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‘The Village Next to Paradise’ Review: Somali Family Drama Doubles as a Potent Portrait of Life in the Shadow of War

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‘The Village Next to Paradise’ Review: Somali Family Drama Doubles as a Potent Portrait of Life in the Shadow of War

Mo Harawe’s debut feature The Village Next to Paradise is a haunting offering. The film, which premiered at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section and is the first Somali film to ever screen on the Croisette, presents a compelling narrative of one family’s survival in a sleepy Somali town. But it’s the devastating backdrop against which their drama plays out that lingers long after the credits roll. 

The siren wails of drones soundtrack each scene of Harawe’s film, which opens with footage of a real-life report of a United States drone strike on Somalia. Since the U.S. began using drones in the East African country in the early 2000s, Somalis have suffered at the hands of an enveloping and ravenous counterterrorism operation. According to data from the New America foundation, there have been more than 300 documented uses of drones resulting in hundreds of known civilian deaths.

The Village Next to Paradise

The Bottom Line

Uneven but affecting.

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Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Cast: Ahmed Ali Farah, Ahmed Mohamud Saleban, Anab Ahmed Ibrahim
Director-screenwriter: Mo Harawe

2 hours 13 minutes

The fatal impact of contemporary warfare organizes life in Paradise village, a locale whose name seems more melancholic with time. Marmargade (Ahmed Ali Farah), a principal character in Harawe’s languorous film, makes money doing odd jobs, but one of his most lucrative gigs involves burying the dead. Some of the people for whom he finds a place in the sandy terrain died of natural causes, but many of them are victims of foreign airstrikes. When this business slows, Marmargade reluctantly smuggles a truck full of goods — the contents of which play a pivotal role later — to a nearby city. 

Because Marmargade knows the realities of living in a place shrouded by the shadow of death, he strives for a better life for his son Cigaal (Ahmed Mohamud Saleban), a buoyant kid who thinks nothing of the constant buzzing coming from the sky. When the local school cancels classes for the year because of chronic absenteeism among the teachers, Marmargade works to send Cigaal to a school in the city, where safety is more than an illusion. But Cigaal doesn’t want to leave his family, friends or his life in the village. When Marmargade proposes this new life to him, the child rejects the idea. 

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The main narrative of The Village Next to Paradise revolves around the conflicting desires within this makeshift family. Marmargade lives with his sister Araweelo (Anab Ahmed Ibrahim), a recently divorced woman who wants to build her own tailoring shop. The two have the kind of fractious relationship resulting from years of mistrust. She thinks her brother should be honest with Cigaal instead of trying to trick the young one into going to school. Marmargade wants his sister’s financial support more than her advice. After she refuses to lend him the money for tuition, Marmargade makes a series of decisions that threatens all their livelihoods. 

Harawe’s film contains many admirable elements. With its unhurried pacing and tender focus on a single family, The Village Next to Paradise recalls Gabriel Martins’ 2022 feature Mars One. And the way Harawe structures the film around a broader geopolitical conflict resembles the role the Chadian civil war played in Mahamet Saleh Haroun’s  2010 film A Screaming Man, which also premiered at Cannes. The cinematography (by Mostafa El Kashef) offers truly striking images that conjure up the ghostly atmosphere of this village without turning its people into caricatures for a Western gaze hungry for a particular kind of poverty porn. 

But The Village Next to Paradise is also hobbled in places by its meandering narrative and occasionally wooden performances from Harawe’s cast of local nonprofessional actors. The sharpness of Harawe’s vision is dulled by a story that takes one too many detours before settling into itself. Characters with dubious relevance are introduced and then dropped, while ones who come to play crucial roles don’t get an appropriate amount of screen time.

The film becomes more dynamic in its latter half, when Marmargade’s desperation leads him to questionable decisions that clash with Araweelo’s desires. Indeed, it’s also during these parts of the film that Harawe pulls the strongest performances from his actors, who otherwise struggle to shake off an understandable stiffness. 

Despite these flaws, Harawe’s film does have a real staying power. The Village Next to Paradise orients itself around a quiet optimism and surprising humor that mirror real life. There are moments throughout that serve as a reminder that even in places where death feels close, hope for tomorrow is still alive.

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Chandu Champion first reviews: Kartik Aaryan's film touches hearts with its gripping storyline | Hindi Movie News – Times of India

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Chandu Champion first reviews: Kartik Aaryan's film touches hearts with its gripping storyline | Hindi Movie News – Times of India
Chandu Champion’, the sports drama that marks Kartik Aaryan‘s debut collaboration with Kabir Khan, is scheduled to release in theaters on June 14. The film is inspired by the life of Murlikant Petkar, India’s first Paralympics gold medallist.
The first review for the film has come from the people who watched the film at the special screening hosted by Kabir Khan.Those who have watched it have shared their verdict on social media. While Sumit Kadel called ‘Chandu Champion’ one of the finest films of 2024, Siddharth Kannan wrote, “It would be an understatement to call this @TheAaryanKartik ‘s best performance. Just like #MurlikantPetkar ji, he has risen over all odds and has made an indelible mark with his performance in the film.”
Sumit Kadel took to X and wrote, “#ChanduChampion is one of the finest films of 2024. It is a sports drama done right, telling the remarkable and legendary life of Murlikant Petkar. Director Kabir Khan narrates his story with great skill, research and most importantly honesty without going overboard. The movie explores every chapter of Murlikant Petkar’s life, which is full of heroism, valor, and courage. We see his journey from his village to joining the army, becoming a world-class boxer, struggling with his injuries, and finally achieving success at the Paralympics. His story is extremely inspiring, emotional, and powerful. #KartikAaryan delivers his best performance in this film. His body transformation is extraordinary, and he looks like a real athlete throughout. More than his physical transformation, Kartik’s emotional performance is what truly stands out. There are many scenes in the film where his acting will make you cry. He is sure to be a contender for the best actor award this year. #VijayRaaz lent strong support and the child who played Kartik’s Young version is brilliant. The first half of the film is excellent, while the second half is a bit slow and stretched at times. However, the last 20 minutes make up for these shortcomings. The major highlights of Chandu Champion are the boxing matches and the fantastic war scenes just before the interval. Overall Chandu Champion is a very honest film with a beautiful story, direction, screenplay, and many inspirational moments. Kudos to producer Sajid Nadiadwala for giving the film the scale and grandeur it deserves.”

On the other hand, Siddharth Kannan wrote, “#ChanduChampion… It would be an understatement to call this @TheAaryanKartik’s best performance. Just like #MurlikantPetkar ji, he has risen over all odds and has made an indelible mark with his performance in the film. #VijayRaaz, Nobody could have been a better mentor than you in the film for apna Murli. #KabirKhan packs a punch with yet another blockbuster. #Kartik, you have shut down all those who you would have once said, #HastaKaykoHai?”

Ramesh Bala tweeted, “#ChanduChampion Review : Kabir Khan is back in full form with this film. Emotions, actions, drama, relationships, motivation and unexpectedly killer performances. The film sticks to your mind. Kartik Aaryan deserves a standing ovation. Extremely watchable movie 🍿 full Paisa vasool.”

While seeing the movie, a few audience members who were invited to the private screening were also seen crying. Sharing the video of the same on Instagram, Kartik wrote, “First screening of Chandu Champion with the Man himself. An evening filled with honor, joy and tears with THE REAL CHAMPION. The Man who refused to surrender MR MURLIKANT PETKAR.”
The Kabir Khan film is based on the life and events of Petkar, the first Paralympian gold medallist, who bravely confronted every hurdle life threw at him. The titular role is essayed by Kartik Aaryan.

Kartik Aaryan’s Most Candid Interview On Chandu Champion: I Am Manifesting A Lot And That’s Why These Roles Are Coming My Way

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Arcadian (2024) – Movie Review

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Arcadian (2024) – Movie Review

Arcadian, 2024.

Directed by Benjamin Brewer.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell, Maxwell Jenkins, Sadie Soverall, Samantha Coughlan, and Joel Gillman.

SYNOPSIS:

A father and his twin teenage sons fight to survive in a remote farmhouse at the end of the end of the world.

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Finding a human story within a post-apocalyptic creature feature is typically a creative choice to appreciate. Director Benjamin Brewer’s Arcadian (from a screenplay by Michael Nilon) has a similarly intriguing concept. It focuses on how two twin teenage boys must set aside their differences and become a more cohesive survival unit following a life-threatening injury to their father, a quieter, more restrained Nicolas Cage. Played by Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins, the boys are at odds in the expected ways; one is more mature and crafty, the other headstrong and less concerned with duties in favor of visiting a nearby farmhouse to hang around his crush (Sadie Soverall), who has also yet to see much of the leveled and decayed world beyond her home.

It’s also not necessarily an issue that the filmmakers aren’t concerned with explaining much about this apocalypse or the monsters, choosing to focus on the human element and day-to-day routines, which primarily consist of scavenging during the day and locking themselves up at night in an isolated home. The family is a tightknit trio, but even with Nicolas Cage’s calm demeanor and patience as Paul, breaking up the bickering between Joseph and Thomas, it’s made clear that they would either completely unravel without him or come together stronger than ever to protect him. 

Despite the generally compelling setup and potentially complex character dynamics, Arcadian never finds much depth within any of that. As a story, it’s going through the motions and placing the brothers in other perilous situations that come across as contrived, as if the filmmakers don’t know what else to do. Even the friendship between Thomas and Charlotte feels more like a skeleton rather than something properly fleshed out. It plays out more like an obligatory love interest subplot instead of something substantially adding to the characters and the shaky sibling dynamic.

By the time Arcadian descends into a prolonged action-packed third act against agile, prehistoric-reminiscent beasts with elongated necks, quite literally chomping at the bit to devour human flesh, there is a degree of emotional investment into these characters, albeit a lingering sensation that, much like the preceding hour, there is something off and dull about all of this. 

It also has nothing to do with the gutsy decision to sideline Nicolas Cage for a sizable portion of Arcadian; that’s a subversively clever choice, but there isn’t enough on the page for the boys to elevate the material. As for the monster design, nothing is striking or unique here. However, even if there was something aesthetically nightmarish and exciting, the presentation is drowned in darkness to cover up mid-tier CGI most likely resulting from budget constraints.  Viewers are left clinging to a human story that is disappointingly shallow and generic, especially for a time and genre that has recently seen superior offerings.

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Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

 

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Short Film Review: A Catholic Schoolgirl by Myra Angeline Soriaso

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Short Film Review: A Catholic Schoolgirl by Myra Angeline Soriaso

“Not everyone is meant for this life. It’s a huge commitment”

Myra Soriaso is a student filmmaker who found her knack for storytelling after discovering microcinema in 2018. In 2021, her first short documentary Panambi, co-created with her besties Jane and Katya, premiered internationally at Ji.hlava International Film Festival. She debuted as a fiction filmmaker in 2023 at Qcinema International Film Festival with “A Catholic Schoolgirl”, which won the QCShorts Gender Sensitivity Award.

The film begins setting the tone, with a black screen where we hear the sound of girls praying. The next shot focuses on the protagonist, Kaya, a young girl who is following the prayers of the nuns in an all-girls Catholic school, although she also seems deep in her thoughts while doing so. Another nun, Sister Agnes, works with her on her chanting, with the girl being evidently disappointed that her teacher will be leaving by the end of the semester.

Sister Agnes then introduces the girl to some other nuns, praising her singing voice and her overall performance in the school. The nuns are working in the kitchen and Kaya offers to help, with Sister Agnes showing how to slice mangoes this time. A cut finger results in a more intimate discussion, with Kaya asking about love and the lack of romance the particular path holds for those who pledge themselves to God. Sister Agnes opens up about herself in order to guide her student. One more ‘episode’ follows though.

Myra Angeline Soriaso shoots a film that deals with the concept of LGBT love within a catholic setting, in an effort to highlight both how difficult the particular path can be, and how teenagers can experience their newfound sentiments and their effort to become of the cloth. The combination works quite well, creating an atmosphere that is secretive, intimate and mysterious, with the voyeuristic aspect in particular working well in that regard.

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Considered that the short essentially deals with temptation, having a model such as Sharon Idone playing Sister Agnes definitely hits the spot, with her presence justifying what Kaya feels. The scene between the two close to the end brings the whole thing down to reality, while another one, with the jam on the report card adds a very meaningful and visually impressive metaphor about what happened, and what will probably happen in Kaya’s future.

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Lastly, that the ‘confession’ takes place in a space where another kind of confession is supposed to happen, adds a very appealing note to the movie, which is both intelligent and quite smart. Some scenes could have been handled a bit better regarding what is happening, but overall, the context here is rich and well-presented.

Ora Palencia as Kaya highlights her sentiments, eagerness, and inner turmoil in eloquent fashion, even if her role is quite laconic. Martika Ramirez Escobar captures all the aforementioned with artistry, with the voyeuristic scene being the apogee of her work. Maria Estela Paiso’s editing results in a mid-tempo that works well for the style of narrative here, allowing a full story to unfold in less than 16 minutes.

“A Catholic Schoolgirl” is another excellent short film from the Philippines, which highlights that we are bound to see even more interesting things from the country in the following years.

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