Flawless 2018 ****

flawless

What would Pretty in Pink look like if Molly Ringwald had to sell a kidney to afford her prom dress? That’s the novel question posed by Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit in their film Flawless, which starts out like a John Hughes movie updated, then develops a dark side as the characters are faced with a modern dilemma undreamt of in 80’s teen cinema. While some may fear a bait and switch based on that synopsis, it’s to the credit of Flawless that it doesn’t duck out of any potential incongruity, but instead wears it front and centre. A witty script and a strong trans message also help make sure that Flawless should win over any doubters; it’s an original teen movie with a strong central idea that’s sure to be remade or at least ripped-off.

Eden (Strav Strashko) is a Jeruselem high-school pupil who is transitioning from male to female; she really just wants to be one of the girls who have all the fun. Eden teams up with Tigist (Netsanet Zenaneh Mekonnen) and Keshet (Noam Lugasy), both of whom have ideas about how to get exactly what they want from life. They hope to make some fast cash to make sure their prom goes well; a blog has brought attention from Keren (Assi Levy), who invites the girls to fly to Kiev to get breast augmentation surgery in return for their kidneys. This is, of course, illegal: that’s not something that bothers the girls, although Eden begs to differ. If your body isn’t how you want it, surely surgery is the answer? Or is there a limit on what is sensible to change?

Trans issues are important in Flawless, but they form an essential subplot to wider questions about bodies, identity and individuality. Eden can see that the girls are being exploited, but their desire to be what they want to be meshes with her own. Eden wants to be one of the girls, but is she going to go along with everything they say, even if their YOLO philosophy places them all in mortal danger?

Without spoiling the story, Flawless doesn’t just name-check issues, but explores them, and that makes it a cut above most teen movies. Barbed wit helps; ‘Where were you where God was handing out the boobs?’ ask the girls petulantly. ‘In the line for brains,’ is Eden’s tart riposte. The details feel modern and relevant; the girls snort Ritalin before exams, participate in silent discos, and generally live a life that’s ‘amazeballs’ on the surface but barely hides a dissatisfaction within.

Flawless is a bright, thoughtful teen film that ducks most clichés and find a fresh groove. The girls feel that they only live once, so why not? Eden is more developed in her thinking, but finds it hard to resist the crowd. The clash of energies makes for an insightful and educative look at modern youth; Flawless is a great example of what a teen movie should be.

Flawless is playing as part of the 23rd UK Jewish Film Festival, which will run from 6th – 21st November at 15 cinemas across London. A UK tour of festival highlights will run until 12th December 2019. See www. ukjewishfilm.org for details.

The Confirmation 2019 ****

confirmation

The Confirmation is a short film from Denmark, and one that deals with trans issues, or rather, it deals with a trans person; part of the film’s appeal is that it tries to defuse the hectoring tone of previous works on the subject. As David Mamet observed of the creative process, ‘I don’t want people to come out whistling the moral,’- there’s a way of discussing the trans experience that’s about issues and problems, and not about seeing people. The Confirmation deserves a look specifically because it strikes a universal chord, one that looks beyond issues.

Transgender actor Xean Peake plays Matthias, who wants to be a teenage boy; his mother Susanne (Ellen Hillingsø) is supportive, if anything, too supportive. She’s quick to come to his assistance, and she’s right behind him on the day of his Confirmation, the day he becomes an adult in the eyes of family and friends. But others are less quick on the uptake, and the nature of the formal event changes when Susanne gets up to defend her son’s choice…

The Confirmation has some thematic similarities to Festen in that a family gathering is disrupted by a speech with pulls on a fissure previously disguised by ritual. But in first-time director Marie-Louise Damgaard’s film, we stand on a different side of the divide; it’s agonising to Matthias what’s happening, and although he understands his mother’s protective urge, her words are not his.

Advocates are part of culture; everyone wants to be seen, in the internet age, to be on the right side of an argument. What The Confirmation skilfully does is focus on what its like, not to argue, but to be argued about. It’s a plea for understanding, but not in a hectoring way, quite the opposite. Perhaps there is idealism involved, but the film poignantly asks why anyone’s right to be themselves should be a matter of debate.

The Confirmation doesn’t overstay it’s welcome; the film makes an effective point, is well constructed and acted, and should go on to a strong festival and awards run. Once that’s over, it should also be a touchstone for viral use; a mother’s love is something that’s universal, and understanding how that love can be a double-edged sword is integral to the drama here.

The Confirmation is currently playing on the festival circuit.

The Shiny Shrimps 2019 ****

shrimps

The gay sports comedy has been a growing sub-genre since 2001’s The Iron Ladies; Cedric Le Gallo and Maxime Govare’s light-hearted French film does a nice job of providing feel-good fare while managing to get a few timely digs in. The Shiny Shrimps is the name of a gay men’s water-polo team who have aspirations to take part in the Gay Games in Croatia. They’re saddled with a swim-coach named Mathias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob) who has been suspended by his governing body for homophobic remarks. The team, of course, resent his presence, and act up in the most provocative ways they can think of. But as the team leave France, Le Goff starts to get to know the men as people, and the common ground they finds brings friendship and achievement in equal measure. The Shiny Shrimps ends up landing somewhere between Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Full Monty, with stereotypical characters given endearing life in a tragi-comic setting. ‘ Trans is complicated’ “No it’s not’ “Yes it is’ runs a key argument as it transpires that the shrimps have some issues of their own; they’re fiercely anti-lesbian, and have an anti-trans prejudice that needs to be addressed too. But these issues are deftly integrated into a lively romp that’s as much about men performing Sabrina’s 1980 Euro-smash Summertime Love on an open-topped bus as it is about examining gay rights, although there are sharp inflections; when Le Groff asks why the men can use stigmatic language and not him, the answer is succinct; minority privilege. With a good emotional range and a heady mix of sports, song and drama, The Shiny Shrimps is a satisfying look at a group of spirited sports-men, and delves to some effect into what’s going on under the men’s Under Armour.

The Shiny Shrimps hit UK cinemas from Sept 6th 2019.