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Dark Rivers of the Heart - BFI Flare Shorts

Saturday 21 March 2015, by Ryan Ormonde

A film described as ‘unflinching’ is of course one that makes you flinch. The four shorts and one music video in BFI Flare’s ‘Dark Rivers of the Heart’ programme all deliver on those face-screwing, look-away-can’t-look-away moments. Kai Stänicke’s eye-catching promo for The Hidden Cameras’ Carpe Jugular features a sexually democratic dance floor where everyone gets off with each other, except that for ‘getting off with’, read ‘beating the shit out of’: not so idyllic. The remaining films in this set are all stories about young men, how they may taunt or protect one another (Beat Beat Beat and The Last Time I Saw Richard), get violent when faced with rejection (I Really Like You) or just get on with being regular sociopaths (Beyond Plain Sight).

The flinching moments in I Really Like You (dir. Jason Karman) are the most convincing in a film which otherwise doesn’t quite meet the (admittedly high) standards of the rest of this showing. Visual and narrative elements never fully click, so that when the violence was happening I was more caught by its technical skill than any emotional effect.

Beyond Plain Sight is intently unnerving. Director Joseph A. Adesunloye exploits the sweetness in actor Denver Isaac’s features to breezily sketch the portrait of a monster (worryingly, one with the same first name as me, living in the same area of London). To his credit, Isaac (who co-produces) masters the understatement demanded by such a role and in return the camera is all over him. There is a pointed reference to Markus Schleinzer’s Michael, a film of the highest quality that is nonetheless so viscerally repugnant it’s a wonder it inspired anything.

Australian drama The Last Time I Saw Richard (dir. Nicholas Verso) has two very strong performances by Cody Fern as Richard and Toby Wallis as Jonah. It’s hardly surprising that Wallis has played the young Michael Hutchence on TV: as a screen presence he is intricate and compelling. Horror film effects are used seamlessly to externalise mental demons as these two boys get cosy in a psychotherapeutic residential centre. There is raw emotional truth here, although the story is so intriguing it cries out for a longer treatment, and not just in a ‘leave them wanting more’ way.

German entry Beat Beat Beat (Jetzt Jetzt Jetzt) has been very well cast for starters. The prettiest boy is the most savage bully, and all the others look the part in this exemplary tale of the school outsider, directed by Christian Freitag. The climactic scene in the victim’s bedroom brilliantly plays out the psychodrama of school power politics and gets right to the core of the (perhaps surprisingly) nuanced relationship between masculinity and homophobia still at the heart of supposedly liberated societies.

BFI Flare film festival runs until Sunday 29th March -tickets are available from www.bfi.org.uk/flare

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