CAMFF 2018: Lemonade (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Ioana Uricaru
Starring: Mãlina Manovici, Dylan Smith, Milan Hurduc

Written by Elena Morgan

Mara (Mãlina Manovici) is a young Romanian woman working in America when she meets and marries Daniel (Dylan Smith). After she brings her nine-year-old son Dragos (Milan Hurduc) to America, things are looking good for her new family until she encounters problems when applying for a Green Card.

Lemonade opens with Mara and Daniel being interviewed by the US immigration authorities, including immigration officer Moji (Steve Bacic), who seems kind to begin with, but he has a cruel misogynistic streak and he’s happy to exploit those desperate enough. It’s through the conversations between these characters that you slowly start to piece together their story, how Mara and Daniel met and if their marriage was just a way for Mara to stay in America. Lemonade paints the immigration process as something that’s incredibly difficult and often dehumanising to those who go through it. With the problems Mara encounters it’s clear that this hardship is worth it to her and that living in America would give her and her son more prospects than in her homeland.

It’s unfortunate that Mara’s naivety almost stretches the credibility of her story. The decisions she makes are in part fuelled by her desperation to stay in America, and in part due to her being an honest person who’s still learning the way America’s rules and regulations work. She believes in America to be different but she soon finds that the men in power can be just as corrupt and dangerous as in any other country.

Manovici gives a fine performance but it’s a shame that Mara is such an inconsistent character. She’s mostly naïve but there’s the odd moment when she gets some steely determination as she tries to overcome the many obstacles that are put in her path. Those moments are short-lived and she’s soon back to being ignorant of the world at large.

Lemonade is a topical yet bleak film about immigration but with some characters actions and reactions being so inconsistent and full of naiveté, it makes the whole venture feel less believable and even more depressing.




CAMFF 2018: Júlia ist (2017)

Year: 2017 
Directed by: Elena Martin 
Starring: Elena Martin, Oriol Puig, Jakob D’Aprile

Written by Elena Morgan

Júlia (Elena Martin) is an architecture student from Catalan who is set to go to study in Berlin for a year thanks to an Erasmus programme. Once she’s there she’s completely alone for the first time in her life, the distance from home puts a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend (Oriol Puig) and slowly she starts to make friends with fellow students and learn more about this new city.

Júlia ist is Elena Martin’s directorial debut and she co-wrote the film as well as playing the lead. She embodies Júlia so completely as someone that’s desperate to become her own, independent person but is also wary of making that leap.

So many people can relate to the uncertainty Júlia feels when she moves to a new place. Whether you’ve been away from home to go to university, or generally moved to another part of your own country or to a completely new country for whatever reason, everyone’s felt alone or isolated at some point.

Júlia ist is a great study of student life. There’s the drama or open relationships when feelings get involved, long-distance relationships, making friends, living with people, and making sure you balance having fun and doing well in your studies. It’s such a well-written take on student life that it feels like you’re reliving your university day if you had them, and even if you didn’t, the characters are so natural you can easily put yourself in their shoes.

Júlia ist is understated but no less engaging. It’s a simple story about messy relationships, culture shock and finding one’s place. There are no big revelations or huge dramatics, instead, it’s a quiet film about a woman who’s just trying to figure out who she is.



CAMFF 2018: Burning (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Chang-dong Lee
Starring: Ah-In Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jeon

Written by Elena Morgan

When Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon) goes to Africa she asks her old schoolmate Jong-su (Ah-In Yoo) to look after her cat. When she returns with enigmatic Ben (Steven Yeun) who she met in Africa, Jong-su is dismayed and feels pushed out by the two of them.

Burning is a slow-burn of a film about class and sexual desire. Jong-su and Hae-mi are both originally from the north of South Korea, from a farming town that’s so close to the border that they can hear propaganda announcements from North Korea. Ben, on the other hand, is a Gatsby-like character, he’s young and rich and no one – Jong-su especially – knows what he does to earn his money. He’s charming and mysterious and lives in a modern apartment in Seoul and appears to have the perfect life compared to Jong-su.

Burning follows Jong-su’s perspective and he isn’t a particularly likeable character. He’s quiet and reserved and, as the film progresses, it reveals to be more or a character-study of Jong-su than anything else. Burning is full of unexpected choices, evolving from a potential love triangle into a psychological mystery, with three characters that are equal parts captivating and cold.

The scenery at Jong-su’s home is bleak yet beautiful. Conversations with double meanings happen at sunset with haunting music playing that leaves both Jong-su and the viewers unsettled by what they’re experiencing. As everything begins to build, Jong-su becomes more obsessed with both Hae-mi and Ben, two characters who aren’t altogether what they seem. There are secrets and lies, and the mystery becomes more and more mesmerising.

Burning is a weird, unsettling film anchored by a subtle yet absorbing performance by Ah-In Yoo. Its 2 and a half hour runtime can be noticeable though, as it certainly takes it’s time to slowly rack up the tension, but the performances from the three main actors are all brilliant and it’s their little nuances that pull you in and make this film so mesmerising.


CAMFF 2018: High Fantasy (2017)

Directed by: Jenna Cato Bass
Starring: Qondiswa James, Nala Khumalo, Francesca Varrie Michel, Liza Scholtz

Written by Elena Morgan

Four young friends go on a camping trip in the heart of the South African wilderness. The vast farmland they’re staying on belongs to Lexi’s (Francesca Varrie Michel) family and they document their adventures with their camera phones. Things take a strange turn when they wake up one morning and have mysteriously swapped bodies with one another, causing them to have to quickly learn how to see the world differently.

This young, diverse cast are brilliant. Each character is so unique, with their own characteristics that it’s pretty easy to tell who’s in whose body just by their mannerisms. There’s humour to be found in the situation as Xoli (Qondiswa James) finds himself in a woman’s body, but then the film also offers commentary on society as his experience makes him rethink how he talks about and treats women. Thami (Liza Scholtz) finds the body swap the most difficult as she ends up in Lexi’s body. She’s a politically active young black woman and to be suddenly in a white woman’s body is frustrating and disorientating for her.

High Fantasy offers a lot of talking points about different political issues in South Africa; race, gender, police violence, sexuality, but it never fully delves into any of them. These social issues are used to frame the problems this diverse group of friends face with not being in their own bodies – often to amusing and not really “politically correct” results. The situation allows for buried feelings to bubble to the surface leading to arguments between the friends. It’s uncomfortable to watch at times as differences these characters face due to their race or gender is brought to the forefront, leaving you unsure if these characters relationships can survive the madness.

High Fantasy blends realism with fantasy as the body-swap shenanigans ensue. It’s a film that has bold ideas, vivid characters and a creative filming style. High Fantasy is a lot of fun and the young cast and director/write Jenna Cato Bass have to be commended on producing such an innovative film.




CAMFF 2018: Supa Modo (2018)

Directed by: Likarion Wainaina
Starring: Stycie Waweru, Marrianne Nungo, Nyawara Ndambia

Written by Elena Morgan

Jo (Stycie Waweru) is a young girl with a terminal illness who loves superheroes. Her mother Kathryn (Marrianne Nungo) is protective and wants her to rest but, with the help of fellow villagers, her older sister Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia) encourages her passion and her dream to be a real superhero.

My mum always says, ‘the sign of a good film is if it can make you laugh or cry’, and Supa Modo made me do both. It has a tragic premise, a young girl who doesn’t have much time left, but it takes that tragedy and turns it into a story that’s all about the appreciating life and the people in it.

Jo dreams of having super powers, whether that’s flying or being able to take on bad guys. Seeing a village come together to help a young girl fulfil those dreams is delightful. From little acts of moving a jar of salt across the table, to taking on thieves these acts are escapism for Jo in its purest form.

Jo and her friends in the hospital know they are sick and probably dying, and it’s affecting that they have come to terms with that more quickly than some of the adults in their lives. Jo’s mother knows what is to come but wants to keep Jo at home all safe in the hopes that it will prolong the inevitable. Mwix, on the other hand, wants to be honest with Jo and help her achieve her dreams. These three women are all so compelling and their little family is a strong, loving unit.

Even though the story is really about a child slowly dying, it never feels cheap or performative. This is down to a fantastic lead performance from Stycie Waweru who brilliant as Jo. She’s everything a child should be, funny, playful and kind but due to her illness in some ways she’s more thoughtful and older than her years.

Supa Modo is a love letter to superheroes and how that even though heroes can die, they can live on in others, spreading their message and making the world a better place. There’s that old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” and while there’s no doubt who Jo’s mother is, the fact the village neighbours rally around to make Jo’s last few months full of magic and happiness is wonderful. This is a village that looks out for one another and the final scenes are both heart-warming and tear-jerking.

Supa Modo is about family, community and grief. It’s a vibrant tale that balances the sadness with the laughter and the three central female characters are all well-rounded and the actresses give wonderfully touching performances.




CAMFF 2018: The Guilty (2018)

Directed by: Gustav Möller
Starring: Jakob Cedergren
UK Release Date: 26th October 2018

Written by Elena Morgan

On his last night of dispatch duty, police officer Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) gets a call from a kidnapped woman and it’s a race against time to find her.

Films set in one location aren’t that uncommon anymore, but truly great and gripping ones are – The Guilty is a brilliant addition to the “genre”. Set solely in the dispatch room, the camera follows Asger as he works at his desk, bored of taking calls about muggings and is looking forward to getting back on the streets when fifteen minutes before his shift ends, he receives a call from a woman saying she’s been kidnapped. Frustrated with how slow the police are dealing with it, Asger takes matters into his own hands, calling the woman’s family, the kidnapper, and each call is more compelling than the last.

Like Asger, you only have the information he receives on his phone calls to make your judgement, and with snap decisions to be made, things aren’t always what they seem. There are twists and turns, but as well as being surprising, The Guilty works because you begin to care about who Ager is talking to, and that’s down to the performances. Cedergren gives a fantastic lead performance, it’s his minute reactions that so easily show his frustrations and anxiety – a clenched jaw, a twitch in the fingers – they all show a man that’s on the edge. His unseen co-stars are just as fantastic, the emotions in their voices allow us to visualise what is happening down the phone line.

The Guilty is gripping and thrilling. Director and co-writer Gustav Möller knows exactly when and how to release the tension and then go straight back into building it up again. It’s a film that keeps you guessing and is never what it seems. It’s no wonder The Guilty has been selected to be Denmark’s official Oscar entry for best foreign language film.


Elena’s Verdict



CAMFF 2018: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018)

Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Rooney Mara
UK Release Date: 26th October 2018 (Amazon Prime & select cinemas)

Written by Elena Morgan

After a car accident that leaves him paralysed, John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) tries to become sober and finds he has a talent for drawing funny yet often controversial cartoons.

The title, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, comes from one of Callahan’s cartoons showing some cowboys looking at an abandoned wheelchair and saying they’ll soon catch the guy. This sort of wry, and sometimes near the knuckle, sense of humour is prevalent throughout Callahan’s cartoons, many of which are animated and featured in the film. It’s also very much the sense of humour that’s running through the film, dark and sometimes weird and self-deprecating.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a biopic that’s told in a non-linear way. It’s a bit jarring really, especially at the beginning as scenes are intertwined with one another with no real reference point or understanding of who any of these characters are. The pacing continues to be uneven with the last thirty minutes or so being a drag.

Joaquin Phoenix is naturally great (even when wearing a horrendous range wig), managing to make Callahan irritating and charming in equal measure. Even before the accident and he becomes a little bitter, Callahan is a rude alcoholic that barely functions. After his accident, he’s not much better until he finally takes steps to become sober. Reading up on the real John Callahan after seeing the film, I did find it is a bit weird that 43-year-old Joaquin Phoenix was cast when Callahan had his accident when he was 21. This age discrepancy also makes his relationship with his nurse turned girlfriend Annu (Rooney Mara) seem out of place. She, like many of the characters surrounding Callahan, are never fleshed out more than the archetypes of their character.

The exception to that is Donnie (Jonah Hill), a recovering alcoholic and AA meeting leader. Hill is brilliant, and at times he even manages to outshine Phoenix, as he plays a wealthy gay hippie who is both hilarious and astute.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is more of a character study than a film with a cohesive and compelling plot, but it manages to be a perfectly serviceable biopic. Phoenix and Hill are great but they’re not enough to make this a memorable film.


Elena’s Verdict



CAMFF 2018: An Interview with Rudy Riverón Sánchez

Interview by Elena Morgan

Director Rudy Riverón Sánchez, a Leeds-based filmmaker, is currently on the festival circuit with his feature film debut Is That You?. We got the chance to talk to him as the film is having its UK premiere at the Cambridge Film Festival this week. Rudy, who was born in Cuba, filmed Is That You? in his home country back in 2016 and it recently won an award for ‘Best First Feature Film’ for the first psychological horror to be made in the country.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers…

I’m Rudy Riverón Sánchez, the writer and director of ‘Is That You?’, the first psychological horror film to be made in Cuba. I’m originally from Cuba but I’ve lived in the UK for more than 15 years.

You wrote and directed Is That You?, can you tell us what inspired this story?

I took part in a screenwriting workshop for which I had to write a 20 minute screenplay, a scary story for children. The workshop led me to rediscover my interest in the horror genre. I then started to develop an idea for a horror feature film, one aimed at an adult audience, what was to become ‘Is that you?’. I wanted to tell the story of a young girl in conflict with her family but I wanted to ensure that my film was going to be distinctive. I decided to set the story in Cuba and use elements of psychological horror, a subgenre of horror which had not been explored before in Cuba. Having decided to set the film in Cuba, I started to think back to my life in Cuba in order to build the characters. Lili and her family are focused on surviving. They are isolated and caught deep into their own struggles. Lili’s father controls his family and forces his values upon them. This is where the horror element plays the most significant role, real fear in Cuba, mirroring the Cuban way of life.

What was it like filming in Cuba? Did the death of Castro affect the films production at all?

Our producer Emma Berkofsky brought the cameras from the UK, 14 suitcases with two mini Arri Alexas, lenses, and accessories, because the cost of this kit is too high in Cuba. Thanks to Reymel, our line producer and main contact in Cuba, we had the full support of RTV Comercial, the production services company that we were working with in Cuba, and the Cuban government. This helped to make sure everything went smoothly. Everyone we dealt with were really kind and helpful and all the cast and crew worked really hard. The only surprise was that we had to wrap up warm for the night shoots because the temperature in the countryside dropped to 2 degrees some nights. When Castro died, initially we were told by the local authorities that we had to stop filming, which would have been a disaster for the film. But luckily, because we had the right paperwork, we only lost half a day of shooting and after that we were allowed to carry on. However, the country had nine days of mourning and pretty much came to a standstill and so, until those days passed, the production team and myself couldn’t feel completely confident that things would go according to plan.

What did you find the most enjoyable about writing and filming Is That You??

What I enjoyed most when I was writing was the feeling of power that comes with creating a new world, with new characters, and while that’s challenging it’s also really satisfying. Once I got to Cuba, I really enjoyed the rehearsals because that was the first time I saw the characters coming alive, after they had just been on the page and in my mind for so long. Once we started filming, I felt a great sense of satisfaction after finishing each scene because I knew I was achieving the realisation of my vision.

Lili is a distant yet intriguing character, was it difficult finding the right actress for the role?

It took some time to make the decision. Gabriela Ramos, the actress that plays Lili, was recommended to me by the film’s cinematographer, Raúl Pérez Ureta, as he’d previously worked with her on ‘Últimos días en La Habana’. I then mentioned her to our casting director Libia Batista who also thought Gabriela would be great for the role of Lili. When I met Gabriela, I thought maybe we can try because she looked like I had imagined Lili looking. I wasn’t sure at the very beginning if she could do it because she didn’t have the experience, and the character demands a lot. So we did a rehearsal. Our producer Emma was like, “Rudy, are you sure?” I felt a lot of pressure to get it right, because Lili is the protagonist and so critical for the success of the film. It was only during the second week of rehearsals, after focusing on certain scenes, that I felt sure that Gabriela and I together could achieve what the film needed.


Congratulations on recently winning the Anna Mondelli Award for the ‘Best First Feature Film’ at the TOHorror Film Festival in Turin. Is That You? has been accepted into several film festivals across Europe, how do you get the most out of them?

Thank you.

At each festival, we’ve done as much as we can to promote the film and so that helps you to have a bigger turn out for the screening. I think doing Q&As is also a good thing to do, so that the audience don’t just get to see your film but they get to hear about the director’s inspiration and the experience of making the film. I also make the most of the opportunity to meet other filmmakers, to see their films, and build up my network.

Do you have advice for anyone who may be starting out in the film industry, or want to get into the business?

First of all, don’t give up, no matter what. Be thick skinned. Be patient. Keep working and learning. But at the same time be selective about the projects you get involved with and the people you work with. Learn how to quickly spot mediocrity. Be yourself and believe in yourself. 

Do you have any future projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m currently developing a psychological drama with the working title ‘Carlitos’. I’m looking forward to being able to return to focusing on this after this period of festivals. I’m also having conversations about a psychological thriller that would be a film adaptation of a novel.

We like to end our interviews with the all-important question – does pineapple belong on pizza?




CAMFF 2018: Roobha (2017)

Directed by: Lenin M. Sivam
Starring: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Amrit Sandhu, Thenuka Kantharajah, Angela Chrstine
UK Release Date: N/A

Written by Elena Morgan

Roobha (Amrit Sandhu), a trans-woman, struggles to find her place after being ostracized by her family. Her chance encounter with a family man, Anthony (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), leads to a beautiful romance. But their blissful relationship soon comes crashing down for reasons not their own.

Set in the Tamil community in Toronto, Roobha is a romantic story that touches on the complexities of gender identity. At one point Roobha talks about Mata, “the goddess of transgenders”, who was once a princess but when she discovered her husband in women’s clothes instead of coming to her bed, she cut off his penis. Mata is a figure Roobha gets comfort from, along with the idea of the ancient rituals that turned men into women. Roobha wants to undergo gender reassignment surgery but the costs and social pressures are almost too much to bear sometimes.

Roobha finds comfort and sisterhood in fellow sex workers. They look after one another and with them she finds a family to fill the void of her biological family. With her new-found sisters, she meets Mai and David, an elderly couple who own the Chinese restaurant the girls frequently visit. They all call Mai “mum” as she takes care of them. One conversation between Mai and Roobha is heart-warming as Roobha gets the nurturing and understanding mother figure she’s needed.

The scenes where Roobha and Anthony are so soft in every sense of the word. The way they are around one another is so gentle and caring, the lighting is soft and gives them an almost romantic glow. These are two very different people, but they love each other dearly and that love shines off the screen.

It’s wonderful to see how Anthony’s understanding of Roobha and who she is evolves. Anthony is a lot older than her, but he is kind and sensitive. Both Jesuthasan and Sandhu give sensitive and touching performances, because of them you believe that Roobha and Anthony could be a loving and stable couple if there weren’t other factors affecting them both.

Roobha is a unique romantic story that shines a light on the transgender stigma in the South-Asian community. Some people can be accepting, other’s views can change, all the while Roobha is finding her own way and her own community.

Elena’s Verdict