Archive for the ‘LGBT’ Category

Loving Highsmith (2022) Locarno Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Eva Vitija | Doc, 73′

“I shall travel the world and still feel lonely: I am the forever-seeking”. Patricia Highsmith

The American novelist Patricia Highsmith (1921-95) is seen through the prism of her sexuality and personal life in this engaging documentary written and directed by Swiss filmmaker Eva Vitija, based on the author’s diaries and journals, and voiced by Gwendoline Christie giving an illusion of remarkable intimacy with Highsmith herself.

Patricia Highsmith is well known for her stealthily-plotted psychological novels and their various film adaptations such as Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, and The Talented Mr Ripley raising her profile to international status. But she also blazed a smouldering trail as a pioneering writer of gay literature, most notably in The Price of Salt, that found its way onto the big screen in Tod Haynes’ glossy, award-winning drama Carol. Ironically the films garnered more financial successful than her literature.

Vitija’s film reveals a sad childhood in Forth Worth Texas and New York where Highsmith was rejected by her emotionally distant mother Mary and grew up as a darkly attractive woman much admired for her stylish looks in the discrete lesbian bars of 1950s New York, yet held back by her mother’s hurtful comments about her appearance: “Why don’t you dress like a woman?”, and oppressive attempts to interest her in potential husbands.

Despite her homosexuality Highsmith was far from liberal in her outlook, veering towards racism and even antisemitism, although three of her lovers were infact Jewish. In common with many writers, Highsmith kept herself to herself, preferring the company of cats – even snails – to people, although she had several enduring relationships, most notably with Marijane Meaker, a friend, lover and biographer who is one of the film’s most enlightening ‘talking heads’. The two shared a house with their five cats in Pennsylvania at a time when women living together were assumed to be simply pooling their resources rather than satisfying their romantic needs. Highsmith’s complex dual identity is further fleshed out as Vitija explores the author’s other former lovers including Tabea Blumenschein, Marion Aboudaram and Monique Buffet.

Highsmith’s main protagonists were men, and she once claimed: “Women want to read about men and men want to read about men”. Meeker comments: “even though her mother had a career and was strong and independent, Highsmith maintained women in general still see themselves in terms of their relationships with men. Vitija puts forward the idea that the misanthropist character Tom Ripley, the protagonist of five of her books, was actually based on the author herself.

Relatives from her Texan family, on her mother’s side, talk at length about the need for women to be ultra feminine in an era dominated by masculine men. And this male prerogative is backed up by footage of rodeos and ranches that featured heavily in Highsmith’s early life, forcing the author on to an endless quest for identity. Even at the height of her international career she was eclipsed by her radio announcer cousin, back home in Forth Worth.

Highsmith also resided for a time in England where she bought a house to be near a woman only described as Caroline. But the affair ended in bitter rejection re-enforcing the self-internalised feelings of negativity projected onto her by her mother, and Highsmith later took refuge in France where gardening became an absorbing pastime providing solace for her disillusionment with love. The author would end her days in Switzerland where an architect was commissioned to design her a low level modernist house in Locarno where this biopic screened at the 75th Locarno Film Festival.

Enriched with plentiful photographs, cine-film footage of Highsmith herself, and clips from Carol, Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train, the film provides intimate access to the inner life of a highly complex writer who always considered interviews a “profound indignity”. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Pacifiction (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Albert Serra | Drama, 138′

Catalan auteur Albert Serra follows Liberte his voyeuristic foray into 18th century Berlin with a kitschy French language feature – a metaphor for modern politics – in the Polynesian Island of Tahiti where the tropical climate and sultry sun-drenched sunsets are a hedonistic hideaway for a shadowy expat community headed by Benoit Magimel’s top ranking French fonctionaire De Roller, a soi-disant ‘representative of the state’. But behind this patina of charm seethes a cynic of savage mistrust.

The prowling voyeurs are back again looming out of this palm-fringed neon twilight zone of cocktail bars and nightclubs, only this time it’s the 21st century. Serra’s regular actor Marc Susini as a light-footed admiral of the submarine, and Sergi Lopez as a sleazy club owner Morton. Montse Triola’s role as a published writer returning home doesn’t quite work as the token female. But there are go-go girls and boys a plenty and the sexually ambivalent De Roller seems enamoured with their trans lead dancer Shannah (Mahagafanau). And we gradually relax into this mellow milieu inhabiting the intoxicating torpor of the tropical tale and its weird protagonists.

Serra is not a man to be hurried and once again he takes time to flesh out his antihero Romane De Roller: a bloated, besuited, supercilious, self-seeking bureaucrat who talks in repetitive platitude-strewn cliches, often finishing his sentences with a token “voila”. And Magimel is majestic in the role. Endless languorous days see him driven round the windswept island in a white Mercedes, visiting local mayors and claiming to have uncovered a rumour about the government starting nuclear testing again after twenty years, in a submarine located off the coast: You would not trust him to post a letter, let alone quell a conspiracy theory. But storm clouds soon threaten De Roller’s last days in paradise when a Portuguese diplomat turns up (Alexandre Melo) complaining to have been robbed of his papers. Is he a spy or a nuclear specialist? His appearance only adds to the sinister atmosphere of impending doom.

The most impressive scene takes place on the high waves during a surfing competition where a rip tide gives way to stratospheric ocean rollers. De Roller dices with death on the back of a jetski smugly declaring his mastership of land and sea: “I do what you do but in politics”. Serra’s bizarre style may not suit everyone but he is undoubtedly one of the most avantgarde and distinctive filmmakers of today. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burning Days (2022) Un Certain Regard

Wri/Dir: Emin Alper | Turkey, Thriller 129′

Emin Alper made his debut with Beyond the Hill, a searing thriller centred on a family holiday. A decade later and Burning Days, playing in Un Certain Regard, seethes with the same savage sense of dread as genre thriller Frenzy (2015), taking us deep into southern Turkey it tackles poverty, corruption and homophobia in a close-knit village of Yaniklar, dominated by its authoritarian mayor.

Emre (Selahattin Paşali), a clean-cut young prosecutor, represents the progressive city-dwelling face of modern Turkey, arriving from Ankara to bring order, respect and social justice to the chaos of the traditional, populist movement that thrives on corruption and nepotism in the rural backwater.

The sound of gunfire greets him as a slaughtered wild boar is dragging its bloody entrails through the streets. A drought had caused vast sink holes to open up in the desert wasteland beyond the town, not to mention a plague of rats. But Emre faces a far more serious issue in this seedy community, that of homophobia, when he forms a bond with Murat (Ekin Koc) the owner of the local newspaper.

Once again Alper generates a creeping feeling of dread and genuine fear for his earnest, upstanding central character who soon finds out the mayor’s influence overrides law and order using the microcosm of the Yaniklar to thoroughly explore Turkey’s modern malaise in an absorbing and visually striking arthouse parable. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

Boulevard! A Hollywood Story (2021) Bfi Flare

Dir.: Jeffrey Schwarz; Documentary with Gloria Swanson, Dick Hughes, Richard Stapley, Brooke Anderson, Elizabeth Wyler, Barbara Fixx, Steven Wilson, Alan Eichler, Carl Beauchamp; USA 2021, 85 min.

Veteran documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz unearths a musical version of Sunset Boulevard (1950) and a 1950s love triangle that pictures three victims of the Hollywood system where ageism and homophobia played a dominant role.

The three were Gloria Swanson, star of Billy Wilder’s original 1950 feature,  Dick Hughes, and his lover Richard Stapley (aka Richard Wyler).  Hugh was the composer of the musical “Swanson on Sunset”, with Stapley responsible for the lyrics. It ran for six weeks at the “Cinegrill” in Los Angeles, from November 1994, with revivals until 1997.

The original version dates from 1955 when two young artists and lovers, Dick Hughes and Richard Stapley met Gloria Swanson (still smarting from being pipped to the post by Judy Holliday for the Best Actress Oscar in 1951). During the early fifties , the trio worked on “Swanson and Sunset”, but a lack of finance, as well as Paramount’s refusal to grant Swanson the rights to the Wilder classic, eventually nuxed the project.

Swanson then fell for Stapley and his relationship with Hughes came to an abrupt end. Stapley re-invented himself, becoming a popular actor: The Girl from Rio, and the TV series The Troubleshooters and a bit part in Frenzy being highlights of his career. The film’s focus then swings to its gay theme with Richard’s second wife Elizabeth being well aware of his sexuality, just another ploy to hide his gayness for the Hollywood system. She was prepared to share the limelight and the two remained “just good friends”.

But Dick Hughes could not let go of the musical that never was, and remained obsessed with the feature until his death. He continued to play the piano in exclusive clubs and later became a conductor. Gloria Swanson also remained fixed on the project. According to her granddaughter Brooke Anderson, she never forgot the music written by Hughes, “it never died for her”. Yet, curiously, Swanson never mentioned the Sunset project or even Hughes or Stapley in her autobiography “Swanson on Swanson”. In 1990 Hughes revived “Swanson and Sunset”, playing the role of his younger self despite being well into his sixties. And when he heard about the success of Lloyd Webber’s 1994 musical “Sunset Boulevard”, he reconciled with Richard, who had morphed back from Wyler into his Stapley identity.

Despite their up and downs the two completed the musical for its 1994 premiere at the “Cinegrill”. With the help of Steven Wilson, from the University of Texas in Austin, Schwarz cobbles together enormous amounts of material but the story of the (probably unconsummated) love triangle is never quite divorced from film history, Schwarz clearly felt empathy for his subject and avoids voyeurism at all costs sticking to a mostly conventional approach with multiple talking heads enlivened by animated cartoons of the trio in action. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 2022

Rebel Dykes (2021)

Dir.: Harri Shanahan, Siân A. Williams; Documentary with DEBBIE, ROZ, FISCH, SIOBHAN, SEIJA, BAYA, DEL, LULU; UK 2021, 82 min.

The collective of Harri Shanahan, Siân A. Williams and producer Siobhan Fahey serve up a slice of subversiveness from the 1980s centred round a group of women activists who got together at Greenham Common, then decided to spice up the not-so-exciting London scene, taking over Women’s Centres and Gay Bars. In Brixton where squatting was not entirely legal, the DYKES started a vibrant underground culture with an SM club.

It was a time of revolt against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s administration: to create a Lesbian Fetish Club was in itself an open protest against the government’s ‘mishandling’ of the Aids Crisis and the introduction of Section 28, which basically forbade any mention in school curriculums about the existence of non hetero-sexual activities. The animated title sequence leads the audience into wild discussions and graphic descriptions of sexual scenes. The group was constantly under homophobic attack in the streets, so they just lived by night. But the danger came also from another front: mainstream feminists picketed the club and forced entrance with crowbars and axes. They accused the Rebel Dykes of anti-feminism and violence. The Rebel Dykes counter with action: invading the BBC News and chaining themselves to the furniture; they also founded sex-toy businesses and erotic Magazines – often having to fight the incriminating laws.

1981-1991 was a pivotal time in the history of alternative culture: kink, fetish, hedonism, music, drugs and political activism developed, leading to the formulation of trans rights and black queer life. It should be mentioned, that The Rebel Dykes were an international set-up: Seija came from Finland, Baya fled repressive East Germany, and Lulu was a San Francisco based photographer. Music plays a central role in the feature: Britpop artist guitarist Debbie Smith, the “most celebrated Black female guitarist”, is the film’s leading narrator. The archive music used is of precious cultural importance since women musicians rarely signed contracts in a male dominated business. The film’s composer, Ellyott, who works with ‘Sister George’ and ‘Night Nurse’, is the founder of Rebel Dyke and Queercore. The archive, consisting of mini-discs, digitised cassettes and VHS tapes, will be house permanently in the Bishopsgate Archive, London. Overall, the story-telling has multiple viewpoints, not a singular perspective.

Co-director/co-editor/animator Harri Shanahan, who studied filmmaking at university and produced post punk/experimental music videos, wanted “to tell the story of the Rebel Dykes because they “felt a kinship with their punk rebelliousness and their DIY approach to art and culture. It has been an amazing experience to meet these trailblazing, kickass people and to have the opportunity to be part of telling their story”.

The Rebel Dykes’s have virtually been written out of the history of the Queer movement, but it is a true revolutionary movement of female, non-binary and trans voices, celebrating direct action. So far unseen archive footage shows the Lesbian Strength March (1988) and the “Lesbian Avengers” who ab-sailed into the House of Lords, the night when ‘Section 28’ was passed into law, not to be revoked until 2003. AS

In cinemas and on BFI Player and Bohemia Euphoria from 26 November

Bernstein’s Wall (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir: Douglas Tirola | Wrs: Leonard Bernstein, Douglas Tirola | US Doc, 101′

“the artist can change the world but he can’t necessarily do it through his art” 

Leonard Bernstein became a household name for his ground-swelling score of modern Broadway classic Westside Story. In those days to be a twenty-something Jewish immigrant conductor was unheard of. But Bernstein was determined to bring music to the mainstream and it was this democratisation of his craft and the arts in general that made him his place in history.

Bernstein came from a non-musical background in Boston. His father – whom he described as a cold, authoritarian tyrant  escaped Italy on an ocean-liner and settled in Brooklyn to ply his trade as a fishmonger.

Directed by Douglas Tirola and narrated by the composer himself in modulated engaging tones, Bernstein’s story unfolds in a didactic but fascinating way, enlivened by a wealth of personal photos and archive films – and of course, audio footage in a rich musical score. In these vivid scenes Bernstein comes across as an inquiring free-thinker, his lustrous dark curls framing an opened-faced sensual masculine beauty that only got better as the years rolled by.

Cultural ambassador, artist, teacher, and philosopher, the musician’s gift to the world was his ability to bring classics to everyday audiences who would mostly see his prodigious passionate outpourings on the television during the 1950s when he was known for his CBS arts series Omnibus in 1954.

Although classically trained Bernstein developed an eclectic interest in all kinds of music, jazz and opera blurring the lines between class and culture sealing his reputation as an iconic figure whose talent would unify, engage and entertain.

Training at Tanglewood, Bernstein would soon gravitate from Boston to New York where he took to the conductor’s podium with ease and aplomb wafting aside his radical background with charismatic determination, thanks to his supportive mentors Serge Koussevitsky and Aaron Copland.

Romantically it was plain-sailing for the affable family-orientated conductor who fell for Chilean American actress Felicia Montealegre, snippets from their early love letters rendered in graceful black and white graphics. Soon he had a son and a daughter and needed to support them all. From modest beginnings in Carnegie Hall, The New York Philharmonic beckoned in 1958.

Bernstein’s way of engaging his audience was to give a rousing introduction to his dynamic stage performances – offering an entente cordiale in Russia, or laced with a political agenda at home – but always brimming with a febrile physicality as his quivering body conveyed his excitement and passion for music via the orchestra to the audience: “music keeps me glued to life even when I’m depressed”.

Tirola adds political and social footnotes. Felicia, a keen pianist and obedient fifties wife, saying all the right things, yet clearly sharing her husband with another muse, music itself. But also a burgeoning yen for men – an episode which is discretely conveyed in those same black and white graphics. And Felicia admits his confused sexuality clouded their marriage of 27 years although it was undoubtedly happy and fulfilling for a time, his homosexuality is never explored.

Politics and leftist activism takes centre stage during the Kennedy years as Bernstein increasingly warms to his role as conductor for social change, using his reputation and art to promote peace, equality and racial harmony. In Alabama he is seen joining fellow jazz musicians in a peace rally, and visiting Jerusalem to give a rousing speech on the Mount of Olives. And there snaps from his well-publicised and misinterpreted soiree in support of the civil liberties for the Black Panther party – leading to Tom Wolfe’s coining the derogatory phrase “radical chic”. This all caused a vicious backlash on the Bernsteins and a storm of critical hailstones in 1970 his subversive stance drawing suspicion from Richard Nixon.

The film coming to a satisfactory close with footage of Bernstein conducting the Ninth Symphony in East Berlin in 1989 as part of the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To mark that reunification, he rewrote part of Friedrich Schiller’s text for the “Ode to Joy” movement, and had the choir substitute the German word for “freedom” in place of “joy.”

Tirola’s warm but not hagiographic approach allows for an enjoyable and immersive look back at the conductor’s fascinating life. Of his own musical choices Bernstein talks glowingly of Beethoven although his West Side Story work is almost entirely absent, apart from a few visuals. We are left with the impression of a genius but never a showman, a true artist absorbed and taken over by his obsession – a true conductor if ever there was one – music was the lightening bolt that set Bernstein’s life on fire. MT

Tribeca Film Festival | JUNE 2021

 

 

The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970)

Dir: Irving Rapper |  US Drama 98′

Described by David Thomson as “possibly the most bizarre departure by any director once in steady work”. The Christine Jorgensen Story that explores identity confusion, is virtually a remake by Irving Rapper, the veteran gay director of Hollywood ‘women’s pictures’- then in his seventies – of his 1942 classic Now, Voyager.  Yet Bette Davis looked far more butch in her Warner Bros. prime than John Hansen ever does here.

Rapper was doubtless equipped to empathise with what was troubling his confused young ‘heroine’, and it shows in the film; although the Danish ‘heroine’s transformation is here brought about by surgery, rather than psychoanalysis and a makeover by Perc Westmore and Orry-Kelly.

Based on Jorgensen’s autobiography the film feels like a TV movie of the period, complete with a 50’s-style piano & violin score by the veteran team of Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter, but with the addition of words like ‘clitoris’ and ‘testicles’ to the script, and a glimpse of a penis in a shower-room sequence (was this a Hollywood first?). With women today clamouring to be taken seriously as footballers and for basic training for the armed forces, young George’s dislike for these activities and preference for wearing dresses would not necessarily today be seen as evidence that he’s ‘really’ a woman. The discovery by Professor Estabrook (Will Kuluva) that George’s glands are secreting more oestrogen than testosterone curiously leads him to recommend cutting them off altogether rather than simply injecting him with testosterone. So off to Denmark it is, where the operation he is about to undergo is described in quite some detail by Dr.Dahlman (Oscar Beregi).

We finally meet Christine about two-thirds into the film, when Hansen is transformed into a better-looking version of John Lithgow in The World According to Garp rather than the elegant and articulate woman Jorgensen actually became. That his father is discovered to be waiting for ‘her’ at the airport upon her arrival back in America provides a genuinely touching conclusion. Jorgensen declared herself satisfied with the result; as well as relieved that it didn’t end up as another ‘Myra Breckinridge’ @Richard Chatten

 

Madalena (2021) Mubi

Dir: Madiano Marcheti | Thriller Brazil 85′

More transexuals are killed in Brazil than anywhere else in the world and this sobering thought provides the touchstone to Madiano Marcheti’s assured feature debut that premiered exactly a year ago at Rotterdam’s film festival’s 50th celebration.

Madalena is a murder mystery that is never solved. We see a broken body lying in a field of lushly swaying soya, but we never discover much more – this is not a crime procedural or a whodunnit. What Madalena does provide is a haunting and unsettling snapshot of the cultural and societal references that support intolerance in this deeply religious, patriarchal and macho part of rural Brazil that remains connected and influenced by the modern world and yet at the same time, tethered in the past. In this sense the setting (where the director himself grew up) is very much a character that influences what has gone before. In this eerie tropical landscape, ostriches strut like creatures out of a Sci-fi thriller and drones trawl the skies patrolling the vast acres of farmland. Meanwhile monsters are being bred in the frivolous disco-dancing, vape-smoking, body-conscious urban hinterland, and they’re called men.

Capturing the vast open skyscapes and deathly silences of the spooky agrarian setting Marcheti stealthily explores the aftermath to Madalena’s death through three protagonists who are unknown to each other as they gradually become aware of her disappearance. The details are left unclear and we never find out how the death eventually leaks out into the news.

Club hostess Luziane calls round at Madalena’s simple village home several times, her mother pressurising her to borrow money, but Madalena is nowhere to be found. The narrative then shifts to body-builder Cristiano who works for his land-owning father, spending his time smoking drinking and injecting himself with hormones. He can’t forget what he’s seen in the soyafields, so he takes his friend Gildo back to where he originally saw the body but it’s a hostile and inhospitable terrain that keeps its secret well hidden.

In a mellow and soft-centred finale it’s left to trans woman Bianca and her girlfriends to pack up Madalena’s possessions as they share memories of happier times with their friend. Marcheti never passes judgement on his characters, they are merely there to serve the narrative – but none is particularly likeable, leaving us to reach our own conclusions on this sinister story and the hostile and unknowable place where it all unfolds. MT

NOW ON MUBI I TIGER COMPETITION

Cocoon (2020) *** VOD, Bluray

Dir.: Leonie Krippendorff; Cast: Lena Urzendowsky, Lena Klenke, Jella Haase, Elina Vildanova, Anja Schneider, Bill Becker; Germany 2020, 99 min.

Over a decade ago Celine Sciamma burst onto the scene with her refreshing look at lesbian romance in Water Lilies. Native Berliner Leonie Krippendorff’s seductive spin on teenage love is a contempo coming-of-age story that just manages to avoid symbolic overdrive and sentimentality.

Set in the sweltering summer heat of Kreuzberg, the capital’s answer to Hackney, the story revolves around Nora (played by an impressive Lena Urzendowsky, with already has over twenty screen credits to her name). Hanging out with her older sister  Jule (Klenke) and friend Aylin (Vildanova) and her boozy mother Vivienne (Schneider) who appears to be somewhat of an intellectual who come to life when she gets a birthday present of Judith Butler’s novel ‘Bodies that matter’, dedicated to her by a certain Twiggy, a friend from a happier chapter in her life.

Nora’s curiosity is woken when she meets the older Romy (Haase), who comes to her aid during an embarrassing poolside incident, and the girls become instant best friends bonding over boyfriends, but Romy’s not just interested in boys, or so it seems. A good deal of hazy camerawork seems appropriate for the lust-fuelled summer reverie, not unlike Pawel Pawlikovski created in My Summer of Love.

Cocoon is not that revealing, or particularly noteworthy in its love story, what stand out is the social background, showing how the girls prefer Muslim boyfriends because of their apparent faithfulness, nearly all of them repeating “I swear on the Koran”!. Perhaps this successful integration is overdone, but nevertheless, some progress has been made.

DoP Martin Neumeyer is clearly influenced by Spring Breakers, although sadly Berlin’s public swimming pools are a far cry from Florida’s beaches. Still, he captures the uniqueness of the borough of Kreuzberg which retains a certain bohemian charm in an otherwise gentrified capital city. AS

DVD, BLURAY and VOD release from 25 JANUARY 2021

Rialto (2019) ***

Dir| Peter Mackie Burns | Drama, Ireland, 90′

A father is forced to admit his true feelings in this thoughtfully filmed and acted drama from Peter Mackie Burns.

Based on Mark O’Halloran’s award-winning play ‘Trade” (penned before Ireland passed the marriage equality amendment in 2015) this Dublin-set story is full of loss and longing exploring a  gay awakening – there, I’ve given the main plot away – but that is the crux of the narrative. Career port official, Colm, 46,  is a pretty average bloke with a wife Claire (Dolan) and kids Kerry (Sophie Jo Wasson) and Shane (Scott Graham) when three unexpected events take over his humdrum existence.

First he loses his domineering father, then his job. Finally – in the gents loo at his workplace – he meets teenage rent boy Jay who will change his life forever. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor gives a quietly moving performance as Colm, a man whose life is blown apart by these surprising and devastating circumstances  – although the film never resorts to melodrama, completely the opposite, in fact. And that is its strength. The film’s weakness is its cinematic drabness, most of the action takes place in glum domestic interiors, despite an impressive widescreen opening shot (by DoP Adam Scarth) that sees Colm looking down from a container crane. The rest is downhill visually.

The theme of fathers and sons provides context to this rather mournful drama. To add to the complexity of the sexual developments, Jay has just had a baby with his 19-year-old girlfriend and is also on the breadline, so when he discovers Colm’s wallet in the lavatory cubicle, he heads straight over to his office and asks for money in exchange for keeping quiet. The pair are then hooked into a relationship of dependency – Colm needing sex, Jay money – and as Colm sinks into further into depression his life spirals out of control worsened by his loss of earning power, and a dependent family. Jay meanwhile struggles to adapt to new fatherhood.

Rialto is a decent and nuanced study of ordinary working class men  suddenly unable to cope with their emotional lives, it’s also quite a depressing film to watch and one that is instantly forgettable once the titles have rolled. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 2 OCTOBER 2020

 

 

The Garden Left Behind (2019) *** SXSW 2020

Dir.: Flavio Alves; Cast: Carlie Guevara, Ed Asner, Michael Madsen, Miriam Cruz, Tamara M. Williams, Anthony Abdo, Alex Cruz; USA/Brazil, 88 min.

Brazilian-born first time director/co-writer Flavio Alves, granted asylum for political reasons in the USA, has created a moving but structurally erratic portrait of a Mexican transgender woman, who lives with her grandmother as an undocumented immigrant in New York. Shot elegantly in the Bronx and Brooklyn by DoP Koshi Kiyokawa with support of the local transgender community, The Garden is carried by debutant Carlie Guevara in the central role.

Tina (Guevara) is walking along a deserted street at night when she is accosted by a carload of belligerent men shouting insults. Walking towards the camera, we sense trouble for Tina, but Alves cuts to tell her story in flashback. Tina lives with her grandmother Eliana (Cruz) in a small apartment, making money as a Uber driver. Her gender reassignment has been an expensive process, psychiatrist (Asner of ‘Lou Grant’ fame), supporting her through the different stages of the treatment. Tina has a longstanding boyfriend, Jason (Kruz), who is still ashamed to be seen with her in public, particularly in their favourite bar, tended by Kevin (Madsen). Her best friend Carol (Williams) drags Tina into the local activist scene which becomes the main focus of the feature. Support characters include a strange young man, Chris (Abdo), he seems to be negatively obsessed by Tina, scowling angrily at her during shopping trips to the local supermarket. The day-to-day scenes are strongest, we see Tina buying Eliana a new hoover, and her lovemaking scenes, to which grandma listens attentively. Both Guevara and Cruz give understated, naturalistic performances, newcomer Guevara is particular convincing, looking backwards to a past she hardly remembers, whilst being afraid of the future. Unfortunately, Alves decides on a shock-horror ending, and one which is amply telegraphed at that.

Raising the profile of escalating violence towards the transgender community, features like the The Garden Left Behind are certainly worthwhile, if not vital. In times of unrest,  these vulnerable members of society often suffer disproportionately, along with other minorities, and Alves succeeds by only featuring local members of the community – which should be a given, but is not part of the Hollywood standard. It is therefore disappointing the filmmaker lets everyone down with a melodramatic ending, attempting to tug on heartstrings in a double whammy of “revelation”. Guevara and the transgender community deserve a more subtle approach that feels real in today’s developing crisis. AS

SXSW AUDIENCE AWARD WINNER 2020
     

Summertime | La Belle Saison (2015) *** MUBI

Dir: Catherine Corsini | Cast: Cecile de France, Izia Higelin, Noemie Lvovsky, Benjamin Bellecour | 104min  | Drama | France

Catherine Corsini brings a sizzling energy to her lesbian love story set in Paris and the glorious landscapes of Le Limousin. Summertime will appeal to arthouse lovers and the LGBT crowd alike with its fresh and feisty turns from Cécile de France and Izia Higelin as unlikely bedfellows who come together during the French feminist uprisings in 1971.

Izia Higelin plays Delphine, a simple country girl arriving in Paris from her parents’ farm to seek her fortune in the capital. Feeling gauche and naive she soon gets caught up in the vortex of female political activism attracted by the strong and earthy women who appeal to her nascent lesbian leanings. Working at that well known grocery store Félix Potin, she falls in love with 35-year-old Carole (Cécile de France) who is dating the dishy writer Manuel (Benjamin Bellecour). After an awkward first act focusing on the feminist fervour of the time – which sadly feels embarrassing and rather contrived – the two begin a torrid affair that takes them back to the countryside where Delphine’s father becomes seriously ill and her mother Monique (Noemie Lvovsky) is left to run the business. They all get on like a house on fire in this sunny second act that serves as a genuinely delightful introduction to  daily life on a small working farm. Here we meet Antoine, a family friend and Delphine’s intended – according to her mother – and he immediately takes on the role of a sexual voyeur, tuning into couple’s romantic vibes, while giving Carole a wide berth. Delphine’s heart is in the ‘terroir’ but her love for Carole grows. Cécile de France gives a gutsy go at being Carole, torn between her life in Paris with Manuel and her budding feelings for Delphine.

Corsini conveys the strong physical urges of her lovers with scenes of earthy nudity and splashy sex. And although the two are a potent match, it’s clear Carole is experimenting while Delphine is  committed. Higelin brings a natural vulnerability to her part, not dissimilar from that of Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour. The younger of the two, she exudes a natural affection for Carole as well as a healthy lust, but Carole is a more complex girl whose ego demands to be worshipped.

Corsini is no stranger to big-screen lesbian love affairs, best known in this context for her 2001 Cannes competition hopeful Replay, featuring a gutsy yet tragic relationship between Emmanuelle Beart, a successful actress, and her less accomplished partner. Here the focus is more on innocence versus experience.  In a welcome twist, Delphine pursues Carole initially in a cat and mouse chase that spices up the storyline. But tradition starts to take over as the family responsibilities take over, throwing her back into Antoine’s orbit.

Although the film struggles for a feminist political agenda this often feels forced and less convincing than the scenes in the traditional farmstead. Lvovsky is a natural as Delphine’s mother whose straightforwardness and feral protection of her daughter and farm provides lush contrast to the more liberated Parisian style of Carole. Azais’ character masks an emotionally buttoned-up man, hesitant to pursue his personal agenda, a quality her shares with his object of affection Delphine.

Jeanne Lapoirie’s widescreen cinematography is resplendent but doesn’t idolise the Rubenesque voluptuousness of the naked women making love in the meadows, and Gregoire Hetzel’s occasional score adds a zeitgeisty ’70s twang to the soundtrack. MT

On MUBI THIS WEEKEND | 19 JUNE 2020

The Ornithologist (2016) **** BFiplayer

Dir: Joao Pedro Rodrigues Cast: Paul Hamy, Xelo Cagiao, Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Han Wen, Chan Suan, Juliane Elting | Fantasy Drama | Portugal | 118min |

Portuguese auteur Joao Pedro Rodrigues won the main prize at Locarno for his avantgarde fifth feature. Good and evil collide during a Hearts of Darkness style odyssey through the verdant landscapes and lush forests of Northern Portugal.

The journeyman is gay birdwatcher Fernando (Paul Hamy) who is undertaking research, although his attitude to wildlife appears somewhat ambivalent. Paddling his kayak through the limpid waters of the River Douro, he is surprised by sudden rapids and disappears under water until he is later found and rescued by two Chinese girls (Han Wen, Chan Suan) purporting to be devout Christians on a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (in Spain). But there is a price to pay for  saving his life. Clearly they pari have lost their way literally and metaphorically. But they are not the only untrustworthy people Fernando is to come across during his trip. A deaf mute shepherd called Jesus; a group of exuberant Careto revellers and a trio of Latin-speaking Amazonian girls on horseback, all appear to be have dubious intentions. Although Rodrigues’ film is a modern gay-themed version of the parable of Saint Anthony of Lisbon (and of Padua) patron saint of lost things and devotion to the poor and sick, this stylish arthouse offering could also serve as a metaphor for our journey through the 21st century’s pitfalls.

A visionary freethinker and consummate storyteller, Rodrigues brings a resonant stillness and contemplativeness to his film along with bursts of joie de vivre – as in the scene where Jesus drinks milk straight from a goat’s teet. Animals play a significant part here from exotic birds to dogs and local fauna. Cinematographer, Rui Pocas, cleverly evokes the interaction between man and beast. Fernando becomes irritated when a white dove he has tried to cure – possibly representing the Holy Spirit – then seems to be following him. Rodrigues leads us into all sorts of blind alleys with an immersive narrative full of textural richness that also echoes the journey seen in the recent Embrace of the Serpent. Those flumuxed by Miguel Gomes Arabian Nights will be encouraged to hear that The Ornithologist is also a great deal more accessible than the Inebriated Chorus of Chaffinches segment in the trilogy.

There does seem to be some poetic licence over geography in the piece: the Chinese girls are heading for Santiago de Compostela but somehow have wandered into Portugal and the film ends up in Padua, Italy presumably in reference to St Anthony dying there, although this is initially bewildering unless you know the religious background. The gay elements of the film feel entirely in the natural in the milieu and Fernando’s transformation into Saint Anthony dovetailing elegantly into the final scenes show we are never far from salvation. MT

FREE ON BFiPLAYER |

https://player.bfi.org.uk/rentals/film/watch-the-ornithologist-2016-online

 

John Waters | Birthday Tribute

John Waters was born in 1946 into a well-to-do Catholic family in Baltimore where he was educated privately. But his life’s work was to be far from ‘ordinary’.  Nowadays he enjoys cult status in a flourishing 50 year film career that attracts more and more attention, although his last film was made over ten years ago. A Dirty Shame (2004) was not altogether a critical success and was almost a failure at the box-office. Clearly his unusual, offbeat persona attracts his growing fanbase – cineastes who enjoy his ability to shock, appall and repulse. He famously once said “you have to do work that doesn’t just appeal to your mother”. So even his mother must be special. 

From an early early age Waters was obsessed with violence and gore and formed deep attachments to a group of friends who would play the characters in his filmic fantasies. The most enduring of these was Glenn Milstead, later known as Divine, who also became his muse, appearing most famously in Multiple Maniacs, and gaining the nickname Prince of Puke. He started directing before he was 20 years old, making Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964) and Roman Candles (1966), two short films that also marked the beginning of his partnership with Milstead, who first starred in Mondo Trasho (1969). His breakthrough came in 1972 with Pink Flamingos, a trash manifesto that defined his style, followed by Female Trouble (1974) and Desperate Living (1977). He achieved mainstream success in 1988 with Hairspray, his last collaboration with Divine, who died shortly after filming. He subsequently directed Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby (1990) and made Serial Mom (1994), a blend of his original provocative vision and the genre of political satire. After various stints as an actor, he returned behind the camera with Pecker (1998) and Cecil B. Demented (2000), the latter staring Melanie Griffith and Maggie Gyllenhaal. A Dirty Shame was yet another confirmation of his interest in defying traditional values.

So he provokes and disgusts and doesn’t seem to give a damn, and that’s probably while he is also so popular, particularly as his oeuvre is so difficult to access on DVD, Blu-ray or VOD, and this is clearly one of its biggest draws, human nature being what it is..

In recognition of his edgy, subversiveness and creative eclecticism LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 72nd edition is this year awarding his a PARDO D’ONORE, a retrospective that promises to be ‘irreverent, awkward, desecrating, and irresistible’. The American director, screenwriter and actor will be the star of the screenings of A Dirty Shame and Female Trouble, and the audience will be able to literally smell his films: Polyester will be shown in Odorama – one of the first “olfactory cinema” experiences – exactly as it was in 1981, with scratch cards handed out to viewers before the screening. The audience will have the opportunity to discuss these elements during the customary chat with the filmmaker at Spazio Forum, which is scheduled for the last day of the Festival, August 17. 

John Waters selected King Vidor’s Show People (1928) to open Locarno72 last year, with music by Philippe Béran’s Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. Says Waters: “Any movie that pokes fun at Hollywood, that mocks Gloria Swanson’s first films, that features Marion Davies (the most famous “official mistress” in history), that is directed by King Vidor (I’m especially fond of Beyond the Forest and Stella Dallas), that has cameos by Louella Parsons, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, cannot be altogether bad. In fact, it sounds perfect to me.”

John Waters | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Moffie (2019) Digital release

Wri/Dir. Oliver Hermanus. South Africa/UK. 2019. 103 mins.

The last time South African director Oliver Hermanus was in Venice was for his Golden Lion hopeful Endless River. He returned last summer with MOFFIE, a magnetically intense drama that explores the sexual awakening of a young white male soldier conscripted into the army during early 1980s apartheid.

Based on the fictionalised memoir by André-Carl van der Merwe, this sumptuously cinematic film stands in contrast to the depiction of brutal army training in a ruthlessly homophobic Afrikaner platoon tasked with keeping the borders safe from neighbouring Angola, and the moffies – or gay cadets – at bay, homosexuality is considered a crime again God and the Christian nation.

Kai Luke Brummer is the driving force of the drama, convincingly showing how Nick develops from a shy ingenue to a confident and fully- fledged soldier. It traces his emotional arc making use of flashback to explore his incipient leanings towards gayness as a young boy in the local ‘whites only’ swimming club. Hermanus makes use of an evocative classical score lending a poignant undertone to this drama of stark contrasts. The film opens as 18-year-old Nicholas van der Swart is saying goodbye to his family before reporting his journey over inhospitable terrain to the army boot camp. His divorced father hands him a girlie magazine, as a private joke while his mother gives him a last cuddle in the chintzy home she shares with her new Afrikaner husband.

He soon makes a friend of the sympathetic recruit Sachs (Matthew Vey) who shares his views about the draconian training methods – bearing a glancing resemble to those in Full Metal Jacket – intended to prepare the men for a Communist enemy across he border but Nick is also drawn to a dark adonis in the shape of Stassen (Ryan de Villiers), who nuzzles up to him one stormy night during a training exercise when the two recruits are forced to share a sleeping bag. Nick is also forced to contend with the vicious and sweary Sergeant Brand (Hilton Pelser) who makes no bones about disciplining using violence on every occasion.

Hermanus leaves Nick’s sexuality fluid throughout although it is clear he has homosexual feelings for Stassen but needs to keep these under wraps for his own survival. Apartheid is illustrated on several scenes where the recruits verbally abuse a lone black man on a station platform but their own humanity is keenly brought to the surface demonstrating the ambivalent climate of their own masculinity and vulnerability. Music from Detroit artist Sugar Man provides a touchstone to the times – the USmusician was ‘discovered’ in Johannesburg and became the emblem of the young white South African music scene.

Dominated by a cast of talented non-pros obviously recruited for their striking physicality, Moffie makes for absorbing viewing. Jamie D. Ramsey’s lush camerawork captures the spectacular beauty of the Cape where Nick’s final encounter with Stassen in the ice cold waters of the Atlantic reminding us of the ambiguous nature of life and attraction. MT

SCREENING ON CURZON HOME CINEMA

A Dog Barking at the Moon (2019) **** BFI Flare 2020

Wri/Dir.: Lisa Zi Xiang; Cast: Goowa Siqin, Renhua Na, Huang Xiaoya, Thomas Fiquet, Wu Renyuan; China/Spain 2019, 107 min.

A Dog Barking at the Moon traces a family’s life over a period of over thirty years centred around Huang Xuioyou, a writer who is emotionally abused, albeit in very different ways, by her sexually ambivalent parents. Partly based on the director’s own life experience, this is a stylish debut for Lisa Zi Xiang, and takes place in a magical setting, shot by her husband DoP Jose Val Bal. Taking its title from a Joan Miro painting, and chronicling the different stages of Xiaoyou’s (Siqin) up-bringing, its non-linear narrative often leaves us bewildered but this also makes for some welcome surprises and twists.

Xiaoyou was a model student at secondary school, she also excelled as a violinist, but was suddenly removed from her class for purportedly having written love letters to her teacher Zhen, who had allowed her to read western literature in class, unlike the other students who were banned from exploring this avenue of pleasure.

Xiaoyou’s mother Jiumei (Na) is not a likeable character – often angry with her daughter she  accuses her of being ‘oversexed’ like her father. The parents decide to divorce when it emerges that her lecturer father is homosexual, and has been indulging in affairs with his students. In an embarrassing scene Xiaoyou  is forced to witness his sexual shenanigans, although plans for the divorce are later shelved. In another cringeworthy moment Jiumei invites one of her husband’s lovers and his wife and daughter for dinner.

Xiaoyou later marries an American, Benjamin (Fiquet), but cannot escape the emotional lure of her parent’s abusive treatment, and soon returns to China to give birth to her first baby-girl. The relationship with her mother deteriorates even further when the second child arrives, Juimei telling her daughter “if I had known everything, I would have strangled you at birth”. It seems, like many abused characters, Xiaoyou is unable to break free and scenes illustrating the casual humiliation at the hands of her parents are littered throughout the feature: Xiaoyou endures more embarrassment when she sits at a restaurant table with one of her father’s young lovers who tells her he is happy to share her father with her mother, asking her to accept her father loves her – which Xiaoyu simply refuses to condone. Finally, her mother becomes a member of a Buddhist cult.

What emerges here is a stultifying society where stiff upper lips are the order of the day and any attempt at emotional honesty is punished. Siqin is superb as the “orphaned child”, while Na’s Jiumei is very much the product of sexual repression. Zi Xiang delivers a small masterpiece, boding well for her future in filmmaking AS

Flare at Home, the BFI’s digital version of Europe’s largest LGBTIQ+ film festival, will be hosting YouTube Live events with filmmakers from across the BFI Flare festival programme:

Enjoy highlights from BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival 2020 on BFI Player 20-29 March.

The Lawyer | Advokatas (2020) *** BFI Flare 2020

Dir.: Romas Zabarauskas; Cast: Eimutis Kvosciaus, Darya Ekamasovia, Dogac Yildiz; Lithuania 2020, 97 min. 

Lithuanian writer/director Romas Zabarauskas paints an affectionate rather wistful portrait of a gay corporate lawyer who has not come out of the closet. Meeting his paramours secretly at night, while fronting up in Neo-capitalist Lithuania by day, he is very much aware of being ostracised in his homophobic homeland if he breaks cover. Zabarauskas (who is openly gay and an activist) hits all the right political notes, his narrative is simply too slight to justify a 90+ minute running time. 

Holding court in his luxury apartment surrounded by younger friends, mid-thirties Marius (Kvosciauskas) is resigned to being “an old poofter in this homophobic country of ours”. At work he is glib and condescending towards his receptionist, but when nouveau-riche gallery owner Darya (Ekamasovia) turns up and wants him to take on a defamation case, he is only too willing to indulge her because of her status and bank account. The death of his father brings him up short, the two had a uneasy relationship and the funeral takes him into the countryside for a spot of navel-gazing. On his return Darya hires him for what looks like a tricky divorce, but this thread is totally abandoned when Marius is enraptured by a male model called Ali (Yildiz) he meets on a  Pay-TV channel. But it soon transpires that Ali is a Syrian Asylum seeker living in a refugee camp in Belgrade. The two fall in love, and hatch a daring plan to overcome Ali’s illegal status.

The Lawyer is basically two films in one: the first part deals with Marius and his professional persona, so to speak, dealing with clients and his family; the second is a passionate gay love story. Although this is entirely possible, indeed common, the narrative fails to knit the stories together convincingly. Kvosciauskas is terrific as the corporate whizz-kid, but less authentic as the committed lover, unable to embody the character the director had in mind, and script’s flawed structure doesn’t help.  DoP Narvydas Naujalis captures the transient nature of Belgrade and Vilnius, cities caught between a Soviet stricture and a materialistic present where human realities are best swept under the carpet. AS

BFI FLARE has been postponed and will be re-scheduled shortly | 2020                                           

Sea Without Shore (2015) ****

Dir.: André Semenza, Fernanda Lippi | Cast: Livia Rangel, Fernanda Lippi | Sweden/UK/Brazil 2015, 89 min.

Set in the 19th century on a remote rural island in Sweden, Sea Without A Shore is a choreographed love poem featuring two nameless women whose intense relationship is abruptly terminated.

First premiered at Glasgow Film Festival five years ago the film finally finds its way onto general release. Directors André Semenza and Fernanda Lippi (who worked together on Ashes of God (2003), the latter setting up the Anglo/Brazilian ballet company ‘Zikzira Physical Theatre’, have brought to life this unique combination of ballet, images and words. Defying categorisation, it is absolutely stunning in its gloomy intensity.

The two women, one in a lace dress (Rangel), the other one with long, black hair (Lippi) move gracefully through a spooky fin-de-siècle setting, until forced apart by mythical forces. We see them in a house, resting on a sofa, then writhing around on the floor. They cycle in the woods, float in the water, holding hands – their bodies are on the back of two horses who carry them through the fields and woods, led by the women of the forest. Their dialogue, voiced by Marcela Rosas and Fernanda Lippi quoting from works by Charles Algernon Swinburne, Renée Vivien, and 17th century Lesbian poet Katherine Philips, is a stream-of-consciousness about love and loss. With the narrative slidin backwards and forwards in time, the couple seems caught in a vicious circle from which there is no escape. Their approach to love is all-or-nothing, oscillating between ecstasy and abject loneliness; haunted by their future, even when they are ‘in love’. The landscape, brilliantly photographed in cinema-scope by Marcus Waterloo, is the third character in this two-hander: the two women seem to be always in contact with the ground or the water, echoing their emotional bond. Carrying the weights of the women solemnly, the horses seem integrated in this procession of doomed love. The sound is supervised by multi-award-winning Glenn Freemantle (Gravity).

This is a unique piece yet there are echoes of Gabor Body’s NÁRCISZ ÉS PSYCHÉ. Sea Without A Shore stands alone as a commingle of poetry and ballet, painted with images to create desire and loss in a most absolute form. AS

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

 

Young Hunter | El Cazador (2020) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2020

Dir: Marco Berger | Drama, Argentina 90’

Marco Berger’s latest film is a sympathetic exploration of gaydom in modern day Buenos Aires.

Berger won the Teddy award for Absent in Berlin eight years ago. This latest is an enigmatic feature that pictures its young protagonist on the hunt for a partner. Fifteen-year-old Ezequiel (Juan Pablo Cestaro) is seen discussing a porn magazine with his heterosexual friend in the open scene. He is not sure how to approach his sexuality, but with his parents away travelling now seems as good a time as any to take things forward.

In the skater park he meets the tattooed Mono (Lautaro Rodríguez), who seems ready to be his friend – but is so cool and laid back it may be that he is not gay. And soon Ezekiel finds out that he was right to be diffident about Mono.

This LGBTQ+ feature manages to keep us intrigued with its undercurrent of tension and Cestaro’s acting talent that conveys palpable chemistry and playfulness retaining a certain vulnerability about his character. Rodriquez’ Mono reciprocates with sultry glances and a certain insouciance which adds to his allure.

But there are some plot issues and the heavy-handed score telegraphs moments of caution almost cueing them to happen rather than allowing the story to unfurl naturally. Berger introduces another character to the story in the shape of a younger boy Juan Ignazio (Patricio Rodriquez) and this adds adds another dimension to the piece informing act three.

There is nothing particularly innovative about the film’s straightforward camerawork and aesthetic but the performances are impressive across the board and particularly thoughtful is the subtle interplay between Ezekiel and his father (Luciano Suardi) who is there for his boy although he does not necessarily understand his motivations.  MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2020

Patrick (2019) *** San Sebastian Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Goncalo Waddington | Cast: Hugo Fernandez, Teresa Sobral, Carla Maciel, Alba Bapista | Drama, Portugal 103′

Who would have thought the name ‘Patrick’ would be the title of two features this summer? The first was Belgian director Tim Mielants’ offbeat comedy that premiered in competition at Karlovy Vary. The second is this enigmatic post abduction story that fails to catch fire despite its visual allure and edgy atmosphere. Waddington’s enigmatic approach leads to a drama that drifts around uncomfortably but is easy on the eye.

Patrick works on a similar premise to The Imposter without the same gripping storyline. Waddington establishes young Patrick’s hedonistic lifestyle in the fleeting opening scenes: sullen and rather keen on himself, the 20-year old Belgian native (played by a terrifying Hugo Fernandez) is living in Paris where he takes good care of his body, despite suffering disfiguring acne. He is a violent and abusive misogynist – we see him in a nightclub asking a woman her age before moving swiftly on. Although he appears to be emotionally in control, a telephone call reveals the reverse. He shares a swanky apartment with another man who is not his boyfriend despite their physical closeness.

These frenetic opening scenes soon give way to a calmly observational second act where Patrick is being interviewed by police after a drug-fuelled incident at a party where he has apparently supplied the narcotics. It emerges that he is also running a porn site, abusing underage girls, and is in fact called Mario: Twelve years earlier he was the victim of an abduction from his home in the Portuguese countryside. The shock seems to have affected his ability to speak the language. And when Mario goes home to his mother, the film takes on an enervating stillness that seems to suit the narrative torpor, but fails to clarify the past.

His earthy mother Laura (Teresa Sobral) makes no real attempt to confront his about his crime; his kindly aunt Helena (Carla Maciel) and 17 year-old cousin Marta (Alba Bapista) just treat him as part of the woodwork – or the tile-work – it’s Portugal, after all. His violent past now seems forgotten in this placid rural idyll, as the women gently surround him with their feminine energy and peacefulness, hoping that Mario can heal if things go back to normal. He is left to go off into the  countryside with his cousin, who talks about her life in Brazil, amid a beguiling ambient score. They swim in a limpid lake and Mario cuddles an endearing baby fawn, with the haunting words “this is our dinner”. He later lashes out at Marta, while talking about a man who used to hang around during sports training, and insisted on calling him ‘Patrick’. But there is no explanation as to why his anger is exclusively directed towards women His father eventually makes an appearance (a fabulously moody Adriano Carvahlo) mumbling about having to go away again. His parents seem decent and loving, despite his father’s frequent absence.

So was ‘nature or nurture’ Waddington’s angle on Mario/Patrick’s violent condition? Seemingly the former, but we have to wait until the final scenes, by which time we really cease to care about this hostile narcissist. His abduction clearly unleashed a vicious anger that could have been a bi-product of depression due to his being abused. The finale sees him driving off into the city again where he finally gets his revenge. MT

San Sebastian FILM FESTIVAL | 18-28 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

Matthias and Maxime (2019) ***

Dir: Xavier Dolan |

French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan directed his first film in 2009 at the age of just 20. He was back at Cannes this year with a coming of drama, set again in Montreal where a young man at the cusp of his working life is stuck at home looking after his abusive addict of a mother. He also has a facial blemish that saps his confidence. At a friend’s garrulous get-together Matthew finds himself play-acting a gay role with a young lawyer Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas), who is in a committed relationship and a settled career, albeit a boring one. Sparks fly. Although the two have met before in their childhood, clearly things have moved on and the chemistry between them is now palpable. But the path to love never runs smoothly.

The camerawork is all close up and personal. And in common with Dolan’s dialogue-heavy previous films (It’s only the End of the World) there is that shouty, rowdy restless vibe that some might find objectionable while to others  this tender playfulness will be intoxicating. The performances are strong and convincing across the board and genuinely heartfelt, and once again Dolan is in the thick of it all – as Maxime. MT

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL |  2-13 OCTOBER 2019

 

 

Tremors | Temblores (2019)

Dir: Jayro Bustamente | Cast: Juan Pablo Olyslager, Diane Bathen, Mauricio Armas Zebadua, María Telon, Sabrina de La Hoz | Drama, Guatemala. 102′

The wrath of God comes down on a Guatemalan financier who tries to leave his wife in Jayro Bustamente’s gloweringly oppressive sophomore feature. There is a definite touch of Garcia Lorca to this fraught affair that sees Juan Pablo Olyslager as the good-looking husband to Isa (Diane Bathen) and father of two in a prominent Evangelical family where the matriarch still rules the roost with fire and brimstone. Not quite as enjoyable at the Guatemalan director’s first feature Ixcanul (2015) this will certainly be popular with the LGBT+ crowd and arthouse audiences who have tuned in to the creative wealth coming out of South and Latin America at the moment.

Guatemala City looks strange and exotic in the brooding widescreen images of cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga, who also lensed Ixcanul. And to complete the atmosphere Julien Cloquet has devised a haunting soundscape that compliments the tremors of the film’s title. It appears to be the rainy season adding to the gloom of this sombre story with its emphasis on machismo and the importance of holding onto your man – if you’re a woman, that is. But also if you’re a gay man. The LGBT+ community are really having a tough time of it in the bars and spas where Pablo (Olyslager) runs into tousled haired loose-limbed Francisco (Mauricio Armas Zebadua), who inhabits these haunts with an air of world-weary nonchalance knowing full well the competitiveness of his game.

Meanwhile behind the tight security of Pablo’s upmarket family citadel a battle rages to get him to see sense and realise the shame he is bringing on the family, particularly his parents, with a scandalous revelation that comes to light in the opening scenes. So serious is the situation that Pablo is also forced to resign his post amid accusations of paedophilia, leaving him a rather sorry figure as he hangs around the spa where Francisco offers neck massage.

His wife is being supported by the family housekeeper (Maria Telon) as she goes about her day trying to gain comfort from her girlfriends who urge her to focus on getting Pablo back, at any cost. This is further emphasised by the overt community prayers at the family’s Evangelical Christian church where the pastor (Rui Frati) and his brisk sidekick  (Sabrina de la Hoz) exhort the congregation into loud praying. There are some flaws in a script that focuses on the atmosphere of dread and wrong-doing rather than the exact nature of Pablo’s wrongdoing and why he agrees to submit to the church’s “conversion therapy programme” – a highly contemporary sounding measure in the traditional and devoutly Catholic country. As a result it all becomes rather telenovela-ish and histrionic. What does emerge from this striking feature though is the vehemence of the community against sexual deviation of any kind. MT

NOW ON MUBI

Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom | Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975) *** 

Dir.: Pier Paolo Pasolini; Cast: Tatiana Mogilansky, Susanna Radaelli, Giuliana Orlandi, Liana Acquaviva, Paolo Boacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umbert Paolo Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti, Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, Helene Surgere, Sonia Saviange; Italy 1975, 117min.

Banned, censored and reviled the world over since its release, Salò was Pasolini’s final and most controversial masterpiece. The content and imagery is extreme, retaining the power to shock, repel and distress. But it remains a cinematic milestone: culturally significant, politically vital and visually stunning.

Originally intended as the first part of a trilogy about death, it was actually Pier Paolo Pasolini’s swansong: it was premiered at the Paris Film Festival on 23rd November 1975, three weeks after his murder. Based on the novel The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, it takes place in Northern Italian Fascist Republic of Salò (1943-1945), controlled by Mussolini with the support of Nazi Germany. It tells the story of the Libertines, who kidnap 18 teenagers and subject them to four months of violence, murder, sadism and sexual and psychological torture. Told in four segments ((Ante Inferno, Circle of Manias, Circle of Shit, Circle of Blood), all based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. There are also quotes of Friedrich Nietzsche (On the Generality of Morality), the poem The Cantos by Ezra Pound and A la Recherche de Temps Perdu by Proust. Shot brilliantly by DoP Tonino Delli Colli and with a score by Ennio Morricone, the drama has moments of brilliance.

The public officials The Duke (Bonacelli), The Bishop (Cataldi), The Magistrate (Quintavalle) and the President (Valletti) decide to marry each other’s daughters: all four are raped and killed in the end. The victims are told “we will govern your life”. Heterosexual intercourse will be punished by mutilation and “the slightest religious act committed by anyone will be punished by death.” Most of the action takes place in a villa, including the coprophagic wedding banquet. Like a Greek chorus, four middle-aged prostitutes are commenting on the on-going bloodshed. The four men dictate everything, their slogans are actual fascist quotes or ones by de Sade. Death is the central topic, Pasolini claims that real and imagined death is connected, and that political and pornographic dehumanisation are the same kind of phantasy. Filmed with radical artificiality, on purpose Saló is very uncomfortable to watch. The Cubist art on the walls, the camp outfits, the sheer absurdity of certain scenes – especially the drag wedding – all make it impossible to reason with anything. The fascists laugh, but it is certainly not funny when they declare: “You cannot reason your way to an understanding of us or a prediction of what we will do next”.

The overriding impression of is of dread. The violent scenes are brief, but the torture that unfolding in the imagination is even more unbearable. The essence of torture is not violence or physical pain, but in the de-humanisation that takes place beforehand. Comparisons with Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing are clear.

Roland Barthes felt that Pasolini failed on both accounts with Salò: describing fascism and combining it with de Sade. “A flop of figuration (both of Sade and of the fascist system). That is why I wonder, if, at the end of a long concatenation of errors, Pasolini’s Salò is not, all things considered, a proper Sadean object: absolutely irredeemable: no one, indeed, so it seems, can redeem it.” 

Surprisingly, most of crew and cast claimed to have enjoyed the shoot, despite the bruises and cuts they suffered. During the filming at the Villa Gonzaga-Zani in Villempunta, the Salò team where not far away from Bertolucci’s 1900 shoot, which provided the ideal opportunity for these directors to bury the hatchet on their long-standing disagreement that had started when Pasolini criticised Last Tango in Paris. AS

On 30 September 2019 the BFI will release Salò on Blu-ray utilising a High Definition master new to the UK. Special features for this release include a new commentary by Kat Ellinger.

 

           

The Criminal (1960) **** Home Ent release

Dir: Joseph Losey | 97′ UK Crime drama

Stanley Baker was once of the most unusual romantic heroes during the 1950s. His stock in trade was a mean masculine allure and leopard-like physique and he triumphs in this British gangster thriller that has become a cult classic with Losey fans. Baker leads a sterling British cast of Sam Wanamaker (The Spy Who Came In from the Cold), Grégoire Aslan (Cleopatra), Margit Saad (The Saint) and Jill Bennett (For your Eyes Only), as an angst-ridden loner and recidivist criminal whose self-destructive personality sees him locked into a life of crime. Ricocheting between empowerment as a kingpin behind the prison walls run by a sadistic chief warder (Magee) and the underworld of a gangland boss (Sam Wanamaker) who has his eyes on Baker’s crock of gold, THE CRIMINAL is a jagged, violent film that gleams in Oscar winner Robert Krasker’s camerawork, complemented by Johnny  Dankworth’s jazzy score. Losey’s direction gives it the edge on many other British crime thrillers of the time. MT

THE CRIMINAL from director Joesph Losey which will be released on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download on September 16 2019.

Aniara (2018) ****

Dir.: Pella Kagerman, Hugo Lilja; Cast: Emilie Jonsson, Blanca Cruzeiro, Anneli Martini, Arvin Kananian; Sweden/Denmark 2019, 106 min.

This Swedish dread-fuelled sci-fi debut feels like Solaris directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Adapted from an epic poem by Swedish Nobel prize laureate Harry Martinson Aniara is both unsettling and beautiful to look at, embued with the melancholy of its original author who committed suicide after learning that he would have to share his Nobel Prize with his countryman Eyvind Johnson (both were members of the prize giving Swedish academy). Martinson had rather a dim view of humanity: a staunch progressive, his first wife left him “because he lacked political engagement” – hardly a reason for divorce, but something that was clearly vital for the success of their marriage.

Aniara is a slow burner in many ways: having watched it, one is satisfied, but not overwhelmed. But the film stays with you, the audacity and originality dawning slowly as you cast your mind back. A space transporter ferries wealthy Earthlings from our own now uninhabitable planet to a docking station somewhere in the firmament whence they will be transported to Mars. Alas, the three week  journey is interrupted in the first few days when the Aniara, a sort of luxury mall, has to dump all its fuel to avoid a collision. The only chance of getting back on course is to locate a celestial body. Captain Chefone (Kananian) promises this for the near future but a wise, old astronomer (Martini) tells her roommate Mimaroben (Jonsson) that this will never happen. Mimaroben (or MR) is in charge of MIMA, a sentient computer system which allows humans to see viral images of the old Earth, by way of using the memories Earth-dwellers. After the astronomer is shot for “spreading panic”, MIMA shuts itself down, and MR and her lover Isagel (Cruzeiro), a pilot, are put in prison. They are released when the Ariana encounters a foreign body and Chefone hopes that the object will contain fuel. When this turns out to be wishful thinking, the space voyagers are filled with doom and gloom. Cults and anarchy reign, and Isagel becomes pregnant during a ritual. It falls to the two women to raise the child, and for a time, this nuclear family promises a sort of future.

Divided into chapters, Ariana is a slow descent into night. Visually this is a stunning endeavour and credit is due to DoP Sophie Winquist and PDs Linnea Pettersson and Maja-Stina Asberg. Instead of spending vast sums on interiors, the team make use of   local malls, office blocks and amusement parks, Winquist always finding new angles to conjure up the passengers’ sheer terror at seeing their surroundings vanishing bit by bit. The ensemble acting is really convincing, with Martini’s cynical astronomer (“I was never impressed much by humans”) outstanding. There are no monsters populating Ariana – just talented humans beings. AS       

ANIARA is released in Cinemas and on Digital HD from 30th August

Pain and Glory (2019) ****

Dir: Pedro Almodovar | Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas | Drama, Spain 117’

Pedro Almodóvar has never won the coveted Palme d’Or but here he gets another chance to prove his impressive talents at portraying with probing insight and humanity a variety of tortured characters both male and female. Pain and Glory is a uniquely piquant and personal portrait that takes us into his own heart through the story of another struggling filmmaker. Once again, as we enjoyed in Julieta, this is a confident and passionate affair resonating with the work of many great auteurs before him, Fellini springs to mind, and the film is seductively set to a score by Alberto Iglesias. But this is one of his most subtle almost sensitive works to date that feels convincingly honest and spontaneous, while quailing away from theatricality it is elegant and self-assured. Maybe the Spanish director has finally let down his guard and bared his soul in this rather delicate drama. It follows one Salvador Mallo (his longtime collaborator Antonio Banderas who plays his alter ego with feeling) a filmmaker who has lost his way and now reflects mournfully on his past in lonely solitude as the present quietly collapses around him. And we feel for his quiet pain in every scene as the narrative unfolds in the context of other minor stories. Finally the fourth wall is broken and we discover the truth, in rather an abrupt finale. Mallo opines “a great actor is not the one who cries, but the one who knows how to contain his tears”. Pedro Almodovar has finally come home, but ironically Banderas wins the award. MT

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (2018) ***

Dir/Wri: Justin Kelly | Cast: Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess | US Biopic Dram | 108′

The story behind the literary persona JT LeRoy, created by American author Laura Albert, has certainly had some cinematic mileage. Albert took part in the documentary Author: The JT Leroy Story (2016) that screened a few years ago at the BFI Flare’s Film Festival, Here she is played by Laura Dern in Justin Kelly’s slick and lively re-imagining of one of the most brazen literary hoaxes known to mankind. Albert published three books in the early years of the 21st century, under her nom de plume JT LeRoy. They explored the life of a sexually confused teenage boy, abused in childhood. A gamine Kristen Stewart plays her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, who comes to stay and ends up being persuaded by Albert to pose as JT for a promotional photo session. And it doesn’t end there. Dern and Stewart give luminous performances in this seamlessly pleasurable and darkly amusing drama that explores themes of gender fluidity, moral ambiguity and fraud. MT
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | premiered at BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL | 21 -31 MARCH 2019

Franz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (1995) **** Locarno Film Festival | Black Light

Dir: Isaac Julien | Writers: Isaac Julien, Mark Nash | Doc, UK 70′

Franz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask is one of the most important films about Martinique and racial identity, along with Euzhan Palcy’s Rue Cases Nègres (1985). And here in Locarno 72 to present a re-master of the poetic film essay is its British film-maker Isaac Julien.

Julien co-wrote this vibrant, collage-style biopic that explores the life and work of psychoanalytic theorist Franz Fanon (1925-1961), who emerges a controversial and restless figure as remembered by those who knew him. Born in Martinique, he was educated in Paris then worked in Algeria, where he felt he could make most impact with his psychoanalysis during the 1950s. His life’s work was to support the anti-colonial struggle and those suffering from its repercussions, but he sadly died of leukaemia in his thirties before publication of his most famous book, The Wretched of the Earth, which became an indispensable study tool during 1960s.

This documentary-drama hybrid is really brought to life by British actor Colin Salmon who is rather too suave, tall and good-looking to be like the man himself, although we get the gist of Fanon’s charisma in these colourful vignettes where he appears in various dapper outfits, stoking a pose and glaring suitably. And there are the usual talking heads, mostly intellectuals, and his brother

There’s a bit of poetic licence when we see Fanon (Salmon) removing the chains from a mental patient in one of Algeria’s psychiatric hospitals where sallow-skinned, emaciated men peer out of their grim existence. No doubt this serves as a metaphor for him unburdening their souls. And this is what Fanon was all about. The bitter conflict takes up the lion’s share of the shortish feature and Julien offers up fascinating black and white archive footage of street battles during the War of Independence. The rest of the film wades through rather dense intellectual debate as to the various definitions of racism as seen by gay men, women and arch feminists – and this comes across as rather complex, and depends from which angle you approach it as to whether it makes any sense. Fanon himself married a white woman but another woman, identifying as a feminist, claims that Fanon regarded black women who were attracted to white men as, by definition, ‘victims of the slave mentality’.

Fanon had some fascinating and quite revealing ideas about the veil which he expounds by illustrating how, in Algeria, veiled women often carried guns and grenades to their male counterparts during the war, without attracting suspicion. And these women where regarded as “beyond reproach”. That certainly resonates now decades later with the war on terrorism.

Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask does reveal some important issues although some of his ideas and perhaps his untimely death precluded his exploring further and resolving some of the more complex and controversial matters he highlights, such as colonialism being made up of “visual experiences, ‘the gaze that appropriates and depersonalises”. But this is also the case with the gender debate that is still raging and is part of our experience as humans. As a gay filmmaker Julien comments on the white man’s desire for the black man’s body. But this is also true of the white (heterosexual) woman for the dark male. This is not racism but merely sexual preference. Don’t opposites attract? An engrossing and fascinating film. MT
BLACK LIGHT RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

Le Sang d’un Poète | Le Testament d’Orphee – re-mastered on Bluray

Jean Cocteau – poet, playwright, novelist, designer, visual artist and one of the avant-garde movement’s most inventive and influential filmmakers was born in 1889, and grew up in Paris, immersed in the theatre and art world. He published his first volume of poems at just 15 and began mixing in bohemian circles becoming known as the Frivolous Prince.

He associated with Marcel Proust, Maurice Barres, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated. At a time when society condemned it, he was openly homosexual and homoerotic undertones, imagery and symbolism pervade all aspects of his writings, art and films. Despite financial constraints he continued to work even through the war years when he was forced to ad-lib often making do with bric-a-brak and bed sheets as part of the scenery in Le Belle et la Bête (1946). It still looked ravishing.

Made thirty years apart, these two recent 4k restorations effectively frame his filmic career and are both considered masterpieces of the avant-garde movement. 

LE SANG D’UN POÊTE – is an exploration of the tortuous relationship between the artist and his creations. LE SANG D’UN POÊTE, seeks to explore the feelings within a poet’s heart and soul, beginning in an artist’s studio where an unfinished statue comes to life. The lips of its androgynous face move, pressing a kiss to the artist’s hand. At the statues demand, he plunges it into a mirror.

LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE brings full circle the journey made in 1932, the first part of the ‘Orphic’ trilogy LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE (1960)

This last film is a truly abstract piece of work. Portraying an 18th century poet who travels through time on a quest for divine wisdom, it is another finely crafted, surreal and magical piece set in a mysterious, post-apocalyptic desert where Cocteau meets a series of enigmatic characters, joining them to muse about about the nature of art. Often gently poignant and whimsical in tone, this ethereal drama resonates with his Spanish roots – he settled in Andalucia for a while, in common with Picasso. Cocteau assembles an eclectic cast that includes vignettes with  Pablo Picasso himself, Jean Marais, Brigitte Bardot, Charles Aznavour, Roger Vadim and Yul Brenner in a piece that veers between gentle irony and low-key pessimism. Cocteau admirers will probably find it very moving.

LE SANG D’UN POÊTE (The Blood of a Poet) and LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE (The Testament of Orpheus) will be released on ON BLU-RAY, DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD – 5TH AUGUST 2019

Pre-order now: http://po.st/TestamentOrphee; http://po.st/SangPoete.

https://youtu.be/qW84uNnNv0Y

Hard Paint | Tinta Bruta (2018) ***

Dir/Writers| Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon | Cast: Shico Menegat, Bruno Fernandes, Guega Peixoto, Sandra Dani, Frederico Vasques, Denis Gosh, Camila Falcao, Aurea Baptista, Larissa Sanguine, Ze Adao Barbosa

Contrary to its flamboyant sounding title, Hard Paint sees a soulful young loner seeking seclusion in the virtual world of gay chatrooms until his colourful cover is blown with mixed consequences.

This visually alluring and sensually suggestive character study unravels in Brazil’s Porto Alegre were the troubled protagonist has reinvented himself as an online performer when his actual life disappoints him sexually and socially. But despite his vulnerable appearance Pedro (Shico Menegat) has developed a an emotional toughness that serves him well in his harsh contemporary surroundings where his androgynous appearance and pretty boy tousled locks are often viewed with contempt, desire and even open hostility.

Told in three chapters, the film is shot in intimate close up but also gets out and about in the locale capturing the skyline of this southernmost Brazilian city. The first chapter is dedicated to Pedro’s sister Luiza (Guega Peixoto), who has supported him through thick and thin and is now leaving to work in another part of Brazil, and his parents are no longer on the scene. The subdued daytime scenes provide a rhythmic counterpoint to his graphic love-making with rival Leo (Bruno Fernandes), and the dreamlike chatroom sequences where his body glows with florescent paint as he gyrates to electronic vibes.

But Leo is also competing with him online as Boy25, and he forms the subject of Chapter 2. Leo wants to move from the downmarket Porto Alegre to the bright lights of BA where he hopes to take up a dance scholarship, and soon the two are performing as a double act online, and making money. Pedro must now clear up some legal business relating to a serious road accident. Leo seems supportive as the couple’s online and offline lives start to be mutually beneficial and they share a palpable onscreen chemistry in graffic sex scenes which incredibly authentic.

Neon Boy is the appropriately titled enigmatic Third Chapter where Pedro faces the music, and the music starts to become a more noticeable part of the film. The gloves are now off and the real Pedro is revealed in some scenes of heightened drama. The weak may look vulnerable but they are often the strongest people around. MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 2 AUGUST 2019

 

Tell It To The Bees (2018) ***

Dir.: Annabel Jankel; Cast: Anna Paquin, Holiday Grainger, Gregor Selkirk, Emun Elliot, Steven Robertson, Kate Dickie, Lauren Lyle; UK 2018, 105 min.

Annabel Jankel’s literary adaptation of a popular fifties novel is strong on historical detail but much weaker on cinematographic potency, coming across as a rather tame affair, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Jankel (Live From Abbey Road) and her scriptwriters Jessica and Annabel Ashworth (Killing Eve) have already worked together in TV: Tell It To the Bees makes ideal family viewing and marks Flare Festival’s mature progression into programming decent drama for a sexually inclusive audience, not just a LGBTQ one.

When Dr. Jean Markham (Ana Paquin) comes home to small-town Scotland to take over her late father’s surgery, she is greeted with mixed feelings. As a teenager she had caused a bit of a scandal with her ‘inappropriate’ behaviour. But she settlers down striking up a friendship with Lydia (Grainger) a young mother of who husband Robert (Elliot), has gone off with another woman. Lydia’s wages in the local mill are not enough to even pay the rent, and when her son Charlie (Selkirk) becomes the victim of bullying at school, Dr Markham offers them board and very soon, a great deal more. Elsewhere, the town’s gossip monger Pam Krammer (Dickie), subjects her daughter Annie Lyle) to a botched abortion rather than bear the child of her black boyfriend, George. Meanwhile, Robert has become violent towards Lydia, and so Charlie is forced to come to her rescue. A muddled finale on the station platform accompanied by grown-up Charlie’s voice-over commentary is symbolic of this rather cack-handed adaption of its much superior novel. It feels like Jankel is aiming for the stoic fatalism of the adult voice-over in Joseph Loosey’s Palme d’Or winner The Go Between. But it doesn’t quite come off: Jankel is no Loosey, her story-telling is dictated by a TV norm. feeding the viewer impressive snippets, while losing a conceptual frame work.

DoP Bartosz Nalazek emerges with some credit: his images, shot from Charlie’s POV, show A boy being overwhelmed by adults. And the magic realism in the form of the bees, come across as artificial and unconvincing. There is no passion in this postwar village, just a rather limp romantic longing. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

    

  

Vita & Virginia (2018)

Dir-Scr Chanya Button | Evangelo Kioussis. With Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini. UK-Ireland 2018. 110min.

How can a film about two of the 20th century’s most colourful female characters be so underwhelming? Drawing from Eileen Atkins’ 1993 play, Chanya Button’s biopic explores the lesbian relationship between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf without ever mining its incendiary dramatic potential. It is a drama without  drama, lacklustre and trivial despite its lush, unconventional pretensions.

Elizabeth Debicki is suburb as the rather awkward blue-stocking Wolfe. And she towers above Arterton’s impishly pedestrian portrait of glamorous socialite and gardening expert Sackville-West (doyenne of Sissinghurst Castle, whose Grade I listed gardens is one of the most famous in England). Sadly, the only reference to horticulture is a rather odd attempt at magic realism that sees CGI ivy sprouting out of the floors.

Vita & Virginia looks absolutely sumptuous in its rich 1920s Arts & Crafts settings (including medieval Knole House) but the film plays out like an insipid soap opera, its lacklustre characters simply going through the motions. There’s a great deal of pouting and misty close-ups of lips; but in the end nothing vaguely illuminating happens, and we left in the dark about these avant-garde women. Director Chanya Button has had a promising career so far with several awards for her filmmaking. Yet this most fascinating of themes: LGBTQ, horticulture and literature fails to ignite on any level.

Part of the problem is the script – written by Button and Atkins – which simply traces the steps that lead to Woolf’s sexual awakening in rather tepid bed scenes, rather than probing the depths of their intellectual attraction. In fact, Vita emerges a rather bored, housewife with a faux posh accent, rather than a highly creative aristocrat and free-thinking intellectual. The two exchange excerpts from twee love letters bringing nothing constructive to the party. And to cast Isabella Rossellini as Arterton’s on-screen mother, Baroness Sackville, is a grave mistake – the two couldn’t be more different. Rossellini exudes charisma in her role, threatening to cut off her daughter’s allowance if she doesn’t behave.

Vita is married to a suave bisexual diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson (Rupert Penry-Jones in fine fettle) and Woolf is supported by her loving husband Leonard (Peter Ferdinando) who recognised her need for stability. Vita worships her from afar and the women finally meet at a bohemian Bloomsbury party. From then on a friendship develops – although the two share no chemistry to speak of. Vita is 30, Virginia 10 years her senior. Debecki adds subtle layers of depth to her character, including an impressive accent, redolent of the era. Her sister is the painter Vanessa Bell (Emerald Fennell) who lives with a gay artist Duncan Grant (Adam Gillen).

Although this is essentially Vita’s story, the emotionally delicate Virginia steals the show as a highly enigmatic character who is in the process of penning the radical 1928 novel Orlando, an experience that appears initially to thrill her far more than her lesbian dalliance with the “Sapphic” Sackville-West, and encapsulates the male/female duality of her character. Virginia gradually becomes more involved in the relationship which eventually destabilises her (she in fact went on to commit suicide) and this is shown through convincing CGI rooks sweeping down in the gardens of the Knole.

Button certainly exposes the lesbian relationship between her characters but that’s really all the film does. Vita & Virginia is a missed opportunity to offer something more invigorating about the women themselves, and what attracted them to each other in the first place. MT

ON BFI SUBSCRIPTION FROM 24 May 2022

https://youtu.be/mPHxrdIneP4

Korean Film Nights | Love Without Boundaries

Korean Film Nights continue with a second season for 2019 ‘Love Without Boundaries’ – a programme of titles exploring Korean cinema’s bold exploration of romantic relationships existing on society’s margins.

Love, in its many guises, has always been a central concern in cinema. From the long-established vision presented in Hollywood studio pictures to the local dialect of any national cinema, romance has always had a place on film. Outside of cinema’s mainstream however, many exemplary filmmakers have long strove to represent a range of transgressive love stories in their work, bucking the idealised view codified in typical cinema fare. Delving deep into the key works from Korean cinema that have pushed against socially-accepted views of love and relationships, our season seeks to offer a snapshot into a diverse range of people and attitudes not typically seen on screens.

Comprised of six unique works from some of Korean cinema’s boldest voices from the past two decades (plus one remarkable early feature from 1956), our season explores representations of love located on the fringes of the cinematic landscape of their time. Challenging preconceived notions of what love should be, these films push up against societal views of what’s considered ‘normal’ to depict a variety of romantic relationships and the powerful human emotions they elicit. Encompassing taboo-busting depictions of same-sex romances and other marginalised individuals, the season offers a range of perspectives on bold, challenging subjects, offering a rare fully-realised and compassionate vision of people struggling for acceptance.

In our current social climate, past norms concerning gender, sexual orientation, and race, are increasingly being questioned and we’re seeing a sustained fight for diversity and inclusion in the film industry, both behind the camera and in front of it. ‘Love Without Boundaries’ aims to show how Korean filmmakers have pushed against societal norms by giving voice to characters who are not out to change the world, but are trying to live their lives and embrace their passions as best they can.

A Girl at my Door 도희야 / Thursday 4th July, 7pm / KCCUK

Screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2014, July Jung’s directorial debut follows lesbian police officer Young-nam (Bae Doona, The Host) after she is stationed to a quiet provincial town following a personal scandal.

No Regret 후회하지 않아 / Thursday 11th July, 7pm / KCCUK

Regarded as the first South Korean feature from an openly gay filmmaker, No Regret follows the complicated love and working life of a young man after he heads to Seoul and finds work at a factory and as a ‘taeri’- a designated driver for wealthy patrons after a night of drinking.

The Hand of Fate 운명의 손 / Thursday 18th July, 7pm / KCCUK

This melodramatic spy-thriller utilises a visually striking, film-noir style, and acts not only as anti-communist propaganda, but also as a commentary on the shifting roles and expectations of Korean women.

Love Without Boundaries: Shorts Night / Thursday 25th July, 6:30pm / Birkbeck Cinema

Love Without Boundaries presents Queer Love: Loving Outside the Mainstream, a night of short films, revolving around a strong central theme of LGBTQ+ struggles within South Korea.

Wanee & Junah 와니와 준하 / Thursday 1st August, 7pm / KCCUK

Wanee is a disenchanted animator living in the city with her scriptwriter boyfriend Junah, but cracks begin to show in their outwardly peaceful relationship when childhood friend So-yang visits in this taboo-breaking forbidden love drama.

Oasis 오아시스 / Thursday 8th August, 7pm / KCCUK

Burning director Lee Chang-dong won Venice’s Silver Lion for his challenging portrayal of the relationship between a woman with cerebral palsy (Moon So-ri, Little Forest) and a man (Sul Kyung-gu, Memoir of a Murderer) fresh out of jail for manslaughter.

Information supplied by the Korean Cultural Centre | Screenings take place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK and Birkbeck Cinema and are free to attend. More info here

 

We The Animals (2018) ****

Dir.: Jeremiah Zagar; Cast: Evan Rosado, Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel, Sheila Vand, Paul Cashillo; USA 2018, 93 min.

Jeremiah Zagar’s debut feature is a dreamlike portrait of the artist as a (very) young man, and a total repudiation of macho behaviour. Shot brilliantly on 16mm by DoP Zak Mulligan, We The Animals is a unique undertaking.

Based on a novel by Justin Torres, this is a wild ride of sexual awakening told from the perspective of nine-year old Jonah (Rosado) the youngest of three brothers who live with their parents in a dilapidated house in rural New York. Their Mum (Vand) a white woman from Brooklyn, who works at a bottling plant and her husband (Cashillo), a Puerto Rican security guard, are either fighting or fucking passionately, so the three boys are left to themselves; the two older ones, Manny (Kristian) and Joel (Gabriel) looking out for their little brother. A lakeside incident sets the tone: Dad, all macho bravado, throws Jonah into the water – and he is lucky to survive. His furious mother is soon the victim of more violence from her husband. After that, the father disappears only to re-appear suddenly, wanting to be part of the family, like nothing has happened. Mum asks Jonah “to stay my little boy” – no wonder, because her older sons copy their dad’s obstreperous  behaviour. As a form of escapism, Jonah starts sketching, under the bed at night. After his drawings are discovered, he has to make a choice.

The human side of the outside world takes a back seat to the adventures in the forest, but the neighbour’s emotionally immature son makes a dramatic impact on the three siblings with his amateur porn videos, one of which features a homosexual act – and something in Jonah stirs.

Whilst the adult’s relationship is too often clichéd, the children’s games are full of magic and poetry. Jonah’s self-discovery comes in leaps and bounds, and the languid images are a perfect foil for it. The crude drawings and illustrations by Mark Samsonovich are somehow fitting as a “Contra-Point” to the overall dreamlike mood. Cruelty and imagination live cheek by jowl, and Jonah’s inner life is as volatile as his parent’s relationship. We the Animals is freewheeling and genre-less, an innovation in itself, like Jonah’s coming of age in a world of permanent contradictions, using art for self-determination. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 2019 | ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF EUREKA from 14 JUNE 2019    

   

Halston (2019) London Fashion Week

Dir/Wri: Frederic Tcheng | With: Tavi Gevinson, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Joel Schumacher, Pat Cleveland, Bob Calacello, Carl Epstein, Lesley Frowick, Sassy Johnson, Naeem Khan, John David Ridge | US Doc, 120′

Well known for his insightful portraits of the fashion world: Dior and I (2014); Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011), which he co-directed; and for Valentino: The Last Emperor, (2008), which he co-produced, Tcheng gets top marks for this exposé on Roy Halston Frowick the all American boy from De Moines, Iowa who put America in the frame with his flare for flattering the female form.

After the boxy styles and artificial fabrics of the Sixties, Halston’s voluptuous dresses enveloped and caressed curves and cleavages as they “danced around you” according to Liza Minelli, one of his biggest advocates and a firm friend. All this was in part thanks to his master tailor Gino Balsamo whose clever crafting created single-seam clothes that ‘freed the female body” and swirled and seduced due to the unique simplicity of their genius bias-cut.

Apart from its length the only slight criticism of this biopic is the gimmicky structure that sees actor Tavi Gevinson as an innocent bystander, sleuthing through the Halston company archives and VHS tapes to needlessly sex up the sinister nature of Halston’s final fall from grace. It’s a device that feels tacky and counterintuitive to the sophisticated slimline slinkiness of the designer’s raison d’être.

Born during the Depression in 1932, Halston was an ordinary gay man who instinctively knew how to re-invent himself as a suave mover and shaker. Starting out in the 60s as a milliner to Bergdorf Goodman famous clients (Jackie Onassis wore his pillbox hat), he rapidly moved on to create his own brand through celebrity endorsement in New York’s 70s and 80s. Sashaying onto the dance floor of Studio 54 with his beautiful entourage, known as the Halsonettes, he moved on with movie stars, and invented “hot pants”. Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor were amongst his friends and clients. He also dressed the American athletes at the ’76 Olympics, the girl scout leaders, the NYPD and Avis car rental staff, as well as the Martha Graham dance troupe.

His all American freeform fashion parade at Paris’ Palace of Versailles in 1973 featured black American models and set the night alight with a fizzing floor show, despite French domination of the event. China was the next step and we sample previously unseen footage from NBC visiting a silk factory where workers got a chance to try on creations made from their own fabrics.

But Halston was to grow too big for his own boots. Soon he moved offices to the glamorous mirrored interiors of New York’s Olympic Tower. His keenness to develop the brand saw high signing a multi-million dollar deal with conglomerate Norton Simon. This took away his rights to his designs and name, while offering him continued creative control, allowing him to jump into bed with the likes of Max Factor, facilitating the launch of his first fragrance, Halston, with a bottle designed by longterm collaborator Elsa Peretti. The brand was soon on sheets, towels, even leather goods. But gradually new bosses with scant appreciation of fashion or design would take over, and one by the name of Jacob Epstein would be his nemesis.

Halston launched a worthy endeavour to dress mainstream America through a deal with JCPenney (a sort of US Marks & Spencer). Termed “From class to mass” the venture focused on volume rather than artistry, and did not go down with well with Bergdorf Goodman, or his high-net-worth clientele, many of whom cancelled orders.

By this time Halston’s lavish lifestyle was also becoming financially exhausting, along with his on-off Venezuelan lover Victor Hugo, who had arrived on the scene purely for his looks (“One night Halston dialed a dick”) and then became involved in the business, upsetting several members of his team. The final segment sees Halston re-connecting with his family and employing his niece, Lesley Frowick, who emotes on his HIV/AIDS demise rather too copiously.

Halston works best as a chronicle of his fashion design artistry with its eye-catching footage and fascinating characters of the era. The business side of things often feels over-laboured and detailed. But it’s still an entertaining biopic to watch. Clearly Halston was a force to be reckoned with, totally redefining the fashion world, and bringing America to the forefront with his fabulous legacy. MT

ON RELEASE On various platforms including Dogwoof.com

 

 

 

 

Beyond your Wildest Dreams: Entertainment cinema during the Weimar years

BFI Southbank and various venues nationwide will mark the centenary of the Weimar Republic with a major two-month season running from Wednesday 1 MaySunday 30 June; BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS: WEIMAR CINEMA 1919-1933 celebrates a ground-breaking era of German cinema showcasing the extraordinary diversity of styles and genres in Weimar cinema, which conjured surreal visions in the sparkling musicals Heaven on Earth (Reinhold Schünzel, Alfred Schirokauer, 1927) and A Blonde Dream (below, Paul Martin, 1932) and gender-bending farces such as I Don’t Want to Be a Man (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918).

“Ein blonder Traum”
D 1932
Lilian Harvey

In this first foray into the Weimar era we will try to analyse the mainly escapist features of the period, leaving out the prestige projects of Lang and G.W. Pabst, covered in Rudi Suskind’s comprehensive documentary From Caligari to Hitler, and have a look at the B-features which were part and parcel of the growing film industry in Germany, leading to a rapid rise of new cinemas, particularly in the urban centres. Director/producer Joe May, who gave Fritz Lang his big break (before also emigrating to Hollywood) was not only was responsible for mega-productions like Das Indische Grabmal, but, among the 88 features he directed, were small comedies like Veritas Vincit (1918), in which transmigration of the spirit is used, to tell a love story. E.A. Dupont’s Varieté (1925) was a celebration of the music-hall, but was not modern at all: it sounded more like an epilogue than a resume. Karl-Heinz Martin’s From Morning to Midnight (1920) was in contrast a very expressionistic film. Set in Japan, it tells the story of a bank teller, who uses the money he steals on sex-workers, before committing suicide. The Love Letters of the Countess S. (Henrik Galeen, 1924) was typical for a series of films, which dealt with love affairs at aristocratic courts. Comedy of the Heart by Rochus Gliese (1924), also falls in the category ‘scandalous love affairs of the monarchs’. Blitzzug der Liebe (1925) directed by Johannes Gunter might not be well known, but its narrative is very typical for the genre: Fred loves Lizzy, but does not want to marry her. Lizzy makes him jealous, by asking the gigolo Charley to court her. But Charley is in love with the dancer Kitty, who is fancied by Fred. A double wedding solves all problems. Max Reichmann’s Manege (1927) is a sort of minor variation of Varieté , set in the world of the circus. Dupont again is responsible for Moulin Rouge (1928), one of many Varieté  remakes. Ein Walzertraum (1925) by Ludwig Berger and War of the Waltz 1933) by the same director, are, like Two Hearts in Walzertune (1932) by Geza von Bolvary part of many features shot in Vienna, featuring the music of the Strauss family. Karl Grune’s Arabella (1925) is a rather more intriguing endeavour showing the life of the titular horse from its own POV. The Erich Pommer production of Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) was one of the first sound features; DoP Karl Hoffmann lamented: “Poor camera! No more of your graceful movements. Chained again”. Even the grim reality of unemployment featured in comedies such as The Three from the Unemployment Office (1932) directed by Eugen Thiele, a plagiarism of his more famous The Three from the Petrol Station (1930). Director Karl Hartl, who would later be a standard bearer of the Nazi regime, showed potential in The countess of Monte Christo (1932), in which a poor film extra (Brigitte Helm) is mistaken for the star, having a great time at a luxury hotel. The final mention should go to Hans Albers, the action man of the German cinema, his career lasting from the Weimar era, via Goebbels and the III. Reich to the post WWII cinema in the Federal Republic: he starred in four Erich Pommer films: FPI Doesn’t Answer, a U-Boot Sci-fi adventure directed by Karl Hartl and scripted by Curt Siodmak and based on his novel of the title; Monte Carlo Madness (Hanns Scharz, 1931), Quick ( 1932, directed by Robert Siodmak, who would soon emigrate) stars Albert as a womanising clown and The Victor (Hans Hinrich/Paul Martin, 1932), where Albers rather ordinary telegraphist develops into a fearless hero. AS

BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS: WEIMAR CINEMA 1919-1933

 

X Y Chelsea (2018) ***

Dir.: Tim Travers Hawkins; Documentary with Chelsea Manning; UK 2019, 92 min.

Tim Travers Hawkins’ documentary debut is a work progress – rather like the main character – Chelsea Manning, a trans woman who was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for leaking military “secrets” to Julian Assange’s Wikileaks. The secrets were mainly images of the USA’s covert war in Iraq, including the murder of two Reuters journalist.

Chelsea was born Bradley Edward Manning in 1987; her parents were alcoholics. The relationship with her father was particularly difficult. Even though she was only 1.57 m, she joined the army in 2007 and worked as an intelligence analyst from 2009. She garnered a slew of decorations (among them the National Defence Service Medal) but was still critical of the US engagement and the 750 000 plus classified documents leaked were known as ‘Iraq War logs’ and ‘Afghan War Diary’. They showed the ‘dirty’ combats the Pentagon would have rather kept under wraps. After an online contact reported on her, she was jailed in 2010 in the Army Correctional Unit in Quantico, Virginia, where she was kept in Solitary confinement from July 2010 to April 2011. After pleading guilty during the 2013 military trial, she was sentenced to serve 35 years at the High Security Military Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which happened to be an all-male prison. On 17. January 2017, President Obama commuted her sentence to seven years, dating from her first imprisonment in 2010. Since 2013, she received hormone replacement therapy after choosing to identify as a female.

On her release, lawyer Nancy Hollander found a safe house f so she could slowly adjust to her new freedom. In prison, she had struck up correspondence with Lisa Rein, who had also tried to help her. But Chelsea made in clear she wanted a life as as a public person, claiming those who sent her hate-mail would never go away. She wanted to fight them head on. She challenged the democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin for the nomination in 2018, coming second with 5.7%. But an ill-timed appearance at an alt-right meeting cost her support; many did not understand that she simply wanted “to spy on the enemy”. In March 2019 she was arrested again for contempt of court, refusing to testify against Julian Assange. Manning objected to the Secrecy of the Grand Jury process, and the fact, that she told the court everything about Assange in her trial. She is currently held in a jail in Alexandria City.

Hawkins does a great job of showing Manning’s vulnerability and impetuousness: she is truly as naïve as she claims. But for the most part we are left frustrated by too many unanswered questions. The director fails to analyse her many contradictions in his rather ad-hoc approach to her own scattergun fight for survival and recognition in the real world. AS

ON RELEASE from 24 May 2019 IN SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES

       

5B (2018) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Dan Krauss, Paul Haggis | US, Doc 95′

A new documentary from Oscar nominee Dan Krauss (The Kill Team) and Paul Haggis delves into the history of the first ward in the world for people with AIDS, at San Francisco General Hospital. The film focuses on the unsung heroes, a small collection of nurses and caregivers who banded together to provide courage, compassion and, crucially, touch to those devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s. Even pets were allowed to visit their afflicted owners and partners were invited to make the ward their home. 

Spiking their film with moments of sharp humour, the result is a poignant tribute to this tragic time in American history, and a celebration of the quiet heroes worthy of renewed recognition, although the directors do demonise those medical professionals who exercised prudence in their treatment of the patients. Particularly, top orthopaedic surgeon and head of the San Francisco surgical team, Dr Day, who decided to wear protective garments because she wanted, quite understandably, to avoid being infected from the spurting blood of infected patients. Also unpopular was President Reagan who introduced a raft of measures to protect those working in AIDS care. Reagan even considered exiling the sick to their own private island – as the Venetians did to stamp out the plague – and one AIDS sufferer jokes: “we’d be happy to go if it was Santa Catalina island”. Yet it was an era were America was just not ready for people coming out, let along dying at the same time, so these draconian measures were hardly surprising.

Combining archive footage and interviews with those involved and affected, Krauss and Haggis explain that those people first infected with the virus in the late 1970s went downhill rapidly, often dying within months, even weeks. As fear spread throughout the community of San Francisco and beyond, AIDS sufferers lost their jobs and were kicked out of their apartments. One dying caretaker’s desk was even burnt in the parking lot of his building. In contrast, those pioneering individuals, who offered loving support, talk of their own memories: Rita Rockett even staged parties once a week in the ward, offering musical entertainment and food. Grateful patients were allowed to say: “they loved her to bits, but not to death!”

With the arrival of protease inhibitors – antiviral drugs that block the disease – fatalities eventually went into decline in the late 1990s. And many of the talking heads featured in the documentary have lived to tell their tearful tales. Well-paced and informative, 5B is a fascinating film that could have even added a positive twist in the fight for AIDS. These point towards immunity and even the possible eradication of the disease in the not too distant future. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | GOLDEN EYE DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

 

Sundance London 2019 | 30 May – 2 June 2019

Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival brings a selection of films to London, screening at at PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL from 30 MAY – 2 JUNE 2019. Here is a selection of the features and documentaries scheduled:

THE LAST TREE/ United Kingdom (Director/Screenwriter: Shola Amoo) – Femi is a British boy of Nigerian heritage who, after a happy childhood in rural Lincolnshire, moves to inner London to live with his mum. Struggling with the unfamiliar culture and values of his new environment, teenage Femi has to figure out which path to adulthood he wants to take CAST: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock 

LATE NIGHT U.S.A. (Director: Nisha Ganatra, Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling) – Legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline. Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Paul Walter Hauser, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

THE NIGHTINGALE Australia (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Kent) – 1825. Clare, a young Irish convictwoman, chases a British officer through the Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie

HAIL SATAN? U.S.A. (Director: Penny Lane) – A look at the intersection of religion and activism, tracing the rise of The Satanic Temple: only six years old and already one of the most controversial religious movements in American history. The Temple is calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation’s soul. But are they for real? 

THE FAREWELL U.S.A., China (Director/Screenwriter: Lulu Wang) – A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.  CAST: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG U.S.A. (Director: Daniel Scheinert, Screenwriter: Billy Chew) – Dick died last night, and Zeke and Earl don’t want anybody finding out how. That’s too bad though, cause news travels fast in small-town Alabama. CAST: Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Jess Weixler 

CORPORATE ANIMALS U.S.A. (Director: Patrick Brice, Screenwriter: Sam Bain) – Disaster strikes when the egotistical CEO of an edible cutlery company leads her long-suffering staff on a corporate team- building trip in New Mexico. Trapped underground, this mismatched and disgruntled group must pull together to survive. CAST: Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni

ASK DR RUTH  U.S.A. (Director: Ryan White) – A documentary portrait chronicling the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. As her 90th birthday approaches, Dr. Ruth revisits her painful past and her career at the forefront of the sexual revolution. 

THE BRINK U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman) – Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. As self-appointed leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message

Tickets on sale Tuesday 23 April; priority booking from Friday 19 April

Find out more at picturehouses.com/sundance

 

Canada Now Week 2019

CANADA NOW festival brings a selection of new Canadian films to the United KingdomLaunching on the 24th April 2019, nine films will play across five days at the Curzon Soho and Phoenix East Finchley cinemas, followed by a nationwide tour

As always, the 2019 CANADA NOW celebrates the independent spirit that has always been a hallmark of Canadian cinema along with its cultural diversity and twist of French heritage.

The festival opens with the London premiere of Keith Behrman’s LBGTQ+ drama GIANT LITTLE ONES, a refreshingly original and emotionally powerful coming-of-age drama. And the festival closes with Barry Avrich’s PROSECUTING EVIL, a feature biopic of Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor and life-long human rights activist. CANADA NOW expects many of the filmmakers and cast to be in attendance.

Alongside eight U.K. premieres, CANADA NOW also includes a performance from Canadian filmmaker Daniel Cockburn of his surreal, autobiographical show HOW NOT TO WATCH A MOVIE.

The full programme is listed below, and tickets are now on sale:

http://canadanow.co.uk/

The White Crow (2018) ***

Dir: Ralph Fiennes | Writer: David Hare | Cast: Oleg Ivenko, Adele Exarchopoulos, Ralph Fiennes, Raphael Peronnaz, Chulpan Khamatova, Sergei Polunin, Calypso Valois, Louis Hoffman, Olivier Rabourdin | UK | Biopic Drama | 122′

Ralph Fiennes’ third feature – in which he also stars – is an ambitious and classically-styled biopic of the Russian ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the West in 1961.

Quite why David Hare decided on a fractured narrative to tell the maverick Russian dancer’s life is not clear. And it certainly doesn’t intensify the storyline. The dancer’s life had so much dramatic heft that a straightforward chronicle would have seen it steaming ahead rather than shunting occasionally into the sidings. Drama is also provided by the sheer verve of Nureyev himself as played by professional dancer Oleg Ivenko in an extraordinary screen debut as one of the 20th century’s most celebrated dancers whose rise to fame was justified by his remarkable talent and legendary status. At the helm, Ralph Fiennes captures the zeitgeist and stultifying atmosphere of a Soviet Russia still languishing behind the Iron Curtain. He also conveys the elegantly sleek conservatism of France during the 1960s. France may have invented ballet but the East provides the energy and gusto and this comes through in Ivenko’s ballet sequences that echo the spirit of Nureyev and enliven this graceful but sober drama. Fiennes’s performance as ballet master Alexander Pushkin is immaculate and exudes a calm dignity that is delightful to watch, he also appears to be proficient in Russian. This together with a strong support cast and mise en scène more than compensate for the flawed narrative structure. Adèle Exarchopoulos brings allure and intensity to her rather buttoned down role as Chilean heiress Clara Saint, who announced herself as a friend of André Malraux, and  who comes to Nureyev rescue in the final scenes. And Olivier Rabourdin (Taken) makes for a mesmerising chief of Police during the heart-pounding denouement at Le Bourget Airport in Paris when Nureyev dramatically claims political asylum.

Those from incredibly harsh beginnings with nothing to lose often rise to fame and fortune. And Nureyev was no exception. We are appraised of his background in the film’s early scenes where his mother gives birth to him on a train in Siberia in 1938. But despite his remarkable talent as a dancer it was unlikely that he would ever have made it to the international stage without his ego, utter determination and bloodymindedness, showcased to ample and often darkly humorous effect in The White Crow, along with his cultural voraciousness: once in Paris he devours every bit of local culture he can lay his hands on from the Louvre to the Follies Bergères. Wilful in the extreme, he ignores his superiors, rails against everyone in authority and no Westerner seems to bat an eyelid in letting him have his way, with the exception of Clara who stares him down in icy disdain after a restaurant debacle. But his communist ‘handlers’ still shadow him everywhere (and this still happens today in communist China) and his wilfulness leads to him not being allowed to dance on opening night in the Champs Elysees theatre.

On a tour stop in Moscow with a local ballet company, Nureyev auditions for the Bolshoi and gets in but then picks holes in their classical techniques, decided to try instead for the Mariinsky Ballet school in St Petersburg where he becomes a protegé of Alexander Pushkin, the eminence grise of the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. Pushkin invites him to stay in the apartment he shares with his wife, who discovers the only way to disarm the young man’s insolence. All in all this is an accomplished and entertaining arthouse drama and hopefully lead to Fiennes handing the script of his next film as well as the direction. MT

SCREENING NATIONWIDE 7 April 2019

 

 

 

Out of Blue (2018) ****

Dir.: Carol Morley; Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Mamie Gummer. Toby Jones, Jonathan Majors, James Caan, Jackie Weaver; US/UK 2018, 110 min.

Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life) is a British auteur who brings so much more to her films that just the narrative. Her screen version of Martin Amis’ novel Night Train is a genre hybrid– noir in this case – and existentialism. Out of Blue is as enigmatic as its title and New Orleans is the shadowy setting where detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) investigates the murder of astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Gummer).

Rockwell is found dead in a planetarium where she’d given a speech the day before about Black Holes. Early clues lead to two main-suspects: Ian Strammi (Toby Jones) manager of the site, and Duncan Reynold (Majors), Rockwell’s lover and co-worker. But Hoolihan feels instinctively that the solution to the crime will lead her back into the past where Space will offer clues. A recovering alcoholic with a captivating cat (who steals many a scene) Mike nevertheless loses it completely when cornered by her own past, and performs a drunken semi-striptease on a bar table. Rockwell’s parents are also involved: Colonel Tom (Caan) – who may or may not be the suspect of a past murder spree – and her mother Miriam (Weaver), who has her own dark guilt complex, are not helping Hoolihan, neither are Rockwell’s twin brothers. When the tragedy unravels, more questions emerge, and even physical identities start to look questionable: as Jennifer says in her final lecture “our nose and our hands may not be from the same galaxy”.

The film’s main characters’ identities seem to emanate from a different past, and nothing fits any more. Out of Blue is very much Nicolas Roeg territory: his son Luc is also a producer. Morley’s narrative leads gradually leads us ‘out of this world’, where Rockwell felt much more at home than on this planet – never mind her rather dysfunctional family set-up. And Hoolihan herself is hiding behind her policeman’s (sic) mask, denying both gender and past. DoP Conrad W. Hall’s images play on tones of the colour blue: we race through the film like the night train of Martin Amis’ novel (on which it is loosely based): from the night sky to the cream receptacle found at the crime scene, and the murky metallic-grey of crimes past, everything leads to the indigo blue of cosmic Black Holes.

Morley is clearly interested in the who-done-it, but she also asks questions about human nature; and all her protagonists have something significant to hide. And she never lets them get away with it – the raison d’être of their life (or death) is always more important than the circumstances of the discoveries. To paraphrase the feature title: Blue is the new Noir. The director never gives in or compromises: the existential ‘why’ is her reason for filmmaking, the result may not be to everyone’s taste, but it satisfies an audience hungry for answers outside our immediate Universe. AS

IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 29 MARCH 2019 

Kinoteka Film Festival 2019 | 4-18 April 2019

Oscar winner Pawel Pawlikowski will be in London to celebrate this year’s Kinoteka Polish film festival. Joining him are veteran Polish auteur KRZYSZTOF ZANUSSI with his latest film Ether, a spotlight of female filmmakers and a special Sci-fi retro strand featuring cult classic gems from STANISŁAW LEM.

Another highlight will be the latest film from maverick wild child Andrzej ŻuławskiOn the Silver Globe. The festival will also showcase the work of legendary cinematographer WITOLD SOBOCIŃSKI and a documentary exploring the provocative work of Walerian Borowczyk

OPENING NIGHT GALA at Regent Street Cinema with a screening of ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE, a beautifully animated adaptation of acclaimed Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s early book. 

CLOSING NIGHT GALA – Another chance to enjoy Pawel Pawlikoski’s Oscar-nominated COLD WAR’. The charismatic director will be there to present his film. The event is  followed by a dinner with live music from Zbigniew Namyslowski, former collaborator of the legendary film composer Krzysztof Komeda (The Fearless Vampire Killers/Polanski) followed by a gourmet menu inspired by Polish folk cuisine. 

NEW FEMALE FILMMAKERS 

Female filmmakers from Poland get their own special side-bar this year at the BFI Southbank with Jagoda Szelc’s deeply unsettling psychological horror MONUMENT, Olga Chajdas’s award- winning LGBT romance NINA and the disorientating and acclaimed new film from director of THE LURE, Agnieszka Smoczynska’s FUGUE. 

RETROSPECTIVES 

Two SCI-FI  extravaganzas are on offer at this year’s festival: A major retrospective from one of the godfathers of modern sci-fi  STANISŁAW LEM  will take place at the Barbican. This includes the rare Russian television film SOLYARIS and the East German space opera SILENT STAR. The Quay Brothers also present their film MASK followed by a panel discussion about Lem’s legacy and the challenges of adapting his work to the screen. 

Andrzej Żuławski ON THE SILVER GLOBE – will screen at the Horse Hospital alongside an exhibition of costumes and ephemera from the film. Shut down by the Communist party in 1977 after 80% of the footage was shot, the film was luckily saved by the crew who ignored orders, and Żuławski’s fantastical creativity was preserved.

https://youtu.be/zdpl1mjutN4

KRZYSZTOF ZANUSSI – The renowned auteur will be there to present his latest film ETHER and introduce his 1971 classic FAMILY LIFE.

WITOLD SOBOCIŃSKI – the influential DoP’s work is celebrated at Close-Up Cinema with four archive screenings: Zanussi’s FAMILY LIFE, Jerzy Skolimowski’s HANDS UP!, THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM from director Wojciech Has and Andrzej Żulawski’s THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT.

NEW POLISH CINEMA 

Taking place at Regent Street Cinema, ICA and Watermans, the New Polish Cinema programme offers a selection of ten films encompassing the exciting breadth of contemporary Polish filmmaking – from the brutal realism of Piotr Domalewski’s SILENT NIGHT to Filip Bajon’s epic costume drama THE BUTLER via the hysterically funny situational humour of Paweł Maślona’s PANIC ATTACK.

DOCUMENTARIES 

The ICA’s festival documentary strand includes an intimate look at life’s final moments in END OF LIFE and an examination of the provocative work of Walerian Borowczyk in LOVE EXPRESS: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF WALERIAN BOROWCZYK.

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Barbican, BFI Southbank, Close Up Cinema, Frontline Club, ICA, Tate Modern, The Horse Hospital, Regent Street Cinema and Watermans Art Centre (Cambridge). 

 

Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me By Now (2019) ***

Dir: Olivia Lichtenstein | Biopic | 106′ US

Teddy Pendergrass was such a loved and wanted child, success would always follow him. Born in Philadelphia to a proud mother who had suffered six miscarriages that made her cherish him all the more, the two grew close after his father left home shortly after he arrived. Powerful both musically and physically, he had an electric smile and a rich and melodious voice. And women in their droves would flock to his sexually-charged performances, while men were attracted by his power. Lichtenstein chronicles his story but somehow misses a vital chapter, playing down a sinister but clearly significant crime side-story involving the local Phili mafia. And that somehow eclipses the high notes of this essentially celebratory film.

Much the same as Aretha Franklin, Pendergrass started singing in his local Gospel church where he would be ordained. He soon joined Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, only to leave  in 1977  – under a cloud – for a spectacular solo career, that would result in a clutch of platinum discs: an impossibly handsome, virile man with a rich and sensuous voice. But in 1982 tragedy would touch his life when a car accident turned him into a cripple. He flirted with suicide but pulled back from the brink thanks to his family and friends. One of the film’s most moving moments is seeing Pendergrass performing from a wheelchair at Live Aid at Philadelphia.

In 1977, one of the most important woman in his life was shot dead. No one has ever been convicted of Taaz Lang’s crime but Teddy was devastated. And clearly the split from Melvin had left him with enemies too, not least the local police, yet to play this up would diminish the overall impact of his own success and recovery from near death. And, at the time his career was taking off and he was positioned to be a major crossover artist, a Black Elvis even. But the crash takes over in the final scenes changing the mood of the film and leaving us wondering what really happened and why.

The murky world of organised crime in pop music is a real issue, but Pendergrass’s inspirational comeback story forces a different narrative arc on the film, leaving questions unanswered. It’s a remarkable story, but way more complicated than this makes it sound. MT

DVD RELEASE DATE 29.03.19

NATIONWIDE SCREENINGS

moviehouseent.com/films/teddy-pendergrass

Sebastiane (1976) ** Home Ent release

Dir: Derek Jarman, Paul Humfress | Score: Brian Eno | UK Drama 86′

Derek Jarman aimed to dignify his voyeuristic gay romp on the beach by basing it on the legend of a martyred Catholic saint 17,000 years ago. His Sebastiane is a lowly Roman soldier exiled due to his religious beliefs to a remote Sardinian outpost along with a small platoon of buff but bored fellow combatants, and he falls foul of his gay commander’s advances, and eventually the rest of the men. Jarman tries elevate Sebastiane to almost Christ-like proportions yet there is nothing in the story, as he tells it, that is remotely worthy of such. Religious beliefs aside, Sebastiane rejects his suitor simple because he doesn’t find him appealing.

Back in the 1970s this was ground-breaking stuff, as gay porn – or any other kind of porn – was almost not-existent: the opening scene at Emperor Diocletian’s Christmas party sees the all male revellers rocking massive phalluses and festive masks; then beachside in Sardinia with full erections, lots of slow-mo snogging and close-ups of naked bottoms and rippling muscles. They certainly must have had fun on that shoot which was filmed naturalistically in three and a half weeks by a professional crew and largely non-pro cast. Brian Eno’s minimalist sound design now feels rather dated, as does the gay subject matter, but it’s easy to criticise in hindsight because the world has obviously moved on, and Peter Middleton’s photography and Jarman’s mise en scene still remain spectacular and evocative. Shame then, about the slim narrative. Sebastiane flopped at the box office all over Europe, and lost the Stones’ their money.

Yet there are important themes at play in this remarkable piece of independent filmmaking: religious intolerance is of course the most important one; but there is also submissiveness versus domination; the role of the outsider and the underdog. And Jarman sees Sebastiane as the eternal victim of society. Quite why the dialogue is in Latin is an anomaly. Ordinary soldiers would speak Italian, as Latin was spoken only by scholars and dignitaries at that time. Is this another attempt to elevate the characters, or simply to make them sound more exotic and alluring?

Nowadays Sebastiane might be criticised for animal cruelty: at one point the soldiers chase down a small piglet, taunting and butchering it savagely with sticks. There are also racist taunts mocking Jews and Christians alike. But it is the storyline that is the least adventurous aspect of the feature, with Jarman overplaying the voyeurism at the expense of telling us a fascinating and little known tale about another man who suffered for his religious conviction. A missed opportunity despite its artistic merit. MT

SEBASTIANE IS ON BLURAY AND ITUNES FROM 18 MARCH 2019

 

 

 

Girl (2018) ****

Dir: Lukas Dhont | Drama | Belgium | 97’

Adolescence is a terrible time of bewildering choices, sexual urges and obsession with appearance. Those ardently drawn to find a mate are the most cruelly punished, as others keep quietly buttoned down by insecurity or jealousy. Who knows what is happening physically at puberty, especially when bodies and minds feel confused about gender.

No one has expressed this better and more naturally than Belgian director Lukas Dhont with his latest feature GIRL, about a boy who wants to be a ballerina. This gender fluid teenager is played with thoughtful ease by 15 year old cisgender actor Victor Polster in a down to earth gem that rivals a A Fantastic Woman in every way.

Lara (Polster) has moved with her French-speaking father Mathias (Arieh Worthalter) and younger brother (Oliver Bodart) to study at Belgium’s most famous dance academy. So there are two important episodes that the teenager must face: preparing for transition, since she was born in the body of a boy, and working to become a professional ballet dancer. But Lara has all the support of her entourage including her family and new friends, and this is underlined in a tricky moment when the female students are asked whether they mind sharing their dressing room with their new colleague. This is all handled with consummate skill, and Lara soon settles in.

Dhont rose to fame with his titles Headlong and L’infini also set in the dance world and here he conveys Lara’s struggles through subtle body language and looks – there is a fascinating scene where Lara uses white tape to flatten her pelvic area in preparation for a skin tight ballet costume. While Lara is excited about the upcoming surgical operation, having been prepared by a Flemish psychiatrist (Valentijn Dhaenens), who does not want Lara to suffer any longer in the wrong body, his father Mathias is actually more nervous about his son’s hospital visit and the risks it involves.  

A tense tone sets in in the film’s second half where Lara suspects the hormones are not working, but this is down to impatience more than anything more serious.“You want to be a woman straight away,” Lara’s father says, “but you are an adolescent too”. The two then share one of the film’s most touching tête a tête’s. The film works best during these tender moments when we feel for the characters and their dilemma. These are crucial in preparing the audience for the startling finale, and Girl could have done with more of them. That said, Dhont manages to dovetail Lara’s physical transformation with her emotional adaption – no mean feat. 

This is very much Polster’s film and although the support cast feel natural and well-prepared, what really makes this enjoyable is the actor’s strong background in dance which is elegantly captured by strong visuals from DoP Frank van den Eeden, who focuses on the physicality and agility of the dance moves.MT

In cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema FROM 15 March 2019 

Sauvage (2018) ***

Dir.: Camille Vidal-Naquet; Cast: Felix Maritaud, Eric Bernard, Marie Seux, Philippe Ohrel; France 2018, 99 min.

Felix Maritaud blazes through this stunning sortie into the life of young rent boys in Strasbourg, focusing on their aimless, dangerous and lonely lives. The harsh psychological realism is complimented by explicit sexual encounters, which often border on the abusive.

He plays Leo a rent boy in his early twenty who lives purely for the moment, using drugs, clients, petty crime and lots of day-dreaming to get through each day. That changes when he meets Ahd (Reinard), a fellow male prostitute and falls in love with him. Leo is not worried that Ahd is actually looking for a ‘sugar-daddy’ long term, and asks Leo to do the same: “That’s the best that can happen to us”. But Leo is stubborn, chasing Ahd down and endangering his relationship with an older man. After being sexually assaulted by two others who cheat him out of his money to boot, Ahd does Leo a last favour, beating up one of them and stealing his money, which he shares with Leo. But all the stress has taken its toll on Leo’s health, and a female physician (Seux), one of the few women in the feature, consoles him with maternal affection. This scene stands out in contrast to the film’s opener, when Leo is examined by a ‘doctor’, who turns out to be a client working for the IRS, who enjoys the role play. After Ahd has left for Benidorm with his lover, Leo finally follows his advice- after a particularly brutal (off-screen) encounter with a client known for his sadistic tendencies. His middle-class ‘protector’ Claude (Ohrel) wants to take him to Montreal for a new start in life – but does Leo really wants to be saved?

Leo shows all the symptoms of emotional regression due to neglect: he is a doleful child looking for love in all the wrong places, because society has marginalised him. Sauvage is not just about sex: it also shows the tenderness in a gay relationship, particularly when Leo goes with a man old enough to be his father: Leo cuddles him, both men getting more out of the encounter than penetration alone would have provided. But Leo is already a very fragmented character: he spends hours alone in the woods near the male gang’s pick-up place, and then over-compensates with hectic behaviour at parties and in dance clubs. His day dreams of emotional security are shattered in reality – and he has himself to blame. Solitude is his way back into childhood, while his waking hours are a nightmare of humiliation and deception. Leo doesn’t know how to connect these two selves, and the lack of concurrent identity makes him alien to himself.

SAUVAGE is an impressive first feature for writer and director Camille Vidal-Naquet. DoP Jacques Girault contrasts Leo’s dual existence with nightmarish images of the time spent with his clients, the aimless wandering in the streets, and the haven of tranquillity in the sunny woods. Vidal-Naquet is always non-judgemental, avoiding sentimentality at all costs. The result is a rather melancholic walk on the wild side. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 MARCH 2019 NATIONWIDE

Breve Historia del Planeta Verde (2019) *** Berlinale | Panorama 2019

Dir: Santiago Loza | Drama: Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Germany | 90′
Santiago Loza was born in Cordoba, Argentina in 1971 where his edgy, award-winning dramas such as La Paz, Lips and Strange go down well with the arthouse crowd. There’s a Lynchian quality to his latest, a stunningly surreal story that revolves around Trans woman Tania who discovers her favourite grandmother has died peacefully after spending her final years with an alien. With two friends in tow Tania sets off across rural Argentina to bring the creature back to its origin. But when they arrive at Granny’s home in the depths of a petrified forest, the reality is even more bizarre than expected. Powerful childhood memories come flooding back to Tania. And the alien being is not the only surprise they encounter.
There are echoes of Amat Escalante’s 2016 feature The Untamed and even cult classic ET to this thrilling road movie that also works as a lyrical horror mystery. We never know what to expect. And Loza achieves this sense of discombobulation and dislocation with a mixture of magic realism, slo-mo camerawork, photo montage and an eerie electronic and ambient score that wafts us into the unknown depths of the dark continent, blending the commonplace with the utterly absurd, strange and uplifting: literally and metaphorically. Loza’s unique cinematic language and delightfully delicate visual style make this an ethereal experience. MT
BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | PANORAMA SECTION | 7 -17 FEBRUARY 2019

Monsters (2019) *** Berlinale | Forum 2019

Dir: Marius Olteanu | Drama, Romania

In a digitalised age of social media reality and perception drift further and further apart. In his feature debut Romanian writer-director Marius Olteanu challenges our perceptions by questioning the gap between who we really our and the persona we project onto others. It’s a fascinating and timely premise and one that Olteanu treats cinematically and quite inventively in this often claustrophobic drama that follows a married couple during 24 hours in the capital Bucharest. It also explores the clash between traditional social values in this predominantly Catholic country and individual needs, particularly sexual desires. And the increasing intolerance of minorities.

Dana and Arthur are a popular couple who have been together for almost 10 years. Yet individually they struggle with their inner demons and have few close friends. It’s almost as if they can only function by keeping up a strict facade of togetherness when what they really want is something quite different. And accepting this with tolerance and understanding might actually be a greater form of love than that defined by sexual expression.

Using the academy ratio and filming in intimate close-up, often from the confines of tight spaces, such as the taxi where Dana spends the night while Arthur wanders around the city and pursues various encounters, this is a drama that focuses closely on its lead characters and doesn’t let them get away from their own, often uncomfortable feelings of angst, frustration, ennui and even coiled paranoia. Structured in three parts: one focuses on Dana, one on Arthur and the third examines their joint dynamic. The first two parts play out on the same night, when the couple, avoid going home, preferring to spend the night in the company of strangers. Dana goes to the length of paying a taxi driver to stay with her in the car for the night, while Arthur wanders around the city and decides to meet a man through a dating app. However, the following day, as much as they have tried to avoid it, they must now face reality. There is a voyeurish quality to this arresting first feature that allows us space for our minds to wonder what is means to love and to be free to explore and find satisfaction, while quietly contemplating a couple in a crisis of their own in  contemporary Romania. MT

BERLINALE 2019 | Forum Section | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

Boy Erased (2018) **

Dir.: Joel Edgerton; Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Xavier Dolan, Britton Sear; USA 2018, 114.min.

After his promising first feature Gift, Joel Edgerton overreaches himself with this disjointed drama lacking the emotional heft that the weighty subject matter deserves. And while some scenes have impact, for the most part Boy Erased feels rather clunky and underwhelming.

Edgerton bases his narrative on the memoirs of Garrad Conley, one of 700 000 gay minors who have become the victims of the Christian Conversion Therapy, still practiced in 36 US states. Lucas Hedges plays teenage Jared Eamons coming to terms with being gay in his highly conventional Baptist family. His father Marshall (Crowe), is a bigoted Baptist preacher and his hairdresser mother Nancy (Kidman), too weak to stand up to him in an effective way. Just before he goes starts college, Jared breaks up with his girl friend on account of his sexual motivations and finds himself paying for his sins at a fundamental Christian Conversion Institution, run by the vicious fanatic Victor Sykes (Edgerton). And Jared is not alone is feeling the wrath of God in this insufferable hell hole, joined by one dimensional characters like John (Dolan) and Cameron (Sear), who does his best to be a pal, before committing suicide.

Both Crowe and Kidman ham it parlously, and Kidman is particularly unconvincing as Nancy. Hedges is the standout, doing his best to flesh out Jared’s character despite his crass lines. DoP Eduard Grau’s attempts to break down the stultifying atmosphere with some fine camerawork, but to no avail. Edgerton seems very much at home with the schlock-horror environment of his debut, but he shouldn’t be let loose – for a long time – with material which deserves a serious approach. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from Friday 8 February 2019

  

Sundance Film Festival | Award and Winners 2019

Sundance announced its awards last night after ten extraordinary days of the latest independent cinema. Taking place each January in Park City, snowy Utah, the festival is the premier showcase for U.S. and international independent film, presenting dramatic and documentary feature-length films from emerging and established artists, innovative short films, filmmaker forums. The Festival brings together the most original storytellers known to mankind. In his closing speech President and Founder Robert Redford commented: “At this critical moment, it’s more necessary than ever to support independent voices, to watch and listen to the stories they tell.” Over half the films shown were directed by women and 23 prizes were awarded across the board including one film from a director identifying as LGBTQI+

This year’s jurors, invited in recognition of their accomplishments in the arts were Desiree Akhavan, Damien Chazelle, Dennis Lim, Phyllis Nagy, Tessa Thompson, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Yance Ford, Rachel Grady, Jeff Orlowski, Alissa Wilkinson, Jane Campion, Charles Gillibert, Ciro Guerra, Maite Alberdi, Nico Marzano, Véréna Paravel, Young Jean Lee, Carter Smith, Sheila Vand, and Laurie Anderson.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary/China | Dirs: Nanfu Wang/Jialing Zhang,

 photo by Nanfu Wang.

ONE CHILD NATION After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic/USA | Dir/Wri Chinonye Chukwu

 

photo by Eric Branco

CLEMENCY: Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: Dirs: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov | Macedonia

HONEYLAND – When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female bee hunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.

The Souvenir| photo by Agatha A. Nitecka.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic | UK | Dir/wri: Joanna Hogg

THE SOUVENIR: A shy film student begins finding her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man. She defies her protective mother and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship which comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams. Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, | USA  Dir: Rachel Lears:

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Paul Downs

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON — A woman living in New York takes control of her life – one city block at a time. Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary/Austria: Dir: Richard Ladkan

SEA OF SHADOWS/Austria – The vaquita, the world’s smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the “cocaine of the sea.” Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multimillion-dollar business.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic/Denmark Dir: May el-Toukhy

QUEEN OF HEARTS — A woman jeopardises both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences. Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper.

 

The Audience Award: NEXT, Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra

THE INFILTRATORS / U.S.A. (Directors: , Screenwriters: — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary | USA Dirs: Steven Bognar and Julia

AMERICAN FACTORY  — In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic U.S.A. Dirs: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot,

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary NOR | Dir: Mads Brüggerwas

 photo by Tore Vollan.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld / Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium — Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjold. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime far worse than killing the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic | Spain (Dir/Wri: Lucía Garibaldi,

THE SHARKS / Uruguay, Argentina – While a rumour about the presence of sharks in a small beach town distracts residents, 15-year-old Rosina begins to feel an instinct to shorten the distance between her body and Joselo’s. Cast: Romina Bentancur, Federico Morosini, Fabián Arenillas, Valeria Lois, Antonella Aquistapache.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic USA | Dir: Pippa Blanco

SHARE— After discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, sixteen-year-old Mandy must try to figure out what happened and how to navigate the escalating fallout. Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, J.C. MacKenzie, Nick Galitzine, Lovie Simone.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency| USA | Dir: Jacqueline Olive

ALWAYS IN SEASON — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker USA : Liza Mandelup

JAWLINE — The film follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing USA : Todd Douglas Miller

APOLLO 11 — A purely archival reconstruction of humanity’s first trip to another world, featuring never-before-seen 70mm footage and never-before-heard audio from the mission.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography | U.S.A. Dir: Luke Lorentzen

MIDNIGHT FAMILY / Mexico/DOC — In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. As they try to make a living in this cutthroat industry, they struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

The Boys in the Band (1970) **** Bluray release


WDir: William Friedkin | Writer: Mart Crowley | Drama  | 118’

Fifty years ago, this milestone in Queer cinema The Boys in the Band was considered highly controversial, although in retrospect it’s seems rather quaint with Mart Crowley’s priceless dialogue making it all worthwhile (apart from the groundbreaking use of the C-word), particularly Leonard Frey’s Harold gets some caustic remarks.

William Friedkin would go on to make The French Connection a year later, and The Exorcist just after that (in 1973) but this is a beast of another colour and sees a group of gay men grow increasingly antagonistic after enjoying an alcohol fuelled party in a spacious Upper East Side apartment, especially after Harold arrives.

Based on Crowley’s play, and featuring the original cast, it stars a sterling selection of gay actors Kenneth Nelson, Peter White, Cliff Gorman and, of course, Leonard Frey. The play premiered off-Broadway in 1968, just as the gay rights movement was gaining momentum and aimed to portray a candid view gay life, although it sparked mixed reactions amongst the gay community for its negative stereotyping of limp-wristed and bitchy victims of their sexuality. William Friedkin’s faithful 1970 screen version, has become a cult classic. But when all is said and done, LGBTQ equality has pathed the way to a better acceptance of what went before, and the piece can now be appreciated for it depiction of an oppressed group of any kind, and is by turns brutally amusing, compelling and dark.

The film plays out as a chamber piece echoing its original scale. Led by the single Michael (Nelson), a Catholic alcoholic from Mississippi and set in his ostentatious bachelor pad. Michael is throwing a birthday party for his difficult friend Harold (Frey), who eventually turns up high, with a brilliantly bombastic monologue: “What I am, Michael, is a 32-year-old, ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy — and if it takes me a while to pull myself together and if I smoke a little grass before I can get up the nerve to show this face to the world, it’s nobody’s goddamn business but my own.”

Other guests include Donald (Combs), Michael’s ex who comes back to NY to visit his shrink.  Hank (Luckinbill) is a bisexual teacher  (Tuc Watkins), who’s now with photographer Larry (Prentice) although the relationship is strained by Larry’s promiscuity. Bernard (Reuben Greene) is the token black guy and seems the most brooding of the group. Into the party drops Michael’s straight college friend Alan (Peter White), who is on the verge of tears over his own failing marriage. His reluctance to leave nods to an ambivalence in his own sexuality, and hints that he might be hiding an uncomfortable truth from himself.

According to Friedkin, this was “one of the few films I’ve made that I can still watch”. Released 50 years after its Broadway debut – a year before the infamous Stonewall Riots – The Boys in the Band still has the power to shock. MT

NOW ON BLURAY FROM 11 FEBRUARY 2019 with interviews with Mark Gatiss, and commentary from William Friedkin himself | COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT 

 

Crucible of the Vampire (2018) **

Dir: Iain Ross-McNamee | Cast: Neil Morrissey, Charles O’Neil, Katie Goldfinch, Angela Carter | 96′ | UK Horror, Vampire.

Crucible of the Vampire is a rather pale attempt to re-create the traditional fare made by Hammer in the 1960s and early 1970s. The plot is familiar (but required three writers, Ross-McNee, Darren Lake and John Wolskel, who penned Blonde, Busty & Keane) – a naive, young blond (Goldfinch) goes to a 17th century Manor House in rural Shropshire. This time the blond’s clever too, some kind of minor archeologist sent there by her boss to examine the remains of a broken 17th century pot whose owner, a putative sorcerer we witness being accused of all sorts of Devilry, and strung up, in the opening scene. Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch) is apparently oblivious to the goings on in the house where she is made to drink a potion on her first night with the resident couple and their coquettish daughter, who appears to be lesbian, and later has no trouble seducing Isabelle, who has so far resisted the advances of her boyfriend, wanting to remain ‘pure’ until marriage. Clearly, it was just his technique that was lacking, rather than her resolve. More dark revelations unfold with Neil Morrissey’s friendly local farmer offering his manly protection to our heroine, who is seemingly unaware of the dangers surrounding her, until it’s too late. A nice try, and quite watchable. Iain Ross-McNamee certainly succeeds to a degree. But where’s the tinkly organ music, and some of the acting is predictably as twee as the premise. But that’s the whole point, I guess. MT

OUT ON  1 FEBRUARY 2019

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Une Jeunesse Dorée (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Eva Ionesco | Drama,

Writer-director Eva Ionesco made her debut in Roman Polanski’s horrifying drama The Tenant in 1976. Since then she has made her way into directing. Her second feature is an enjoyable if hollow semi-autobiographical hark back to her disco days at one of Paris’ most legendary nightspots in the late 1970s.

The Palace nightclub was synonymous with stylish couture from Karl Lagerfeld, St Laurent and Missoni. It was also the time of Human League, Grace Jones and Brian Ferry, And this where our young impoverished heroine Rose (Galatea Bellugi) comes to dance with her artist boyfriend Michel (Lukas Ionesco). Both are looking to make their name in the world, and finance the rest of their lives. And this is where they run into decadent ‘beau-monde’ duo Lucile (Isabelle Huppert) and Hubert (Melvil Poupaud), in their fifties and eager for new experiences. Fired up by a cocktail of youth, cash and charisma, the couples feed off each other in an orgy – both literal and metaphorical – of coke and champagne-fuelled sexual encounters – decked out in the latest couture – and Isabelle Huppert is as sexy as her much younger counterpart Bellugi. After rocking the dance floor they all repair back in a Jaguar to Lucile’s soigné chateau in a the country where the young ones are eager for money and contacts, while the older pair paw them with unwanted sexual advances, to spice up their flagging libidos. 

This retro drama is very much a family affair, and it makes for an entertaining drama, if rather glib in its louche emptiness and threadbare script. Ionesco deftly captures the Seventies zeitgeist, but narrative-wise the drama plays out with no surprises. And while Huppert holds court with her sterling support, Poupard also holds sway with his graceful nonchalance, the young two providing alluring eye candy as the doomed and clingy lovers, caught between a desire to succeed and a need to be loved. 

Une Jeunesse Dorée feels slightly overlong at just under two hours, but despite the flagging plot line, expert camerawork comes courtesy of Claire Denis regular Agnès Godard, and there are cossies to die for including ubiquitous sequins and floor length furs from the designers Jurgen Doering and Marie Beltrami. The girls lie back lustfully in Agent Provocateur lingerie and Huppert even flashes her tits and utters outré lines such as: “Hubert has a very beautiful penis, and he knows how to use it”. Now that’s a showstopper, if ever there was one. MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JAN – 3 FEB 2019

The Man Who Surprised Everyone (2018) **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Natasha Merkulova, Aleksey Chupov | Cast: Evgeniy Tsiganov, Natalya Kudryashowa, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Vasiliy Popov, Pavel Maykov, Aleksey Filimonov, Elena Voronchikhina, Maksim Vitorgan | Drama | Russia Estonia France | 105’

Russian directing duo Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov tackle a thorny subject with deftness in this classically styled and  surprisingly moving arthouse drama that had its premiere in the Orizzonti sidebar at Venice Film Festival 2018

LGBT issues are still viewed with hostility back home in Russia but the leads are completely convincing in their subtlely nuanced and solemn portrayal of a modern couple coping with extremely challenging conditions in a remote rural outpost.

Egor is a respectable family man who we first meet navigating his boat along the Siberian Taiga where he works as a forest ranger looking out for poachers. He and his wife Natalia are expecting their second child when Egor discovers he has terminal cancer but keeps his wife in the dark about his imminent death. But this is not the only secret the thoughtful middle-aged man harbours, and the filmmakers gradually draw us in establishing the couple’s joint and several feelings of joy for her, and mounting grief and unease for him: Egor must bear alone the double burden of his cancer trauma and his nascent sexual yearnings that will certainly require his wife’s forbearance. When he tells Natasha she persuades Egor to seek further help in looking for a cure. But no traditional medicine or shamanic magic can save him. Finally, left with no other option, he makes a desperate attempt to escape the reality of his death by channelling his feelings into self-identifying as a woman with initial alarm to his close community, followed by anger, disbelief and acceptance by Natasha, and we feel for both of them. His family and the local society now have to accept his new self.

Moody rain-soaked settings and subdued interiors add to the feeling of angst and quiet desperation as the couple struggle on trapped by poverty and Natasha’s ageing and ailing father in a scenario that will be feel familiar to many.

This is a grim and provocatively complex tale that needs clever handling and one that could have gone severely awry with disastrous consequences without the skill of a competent directing team. But instead clever scripting, skilful handling of the complex issues at stake and sensitive performances make for an absorbing feature and one with considerable dramatic heft as we wait for the startling denouement that requires a certain leap of faith but one that feels plausible and satisfying in the circumstances.MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Berlinale Competition films announced | Berlinale 2019

The full competition line-up and special films for this year’s Berlinale have now been announced. The festival opens with Lone Scherfig’s THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS and runs from the 7th February until the 17th. 

Vying for the Golden Bear, there are three Asian films: Zhang Yimou’s One Second, (China) Farewell My Son Wang by Xiaoshuai (China) and Öndög by Wang Quan’an (Mongolia). From Canada, festival regular Denis Côté wiIl bring his latest drama Ghost Town Anthology Israeli director Nadav Lapid brings his world premiere: Synonyms. The rest are from all over Europe. 

There are 20 world premieres this year in Berlin, and 16 films vying for the Golden Bear of which 6 are directed by women.

BERLINALE GOLDER BEAR – hopefuls and Competition films:

The Kindness of Strangers by Lone Scherfig (Denmark / Canada / Sweden / Germany / France) – Opening film. Andrea Riseborough, Caleb Landry Jones and Bill Nighy star in Scherfig’s 20th film exploring the lives of four people in crisis.

The Ground beneath My Feet, by Marie Kreutzer (Austria)

Kreutzer’s first film The Fatherless won her an honourable mention at Berlinale 2011. Her latest drama follows a high powered woman has everything under control until a tragic event forces her life to unravel.

So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) by Wang Xiaoshuai (People’s Republic of China). Once again the social and economic changes in China from the 1980s until the present day are pulled into the spotlight through the experience of two couples.

Elisa y Marcela (Elisa & Marcela) by Isabel Coixet (Spain), The first recorded lesbian marriage is the subject of this black and white biopic from Catalan director Isabel Coixet.

The Golden Glove, Der Goldene HandschuhFatih Akin was born and grew up in Germany from Turkish parentage. His first literary adaptation is a crime thriller that traces back to Hamburg in the 1970s where a rampant serial killer was at large. (Germany / France) God

Exists, Her Name is Petrunya, (Gospod postoi, imeto i’ e Petrunija)  by Teona Strugar. The  male population of a Macedonian seaside town is scandalised when a young local woman decides to enact a traditionally men-only religious ceremony, but Petrunya holds her own in this unusual drama from award-winning director Teona Strugar Mitevska. Brings to mind Sworn Virgin. (Macedonia / Belgium / Slovenia / Croatia / France)

Grâce à Dieu (By the Grace of God) by François Ozon (France). French provocateur Ozon is back in Berlin with this portrait of three men who decide to challenge a Catholic priest who abused them many years previously.

I Was at Home, But by Angela Schanelec (Germany / Serbia). Franz Rogowski is the star of this Germany drama that revolves around a teenager whose brief disappearance changes the lives of his local community.

A Tale of Three Sisters (Kız Kardeşler)by Emin Alper (Turkey / Germany / Netherlands / Greece). The knock-on affects of unsuccessful adoption is the thorny theme of this drama from Emin Alper, whose award-winning, incendiary thrillers Frenzy and Beyond the Hill have delighted previous Venice and Berlinale festival-goers.

Mr. Jones by Agnieszka Holland (Poland / United Kingdom / Ukraine). Two years ago Polish director Holland won the Silver Bear with her eco-drama Spoor. She’s back in the competition line-up with a thriller about the Welsh journalist who broke the news to the Western media about the 1930s famine in the Soviet Union. Vanessa Kirby, James Norton and Peter Sarsgaard star.

Öndög by Wang Quan’an (Mongolia). Wang Quan’an is no newcomer to Berlinale. In 2010 he  won the Silver Bear for his drama Apart Together, and the Golden Bear for Tuya’s Marriage in 2006.

La paranza dei bambini (Piranhas) by Claudio Giovannesi (Italy). A gang of teenage boys terrorise the streets of Naples in this thriller based on Robert Saviano’s novel Gomorrah.

Répertoire des villes disparues (Ghost Town Anthology) by Denis Côté (Canada). It’s always a pleasure to see Denis Côté’s films – this inventive Canadian maverick was last in town with Boris Without Beatrice. Here he’s back with a fantasy drama set in the aftermath of a tragic incident in a small isolated town

Synonymes (Synonyms) by Nadav Lapid (France / Israel / Germany), with Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevillotte. Lapid follows his 2014 drama The Kindergarten Teacher with a story about a young Israeli man who absconds to Paris with his trusty dictionary as companion.

Systemsprenger (System Crasher) by Nora Fingscheidt (Germany) a drama focusing on an unruly kid who terrorises everyone around her, not least the child protection services.

Ut og stjæle hester (Out Stealing Horses) by Hans Petter Moland (Norway / Sweden / Denmark). Moland brought his politically incorrect thriller In Order of Disappearance to Berlin in 2014. His latest, Out Stealing Horses also stars Stellan Skargard as a grieving widow whose past comes to the present when he moves out to the depths of the Scandinavian countryside.

Yi miao zhong (One Second) by Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum) People’s Republic of China ). Always extravagant and visually alluring, Zhang Yimou’s stylish films win awards across the board. Fresh from Venice 2018 and the Golden Horse Festival where his latest Shadow won the top prize. He tries his luck again at Berlinale 2019 with this story that sees a film buff befriending a homeless female.

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Peter Lindbergh – Women Stories – Documentary
Germany
by Jean Michel Vecchiet (Vies et morts d’Andy Warhol, Basquiat, une vie, 6 juin 1944, ils étaient les premiers)
World premiere

Berlinale Special Gala at the Friedrichstadt-Palast

Photograph
India / Germany / USA
by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox, Our Souls at Night, The Sense of an Ending)
with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vijay Raaz, Jim Sarbh, Akash Sinha, Saharsh Kumar Shukla
European premiere

You Only Live Once  – Die Toten Hosen – Tour 2018 Documentary – World Premiere
Germany
by Cordula Kablitz-Post and concert director Paul Dugdale (Taylor Swift)

In Competition – Out of Competition

L’adieu à la nuit (Farewell to the Night) by André Téchiné (France / Germany) – Out of competition with Catherine Deneuve, Kacey Mottet Klein.
Amazing Grace realised by Alan Elliott (USA) From 1970s Warner footage – Documentary, out of competition

Marighella by Wagner Moura (Brazil) – Out of competition

The Operative by Yuval Adler (Germany / Israel / France / USA) – Out of competition

Varda par Agnès (Varda by Agnès) by Agnès Varda (France) – Documentary, out of competition

Vice by Adam McKay (USA) – Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry – Out of competition

Berlinale Special films:

ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky (Canada) – Documentary
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by Chiwetel Ejiofor (United Kingdom)
Brecht by Heinrich Breloer (Germany / Austria)
Celle que vous croyez (Who You Think I Am) by Safy Nebbou (France)
Es hätte schlimmer kommen können – Mario Adorf (It Could Have Been Worse – Mario Adorf) von Dominik Wessely (Germany) – Documentary
Gully Boy by Zoya Akhtar (India)
Lampenfieber (Kids in the Spotlight) by Alice Agneskirchner (Germany) – Documentary
El Norte (The North) by Gregory Nava (USA 1984)
Peter Lindbergh – Women Stories by Jean Michel Vecchiet (Germany) – Documentary
Photograph by Ritesh Batra (India / Germany / USA)
Watergate – Or: How We Learned to Stop an Out of Control President by Charles Ferguson (USA) – Documentary
Weil du nur einmal lebst – Die Toten Hosen auf Tour (You Only Live Once – Die Toten Hosen on Tour) by Cordula Kablitz-Post, concert director Paul Dugdale (Germany) – Documentary

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 

Rotterdam Film Festival | 23 January – 3 February 2019

Rotterdam is one of the largest shipping ports in Europe and forms part of the prosperous oil-trading triangle known as ARA, along with Amsterdam and Antwerp. Rotterdam is the cradle of Modernism from the 1930s onwards and although it was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War (apart from the iconic Sonneveld House Museum which still remains, built in the Nieuwe Bouwen style). The vibrant Dutch city takes pride in its Avant garde and Art Nouveau architecture and buildings such as the Cube House (left), Kunsthal Museum and the Erasmusbrug Bridge (below) making it a magnet for design lovers – and cineastes alike.

This year’s Rotterdam Film Festival takes place from 23 January until the 3rd February with the latest World premieres running alongside 4 sections entitled Bright Future, Voices, Deep Focus and Perspectives – and a cutting-edge arts programme to add a cultural dimension to the 10 days, and this year includes SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL a one off project by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and never before seen outtakes from Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece The Colour of Pomegranates (196

The 2019 jury comprises Chilean filmmaker and artist Alfredo Jaar; Daniela Michel, festival director of Morelia Film Festival; Katriel Schory, former director of the Israel Film Fund; Pimpaka Towira, Thai filmmaker/producer and programme director of Singapore Film Festival; and Italian filmmaker Susanna Nicchiarelli. The festival’s Big Screen Competition awards a prize of €30,000 to its winning director whose film will be guaranteed a theatrical release in the Netherlands, as be broadcast on the Dutch public TV network NPO.

Sacha Polak’s Dirty God will open the festival.

T  I G E R   C O M P E T I T I O N

Sons Of Denmark, Ulaa Salim, 2019, Denmark, world premiere

No coração do mundo, Gabriel Martins Alves/Maurílio Martins, 2019, Brazil, world premiere

Take Me Somewhere Nice, Ena Sendijarević, 2019, Netherlands/Bosnia and Herzegovina, world premiere (left)

Present.Perfect., Shengze Zhu, 2019, USA/Hong Kong, world premiere

Sheena667, Grigory Dobrygin, 2019, Russia, world premiere

Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them, Camila José Donoso, 2019, Chile/Brazil/France/South Korea, world premiere

Koko-di Koko-da, Johannes Nyholm, 2018, Sweden/Denmark, international premiere

Els dies que vindran, Carlos Marqués-Marcet, 2019, Spain, world premiere

B I G   S C R E E N   C O M P E T I T I O N

Bangla, Phaim Bhuiyan, 2019, Italy, world premiere

The Best of Dorien B., Anke Blondé, 2019, Belgium, world premiere

God of the Piano, Itay Tal, 2019, Israel, world premiere

Hail Satan?, Penny Lane, 2018, USA, international premiere

Joel, Carlos Sorín, 2018, Argentina, European premiere

Queen of Hearts, May el-Toukhy, 2019, Denmark, European premiere

Transnistra, Anna Eborn, 2018, Sweden, world premiere

X&Y, Anna Odell, 2018, Sweden/Denmark, international premiere

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019 

London Unplugged (2018) ***

Dirs: ‘Dog Days’(George Taylor), ‘Felines’ (George Taylor), ‘Unchosen’ (Nicholas Cohen, Ben Jacobsen), ‘Club Drunk’ (Mitchell Crawford), ‘Mudan Blossom’ (Qi Zhang, Natalia Casali and Kaki Wong), ‘Pictures’ (Rosanna Lowe), ‘Little Sarah’s Big Adventure’ (Andrew Cryan), ‘Shopping’ (Layke Anderson), ‘The Door To’ (Andres Heger-Bratterud), ‘Kew Gardens’ (Nicholas Cohen) Interlink segments (Nicholas Cohen) | UK Drama | 78′

London Unplugged is a portmanteau exploration of female centric stories, some more convincing than others, but all of them focusing on London’s diverse communities. Tied together by Nicholas Cohen’s cinematic interlinking segments, the various vignettes are a refreshing take on the usual themes of opportunity, compromise and loneliness that make up modern living in one of Europe’s most eclectic capitals.

George Taylor’s mysterious opening story ‘Dog Days’, sees two strangers connect in a waterside frolic. Likewise light-hearted is Mitchell Crawford’s remarkable animation entitled ‘Club Drunk’ describing the goings on in a playground after dark. Layke Anderson’s ‘Shopping’ is an enjoyably insightful one-hander that takes place in a sex shop, and offers a feel-good message.

There are the usual economic, racial and migration stories, amongst them Nick Cohen and Ben Jacobson’s ‘Unchosen’ which sees a hapless Iranian refugee fighting for asylum in the chosen city of his dreams. The plight of the homeless is explored with humour in Qi Zhang, Natalia Casali and Kaki Wong’s ‘Mudan Blossom’. Whilst “Pictures’ is a musically-themed piece that follows a struggling singer living on the breadline, based on a 1917 short story by Katherine Mansfield.

By contrast, George Taylor’s ‘Felines’ feels forced and rather amateurish, despite Juliet Stevenson’s efforts to portray a cat-loving carer. The film finishes with Nick Cohen’s  ‘Kew Gardens’, another literary adaptation this time from Virginia Woolf. Cohen’s discursive, episodic story of a real-life female athlete brings the whole thing together neatly although rather soullessly, providing an undercurrent of positive and negative, as she runs from east to west expressing the upbeat and the downbeat vibes of the metropolis. MT

VARIOUS ARTHOUSE VENUES FROM FRIDAY, 18 JANUARY 2019

Climax (2018) *** Home Ent release

Dir: Gaspar Noé | Drama | 97′

The Argentinian provocateur is now in his fifties but still loves to see the worse in people, as his latest ‘thriller’ shows. This nihilistic metaphor for modern youth starts with a group of young Parisian dancers sharing the joy of their art through a series of video vignettes in the wake of their US tour. This all plays out on TV screen sunk into a bookshelf of bizarre titles ranging from suicide manuals to DVDs of Possession, Harakiri and Schizophrenia. With its ghastly blood red and green tinged camera work, Climax is a well-executed but unedifying affair that’s best left for the horror crowd or those who enjoy a touch of dirty dancing – and I mean dirty.

Shot in fifteen days and opening with the final credits – the camera erupts onto a dance floor basking in gory neon where skanky-looking types writhe and wriggle to the sounds of ‘Supernature’ – all spinning out in one hypnotic take. Scantily clad and in various states of undress the disco divas then move to the sidelines to share inane banter along the lines of: “you’re so fucking fake”. The dancing grows more frenetic after they unwittingly imbibe LSD spiked Sangria. And this is where the film finally descends into a nadir of full-blooded decadent debauchery.

Neither seductive nor particularly interesting, this devilish chamber piece may be a delight to Noe’s fanbase, but others will find it sad to see society’s bases impulses played out as a soi-disant arthouse piece.  Shirking a coherent narrative, the film’s throbbing electronic beats appeal to the darker more reptilian impulses of the human brain. As the camera plummets and soars, the desire to vomit grows stronger. Couples copulate and urinate in the name of art. Noé’s schtick is growing tiresome. Can we play at something else? MT

DVD and BLURAY | 21 January 2019 courtesy of Arrow Films 

https://we.tl/t-Rnh1zai4tW

 

 

Sundance Film Festival | 24 January – 3 February 2019

In Park City Utah, ROBERT REDFORD and his programmer John Cooper set the indie film agenda for 2019 with an array of provocative new titles. This year’s selection has the latest documentaries from Alex Gibney and Kim Longinotto (Shootin the Mafia). There will be biopics about Harvey Weinstein, Stieg Larsson (Millennium Trilogy), designer Halston, and tragic actor Anton Yelchin. English director Joanna Hogg’s latest drama The Souvenir will compete in the World Dramatic section, and Shia LeBoeuf’s scripting debut Honey Boy will compete in the US Dramatic section.
PREMIERES 2019 | D R A M A T I C 

After The Wedding

Isabel (Michelle Williams) has dedicated her life to working with the children in an orphanage in Calcutta. Theresa (Julianne Moore)…
Dir/Writer: Bart Freundlich

Animals

Would-be writer Laura (Holliday Grainger) and her free-spirited bestie Tyler (Alia Shawkat) share a messy Dublin apartment and a hearty…
Director Sophie Hyde Writer Emma Jane Unsworth

Blinded by the Light

1987, Margaret Thatcher’s England. Javed, a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy, lives in the town of Luton. His father’s recent job…
Director Gurinder Chadha, Writer Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

1969. Ted (Zac Efron) is crazy-handsome, smart, charismatic, affectionate. And cautious single mother Liz Koepfler (Lily Collins) ultimately cannot resist…
Director Joe Berlinger. Screenwriter Michael Werwie

I Am Mother

Shortly after humanity’s extinction, in a high-tech bunker deep beneath the earth’s surface, a robot named Mother commences her protocol….
Director Grant Sputore, Screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green

Late Night

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a pioneer and legendary host on the late-night talk-show circuit. When she’s accused of being…
Director Nisha Ganatra. Screenwriter Mindy Kaling

Official Secrets

Based on the book , tells the true story of British secret-service officer Katharine Gun, who during the immediate run-up…
Director Gavin Hood, Screenwriter Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein, Gavin Hood

Paddleton

An unlikely bromance between two misfit neighbors becomes an unexpectedly emotional journey when one of them is diagnosed with terminal…
Director Alex Lehmann. Screenwriter Alex Lehmann, Mark Duplass

Photograph

Rafi works as a street photographer in frenzied Mumbai, snapping improvised portraits for tourists at the city’s landmarks. When his…
Director Ritesh Batra. Screenwriter Ritesh Batra

Relive

Los Angeles detective Jack Radcliff fields a distressed phone call from his niece Ashley and rushes to the rescue—only to…
Director Jacob Estes Screenwriter Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt

Sonja – The White Swan

Before there were the Ice Capades, there was Sonja Henie. In 1936, Henie has three Olympic gold medals and ten…
Director Anne Sewitsky. Screenwriter Mette Marit Bølstad, Andreas Markusson

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Young William Kamkwamba lives with his family in rural Malawi, where he attends school regularly and shows great aptitude for…
Director Chiwetel Ejiofor Screenwriter Chiwetel Ejiofor

The Mustang

Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a tightly wound convict fresh out of solitary confinement at a maximum security prison in…
Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Screenwriter Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock

The Report

Senate staffer Daniel Jones is assigned the daunting task of leading an investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program….
Director Scott Z. Burns. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns

The Sunlit Night

Summer is off to a terrible start for Frances (Jenny Slate). Her art project fails, her boyfriend unceremoniously kicks her…
Director David Wnendt. Screenwriter Rebecca Dinerstein

The Tomorrow Man

Retiree Ed Hemsler (John Lithgow) spends his quiet days watching the news, checking internet forums, and preparing for the end…
Director Noble Jones. Screenwriter Noble Jones

Top End Wedding

Lauren and Ned are engaged. They are in love. And they have just ten days to find Lauren’s mother (who…
Director Wayne Blair. Screenwriter Joshua Tyler, Miranda Tapsell

Troop Zero

Nine-year-old oddball Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) is obsessed with space and making contact with the aliens of the universe. When…
Directors Bert&Bertie. Screenwriter Lucy Alibar

Velvet Buzzsaw

In the cutthroat world of fine-art trading and representation, up-and-coming agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) stumbles across a secret weapon: hundreds…
Director Dan Gilroy. Screenwriter Dan Gilroy
PREMIERES 2019 | D O C U M E N T A R Y
The Brink / U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman, Producer: Marie Therese Guirgis) — Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. After anointing himself leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message. World Premiere
ASK DR RUTH (2019) 

Don’t let her small status fool you. She may be under five feet tall but Holocaust survivor Dr Ruth Westheimer is a force to be reckoned with, as chronicled by Ryan White in his documentary portrait of the noteworthy sex therapist.

Dir: Ryan White.

Halston

Fashion designed Halston combined talent, notoriety and sheer gorgeousness to become a legend. From humble beginnings in Des Moines, Iowa this doc explores his meteoric rise to fame.

Dir: Frederic Tcheng

 Love, Antosha

Prolific young actor Anton Yelchin was wise beyond his years and influenced around him to strive for more.

Dir: Garret Price

Marianne & Leonard

Is a beautiful yet tragic love story between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.

Dir: Nick Broomfield

 Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen

In the 1970s Merata Mita broke through barriers of race, class and gender.

Dir/writer: Hepi Mita

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Using words from Miles Davis’ Autobiography, Stanley Nelson’s biopic offers insight into our understanding of the legendary musician.

Dir: Stanley Nelson

 Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Mollu Ivins

With razor-sharp wit, outspoken journalist and firecracker Molly Ivins took on the good-old-boy corruption in the political establishment

Dir: Janice Engel. Writer: Janice Engel, Monique Zavistovski

The Great Hack

Have you ever filled out an online survey? Do you wonder why you received ads for products

Dir: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujam Wri: Erin Barnett, Pedro Kos, Karim Amer

The Inventor: Out for blood in Silicon Valley

Elizabeth Holmes arrived in Silicon Valley with a revolutionary medical invention. She called it “the Edison”

Director: Alex Gibney

 Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

After a stint as an editor early in her career, this American writer got the measure of publishing.

Dir: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

 Untouchable

The inside story of the meteoric rise and monstrous fall of movie titan Harvey Weinstein is laid bare.

Dir: Ursula Macfarlane

Words from a Bear

When N Scott Momaday won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, it marked one of the first major acknowledgements of Native America.

COMPETITION TITLES | U S   D R A M A T I C

Before You Know It

Stage manager Rachel Gurner still lives in her childhood apartment—along with her off-kilter actress sister, Jackie; eccentric playwright father Mel;…
Director Hannah Pearl Utt. Screenwriters Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock

Big Time Adolescence

It’s funny: humans have been growing up for a really long time, but somehow we still suck at it. Just…
Director Jason Orley. Screenwriter Jason Orley

Brittany Runs A Marathon

Brittany Forgler is a funny, likeable, 27-year-old hot mess of a New Yorker whose trashy nightclub adventures and early-morning walks…
Director Paul Downs Colaizzo. Screenwriter Paul Downs Colaizzo

Clemency

How do you salvage your marriage when you are struggling to salvage your soul, your sense of self, and your…
Director Chinonye Chukwu. Screenwriter Chinonye Chukwu

Hala

Hala is her father’s pride and joy. Dutiful and academically gifted, she skillfully navigates both her social life as a…
Director Minhal Baig. Screenwriter Minhal Baig

Honey Boy

When 12-year-old Otis starts to find success as a child television star in Hollywood, his ex-rodeo-clown father returns to serve…
Director Alma Har’el. Screenwriter Shia LaBeouf

Imaginary Order

For Cathy, life as she’s always known it seems to be slipping away. Her sense of significance is crumbling as…
Director Debra Eisenstadt. Screenwriter Debra Eisenstadt

Luce

It’s been ten years since Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) adopted their son from war-torn Eritrea,…
Director Julius Onah. Screenwriter JC Lee, Julius Onah

Ms. Purple

In the dark karaoke rooms of Los Angeles’s Koreatown stripmalls, Kasie works as a girl, a young hostess paid to…
Director Justin Chon. Screenwriter Justin Chon, Chris Dinh

Native Son

Bigger “Big” Thomas, a young African American man, lives with his mother and siblings in Chicago. Half-heartedly involved with a…
Director Rashid Johnson. Screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks

Share

After a night of partying, high-school sophomore Mandy discovers that a series of cell-phone videos of her—half-dressed and semiconscious—have gone…
Director Pippa Bianca. Screenwriter Pippa Bianco

The Farewell

After learning their beloved matriarch has terminal lung cancer, a family opts not to tell her about the diagnosis, instead…
Director Lulu Wang. Screenwriter Lulu Wang

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Jimmie Fails has one hope in life: to reclaim the majestic Victorian house his grandfather built. Every week, Jimmie and…
Director Joe Talbot. Screenwriter Joe Talbot, Rob Richert

Them That Follow

In the rugged wilderness of Appalachia, the members of an isolated community of Pentecostal snake handlers led by Pastor Lemuel…
Director Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage. Screenwriter Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage

The Sound of Silence

A self-taught scientist, Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) works in New York as a “house tuner”—a unique, highly specialized profession he’s invented….
Director Michael Tyburski. Screenwriter Ben Nabors, Michael Tyburski

To The Stars

In a god-fearing small town in 1960s Oklahoma, bespectacled and reclusive teen Iris endures the booze-induced antics of her mother…
Director Martha Stephens. Screenwriter Shannon Bradley-Colleary
US   D O C U M E N T A R Y  

Always in Season

Claudia Lacy wants answers. When her 17-year-old son, Lennon, was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina,…
Director Jacqueline Olive

American Factory

In 2014, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao factory in a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. For thousands…
Director Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert

APOLLO 11

NASA’s vaults open for the first time to spill this exquisite, never-before seen audio and 70 mm film footage of…
Director Todd Douglas Miller

Bedlam

is the first major documentary to explore the crisis in care of severely mentally-ill citizens. Set in Los Angeles,…
Director Kenneth Paul Rosenberg

David Crosby: Remember My Name

We’re all acquainted with archetypal rock bio-doc tropes: the unexpected rise to stardom, calamitous love affairs, a descent into drugs,…
Director A.J. Eaton

Hail Satan?

What kind of religious expression should be permitted in a secular nation? Holy hell, something is brewing! Just a few…
Director Penny Lane

Jawline

Austyn Tester—handsome and 17—feels oppressed by the confines of life in his small hometown in Tennessee. But in the online-streaming…
Director Liza Mandelup

Knock Down the House

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, bold Puerto Rican bartender from the Bronx, works double shifts to save her family’s home from…
Director Rachel Lears

Midnight Family

With striking vérité camerawork, drops us directly into the frenetic nighttime emergency ecosystem of Mexico City. In the midst of…
Director Luke Lorentzen

Mike Wallace Is Here

Deemed the “enemy of the people” by our current president, journalism in America is on the chopping block. Lies, fake…
Director Avi Belkin

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

Irene Taylor Brodsky builds on her powerful first feature (Audience Award winner at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival) by delving…
Director Irene Taylor Brodsky

One Child Nation

In order to expose rampant human-rights abuses, filmmaker Nanfu Wang fearlessly confronted Chinese government agents in her 2016 Sundance Film…
Director Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang

Pahokee

Four high-school students, Na’Kerria, Jocabed, Junior, and BJ, embark on their senior year in Pahokee, a small Florida town on…
Director Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan

TIGERLAND

In the span of only a handful of generations, the tiger has been transformed from a venerated creature with a…
Director Ross Kauffman

Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary

It begins as a documentary about “The Amazing Johnathan,” a uniquely deranged magician who built a career out of shock…
Director Ben Berman

Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Roy Cohn personified the dark arts of twentieth-century American politics, turning empty vessels into dangerous demagogues—from Senator Joseph McCarthy to…
Director Matt Tyrnauer
WORLD CINEMA   D R A M A T I C 

Dirty God

After a vicious acid attack leaves half her body covered in scars, Jade (Vicky Knight) must come to terms with…
Director Sacha Polak. Screenwriter Sacha Polak, Susanne Farrell

Divine Love

In the Brazil of 2027, where raves celebrate God’s love and drive-through spiritual-advice booths have become the norm, Joana holds…
Director Gabriel Mascaro
Screenwriter Gabriel Mascaro, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra, Lucas ParaÍzo

Dolce Fine Giornata

Maria Linde, a free-spirited, Jewish Polish Nobel Prize winner, lives in Tuscany surrounded by warmth and chaos in her family’s…
Director Jacek Borcuch. Screenwriter Jacek Borcuch, Szczepan Twardoch

Judy & Punch

In the rough-and-tumble town of Seaside (nowhere near the sea), villagers flock to Punch and Judy’s marionette theatre. Though Punch…
Director Mirrah Foulkes. Screenwriter Mirrah Foulkes

Koko-di Koko-da

Three years after their daughter Maja’s eighth birthday was interrupted by sudden tragedy, Elin and Tobias embark on a mirthless…
Director Johannes Nyholm. Screenwriter Johannes Nyholm

Monos

Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers, brandishing guns and war names like…
Director Alejandro Landes. Screenwriter Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos

Queen of Hearts

Anne, a successful lawyer, lives in a beautiful modernist home with her two daughters and physician husband, Peter. Yet when…
Director May el-Toukhy. Screenwriter Maren Louise Käehne, May el-Toukhy

The Last Tree

Femi, a British boy of Nigerian heritage, enjoys a happy childhood in Lincolnshire, where he is raised by doting foster-mother…
Director Shola Amo. Screenwriter Shola Amoo

The Sharks

Rosina ticks away the days of a restless summer in her sleepy beachside town until she sights an ominous dorsal…
Director Lucía Garibaldi, Screenwriter Lucía Garibaldi

The Souvenir

Between script pitches and camera setups, Julie hosts a film-school cohort party where she meets a mysterious man named Anthony….
Director Joanna Hogg. Screenwriter Joanna Hogg

This is not Berlin

As Mexico anticipates the 1986 World Cup, 17-year-old Carlos is less interested in soccer and more interested in listening to…
Director Hari Sama. Screenwriter Rodrigo Ordóñez, Hari Sama, Max Zunino

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

One sunny day, four young strangers—Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi, and Takemura—meet by chance at a crematorium. They have all recently lost…
Director Makoto Nagahisa. Screenwriter Makoto Nagahisa
WORLD CINEMA.  D O C U M E N T A R Y

Advocate

Israeli human-rights lawyer Lea Tsemel is a force that won’t be deterred. Having defended Palestinians against a host of criminal…
Director Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and most of the crew. . It’s understood…
Director Mads Brügger

Gaza

Facing the serene Mediterranean Sea, 17-year-old Karma Khaial stands at the water’s edge and senses freedom. But in Gaza, the…
Director Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell

Honeyland

In a deserted Macedonian village, Hatidze, a 50-something woman in a bright yellow blouse and green headscarf, trudges up a…
Director Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Lapü

On a windy night in the Colombian desert, a young Wayúu woman named Doris sleeps in her hammock and dreams…
Dirs Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes. Writers Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes, María Canela Reyes

Midnight Traveler

In 2015, after Hassan Fazili’s documentary aired on Afghan national television, the Taliban assassinated the film’s main subject and put…
Director Hassan Fazili. Writer Emelie Mahdavian

Sea of Shadows

The Sea of Cortez is facing total collapse because of a war at sea. Mexican drug cartels have discovered the…
Director Richard Ladkani

Shooting the Mafia

In the streets of Sicily, beautiful, gutsy Letizia Battaglia pointed her camera straight into the heart of the Mafia that…
Director Kim Longinotto

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire

Since his untimely death, Stieg Larsson has become one of the world’s most famous authors. His Millennium Trilogy— and its…
Director Henrik Georgsson. Screenwriter Henrik Georgsson

The Disappearance of My Mother

Benedetta Barzini is a revered Italian model who shattered stereotypes by becoming a journalist and professor and gained notoriety by…
Director Beniamino Barrese. Screenwriter Beniamino Barrese

The Edge of Democracy

Once a nation crippled by military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a…
Director Petra Costa. Screenwriter Petra Costa

The Magic Life of V

Wizards, magic spells, and heroic sword battles are just fantasy for some, but for Veera they’re a meaningful part of…
Director Tonislav Hristov. Screenwriter Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 24 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019 | PROGRAMME COURTESY OF THE SUNDANCE INSTITUTE 

London Korean Film Festival 2018

Launching its 13th edition, the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF2018) is back with a full programme of films and special events at various arthouse cinemas in the London area. 
Korea is regularly in the world news cycle of late due to some tense international political machinations. This year’s festival moves from this global outlook to an intimate view of the day-to-day lives and struggles of ordinary people. The Regent Street cinema will play host to this year’s Gala Premiere 1 November with Microhabitat Jeon Go-woon’s award-winning drama that follows the trials and tribulations of a female city worker in Seoul. There will also be a chance to see The Return that premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival 2018, and Hong Sang-soo’s Locarno 2018 Best Actor winner Hotel By the River. 
Celebrating its 13th Anniversary LKFF runs from 1- 14 November in London before taking highlights around the country with its annual UK Tour, the festival will feature an in-depth Special Focus entitled A Slice of Everyday Life, along with an exciting mix of UK and International premieres, guests and events across a diverse set of strands; Cinema Now, Women’s Voices, Indie Firepower, Contemporary Classics, Artists Video, Animation and Shorts.

KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | PROGRAMME 

Lajko in Space (2018) *** Warsaw Film Festival 2018

LAJKO – GYPSY IN SPACE (LAJKO – CIGANY AZ URBEN)

Dir.: Balazs Lengyel; Cast: Tamas Keresztes, JozsefGyabronka, Tibor Pallfy, Anna Boger, Bohdan Benink; Hungary 2018, 90 min.

Director/co-writer Balazs Lengyel shows no fear: his satire about the first man is Space – of course, a Hungarian, not Gagarin, as claimed by the Soviets – is a relentless attack on Stalinism, but the re-write of history is always funny, even if not always done in the best taste.

Young Lajko, a gypsy growing up in the Hungarian country site, has always been interested in Space travel. Unfortunately, one of his first attempts sends his Mum into space, together with the outdoor toilet. As a young man Lajko (Keresztes) has designed a moored balloon to take him into the stratosphere – but he ignores the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and is shot down by the Red Army. He is the victim of waterboarding, but his torturer has shot through too much money over the previous year, and is put in prison. Lajko can count on the help of his father Florian (Pallfy) and uncle Jeno (Gyabronka), the latter a party functionary. The three are sent to Baku, where the Soviet Space programme is being developed. Lajko has to compete with a Mongolian monk, a Baltic counter-revolutionary and Helga Mengele (Boger) to be the first one in Space. Helga is very upset, that “the good name of her father is by now forgotten”, even though he created ten different prototypes of an Aryan super-woman – of which she is the only survivor. When Brezhnev (Benink) arrives at the Space station, Florian steals his ring, and Jeno falls in love with the Soviet leader, admitting that he is gay for the first time. Lajko finally wins the race to be the first man in Space; meeting his mother there in the process. Needless to say, the beastly Russians put Lajko, Florian and Helga in a work camp (so that Gagarin can claim to be the winner), and poor uncle Jeno is shot dead, having just come to terms with being gay.

This is a romp, sometimes crude, but always enjoyable. DoPGyorgy Reder is very inventive, using different formats for the historical scenes, sometimes speeding up the tempo, like in silent movies. It is obvious that everyone had fun shooting this feature, and Lengyel always manages to keep the careering plot on the road. AS

SCREENING DURING WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL | 12-21 OCTOBER 2018

 

School’s Out | l’Heure de la Sortie (2018) **** LFF 2018

 

 

Dir.: Sebastian Marnier; Cast: Laurent Lafitte, Emmanuelle Bercot, Luana Bajrami, Victor Bonnel; France 2018, 103 min.

Sebastian Marnier follows his debut Irreproachable with an impressive adaption of Christophe Dufosse’s novel of the same name. Set in a posh secondary school, it has very much in common with John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, filmed twice as Village of the Dammed in 1960 and 1996.

Supply teacher Pierre Hoffman (Lafitte) is called to St. Joseph’s College, after his predecessor, Capadis, jumped out of the window during a lesson. Hoffman is soon confronted by a group of six very gifted students who have formed a secret society led by Apoline (Bajrami) and Dimitri (Bonnel). This lot don’t seem concerned about what happened to Capadis; they regularly meet in a disused quarry. to perform daring acts and beat each other up – they seem to be immune to pain. Apoline accuses Hoffman, who is gay, of fancying Dmitri. But this is really to get rid of Hoffman on the grounds of his collection of video tapes recording the group’s activities. One of Hoffman’s fellow teachers, a music instructor and choir mistress called Catherine (Bercot), seems to be the only teacher that understands the group. It emerges that her family were killed in a car accident, while she was driving. Dimitri and his group invade Hoffman’s privacy in revenge for him snooping on them. After the finals, the six hijack a bus in a bid to crash it into the quarry. Hoffman escapes by the skin of his teeth, but the stunning finale gives answers to the many questions which have piled up.

Shot by DoP Romain Carcanada, the visuals have a glacial quality, as if everything was set in a frozen climate, despite the stifling summer heat. But this seems to mimic the icy coolness of the group of six. Hoffman is shown as a tortured soul, detached and lacking in any real identity. Bajrami and Bonnel lead with a maturity well beyond their age in this tense and gripping thriller. AS

SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018

 

The Gospel According to André (2017) Mubi

Dir: Kate Novacek | US Biopic | 95′

Kate Novacek cuts André Leon Talley rather too much slack in this glowing portrait of the first black fashion editor of Vogue who rose from a modest upbringing in North Carolina to become the driving force of changing the face of fashion in Paris and New York, during the Jim Crowe era. The Gospel According André is very much that, with Talley projecting his own self image and Novacek rarely getting behind it.

Born in 1948, Talley’s grandmother was the abiding influence in his upbringing. Early interest in fashion came during Sunday’s church meetings, “the only time when Afro-American identity was re-affirmed. It was like a fashion show”, says Talley, who was particularly impressed by the hats worn by the female congregation members. An MA at Brown on a scholarship, led Talley to New York in 1974, where he was taken under the wing of Diana Vreeland, then editor of Vogue. He became a regular at Andy Warhol’s Studio 54 “the only person not interested in sex or drugs”. But Talley’s love life is a blank: he is quoted “the work left him little time for a partner”, and he chuckles when recalling how Vreeland was suspicious “that he’d slept with a white woman”. “If only she’d known”. This comment regarding his sexual orientation is a leading one. 

Nearly two metres tall, Talley stands out in any crowd, and his love of capes and kaftans gives him an air of an African prince. His was a meteoric rise through the ranks from Women’s Wear Daily and W between 1975 and 1980, he then became Fashion’s News director at ‘Vogue’ between 1983 and 1987 and its creative Director until 1995 when he moved to Paris for Vogue and W meeting Carl Lagerfeld and Yves St. Laurent. In 1998 he became Vogue’s Editor-at-large until 2013.

‘Operatic best’ describes his taste. He loved Visconti and one of his film-subjects, Sissi but also experimented with Gone With the Wind creating the first black Scarlet O’Hara. He wrote at length about Sandy Crawford’s appearance in a black veil, reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy. We hear a lot from other celebrities like Woopi Goldberg, Diane von Furstenberg and Anna Wintour, but somehow Talley is absent from this portrait – apart from what he wants to give away. Only once does Novack find an emotional moment, when Talley talks about being called “Queen Kong” in Paris; that seems to imply he could only make so many connections in the fashion world by sleeping around. Somehow a true trail-blazer like him deserves a more demanding approach, even if it means re-questioning him. And that would be another film. AS

Now on MUBI

 

Reinventing Marvin (2017) ***

Dir.: Anne Fontaine; Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Jules Porier, Gregory Gadebois, Catherine Mouchet, Charles Berling, Vincent Macaigne, Catherine Salée, Isabelle Huppert; France 2017, 115 min.

Director/co-writer Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) is one of the most diverse French directors, and Reinventing Marvin is again a step into new territory – this time an LGTB theme carried by a brilliant cast. Sometimes uneven, over-didactic and certainly too long, Reinventing Marvin is still a film to remember.

Fontaine switches for most of the narrative continuously between the youth of hero Marvin Bijou (Marvin Jewel in English) in a village in Northern France, and the more adult young man who makes a career on the Parisian stage having changed his name to Martin Clement. Young Marvin (Porier) has the most miserable of childhoods: his parents are at best neglectful, and at worse abusive: father Dany (Gadebois) calls him a faggot blaming the mother (Salée) for the boy’s effeminate behaviour. And his is older brother, an out-and out homophobic, is most aggressive towards Marvin. At school Marvin is mercilessly bullied and sexually abused. Coming to his aid is the principal, Madeleine Clement (Mouchet), who helps him discover his acting talents. After drama school the older Marvin (Oldfield) goes to Paris where, after his coming out, he meets theatre director Abel (Macaigne), who becomes sort of a surrogate father for him. Soon Marvin adds a sugar daddy to his collection of father-substitutes – the wealthy Roland (Berling) who introduces him to Isabelle Huppert, who partners him on stage, performing his play based on the rants of his real father, who provides for an eye-opening encounter in the denouement.

Based (but not credited) on the autobiography En finir avec Eddy Belleguele by the writer Edouard Louis, who also changed his name after an oppressive childhood, Reinventing Marvin is a rich tapestry of passion and fraught emotions. Avoiding melodrama, Fontaine steers her project with the right detachment, but falls into the trap of repeating and sermonising. DoP Yves Angelo uses a richly-hued palette for the countryside but his Paris images are foremost a melancholy brown. Both Porier and Oldfield are brilliant and Gadebois shines in all his scenes, showing just enough vulnerability behind his bully-mask. Somehow the introduction of Huppert rings slightly false – just one fairy tale too much. Even still, Reinventing Marvin is a heartfelt and convincing life story of change and rehabilitation. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 SEPTEMBER 2018

  

Venice Film Festival 2018 | La Biennale

Alberto Barbera has announced a stunning line-up of highly anticipated new features and documentaries in celebration of this year’s 71st edition of Venice Film Festival which takes place on the Lido from 28 August until 8 September 2018. 30% of this year’s films are made by women which sounds more positive. Obviously the festival can only programme films offered for screening.

The festival kicks off on the 28th with a remastered 1920 version of THE GOLEM – HOW HE CAME TO BE (ab0ve) complete with musical accompaniment. This year’s festival opening film is Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong FIRST MAN. There are 21 features and documentaries in the main competition which boasts the latest films from Olivier Assayas (a publishing drama DOUBLE LIVES stars Juliette Binoche), Jacques Audiard (THE SISTERS BROTHERS), Joel and Ethan Coen’s 6-part Western THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, Brady Corbet’smusical drama VOX LUX; Alfonso Cuaron with ROMA; Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA sees Tilda Swinton playing 3 parts; Mike Leigh (PETERLOO), Yorgos Lanthimos with an 18th drama entitled THE FAVOURITE; Carlos Reygadas joins from his usual Cannes slot; and Julian Schnabel will present AT ETERNITY’S GATE a drama attempting to get inside the head of Vincent Van Gogh. Not to mention Laszlo Nemes’ Budapest WW1 drama NAPSZÁLLTA, a much awaited second feature and follow up to his Oscar winning Son of Saul.

The out of competition selection is equally exciting and thematically rich. There is Bradley Cooper’s directing debut A STAR IS BORN (left), Charles Manson-themed CHARLIE SAYS from Mary Herron; Amos Gitai’s A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM, and Zhang Yimou’s YING (SHADOW). And those whose enjoyed S Craig Zahler’s dynamite Brawl in Cell Block 99 will be pleased to hear that his DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE adds Mel Gibson to the previous cast of Jennifer Carpenter and Vince Vaughn. There will be an historic epic set in the time of the French Revolution: UN PEUPLE ET SON ROI features Gaspart Ulliel and Denis Lavant (who also stars in Rick Alverson’s Golden Lion hopeful THE MOUNTAIN) , and Amir Naderi’s MAGIC LANTERN which has the wonderful English talents of Jacqueline Bisset. And talking of England, Mike Leigh’s much gloated over historical epic PETERLOO finally makes it to the competition line-up

Documentary-wise there’s plenty to enjoy: Amos Gitai’s brief but timely A LETTER TO A FRIEND IN GAZA; Francesco Patierno’s CAMORRA which explores the infamous Italian organisation; Frederick Wiseman this time plunders Monrovia, Indiana for his source material; multi-award winning Russian documentarian Viktor Kossalkovsky will present his latest water-themed work AQUARELA; Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa’s film for this year’s festival is PROCESS (he’s the Ukrainian answer to Michael Winterbottom in terms of his prodigious output) this time focusing on the myriad lies surrounding Stalinism.

Out of Competition there are also blasts from the past including a hitherto unseen drama directed and co-written by Orson Welles and his pal Oja Kodar, starring Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston; and Bosnian director Emir Kusturica is back after his rocky time On The Milky Road with EL PEPE, UNA VIDA SUPREMA. 

And Malaysian auteur Tsai Ming-liang also makes a welcome return to Venice with his drama YOUR FACE. A multi-award winning talent on the Lido, his 2013 Stray Dogs won the Special Grand Jury Prize and Vive l’Amour roared away with the Golden Lion in 1994 (jointly with Milcho Manchevski’s Pred dozhdot).

Venice has a been a pioneer of 3D and VR since the screening of GRAVITY which opened the festival in 2013 amid much mal-functioning of 3D glasses at the press screening, and this year’s VR features include an excerpt from David Whelan’s 1943: BERLIN BLITZ which will be released ithis Autumn. This VR showcase experience is an accurate retelling of the events which happened inside a Lancaster bomber during one of the most well documented missions of World War II using original cockpit audio recorded 75 years ago. The endeavour is expected to be released on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Oculus Go, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and Windows Mixed Reality platforms. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

 

 

M (2018) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

 

Dir: Yolande Zauberman | Doc | Israel/France | 103′

Entering the secret sexual world of Israel’s Hasidic Jewish community feels like a privilege and a revelation in this incendiary, no holds barred documentary premiering here at Locarno Film Festival.

According the findings of French filmmaker Yolande Zauberman a startling number of male kids in this orthodox religious community have undergone rape at the hands of their elders. Gaining  unprecedented access to the titular M, aka Menachem, a young Israeli man who we first meet on Tel Aviv beach at night, Zauberman unearths a history of abuse and family dysfunction leading to marriage breakdown that exposes the disturbing reality behind the silent facade of this tight-knit religious enclave. And it’s not just happening in Tel Aviv, Israel. This is a startling story that seems to connect with the narrative of sexual abuse across the ultra religious spectrum from Orthodox Judaism to Catholicism, and possibly beyond.

Speaking in a mixture of Hebrew and Yiddish, Menachem tells us how he grew up in Bnei Brak, just outside Tel Aviv. His mother was kind but never particularly affectionate, so when he started to attend Yeshiva (a religious school) and bathe in the mikvah (a cleansing pool) the elders’ attention seemed almost comforting to the young boy, until he realised what was going on. This led to problems with his marriage, and divorce. He now finds the company of Tel Aviv’s transsexuals easier to deal with as there is no emotional involvement. In a car journey with an Arab trans friend, the two compare the Hassidic stricture with being trapped inside the wrong body: both men needed to break away.

A talented cantor and a likeable but clearly troubled soul, Menachem opens up freely to the camera, finding the filming process a cathartic experience, empowering him to seek out his abusive elder, Akiva Katz, so he can obtain some kind of closure. The search for Akiva propels the narrative forward as more and more shockingly naive religious men join the conversation, glad to unburden themselves with their experiences, although many do not want to be filmed..

M is a tough and claustrophobic watch. This is in part due to Zauberman’s decision to film at night and at close quarters. Under the cover of darkness she finds people more relaxed and willing to share their feelings. “Does a woman have genitalia?” asks one young married man. Meanwhile in the background to these spontaneous (unscripted) discussions, orthodox families freely go about their business into the small hours, little kids in tow. This is a self-regulating society that seems locked in the Dark Ages, closeted away from the internet, social media and the modern world.

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

New Directors for the Berlinale

The Berlinale turns over a new leaf as Carlo Chatrian takes over as artistic director and Mariette Rissenbeek as executive director of the International Film Festival starting in 2020.

Carlo Chatrian, born in Turin in 1971, is a film journalist and has directed the Locarno Film Festival since 2013, where he has proved that he can successfully curate and lead an art house audience festival. He stands for an artistically ambitious mix of programming and for a focus on discovering new talents. He and the new executive director, Mariette Rissenbeek, will head the Berlinale starting in 2020. Mariette Rissenbeek (born in Posterholt, The Netherlands in 1956) has long headed German Films, the information and advising centre for the international distribution of German films, as managing director. Her successful career in the film industry makes her the ideal choice for this position: She has many years of experience in working with all the important film festivals around the world and has an extensive network of national and international contacts in the film industry.

BERLINALE 2019 | 7 – 17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) ***** | Bluray Limited Edition

Dir.: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Cast: Günter Lamprecht, Gottfired John, Barbara Sukowa, Hanna Schygulla; West Germany/Italy 1980, 940 min.

This captivating 15 hour odyssey is Fassbinder’s adaption of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel of the same name. It is the story of two men who can not admit their love for each other, and go on to destroy themselves and the women they become involved with. At the same time, it is a symbol of advancing Fascism in the Germany of the Weimar Republic – of which Döblin (1878-1957), a practising psychiatrist and novelist, became a victim himself, and was punished with emigration for being Jewish.

Berlin Alexanderplatz is often compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses and Don Passos’ Manhattan Transfer, two contemporary novels where the protagonists play a major part. Fassbinder has translated the associative structure of the text into an impressionistic portrait of the German capital, where half-sentences and poster texts mix with a permanent flowing traffic: a city which never sleeps, everything dazzles and glimmers. But the chaos of words, sounds and thoughts covers the growing infection with the Fascist bacillus, a regime which promised a new order of certainties.

Franz Biberkopf (Lamprecht) has just been released from prison, after serving four years for strangling his girl friend Ida. He is forbidden by the Police to live in certain areas of Berlin because the milieu might make a recidivist of him. Franz is working as a hawker, selling necktie holders, but he has not the gift for the gab, and finds it impossible to make ends meet, so he is talked into selling the Nazi newspaper Der Volkische Beobachter, even though some of his Jewish contacts warn him of the consequences. Unfortunately, Franz does not want to take on board their efforts to protect him and he sinks further and further into the negative influence of this misguided political movement, where robberies are supposed to benefit the NSDAP, but more often than not serve only the perpetrators. Franz gets to know his nemesis Reinhold (John), a sort of underground leader. Reinhold get quickly bored of his girlfriends, and Franz “inherits” them. One of them is Eva (Schygulla), who once worked for Franz on the streets of Berlin. But his true love is Mieze (Sukowa), who is only too glad to lose Reinhold as her pimp. But Reinhold is jealous of Franz’ chance of a happiness, and he murders Mieze, before throwing Franz from the back of a truck, after a robbery. Franz survives, but loses his right arm – ironically, he cannot perform the ‘Heil Hitler’ greeting anymore. An epilogue sees Franz recovering from his psychosis in a closed psychiatric ward where he suffers from nightmares: dreaming of the atomic bomb and other Armageddon-like events. In the end, he is prepared for work in a Fascist society, but becomes very much a prisoner of the system.

This impressive endeavour, described as the longest film in history at 900-plus minutes, is photographed brilliantly by Xaver Schwarzenbeger (Querelle, Lilli Marlen). With a cast and crew of over a hundred, most of them Fassbinder regulars – such as composer Peer Raaben and editor Juliane Lorenz – Berlin Alexanderplatz is the director’s greatest opus: the homoerotic element of German Fascism symbolised by the bi-polar love-hate relationship between Franz and Reinhold, causing (self) destruction first on a private, then on a worldwide level. AS

AVAILABLE from Second Sight as a LIMITED EDITION BLURAY BOXSET ON 23 JULY 2018 | Complete with a luxury 60 page perfect bound book. 

SPECIAL FEATURES FOR LIMITED EDITIONLimited edition deluxe box set (2000 copies only)

  • ‘Fassbinder: Love Without Demands’ – The acclaimed 2015 feature length documentary by ChristianBraad Thomsen
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz – A Visual Essay by Daniel Bird
  • ‘A Mega Movie and its Story’ documentary by Juliane Lorenz
  • ‘The Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz’
  • ‘The Restoration’ documentary including ‘before and after’
  • The Original Recaps
  • Berlinale 2007 trailer
  • 60-page perfect bound book featuring new essay by Cahiers Du Cinema’s Stephane du Mesnildot andarchive material by Wim Wenders, Thomas Elsasser and Christian Braad Thomsen

 

Pandora’s Box | Die Büchse der Pandora (1928)

Dir.: G.W. Pabst; Cast: Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, Carl Götz, Alice Roberts, Daisy d’Ora, Alice Roberts; Germany 1928, 135′.

Based on two plays by the German playwright Frank Wedekind (Earth Spirit/Pandora’s Box), there had been already a stage, screen and even musical version of the story, and Pabst, after having failed to find his ‘Lulu’ was about to cast Marlene Dietrich in the title role.

Luckily for him (and for the millions who have watched the feature), 22 year-old Louise Brooks (a trained dancer), his first choice, phoned from Hollywood just in time, to accept. Pabst had seen her in the role of a circus artist in Howard Hawks’ A Girl in every Port, and Paramount did not even answer his request to borrow her. Only after she quit Paramount ((“just for the hell of it”), did Bud Schulberg tell her that Pabst had offered her the part. She cabled Pabst her agreement immediately – Marlene Dietrich waiting in the director’s office.

Lulu (Brooks) is a mixture of modern femme fatale and a naïve child. Her allure and seductiveness is apparent from the get go when her lover, Dr. Peter Schön (Kortner) arrives. Meanwhile, her first pimp Schigolch (Götz) is hiding on the balcony of her flat. Schön is the editor of a big newspaper and engaged to the aristocratic beauty Charlotte (O’Ora). After spotting Schigolch, the disgusted publisher is delighted  that Lulu wants to star in a variety show, helped by Schigolch and the strongman Rodrigo Quast. But on the evening of the first night, Lulu has a tantrum: she is not going to perform in front of her lover’s fiancée. When Lulu seduces Schön, Charlotte and Schön’s adult son Alwa (Lederer), who is secretely in love with Lulu, enter through the backroom of he theatre. The editor has no choice now – he has to marry Lulu. On the night of their wedding there is a drunken scene in their boudoir involving Quast and Schigolch.  Lulu’s newly-wed husband, asks her to shoot herself, to save him from becoming a murderer – but in the struggle for the gun he is killed. Lulu is found guilt of manslaughter, but escapes with Alwa, Schilgoch and Quast. The trio soon runs out of money, ending up penniless in London, where Lulu meets her end at the hands of Jack the Ripper.

Not only did Pabst introduce Louise Brooks as the modern sex siren, he also casts, perhaps for the time in film history, a lesbian protagonist: Countess Anna Geschwitz (Roberts), who is, like all men, equally smitten by Lulu. But she is no wallflower – and even ends up murdering Quast, who wants to give Lulu away to the police for money.

Pandora’s Box was not successful at the box office, even German critic of the time Kracauer has nothing good to say: he considered Wedekind’s plays to be “really essays”, lifeless and lacking visual strength. In the USA, the film’s ending was changed: instead of being murdered, Lulu joins the Salvation Army.
Brooks would stay in Europe, starring next in Pabst’s Diary of a lost Girl, before returning to the USA, where she ended her screen career in 1938, becoming a writer. Pabst himself would never again reach the same heights, retuning to Nazi Germany in 1939, and ruining his reputation. But Pandora’s Box, a serendipitous meeting of chance and the unique historic constellation of culture, the Weimarer Republic, will live on forever. AS

A BFI RELEASE OF NEW 2K DCP OF THE MUNICH FILM MUSEUM’S DEFINITIVE 1997 RESTORATION, WITH SCORE BY PETER RABEN | OPENING AT THE BFI SOUTHBANK AND SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE ON 1 JUNE 2018

Edinburgh International Film Festival | 20 June – 1 July 2018

Artistic Director Mark Adams unveiled this year’s programme for Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), with 121 new features, including 21 world premieres, from 48 countries across the globe.

Highlights include Haifaa al-Mansour’s long-awaited follow-up to WadjdaMARY SHELLEY, with Elle Fanning taking on the role of Mary Wollstonecraft, the World Premiere of Stephen Moyer’s directorial debut, THE PARTING GLASS, starring Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, Denis O’Hare, Anna Paquin (who also produces), Rhys Ifans and Ed Asnerand an IN PERSON events with guests including the award-winning English writer and director David Hare, the much-loved Welsh comedian Rob Brydon and star of the compelling Gothic drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE, actor George MacKay, as well as the Opening and Closing Gala premieres of PUZZLE and SWIMMING WITH MEN.

BEST OF BRITISH

This year’s Best of British strand includes exclusive world premieres of Simon Fellows’ thriller STEEL COUNTRY, featuring a captivating performance from Andrew Scott as Donald, a truck driver turned detective; comedy classic OLD BOYS starring Alex Lawther; the debut feature of writer-director Tom Beard, TWO FOR JOY, a powerful coming-of-age drama starring Samantha Morton and Billie Piper; oddball comedy-drama EATEN BY LIONS; striking debut from writer and director Adam Morse, LUCID, starring Billy Zane and Sadie Frost; Jamie Adams’ British comedy SONGBIRD, featuring Cobie Smulders. Audiences can also look forward to a special screening of Mandie Fletcher’s delightfully fun rom-com PATRICK.

AMERICAN DREAMS 

This year the AMERICAN DREAMS strand has the quirky indie comedy UNICORN STORE, the directorialOscar-winning actress Brie Larson in which she stars alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Joan Cusack; the heart-warming HEARTS BEAT LOUD starring Nick Offerman; glossy noir thriller, TERMINAL, starring and produced by Margot Robbie and starring Simon Pegg and Dexter Fletcher; IDEAL HOME in which Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a bickering gay couple who find themselves thrust into parenthood; 1980s set spy thriller starring Jon Hamm, THE NEGOTIATOR; and PAPILLON, starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

Notable features include 3/4  Ilian Metev’s glowing cinema verity portrait of family life. Malgorzata Szumovska’s oddball drama MUG that explores the aftermath of a face transplant; Aida Begic’s touching transmigration tale NEVER LEAVE ME highlighting how young Syrian lives have been affected by war; actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent’s fourth feature DIVING, and Hannaleena Hauru’s thought-provoking THICK LASHES OF LAURI MANTYVAARA and the brooding and atmospheric drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth and Matthew Stagg.

WORLD PERSPECTIVES 

This offer a fascinating snapshot of developing world-cinema themes and styles such as BO Hu’s epic Chinese drama AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL; Berlinale award-winning South American dram THE HEIRESSESGIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY, a touching but darkly funny tale of a Chinese mother and daughter and Kylie Minogue starrer FLAMMABLE CHILDREN , a raucous comedy set in Aussie beachside suburbia in the 1970s. THE BUTTERFLY TREE starring Melissa George and Ben Elton’s THREE SUMMERS starring Robert Sheehan and set at an Australian folk music festival.

DOCUMENTARIES

This year’s EIFF programme features a strong musical theme from Kevin Macdonald’s illuminating biopic WHITNEY, about the life and times of superstar Whitney Houston; GEORGE MICHAEL: FREEDOM – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT narrated by George Michael himself and ALMOST FASHIONABLE: A FILM ABOUT TRAVIS directed by Scottish lead-singer Fran Healy. Audiences will be inspired by the creativity of Orson Welles in Mark Cousins’ THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES; HAL, a film portrait of the acclaimed 1970s director Hal Ashby; LIFE AFTER FLASH, a fascinating exploration into the life of actor Sam J. Jones.

DOWNRIGHT STRANGE

As the sun sets, audiences will be able to journey into the dark and often downright strange side of cinema, with a selection of genre-busting edge-of-your-seat gems including: the gloriously grisly psychosexual romp PIERCING starring Mia Wasikowska; the world premieres of Matthew Holness’ POSSUM and SOLIS staring Steven Ogg as an astronaut who finds himself trapped in an escape pod heading toward the sun; dark and bloody period drama THE MOST ASSASSINATED WOMAN IN THE WORLD and the futuristic WHITE CHAMBER starring Shauna Macdonald.

FOCUS ON CANADA 

The country focus for the Festival’s 72nd edition will be Canada, allowing audiences to take a cinematic tour of the country and its culture, offering insight as well as entertainment, from filmmakers new and already established. HOCHELAGA, LAND OF THE SOULS is an informative look at Quebec’s history; but possibly best to avoid the unconvincing FAKE TATTOOS opting instead for WALL, a striking animated essay about Israel from director Cam Christiansen and FIRST STRIPES a compelling look into the Canadian military from Jean-Francois Caissy.

Weather permitting, the Festival’s pop-up outdoor cinema event Film Fest in the City with Mackays (15 – 17 June) will kick off the festivities early, with the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival running from 20 June – 1 July, 2018.

Tickets go on sale to Filmhouse Members on Wednesday 23 May at 12noon and on sale to the public on Friday 25 May at 10am. www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

 

 

The Wound | Inxeba (2017)


Dir: John Trengrove | Writers: John Trengove, Thando Mgqolozana, Malusi Bengu | Cast: Nakhane Touré, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay Ncoyini (Kwanda) | DoP Paul Özgür | Music
João Orecchia |South Africa | 88 min · Colour

Best known for his TV series Hopeville and his short film iBhokhwe (The Goat) that tackled the subject of male circumcision, this is John Trengrove’s feature film debut and explores the experiences of a typical young factory worker in an extraordinary contemporary story that feels as if it could have taken place a hundred years ago. THE WOUND proves that an all-male environment can generate a dramatic range of tender and aggressive emotional expressions, where the taboo of homosexuality and masculinity are concerned.

Xolani (played by singer Nakhane Touré) is from the Xhosa, a South African tribe inhabiting the areas round Cape Town and the Eastern Cape. Every year he travels to a remote region in the mountains to take part and act as a care-giver in an annual circumcision ceremony. Women are not permitted to join the activities where the men paint their bodies in alarming designs using white ochre, as they immerse themselves in a coming of age rites of passage. One of the men Xolani meets is Kwanda, a middle class boy from Joburg undergoing his initiation, sensitive and perceptive, the young man quickly picks up on Xolani’s own homosexual identity.

This a gripping and immersive film that slowly generates tension from the mens’ needs to comply with their traditional environment while also satisfying their own emotional and sexual impulses. It gradually emerges that the melancholy Xolani is also there to cement his rather one-sided relationship with fellow married care-giver Vijami. But contrary to our expectations, Kwanda actually supports Xolani’s secret and idolatrous bond with Vijami rather than exposing him, adding another twist to this textured storyline. The magnifcent scenery, compelling narrative and subtle characterisations make this a watchable drama and a strong directorial debut for Trengrove. THE WOUND would make in interesting companion piece to Ousmane Sembene’s female circumcision story MOULAADE. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 27 APRIL 2018 | NAKANE IS PROMOTING HIS NEW ALBUM ‘YOU WILL NOT DIE’

 

 

 

 

Sundance London 2018 | 31 May – 3 June

Once again Robert Redford brings twelve of the best indie feature films that premiered in Utah this January, with opportunities to talk to the filmmakers and cast in a jamboree that kicks off on the long weekend of 31 May until 3 June.

Desiree Akhavan picked up the Grand Jury Prize for her comedy drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post in the original US festival, and seven films are directed by women along with a thrilling array of female leads on screen, and this year’s festival champions their voices with Toni Collette (Hereditary) amongst the stars to grace this glittering occasion taking place in Picturehouse Central, Leicester Square. Robert Redford will also be in attendance.

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (Director: Jim Hosking,

Screenwriters: Jim Hosking, David Wike) – Lulu Danger’s unsatisfying marriage takes a fortunate turn for the worse when a mysterious man from her past comes to town to perform an event called ‘An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn For One Magical Night Only’.

Principal cast: Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jemaine Clement, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson

Eighth Grade (Director/Screenwriter: Bo Burnham) – Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school.

Principal cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Generation Wealth (Director: Lauren Greenfield) – Lauren Greenfield’s postcard from the edge of the American Empire captures a portrait of a materialistic, image-obsessed culture. Simultaneously personal journey and historical essay, the film bears witness to the global boom–bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of late stage capitalism, narcissism and greed.

Principal cast: Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel

Half the Picture (Director: Amy Adrion) – At a pivotal moment for gender equality in Hollywood, successful women directors tell the stories of their art, lives and careers. Having endured a long history of systemic discrimination, women filmmakers may be getting the first glimpse of a future that values their voices equally.

Principal cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jamie Babbit, Emily Best

Hereditary (Director/Screenwriter: Ari Aster) – After their reclusive grandmother passes away, the Graham family tries to escape the dark fate they’ve inherited.

Principal cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro

Leave No Trace (Director: Debra Granik, Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini) – A father and daughter live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. A small mistake tips them off to authorities sending them on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own.

Principal cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Director: Desiree Akhavan, Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele) –1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel.

Principal cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle.

Never Goin’ Back (Director/Screenwriter: Augustine Frizzell) –Jessie and Angela, high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what!!!

Principal cast: Maia Mitchell, Cami Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb

Skate Kitchen (Director: Crystal Moselle, Screenwriters: Crystal Moselle, Ashlihan Unaldi) – Camille’s life as a lonely suburban teenager changes dramatically when she befriends a group of girl skateboarders. As she journeys deeper into this raw New York City subculture, she begins to understand the true meaning of friendship as well as her inner self.

Principal cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams

The Tale (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Fox) – An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story.

Principal cast: Laura Dern, Isabelle Nélisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common

Yardie (Director: Idris Elba, Screenwriters: Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman) – Jamaica, 1973. When a young boy witnesses his brother’s assassination, a powerful Don gives him a home. Ten years later he is sent on a mission to London. He reunites with his girlfriend and their daughter, but then the past catches up with them. Based on Victor Headley’s novel.

Principal cast: Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Stephen Graham, Fraser James, Sheldon Shepherd, Everaldo Cleary

SURPRISE FILM! Following on from last year’s first ever surprise film, the hit rap story Patti Cake$, Sundance Film Festival: London will again feature a surprise showing.  No details as yet, but it was a favourite among audiences in Utah, and with just one screening this will be among the hottest of the hot tickets. The title will be revealed only when the opening credits roll. My bets are on Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, which picked up the World Cinema Audience Award back in January; or possibly Rudy Valdez’ drug documentary The Sentence, or it could even be Burden, which took the US Dramatic Audience Award for its story of a love affair between a villain and a woman who saves his soul. 

SUNDANCE LONDON RUNS FROM 31 MAY – 3 JUNE 2018 | TICKETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion and Disco (2017)****

Dir.: James Crump; Documentary with Antonio Lopez, Juan Ramos, Corey Tippin, Karl Lagerfeld, Jessica Lange; USA 2017, 90 min.

James Crump (Black White + Gray) pays homage to one of the most original fashion illustrators of the last century: Antonio Lopez (1943-1987), who, together with his creative partner Juan Ramos (1942-1995) revolutionised not only the way fashion designers and illustrators worked together, but how they discovered models like Jerry Hall and Grace Jones, who might otherwise have never become world famous.

Meeting at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology in the 60s, and pair set up shop in a studio above Carnegie Hall. Antonio was the extrovert artist, Juan the “art director” who stood behind his creative partner to provide structure and ideas. Although both men came from Puerto Rico, the were products of their unique New York milieu: Antonio grew up in Brooklyn and Juan in Harlem. Max’s Kansas Hotel and Hotel Chelsea feature heavily here. As does Andy Warhol who was a rival for a long time, before he exchanged portraits with Juan.

Their social ‘sets’ were strictly separated, with the exception of Donna Jordan. One could not think of more different characters: Warhol, the observer who waited until a situation developed, and Lopez, who worked for hours feverishly, needing only his muses like Jessica Lange, Patti D’Arbanville and Grace Jones (to name a few) for inspiration – and Juan for “editing”. Lopez brought fashion to a new level: streetwise, sexy and extravagant. At a time when counter-culture exploded these were heady times: the LGBT movement was new on the scene, and the Vietnam War brought millions of protesters onto the street. The bi-sexual Antonio was a “sex machine”,  changing partners on a regular basis, but often staying friends. His relationship with Jerry Hall – the two even got “married”, was one of the most enduring.

In 1969 Antonio and Juan moved with their entourage to Paris, where they worked with Carl Lagerfeldt, an intimate enemy of Yves-Saint Laurent. The duo helped Lagerfeld to establish a pret-a-porter culture, signalling the end of the classical fashion industry – particularly the mannequins, who had hardly moved on the catwalk, walking at funeral pace. Antonio’s fashion models danced like disco queens. Racial taboos were broken too: Pat Cleveland was perhaps the first ever black super model.

Given access to Lopez drawings, photographs, 8-mm and 16-mm films by the designer’s heir, Paul Caranicas, Crump has realised the fantasy of his teenage years in rural Indiana, “when Lopez magical life and milieu aroused me to no end and made me fantasize about the early 1970 in New York and Paris”.

With music by Donna Summer, Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes, this feature is a hell of a ride: the dawn of a new style of living, the innocence of this first generation, who challenged gender as well as art, their innocence and unawareness of the future would bring Aids, and both Antonio and Juan would become victims. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL | GENERAL RELEASE 30 March 2018

Battle of the Sexes (2017) | **** | Bfi Flare Film Festival

Dir: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton | Writer: Simon Beaufoy | Cast: Steve Carell, Emma Stone | Sport Biopic
Emma Stone and Steve Carell star as sparkling adversaries in this colourful period recreation of the legendary 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King that made public her fight for equality in women’s tennis.

Battle of the Sexes engagingly captures the zeitgeist of the era focusing on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which was a turning point in the politics of their game, flagging up a protest over the pay gap between men and women on the professional circuit. Scripted by Academy Award winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes is a fitting tribute to that iconic moment.

Stone is impressive in the role of King who had decided to fund her own tour with Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) as her manager. Carell plays the suitably back-footed Riggs whose finances were depleted since his previous championship. His troubled emotional life also haunts his game and he misguidedly proffers a publicity stunt in the shape of a challenge involving a $100,000 winner-take-all match.

Beaufoy’s script cleverly contrasts the game’s blatant sexuality during a ‘pioneering era of sexual revolution’ with King’s extraordinary talent as a player – along with likes of other female champions of the time such as Yvonne Goolagong and Virginia Wade. MT

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL 21 MARCH – 1 APRIL 2018 

 

BFI Flare Film Festival | 21 March – 1 April 2018

London is the setting for the UK’s longest running LGBTQ film event which began in 1986 as Gay’s Own Pictures. Since then it has also become the largest LGBTQ film event in the UK with this year’s edition boasting 56 feature films, an expanded industry programme, selected films on BFI Player VOD service, and a series of special events and archive screenings. With its partner fiveFilms4freedom it offers LGBT short films for free across the world and promoted through the British Council’s global networks.

Opening the festival this year is Talit Shalom-Ezer’s poignant lesbian love story MY DAYS OF MERCY written by Joe Barton, who scripted TV’s Troy, and featuring Kate Mara and Ellen Page. The European premiere of moral fable POSTCARDS FROM LONDON is the closing gala, telling a revealing story of a suburban teenager (Harris Dickinson) arriving in the West End where he falls in with a gang of high class male escorts ‘The Raconteurs’. Set in a vibrant, neon-lit, imaginary vision of Soho, the film works as a beautifully shot homage to the spirit of Derek Jarman and a celebration of the homo-erotic in Baroque art, and is Steve McLean’s long-awaited follow-up to his 1994 Sundance and Indie Spirit-nominated drama POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA. This year ‘Second Chance Sunday offers the opportunity to watch the on-demand repeat screenings of the audience festival favourites.

Other films to look out for are Rupert Everett’s Oscar Wilde-themed passion project THE HAPPY PRINCE in which he also stars alongside Colin Firth and Emily Watson. Robin Campillo’s rousing celebration of AIDS activism 120 BPM. MAURICE, a sumptuous restoration of the 1987 adaptation of E M Forster’s gay novel starring James Wilby and Rupert Graves. THE WOUND, an illuminating South African story of initiation in a rural village.

On the documentary front it’r worth seeing TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS that explores how a transgender Alzheimer’s patient deals with the harrowing inevitable, and ANTONIO LOPEZ 1970 a compelling and vibrant portrait of the bisexual illustrator who changed the fashion world. 

Avant-garde Berlinale Teddy feature HARD PAINT presents a startlingly cinematic look at how a college drop-out deals with his needs, and Locarno favourite, a saucy Sao Paolo-set vampire drama GOOD MANNERS approaches its love story with hand-crafted tenderness and visual allure.

There will also be another chance to see Francis Lea’s Berlinale awarded GOD’S OWN COUNTRY; Billie Jean King’s thrilling account of her fight for equality in women’s tennis BATTLE OF THE SEXES and the one of the best films of 2017 CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. 

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL | LONDON 21  March – 1 April www.bfi.org.uk/Flare

 

 

A Fantastic Woman * * * (2017) | Bfi Flare Film Festival 2018

Dir: Sebastián Lelio | Chile / USA / Germany / Spain | Spanish | Drama | 104′ · Colour

A story of love and loss is a wrapped around a gutsy portrait of transgender alienation in Sebastian Lelio’s fifth feature and follow-up to his Golden Bear winner Gloria. It has won him considerable acclaim including an Oscar (2018) since its Silver Bear win at Berlinale 2017.

Suave middle class business man Orlando (Francisco Reyes) has left his attractive wife for a strong-jawed woman 20 years his junior. Marina (Daniela Vega) is a talented singer and transgender. After a romantic birthday celebration together the two return home where Orlando is taken ill and dies on the way to hospital. This is naturally a terrible shock for Marina but nothing compared with what is to come in the aftermath of the tragedy. The whole family are clearly threatened by Marina’s sexual identity and the way Orlando has abandoned them. Soon she is under police scrutiny and vilified by all his family who want her out of his home and barred from the funeral tribute.

Daniela Vega gives an impressive central performance venting powerful expression to the full emotional spectrum experienced by the newly bereaved, as well as humiliation over the treatment she receives from his family. Marina is not a particularly likeable character – the strong and convincing support cast even less so – but she expresses dignity and forbearance given the circumstances and the acts of cruelty that follow. This is a watchable and intriguing drama where once again Lelio displays a natural understanding of female characters who are at odds with mainstream society in contemporary Chile. Santiago provides a lush backdrop to the action and the musical choices suffuse the film with a melancholy that permeates through to the final resonating scene. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL ON 1 ST APRIL 2018

The Happy Prince (2018) *** Berlinale 2018

Dir: Rupert Everett | Cast: Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Emily Watson

Rupert Everett has made no secret of his appreciation for the British playwright Oscar Wilde having played him in various film and stage adaptations with The Happy Prince being the latest. His debut as director and writer draws comparisons with the theatre outing The Judas Kiss where the focus is Wilde’s controversial relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas – better known as Bosie – a crime that led to several years in a hard larbour camp for which the writer received a posthumous pardon last year.

Taking its title from Wilde’s fairy tale parable about the friendship between a statue and a swallow finding the Kingdom of Heaven after sacrificing their worldly treasures – Wilde is pictured in the opening scene reading this bedtime story to his children in flashback, and at the end, to his protégées, a pair of French urchins (Benjamin Voisin and Matteo Salamone).

In between Everett avoids a straightforward narrative opting for an impressionistic hagiographic hotpotch of visually alluring vignettes that follow Everett’s Wilde as the self-indulgent raconteur of his own decadent final years as a raddled Victorian roué in exile roaming the flesh pots of France and Italy on a flight of fancy, courtesy of a generous allowance from his estranged and undeservedly berated wife Constance (Emily Watson). During this interlude, Wilde emerges as a bloated narcissistic lush mourning his unfinished love affair with the rather fey Bosie (Colin Morgan), while dallying with the more reasonable Robbie Ross, his literary agent. He eventually reunites with Bosie in scenes that suggest their affair is fired as much by lust as by mutual understanding. Everett makes the decision to flip from French to English accentuating the rather pretentious tone of the piece and detracting from the moments of coruscating wit that pepper Wilde’s caustic repartee.

Although the result is an ethereal feast for the eyes this is a film far too floaty and dramatically unsubstantial to sustain the attention for its 103 minutes, despite some sterling underpinnings from Everett himself, Colin Firth as Wilde’s old habitué Reggie Turner and a thoughtful but underwritten Emily Watson. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 18 June 2018 | Berlinale 2018 review

The Ice King (2018)* * * *

Dir.: James Erskine; Documentary with John Curry, Heinz Wirz, Christa Fassi, Robin Cousins; UK 2017, 88’.

James Erskine’s documentary of the life of British ice-skater John Curry (1949-1994) is told as a classical Greek tragedy – which in many was it really was. Over one thousand letters by Currie and many witnesses tell a story of sporting triumph and a lonely private life leading to premature death due to complications of HIV and Aids.

Born in Birmingham, John suffered from an abusive father who forbade him ballet lessons, and continuously told him “something is wrong with you”. Luckily, John was allowed to take ice skating lessons, since this counted as a sporting activity. John’s father committed suicide when his son was fifteen. Soon John’s talent required him to leave Great Britain, to train in the USA with Carlo and Christa Fassi, a wealthy patron sponsoring his move. The British Ice-skating authorities ware not very helpful, they reminded Curry “not to skate so graceful”. Whilst male ice skating had for a long time been a mixture of running fast and jumping high, Curry innovated the sport by incorporating ballet moves in his free skate programme, a fore-runner of the Torvil/Dean partnership. In 1976 Curry won the European and World Championship and the highlight of his career, the Olympic Gold Medal in Innsbruck. He outed himself as gay shortly afterwards, and retired from the sport, to found his own Skating Company, performing in a West End Theatre and the Royal Albert Hall in 1984. World renown choreographers like Kenneth McMillan were instrumental in Curry’s success. “Scheherazade” (1980), was a great success, but “MoonSkate”, performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1984, was certainly the artistic highpoint of his latter career. Financially, not everything worked out, and Curry also became known to be a difficult director of his shows, particularly with female members of the cast. In 1987 he contracted HIV, and four years later Aids. Before living the final years of his life with his mother, his swansong on ice was a all male show of “The Blue Danube” to the music of Johann Strauss II.

Whilst his professional peers from the amateur days speak highly of Curry, such as Christa Fassi (“He was never a problem, we became friends”) and Robin Cousins (“He revolutionised the sport”). The ice-skater Heinz Wirz, who had an relationship early on with Currie, but stayed a friend and pen partner for the rest of the latters life, tells of Curry’s loneliness. It seems, that he wanted the perfect relationship, like the perfect skating troupe – and neither materialised. He also showed signs of bi-polar, certainly related to his deeply unhappy childhood. Erskine too often oversteps the borders of objectivity and delivers an hagiographic approach, which sits uneasily with the audience, since Curry was certainly not only the victim of others, but was unable to come to terms with the human fragilities of others, expecting always perfection on all levels. THE ICE KING is a moving document of the man who changed ice-skating for the better, and whose Ice Shows were a spectacular delight.AS

SHOWING AT BERTHA DOCHOUSE FROM 23 FEBRUARY 2018

https://youtu.be/gEOUyzi6zeE

 

Berlinale Competition titles | 15-25 February 2018

The Berlin Film Festival  – Competition line-up complete

Directors including Benoit Jacquot, Gus Van Sant, Alexey German Jr, Małgorzata Szumowska, Thomas Stuber and Laura Bispuri will compete in this year’s Competition while Isabel Coixet and Lars Kraume feature in the Berlinale Special strand.

Berlinale will open for the first time with an animation feature, Isle of Dogs, by Wes Anderson, in a dazzling line-up of World premieres starring the likes of Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black. For Alexei German Jr, this is his second Berlin’s competition title since Under Electric Clouds in 2015. He returns with a feature that follows several days in the life of Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov.

Jacquot’s thriller Eva, played by Isabelle Huppert, a playwright encounters a mysterious woman when he takes shelter in a chalet during a violent snowstorm. The feature is based on James Hadley Chase’s novel Eve is the sixth time the French director Jacquot and Huppert have worked together. Jeanne Moreau originally played her part in a 1962 adaptation directed by Joseph Losey. This latest version World premieres at Sundance in January. Stuber’s drama In The Aisles stars Toni Erdmann actress Sandra Hüller, while Bispuri’s drama Daughter Of Mine, explores a young girl’s relationship with both her biological and adoptive mothers. This is the second time Alexei German Jr’s work plays in competition since his 2015 feature Under Electric Clouds.

Meanwhile, Coixet’s drama The Bookshop sees British Actress Emily Mortimer playing a woman who decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop, a decision which becomes a political minefield.

Competition Line-up

U – 22 July (Norway) 

Dir: Erik Poppe (The King’s Choice)

Cast: Brede Fristad, Ada Eide, Andrea Berntzen, Ingeborg Enes

World Premiere

7 Days in Entebbe | USA/UK |

Dir: José Padilha (The Elite Squad, Garapa) |

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Daniel Brühl, Eddie Marsan, Lior Ashkenazi, Denis Menochet, Ben Schnetzer

World premiere – Out of competition

Ága | Bulgaria/Ger/France

Dir: Milko Lazarov (Otchuzhdenie) | Cast:Mikhail Aprosimov, Feodosia Ivanova, Galina Tikhonova, Sergey Egorov, Afanasiy Kylaev | World premiere – Out of competition

Ang panahon ng halimaw (Season of the Devil) | Philippines

Dir: Lav Diaz (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, The Woman Who Left)

Cast: Piolo Pascual, Shaina Magdayao, Pinky Amador, Bituin Escalante, Hazel Orencio, Joel Saracho, Bart Guingona, Angel Aquino,  | World premiere

Museo (Museum) | Mex | Dir Alonso Ruizpalacios (Güeros)

Cast: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro, Simon Russell Beale, Bernardo Velasco, Leticia Brédice, Ilse Salas, Lisa Owen
World premiere

 

Unsane  | USA
By Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, The Good German)

Dir: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Aimee Mullins, Amy Irving

World premiere – Out of competition

3 Tage in Quiberon 3 DAYS IN QUIBERON  

Germany / Austria / France
Dir: Emily Atef (Molly’s Way, The Stranger In Me)
With Marie Bäumer, Birgit Minichmayr, Charly Hübner, Robert Gwisdek, Denis Lavant
World premiere

 

Black 47 
Ireland / Luxembourg
By Lance Daly (Kisses, The Good Doctor)
With Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, Sarah Greene, Jim Broadbent
World premiere – Out of competition

Damsel 
USA
By David Zellner, Nathan Zellner (Kid-Thing, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter)
With Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Robert Forster, Joe Billingiere | International premiere

 

Eldorado – Documentary
Switzerland / Germany
By Markus Imhoof (The Boat Is Full, More Than Honey)
World premiere – Out of competition

 

Las herederas (The Heiresses)
Paraguay / Germany / Uruguay / Norway / Brazil / France
By Marcelo Martinessi
With Ana Brun, Margarita Irún, Ana Ivanova
World premiere – First Feature

 

Khook (Pig)
Iran
By Mani Haghighi (Modest Reception, A Dragon Arrives!)
With Hasan Majuni, Leila Hatami, Leili Rashidi, Parinaz Izadyar, Ali Bagheri
World premiere

 

La prière (The Prayer)
France
By Cédric Kahn (Red Lights, Wild Life)
With Anthony Bajon, Damien Chapelle, Alex Brendemühl, Louise Grinberg, Hanna Schygulla
World premiere

Toppen av ingenting (The Real Estate)
Sweden / United Kingdom
By Måns Månsson (The Yard, Mr Governor), Axel Petersén (Avalon)
With Léonore Ekstrand, Christer Levin, Christian Saldert, Olof Rhodin, Carl Johan Merner, Don Bennechi
World premiere

Touch Me Not
Romania / Germany / Czech Republic / Bulgaria / France
By Adina Pintilie (Don’t Get Me Wrong)
With Laura Benson, Tómas Lemarquis, Christian Bayerlein, Grit Uhlemann, Hanna Hofmann, Seani Love, Irmena Chichikova
World premiere – First Feature

Transit
Germany / France
By Christian Petzold (Yella, Barbara, Phoenix)
With Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman, Maryam Zaree, Barbara Auer, Matthias Brandt, Sebastian Hülk, Emilie de Preissac, Antoine Oppenheim
World premiere

 

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot  USA

By Gus Van Sant (Milk, Promised Land) | With Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black, Udo Kier

World premieres at Sundance.

 

Dovlatov | Russian Federation / Poland / Serbia | World Premiere | Director: Alexey German Jr. (Paper Soldier, Under Electric Clouds | With Milan Maric, Danila Kozlovsky, Helena Sujecka, Artur Beschastny, Elena Lyadova

World premiere

 

Eva | France | World Premiere | Director: Benoit Jacquot (Three Hearts, Diary of a Chambermaid)  | With Isabelle Huppert, Gaspard Ulliel, Julia Roy, Richard Berry

World premiere

 

Figlia mia (Daughter of Mine) | Italy / Germany / Switzerland |  Director: Laura Bispuri (Sworn Virgin)  With Valeria Golino, Alba Rohrwacher, Sara Casu, Udo Kier | World premiere

 

In den Gängen (In the Aisles) | Germany | World Premiere | Director: Thomas Stuber (Teenage Angst, A Heavy Heart) | With Franz Rogowski, Sandra Hüller, Peter Kurth

 

 

Mein Bruder heißt Robert und ist ein Idiot  | Germany | World Premi| Direction: Philip Gröning (Into Great Silence, The Police Officer’s Wife | With Josef Mattes, Julia Zange, Urs Jucker, Stefan Konarske, Zita Aretz, Karolina Porcari, Vitus Zeplichal

Twarz (Mug) | Poland | Director: Małgorzata Szumowska (In the Name of, Body) | World Premiere  | With Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Małgorzata Gorol, Roman Gancarczyk, Dariusz Chojnacki, Robert Talarczyk, Anna Tomaszewska, Martyna Krzysztofik

World Premiere

 Berlinale Special Gala

The Bookshop  | Spain / United Kingdom / Germany Premiere | Director: Isabel Coixet (Things I Never Told You, My Life Without Me, The Secret Life of Words | With Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson

 

 

 

Das schweigende Klassenzimmer (The Silent Revolution) | Germany | Word Premiere | Director: Lars Kraume (The People vs. Fritz Bauer) | With Leonard Scheicher, Tom Gramenz, Lena Klenke, Jonas Dassler, Florian Lukas, Jördis Triebel, Michael Gwisdek, Ronald Zehrfeld, Burghart Klaußner

Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

 

 

Gurrumul – Documentary
Australia
By Paul Williams
International premiere – Debut film
In Cooperation with NATIVe

Viaje a los Pueblos Fumigados – Documentary
Argentina
By Fernando Solanas (The Hour Of The Furnaces, Tangos, The Exile Of Gardel, Memoria del saqueo – A Social Genocide)
World premiere

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 15 -25 FEBRUARY 2018 | COMPETITION TITLES

 

Michael (1924) | New 2k Bluray release

Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Writer: Thea von Harbou | Silent | 90′

Danish auteur Carl Theodor Dreyer is best known for his five major films made over a protracted career of 40 years from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr (1932), Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955) and Gertrud (1964). His output was hampered by lack of financing due to his unique cinematic vision which was viewed as  uncommercial and his perfectionism often made him unpopular to work with. But the result is an intensely stylish studies of human crisis or religious conviction.

The German drama MICHAEL (Mikael) was one such psychological drama exploring three characters involved in a love triangle. Variously released as Chained (in the US)  and The Story of the Third Sex, a more candid allusion to the film’s homosexual subtext, it features a mesmerising performance from Benjamin Christensen as “The Master,” an artist of international fame for his portrait of an art student Mikael (the sylthe-like Walter Slezak/Lifeboat), who awakens latent feelings of illicit desire while the two are tousling for the affections of an impoverished duchess who comes to have her portrait painted (the luminous Nora Gregor/The Rules of the Game). Such is the intensity of their smouldering rivalry that when The Master dies suddenly, Mikael comes under extreme public scrutiny as the perpetrator in his demise although it later emerges that he died from natural causes. This dreamlike silent drama leads on to a subtle subplot involving another tortured ménage à trois.

Filmed on a magnificent studio set, and in intimate close-ups where the characters often appear as if in a halo, silhouetted against the mysterious darkness, the piano accompaniment lends a sinister almost ghostly tension to the story. The meticulous camera moves with stealth drawing us in to the intrigue while maintaining an unsettling distance. Passion glows but never sizzles in Rudolph Mate and Karl Freund’s cinematography, Freund has his only role as an actor, in vignette, as an jovial art dealer. The film was scripted by Dreyer with Fritz Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou (Metropolis, M), based on Herman Bang’s 1902 novel Mikaël. A real treat avant-garde gem.MT

Masters of Cinema  presents MICHAEL for the first time ever on Blu-ray | 12 February 2018

God’s Own Country (2017) | Bfi Flare Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Francis Lee; Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart; UK 2017, 104 min.

Francis Lee’s feature debut is often hard watch to watch. This dour and utterly realistic portrayal of a gay relationship in the Yorkshire countryside does not spare humans or animals. But in spite of the gloominess of landscape and relationships, Lee allows a chink of sunlight into this country-noir.

Johnny Saxby (O’Connor) is a lost soul: he works for his stroke-impaired father Martin (Hart) on the family farm, his mother (Gemma Jones) watching his every step. The only entertainment is alcohol and quick sexual encounters in the pub toilet. Josh resents the world – but not as much as himself. Enter Gheorghe (Secareanu), a Romanian farm worker, hired to help Josh with the overbearing tasks of looking after the varied livestock and the land. Josh might be a country yokel, but he knows how to provoke Gheorghe at their first meeting: he calls him a Gypsy – but Gheorghe, who speaks near perfect English, wrestles him to the ground showing he’s no pushover. Gheorghe comes from a farming family experience and shows imagination and knowledge whilst saving a new-born lamb, Josh warms to him, and after yet another wrestling match in the mud, the two become lovers. With his mother growing more and more suspicious of the two young men, Josh’s father suffers a second stroke, leaving him bedridden for good. Stressed out, Josh takes up again with one of his casual lovers, but is caught in flagrante by Gheorghe, who leaves the farm.

DoP Joshua James Richards (Songs my Brother taught Me) beautifully captures the dappled Yorkshire countryside – always changing from light to shadow in support of the moody narrative. O’Connor is brilliant as Johnny, showing both vulnerability and brutal aggression. Secareanu is his equal: his Gheorghe is a much more developed personality than Johnny, but he is traumatised by the events in his homeland – one can only guess how homosexuals are treated in rural Romania, but we don’t know that he is not bisexual. Josh’s parents are trying to hold everything together, but in the end, they are both totally dependent on their son. So Josh, for the first time, gets a chance to be his own master.

God’s own Country has, in contrast with many contemporary British films, an intricate narrative, and a proper dramatic arc: Lee, who grew up on a farm in Yorkshire, directs with assurance, never rushing anything; incorporating the gloomy landscape into the human mire. A great character study, and a visual feast, even though some more delicate souls might have to close their eyes now and again. MT

Screening during Bfi Flare on 1st April |ON BLURAY AND DVD FROM 29 JANUARY 2018

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) | Bluray dual format release

Dir: Billy Wilder | Writers: I A I Diamond, Billy Wilder | Comedy drama | US |

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a triumph largely due to the wittily elegant repartee that Wilder wrote with I A I Diamond for Robert Stephen’s world weary Holmes and his sidekick Watson, played by Colin Blakely. Teetering on the edge of romantic drama the film delicately suggests, in an jokey endearing way, that the sleuthing duo are also a gay partnership, an assertion that Watson fiercely seems to refute, deeply concerned for his public reputation. But their status is somehow left gently in the ether in a clever scene where Holmes wants to disentangle himself from siring a child for a Russian ballerina. And later when Watson asks him if he can prove his sexuality via female conquests: “There have been women, haven’t there, or am I being presumptuous?” Holmes responds: “yes – you are being presumptuous.” Although the film feels dated in its classic 1970s aesthetic – a brassily florid and theatrical look – there is a great deal to enjoy thanks to the amusing dialogue and perfectly pitched performances. MT

AVAILABLE on dual format bluray from EUREKA Masters of Cinema series | January 22 |2018

Top Ten Indie films of 2017

It’s that time of year again when we take a look back at a year’s worth of indie and arthouse films and remember some we enjoyed most. Meredith Taylor picks her Top Ten releases of 2017.

US DRAMA – CERTAIN WOMEN

The lives of three women intersect is this gracefully understated but convincing drama from US director Kelly Reichardt. Full of subtle insight and lasting resonance. Certain Women Meditates on contemporary life from the female perspective in an utterly enthralling yet low-key, often ambiguous way. Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern star

FOREIGN LANGUAGE DRAMA  – TONI ERDMANN

Filmmaker Maren Ade has created one of the most poignant and refreshingly humorous German arthouse comedy dramas of recent memory – it never drags despite its three-hour running time. Picturing the absurd and often awkward nature of family relationships, this is a life-affirming experience not to be missed, especially at Christmas time. After The Forest for the Trees and Everyone Else, Ade is working her way slowly but surely to the top as most of the most refreshing European writer directors around..

HORROR – THE EYES OF MY MOTHER

This sumptuously crafted thriller is compelling, twisted and terrifying in its quiet and light-footed depiction of loneliness and psychopathy. Nicholas Pesce’s debut is deeply enthralling from start to end (main pic).

UNREQUITED LOVE STORY  – SUNTAN 

There’s something sad and awkwardly compulsive about this cautionary tale of a misguided intergenerational liaison between a lonely man and a glib young woman who meet in an island paradise. One of the best recent dramas about delusional love and its grim aftermath that perfectly epitomises the sinking realisation of being ‘over the hill’ on a holiday fling, while still holding on to the dream . Slim and but beautifully scenic and deeply resonant in its evergreen theme.

ANIMATION – MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE

Claude Barras’ impressive stop-motion animation is a tender tale probing life’s saddest moments: not a kid’s film but one that chimes with the kid inside us. Heart-breaking yet uplifting at the same time, Celine Sciamma has cleverly scripted Gilles Paris’ sombre autobiography that is both a sensitive study in grief and an authentic portrait of children growing up, coming to terms with sadness and learning how to look after each other. A real gem.

THRILLER – HOUNDS OF LOVE

Based on a true story, this tortured and claustrophobic character study of evil and human depravity is set in a quiet middle-class Australian backwater. Showcasing the dynamite duo of Emma Booth and Stephen Curry as real life partners Evelyn and John White, this is a stunning debut from writer/director Ben Young.

LGBT DRAMA – CALL ME BY YOUR NAME 

Despite its awkward title, this charming drama was the breakout hit of 2017 for all audiences not just the gay crowd. Beguiling, mysterious and compelling, Sicilian director Luca Guadagnino conveys the claustrophobic August heat of the film’s Po Valley setting and the chemistry between leads Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet – who went on the win various awards – permeates every scene. This is Oscar material and deserves to be.

UK DEBUT – LADY MACBETH 

It’s rare that a virago creates mayhem and gets away with it in literature or film. But this is exactly what happens with Florence Pugh’s Katherine in theatre director William Oldroyd’s feature debut, based on classic Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. In 19th rural England, Pugh plays a young bride sold in marriage who falls desperately in lust with a worker on her impotent husband’s rural estate in North Yorkshire. Oldroyd maintains an unsettling dread throughout in a drama brimming with venomous malcontent.

UK COMEDY – MINDHORN 

If you liked Alan Partridge or Alpha Papa then Mindhorn will appeal. This is a comedy that washes over you like a cloud of laughing gas – if you’re in the right mindset: there are scenes so hilarious it’s impossible to remain dignified; others so cringingly embarassing you will never been seen wearing lycra again – let along tight jeans, or at least in the way Julian Barratt does as the main character Richard Thorncroft in this big screen debut for TV veteran Sean Foley. Thorncroft is a pot-bellied ‘has been’ who lost his acting talent but not his sense of self belief. The Isle of Man is pictured as a rain-soaked backwater full of caravans and twee tearooms.

BEST DOCUMENTARY – WATER AND SUGAR: CARLO DI PALMA, THE COLOURS OF LIFE 

Carlo Di Palma was one of the most influential cinematographers of the 20th century, influencing the careers of Antonioni and Woody Allen with talent, warmth and personal magnetism. His story is told in this memorable documentary that showcases the collaborative nature of filmmaking, showing how Di Palma’s warm approach made everyone he worked with even better.

TOP TURKEY – HAMPSTEAD

Hopkins’ fraud of a film is full of middle-aged cyphers floating around in a fantasy world of the Seventies where they meet for coffee mornings and discuss worthy causes. But in the real place, this lot passed on decades ago to be replaced by the likes of Hugh Skinner’s fundraising nerd or the smiling Romanians touting The Big Issue at every street corner. Robert Festinger’s script teeters from crass to cringeworthy with no laughs to be had, and a score that jars. Hampstead is utterly specious and hollow – even Diane Keaton can’t save it.

BEST CLASSIC BOXSET – FOUR FILM NOIR CLASSICS 

A fantastic box set that brings together dazzling high def print of some of the best films in the crime genre: THE DARK MIRROR (1946) starring Olivia de Havilland; Fritz Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947) with Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave; FORCE OF EVIL (1948) directed by the underrated Abraham Polonsky; and Cornel Joseph H Lewis’ THE BIG COMBO (1955); with its terrific score by David Raksin with dynamite duo Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace. The dual format edition comes with a hardback book on the films. MT

ALL FILMS NOW AVAILABLE AT AMAZON, EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA, ARROW FILMS & VIDEO, ARTIFICIAL EYE and STUDIOCANAL | all films were shown on general release in 2017 

 

Love, Cecil (2017)

LoveCecil_DVD_2DPackDir/Prod: Lisa Immordino Vreeland | Doc | US |

Cecil Beaton (1901-80) would intensely loathe his biopic being described as a “warts and all” affair, but it is just that. The mercurial Oscar-winning set and costume designer, best known as the Royal family’s photographer,  emerges as a quintessential English dandy – both stylish and controversial – in this frank and unsentimental documentary directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who is on familiar territory having brought us docs on Diana Vreeland (her husband’s grandmother) and art collector Peggy Guggenheim.

Beaton’s greatest achievement in the world of cinema were his Oscars for Gigi (1958) and My Fair Lady  (1964), and it goes without saying that he fell out with George Cukor, who he felt embodied his intense dislike for the ‘vulgarness’ of Hollywood. Early on Beaton recognises that he was a jack of all trades but also a master of some: apart from his cinema success he was fêted in photography; theatre design and writing (his published diaries are narrated here in the suitably velvet tones of Rupert Everett) .

Anna Magnani“Tormented by ambition” from an early age, Beaton grew in Hampstead in a large well-to-do family. Whilst appearing fluffy on the outside he possessed a steely interior resolve and a keen visual awareness that would serve him well in his creative endeavours. His one regret was never finding a soulmate: he died alone – declaring himself a ‘bad picker’ – after numerous homosexual affairs, and even a dalliance with Greta Garbo, which is heavily hinted on by Leslie Caron – the star of Gigi –  who also claims that he was considered talented between the sheets by both men and women. After Cambridge in the early 1920s, Beaton became a photographer for Vogue and almost sabotaged his reputation in 1938 with a bizarre and ill-judged use of the word Kike (a racist term for Jew) in one of his photo-montages for the magazine, a notorious incident that almost derailed his career. Beaton apologized profusely for this aberration and set off to record the Second World War in various part of the world, as a penance.

CB098_V1 copyAnother naughty faux pas came in connection with Greta Garbo. The reclusive star allowed him to take a series of pictures of her on the understanding that only one would be published. Beaton handed the lot over to Vogue, causing Garbo, not surprisingly, to block him for over six months. The two eventually reconciled and after Beaton’s death in 1980, three photographs were found in his room — one of Garbo and two of his male lovers.

Apart from Leslie Caron’s insights, Vreeland’s film is enlivened by talking heads: designer Isaac Mizrahi, David Bailey, David Hockney and the Beaton biographer Hugo Vickers, all of whom have strong opinions on the late icon – no doubt as he had on them. But Cecil Beaton was not a man for half measures: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary”. Clearly the man lived up to his ideals. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 DECEMBER 2017

 

I’m Fat (2017) | IDFA 2017

Dir: Halit Levy | Doc | Israel | 53’

Tel Avivi filmmaker and counsellor Halit is obese and she feels defined by it despite her humour, appealing personality and talent evident in this colourful documentary which she made and narrates herself. She’s happy in her body, and of being a lesbian in love with her life partner Chen, but fat is something you cannot hide – it’s the ultimate taboo, the elephant in the room. I’M FAT is a straight-talking and illuminating film exploring in the issues surrounding obesity today.

The problem is clearly visual, like baldness but unlike sexual identity or even infertility – that are not readily apparent until you delve deeper – fat is literally in your face, and can’t be disguised.

Halit does not feel diminished by her state but she is clearly bugged by it enough to express how it affects her life and describes her journey towards change. Through talking with various therapists what comes to light is fascinating and also tragic: in Halit’s case sexual abuse as a child could be the root cause of her condition, it left her with a deep-seated need for control and self-protection.

I’M FAT is well made and absorbing putting its points across simply and clearly as it debates the questions raised. Reuven Brodsky’s camera gets out and about in the seaside capital offering a rich flavour of the vibrant modern metropolis that is Tel Aviv. The documentary’s psychological insights will be of interest to all audiences helping society as a whole understand the complex issues that often lie behind obesity and at just under an hour it doesn’t overstay its welcome with a positive and convincing finale. MT

SCREENING DURING IDFA | 15-26 november 2017

 

 

The L-Shaped Room (1962) | Bluray release

Dir.: Bryan Forbes | Cast: Leslie Caron, Tom Bell, Brock Peters, Cicely Courtneidge, Bernhard Lee, Patricia Phoenix, Avis Bunnage | UK 1962, 126′.

Bryan Forbes started his career in film as a scriptwriter: The Angry Silence (1960), directed by Guy Green, featured Richard Attenborough as a worker caught between management and union. A year later, Forbes would debut as director with Whistle Down the Wind, a near classic, telling the story of three Lancashire children who believe that a hiding criminal is Jesus. But with The L-Shaped Room, based on the novel by Lynn Reid Banks, most famous for her children books, Forbes came nearest to emulating the achievements of the Nouvelle Vague with this quintessentially English example of the movement; Phil Wickam wrote “it feels like half a New Wave film”, which did Forbes not enough credit. Soon after he went to Hollywood and in spite of eventually returning to England, he will be remembered mostly for mainstream works like International Velvet and The Stepford Wives, hardly trashy, but safe and lacking the originality of his early work.

The L-Shaped Room is set in a Notting Hill boarding house which was a grim London quartier back in the day  (the novel was set in even more downtrodden Fulham), where Jane Fosset (Caron), a French girl pregnant from a one-night-stand, moves into the squalid L-shaped attic room. She falls in love with Toby (Bell), who is suffers from low self-esteem and is writing his first novel, which gives the film its title. The house is owned and run by fierce landlady Doris (Bunnage). Like most of her tenants, she is not sympathetically portrayed: “I never close my door to the nigs”, she is obviously a racist – as many were in those days – but too shrewd not to take the money from her black lodger Johnny (Peters, who had just starred in To Kill a Mockingbird).

The ageing lesbian Cicely Courtneidge offers a poignant portrait of lonely later life. When Jane visits a Harley Street doctor, she is told to “marry or have an abortion”; the good doctor is angling for the profitable latter solution, since abortion was still illegal and single parenthood deeply frowned upon at the time. His mercenary character helps Fosset to decide to keep the child. When Toby finds out that Jane is pregnant he leaves her, not able to father a child who is not his own. Caron’s Jane comes across as the only emancipated character in this community of sceptics and traditionalists. The actress had originally rejected the downtrodden female characters penned by Forbes and together they worked at making Jane more of a feminist, It’s a demanding role but Caron pulls it off with tremendous flair. Her rapport with Toby is convincing and Bell is superb as a man in smitten by love but fraught with his own demons. The poignant ending shows Jane walking up the steps with the new lodger (Nanette Newman, Forbes’ wife), saying an effecting goodbye to the room that saw her through such an emotional period of her life. The English girl cannot understand Jane’s affection for the crummy place.

DoP Douglas Slocombe’s grainy black-and-white images shows a London lost in time, closer to the Victorian era than the 20th century. The streets seem shabby, drab and provincial. Cage-like rooms make the place more like an open prison trapping the tenants in an impoverished, curtain-tweeking neighbourhood, where nowadays they would be part of the edgy London scene. The prudishness is over-bearing; when Jane and Toby try to embrace each other in Hyde Park, a warden intervenes. London is not swinging at all in this dingy Notting Hill setting that was simply a poor man’s version of Kensington and would remain so until the 90s. The L-Shaped Room is a celebration of Jane’s emotional awakening in a place of repression and middle-class values. John Barry’s sublime score echoes the heart-rending sadness and emotional desperation in this over-looked masterpiece of British New Wave cinema.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD, BLURAY OR DOWNLOAD FROM 27 NOVEMBER 2017 COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

 

Tom of Finland (2017) | bluray release

Dir: Dome Karukoski | Cast: Pekka Strang, Jessica Grabowsky, Lauri Tilkanen | Finland | Biopic | 112min

Dome Karukoski’s biopic about Touko Laaksonen – aka Tom of Finland – is a thoughtfully poignant and stylish portrait of an intriguing pioneer of Gay art in the second half of the 20th century.

His story also charts the development of social and sexual mores of the Post-War era where the illicit nature of his nascent sexuality provided the erotic charge for pencilled images of well-endowed and masculine musclemen often rocking official uniforms astride motorbikes or engaged in sporting or heavy duty activity.

We first meet Touko (Pekka Strang) in the immediate aftermath to the War living in Helsinki with his sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky) and suffering from the after effects of killing a Russian pilot. Kaija works in the art department of an local advertising agency and he joins her, developing his own art style after hours. At a time where homosexuality is still illegal in Finland, he also dabbles in cruising in the local woods where the Police are active in combatting the activity ahead of the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics. One of his ‘fuckbuddies’ Nipa (Lauri Tilkanen) later turns up as a lodger and romantic hopeful for his sister, leading to an subtly-played  menage a trois, a script device of Aleksi Bardy’s fractured narrative structure that, despite its occasional incoherence – largely due to the ambitious time period untaken – manages to convey a believable onscreen chemistry for the males, while dashing Kaija’s romantic hopes during an evocative summer interlude in the family’s blissful country house in the lake region.

TOM OF FINLAND is a painterly affair with some sumptuous cinematic moments, not only in the glorious outdoor sequences, but also in the Art Nouveau splendour of Helsinki’s architecture. The city’s downtown soigné offices and cocktail bars and the stylish interiors of Touko’s own apartment provide a showcase for the country’s iconic designs: Aalto chairs and Lindfors lighting. And the elegantly austere colour palette of Northern Europe contrasts well with the sun-drenched segments in ’70s California, where Touko’s work is finally published and earns the nom de plume ‘Tom of Finland’. There is a witty scene with the fanzine printer who suggests: ‘Tom of Sweden would sell more,” while the editor retorts: “But it seems, Finland has bigger cocks”. While Nipa struggles with throat cancer back home, Touko meets a local gay couple: Doug (Seumas Sargent) and Jack, played by Norwegian Jakob Oftebro, who become firm friends.

Despite the minor narrative setbacks, TOM OF FINLAND is enjoyable and fascinating to watch. Strang’s Touko is an appealing almost endearing character and his love for Nipa, a classically trained ballet dancer, is completely convincing and touching. Apart from his sister, Touka’s wider family remain completely in the dark, although it is clear in final scenes that he never got the family appreciation he justly deserved for his iconic style. MT

TOM OF FINLAND IS ON BLUEAY from 20 NOVEMBER 2017

Heartstone (2016)

Dir/writer: Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson | Cast: Baldur Einarsson, Blaer Hinriksson, Dilja Valsdottir, Katla Njalsdottir, Soren Malling, Nina Dogg Filippusdottir | Drama | Iceland | 129′

In a remote Icelandic fishing village the hostile terrain provides a chilly counterpoint to the sexual awakening of two young teenagers in this movingly thoughtful if overlong feature debut. The young cast of newcomers is really what makes HEARTSTONE such an affecting drama, rather than its meandering narrative. We feel for them in their unsettling changes, but this would have held more more dramatic weight with a tighter edit. This is a small criticism for an impressive start. Writer-director Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson has really marshalled his material and created an impressive film that certainly shows great insight into the kids’ confused state of adolescence.

The story follows best friends Thor (Baldur Einarsson) and Kristjan (Blaer Hinriksson) are who are at a loose end in this remote outpost, and given to bouts of aggression, sadly directed at wildlife, but there is also a tenderness between the boys – and they are only boys – with Thor still really only a child. Despite the country setting, family life isn’t easy and Thor is constantly teased by his older sisters — Rakel (Jonina Thordis Karlsdottir) and the more creative Hafdis (Ran Ragnarsdottir), who has a penchant for Bjork. Their father has cleared off with a younger woman, leaving their mother (Nina Dogg Filippusdottir) unsettled emotionally as she casts around for another man. Kristjan’s father (Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson) is rather butch and macho – clearly a homophobic and hard drinker. The boys have already tried their luck with girls: Beta (Dilja Valsdotttir), and her friend Hanna (Katla Njalsdottir). But their true colours slowly emerge (and I mean slowly) on a spiky camping trip – not least due to the undergrowth. There’s a memorably dramatic scene where Kristjan’s father takes the boys up a mountain side to search for gulls’ eggs but the pace slackens during the final scenes despite a certain poignance in the ending that makes this an impressive first feature. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 17 NOVEMBER 2017 | VENICE 2016 REVIEW

Thelma (2017)

Dir: Joachim Trier | Writers: Eskil Vogt & Joachim Trier | Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorrit Petersen | Norway | Horror | 118′ | Cinematography: Jakob Ihre | Music: Ola Fløttum

More than a character study of a sheltered, sexually repressed young woman with supernatural powers, THELMA is a graceful and provocative existential horror story that couldn’t be more different than Trier’s gentle love story debut – Oslo, August 31st. As clinical in tone as Evolution (2015) THELMA has with a much more down to earth feeling despite quirky moments of fantasy, it sets Trier out as an highly inventive filmmaker at the top of his game.

Eili Harboe plays the closeted Thelma, who moves to the sophistication of Oslo from her small-town existence and protective parents, played by Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Petersen. At university, she strikes up a friendship with Anja (Kaya Wilkins), but it soon emerges that this is no ordinary relationship and one that goes against her morals as a devout Christian not to mention her own sexual preferences. One day a bird strikes the library window sending Thelma into seizures at her desk, as she gradually becomes aware of unusual ability accompanied by disturbing nightmares. There’s an unsettling undertone to proceedings heightened by Jacob Ihre’s hyper realist visuals and Ola Fløttum’s creepy orchestral score that often plays over the teasing interactions between Thelma and Anya hinting at the unfolding doom.

Harboe skilfully hovers between coquettishness and ingenuous behaviour in her friendship with Anya but with the absence of parental backstory we’re left guessing about their or even Thelma’s motivations for most of the time – which may or may not appeal to some viewers. It does seem that her father is an unduly controlling and undemonstrative. There’s an amazing scene at the Oslo Opera House where Thelma is forced to leave her seat due to sexual arousal at Anya caressing her hand – or simply that she overcome and confused emotionally due her devout beliefs or just generally lacking of emotional support. Trier keeps his characters at arms length throughout, leaving us guessing while he concentrates on atmosphere and tone in this stylish and disturbing drama. MT

THELMA IS ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM November 3 2017

 

Call me by your Name (2017)

Dir: Luca Guadagnino | Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlberg, Timothee Chalamet | 133′

Directed by Luca Guadagnino and based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME has similar stylishly languorous credentials to its forerunner, I Am Love, as it ravishingly unfurls.

In 1980s Cremona, where the summers are blindingly hot and torpid during the August holidays, one English family make their yearly vacation. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is the musically gifted and sexually naive teenage son of Jewish parents, an eminent Classics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife, who are accustomed to a philanthropic gesture of inviting another Jewish student to stay at their villa to help with research. This year’s intern is Armie Hammer’s rather too sexy and urbane Oliver, who looks more like one of the Greek statues Elio is wont to study, than a budding historian. Elio is smitten in discrete ecstasy as he descends into emotional meltdown. Guadagnino conjures up the heady world of la Dolce Vita that mingles with the sexual undertow and uneasiness of Body Heat and the elegance of a James Ivory classic (he co-wrote the script). And it all looks stunning.

Elio and Oliver grow closer as the Ferragosto shutdown approaches, swimming, sunbathing and sampling the locale ‘by night’; Elio gawping at Hammer’s pecs – as we do too. In return, Hammer treats him with thinly-veiled disdain, coming and going at will and flirting outrageously while rocking a massive Star of David on his tanned and tousled chest. While he is every so slightly brash, the Perlmans are discretion itself, as Elio’s father gracefully points out. Elio doesn’t know where to put himself as his burgeoning sensuality is challenged by his ‘bon chic bon genre’ credentials, he teeters like a Tom cat on a hot tin roof, wanting to howl at the moon, bewitched and bewildered.

When he meets Esther Garell’s girl next door, he is flummoxed by her gamine charm and distracted by his burning desire for someone who is clearly not available, fluffing his own chance at enjoably losing his own virginity in the process. His father misjudges the sexual ambiance -or does he?- coming up with one of the best son/father soliloquies of recent years where he outlines emotional intelligence for his son’s benefit. This is something every teenager should hear.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a thoroughly enjoyable, slow-burning romantic drama which should be savoured more than once. It has so much more to offer than its awkward title belies, and merits its generous running time. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 27 OCTOBER 2017  | BERLINALE REVIEW 2017

Soldiers: A Story of Ferentari | Toronto Film Festival 2017

SOLDIERS, A STORY OF FERENTARI (SOLDATI, POVESTE DIN FERENTARI)

Dir.: Ivana Mladenovic; Cast: Adrian Schiop, Vasile Pavel, Nicolae Marin, Cezar Grumarescu; Romania/Serbia/Belgium 2017, 120 min.

Ivana Mladenovic daring screen debut has an emotional directness which stuns and captivates throughout its two hour running time. Based on Adrian Schiop’s novel about a gay amour fou in one of the roughest suburbs of Bucharest, it combines gay and gypsy issues in a country not known for its tolerance towards minorities.

Schiop also stars as Adi, a shy introvert in his early forties, who is writing a PHD thesis on manele, the popular gypsy music. Adi has no idea that the Ferentari musicians are often exploited by the local mafia, who treat them like slaves. When Adi meets Borcan (Marin), one of the small time Mafiosi, he is introduced to his ‘servant’ Alberto ‘Berti’ (Pavel), a gypsy, who is about Adi’s age, and has spent more than half of his life in jail. Berti soon moves in with Adi, who shares a flat with his translator friend Vasi (Grumarescu) and his girl friend. Being rather naïve, Adi doesn’t appreciate that the couple find the rather rough ex-con difficult to deal and they soon move out, leaving Adi “to his hobos homos”.

Adi has to pay all the rent, and his financial pressure is compounded by Berti’s rampant slot machine habit. Whilst Adi tries to work for non-profit organisations to make up for Berti’s losses, his lover becomes increasingly need y and demanding, wanting permanent attention, and developing psychosomatic issues for Adi to deal with. But Adi enjoys the constant emotional neediness – it makes him feel important and after being dumped by his previous relationship. Before long though the two come to blows. Adi throwing Berti out of the flat, but then welcoming him back. Clearly he has become obsessed by him and needs to decide whether to end the relationship or continue with the toxic terror.

DoP Luchian Ciobanu has filmed the Soldiers on intimate close-up with a handheld camera creating a claustrophobia that feels convincing and real, capturing the confines of the small apartment. But even when the pair go out and about the camera follows them slavishly, showing how co-dependent their partnership really is. The poverty is grim, the streets lined with hovels which are sometimes ruthlessly removed by bulldozers. There is no political message here, Mladenovic’s fly on the wall treatment of this lost souls affair is shown relentlessly and passionately with no holds barred. Soldiers is an emotional rollercoaster, authentically performed and confidently directed. Mladenovic shows great promise for the future. AS

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 SEPTEMBER 2017

Centre of My World (2017)

Dir.: Jakob M. Erwa; Cast: Louis Hofman, Sabine Timoteo, Philine Stappenbeck, Svenja Jung, Jannick Schümann, Alexander Gersak, Nina Proll; Germany/Austria 2016, 114 min.

Writer/director Jakob M. Erwa bases his latest film on Andreas Steinhöfel’s Coming-of-Age novel of the same name, with a good ensemble cast. Erwa is Austrian but one of many of his fellow countrymen to use the German language primarily to make a statement (‘Thesenfilm’). Erwa adopts an overly didactic approach that rathe undermines his viewers’ intelligence, treating the cinema like a lecture theatre. On top, there is more than enough narrative material in the novel, which carefully shortened and structured, could have avoided the unnecessary running time of nearly two hours, filled often with repetitive panning shots of the woods.

Seventeen-year-old Phil (Hofman) lives with his twin sister Diane (Stappenbeck) and mother Glass (Timoteo) in a “Märchenhaus” or ‘fantasy cottage’ near the woods. All they know about heir father is that he was American and number three on the list of her mother’s lovers, his name black-balled. Glass is still rather promiscuous and why she’s chosen to take her children to Germany remains open. Sister Diane is very good and training dogs, and was once arrested for telling a dog to attach its owner. Phil’s girlfriend Katja (Jung) is the polar opposite of her brother: she is fun-loving, whilst Phil is a worrier. When a new boy, Nicholas (Schümann) joins their class, Phil falls in love with him. They have rather awkward sex in the shower and Phil is too cowardly to tell Katja about his new lover at first, pretty soon she joins in the ménage-a-trois. But when Phil surprises the two having sex, he withdraws, telling Nicholas “that he wants him for himself”. At the same time, Diane keeps visiting her boyfriend in a coma in hospital, after he was injured during a storm. Her guilt feelings are compounded by an old family secret, and Phil feels that he has not only lost Katja and Nicolas, but also his sister. His erratic mother is no help, and he has to make a choice.

Erwa’s overly didactic approach feels rather condescending: too much philosophical spoon-feeding is self-indulgent, and mistakenly sees the cinema as a place for a lecture, rather than entertainment. There is more than enough narrative material in the novel, which, carefully shortened and structured, could have shortened the overlong running time stuffed with over-repetitive panning shots of the woods. Long dissolves and embarrassing slow-motion sequences echo the worst excesses of the 70s. Finally, the language: teenagers all over the world do not express themselves like Phil: “A small sliver of cold got between us”. And adults don’t talk to teenagers in parables about life as “a house with many rooms, some empty: “You lock your fear in one of the empty rooms”. What may work as “Bildungsroman” – and there are certainly parallels to the “Young Werther” – is simply too clumsy and lacks conviction on the screen. A little less would have been much more – plus a heavy dose of what is called understatement, avoiding a non-stop parade of over-the-top dramatics. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 SEPTEMBER 2017

The Untamed | La Region Selvaje (2016)

Dir: Amat Escalante | 100min | Fantasy drama | Mexico Denmark |

Amat Escalalnte follows his Cannes-awarded Heli with a community based sci-fi fantasy drama inspired by the machismo, homophobia and misogyny of his native Mexico.

THE UNTAMED is an obscure and unsettling piece that deftly manages its tonal shifts – from grim social realism to sinister fantasy – in a mysterious narrative slowly unfolds, taking its characters to unexpected places while leaving them firmly rooted in contemporary Guanajuato, weighed down by their reality of poverty, overcrowding and crime.

In the outskirts of a town a large crater has opened up filled with animals that appear to have been affected by an extraterrestrial force. One of these has morphed into a benign tentacled creature capable of giving ultimate sexual satisfaction to the women who visit its cabin in the woods. But the creature can also turn nasty, like a disgruntled male. In this way, THE UNTAMED could work as a metaphor for Mexican oppression and the dire social issues facing the country, or for any other Western country caught in the current climate of political and social uncertainty.

We first meet Veronica (Simone Bucio) a willowy waif in the throws of ecstacy, courtesy of our alien-like tentacled tempter in his darkened cabin. This is one of the most bewildering scenes of the film and is captured by the same cinematographer who worked on Nymphomaniac. In a further twist, the creature is being looked after by a weird couple who are purported to possess psychic powers.

Meanwhile, back in town, young mother of two Ale (Ruth Ramos) is being abused by her husband Angel (Jesus Meza), a brutish civil engineer in a sexual relationship with her brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), who works in the local hospital where Veronica turns up later with a strange wound on her torso. The two are clearly attracted to one another and decide to meet up later, where it emerges that Fabian is unhappy with Angel.

The trio’s situation grows all the more desperate due to the Sci-fi occurences in the nearby woods: nothing is clear, everything seems to be degenerating both ecologically and societally for the country and its people who are caught in the grip of circumstances beyond their control.Despite the underwritten characters, Escalante’s attempts to chanel Mexico’s serious social issues into this Sci-fi drama are convincing and exciting marking him out as one cinema’s most visionary contemporary filmmakers.  MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

Locarno Film Festival Awards 2017

962022INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION

Golden Leopard

MRS. FANG by WANG Bing, France, China, Germany

 

969151Special Jury Prize

AS BOAS MANEIRAS by Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra, Brazil, France

 

 

961847Best Direction

F. J. OSSANG for 9 DOIGTS, France, Portugal

 

 

973045Best Actress

ISABELLE HUPPERT for MADAME HYDE by Serge Bozon, France, Belgium

 

 

962055Best Actor

ELLIOTT CROSSET HOVE for VINTERBRØDRE by Hlynur Pálmason, Denmark, Iceland

 

 

LOCARNO 2018 WILL TAKE PLACE FROM 1-11 AUGUST 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prick Up Your Ears (1987) | Re-release

Dir.: Stephen Frears; Cast: Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, Vanessa Redgrave, Frances Barber, Julie Walters, Wallace Shawn; UK 1987, 105 min.

Portraying the relationship between playwright Joe Orton and his lover and erstwhile collaborator Kenneth Halliwell, director Stephen Frears relies on a brilliant script by Alan Bennett, based on the Orton biography of John Lahr. But it is not the brutal ending, in the summer of 1967, which shocks up most but the seamy atmosphere dominating London at the time, a far cry from the “swinging’ myth of the late Sixties: instead, Frears’ London is a sordid mixture of repression, provinciality and squalidness.

Joe Orton (Oldman), coming from a lower-middle class family in Leicester, met Kenneth Halliwell, six years his senior, when they were both studying at RADA in 1951. Halliwell had a cultured and sophisticated middle-class education, and Orton, whose highest achievements were in shorthand typing, had never met anyone quite like him before.  During the course of their relationship, the tables were turned, and new power structure emerged; with Orton not only becoming a successful playwright, but also spreading his wings sexually, cottaging in the seedier parts of Islington, which at the time was still quite run-down.

For a decade, Orton and Halliwell had collaborated writing novels and plays (which are lost), but after both men were convicted to six months imprisonment, in 1962, for defacing highbrow literary works they stole from the local library (Halliwell decorated the walls of their bedsit with collages torn from the book’s pages), Joe developed a new creative energy, which set him apart from Halliwell. As Orton’s agent Peggy Ramsey (a playful Vanessa Redgrave) put it, “Halliwell became the first wife”, being discarded after the success of the ‘husband’.

Some scenes are set in Orton’s home in Leicester, where we meet his sister (and executor) Leonie (Barber) and mother Elsie (Walters in an early caricature). Again, it is surprising, that the ambience of Orton’s family home is not that much different that of the couple’s flat in Noel Street, Islington. And the meetings between Ramsey and John Lahr (Shawn), are more gossiping sessions than literary discourse. When Ramsey gains access to the flat after the murder/suicide, she steals Orton’s diary and Halliwell’s final note: “If you read this, all will be explained. P.S. Especially the latter part”. Even after the gruesome find, Ramsey acts with an egoistical meanness, which is symptomatic of many of the film’s characters.

Oldman is superb as the cocky Orton, who, after all the repression of provincial Leicester, is hell bent on enjoying himself in London. Not to demean Leicester, which has spawned many a talent: Richard and David Attenborough; Michael Kitchen; Graham Chapman; Bill Maynard; Kate O’Mara; Una Stubbs; Julian Barnes, Sue Townsend and Frears himself, to name a few). Whilst aware of Halliwell’s deteriorating mental health, Orton does not see the danger signs: whilst on holiday in Morocco, Halliwell violently destroys Orton’s typewriter. Orton, as narcissistic as Halliwell, seems to get younger during the narrative, whilst Halliwell succumbs to early mid-life depression. Molina’s terrific Halliwell cannot believe that life is slipping through his fingers: he is literally shrinking as a personality, whilst Orton grows into a public figure, even meeting Paul McCartney and writing a film script about the Beatles.

The ending is tragic, but somehow logical: Halliwell feels his life is being diminished by Orton – who is also demeaning his sexually, he cannot bear the reminder of his own failure – in contrast to Orton’s success – neither can be live with the fact that he killed his ‘other half’. Frears’ direction is absorbing, capturing the sadness of a tragic love story and well as the caustic humour the two enjoyed until things went wrong. AS

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS FROM AUGUST 5 2017

Victim (1961) | re-release

Dir: Basil Dearden | Writers: Janet Green & John McCormick | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price, Nigel Stock, Peter McEnery, Donald Churchill, Anthony Nicholls, Hilton Edwards, Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, Alan MacNaughton, Noel Howlett, Charles Lloyd Pack, John Barrie, John Cairney, David Evans | UK / Drama / 100min

VICTIM was the second – and achieved by far the greatest impact – of a trio of topical “problem pictures” made by the team of producer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden from screenplays by Janet Green. Sapphire (1959) had been about race relations, and Life for Ruth (1962) about religion. Of the three, VICTIM had had the most clearly defined purpose behind it, which was the repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 criminalising homosexuality – described in the film as “The Blackmailer’s Charter” – as recommended by the Wolfenden report of 1957.

Janet Green (1908-1993) had read the report, and while the government of Harold Macmillan – for reasons made only too apparent by VICTIM itself – was dragging its heels, she, with her husband and co-writer John McCormick, anticipated Costa-Gavras’s Z (1969) in employing the conventions of a fast-moving, entertaining thriller to make a serious political film that packs a lot into a trim 100 minutes; embellished by handsome London locations and noirish interiors, by veteran cameraman Otto Heller (responsible for the visual impact of other classics like Peeping Tom and The Ipcress File).

It’s easy now to mock VICTIM for being dated, but politicians and other public figures today still dread the power without responsibility triumphantly wielded by our tabloid press. The role of the redtops in the fear and paranoia depicted in VICTIM is occasionally mentioned in passing; and just two years later the field day the Sunday papers had with the revelations that came out in court about the activities of our social betters during the trial of Stephen Ward vividly convey what Melville Farr could look forward to at the conclusion of VICTIM . On 9 November 1998 – over thirty years after decriminalisation – The Sun was still stoking the flames with its classic front page headline “Are we being run by a gay Mafia?”. In the United States VICTIM was refused a seal of approval by the Production Code Administration, and this remarkable passage in Time magazine that greeted its US release in February 1962 is worth quoting at length:

“What seems at first an attack on extortion seems at last a coyly sensational exploitation of homosexuality as a theme – and, what’s more offensive, an implicit approval of homosexuality as a practice. Almost all the deviates in the film are fine fellows – well dressed, well-spoken, sensitive, kind. The only one who acts like an invert turns out to be a detective. Everybody in the picture who disapproves of homosexuals proves to be an ass, a dolt or a sadist. Nowhere does the film suggest that homosexuality is a serious (but often curable) neurosis that attacks the biological basis of life itself.”

VICTIM was released bearing an ‘X’ certificate, and the era it depicts now seems as remote as the war years: a time when the police drove Bentleys and ‘phone boxes still had a button B. But anybody who considers the issues it raises moribund should remember that as I write there are about a dozen countries in the world today where homosexuality is punishable by death. One only needs look at the debate (and the language) the film continues to provoke in forums like YouTube to be reminded of how this issue still polarizes society, and that there are plenty of bigots still out there, irately convinced that they’re being muzzled by political correctness; “our crime”, as Lord Fullbrook puts it, “damned nearly parallel with robbery with violence”. While Eddy complains that “Henry paid rates and taxes…but they knew he couldn’t go out and call the cops”, it’s interesting to be reminded that one of the blackmailers accused the police of “Protecting perverts” even when homosexuality was illegal, and back in 1961 could firmly be of the opinion that “They’re everywhere, everywhere you turn! The police do nothing. Nothing!!”.

VICTIM goes out its way to avoid sensationalism, and it is precisely because it in every other respect so resembles a conventional black & white crime film of the period that one can still feel the shock audiences must have experienced in 1961 when Inspector Harris deceptively casually asks Farr “you knew of course that he was a homosexual?”, followed by the eye-watering statistic that at the time “as many as 90% of all blackmail cases have a homosexual origin”. If it seems too genteel for 21st Century tastes, the scene in which Derren Nesbitt wrecks Charles Lloyd Pack’s shop still provides a literally shattering reminder of the barely contained physical violence always ready to rear up from behind the prejudice now known as “hate crime”.

The casting of Dirk Bogarde makes the film what it is. Several other actors (including Jack Hawkins, James Mason and Stewart Granger) had understandably already turned down the role, but Bogarde accepted without hesitation; and on so many levels the film is inconceivable without him. (Anyone who thinks it was the first time he’d played a homosexual onscreen, however, plainly hasn’t seen the film he made immediately prior to it, The Singer Not the Song.) Almost as bold on Bogarde’s part was that in VICTIM he was for the first time playing his age – 40 – although this is more than compensated for by the fact that he never looked more debonair and distinguished than he does here. The entire cast obviously cared about their roles, right down to the smallest parts (as frequently happened in those days, veteran character actor John Boxer as the amiable policeman attempting to comfort Boy Barrett in his cell, and John Bennett – who in the opening episode of ‘Porridge’ was the prison doctor who asked Fletcher if he had ever been a practising homosexual – as “the bloke in the pinstripe”, make vivid impressions without being included in the cast list at the end). Although the blackmailers themselves are often described in accounts of the film as “a ring” or “a gang”, there in fact turn out to be only two of them; a pair of bloodcurdling ghouls worthy of the Addams family – the grinning, cheerfully amoral Derren Nesbitt and his vengeful associate piously convinced that “Someone’s got to make them pay for their filthy blasphemy.” As Inspector Harris (a superb performance by John Barrie) says to his stern Scottish sergeant (John Cairney), “I can see that you’re a true puritan, Bridie…there was a time when that was against the law, you know.”  Richard Chatten

VICTIM IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS

East End Film Festival 2017 |

The 16th EAST END FILM FESTIVAL takes place in London’s East End EVERY WEEKEND in June 2017, and there are 5 epics to look forward to celebrating a different focus and making the most of non-cinema venues premiering an exciting array of bold and challenging feature films and documentaries from new and emerging new talent. Next year the festival plans a move to Spring slot.

HIGHLIGHTS

Tom-of-Finland There will be a chance to see two recent biopics: Benny Boom’s on the multi-talented cult figure Tupac Shakur, ALL EYEZ ON ME and Dome Karukoski’s biodrama on legendary gay icon TOM OF FINLAND. Other documentaries cover topics as contraversial as Brexit BREXITANNIA and America’s Death Penalty THE PENALTY (Dir: Will Francome).

SCREENINGS UNDER THE STARS | WEEKEND ONE

Chitty-Chitty-Bang-BangThe 16th edition of East End Film Festival commences with EAST END OUTDOORS (Fri 2 & Sat 3 June). This weekend of FREE outdoor screenings at Old Spitalfields Market is themed around iconic musicals including a family-friendly matinee of the 1968 British musical classic CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, and an East End screening of WEST SIDE STORY.

COMMUNITY & HERITAGE | WEEKEND TWO

Bred-and-BornReflecting the energy and cultural mix of London’s East End, the second weekend (Thu 8 – Sun 11 June) focuses on films and events with local resonance. The World Premiere of MY NAME IS LENNY (dir: Ron Scalpello, UK) covering the life of the Britain’s famous bare-knuckle fighter Lenny McLean aka ‘the Guv’nor – interesting to compare this with Walter Hill’s Charles Bronson starrer HARD TIMES (1975) – it also has John Hurt in one of his final acting roles. A duet of female films OFTEN DURING THE DAY (directed by Joanna Davis, 16 mins, 1979) is a closely mapped investigation of a kitchen, and women’s relationship to the domestic sphere. And BRED AND BORN (directed by Joanna Davis and Mary Pat Leece, 75 mins, 1983) is an experimental documentary, produced over four years, which interweaves two parallel strands: a women’s discussion group on mother-daughter relationships, and interviews with four generations of women from an East End family. There is also the UK Premiere of A CARIBBEAN DREAM (dir: Shakirah Bourne, UK/Barbados), a Barbados-set re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, starring Susannah Harker as Titania.

THE BEST NEW UNSIGNED FILMS – Looking for Distribution | WEEKEND THREE

GholamThe EAST END DISCOVERY (Thu 15 – Sun 18 June) weekend showcases features and documentaries currently looking for UK distribution: and offers the chance to see quality films looking for general release and the best new and unsigned films from emerging directors. Following his role in Oscar-winning The Salesman, Iranian actor Shahab Hosseini takes the title role in the European Premiere of GHOLAM (dir: Mitra Tabrizian, UK) as a man haunted by his past and depressed by his uncertain future. Canadian director Arran Shearing presents FORGOTTEN MAN, a black and white romantic comedy that follows a young actor with an East End theatre company for the homeless, who falls for a wealthy out-of-towner. S_T_R_A_Y_S-300x300The World Premiere of S|T|R|A|Y|S (dir: Barnaby Miller, UK) is an unflinching depiction of modern London that blurs the lines between real life and animation. Also worth a watch is the debut thriller from Bela Tarr protegee Emma Rozanski’s edgy horror sci-fi thriller PAPAGAJKA- a cautionary tale about strange characters in inner city Sarejevo and PROVENANCE that sees a mysterious stranger threaten the new start in life for a classical musician and his girlfriend when they move to Provence (17 June 18.30)

ProvenanceOscar-nominated filmmaker David France (How To Survive A Plague from EEFF2012) documents a legendary fixture of New York’s gay ghetto in the London Premiere of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON (dir: David France, USA) – structured as a whodunit, it celebrates Marsha’s lasting political legacy while seeking to solve the mystery of her unexplained death.

The London Premiere of fiction/documentary hybrid DRIB (dir: Kristoffer Borgli, Norway) re-enacts the story of a failed violent marketing campaign for a well-known energy drink. Three Hackney-based filmmakers follow a $10 bill as it criss-crosses the United States in the European Premiere of FOLLOW THE MONEY (dir: John Hardwick, Ben Unwin, Steve Boggan, UK), building a unique and surprising portrait of the American people.

CROSS-ARTS, CULTURE, MUSIC, MAYHEM | WEEKEND FOUR

The EAST END SUBMERGE (Thu 22 – Sun 25 June) weekend includes includes a massive costumed TWIN PEAKS BALL taking over Andaz Liverpool Street Hotel, and a programme of screenings in the hotel’s hidden Masonic Temple including an Alex Cox acid-western double bill of WALKER and STRAIGHT TO HELL

Another highlight of this weekend will be a live performance with Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair of experimental documentary EDITH WALKS, a programme of artists films from Bethnal Green artist collective no.w.here, a live soundtrack from East India Youth, and a female punk night raising funds for a documentary about X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene. On 23 June, the first anniversary of the Brexit vote, EEFF present the London Premiere of BREXITANNIA (dir: Timothy George Kelly, UK/Russia), a funny, sometimes terrifying and non-judgemental look at new populist politics, followed by a panel discussion with opinions from all sides of the debate. At Castle Cinema, Hackney’s new crowdfunded community cinema, is the venue for the World Premiere of MY NAME IS SWAN (dir: Adam Carr, UK), an odyssey of loss in a shifting cityscape with music by Samuel Kilcoyne and Takatsuna Mukai.

PREMIERES OF BIG NEW INDEPENDENT FILMS | WEEKEND FIVE

MenascheThe EEFF culminates with EAST END HEADLINE (Thu 29 June – Sun 2 July) a handpicked selection of titles on their way to Britain’s cinemas. Berlinale Generation Plus winner BUTTERFLY KISSES (dir: Rafael Kapelinski, UK) follows three friends battling with their own demons in a teenage world that revolves around sex and porn. Not to be missed is another standout Berlinale drama performed entirely in Yiddish, the London Premiere of MENASHE (dir: Joshua Z Weinstein, USA) explores the lonely life of a put-upon widower in Brooklyn’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community as he battle for custody of his son. And James Ball, formerly of WikiLeaks and now Buzzfeed, will be joining the festival for a special discussion around the subject of post-truth politics. MT

THE EAST END FILM FESTIVAL | JUNE 2017 | VARIOUS EAST END VENUES

 

 

Coby (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017 | ACID

Dir.: Christian Sonderegger; Documentary; France/USA 2017, 78 min.

Christian Sondereggers’s feature length documentary debut COBY is not only an intimate portrait of a transgender man’s journey, but also a testimony to the support he gets from his family, who live in the small village of Chagrin Falls in Ohio.

When she was twenty-one, Suzanna Hunt decided that she would undergo a sex change process, since she “was not happy with what she saw in the mirror – it was not what I expected”. S/he took the name of Coby during the medical/psychological changing process, before settling for Jacob after the successful transformation. We meet Jacob, working as a paramedic in an ambulance, administering help to a stricken baby with his fellow workers. But more surprising than Jacob’s successful progress, is the role his family played in all the upheavels. His parents, Ellen and Williard, and his brother Andrew are interviewed at length, and it turns out that Jacob’s parents were anything but the average village people. They home-schooled their children, there was no TV, and they lived a life of tolerance as Christians. This tolerance was tested by Suzanne early on, the family had to adjust to the many stages Suzanne/Jacob went through, including a lesbian phase, which is recalled with smiles by all concerned.

Jacob is proud to be accepted as man not only by his family, but also his co-workers. But he is honest about the changes in his reactions: before he took testosterone, he would tear up in sympathy when his girl friend Sarah had emotional problems – but now he is much more reserved. ”When I have problems, I react like a gorilla”. But he still has the memories of 21 years as a woman, so he is still able to talk with female colleges in a different way as the other male workers. All in all “I don’t feel like a woman, but feel good in my femininity as a man.” As for the future, since Sarah does not want to bear children, Jacob is the only parent to be able to procreate, and he is taking all medical precautions to keep this possible open.

As for his father, the “memories of him as a girl fade slowly, being replaced by new ones of him as a man”, a process his brother agrees with. As Jacob says “I was born into the right family”. Coby is told in a simple, but not simplistic manner, somehow very close to the way the Hunt family lives: avoiding drama and ruptures, but caring for each other in a truly Christian way. They are in a way the real ‘Anti-Trump’ family: overcoming ‘otherness’ in their family with love, understanding and patience, just understanding without any dogma.

COBY IS PLAY IN THE ACID SIDEBAR | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY 2017

Mulholland Drive (2001) | Bfi Player

DIRECTOR 001Writer| Dir: David Lynch | Cast: Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Ann Miller | US  Mystery Thriller |

“One night, I sat down, the ideas came in, and it was a most beautiful experience. Everything was seen from a different angle…Now, looking back, I see that (the film) always wanted to be this way. It just took this strange beginning to cause it to be what it was.” David Lynch.

David Lynch’s neo-noir existential thriller is dreamily weird and strangely intoxicating to watch. Themes of denial, aspiration and unrequited love coalesce in a cryptic psychological thriller whose apparent normality mingles with a surreal and darkly comic  speculative storyline unfolding when a wannabe actress arrives in Los Angeles and befriends a semi-amnesiac woman she finds hiding in her family apartment.

Now regarded as one of of Lynch’s best films it launched the career of Welsh actress Naomi Watts who has gone from strength to strength as the vulnerable figure of hope who finds rejection and disillusionment in the city of dreams. David Lynch reinvented postmodernism making it edgy and fashionable again. Mulholland Drive was original devised as a TV series after Twin Peaks was rejected for TV, so here Lynch gave it an ending.

It also starts with a car crash the beguiling sole survivor Laura (Elena Harring) staggering disorientated from a stretch limo onto LA’s Mulholland Drive. She fetches up in a nearby apartment where wannabe actress Betty (Watts) later arrives after a long flight from Canada. So vulnerable and lost is Laura that Betty develops a strange and sympathetic attraction to her that eventually morphs into attraction and love in scenes of a graphic sexual nature.

Betty is an entirely straightforward and fresh-faced ingenue at the start of film – much in the same vein as Kyle MacLaclan’s Jeffrey in Blue Velvet (where Isabella Rossellini plays Dorothy, the equivalent of Laura). It seems that this dazed and confused female image could come from Lynch’s recurring teenage memory of a neighbour who appeared semi-naked and bleeding on the driveway of his family home, as discussed in David Lynch – The Art Life (2017).  All this feels plausible and yet imbued with a hypnotic sense of disorientation where ‘Rita’ (from a poster of Rita Hayworth) and Betty’s dark persona’s appear as Diane and Camilla. Diane is also a struggling actress and Camilla’s lesbian lover. Successful star Camilla is swept away by Justin Theroux’s film director Adam, and the jealous Diane has her killed in the ‘car crash’.

Confused? The reality depends on which side of the looking glass we are standing. Looking forward, “Betty” is vouchsafed a vision of where infatuation and professional failure could lead. Looking backward, the drama’s first part is the final anguished, transfiguring dream of “Diane”. All this is open to interpretation but in such a way as the reverie is pleasurable as well as intoxicating – like tripping on medazolam. There is a weirdly authentic cameo from Maya Bond as Aunt Ruth, and Monty Montgomery as a cowboy cum Diddy man.

Angelo Badalamenti’s languorous score washes over the feature that glows in Peter Deming’s sumptuous visuals (Peter provided the vibrant images on Oz the Great and the Powerful and Twin Peaks). MULHOLLAND DRIVE is a sensual experience, unforgettable and alluring. MT

Latest digital restoration of a 4k transfer now on BFI Player | DVD, Blu-ray & EST 

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? (2016)

Director: Tomer & Barak Heyman; Documentary; Israel/UK/Germany 2016, 84 min.

Tomer and Barak Heyman (Bridge over the Wadi) have always combined the personal and socio-political in their longterm documentaries shot mainly in Israel where Barak produced the award winning Lady Kul el Arab by the Palestinian filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana. This was a manifestation of her brother’s political statement showing a divided Israel, trying in vain to come to terms with a permanent war against Palestine.

Saar Maoz, the central figure of WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW? is forty and lives in London. For the past eleven years he has been HIV Positive. An ordinary gay man, he sings in the London Gay Men’s Chorus but his life is ruled by the medication he takes which often has side effects ranging from nausea and muscle cramps to very disturbed sleep patterns. What makes Saar’s life even more difficult is his relationship with the family in Israel, where he grew up on a Kibbutz with six siblings. His father is a paratrooper who tells everybody with pride that all his children served in the same military branch like him, and he parachuted “with all of them, even the girls”.

During one of Saar’s visits; his father, in uniform, shows guests around the military monument “Ammunition Hill”, proclaiming a rather belligerent, un-reflective ideology of Israel’s right to annex Palestinian territories. Prior to this we had witnessed Saar reading a letter from his father, which is insulting on a personal level as his political ravings in Israel. But Saar still craves the love of his family and  blames them for his being thrown out of the Kibbutz, when his homosexuality became apparent: “They should have said, we are all going to leave the Kibbutz, if you exclude our son”. Obviously, this was far from realistic.

The only person who loves Saar unconditionally is his grandfather, who is old and frail, and will die during the filming. When Saar’s mother comes to London later she is helpless and has obviously not come to terms with her son’s homosexuality: “You are like a branch without continuity”. Whilst she loves Saar, she still hopes he will give up s his sexual orientation. During the film, Saar becomes a little more realistic: when walking with a friend round Brompton Cemetery, he remarks sarcastically that the Kibbutz will bury him, but “hey we’ll put that Queer only in the far away corner”.

When his father visits Saar in London he also displays a huge degree of insensitivity: sitting in an outdoor café, he remarks loudly to his son “are these also gay?’ when two young women walk by. Later he asks Saar “who is gay here?” as if the promenading people were so easily classified. But Saar’s parents are not the worst – by far. When Saar finally decides to go back to Israel, working for The ‘Israel Aids Task Force’, his younger brother is openly hostile: he is afraid his small children may get infected “when you move here, the risks are so much greater”.

The great strength of the film is the long-term observation, making the awareness (or lack of it) of the Maoz family much more apparent. Filming in London and Israel, the scale of the different environments is huge: the man employing Saar at the Aids Task Force points this out to him. But Saar is set for a reunion with his family in a country which will not welcome him with open arms: he will be a stranger both at home and in a society geared to male values, needed Israel is a militaristic society. The images are clear and well-0bserved, there is humour here but also overriding sadness for Saar, who wants more than anything to come home, without being really wanted by those he loves and values. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 6 April  2017

 

 

Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things (2016) | Bfi Flare Festival 2017

Dirs: Mark Kenneth Woods | Michael Yerxa | Canada | Doc | 71min

Taking its name from the Inuktitut language translation of lesbian and gay, literally: “two soft things rubbing together” and “two hard things rubbing together” this documentary explores the experiences of LGBT Inuits and examines their survival since the 1950s where colonisation, religion, forced migration, and cultural assimilation impacted on their communities in northwest Canada. This is largely viewed from the perspective of the small but growing community of LGBT Inuit people living in Nunavut, where they prepare for one of the world’s more remote and snowbound Pride festivals, taking place in the territorial capital of Iqaluit.

It emerges that LGBT identity and long-term same-sex relationships have always existed in Inuit culture, and same-sex sexual activity was common and accepted, particularly as a remedy for social and sexual isolation during times when men and women were segregated from each other as the men left for the traditional hunting season. These cultures norms continued until Catholicism emerged as a dominant religion during the 1950s, although Inuit spirituality still forms an important of their culture, despite many having been taught that homosexuality is incompatible with their traditions, causing a number to move south to large Canadian cities such as Ottowa and Quebec.

Without a straightforward narrative but benefitting from superb cinematography of the wild and snowy landscapes of the region, the film takes on an episodic style with the directors combining archive footage and photos with a series of talking head interviews with those who have commited to uncovering and reclaiming the hidden history of the Inuks, amongst these are filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, politicians Jack Anawak and Paul Okalik, and activists Allison Brewer, Nuka Fennell and Jesse Mike. MT

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 16-26 MARCH 2017

 

 

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin (2017) | Bfi Flare 2017

Dir: Jennifer M Kroot | Doc | US/UK | 91min

Armistead Maupin churned out copy like a demon according to his editor at the San Francisco Chronicle where he worked as a regualr columnist. His prodigious talent and remarkable work ethic was possibly due to his strict upbringing by a father whom he admits to hating, according to Jennifer Kroots informative biopic of the writer and longtime advocacy for queer civil rights, and creator of the popular Tales of the City franchise.

Enriched with a commentary from talking heads Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney and Amy Tan, Kroot’s documentary is the first to chart the life of a writer who has known success and personal tragedy and now seems to have largely vanished from the scene, so the film will certainly be greeted with warmth and appreciation by his fans and those who have enjoyed his work, whatever the critical appraisal.

Kroot covers Maupin’s career as a journalist right through to his status as a US household name with an impressive array of photographs and archive footage showing how the he struggled to come out, as the son of a white supremacist father, and ended up with a series of gay lovers, one of whom had partnered Rock Hudson, eventually emerging as an avant-garde figure of his generation, or so the luminaries would have us believe. Rather a shame then that the film has a rather lightweight quality with cartoonish 1970s visuals in the style of Monty Python or TV’s Magpie, and unimaginative and lacklustre format. MT

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL 16-26 MARCH 2017

 

After Louie (2016) | BFi Flare

Dir.: Vincent Gagliostro | Cast: Alan Cumming, Zachary Booth, Sarita Chadhury, Everett Quinton | USA | 100 min.

First time director/co-writer Vincent Gagliostro explores the current LGTB scene in New York, with this rather episodic yet unsentimental portrait of three different generations of gay men.

Centred around painter turned video filmmaker Sam Cooper (Cumming), has recently made a film about his dying friend, an important campaigner in the 80s and 90s. At the age of 55, Cooper’s apparent midlife crisis leads him to embark on an affair with the much younger Braeden (Booth), who is living with a boyfriend who is HIV positive. After a night of passionate sex, Braeden is very surprised to find 500$ in his trainers: he was in it for the fun, whilst the older man, rather cynically, saw it as a transaction. Cooper the hearts of the audience, when he criticises a couple of recently married friends, for their “white middle-class values, being traitors to the gay men who died in the last century” – this is particularly offensive, since one of them is black – and Sam is the stereotypical white, wealthy middle-class artist. Meanwhile, Cooper continues to pay Braeden for his sexual favours – a moot point with his live-in boyfriend –  he meets up with his ex-college teacher Julian (Quinton), who is trying hard to age gracefully. The only voice of reason in this mayhem of contradictory emotions comes from Maggie (Chadbury) a black mother.

AFTER LOUIE doesn’t quite hang together despite some insightful moments. Visually weak and weighed down with verbose dialogue, it comes across more like a work in progress than the finished article. AS

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL | 17 MARCH – 27 MARCH 2017

 

A Date for Mad Mary (2016) | BFi Flare

Dir.: Darren Thornton; Cast: Seana Kerslake, Tara Lee, Charleigh Baily; ROI 2016, 82 min.

The feature made for TV debut of director/co-writer Darren Thornton, is a lively but somehow implausible story about a young girl suffering from arrested development. Conventional camerawork doesn’t help with DoP Ole Bratt Birkeland’s images looking tired along with the very clichéd casting.

Mary (Kerslake) has just left prison after a six-month stretch for disfiguring another inmate’s face. In her late teens, Mary, wearing her working class background on her sleeve, doesn’t want to grow up but she has outgrown her role of the rough Tom-Boy ‘in Perpetua’. Her best friend Charlene (Bailey), is about to get married to an older, middle-class man. In spite of many denials, Mary is jealous of Charlene and somehow dreads the wedding in which she is one of the bridesmaids, having to give a speech. More and more isolated, at odds with her self as much her environment, Mary manages to ostracise nearly everyone – except for Jess (Lee), the wedding photographer, who is also a talented singer. After a passionate night, the two very different women deal in their own way with their relationship: Jess, introvert and sensitive, questions Mary’s adoration for Charlene, telling her that she is just competing with her friend, whilst Mary, in her very abrasive way, soon manages to alienate Jess with her loutish behaviour.

Despite of being a decent stab at a Lesbian romance, the drama’s lack of authenticity lets it down: Mary is shown as being so relentlessly awful it’s impossible to imagine that anybody would like her, let alone fall in love with her and the telegraphed happy-ending not helping matters, A Date for Mad Mary is often very embarrassing, and much less funny than the filmmakers imagined. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL  17-27 MARCH 2017

Bfi Flare Film Festival 2017 | 16-26 March 2017

The 31st Edition of BFI Flare is back on 16th March. This year once again promises to be provocative, playful and politically engaged – appealing to both straight and LGBT audiences – a number of World, International and European Premieres are on offer. BFI Flare is absolutely the place to see the best new LGBT cinema first.”

AGAINST_THE_LAW_still_lovey_on_bench copyOpening with the World Premiere of Fergus O’Brien’s BBC Production AGAINST THE LAW (left) at BFI Southbank. The Festival closes with the International Premiere of Jennifer Reeder’s SIGNATURE MOVE at BFI Southbank. The Centrepiece Screening of the 2017 Festival is the European Premiere of TORREY PINES, a psychedelic stop-motion animation about a child grappling with gender identity and a schizophrenic mother. And there will be two World Premieres on offer as Special Presentations: the new UK web series, DIFFERENT FOR GIRLS, a smart, sassy, sexy multi-layered lesbian drama, directed by award-winning Festival alumni Campbell X and AFTER LOUIE starring Alan Cumming as a New York artist whose life is turned upside down by an encounter with a much younger man.

LGBT still people struggle for basic human rights in many countries, so BFI Flare presents a selection of films and events which explore their experiences around the world.

OUT OF IRAQ (dirs. Eva Orner and Chris McKim) is an outstanding documentary about the forbidden relationship of two Iraqi young soldiers at the height of the Iraq war.

THE PEARL OF AFRICA (dir. Jonny von Wallström) follows the story of Cleopatra Kambugu, the first out transgender woman in Uganda (left).

As part of the UK/INDIA 2017 Sridhar Rangayan, the Director of Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival will attend BFI Flare and take part in an event exploring LGBT film and television culture in India, Once again the festival is divided into a trio of strands for ease of reference

BFI FLARE: LONDON LGBT FILM FESTIVAL, 2017 FULL PROGRAMME

H E A R T S includes films about love, romance and friendship. We recommend:

HANDSOME_DEVIL_2 copyHANDSOME DEVIL, fresh from Sundance comes John Butler’s drama which has Andrew Scott as a witty Irish charmer which charts the unlikely friendship between an isolated gay teen and his hunky rugby playing roommate.

HEARTLAND, Maura Anderson’s elegant and assured debut is a powerful examination of love and loss and tells the tale of Lauren, who is forced to return to live in rural Oklahoma following the death of her girlfriend.

DEAR DAD: (dir. Tanuj Bhramar) in India-set a father and son move closer in a bittersweet road movie.

BEING 17: André Techiné’s powerful and affecting tale of two young boys in their last year of high school, co-written by Celine Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood) – review

SEVENTEEN: the pain and heartache of young love is laid bare in Monja Art’s hugely accomplished second feature.

B O D I E S – features stories of sex, identity and transformation.

THE UNTAMED: see review

MILES : Nathan Adloff’s winning gay teen movie.

HANDMAIDEN: Park Chan Wook’s ravishing oriental upstairs/downstairs tale of deception inspired by Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith

BODY_ELECTRIC_1 copyBODY ELECTRIC (left). Marcelo Caetano explores the casual encounters of a handsome young man in contemporary Brazil.

THE ORNITHOLOGIST – see review

BELOW HER MOUTH; an entirely female crew create a no holds-barred depiction of what happens in the first few days of two women falling in love.

RAISING ZOEY; Dante Alencastre’s documentary follows a strong family who demonstrate how open mindedness and love can pave the way for a joyful transition for their 13-year-old Zoey.

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD review

THE TRANS LIST; Timothy Greenfield Sanders returns to BFI Flare with The Trans List, in which some of the world’s most prominent transpeople, including Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox, tell their stories.

M I N D S  features reflections on art, politics and community.

THE SLIPPERS: Morgan White chronicles the world’s most recognisable pair of shoes in this documentary about Dorothy’s iconic ruby footwear in The Wizard of Oz.

TWO_SOFT_THINGS_2 copyTWO SOFT THINGS, TWO HARD THINGS; Mark Kenneth Woods sensitively observes the complexities of LGBT life in Canada’s remote Arctic Inuit population.

LAST MAN STANDING  (dir. Erin Brethauer) is a beautifully made documentary charting the life of eight long-term survivors who live with AIDS.

THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN: a documentary about the much-loved author of Tales of the City

ORLANDO_1 copyORLANDO: THE QUEER ELEMENT: Sally Potter’s delicious visual feast adapted from Virginia Woolf’s tale of gender identity through the ages

BFI Flare also includes a wide range of events, talks and debates.

And music-wise the BFI Flare joins forces with interactive theatre company Clay & Diamonds for Orlando: The Queer Element, an education event which uses Sally Potter’s film and Virginia Woolf’s text to allow audiences to step inside a world that breaks apart traditional boundaries between science and art and explore notions of gender and sex from the Elizabethans through to 2017.

Tickets NOW ON SALE | 16 -26 MARCH 2017 

Strike a Pose (2016)

Director-writers: Ester Gould, Reijer Zwaan | Cast: Luis Camacho, Oliver Crumes III, Salim Gauwloos, Jose Gutierez, Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn | Doc | US |

Revisiting Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition gig, 25 dancers reflect on their experience in a very different world, a quarter of a century ago. This Dutch documentary looks at what happens once the performance high is over and the champagne glasses are washed and back on the shelf.

1990 felt feisty and fresh and so was Madonna and her dancers. Breaking onto a music scene that still seemed rather touching and naive, the quaint newness of ‘nautifying’ religion now seems very dated and tame in its way, and Gould and Zwaan successfully capture the zeitgeist of those ‘ground-breaking’ moments, with the usual talking heads, clips and footage format. But STRIKE A POSE is rather top heavy on sentimental family stories and light on entertainment, music and Madonna herself. So don’t go expecting a toe-tapping cheer-filled shindig; this really should be classified as an LGBT interest documentary rather than music biopic, per se. None of the dancers stands out as a personality with any particularly charisma. That said, this low-key indie makes some salient points about the cult of celebrity and its often catastrophic consequences for delicate egos and sensitive types, many of whom were still really kids when they took part, and there are some sincere revelations about what it feels like to be gay, then and now: “We carried our flamboyance as a warning,” says Camacho. “Yes, we have earrings on, we have eyeliner on, but don’t mistake any of this for weakness.”

So STRIKE A POSE is certainly worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a human interest story about the soulful introspection of gay men in the entertainment business and their melancholy reflections on the past, and of the first great arena spectacle that now is very much the way to go. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 3 FEBRUARY 2017 AT BERTHA DOCHOUSE

 

 

 

Me, Myself and Her (2016) | Io e Lei | DVD | VOD

Dir: Maria Sole Tognazzi | Writers: Ivan Cotroneo | Cast: Margherita Buy, Sabrina Ferilli, Fausto Maria Sciarappa, Domenico Diele | Drama | 102min | Italy

Me Myself and Her is an upbeat and sophisticated romantic comedy that provides a thoughtful addition to the growing mainstream collection of lesbian-themed dramas, although the ending is sadly rather predictable. With shades of Portrait of a Serial Monogamist (2015) and La Belle Saison (2016) it is award-winning Roman director Maria Sole Tognazzi’s second collaboration with Margherita Buy who is just the right person to play the rather sensitive Federica, a woman in her fifties who finds herself living with her friend, who is also a lover Marina (Sabrina Ferilli) after a long marriage to a man. The idea is based on a book by Ivan Cotroneo who also wrote the script for I Am Love (2009) and Loose Cannons (2010).

Early on in the film Federica states: “I am not a lesbian” and this pivotal statement leads to the crucial premise of the film – that sexual orientation can be a moveable feast, not a cast iron condition. At different times of our lives, the sexuality we originally identify with may be called into question as attraction and compatibility often surprisingly become more a feasible state of affairs, whatever the sex of the person we’re attracted to. Margherita Buy and Sabrina Ferilli (The Great Beauty) are believable as a couple of straight-acting and accomplished women who feel comfortable living together, and loving together also works for them in their middle age.

While Federica’s sexuality is morphing into a different sphere, Marina is on also entering a different phase of her life on a career level: a well-known actress, she is now running a restaurant that gives all its daily uneaten food to charity. The difference between them however is where the problems arise. Marina is the more assertive one of the couple and is happily open about their arrangement, even to the Press, and that’s something that makes Federica uneasy as she doesn’t really identify as a ‘lesbian’. And meeting up with an old boyfriend Marco (Fausto Maria Sciarappa), Federica finds herself in bed with him and starts to reappraise her physical feelings for a man. But the affair moves too quickly, as she finds herself trapped between two dominant characters – Marina on one side, and Marco on the other. And both want to take over her life. And Federica is not sure whether she loves Marina or prefers Marco, although these two sexual perspectives are not really examined in depth in Tognazzi’s rather freewheeling, carefree narrative. Marina is also grappling with a personal dilemma of her own: should she take a part she’s been offered in a film that may take her away from Rome, or continue with her successful eaterie.

Despite the rather unoriginal ending, this is a drama that feels really convincing from a relationship point of view. Tognazzi’s two characters are not driven together by toxic dysfunctionality, but by their comfortable attraction and compatibility with one another, which at the end makes for a more satisfactory midlife union that sexual fireworks and slanging matches. MT

MY, MYSELF AND HER IS AVAILABLE ON DVD | VOD FROM WOLF VIDEO FROM 6 DECEMBER 2016 |

Girls Lost | Pojkarna (2015) | DVD release

Dir.: Alexandra-Therese Keining | Cast: Tuva Jagell, Louise Nyvall, Wilma Holmen, Mandus Berg | Sweden | 106 min.

Adapted from Jessica Schliefauer’s prize-winning novel, Alexandra-Therese Keining (Kiss Me) retro drama harks back to the 80s where three teenage girls find away to escape bullying thanks to a magic drink. What starts as a body-transfer fantasy soon explores weightier themes about the true nature of sexual orientation and teenage angst in a macho school environment.

The three girls are 14 year old students Kim (Jagell), Momo (Nyvall) and Bella (Holmen) who are close allies in their campaign against sexual bullying by the boys, and a total lack of protection from the indifferent teachers. One evening, Bella finds a mysterious seed, that produces a an exotic flower in just one night. After a fancy dress party (with masks straight out of Eyes Wide Shut), the trio samples the flower’s sap, and during a cut in a trance-like sequence, suddenly are transformed into their male equivalents (played by male actors):

Whilst Bella and Momo revel in this confidence-boosting return to girlhood during the daytime, Kim is much more happy to be a boy. On the following night, the (male) trio is invited to a football game and a party, where Kim meets Tony (Berg), a toughie from a nearby the estate. The two go on a burglary spree, and Kim somehow falls for Tony, whose harsh exterior hides a uncertainty about his sexual orientation. During the day time, the girls, now better equipped to fight off the aggressive boys at school, discuss their future: Kim alone dreads the day the sap will dry up. To make matters even more complicated, Momo discovers her feelings for the male Kim. After the greenhouse with the sap burns down, the female Kim, her male Ego rejected by Tony (“you are a faggot”), steals his car and gun and drives off into the night.

It is clear, that Kim is much more at home in a male body than a female one. At the same time, he is drawn to boys, and rejects the female Momo, who has fallen in love with his male identity. What looked like at first as semi-lesbian trio, turns out into something completely different: The female Momo is clearly attracted to boys (but not the one of the macho-variety she encounters at school), Bella is extremely shy and reticent, and has yet to discover her sexual identity, whilst the male Kim is prone to male violence, his female Alter-Ego hated so much. For the female Kim, there hangs indeed a big question mark about her future.

DOP Ragna Jorming’s images are rich and evocative, often cutting off into science footage, with multiplying cells. The slow-motion underwater images are a rather overdome, but overall the visual impact is stunning. Whilst Keining’s direction is faultless, her script, particularly the dialogues, is often trite and over-didactic; some things are better left the the imagination in a subtle subtext. But overall, Girls Lost is a daring and original achievement. AS

GIRLS LOST will be released in the U.S. and Canada via Wolfe Video on December 13: on DVD & VOD and across all digital platforms including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand, and WolfeOnDemand.com and many major retailers.

 

King Cobra (2016) | LFF 2016

Dir: Justin Kelly | Cast| James Franco, Christian Slater, Garrett Clayton | 87min | Drama

The ubiquitous James Franco was once a name to be conjured with: Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, 127 Hours and even Pineapple Express showed initial promise for his sterling efforts and energetic talents as an actor, director and writer. But Interior Leather Bar set him off down another track and Every Thing Will Be Fine followed. In KING COBRA he is back on form, once here again teaming up with Justin Kelly (I Am Michael) and lending a certain charisma to his supporting role in this rather seedy gay porn outing, based on the true story of the early career of the soi-disant ‘Brent Corrigan’ (aka Sean Paul Lockhart) played by Garrett Clayton, who we first meet, aged 17, auditioning for Cobra Video, an amateur gay porn company set up by King Cobra himself, Stephen (Christian Slater).

From the get go, audiences will smell a rat when they see Stephen salivating at the discovery of his nascent porn starlet while still purporting to be straight: when his sister offers to set him up on a blind date, he protests:  “I can manage my own love life”. You bet he can, and it all originates from the privacy of his own home.

At first Stephen appears to be a relatively low key nonce. He is sadly aware that his ageing looks are a hindrance in bedding desirable under-age men. Although Sean claims to be 18. But delusion is his only bedfellow, and while he  kids himself that Lockhart and he are lovers,  the blond boy-star has other plans. Far too cute to fall in with Stephen,  he swiftly leverages his burgeoning potential by demanding more money from the slippery entrepreneur. And soon enough, perky porn producer Joe (Franco) comes sniffing along and smartly involves Lockhart his boss a ‘ménage à quatre’ with his easygoing partner Harlow ( Keegan Allen) and thus the ‘Viper Boys’ are born, servicing their physical and financial lives. But Joe is clearly also a profligate narcissist with a penchant for fiery temper tantrums when he is thwarted.

KING COBRA’s narrative plays out as a fascinating character study between the four men and their sexual interplay with some decent performances in scenes of an often graphic nature that will go down well if gay sex or gay porn is your schtick. MT

SCREENING DURING THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 5 -16 OCTOBER 2016

Rara (2016) | LFF 2016

Dir.: Pepa San Martin; Cast: Julia Lübbert, Emilia Ossandon, Mariana Loyola, Augustina Munoz, Daniel Munoz, Micela Christi; Chile/Argentina 2016, 92 min.

Filmmaker Pepa San Martin delivers a stingingly truthful portrait of family disintegration in her promising debut RARA, where a father uses the sexual orientation of his ex- wife to gain custody of their two daughters. Based on a true case in Chile, RARA is a sad account of judicial prejudice, told often in an ironic tone when describing situations bordering on the absurd.

In the Argentine city of Mar de Plata, Paula (Loyola) has left her husband Victor (D. Munoz) and taken their kids Sara (Lübbert) a maudlin teenager, and her much younger sister Catalina (Ossandon) to form a new family with. Lia (A Munoz). Things come unstuck when Sara tells her father about harassment at school because she lives with “two Mommies”, and Victor, a one time supporter of Pinochet in Chile, starts a court case to get custody of his two daughters, ably supported by a “tame” psychologist and his influential mother.

The catalyst of the narrative is Sara, whose teenage angst is driving her into the arms of her father, sometimes against her own will. Homelife for Paula and Lia is often problematic with the two arguing and causing friction between Catalina and her sister. At school, Sara’s best friend, Pancha (Christi), is everything Sara wants to be: slim, articulate, and indulged by her rich parents. Victor, manipulative by nature, uses Sara’s birthday party to alienate her from his ex-wife – after all, his house is much bigger than Paula’s. When Sara stays out late – just another attempt to copy Pancha – the situation boils over.

RARA, means strange in Spanish, and is certainly the situation finds herself in caused by adults who say something, but mean exactly the opposite. Sara flirts with co-student Julian, her sister is obsessed by a little kitten – their worlds do not meet. On top of it, Victor is a true macho man: when his new partner Nicole tells him to wash his hands before lunch, he immediately hits back, shouting at Sara to take her feet off the sofa.

RARA’s strongest moments are these small observations. The true victim is Sara, who is not only used by her biological parents as a pawn, but also is left to mother Catalina, since her father is hopeless at communicating with his girls and Paula is too engaged in her emotional struggle with Lia to notice, let alone care. Carried by Lübbert and Ossandon, RARE is always lively and tenderly humane as evoked in DoP Enrique Stindt visuals that contrast the two very different family homes, but also create lyrical scenes of the city, where Sara will find her freedom away from the interfering and selfish adults. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 5-16 OCTOBER 2016 | BERLINALE 2016 REVIEW

From Afar (2015) | Desde Alla | Golden Lion Winner | Venice Film Festival 2016

Director: Lorenzo Vigas

Cast: Alfredo Castro, Luis Silva, Jerico Montilla, Catherina Cardozo

93min  Drama  Venezuela | Mexico | Spanish with subtitles

The feature film debut of director Lorenzo Vigas, who has created a body of documentaries, is a small but well- observed drama set in the violent environment of Caracas and is based on a story by Guillermo Arriaga.

Armando (Castro) is a well-to-do but lonely man in his fifties resigned to his lucrative work a dental laboratory. At an encounter with his middle-aged sister, who is planning to adopt a child with her husband, we meet Armando for the first time agitated at his father’s return from abroad; his sister attempting to keep the peace. It never emerges what Armando’s issue is with his father (who we see a few times in the distance), but these negative feelings seep into his life. Sometimes he pays for a young male prostitute, but the sexual experience is more voyeuristic than anything else – until he meets the young Elder (Silva), who beats him up. Strangely, Armando seems to return for more punishment, until we begin to understand that the older man is trying to use Elder to revenge his father. Eventually passionate sex occurs but Armando warns Elder “not to get too close”, a warning Elder, who is looking for a father figure, after his mother had rejected him as a ‘faggot’, does not take seriously. The clever twist in the tale lies in the ambiguity between the two men: what appears as a tale of sexual awakening turns out to be something quite different and intriguing.

Castro is well cast as the loner who is single-mindedly focused on his own revenge: his Armando is a distracted avoidant, wrapped in his own world, alone at work and in his flat, a subdued retreat full of books and records. Elder, on the other hand, is full of contradictions: his violence is a defensive mechanism, ashamed of his tender feelings for Armando, he compensates with a macho role when he is with his friends. Vigas evokes a threatening sense of place in the Venezuelan capital where violence and alienation of the young and poor, dominate. Somehow, Armando’s psychopathic tendencies gradually emerge and it is clear that his relationships have all being tainted by his hatred for his father but his reaction to Elder comes as a complete surprise. Cinematographer Sergio Armstrong (NO) creates a sense of alienation and detachment with his washed out and torpid palette of sombre olive green and teal. A subtle and expertly-performed character study from veteran Alfredo Castro (The Club, Tony Manero) and newcomer Luis Silva. AS

REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 JULY 2016

The Girl King (2015)

Director: Mike Kaurismaki, Writer: Michel Marc Bouchard

Cast: Malin Buska, Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist, Laura Birn, Hippolyte Girardot, Lucas Bryant

106min  | Drama | Finland Sweden

Finnish director Mika Kaurismaki (Road North) and writer Michel Marc Bouchard (Tom at the Farm) join forces for this impressively-mounted historical biopic that focuses on an interesting era in Swedish history. Queen Kristina, who ruled Sweden in the middle of the 17th century, was an enterprising feminist in many ways similar to our own Queen Elizabeth I,  Previously played most notably by the legendary Greta Garbo in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1933 classic Queen Christina; what makes this version special is Kaurismaki’s full throttle slant on Kristina’s lesbian tendencies, where previous adaptations have just pussy footed round the subject.

That Kristina was a fully-fledged lesbian is a bold premise but sadly the film fails to live up to this intended ideal and ends up being just another period drama, albeit a watchable and beautifully-crafted one. This English language production has newcomer Malin Buska as Kristina, and Martina Gedeck as the mother of the only surviving legitimate child of King Gustav II Adolf (Samuli Edelmann).  Tomboyish Kristina becomes Queen as a tiny girl and starts to reign when she is just 18. In masterful form, Michael Nyqvist plays her chief political consultant, Chancellor Axel Von Oxenstierna, advising her on the peace talks during Europe’s religious Thirty Years’ War. We discover how Kristina was an ardent and respected patron of the arts and engaged with Europe’s finest artists and philosophers of the era, such as Rene Descartes (Patrick Bauchau) who is invited to stay at the Royal Palace. But her lesbian love affair with a beautiful young countess Ebba Sparre (Sarah Gadon) and her Catholic leanings (in Protestant Sweden) were the factors that made her unpopular when the going got tough.

Queen Kristina’s is a riveting story of bodice-ripping raunchiness and rich historical intrigue yet Kaurismaki and Bouchard’s offering is tepid in comparison with the real life deal; it is a drama that lacks dramatic heft and we care little for the protagonists or their tragic plights. Much of the problem lies with Bouchard’s script which was clunkily translated into English from its French original and then given to a cast of non-native speakers who do their best despite some real corkers on the dialogue front. Some of the performances are uneven and leave a great deal to be desired including the seduction scene between Kristina and Ebba.

That said THE GIRL KING is a sumptuously crafted historical romp set in some gloriously evocative snowy landscapes, featuring amongst others Turku Castle in Finland and Eschenlohe in Bavaria, but the tone too often veers towards the melodramatic rather than the politically and emotionally resonant. MT

SCREENING IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 17 JUNE 2016

Holding the Man (2015)

Director: Neil Armfield   Script: Tommy Murphy  Autobiography: Timothy Conigrave

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Ryan Corr, Craig Scott, Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, Camilla Ah Kin

127min | Drama | Australia 2015,

Neil Armfield (Candy) screen adaptation of Tommy Murphy’s script, based on a true story of forbidden gay love in the ’70s and ’80s Australia plays out like a heightened melodrama in tonal oddity HOLDING  THE MAN.

In Melbourne 1976,  at the prestigious Xavier Catholic College, Tim Conigrave (Corr) falls for his classmate, the Australian Football player John Caleo (Scott). The sixteen year-old boys try to hide their mutual passion, but a love letter mistakenly falls into the hands of the teachers exposing their strictly illicit liaison in a society whose penchant was for tradition and masculinity. Where Tim’s parents Mary (Fox) and Dick (Pearce) simply try to deny their son’s wrongdoing; John’s father Bob (LaPaglia) hits the roof, refusing to let the relationship develop. Tim is meanwhile keen to develop his acting skills and is having difficulty expressing the sadness required for his part as Romeo. His drama teacher gives him a hard time over this: “You lost your fiancée, not your bus pass”. Tim later moves to Sydney to attend Drama School, where his teacher (a masterful Geoffrey Rush) again criticizes his performance, this time in his performance as a monkey: “There is not much work for effeminate monkeys”. John meanwhile is training to become a chiropractor but gradually the relationship breaks down – Tim enjoying the gay life of the capital. A reconciliation leads to tragic news for both men as the drama morphs into  ultra realism, before a rather poetic ending on the Italian island of Lipari.

The main drawback of Holding the Man (a term from Australian Rules Football) is the poorly-drawn characterisation of this rather vacuous pair of men: they seem to lack any kind of moral fibre lack, particularly John, who is portrayed as a fluffy, simpering pushover, just waiting for Tim to tell him what to do – and without him, he seems to have no life on his own. John at least has a selfish streak, but not much more. This is billed as being a great, passionate love story, but the characters are so devoid of any real traits, that their homosexuality seems to be their only exceptional quality – hardly the impact Conigrave would have wished for when penning his memoir. The rather the top ‘ 70s aesthetics and cliché ridden images of DoP Germain McMicking give the film a strange retro feel, without adding anything substantial. And while the leads Corr and Scott are mostly convincing despite their poor material, their portrayal of 16 year old boys suffers from a rather too obvious age gap. Overall, HOLDING THE MAN is a missed opportunity to give voice to what clearly may have been a meaningful experience in challenging times, making it difficult for the audience to invest emotionally or feel sympathy for their struggle. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 3 JUNE 2016

 

Departure (2015) |

Writer|Director: Andrew Steggall

Cast: Juliet Stevenson, Alex Lawther, Phenix Broussard, Finbar Lynch

108min | Drama | UK

An English mother and son make a final journey to their French holiday home in this intense character-driven debut which will appeal to fans of Joanna Hogg with its shades of Archipelago. In DEPARTURE Andrew Steggall shows impressive maturity in understanding life from the middle-aged perspective of parents Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) and Philip (Finbar Lynch) and their pubescent son Elliott (Alex Lawther) and teenage friend Clement  (Phenix Broussard). So often English debut dramas can be gorgeous to look but weak on narrative structure, but Streggall excels in a subtly nuanced rites of passage story sensitively rendered in a palette of soft autumn hues that echo a woman’s tristesse at the dying days of her marriage and the last hurrah of childhood innocence. DEPARTURE is full of nostalgia: its contempo themes of sexual longing, emotional loneliness and loss drifting alongside childhood memories and familial attachments as mother and son cling to a past that held high hopes for a rosy future, now shrouded in uncertainty.

As they arrive at the shuttered lakeside home, it’s clear that Bea (50s) and Elliott (15) bring with them a sense of bitterness and uncertainty. Elliott is detached and petulant: too immersed in the stirrings of his nascent gaydom to be aware of his mother’s depressed state. Bea is tearfully preoccupied and overwhelmed with feelings of anger over her sexually ambivalent and emotionally distant husband and the loss of her cherished home. It’s a toxic dynamic handled with gracefulness by Stevenson (in Truly Madly Deeply mode) and impressive newcomer Alex Lawther (who has the look of a character from a Rupert Brooke war poem, complete with the jacket).

When Elliott spys the slightly older Clement (Phenix Brossard – a younger Denis Lavant) diving into the local reservoir, he is immediately drawn to his vibrant swagger, and intoxicated by his bravery – the water is strictly out of bounds. But Clement is impervious to Elliott’s attempts to engage him in conversation as the boy becomes intrigued with his only local (bilingual) friend. What’s more, Clement seems more sympathetic to Bea’s feelings fuelling a spark of jealousy within Elliott as his obsession grows and a curious ménage à trois develops.

Cinematographer Brian Fawcett (who honed his craft on Venus and Control) cleverly uses his lenses to focus on the subtleties of facial expression and gesture, creating an evocative sense of place in the wooded countryside and local market towns in the ancient terroir of Languedoc-Roussillon. Clement is the breath of fresh air in this buttoned-up threesome, injecting irreverent humour and a sense of combativeness: when Elliott becomes too prissy he comments: “You’re a bit of a cliché – ‘the poet’-  brusquely bringing things down to earth. And when the English couple drift into over-sensitivity, Clement pricks the bubble with his bullish earthiness. But he has a more reflective side to his personality and his occasional outbursts mask a troubled sadness. After the pent up scenes of his father’s visit, Elliott’s emotional epiphany is marked by an inspired slow-motion underwater scene scored to Dvorak, bringing a spurt of fresh energy to proceedings in contrast to Bea’s sad plight. Stevenson delivers an affecting finale that will resonate with many women, offering rare insight into the female psyche that refuses to rant outwardly; tending to internalise emotional pain: in some ways her character is the most complex and underwritten. Lawther, who played the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game provides another typically English portrait of burgeoning adolescent sexuality; finely-tuned, verging on anally narcissistic. Brossard is fabulously feisty and almost feral, and there is strong but underwritten support from Niamh Cusack (as a neighbour) while Lynch does his best as the typically silent and deadly avoidant male. DEPARTURE is absorbing and watchable, and although it could be argued that Steggall lingers a little too long on some of the scenes, he offers a well-crafted and inspired first feature making him a welcome British talent in the making . MT

ON RELEASE FROM 20 MAY 2016

Welcome to the House (2015) BFI Flare 2016

Director: Barbara Hammer | Documentary | 79min | US

Barbara Hammer creates an expressionistic portrait of the fascinating early 20th century American poet Elizabeth Bishop, exploring her love life and her outstanding contribution to the literary life of the era (1911-79) through black and white photos, dreamlike collages and an atmospherically eerie and evocative score. Selective talking heads offer informative and enchanting impressions of their charismatic friend and collaborator who was given to peripatetic wanderings to exotic places where she could give full reign to her lesbian lifestyle during ’30s prohibition.

This is a sensuous and often mesmerizing piece of filmmaking and Ms. Hammer, no stranger to the lesbian subject matter, embellishes her largely experimental documentry with charmingly suggestive incantations often accompanying readings of Bishop’s poetry and verses, some of which are impressively avantgarde: “I’m so hot to trot; I’m so hot to trot”.

Early on in Bishop’s life, it also emerges that her mother was committed to an institution leaving her to the care of grandparents in Nova Scotia where her eccentric (for the era) love life involved affairs with women of all ages from her college tutor to her classmates.

Spending many years in Brazil, she lived a bohemian and often toxic lifestyle near Petrópolis with successful architect Lota de Macedo Soares, on her modernist estate. Here Bishop became an alcoholic and Soares eventually committed suicide with an overdose. Later, at Harvard, Bishop eventually managed to relax into her sexuality, and expressed it through suggestive clothing and louche behaviour with her friends – fellow poets Kathleen Spivack and John Ashbery – in the privacy of her home where she played ping-pong in tight leather trousers.

But the most fascinating revelations come courtesy of her Brazilian housekeeper who paints a vivid and vehement picture of one of America’s most imaginative literary doyennes. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE UNTIL 27 MARCH 2016

 

NUNCA VAS A ESTAR (YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE) | Teddy Award |Berlinale 2016

Director: Alex Anwandter; Cast: Sergio Hernandez, Andrew Bergsted, Gabriela Hernandez, Jaime Leiva; Chile 2016, 82 min.

A tribute to Daniel Zamudio, a Chilean gay man who was brutally murdered in 2012 by neo-Nazis, musician Alex Andwandter’s directorial debut is a tight and claustrophobic study in grief, loneliness and betrayal.

It follows Pablo (Bergsted) a young man still living with his father Juan (S. Hernandez), who manages a mannequin factory. The two have little in common and a poor emotional rapport since Pablo “showed a limp wrist”, indicating a lack of manliness in a society dominated by macho-values and masculine role models.

Whilst his father works long hours, Pablo takes ballet lessons and hangs out with his longterm friend Felix (Leiva) and Lucy (G. Hernandez), who has a crush on him. When Pablo and Lucy are chased by two homophobic young men, who, with the help of Felix, corner Pablo and beat him so severely, that he falls into a coma his father is naturally distraught, but worse is to follow: due to a glitch the health insurance is declared partly invalid. Then an old “friend of the family” admits she asked Felix and the men who beat Pablo up, “to be nice to the gay man, because he is different from you”. Juan loses it and confronts Felix, who denies any wrong doing. Juan, having raised Pablo single-handedly from a boy, can’t take any more. Having been lonely for most his life – after his much younger wife left him – he  decides he has to change his cautious way of life.

Far from being an over-excited melodrama, YOU’ll NEVER BE ALONE is a concise, ruminative and claustrophobic study in grief, betrayal and loneliness. Darkness (literally and contents wise) dominates: in a world of semi-daekness, and all the interiors feel oppressively, particularly the ghostly shop window mannequins factory, which seems to be underground. Juan has retreated into an inner world; his house is neglected, and Pablo’s room, is more like a prison cell. The hospital corridors, where Juan meets a helpful nurse, are more like a morgue than a place for the living. DOP Matias Illanes captures at atmosphere of tension which plays like the endgame of a relentless chess match where the players are slowly and tortuously extinguished. Sergio Hernandez carries himself like an old fashioned hero from a ’40s film noir: beaten already, before the first blows rain down on his son. This harrowing, mournful and forlorn debut is relentless and leaves the audience heartbroken. Far from being an melodramatic meltdown, YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE  is ruminative and dark in tone and texture, locked down in a world of negativity and isolation. AS

BERLINALE RUNS 11 -21 FEBRUARY 2016 | FORUM SECTION | MORE COVERAGE UNDER BERLINALE 2016

Brothers of the Night (2016) | Berlinale 2016

Director|Writer: Patric Chiha, With: Ebba Sinzinger, Vincent Lucassen | Documentary | 88min | Austria 

Brothers of the Night are just that. In an underworld, against the backdrop of the Danube and Vienna’s skyline, these sultry little leather-clad pixies come from Roma origins in Bulgaria to try their luck and make a fast buck as bisexual prostitutes with over-inflated opinions of themselves and their sexual allure but gathering strength, comfort and a sense of community from their close brotherhood, far away from home. Cigarettes and mobile phones are their props as they coyly toy with the camera in Patric Chiha’s contempo snapshot of the Austrian capital’s underbelly.

Lacking a formal the documentary simply meanders through the various stories of these Bulgarian adventurists who arrive in Vienna in search of ‘normal’ work dreaming of a city paved with gold. But it doesn’t take them long before they realise that there’s easy money to be made in the sex trade and so they quickly slip into a life of nocturnal seduction, selling their bodies to all sorts without a qualm; ‘doing business’ with straight men, gays and the transgender brigade, in a bid to support their kids back home and wives they often no longer love. Klemens Hufnagl’s opening wide angle shots of the Danube give way to more exotic and vibrantly filmed intimate interior scenes where the boys talk candidly to the camera and to each other, recounting their sexual adventures with a certain sense of pride as they trade and exchange tips on how best to leverage their sexual favours and make money ‘between the sheets.’ An eclectic soundtrack of ethnic and classical music elevates this spicy insight into Vienna’s Roma community, but offers little more than mild titillation for the LGBT crowd . MT

BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT PREMIERES AT BERLINALE 2016 | PANORAMA DOKUMENTE STRAND

 

Sundance Film Festival | Prizes Announced

112263_still1_JamesFranco_SarahGadon__byAlexDukayThe first major international festival of the independent film world: SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 has wrapped with another “great step forward for independent film,” according to the festival director John Cooper. For ten days in January the snow-bound hub of Park City, Utah screened 120 features, 98 of which are world premieres and include a romantic drama about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date; a two hander about a drifter who befriends a dead body and the first film to focus on the women of Wall Street.

So what’s new trendwise in 2016? Well, according to director of programming Trevor Groth: Everyone’s understanding craft so much better. There’s a changing face to what a documentary is and what it can do in the end. People are experimenting in genre in really interesting ways, so festival-goers should expect a “wild range of tones and styles” in the World Cinema dramatic competition. “Independent filmmakers are doing what they’ve always done best: connecting the dots of human existence with a deeply charged emotional current.” We look at the ones that screened during this year’s festival and the PRIZE WINNERS to look out for in the coming months.  

US DRAMATIC COMPETITION winner THE BIRTH OF A NATION (US)

US DIRECTING AWARD DRAMATIC winner SWISS ARMY MAN (US)

US DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION winner WEINER

US DIRECTING AWARD DOCUMENTARY winner LIFE, ANIMATED (US)

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION winner SAND STORM (ISRAEL)

WORLD CINEMA DIRECTING AWARD DRAMATIC winner BELGICA (BELGIUM)

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION winner SONITA (IRAN)

WORLD CINEMA DIRECTING AWARD DOCUMENTARY winner ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (POLAND)

ALFRED P SLOAN FEATURE FILM PRIZE winner EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (MEXICO)

WORLD CINEMA AWARD FOR UNIQUE VISION AND DESIGN winner THE LURE (POLAND)

NEXT -AUDIENCE AWARD winner THE FIRST GIRL I LOVED  (cutting edge equivalent of Cannes “Un Certain Regard”)

W O R L D   P R E M I E R E S 

A showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year.

agnus copyAGNUS DEI / France, Poland (Director: Anne Fontaine, Screenwriters: Sabrina N. Karine, Alice Vial, Pascal Bonitzer) — 1945 Poland: Mathilde, a young French doctor, is on a mission to help World War II survivors. When a nun seeks her assistance in helping several pregnant nuns in hiding, who are unable to reconcile their faith with their pregnancies, Mathilde becomes their only hope. Cast: Lou de Laâge, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Katarzyna Dabrowska. World Premiere

16753-1-1100ALI AND NINO / United Kingdom (Director: Asif Kapadia, Screenwriter: Christopher Hampton) — Muslim prince Ali and Georgian aristocrat Nino have grown up in the Russian province of Azerbaijan. Their tragic love story sees the outbreak of the First World War and the world’s struggle for Baku’s oil. Ultimately they must choose to fight for their country’s independence or for each other. Cast: Adam Bakri, Maria Valverde, Mandy Patinkin, Connie Nielsen, Riccardo Scamarcio, Homayoun Ershadi. World Premiere

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ross) — Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and re-enter society, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent. Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd. World Premiere

certain copyCERTAIN WOMEN / U.S.A. (Director: Kelly Reichardt, Screenwriter: Kelly Reichardt based on stories by Maile Meloy) — The lives of three woman intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail. Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone. World Premiere

COMPLETE UNKNOWN / U.S.A. (Director: Joshua Marston, Screenwriters: Joshua Marston, Julian Sheppard) — When Tom and his wife host a dinner party to celebrate his birthday, one of their friends brings a date named Alice. Tom is convinced he knows her, but she’s going by a different name and a different biography—and she’s not acknowledging that she knows him. Cast: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover. World Premiere

FRANK AND LOLA / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matthew Ross) — A psychosexual noir love story—set in Las Vegas and Paris—about love, obsession, sex, betrayal, revenge and, ultimately, the search for redemption. Cast: Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots, Michael Nyqvist, Justin Long, Emmanuelle Devos, Rosanna Arquette. World Premiere

THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Rob Burnett) — Having suffered a tragedy, Ben becomes a caregiver to earn money. His first client, Trevor, is a hilarious 18-year-old with muscular dystrophy. One paralyzed emotionally, one paralyzed physically, Ben and Trevor hit the road, finding hope, friendship, and Dot in this funny and touching inspirational tale. Cast: Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle, Megan Ferguson, Frederick Weller. World Premiere. CLOSING NIGHT FILM

Hollars copy copyTHE HOLLARS / U.S.A. (Director: John Krasinski, Screenwriter: Jim Strouse) — Aspiring New York City artist John Hollar returns to his Middle America hometown on the eve of his mother’s brain surgery. Joined by his girlfriend, eight months pregnant with their first child, John is forced to navigate the crazy world he left behind. Cast: John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day. World Premiere

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Taika Waititi) — Ricky is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together to survive in this heartwarming adventure comedy. Cast: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley. World Premiere

indig copyINDIGNATION / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: James Schamus) — It’s 1951, and among the new arrivals at Winesburg College in Ohio are the son of a kosher butcher from New Jersey and the beautiful, brilliant daughter of a prominent alum. For a brief moment, their lives converge in this emotionally soaring film based on the novel by Philip Roth. Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, Ben Rosenfield. World Premiere

LITTLE MEN / U.S.A. (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriter: Mauricio Zacharias) — When 13-year-old Jake’s grandfather dies, his family moves back into their old Brooklyn home. There, Jake befriends Tony, whose single Chilean mother runs the shop downstairs. As their friendship deepens, however, their families are driven apart by a battle over rent, and the boys respond with a vow of silence. Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri. World Premiere

LoveandFriendship_still1_ChloeSevigny_KateBeckinsale__byBernardWalshLOVE AND FRIENDSHIP / Ireland, France, Netherlands (Director and screenwriter: Whit Stillman) — From Jane Austen’s novella, the beautiful and cunning Lady Susan Vernon visits the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors of her dalliances and to find husbands for herself and her daughter. Two young men, handsome Reginald DeCourcy and wealthy Sir James Martin, severely complicate her plans. Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, Stephen Fry. World Premiere

manchester copyMANCHESTER BY THE SEA / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kenneth Lonergan) — After his older brother passes away, Lee Chandler is forced to return home to care for his 16-year-old nephew. There he is compelled to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community where he was born and raised. Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler. World Premiere

MR PIG / Mexico (Director: Diego Luna, Screenwriters: Augusto Mendoza, Diego Luna) — On a mission to sell his last remaining prize hog and reunite with old friends, an aging farmer abandons his foreclosed farm and journeys to Mexico. After smuggling in the hog, his estranged daughter shows up, forcing them to face their past and embark on an adventurous road trip together. Cast: Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, José María Yazpik, Joel Murray, Angélica Aragón, Gabriela Araujo. World Premiere

SING STREET / Ireland (Director and screenwriter: John Carney) — A boy growing up in Dublin during the ’80s escapes his strained family life and tough new school by starting a band to win the heart of a beautiful and mysterious girl. Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen, Mark McKenna. World Premiere

SophieandtheRisingSun_still2_JulianneNicholson_TakashiYamaguchi__byJacksonLeeDavisSOPHIE AND THE RISING SUN / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Maggie Greenwald) — In a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941, Sophie’s lonely life is transformed when an Asian man arrives under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence with the outbreak of World War ll. Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint, Takashi Yamaguchi, Diane Ladd, Joel Murray. World Premiere. SALT LAKE CITY GALA FILM

WIENER DOG / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Todd Solondz) — This film tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading comfort and joy. Cast: Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, Zosia Mamet. World Premiere

D O C U M E N T A R Y   P R E M I E R E S
Renowned filmmakers and films about far-reaching subjects comprise this section highlighting our ongoing commitment to documentaries.

EAT THAT QUESTION—Frank Zappa in His Own Words / France, Germany (Director: Thorsten Schütte) — This entertaining encounter with the premier of sonic avant-garde is acidic, fun-poking, and full of rich and rare archival footage. This documentary bashes favorite Zappa targets and dashes a few myths about the man himself. World Premiere

FILM HAWK / U.S.A. (Directors: JJ Garvine, Tai Parquet) — Trace Bob Hawk’s early years as the young gay child of a Methodist minister to his current career as a consultant on some of the most influential independent films of our time. World Premiere

LOANDBEHOLDReveriesoftheConnectedWorld_headshot2_WernerHerzog_byNALO AND BEHOLD, Reveries of the Connected World / U.S.A. (Director: Werner Herzog) — Does the internet dream of itself? Explore the horizons of the connected world. World Premiere

MAPPLETHORPE – LOOK AT THE PICTURES / U.S.A. (Directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato) — This examination of Robert Mapplethorpe’s outrageous life is led by the artist himself, speaking with brutal honesty in a series of rediscovered interviews about his passions. Intimate revelations from friends, family, and lovers shed new light on this scandalous artist who ignited a culture war that still rages on. World Premiere

MAYA ANGELOU – AND STILL I RISE / U.S.A. (Directors: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack) — The remarkable story of Maya Angelou — iconic writer, poet, actress and activist whose life has intersected some of the most profound moments in recent American history. World Premiere

Michael copyMICHAEL JACKSON’S JOURNEY FROM MOTOWN TO OFF THE WALL / U.S.A. (Director: Spike Lee) — Catapulted by the success of his first major solo project, Off the Wall, Michael Jackson went from child star to King of Pop. This film explores the seminal album, with rare archival footage and interviews from those who were there and those whose lives its success and legacy impacted. World Premiere

NORMAN LEAR  – Just Another Version of You / U.S.A. (Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady) — How did a poor Jewish kid from Connecticut bring us Archie Bunker and become one of the most successful television producers ever? Norman Lear brought provocative subjects like war, poverty, and prejudice into 120 million homes every week. He proved that social change was possible through an unlikely prism: laughter. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

Nothing copyNOTHING LEFT UNSAID: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper / U.S.A. (Director: Liz Garbus) — Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper each tell the story of their past and present, their loves and losses, and reveal how some family stories have the tendency to repeat themselves in the most unexpected ways. World Premiere

RESILIENCE / U.S.A. (Director: James Redford) — This film chronicles the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators, and communities using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction, and disease. These professionals help break the cycles of adversity by daring to talk about the effects of divorce, abuse, and neglect. World Premiere

RICHARD LINKLATER—dream is destiny / U.S.A. (Directors: Louis Black, Karen Bernstein) — This is an unconventional look at a fiercely independent style of filmmaking that arose in the 1990s from Austin, Texas, outside the studio system. The film blends rare archival footage with journals, exclusive interviews with Linklater on and off set, and clips from Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, and more. World Premiere

UNDER THE GUN / U.S.A. (Director: Stephanie Soechtig) — The Sandy Hook massacre was considered a watershed moment in the national debate on gun control, but the body count at the hands of gun violence has only increased. Through the lens of the victims’ families, as well as pro-gun advocates, we examine why our politicians have failed to act. World Premiere

UNLOCKING THE CAGE / U.S.A. (Directors: Chris Hegedus, Donn Alan Pennebaker) — Follow animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. By filing the first lawsuit of its kind, Wise seeks to transform a chimpanzee from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with basic legal protection. World Premiere

U. S   . D R A M A T I C   C O M P E T I T I O N

The 16 films in this section are world premieres and, unless otherwise noted, are from the U.S.

AS YOU ARE (Director: Miles Joris­-Peyrafitte, Screenwriters: Miles Joris­-Peyrafitte, Madison Harrison) — The telling and retelling of a relationship between three teenagers as it traces the course of their friendship through a construction of disparate memories prompted by a police investigation. C​ast: Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton, Amandla Stenberg, John Scurti, Scott Cohen, Mary Stuart Masterson.

BirthTHE BIRTH OF A NATION (Director and screenwriter: Nate Parker) — Set against the antebellum South, this story follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. After witnessing countless atrocities against fellow slaves, Nat devises a plan to lead his people to freedom. C​ast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Mark Boone Jr.

CHRISTINE (Director: Antonio Campos, Screenwriter: Craig Shilowich) — In 1974, a female TV news reporter aims for high standards in life and love in Sarasota, Fla. Missing her mark is not an option. This story is based on true events. C​ast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts, J. Smith-­Cameron.

EquityEQUITY  (Director: Meera Menon, Screenwriter: Amy Fox) — A female investment banker, fighting to get a promotion at her competitive Wall Street firm, leads a controversial tech IPO in the post-­financial-­crisis world, where regulations are tight but pressure to bring in big money remains high. C​ast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner.​

THE FREE WORLD (Director and screenwriter: Jason Lew) — Following his release from a brutal stretch in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, Mo is struggling to adapt to life on the outside. When his world collides with Doris, a mysterious woman with a violent past, he decides to risk his newfound freedom to keep her in his life. C​ast: Boyd Holbrook, Elisabeth Moss, Octavia Spencer, Sung Kang, Waleed Zuaiter.

GOAT (Director: Andrew Neel, Screenwriters: David Gordon Green, Andrew Neel, Michael Roberts) — Reeling from a terrifying assault, a 19-­year-­old boy pledges his brother’s fraternity in an attempt to prove his manhood. What happens there, in the name of “brotherhood,” tests both the boys and their relationship in brutal ways. C​ast: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Virginia Gardner, Danny Flaherty, Austin Lyon.

THE INTERVENTION (Director and screenwriter: Clea DuVall) — A weekend getaway for four couples takes a sharp turn when one of the couples discovers the entire trip was orchestrated to host an intervention on their marriage. ​Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Natasha Lyonne, Ben Schwartz.

JOSHY(Director and screenwriter: Jeff Baena) — Josh treats what would have been his bachelor party as an opportunity to reconnect with his friends.​ Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Jenny Slate.

Lovesong_still1_FerrisWheelLOVESONG  (Director: So Yong Kim, Screenwriters: So Yong Kim, Bradley Rust Gray) — Neglected by her husband, Sarah embarks on an impromptu road trip with her young daughter and her best friend, Mindy. Along the way, the dynamic between the two friends intensifies before circumstances force them apart. Years later, Sarah attempts to rebuild their intimate connection in the days before Mindy’s wedding.​ Cast: Jena Malone, Riley Keough, Brooklyn Decker, Amy Seimetz, Ryan Eggold, Rosanna Arquette.

MORRIS FROM AMERICA (U.S.-Germany / Director and screenwriter: Chad Hartigan) — Thirteen­-year-­old Morris, a hip­-hop-loving American, moves to Heidelberg, Germany, with his father. In this completely foreign land, he falls in love with a local girl, befriends his German tutor­-turned­-confidant, and attempts to navigate the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence. C​ast: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Jakub Gierszal, Levin Henning.​

OTHER PEOPLE  (Director and screenwriter: Chris Kelly) — A struggling comedy writer, fresh from breaking up with his boyfriend, moves to Sacramento to help his sick mother. Living with his conservative father and younger sisters, David feels like a stranger in his childhood home. As his mother worsens, he tries to convince everyone (including himself) he’s “doing OK.” C​ast: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Maude Apatow, Zach Woods, June Squibb. (Day One film)

SouthsideWithYou_still7_TikaSumpter_ParkerSawyers__byPatScolaSOUTHSIDE WITH YOU  (Director and screenwriter: Richard Tanne) — A chronicle of the summer afternoon in 1989 when the future president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, wooed his future First Lady on an epic first date across Chicago’s South Side.​ Cast: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Vanessa Bell Calloway.

SPA NIGHT  (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Ahn) — A young Korean-­American man works to reconcile his obligations to his struggling immigrant family with his burgeoning sexual desires in the underground world of gay hookups at Korean spas in Los Angeles.​ Cast: Joe Seo, Haerry Kim, Youn Ho Cho, Tae Song, Ho Young Chung, Linda Han.

SwissArmyMan_still1_PaulDano_DanielRadcliffe__byJoyceKimSWISS ARMY MAN (Directors and screenwriters: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan) — Hank, a hopeless man stranded in the wild, discovers a mysterious dead body. Together the two embark on an epic journey to get home. As Hank realizes the body is the key to his survival, this once­-suicidal man is forced to convince a dead body that life is worth living. ​Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.​

TALLULAH (Director and screenwriter: Sian Heder) — A rootless young woman takes a toddler from a wealthy, negligent mother and passes the baby off as her own in an effort to protect her. This decision connects and transforms the lives of three very different women. Cast: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkeit, Uzo Aduba.

16197-1-1100WHITE GIRL  (Director and screenwriter: Elizabeth Wood) — Summer, New York City: A college student goes to extremes to get her drug-dealer boyfriend out of jail. C​ast: Morgan Saylor, Brian “Sene” Marc, Justin Bartha, Chris Noth, India Menuez, Adrian Martinez.

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

The 16 films in this section are world premieres and, unless otherwise noted, are from the U.S.

AUDRIE AND DAISY (Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk) — After two high-school girls in different towns are sexually assaulted by boys they consider friends, online bullying leads each girl to attempt suicide. Tragically, one dies. Assault in the social media age is explored from the perspectives of the girls and boys involved, as well as their torn-­apart communities.

AUTHOR : The JT LeRoy Story” (Director: Jeff Feuerzeig) — As the definitive look inside the mysterious case of 16­-year-­old literary sensation JT LeRoy — a creature so perfect for his time that if he didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent him — this is the strangest story about story ever told.

The Bad kidsTHE BAD KIDS (Directors: Keith Fulton, Lou Pepe) — At a remote Mojave Desert high school, extraordinary educators believe that empathy and life skills, more than academics, give at-­risk students command of their own futures. This coming­-of­-age story watches education combat the crippling effects of poverty in the lives of these so-­called “bad kids.”

GLEASON (Director: Clay Tweel) — At the age of 34, Steve Gleason, former NFL defensive back and New Orleans hero, was diagnosed with ALS. Doctors gave him two to five years to live. So that is what Steve chose to do: Live — both for his wife and newborn son and to help others with this disease.

HOLY HELL (Director: undisclosed) — Just out of college, a young filmmaker joins a loving, secretive, spiritual community led by a charismatic teacher in 1980s West Hollywood. Twenty years later, the group is shockingly torn apart. Told through hundreds of hours of accumulated footage, this is their story.

HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD  (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change​)” (Director: Josh Fox) — Do we have a chance to stop the most destructive consequences of climate change, or is it too late? Academy Award­-nominated director Josh Fox (“Gasland”)​ travels to 12 countries on six continents to explore what we have to let go of — and all of the things that climate can’t change.

JIM (Director: Brian Oakes) — The public execution of American conflict journalist James Foley captured the world’s attention, but he was more than just a man in an orange jumpsuit. Seen through the lens of his close childhood friend, “J​im” ​moves from adrenaline-­fueled front lines and devastated neighborhoods of Syria into the hands of ISIS.

Kate copyKATE PLAYS CHRISTINE  (Director: Robert Greene) — This psychological thriller follows actor Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play the role of Christine Chubbuck, a Florida television host who committed suicide on air in 1974. Christine’s tragic death was the inspiration for “N​etwork,” ​and the mysteries surrounding her final act haunt Kate and the production.

KIKI  (U.S.-Sweden / Director: Sara Jordeno) — Through a strikingly intimate and visually daring lens, “K​iki” o​ffers insight into a safe space created and governed by LGBTQ youths of color, who are demanding happiness and political power. A coming­-of-­age story about agency, resilience, and the transformative art form of voguing.

LIFE, ANIMATED (Director: Roger Ross Williams) — Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who could not speak for years, slowly emerged from his isolation by immersing himself in Disney animated movies. Using these films as a roadmap, he reconnects with his loving family and the wider world in this emotional coming-­of-­age story.

NEWTOWN  (Director: Kim A. Snyder) — After joining the ranks of a growing club no one wants to belong to, the people of Newtown, Conn., weave an intimate story of resilience. This film traces the aftermath of the worst mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history as the traumatized community finds a new sense of purpose.

Nuts copyNUTS! (Director: Penny Lane) left — The mostly true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire with his goat-­testicle impotence cure and a million-watt radio station. Animated re-enactments, interviews, archival footage, and one seriously unreliable narrator trace his rise from poverty to celebrity and influence in 1920s America.

SUITED ​(Director: Jason Benjamin) — Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn tailoring company, makes custom suits for a growing legion of gender­-nonconforming clients.

TRAPPED ​(Director: Dawn Porter) — American abortion clinics are in a fight for survival. Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws are increasingly being passed by states that maintain they ensure women’s safety and health, but as clinics continue to shut their doors, opponents believe the real purpose of these laws is to outlaw abortion.

UNCLE HOWARD”​ (U.S.-U.K. / Director: Aaron Brookner) ​— H​oward Brookner’s first film, “B​urroughs: The Movie,​”captured the cultural revolution of downtown New York City in the early ’80s. Twenty­-five years after his promising career was cut short by AIDS, his nephew sets out to discover Howard’s never-­before-­seen films to create a cinematic elegy about his childhood idol.

WEINER (Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg) — With unrestricted access to Anthony Weiner’s New York City mayoral campaign, this film reveals how a high-­profile political scandal unfolds behind the scenes, and it offers an unfiltered look at how much today’s politics are driven by an appetite for spectacle.​

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

The 12 films in this section are world premieres unless otherwise specified.

Belgica_still3_StefAerts_HlneDevos__byMenuetBELGICA right (Belgium-France-Netherlands / Director: Felix van Groeningen, Screenwriters: Felix van Groeningen, Arne Sierens) — In the midst of Belgium’s nightlife scene, two brothers start a bar and get swept up in its success. C​ast: Stef Aerts, Tom Vermeir, Charlotte Vandermeersch, Helene De Vos. (Day One film)

BETWEEN SEA AND LAND  (Colombia / Directors: Manolo Cruz, Carlos del Castillo, Screenwriter: Manolo Cruz) — Alberto, who suffers from an illness that binds him into a body that doesn’t obey him, lives with his loving mom, who dedicates her life to him. His sickness impedes him from achieving his greatest dream of knowing the sea, despite one being located just across the street. C​ast: Manolo Cruz, Vicky Hernandez, Viviana Serna, Jorge Cao, Mile Vergara, Javier Saenz.

BrahmanNaman_still1_ChaitanyaVarad_ShashankArora_TanmayDhanania_VaiswathShankar__byTizianaPuleioBRAHMAN NAHMAN (U.K.-India / Director: Q, Screenwriter: S. Ramachandran) — When Bangalore U.’s misfit quiz team manages to get into the national championships, they make an alcohol-­fueled, cross-­country journey to the competition, determined to defeat their arch­rivals from Calcutta while all desperately trying to lose their virginity. C​ast: Shashank Arora, Tanmay Dhanania, Chaitanya Varad, Vaiswath Shankar, Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, Sid Mallya.

A GOOD WIFE  (Serbia-Bosnia-Croatia / Director: Mirjana Karanovic, Screenwriters: Mirjana Karanovic, Stevan Filipovic, Darko Lungulov) — When 50-­year-­old Milena finds out about the terrible past of her seemingly ideal husband, while simultaneously learning of her own cancer diagnosis, she begins an awakening from the suburban paradise she has been living in. C​ast: Mirjana Karanovic, Boris Isakovic, Jasna Djuricic, Bojan Navojec, Hristina Popovic, Ksenija Marinkovic.

HALAL LOVE (AND SEX)  (Lebanon-Germany-United Arab Emirates / Director and screenwriter: Assad Fouladkar) — Four tragic yet comic interconnected stories come together in this film, which follows devout Muslim men and women as they try to manage their love lives and desires without breaking any of their religion’s rules. Cast: Darine Hamze, Rodrigue Sleiman, Zeinab Khadra, Hussein Mokadem, Mirna Moukarzel, Ali Sammoury. (International premiere)

THE LURE (main photo)  (Poland / Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska, Screenwriter: Robert Bolesto) — Two mermaid sisters, who end up performing at a nightclub, face cruel and bloody choices when one of them falls in love with a beautiful young man. C​ast: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Jakub Gierszal, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka, Zygmunt Malanowicz. (International premiere)

MaleJoyFemaleLove_still1_DaizhenYing_Nanyu__byYounianLiuMALE JOY, FEMALE LOVE  right  (China / Director and screenwriter: Yao Huang) — Portrays an unlimited cycle of love stories. C​ast: Nand Yu, Daizhen Ying, Xiaodong Guo, Yi Sun.

MAMMAL  (Ireland-Luxembourg-Netherlands / Director: Rebecca Daly, Screenwriters: Rebecca Daly, Glenn Montgomery) — After Margaret, a divorcee living in Dublin, loses her teenage son, she develops an unorthodox relationship with Joe, a homeless youth. Their tentative trust is threatened by his involvement with a violent gang and the escalation of her ex­husband’s grieving rage. C​ast: Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan, Michael McElhatton.

Mi Amiga copyMI AMIGA DEL PARQUE  (Argentina-Uruguay / Director: Ana Katz, Screenwriters: Ana Katz, Ines Bortagaray) — Running away from a bar without paying the bill is just the first adventure for Liz (mother to newborn Nicanor) and Rosa (supposed mother to newborn Clarisa). This budding friendship between nursing mothers starts with the promise of liberation but soon ends up being a dangerous business. C​ast: Julieta Zylberberg, Ana Katz, Maricel Alvarez, Mirella Pascual, Malena Figo, Daniel Hendler. (International premiere)

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Chile / Director: Alejandro Fernandez, Screenwriters: Alejandro Fernandez, Jeronimo Rodriguez) — An upper-­class kid gets in trouble with the one percent.​ Cast: Agustin Silva, Alejandro Goic, Luis Gnecco, Paulina Garcia, Daniel Alcaino, Augusto Schuster.

SAND STORM  (Israel / Director and screenwriter: Elite Zexer) — When their entire lives are shattered, two Bedouin women struggle to change the unchangeable rules, each in her own individual way. C​ast: Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal­Asfour, Hitham Omari, Khadija Alakel, Jalal Masrwa.

WILD  (Germany / Director and screenwriter: Nicolette Krebitz) — An anarchist young woman breaks the tacit contract with civilization and fearlessly decides on a life without hypocrisy or an obligatory safety net. C​ast: Lilith Stangenberg, Georg Friedrich.

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

All these sleeplessThe 11 films in this section are world premieres unless otherwise specified. A 12th film will be announced in the weeks ahead.

ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (LEFT) (Poland / Director: Michal Marczak) — What does it mean to be truly awake in a world that seems satisfied to be asleep? Christopher and Michal push their experiences in life and love to the breaking point as they restlessly roam the streets of Warsaw in search for answers.​

A FLAG WITHOUT A COUNTRY  (Iraq / Director: Bahman Ghobadi) — This documentary follows the very separate paths of singer Helly Luv and pilot Nariman Anwar from Kurdistan, both in pursuit of progress, freedom, and solidarity. Both individuals are a source of strength to their society, which perpetually deals with the harsh conditions of life, war, and ISIS attacks. (N​orth American premiere)

Hooligan sparrow copyHOOLIGAN SPARROW – right (China-U.S. / Director: Nanfu Wang) — Traversing southern China, a group of activists led by Ye Haiyan, aka Hooligan Sparrow, protest a scandalous incident in which a school principal and a government official allegedly raped six students. Sparrow becomes an enemy of the state, but detentions, interrogations and evictions can’t stop her protest from going viral.

THE LAND OF THE ENLIGHTENED (Belgium / Director: Pieter-­Jan De Pue) — A group of Kuchi children in Afghanistan dig out old Soviet mines and sell the explosives to child workers in a lapis lazuli mine. When not dreaming of an Afghanistan after the American withdrawal, Gholam Nasir and his gang control the mountains where caravans are smuggling the blue gemstones.

THE LOVERS AND THE DESPOT (U.K. / Directors: Robert Cannan, Ross Adam) — Following the collapse of their glamorous romance, a celebrity director and his actress ex-­wife are kidnapped by movie­-obsessed dictator Kim Jong-­il. Forced to make films in extraordinary circumstances, they get a second chance at love — but only one chance at escape.

PLAZA DE LA SOLEDAD (Mexico / Director: Maya Goded) — For more than 20 years, photographer Maya Goded has intimately documented the lives of a close community of prostitutes in Mexico City. With dignity and humor, these women now strive for a better life — and the possibility of true love.

THE SETTLERS (France-Canada-Israel-Germany / Director: Shimon Dotan) — The first film of its kind to offer a comprehensive view of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, “The Settlers” is a historical overview, geopolitical study, and intimate look at the people at the core of the most daunting challenge facing Israel and the international community today.

sky ladder - CaiGuoQiangTheManWhoFellToEarthWorkingTitle_still1_df__byHiroIharaS​KY LADDER: The Art of Cai Guo-­Qiang​” (Director: Kevin Macdonald) — Having reached the pinnacle of the global art world with his signature explosion events and gunpowder drawings, world-­famous Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo­-Qiang is still seeking more. We trace his rise from childhood in Mao’s China and his journey to attempt to realize his lifelong obsession, Sky Ladder. (Day One film)

SONITA (Germany-Iran-Switzerland / Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami) — If 18­year­old Sonita had a say, Michael Jackson and Rihanna would be her parents and she’d be a rapper who tells the story of Afghan women and their fate as child brides. She finds out that her family plans to sell her to an unknown husband for $9,000. (North American premiere)

WE ARE X ​/ (U.K.-U.S.-Japan / Director: Stephen Kijak) — As glam rock’s most flamboyant survivors, X Japan ignited a musical revolution in Japan during the late ’80s with their melodic metal. Twenty years after their tragic dissolution, X Japan’s leader, Yoshiki, battles with physical and spiritual demons alongside prejudices of the West to bring their music to the world.

When Two WorldsWHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE right (Peru / Directors: Heidi Brandenburg, Mathew Orzel) — An indigenous leader resists the environmental ruin of Amazonian lands by big business. As he is forced into exile and faces 20 years in prison, his quest reveals conflicting visions that shape the fate of the Amazon and the climate future of our world. W​orld Premiere

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | UTAH 21 – 31 JANUARY 2015 |

Tangerine (2015) Home ent release

Writer|Director: Sean Baker with Chris Bergoch.

Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriquez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagen, James Ransone, Arsen Grigoryan

88min   Comedy Drama  US

TANGERINE is what you’d expect from a slice of downtown Los Angeles street life seen through two black, transgender prostitutes: spunky, raucous and rude. But the disenfranchised characters in Sean Baker’s microbudget indie hit are always warm and good-humoured. Shot entirely on iphones with the use of anamorphic adapters, and no worse off for it, TANGERINE bristles with a vibrant street energy and a freshness that reinvents its Highland setting of donut parlours and meaningless malls with a jaunty score composed of ambient, techno, hip-hop and even Armenian folk music.

Baker’s 2012, Starlet, pictured the unusual pairing of an old woman and a porn star in-the-making and TANGERINE offers a similarly sleezy snapshot of a Christmas Eve in LA where cross-cultural denizens rub along – but only just. Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is celebrating her release from a spell in prison to discover that her pimp and boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) has been unfaithful with a white woman. Her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) breaks the news over donuts and coffee, and the two venture forth in a ferocious ‘no holds barred’ onslaught to track down the culprit Dinah (Mickey O’Hagen), who they then pounce on in a local brothel.

And while Alexandra is touting for custom for her singing soirée at a local club, Sin-Dee is dragging Dinah around town by the hair.  The Armenian element comes from a parallel strand involving a bisexual taxi-driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian) whose customers include a native American with a headache, a woman who has just had her dog put down and a couple of guys who throw up on the back seat. Married with a baby, Razmik has a penchant to blowing trans-gender prostitutes in his passenger seat. It emerges that the going rate in LA is $80, but Alexander gives a 50% discount to a local punter “cos it’s Christmas Eve”. But only if he comes quickly!

When Razmik tries to escape the family Christmas lunch, his mother-in-law (Alla Tumanian) and wife Luiza Hersisyn), inject a note of old school tradition putting the story firmly in perspective, and they all cross paths in the donut diner where Sin-Dee is having a showcase showdown with her slipper ex (James Ransone), Dinah still in tow.

This upbeat, feelgood farce certainly tells it like it is, with a script that has been cobbled together with interviews and ideas from local transgender prostitutes, to give authenticity. Performances are dynamite across the board, especially from Sin-Dee who is appealingly sassy in a blond wig and white shorts. Never hard-edged or malevolent, TANGERINE retains a natural humour reflecting the pride and dignity of both locals and sex workers plying their trade in this shady part of sunny LA. MT

NOW OUT ON HOME ENTERTAINMENT , TANGERINE WON AWARDS AT KARLOVY VARY, PALM SPRINGS, TRAVERSE CITY, DEAUVILLE AND RIO DE JANEIRO |. READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH THE DIRECTOR HERE

 

Chemsex (2015) |

Directors: William Fairman, Max Gogarty

85min  Doc  UK

Fairman and Gogarty investigate the increasing use of drugs in gay recreational sex in a worthwhile documentary that raises serious issues, not least for the gay community.

Recreational drug use has always been widespread in gay community including occasional weekend forays for those with non-scene profiles: ie who partner-up and remain faithful, possibly even fathering families. But here the directors dig deeper to reveal a more disturbing trend in the type of men who are falling prey to regular abuse that can lead to mental instability and fatal addiction, not to mention a rather cavalier attitude towards deliberate HIV infection.

A selection of brave young gay men tell their Chemsex stories to the camera: Enrique, Miguel, Andrew are revealed, others remain behind a curtain; the film gradually explores their lives in greater detail and some fascinating facts emerge about their mental stability. There is talk of dysfunctional backgrounds and the shame associated with coming-out that has made them ultra-sensitve and introspective about their sexuality. Drug use then becomes a crutch to lean on, giving them  confidence and emotional freedom from the shackles of fear, doubt, loneliness and isolation, particularly in large cities like London. Those coming from abroad are also vulnerable. Spanish national Enrique in a case in point, after arriving with an MA in Economics and a job in banking, he down-spiralling into prostitution after falling prey to the ‘confidence-boosting’ effects of recreational drug abuse (known as ‘slamming’). Chemsex involves substances that enhance the libido such as ‘Tina” (crystal meth) and G (GBL is stronger than GHB although they are both given the same initial). All these drugs enhance ‘feelgood’ dopamine release in the human brain at low levels, but have sedative affects with higher doses and can gradually lead to emotional collapse.

The men are caught in a vicious circle, extolling the virtues of drugged sex and claiming they would never go back to having ‘ordinary’ sex. The one who seek help, want to break the cycle. Often filmed in group orgies, or in couples, many of the men are actually on the internet sites such as ‘grindr’, looking for their next partner while still in the throes of a sexual encounter and this may be their 20th one that weekend.

One pioneer who is helping to counsel men with substance abuse is David Stuart, who works out of 56 Dean Street (Enrique started working there at the time of the film). This is a service provided by the NHS, aiming to rehabilitate addicts who feel isolated, despite their internet hook-ups, which are cited as having made socialisation worse. Before, they may have spend time with friends for dinner and cinema: now they are merely having meaningless sex and going home feeling empty. This, in some ways, mirrors the heterosexual dating trend ‘netflix and chill’ that involves endless hook-ups for one night stands, a experiences that alienates and depresses those interested in forming ongoing, steady relationships.

What emerges in CHEMSEX victims is a general picture of emotional insecurity that degenerates into mental illness, facilitated by drug abuse. But Fairman and Gogarty have only examined those who have worked with David Stuart. Presumably there are gays out there who are suffering and every dying. Everyone can fall victim to abuse: but in the gay community this manifests particularly in drug addiction that leads to abuse at the hands of others during ‘bareback’ sex parties’.  These men often deliberately become HIV-positive – and in Andrew’s case – to bring relief from the worry of eventually being infected.

But what is slightly questionable here are attempts by the filmmakers to glamorise these episodes with hazy camera shots of hedonistic ‘shagfests’ and there is made mention in the credits of ‘art direction’ which seems to fly in the face of the serious nature of some of the material.

CHEMSEX does have a positive finale with onscreen texts relating how the various men are progressing, having benefitted from the free NHS counselling service. If the NHS can offer free counselling to recreational drug abusers, the Government are making a positive contribution to gay mental health. But the saddest and most salient fact to come away with is that five gay men are diagnosed with HIV every day in London. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 4TH DECEMBER 2015

 

 

Summer of Sangaile (2015) | Seville European Film Festival 2015

Director/Writer: Alantė Kavaïtė

Cast: Julija Steponaityte, Asitė Diržiūtė

Drama | Lithuania/France/Holland | 88 min

The rapturous swoon of adolescent love is the primary focus of THE SUMMER OF SANGAILĖ, the fleeting portrait of a same-sex romantic fling between two teenage girls in rural Lithuania. Having premiered in Sundance, where it won Alantė Kavaïtė a Best Direction award in the World Cinema category, this easygoing, sensitively handled drama has already enjoyed deserved longevity on the festival circuit and screened in the ‘New Waves’ section of the 12th Seville European Film Festival.

As Lithuania’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, THE SUMMER OF SANGAILĖ is refreshingly swift and cheery in comparison to the country’s more celebrated but openly pessimistic fare. And though it might lack the steadfast political preponderance of, say, a Sarūnas Bartaš picture, it’s a commendably audience-oriented feature that taps into an increasingly mainstream market longing for portrayals of gender and sexuality that veer beyond the routine and well-trodden—a market that already included Palme d’Or winner BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR and which is now fronted by Todd Haynes’s plushly designed Oscar contender CAROL.

The eponymous protagonist of THE SUMMER OF SANGAILĖ is a lanky, slightly withdrawn 17-year-old (played with adroit minimalism by Julija Steponaitytė) who’s staying with her parents at their chic-shack holiday villa. She first encounters infectiously convivial Auste (Asitė Diržiūtė) when the latter sells her a raffle ticket at a local airshow. Though she begins to hang out with her new pal, Sangailė’s initial interest is in one of Auste’s boy friends, though the time the two girls share alone gradually blossoms into a sexual draw. Approximating the exponential way in which love can engulf us, the film intensifies its scope: for long sequences here, every other character seems to fade away, as Sangailė and Auste indulge in gambolling fashion shows, sunkissed photography sessions and, inevitably, atmospherically lit lovemaking.

Kavaïtė, working on only her second feature—her first, ECOUTE LE TEMPS, was made more than seven years ago—is perhaps well positioned to frame Sangailė as an outsider, having herself lived in France for the last 17 years. Indeed, the writer-director does well to encapsulate the unpredictable ways in which chemistries form and attractions develop. Here, the characters’ needs shift according to a complex arrangement of circumstantial factors: intimacy, trust, confidence, feelings of alienation, and so on. Bored by parental pressure to decide upon a lifelong profession (she embarrasses her mam and dad by saying, when asked, that she wants to grow up to be a whore in front of their friends), Sangailė really wants to be a pilot, watching on with equal fascination and fear as propeller planes perform daredevil flips in the film’s opening credits sequence.

It’s a fitting metaphor. Not only does it establish at the outset that Sangailė has a passion specific enough to mark her as an atypical teen (and thus, an archetypal outsider in several ways), it also helps to characterise the topsy-turvy nature of teenage love. In this, the film is helped immeasurably by a swelling strings score by Jean-Benoît Dunckel, an otherwise rousingly overdone soundtrack that here perfectly compliments Sangailė’s scorching spirals of self-discovery. MICHAEL PATTISON

THE 12TH SEVILLE EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 6 -14 NOVEMBER 2015 

Those People (2015) l UKJFF 2015 | 7 – 26 November

thosepeopleWriter|Director: Joey Kuhn

Cast: Jonathan Gordon, Jason Ralph, Haaz Sleiman, Britt Lower, Meghann Fahy

89min | Drama | US

Writer director Joey Kuhn’s impressive, if at times melodramatic, debut exudes the highly polished charisma of its educated, preppy Manhattanites. Well-groomed and articulate, they sip cocktails and Pinot Noir in sophisticated jazz bars on the Upper East Side, sing Gilbert & Sullivan songs and, at Rosh Hashanah, their schuls are full of white roses and beautifully-dressed women. Gay sensibilities are worn romantically on the hand-tailored sleeves of these debonair types who have names like Sebastian and Ursula, and they say things like: “You came out of the womb with a Masters in queer theory” – what ever that may be.

Jonathon Gordon plays Charlie, a painter completing his MFA, who is close to his wealthy school friend Sebastian (Jason Ralph)—so close, he even paints a large portrait of him, insinuating that relationship is more that purely platonic. Sebastian is obsessed with his financier father, a Wall Street criminal (“the most hated man in New York”) who is serving time in an open prison.

Neither is short of male admirers and although Charlie has feelings for Sebastian he soon attracts the attention of the more emotionally mature Lebanese concert pianist Tim (Hanz Sleiman) whose suspects Charlie’s emotional involvement with Sebastian and constantly quizzes and baits him: “does he play Chopin as well as I do”. The two grow close as they tumble through the early days (and seductive nights) of a classically-scored love affair. Their cleverly-lit embraces and highly romanticised sex scenes have an ethereal quality to them that focuses on kissing and pillowtalk rather than raw passion.

Sumptuously crafted, sensitive and contemplative, Kuhn’s narrative hints at the fear of intimacy amongst these young men haunted by the ghosts of their fathers. They have close women friends too who serve as a counterpoint to their emotional barometers, and provide interest for arthouse audiences, beyond just the LGBT crowd.

Performances feel genuine and heartfelt and Hanz Sleiman is particularly convincing in a softly-spoken role that is beautifully pitched and soulful. The storyline is slim and ultimately rather unsatisfying but well-scripted with some perky dialogue and Adam Crystal’s brilliantly evocative original score that elevates this into something special. Joey Kuhn is a young director worth watching. MT

SCREENING DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | 7 – 22 NOVEMBER | NATIONWIDE

 

The Surface (2015) GFEST 2015

Director: Michael J. Saul

Cast: Harry Haines, Michael Redford, Nicholas McDonald

USA 2015, 81 min.

The line between art and caricature is a usually a fine one, but Michael J. Saul (Crush) has managed to cross the line with this wrong-footed romantic drama THE SURFACE.

Set in contemporary California, where the sun always shines, two high school students, Evan (Haines) and Chris (McDonald) live together, their beautiful bodies permanently on show, director Michael J. Saul doubling up as DoP. Chris is rich, and Evan is an orphan, always on the search for his identity. One day, he buys a 8mm camera from an old man. When he returns to see the man, his son Peter (Redford) tells him that his father has died. Peter gives Evan old home movies, shot by his father, and Evan re-edits them for a school film festival. He falls in love with Peter, and moves in with him. But said search for his identity starts to muddy the waters…

The only value of THE SURFACE is as a vey badly-acted soft porn movie. Dissolves and slow-motion are reminders, and not by chance, of the bad taste of some 1970s films. But it is the dialogue which takes first prize for sheer awfulness . When Peter philosophically states “people leave your life or they don’t”, Evan answers soulfully “I think that is sad”. Evan’s musings are equally deeply felt: “I don’t even know what happiness is, but it is not so important as people think”. And finally, he leaves us with another gem: “Some people find themselves when they are young, some, like me, take a lifetime”.

To say that THE SURFACE is an amateur production, is a slap in the face to amateurs. AS

The Surface screens at ArtHouse Crouch End on Tuesday 17 November as part of the LGBT ARTS FESTIVAL | GFEST FROM 9 NOVEMBER – 21 NOVEMBER 2015 | LONDON UK

Four Austrian Films

 

Austrian cinema comes in all shapes and sizes from arthouse to mainstream, documentaries and features covering all the genres, and the success continues

2014 was a stellar year setting a new record for Austrian Film in all the main international festivals: Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance and Toronto showed award-winning titles for Ulrich Seidl (Paradise:Faith); Jessica Hausner (Amour Fou); Hubert Sauper (We Come As Friends); Sudabeh Mortezei (Macondo); Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy) amongst others. 2015 is still coming up trumps although there will be no outings from Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl, the best known boys on the Austrian block.

Goodnight_Mommy_3GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2014) |Director: Veronika Franz/Severin Fiala| Cast: Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, Susanne Wuest | 99min | Austria

The Austrians are very good at taking ordinary life and turning into horror at Venice this year. In the same vein as Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES (1997), Ulrich Seidl’s (Im Keller) wife and collaborator, Veronika Franz, makes her debut with a vicious and expertly-crafted arthouse piece, set in a slick modern house buried in the Austrian countryside.

In the heat of summer, nine-year-old Elias is enjoying the school hols with his twin brother Lukas. They appear normal boys: swimming, exploring the woods, and keeping giant cockroaches as pets. But in the pristine lakeside home, their TV exec mother has made some draconian changes. Recovering from facial surgery and bandaged up literally like a ‘mummy’, she has banned all friends from visiting the house while her recuperation takes place in total privacy. Nothing wrong with that, but the boys misinterpret her behaviour as a sinister sign and start to wonder whether this is really their mother. The more they question her for re-assurance, the more fractious and distant she becomes. Reacting against her instinctively, they become convinced that she is not their mother but a strange intruder, and decide to take control of the situation.

Franz and Fiala create an atmosphere of mounting suspense with clever editing, minimal dialogue and the use of innocent images that appear more sinister and unsettling when taken out of context. Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography switches between lush landscapes, sterile interiors and suggestive modern art to inculcate a sense of bewilderment and unease. Susanne Wuest is perfectly cast as the icy, skeletal blond matriarch with menace and the innocent boys transformed into everyday low-level psychopaths due to the lack of early maternal love or support, bring to mind those creepy kids from The Innocents, or even Cronenburg’s The Brood. A very clever film which contrasts images of revulsion with those of serene beauty. MT

SuperweltSUPERWELT | Director/Writer: Karl Markovics |Cast: Ulrike Beimpold, Nikolai Gemel, Thomas Mraz, Anglelika Strathser | 90mins Austrian Fantasy Drama Sci-fi

Best known for his performance in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, Austrian actor turned writer-director Karl Markovics attempts poetic realism in his quirky second feature, a follow up to the award-winning drama BREATHING.

It has Ulrike Beimpold (The Wall) as a buxom blond suburban housewife who develops an unusual relationship with God. Wittily scripted and visually slick and inventive, SUPERWELT loses its momentum after an amusing and watchable start.

Gabi (Ulrike Beimpold) is happy in her work as a supermarket cashier and runs a tight household for her pot-bellied husband Hannes (Rainer Woss) and screen-based son Ronnie (Nikolai Gemel) in the leafy provincial town of Bruck, surrounded by golden cornfields and wind farms. But life is too good to be true and one day, out of nowhere, she is visited by an invisible and magical force, not similar to that in THE WALL, that rocks her ordinary world, sending her completely off balance emotionally and scampering into the fields, like the demented victim of some kind of religious fanaticism.

Beimpold is exultant as Gabi, her facial expression is off vacant gives a finely judged performance, her face vacant and anxious, but never overplaying Gabi’s beatific bafflement. A cartoonish chorus of minor characters, from intrusive neighbors to fainting Jehovah’s Witnesses, provide plenty of agreeable levity.
But Markovics proves more adept at setting up his divine dramatic puzzle than he does at resolving it. His script runs short on lucidity and momentum in its second half as Gabi wanders the sunlit Austrian landscape, increasingly angry with a Supreme Being she never summoned in the first place. Her spiritual epiphany ends up as a kind of extreme form of relationship therapy, exposing the hidden faultlines in her marriage. “How often have you been happy?” she asks Hannes bitterly. “How did we settle for so little?”
Markovics remains frustratingly opaque about the theological aspects of his story, and some may find the finale a fuzzy-headed anticlimax. All the same, SUPERWELT is consistently sweet and engaging, a warm-hearted celebration of minor earthly miracles as much as the more heavenly kind. MT

Vampire 1 copyTHERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE

Austrian auteur David Ruhm adds a stylish and witty contribution to the blood-bloated canon of the Vampire genre here with a Freudian-themed thirties pastiche THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE.

In his Viennese consulting rooms in 1911, Dr Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) is conducting an early experiment using Art Therapy to explore his patients’ dreams. Naturally, given the title, one of his most illustrious patients is experiencing some challenging ‘issues’. Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) is suffering from a generalised ennui: having lived for thousands of years, he’s simply tired of life and the sex with his wife, the strikingly sultry Gräffin Elsa (Jeanette Hain) has simply lost its bite. He is also haunted by the premature death, centuries earlier, of his true love, Nabila. When he sees a portrait of a woman painted by Viktor (Dominic Oley), Freud’s inhouse artist, he is struck by a mysterious ‘deja-vu’ between the subject of the painting, Lucy (Viktor’s girlfriend played by Cornelia Ivancan), and his own long lost lover.

Back in their bijoux castle in the wooded suburbs of Vienna, Count Geza enthuses over Viktor’s artistic skills to the emotionally needy and narcissistic Graffin Elsa, who is having serious problems with her image. Unable to see herself in a mirror, she implores Count to commission Viktor to paint her portrait.

Rühm has crafted two very appealing vampires here, who are not only stylish and drôle but also have lost none of their dark weirdness, in echoes of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive, although this is a far more stylised drama. Drinking blood from transfusions they are able to define the exact profile of their victims – young Virgin, aged Diabetic – and so on – without the inconvenience and mess of blood spurts and uncontrollable haemorrhaging on their beautifully hand-tailored attire. They are endowed with all the traditional Vampire capabilities of bestial transformation, they quail away from crosses, garlic and wooden stakes but they also embody the more playful attributes of irony and self-parody as seen in The Munsters. But it is their obsession with counting objects that is their final downfall.

Beautifully-crafted and sumptuously staged, the success of Rühm’s Gothic horror piece lies in this combination of sinister weirdness and seriously dark humour, and there are some unexpected quirky laugh out loud moments that make this really entertaining. And although it never fully explores the Freudian premise, it pays homage to the legendary therapist in its themes of unrequited love, vanity and sexual obsession. Performances are consistently good: the two female leads are far from pliant, adding a foxy feminist streak to their Gothic horror credentials. Viktor is sensitive and appealing and Count Geza sneeringly wicked and elegantly masculine. MT

Der Letzte Sommer der Reichen copyTHE LAST SUMMER OF THE RICH

Best known for his appearance in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Despair, Peter Kern came to Berlin this year with his cultish portrait of Austria’s sexually depraved yet privileged jet-set. Styled as a darkly humorous retro LGBT outing, it features nuns and high society louches lesbians, all dressed up in fetish rubberwear. Despite its low-budget credentials, Peter Roehsler’s stylish visuals transform this into a slick story that will leave you with resounding cultural echoes of a bygone era with its lingering echoes of Helmut Newton.

Amira Casar stars as Hanna von Stezewitz  high class intern-abusing financier by day and leatherette lounge-lizard by night. Initially reluctant to care for her Nazi grandfather (Heinz Trixner) she selfishly rises to the occasion when his carer turns out to be an attractive young nun Sarah (Nicole Gerdon) and an unlikely romance blossoms that softens Hanna’s vituperative sadism, although it is too late for redemption. Despite a clunky script and some tonal unevenness where Kern is unclear about whether he is making a caustic 70s satire or is genuinely buys into his Fassbinder-style narrative. THE LAST SUMMER OF THE RICH is a deliciously indulgent throwback to the soft porn decadence of the seventies. MT

REVIEWED AT VENICE, EDINBURGH, BERLIN AND CANNES FILM FESTIVALS  

 

 

 

52 Tuesdays (2013)

Director: Sophie Hyde

Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane, Mario Spate, Beau Travis Williams, Imogen Archer, Sam Althuizen

120min  Australia  Drama

Newcomer Tilda Cobham-Hervey gives a dynamite performance as sixteen-year-old teenager, Billie, in Sophie Hyde’s fresh and frisky drama about female sexuality. Just as Billie is ready to discover boys, her divorced mother (Del Herbert-Jane) has decided to become James, in a challenging transformation that will take a year. To make things easier, Billie goes to live with her father Tom (Beau Travis Williams) but this change of circumstances leaves a gaping hole in Billie’s emotional life, just when she needs her close female role model the most: they shared everything and James’ promise to spend every Tuesday with her offers little comfort. Tom is in a new relationship and offers little help or support as a dad.

Sophie Hyde is best known for her documentaries and here she makes use of that experience with docu-drama style that takes the form of a video diary through which Billie records her emotional journey. In order to retain a feeling of authenticity, filming took place chronologically over the period of the year during which James’ amazing transformation (with incipient to full beard) provides fascinating food for thought as well as engaging factual information about female-male transition. But it’s Billie’s emotional state that really strikes the most meaningful chord as we witness the fragile mother-daughter dynamic slowly degenerate. James’ focus on his own burgeoning sexual desires leave little room for his focus as a ‘mother’: it’s a big leap of faith to expect Billie to suddenly understand an adult male’s issues when she herself is undergoing so much disorientating change from being a little girl to a woman, with hardly any guidance.

52 TUESDAYS asks the evergreen and universal question: do we have a duty of care to our kids when they really need us most, or is our own happiness of primary importance in best equipping us to provide this valuable emotional succour. Obviously it’s a question without an answer, and Sophie Hyde’s observational style offers a non-judgemental snapshot. As Billie, Hervey-Cobham is tender, endearing and vulnerable as she manages her life as cheerfully and as intelligently as possible in challenging circumstances. Sadly Del Herbert Jane as James, much as we want to understand him, never really convinces us or engages our sympathies in his own transformational journey. MT

52 TUESDAYS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 7 AUGUST 2015.

 

Of Girls and Horses (2014) | DVD release

Writer| Director: Monika Treut

Cast: Ceci Chuh, Alissa Wilms, Vanida Karun

82min. Drama. German

Troubled teenager Alex is sent as an intern to a German horse ranch, in the hope that the space will give her time to think and sort herself out. At first the wildly remote location away from her friends seems like a nightmare but gradually, as her instructor Nina teaches her to train the horses, she starts to enjoy the fresh air and peace in the company of beautiful animals especially when Kathy arrives. Treut  teases out natural performances from all three girls in this sumptuously filmed drama that has just enough tension below the surface to pique our interest in the simple but seductive storyline. MT

NOW ON DVD

The Chambermaid Lynn (2014) | Edinburgh Festival 2015

Director: Ingo Haeb

Cast: Vicky Krieps, Lena Lauzemis, Steffen Muenster

90min   Germany   Drama

Vicky Krieps strikes just the right note in German director Ingo Haeb’s rather trite Kammerspielfilm based on novel by Markus Orths.

The end of her relationship with her rather dull manager and boyfriend (Steffen Muenster) at a the chinzy hotel where they both work, has exposed an obsessive compulsive streak in her fastidious behaviour as a cleaner and chambermaid which she clearly enjoys. The dull work routine and listening to French classic movies on her computer soothes Lynn’s anxiety and a certain amount of stress from her prying elderly mother who lives far away in a another humdrum existence. Cheerful in a vacuous way, Lynn offers her ex sexual favours – which he continues to accept – and even though the relationship is over she appears neither disappointed nor turn-on by this on-sided sexual routine. There are echoes of Amelie in both the tone and characterisation of The Chambermaid,  rather facile approach which belies some serious and even creepy psychological undertones.

Occasionally Lynn has taken to trying on guests clothing, riffling through their cubboards and sliding under their hotel beds in anticipation of what might happen when they return to the room. An expected S&M routine experienced under one particular bed brings her into contact with a masculine-faced dominatrix Chiara (Lena Lauzemis) who Lynn decides to try out on her own terms, with surprising consequences – although she doesn’t quite fit into the submissive character, Lynn clearly enjoys being controlled and punished in bed and Chiara brings this out into the open in several paid encounters which are professional and therapeutic for Lynn’s wellbeing.

The Chambermaid was shot by French cinematographer Sophie Maintigneux, who cut her teeth on Eric Rohmer’s classic Le Rayon Vert. Coupled with an atmospheric score from Jakob Ilja, The Chambermaid is watchable but lightweight in comparison to recent more fully-fledged LGBT titles such as The Duke of Burgundy and Blue is the Warmest Colour, although its delicate psychology is perfectly fleshed out by Krieps’ subtle performance. MT

Praia do Futuro (2013) | Futuro Beach

PRAIA DO FUTURO (2014)

Writer|Director: Karim Ainouz

Cast: Wagner Moura, Clemens Schick, Jesuita Barbosa

106min  Brazil | Germany   Drama  Subtitles in English

With some of the most captivating colour photography of Brazilian and Berlin skylines recently committed to film, Karim Ainouz’s leisurely-paced mood piece is sadly let down by a slim story and poorly fleshed-out characterisation of its three protagonists, who we hardly get to know at all. Appearances can be deceptive: after stunning opening sequences that generate a potent atmosphere, we discover that Praia do Futuro is one of the most beautiful but deadly beaches in Brazil. It also has the saltiest water, making it a hostile place to live. When his close friend is drowned in an accident, a Brazilian lifeguard follows his lover back to Berlin to discover a new life that’s both liberating and bewildering. Ainouz creates a palpable sense of place and identity in both cities but sadly the narrative floats around untethered in a sea of plotholes after a while, failing to generate enough momentum or feeling for his characters or their lives to carry it through to a meaningful conclusion. A missed opportunity to explore themes of isolation, adventure and migration. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 7 MAY 2015 Reviewed during Berlinale 2014

Frangipani (2013) | BFI Flare

Director|Writer: Visakesa Chandrasekaram

Cast: Dasum Pathirana, Jehan Sri Kanth, Yasogha Rasaduni

90min  Sri Lanka  Drama  Singhalese with Subtitles

The best thing about this debut drama, the first LGBT film to come out of Sri Lanka, is its simplicity and ravishing cinematography capturing the exuberant lushness of the island’s countryside, its vibrant colours and the exotic beauty of the frangipani blossom that is used to decorate the local temple. A straightforward narrative unfolds against the natural background of a traditional Sri Lankan village community and is told through expressive performances from a sensitive cast and minimal dialogue.

Chamath, a young Sri Lankan man makes a living by embroidering and designing saris. His dream is to escape to the city to look for a better life, but he is being hotly pursued by a wealthy local girl, Sarasi, who he meets while preparing a sari for her wedding. Sarasi fancies Chamath and wants him to rescue her from a traditional arranged marriage. But Chamath finds himself attracted to Nalin, a young welding mechanic who come to work in the Temple, and the two begin a physical relationship. Sarasi is determined to find love on her own terms, and when Chamath spurns her, she turns her affections to Nalin. The undeclared love triangle remains secret but gradually the two men are pressured by the local community into making a decision, despite their strong feelings for one another. Five years later they all meet again to question whether they’ve lost out on the chance to realise their true happiness or ruined their lives forever. A delicate ambient soundtrack of local birdsong accompanies Viksakesa Chandrasekaram’s tender and affecting love story. MT

BFI FLARE FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 19-29 MARCH 2015 AT LONDON’S BFI SOUTHBANK CENTRE SE1.

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