the world of zero-hours contracts, the film follows two lonely souls Ansa (Alma Poysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) whose meeting at a local karaoke bar is beset by numerous obstacles. 
 
The pair’s path to love and happiness is bittersweet as it involves lost phone numbers, mistaken addresses, alcoholism and a stray dog. All portrayed with Kaurismaki’s idiosyncratic style and dead pan humour. 
 
It is wonderfully weird and droll. Yet I couldn’t help thinking this hapless couple deserved better luck and partners. 
MD
Out in cinemas today

 

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