Arranged Marriage

From the title, Arranged Marriage sounds as if it will be a feel-good romantic comedy, but Anoop Rangi’s incisive film is the complete opposite. After the opening of Arranged Marriage ends in an unexpected bloodbath, it becomes clear that Rangi has a bold vision and something important to say. His strange horror comedy satirizes patriarchal and cultural South Asian traditions that prevent a woman from living freely. 

Megha Sandhu plays Kamali, a young woman of Desi descent and child of immigrants who assimilates into Western culture and defies her family’s strict rules. She works at Bikini World, wears skimpy clothes, goes to clubs, and has a white boyfriend. Kavi Raz, Shruti Tewari, and Balinder Johal play her orthodox family members with a theatrical quirkiness. They force Kamali into an engagement that she tries to fight until her Western friends start dying in gruesome ways. 

It can be challenging to get into the rhythm of this film. Everything is highly exaggerated in order to point out the inconsistencies in both Eastern and Western values. None of the characters and the choices they make are rooted in realism. They are painted in broad strokes in order to make a larger statement about the ways in which America discriminates against minorities and the cracks within conservative cultures. For instance, Clive quickly transforms from fetishizing Kamali’s culture into a nasty zealot. Also, Jose Rosete plays a detective with a Hitler mustache who dismisses Kamali’s anxieties about the murders and ridicules her heritage. Sandhu does an exceptional job of making her character’s conflicts believable while still matching the film’s ostentatious tone. 

Arranged Marriage initiates an important conversation about toxic masculinity and racism but isn’t easy to watch. The glaring tonal shifts—reflected in the switch from the bright colors of a Bollywood-influenced comedy to the sinister shadows and blood reds of the horror genre—can be whiplash-inducing, especially with Rangi’s wild, over-the-top shots. But once you get into its groove, it becomes easier to appreciate this inventive work. Arranged Marriage is a singular film with a lot of nerve that tackles the conflicts of South Asian culture. It has a sharp script that eviscerates sexism and bigotry with a nasty edge.

You Resemble Me

You Resemble Me from the award-winning journalist Dina Amer is split into two disparate halves: a meditative childhood drama and a gritty documentary-esque investigation of ISIS indoctrination. Written by Amer and the film’s cinematographer, Omar Mullick, the potent film draws from the life of suicide bomber Hasna Aït Boulahcen, killed in the aftermath of Paris’ 2015 Bataclan attacks. Using hours of interviews conducted with her family and friends, Amer portrays her journey toward radicalization with an empathetic eye. 

Amer anchors the beginning of You Resemble Me in the innocent perspective of Hasna as a child. The untethered camera bounces at her eye level as she wanders through the intimidating streets of Paris with her younger sister. They wear matching dresses and look so alike that they appear to be twins. The intimate close-ups of the young girls’ sweet, vulnerable faces immerse the viewer in their compassionate and tight-knit relationship. The glimpses we get of Hasna’s home life are gut-wrenching; she lives in a tiny home with several other siblings and a raging mother that loathes her children. Her mother forgets her youngest daughter’s birthday and kicks Hasna out of the house with chilling cruelty. Lorenza Grimaudo perfectly embodies Hasna’s rage, confusion, and impenetrable sadness as she is eventually separated from her sister in a different foster home and struggles to find her place in the world.

After this engrossing opening, the jangly second half of You Resemble Me shows Hasna as an adult who has lost touch with her dear sister. Like many young women who have been through the foster care system, she deals with economic strife and suffers from abuse at the hands of men. During this section of the film, Amer uses the experimental device of having Hasna’s face shapeshift between three different actresses (including Amer herself) at random moments. It is more confusing than a strong visual metaphor for Hasna’s broken psyche. Mouna Soualem mainly portrays Hasna, and she conveys the inner turmoil that makes her eventual change believable. 

Hasna tries to find a sense of purpose and kinship by joining the French army, but she is rejected for being too open-hearted about her traumatic past. Her only solace, lit up by the bright glow of the computer screen, are social media videos of her jihadist cousin. His radical, irate words attach to her pain and loneliness like a leech. You Resemble Me quickly unfolds into a psychological thriller where Hasna spirals further down the ISIS pipeline. 

You Resemble Me is at its most affecting and powerful during the quieter childhood sequences. Despite the disordered second half, You Resemble Me is an audacious work from a first-time filmmaker. This hard-hitting film dares to address the idea that there is more to someone than just their misdeeds—no matter how “evil” they may be. With an artful sensitivity, Amer illustrates how easily someone can be indoctrinated, especially if they are born into poverty and abuse. Her courageous vision forces viewers to mourn their inner child that the world betrays.

Take the Night

At the heart of Seth McTigue’s (writer/director/producer/star) taut thriller Take the Night is strife between two brothers. They have been torn apart by the overpowering presence of their (recently deceased) father who had a clear favorite son. The young and playful Robert Chang (Sam Song Li) surpassed his resentful and irresponsible brother William (Roy Huang) for a pivotal role in their family’s major company. When Robert is accosted by masked gunmen and put in a car trunk, the audience assumes it’s foul play likely at the hands of his brother.

McTigue consistently toys with viewers’ expectations throughout the film. We eventually learn that William hired four men to stage a fake kidnapping for his brother’s birthday—a strange, high-adrenaline kind of gift that only a wealthy person would think of. Once these men realize the bountiful fortune the Chang family rests on, they decide to kidnap Robert for real. The group consists of down-on-their-luck men. There’s another pair of brothers, Chad (Seth McTigue) and Todd (Brennan Keel Cook), who are just as fraught as the Changs. While dealing with PTSD from the war, Chad must reel in his impulsive, childish brother. Justin served with Chad and now refuses to speak. An injury prevented Shannon (Shomari Love) from his NBA dreams. All of these actors deliver solid and pensive performances that draw sympathy for their characters despite their misdeeds. 

Take the Night leaves a lot of questions unanswered and attempts to build to a surprising twist. McTigue crafts slick car chase scenes that have a cool sheen and are gripping to watch. Jonas Wikstrand’s score, reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight trilogy, adds a propulsive feeling to the action. In his clever script, McTigue gradually goes back and forth through time to unwind revelations about his protagonist’s motivations. Take the Night is an intriguing and atmospheric mixture of tense excitement and mystery laced with sentimentality about dissonant family relationships, elevating it above the average crime film.

Forbearance

Forbearance is a typical weepie plot — a couple grappling with a cancer diagnosis — with a different spin on it because the main couple is on the verge of divorce. How can they reconcile the news of this sickness and the marital tension they are experiencing? These two devastating crises test the lead characters, Josh and Callie Sunbury, as they must confront painful truths. All of this makes for an incredibly intense drama. 

The Sunbury’s have been married for twenty-something years but they are constantly arguing with one another when he’s not working at the factory or she is teaching at the local high school. There’s something about the actors Juli Tapken and Travis Hancock that seems mismatched—he is all brute force with a tinge of misogyny and she is more brittle and independent. But perhaps that’s the point: they were doomed from the start. The day Callie comes home with divorce papers is the day she learns that he has cancer and only a few months to live. 

The film is a grounded depiction of two flawed adults stumbling through some life-changing news. They have no idea what is the right or wrong way to act or how to deal with the regret of past mistakes that may never be fixed. What makes Forbearance such a unique drama centered on cancer is that there is no uplifting reconciliation or cloying epiphany.

Forbearance is not without its missteps. The dark lighting and harsh brick settings don’t make it particularly pleasant to look at, with the exception of some beautiful farmland scenery from cinematographer Tyler Sanso. There are several side characters and subplots that are overexaggerated, such as an old affair and an estranged adult son who cannot understand why his father does not choose treatment; though well-acted by the filmmaker Cedric Gegel, it seems unnecessary. The somewhat sluggish pacing makes these detours feel a bit frustrating as well.

Nevertheless, Gegel proves himself to be a fine actor and his directing/screenwriting efforts are commendable. He crafts an authentic drama that draws from his own experience as a cancer survivor. Forbearance is a brave work that bravely traverses all of the fears, sadness, and uncertainties surrounding the illness and its effect on family — those you have solid or strained relationships with. It is a very raw film that deals with big emotions with admirable sincerity.

Love in Kilnerry

Love in Kilnerry has all the elements of classic British comedies that juxtapose quaint conservative settings with something risque (The Full Monty, Kinky Boots, Calendar Girls, etc.). The film trades an England locale for a sleepy New England town that looks like it belongs in a snow globe, populated with close-knit residents who live quiet and repressed lives. The gorgeous landscape shots are brightly lit: the autumnal colors and green valleys nearly pop off the screen. The town residents are afraid of change and often sweep their unhappiness under the rug, whether from a failing marriage, losing a loved one, or pining after someone but being too shy to confess their attraction. 

Their picturesque world is rocked when a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency holds a town meeting and explains that a local factory has been dumping toxic byproducts into the water supply. This may cause some side effects such as a ravenous libido that the straight-laced town sheriff Gary O’Reilly (an affable Daniel Keith) must try to control. Keith also writes and directs Love in Kilnerry which allows him to balance such fantastic performances from a large ensemble. Much to the chagrin of Nessa (Kathy Searle in an adorably high-strung role) who has a crush on him, Gary must resist succumbing to the aphrodisiac so that he can stop the townspeople’s crazy antics such as having public sex or riding their bikes naked. 

It’s refreshing to see a film that focuses on older characters, with the majority of them being over 50 years old. The premise of elders spouting profanity-laden zingers and engaging in raunchy sex acts (complete with dominatrix outfits, orgies, and sex dungeons!) is, obviously, played for laughs, but the film never makes fun of them for being sexual at an old age. Rather, the humor is found in the relief these winsome characters feel now that they are free of their inhibitions. The talented ensemble is able to make these silly and exaggerated moments feel genuine. 

There’s a kernel of sweetness in the lewd comedy that keeps Love in Kilnerry from being exploitative, largely drawn from the quaintness of the town and its inhabitants. Occasionally the jokes are a bit too over-the-top and cringy, and the side plots and various characters are hard to keep track of, but overall the film is a delightful whirlwind of a farce. Love in Kilnerry is a quirky, sex-positive tale about opening yourself up to new experiences that is irresistibly charming.