Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Raised up West Side (2023)

Dir.: Brett A. Schwartz; Documentary with Darius Jones,Liz Abunaw, Jahmal Cole USA 2022, 86 min.

Chicago is best known for its cultural heritage of Frank Lloyd Wright and striking skyline punctuated by modern architecture and the famous Lurie Garden at Millennium Park on Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

The predominantly Black western part of the Illinois capital is the focus of this new documentary from Emmy-nominated filmmaker Brett A Schwartz who follows a group of men – some of them interviewed – whose childhood friends have long left  and whose lives now fail to match up to the city’s glittering image of prosperity.

Daily shootings and killings are the norm, sometimes babies and small children are killed in the crossfire. Offenders end up in jail and upon release have no chance on the job market. Food plays a mayor role in this social malaise: an unhealthy lifestyle and cheap junk fare contribute to mass obesity in this place of deep-seated segregation. The demise started in the late 1960s with the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968. Mass riots were commonplace, not only in Chicago. Businesses moved out, estate agents kept upwardly mobile Black families out of the districts now reserved for Whites. Raised Up West Side is a chronicle that explores positive efforts to improve this sad state of affairs.

In an effort to address both food crisis and unemployment, the Farm of Ogden, a farmers’ market in the North Lawndale neighbourhood of the Westside now co-exists with “The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest Program”. This runs a thirteen week transitional jobs programme giving ex-offenders the chance to learn a trade and secure long-time employment. The figures might not be impressive but of 212 enrolled, 152 men finished the course, and 119 found full-time jobs.

A modern aquaponics-based indoor farm, which yields fresh produce, shares the facility. Local entrepreneur Liz Abunaw, one of the leaders of the co-op, feared the Covid lockdown would lead to crisis, but instead the turnover improved because fast-food outlets shut down so people had to start cooking for themselves. Students from the ‘My Block My Hood My City’ project offer tourists a tour through the ghetto. Founder Jahmal Cole (who plans to run for Congress) is proud of the recent developments: West Side has found a new way of fighting back.

Jahmal is writing a novel about the history of the district, and has now found a full time job in a gym in Washington DC. But perhaps the story of Darius Jones is most typical for the Westside: his mother was unable to keep him away from the East Garfield Park neighbourhood, where he joined his first gang at 13, owned the first gun at 15 and was convicted age 18 for aggravated car jacking. In the Maximum Security Facility of Cook County Jail, he joined a programme to learn farming skills and this allowed him to spend some time outside jail. After his public lawyer found discrepancies in the police reports leading to Darius’ conviction he was released after only two years. Darius joined the Windy City Harvest Corps group, with life giving him a second chance.

Despite some enlightening archive clips and the worthwhile nature of the story it tells, Raised Up West Side is often let down by a scattergun approach to editing, Schwartz sometimes loses the thread of his narrative, and we do too. AS



The Brothers (1947)

Dir: David MacDonald | Uk Drama

Where do you start with this one? It certainly doesn’t look as if it was meant to promote tourism north of the border.

Patricia Roc (looking even less convincing as a sweet young thing in pigtails than Joan Fontaine in ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’) arrives on the Isle of Skye where the ratio of men to women seems five to one and the attracts the attention of all the young bruiser. Foolishly she soon goes skinny dipping with predicable effects on the local lads who promptly start fighting over her.

You start wondering if you’re seeing double when John Laurie appears in two roles, and are we seriously expected to believe Finlay Currie produced two sons who look like Duncan Macrae and Maxwell Reed; maybe they were adopted? @RichardChatten

On the Wandering Paths | Sur les Chemins Noirs (2023)

Dir/Wri: Denis Imbert | Jean Dujardin, Josephine Japy, Amy Duperey, Jonathan Zacai | France, Drama 95′ 

A famous writer embarks on an arduous trek through France after an accident puts his life into perspective, in this reflective fourth feature from Denis Imbert. 

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” very much comes to mind in Sur les Chemins Noirs. The journey is far and away the most significant and enjoyable element of this otherwise rather underwhelming affair that sees Jean Dujardin at his most sober and pensive as Pierre: a reformed and hedonistic alcoholic who nearly lost his life after falling from a balcony while under the influence. Based on a novel by Sylvain Tesson, the subject matter was obviously crying out to be filmed on the big screen and works best as a contemplative travelogue capturing the glorious rural scenery of France from the magnificent Mercantour National Park in the Alps Maritimes to Normandy’s Cherbourg Peninsula. Although various urban locations do feature. 

The tricky terrain – not to mention the fanatic cyclists and other hill walkers – make the going tough and laborious for Pierre, who has only just recovered from a leg injuries and a concussion that has left him with a brain injury and epilepsy. But he soldiers on north through France, Imbert helpfully marking out the significant places with inter-titles, just like in the old movies, but now sadly abandoned: There is Plomb de Cantal in the Avergne; Bourganeuf in Aquitaine, and the Loire river and its chateaux stretching out before us, and the white sandy Normandy beaches crowned by Mont Saint-Michel. Along the way, local farmers provide Pierre with cheese, wine and provisions, or a bed for the night, advising him on the pitfalls of the region: such us wolves, or fast flowing rivers. And these meetings and a series of flashbacks allow Imbert and his co-writer Diasteme to flesh out Pierre’s backstory: his previous life as a celebrated author in Paris, his book-signing that leads to a brief affair with a much younger Anna (Japy) – an episode that fails to carry any emotional weight. Pierre admits that his “new mistress is solitude”. Along the way Pierre also visits various friends and family members that are once again forgettable. 

The great outdoors very much eclipses the human element here, characters paling into insignificance compared with France’s glorious landscapes, rivers and mountain peaks. Crucially this is all about the healing powers of nature, our inherent solitude in the scheme of things, and one man’s triumph over adversity and pain. Pierre has now chosen a life of independence and quietly revels in the privation and of being alone after so much excess in his previous existence. DoP Magali Silvestre de Sacy really triumphs with her impressive camerawork, the light changing from the warmth of the south to the gentle washed out colours of the Loire in this pleasant and meditative watch. MT


Motherland (2023) CPH:DOX Winner Dox Award

Dir.: Hanna Badziaka, Alexander Mihalkovich; Documentary with Swetlana Korzhych; Swe/Nor/Ukraine 2023, 94 min

Belarus has been taking the rap in the media recently for the harsh regime of its dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko, judging by this documentary from Hanna Badziaka and Alexander Mihalkovich, this is not fake news.

The directors followed relatives and victims of “Dedovschina”, a brutal, often deadly initiation ritual imposed by the forces, a regime that was first practised in the army of the old Soviet Union, and is still prevalent in former republics of the former Russian empire.

Two young Belarussian men, Aleksandr (“Sasha”) and Nikita had reservations about joining up. Nikita, who spends his time with his Rave circle mates, had second thoughts about serving, and even mulled over the idea of emigration or opting out on medical grounds, by pretending to be a ‘nutcase’. But his father talks him into serving, believing it will make a man out of his son. Sasha, on the other hand, blindly joins up. To his detriment, we later find out, when his mother Svetlana puts flowers on his grave. Svetlana now spends her time up and down the country trying to find justice for Sasha, and connect with other people whose sons have suffered the same fate. She never accepted the official version of “suicide”, after workers in the morgue, where her son is resting, told her about his physical wounds: bruises on his back and neck.

Sasha was the victim of said “Dedovschina” – which is literally translated as ‘Grandfathers”: old men who pull rank in the army, holding sway over new recruits. But their status will change when today’s victims become tomorrow’s perpetrators, getting their own back for all pain they have suffered in their first year in the barracks. 

A voice-over reads imagined letters from a soldier (actually written by co-director Mihalkovich, edited by Hanna Badziaka), talking about his torture at the hands of the older men, whom he had to pay on a regular basis, into the bargain. The anonymous voice describes a life of hell

Meanwhile Nikita has been released from service and is heavily traumatised. A shadow of his former self he regrets not having fled the country. It is August 2020, and election time in Belarus, and Lukashenko is standing again, having seized power in 1994. Had he stayed in the army, Nikita would have been forced to open fire at his friends who have joined the popular resistance movement, in a bid to keep the dictator from being re-elected. But the police and the military (as well as Vladimir Putin) have a vested interest in making sure Lukashenko stays in power, and many demonstrators are killed in the protests. In one of the letters, the author states “that after being transferred to new barracks, out of the reach of the “Grandfathers”, I enjoy the pleasure of my new powers. It has gone under my skin”.

Nikita’s friends emigrated to the Ukraine after the election, but they went ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ when Russia invaded the nation. Svetlana continues to rage against the authorities but fights a losing battle. DoP Sirhiej Kanaplianik stays close to the action with a hand held camera, capturing brutal confrontations, particularly the bloody scenes when police and plain-clothes agents join the mass slaughter. AS




Life After Death (2022) Vilnius Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Nerijus Milerius; Cast: Juozas Budraitis, Adomas Gavenonis, Dainius Gavenonis, Rasa Samuolite; Lithuania 2022, 71 min.

Lithuanian writer/director Nerijus Milerius reflects on how death – real and fictional  – affects three generations of a family of actors in this free-flowing second documentary. The important and trivial coalesce in a meandering potpourri of musings and rather impressive images of Vilnius under siege from Covid.

Adomas, a budding film director, records his elderly grandfather Juozas Budraitis coming to terms with the end of his life. Adomas wants to have a lasting memory of the old man who lives alone with his cat. His parents, actors Rasa and Dainius, talk at length about their own experiences of death on stage and in films. Rasa is not keen on playing characters whose relatives are dying, for fear this might tempt fate. But Dainius is more pragmatic: “Life converts into death”. Juozas is swift to point out the stark reality of his own demise: “only one person will leave: relatives and/or doctors are left behind”.

Adomas talks at length about the time he played the part of young director who got killed, an older filmmaker also suffered a brutal demise in the same film, and these deaths are played out in series of harrowing clips. Benas Alexandravicius, lead singer of the rebel rock band McLOUD, then makes an appearance during a rooftop performance overlooking Vilnius. Benas is proud of his revolutionary profile, but where he fits into the film is anyone’s guess.

An often rambling attempt at authenticity, most significant for its impressive images of the Lithuanian capital undergoing urban regeneration. Bulldozers make way for luxury apartment blocks in the city centre. An oddity which needed much more work to be a success. AS



Houria (2022)

Dir: Mounia Meddour | Cast: Lyna Khoudri, Rachida Brakni, Nadia Kaci, Amira Hilda Douaouda | Drama, 104′

A talented dancer is forced to re-think her life in this vibrant second feature from Mounia Meddour who continues to explore the Algerian sisterhood and their creative struggle against male oppression.

Houria (Lyna Khoudri) always dreamed of being a ballet dancer. Her friends are all in the same predicament, striving to make a success of their lives. As a trained PE teacher, Houria throws herself into often painful practice sessions, coached by her mother Sabrina (Brakni), in the hope of being accepted into a professional troupe. But she is just one of several women in this passionate and sensuously crafted drama who are desperate for personal and professional fulfilment yet thwarted by Algeria’s male-dominated set-up and blighted by tragedy.

Her best friend Sonia (Amira Hilda Douaouda), also a gym teacher, has organised an illegal boat passage to Spain. Having saved the money to buy a car by betting on ram baiting fights – in scenes that are grossly overplayed and distressing but aim to convey a testosterone fuelled male environment – Houria is then attacked by a convicted criminal who remains at large, due to sloppy policing, and left with a broken ankle and post-traumatic mutism, her hopes of a dancing career dashed. Once again the sisterhood comes to the rescue, and these scenes are evocatively played by the film’s talented cast, and beautifully captured in Leo Lefevre’s spectacular close-up camerawork that focuses on faces and body language. During her rehabilitation Houria volunteers on a rehabilitation project with aurally and vocally challenged women and together they find common ground and a way forward.

Houria – a name meaning ‘freedom in Arabic – often feels like a series of spirited episodes in the lives of these unfortunate women who have triumphed against adversity and made their way forward creatively despite considerable sadness, pain and regret. There’s a great deal of passion here but not much of a dramatic arc until the final stages when all the plotlines eventually come together. Despite formal flaws this is heartfelt filmmaking. MT



Outsiders and Exiles: Jerzy Skolimowski | Bfi


In collaboration with the BFI and this year’s London-based Polish film festival Kinoteka will also present Outsiders and Exiles: The Films of Jerzy Skolimowski, a month-long retrospective screening at BFI Southbank. This is a rare opportunity to see the work of one of the world’s most remarkable filmmakers. Skolimowski’s latest sensation EO (2022), inspired by Bresson’s 1966 drama Au Hasard Balthazar, has garnered critical acclaim across the world since its premiere at Cannes, culminating with the film’s recent Academy Award nomination.

The season will include early Polish features like Identification Marks: None (1964) and Hands Up! (1967/1981), both of which will also be released on BFI Blu-ray on 24 April, British-made classics such as Deep End (1970) and The Shout (1978), and later career highlights including Essential Killing (2011) and 11 Minutes (2015). A number of the films in the season will also be available to watch online on BFI Player. MT



Remember to Blink (2023) Vilnius Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Austeja Urbaite; Cast: Doville Kundrotaite, Anne Azoulay, Arthur Igual, Inesa Sionova, AgusAntarnacius; Lithuania 2023, 109 min.

Women have the upper hand in this provocative and harrowing study of jealousy, obsession and cultural division, a feature debut for Lithuanian writer/director Austeja Urbaite, screening at this year’s Vilnius International Film Festival. 

The glorious countryside of Northern France provides a bosky backdrop to turbulent family politics when French couple – Jacqueline (Azoulay) and Leon (Igual) – decide to adopt Lithuanian siblings Karolin (Sionova) and Rytis (Antarnacius). They have hired a Lithuanian nanny to help the children settle in after leaving the orphanage back home where they have clearly been traumatised, and Karolin given sleeping pills.

Medical student Gabrielle is easy-going and plays imaginative games with the children but Jacqueline is dominating and controlling, pushing for discipline. In an insensitive move she also changes the kids’ names to Caroline and Romain, in honour of the writer Romain Gary, who was of Lithuanian heritage. When they all get wet during playtime, their mother-to-be complains to Gabi “You are not a child any more!”. Leon, a painter and designer, takes the line of least resistance but secretly agrees with Gabi. His wife has a dark secret: she gave birth to a son, Sebastian, at the age of sixteen and the boy later left home never to be seen again.

Gabi re-plays the “Gorgon” sage with the children – obviously Jacqueline features as the titular villain. But the nanny is increasingly concerned for the kids’ welfare and gets in contact with their birthmother in Lithuania. One night Leon storms off after a big row  with his wife and Gabi decides to escape back home with her charges, having poisoned the family dog. 

Language and its use and misuse plays a central role in this psychological thriller: Gabi tries to keep the children’s motherland alive, but Jacqueline wants them   to integrate into the French way of life. Leon stays neutral but is a weak character compared with both women. What’s fascinating here is the director’s decision to portray her own gender as manipulative and machiavellian through the characters of Gabi, Jacqueline and Karolin in this mature and inspired debut. AS



Fantastic Machine (2023) CPH:DOX

Dir.: Axel Donielson, Maximilien von Aertryck; Documentary Sweden/Denmark 2023, 88 min.

‘An image tells a thousand words’ 

A potted history of the camera – from the early nineteenth century to the present day – provides compulsive viewing in this new documentary from Axel Donielson and Maximilien von Aertryck.

Apparently King Edward VII, when watching his own coronation re-staged by film pioneer Georges Melies in a Paris studio, exclaimed “What a fantastic machine” in his wonderment of a gadget which would transform public and private life forever.

The first time feature directors have plundered the archives and uncovered a wealth of material from the clips and sources – as a bonus, they are also preparing a book version which will serve as a companion piece to the documentary – promising additional, previously unseen material into the bargain.

The opening shows people in a shopping centre looking in astonishment at the ‘Camera Obscura’ images, forgetting they have far more sophisticated equipment in their own pockets. The stream of images, from Muybridge to Logan Paul; Melies sensational early shorts to “Breaking Bad” Fantastic Machine is a film about film and our obsession with recording what we see. It also tells the story of how technology changed the planet.

Back in the day, Melies’ footage of trains shocked audiences so much they fled the cinema in horror. There are oddities on show too, and breathtaking examples throughout that beggar belief: A very cheerful Leni Riefenstahl, looking back with nostalgia at a flatbed editing machine, ignores her past and her work and pretends there is no representation in any of her films.

Fantastic Machine shows us the first intercontinental broadcast and the response it got from  an audience in Wisconsin. There are examples of how photography eventually came alive with the moving image, and the first examples of the ‘peep show’ that would lead, in time, to ‘blue movies’. Yes, now that’s all on the internet for free.

The advent of TV was a major step forward, and with it the commercials that now seem to rule the world. But early TV was also a means of gaining insight and education in the “Open University” at least for the middle-classes, who were upwardly mobile during the 1960s. TV Commercials or ‘adverts’ soon found their way from the big box in the living room to the mobiles in our pockets, leading us persuasively by the nose to the goods we think we need with algorithms to find a target audience.

You Tube has now created a new audience, and a set of new age entrepreneurs: The phenomenon has spawned a legion of teen millionaires all under the age of eighteen. On a darker note, we have to thank the cameramen who risk their lives in war zones, and those who took images of liberated concentration camp victims, “so that nobody can say that it did not happen”. The directors strike a note of caution when it comes to fake news, urging us to think before we act. Seeing is not always believing, and can be deceptive.

Fantastic Machine is certainly worth a second viewing. Apart from being a treasure trove of information, it never takes itself too seriously with a welcome dash of humour, and a non-judgemental approach at all times. AS



The Wayward Bus (1957)

Dir: Victor Vicas | US Drama 87’

Neo-realism comes to Hollywood in this remarkable onscreen teaming of fifties icons Joan Collins (as a tippling, money-hungry little drab with a husband inevitably named ‘Johnny’) and Jayne Mansfield as a blonde movie star travelling incognito proving that not every film they made was glossy Technicolor nonsense (the full title actually being ‘John Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus’); the old guard being represented by Dan Dailey, Larry Keating and Will Wright.

Produced by Billy Wilder’s former partner Brackett and directed by continental import Victor Vicas, it vividly evokes in widescreen an era when cops rode in helicopters but roadside cafes were still equipped with candlestick phones and aspiring actors looked up to Robert Wagner and MarlonBrando.@RichardChatten


Sage Homme (2023)

Dir: Jennifer Devoldere | Cast: Karin Viard, Melvin Boomer, Steve Tientcheu, Tracy Gotoas | France Drama 104′

French filmmaker Jennifer Devoldere makes a comeback after more than a decade  with this didactic rather uneven comedy drama that explores the world of childbirth through the eyes of young male midwife, played by Melvin Boomer in his feature debut.

After failing the entrance exam to become a doctor, Léopold (Boomer) is relegated to midwifery, rather a come-down from his perspective, and it shows. Clearly, delivering babies is a challenging profession for a young man who comes from a hyper male background of three younger brothers and a macho father, and gets a baptism of fire in a world dominated by women, and particularly his boss Nathalie, played by Karin Viard who carries the film from start to finish. From their first meeting, when Leo makes a fuss about wearing the obligatory pink overalls, Nathalie will knock him into shape by the sheer force of her experience and personality, and challenge his misconceptions about childbirth and what it takes to bring the next generation into the world – in graphic detail – these scenes providing the film with considerable emotional freight.

Boomer gives a decent first performance but his backstory, set in the council blocks of Nancy, feels completely eclipsed by that of Viard and her patients. And the other characters: his father (Tientcheu), brothers, and girlfriend (Gotoas) seem totally irrelevant to the far more gripping and meaningful hospital scenes, dominated by Nathalie doing her vital work, while Leopold looks on as the truculent trainee – although he does in the end redeem himself.  

Devoldere covers all the birth bases: the complicated cases, the tragic ones and, ultimately, the legal ones, which gives the film its final sting. We learn a lot about being midwife and why working in the professional can be so controversial, yet so totally reliant on people who care and are prepared to give it their all. People like Nathalie, with Viard managing to ooze sensuality while being up to her elbows in blood and gore. MT


Infinity Pool (2023)

Dir.: Brandon Cronenberg; Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lesbert; Canada/Croatia/Hungary 2023, 117 min.

The new sub-genre “Eat the Rich” gets another addition with Brandon Cronenberg’s latest – an overblown potboiler that sees the filthy avoid a chance for redemption. Overlong, with a nearly two-hour running time, Infinity Pool oozes bodily fluids, and a proper sex-orgy – but alas, fails miserably when it comes to the plotting.

Suffering from longterm writers’ block, author James Foster (Skarsgard) takes his wife Em (Coleman), who happens to be the daughter of Foster’s publisher, on a luxury holiday to the impoverished fictional island of Latoka, where the wealthy live it up in a gated paradise. Em and James meet Gabi (Goth) and her husband Alban (Lesbert), the latter couching his vacuous personality in a shroud of enigma. In contrast Gabi is a blood-thirsty seductress who decides to torture the miserable James. On an expedition outside their gilded cage Gabi’s dangerous driving kills a local farmer. Unfortunately, the draconian ‘zero tolerance’ laws of Latoka make provision for the man’s relative to enforce – and enact – the death penalty.

But an inventive loophole allows for the Chief of the Police to line his pockets by offering to clone the perpetrators, allowing them to escape scot-free before the relatives get to exact their bloody revenge on their stand-ins. As such, James sees his “body double’ being slaughtered before his very eyes by the farmer’s son. From then on everything happens in overdrive, with Gabi and the rest of the cloned un-dead tormenting James. Voyeurism and the male gaze triumphs in the tame and disappointing plot resolution. James and Gabi are convincing, but the rest of the characters are predictable in a sensationalist and empty narrative which telegraphs every development taking away the suspense.

Half-way through, “Daddy Issues” are mentioned, possibly in reference to Brandon Cronenberg (43) being one of the “Nepo-Babies”, forced to fight for recognition in the shadow of an over-baring parent: in his case his father David.

DoP Karim Hussain, who worked on Possessor, tries hard to find an original angle on the aesthetics – not easy because Infinity Pool feels rather old hat despite a promising premise. AS


Q Planes (1939)

Dir: Tim Whelan | Cast: Laurence Olivier, Valerie Hobson, Ralph Richardson, George Curzon | UK Drama

Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson make a dashing pair back in the days when Olivier was still cast as a handsome hunk.

Although the use of biplanes locates the action in the frivolous thirties (as exemplified by Olivier calling Valerie Hobson as “Miss Fleet Street of 1938”), the storyline about disappearing high-speed bombers looks ahead to the coming war in Europe.

Olivier is officially the star but Richardson has the showier part as a deceptively vague, bowler-hatred, brolly-wielding moustached secret agent – who insouciantly breaches the fourth wall at the film’s conclusion – cheerfully acknowledged by Patrick MacNee as the inspiration for John Steed. @RichardChatten

The Other Profile (2023) CHP:DOX 2023

Dir.: Armel Hostiou, Cremix Onana Genda Cristo; Documentary with Areml Hostiou, Cremix Onanna Cristo, Peter Olela, Sarah Ndele, David Kapay; France 2022, 82 min.

Ever wondered about those fake profiles on social media?. A revealing new documentary travels from France to the Republic of Congo to track one down.

French filmmaker Armel Hostiou one day made a startling discovery. A Facebook Profile with his name existed in Kinshasa. The Other Profile is a road movie about his search for his double. It is also an essay on the meaning of authenticity.

When Hostiou arrived in Kinshasa, the capital of the Republic of Congo, locals Sarah and Peter offered to ferry him round in the search for his enigmatic double. Many of their friends supported the endeavour, many of them Hackers. One of the leads, David Kapay, a set designer, claimed to know many young women who went for auditions as the filmmaker’s double, and were charged ten Dollars for the privilege of an appearance .

Needless to say, the ‘film projects’ never saw the light of day. To liven things up, everybody seems to have a pet dog in the circle Peter and Sarah frequented, one was called ‘Donald Trump’. After a meeting with a lawyer proved unsuccessful, Hostiou’s visit to a local ‘Maribou’ was also a failure, since Peter explained to him later, that the Shaman had a helper in the next room.

Finally, the three of them staged an audition of their own, trying to get the “casting director” David Kapay, to lure the elusive ‘doppelganger’ out of hiding. It soon turned out that many of the young women were desperate, and only too ready to stump up money they couldn’t afford – and even resort to the casting couch – to landing a part in a film which was supposed to be shot by a French director.

Finally, on the day of a heavy rainstorm, Hostiou made a breakthrough, but the results were surprising, and not at all what he expected. Hostiou had only been picked because of his youth “You are the star of tomorrow”. It seemed a right little racket leading Hostiou to the realisation this was just a small drop in an ocean of lies and deception.

The Other Profile is certainly not like any other feature documentary: filmmaking, or better, faithfulness in producing films, is the overriding theme. In this day and age of fake news and profiles, people are never what they seem to be. In the end Hostiou gives up his identity to co-direct the documentary with his other half. DoPs Armel Hostiou and Elie Mbansing stay close to the characters in this adventure about identity and belonging. AS


Lynx Man (2023) CPH:DOX special mention Nordic:Dox award 2023

Dir: Juha Suonpaa | Doc, Finland 80′

Until fairly recently the wild lynx was in danger of extinction. This astonishing cinematic documentary follows Hannu (Hannibal) Rantala whose interest in the elusive animal came about as an accident, quite literally. A time of convalescence forced him to stay indoors and now on his farm in the West of Finland he discovers the healing properties of nature in an environment home to all kinds of wildlife – including the Eurasian lynx.

Finding a dead lynx by the side of the road, Hannu bonded with the graceful creature and came to the realisation that the lynx, who lived in the area during his childhood, had made a comeback.

Hanno cuts an eccentric figure, to say the least with his long beard and shoulder-length hair. In some ways he’s just an ordinary Finn: taking saunas, playing his accordion and looking at FaceBook. But when we see him walking around naked and crouching in the snow with just a hat on, we start to wonder if he is half-man half-beast. Roaming around with a lynx mask Hannu is actually lying in wait to capture the enigmatic lynx in an undercover operation to record footage on a specially concealed camera covered in feathers. Soon twenty three such devices are in place for the project: “it’s not about resembling the bird, but about movement and such” says Hannu, who also makes use of a mirror to assist the process – with some startling results. Pheasants and a moose are spooked out by their reflections as their peer unwittingly into to mirror. Eventually Hannu identifies two females, calling them ‘Spot’ and ‘Grumpy Girl’ and a male ‘Joseph’. 

Grumpy Girl eventually turns up, supple and lithe, the large feline has pointy ears, long powerful legs and hindquarters, a short tail dipped in black, spotted caramel-coloured fur with a white underbelly and eyes as big as headlights. Two cubs follow her, purring like cats. There are five cubs in total, protected from predators (foxes and wolves) by the father Joseph’s scent which he sprays liberally round their territory. But a skin disease, robbing the lynx of their fur, can also be life-threatening, sadly Joseph catches it, leaving him bare against the cold. Man is a predator too as we will discover in the final act of this enlightening eco-documentary that premiers at this year’s CPH:DOX, following on from Suonpaa’s 2013 outing Wolf Man.

Mixing black and white footage with colour Juha Suonpaa captures the enchanting early Spring landscapes of this remote part of the world, showing foxes, deer, moose and wild geese, among others, and finally the lynx whose enormous eyes are specially adapted to hunt at night.

In 2021 Hannibal and his friends launched a complaint with the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland. The precedent states that lynx population management in Finland does not meet the directive requirements and is therefore illegal.


Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival Presents 10 Award-Winning Films
in the London Edition, 16-26 March 2023

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, now in its 27th year in London, presents a line-up of 10 award-winning, international documentary films in partnership with Barbican Cinema, and generously supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

The festival programme, presented in person at the Barbican from 16-24 March, includes in-depth Q&As and panel discussions with filmmakers, film participants, activists and Human Rights Watch researchers following all screenings. The films will also be available to catch up digitally across the UK and Ireland on the festival website from 20-26 March. This year’s edition opens with the London premiere of Delikado:

DELIKADO directed by Karl Malakunus

Documentary focussing on three environmental defenders who are risking their lives to stop corporations and governments seeking to steal the increasingly valuable natural resources of their home, Palawan, an island in the Philippines. With its rich biodiversity and natural beauty, Palawan is one of Asia’s most visited tourist destinations, but for a small network of environmental crusaders, it is more akin to a battlefield. The battles fought by these climate activists are shared by allies worldwide – but the abusive regime of former President Rodrigo Duterte adds urgency to this deepening human rights crisis. The filmmaker and journalist Karl Malakunas, who has been based in Asia for two decades, will attend the festival.


Lukasz Konopa and Emily Langballe will attend the festival to present their closing film Theatre of Violence that raises complex questions about new forms of colonialism and definitions of justice in the landmark International Criminal Court trial of Daniel Ongwen. The former Ugandan child soldier, Ongwen was abducted as a child – as were an estimated more than 20,000 other children – by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Intimidated and indoctrinated, he quickly learned to kill or be killed. In the unfolding debate his defence lawyer, Krispus Ayena, grapples with questions of accountability when someone is both victim and perpetrator, and the underlying issue of what justice looks like when being conducted in an international court, far away from key cultural and historical context.

NO U-TURN (London Premiere)

In his debut documentary the celebrated filmmaker Ike Nnaebue takes viewers on a journey with fellow Nigerian citizens leaving their country, travelling north through Africa and beyond, in search of work and the opportunity to build a future in Europe, despite the known and unknown challenges lying ahead. As he retraces his own stalled journey, made over 20 years ago, this self-reflective travelogue is overlaid with a powerful poetic commentary and insight into the impact of a colonial past, to unpack the deep longing of an entire generation in search of opportunities.

CATEGORY: WOMAN (European Premiere)

Written and directed by a former Olympian, Phyllis Ellis, Woman focuses on four female athletes from the Global South who are targeted and forced out of competition by regulations imposed by World Athletes, stirring relentless debates on their “legitimacy” as athletes and as women. Using women’s naturally varying androgen levels to evaluate their performance advantages, the sporting institution creates new rules, declaring that certain female athletes must medically alter their healthy bodies to compete in their sport. The film exposes an industry that puts women’s lives at risk, and raises issues of racism, sexism, and the right to determine another persons’ biological sex.

I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE  (London Premiere),

As a person with a disability navigating the world from a wheelchair, the filmmaker Reid Davenport is often either the subject of unwanted gaze — gawked at by strangers — or paradoxically left invisible, ignored, or dismissed by society. In I Didn’t See You There (London Premiere), Davenport sets out to make a film about how he sees the world without having to be seen himself, capturing indelible images informed by his disability. This is a personal, political, and unflinching account – offering a perspective and stylistic approach rarely seen in film. I Didn’t See You There will have two relaxed screenings at the festival, which are open to all audience members.

KOROMOUSSO, BIG SISTER (European Premiere)

With candour, humour and courage, a group of African-Canadian women challenge cultural taboos, and build a road to individual and collective healing in Koromousso, Big Sister (European Premiere). Working with co-director Jim Donovan, Habibata Ouarme combines her own experience of female genital mutilation (FGM) with personal accounts from some of her friends, to begin a journey of personal discovery, with discussions on the importance of female pleasure and the complexity of the female anatomy, while working to shed long-held feelings of shame and loneliness. While finding strength and joy in their own frank and intimate conversations together, Habibata and her friends continue to advocate for wider access to restorative surgery and facilitate community conversations in Canada and worldwide.


Seven Winters in Tehran (UK Premiere), directed by Steffi Niederzoll, explores the case of Reyhaneh Jabbari, a young Iranian woman who became a symbol of resistance and women’s rights worldwide. In 2007, Reyhaneh, 19, is sentenced to death in Iran for the murder of a man who tried to rape her. Using secretly recorded videos provided by her family, their testimony, and the beautiful, lyrical letters she wrote from prison, voiced by Holy Spider actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Seven Winters in Tehran opens a window into the many ways women are oppressed and silenced in Iran, and the immense risks taken by those who defend and support them.


If The Streets Were On Fire (London Premiere) introduces BikeStormz, a movement of young cyclists that attempts to offer a safe and welcoming space for youth in London. Starting as a protest against violent crime with the slogan “knives down, bikes up,” BikeStormz, founded by a social activist, Mac Ferrari-Guy, has grown into a movement and safe space for young people around London to freely express themselves. The filmmaker Alice Russell beautifully captures groups of young people as they glide through the city, doing wheelies, tricks, and acrobatics and cheering each other on as they travel through the postcode-neutral space of central London. Yet as they come together and find liberation through cycling, they are threatened with arrest and accused of anti-social behaviour.


Marek Kozakiewicz’s Silent Love (UK Premiere) is a coming-of-age and a coming-out story about embracing new roles and redefining old ones. Aga, 35, is legally adopting her teenage brother, Milosz, after their mother’s death – a process that probes into her life choices. However, there’s something she can’t share in their conservative Polish village: her long-term relationship with her girlfriend, Maja. Aga has always hidden her relationship from friends and family, and must continue to hide it from the social workers for fear of losing her case for Milosz. Silent Love delicately captures this trio’s discreet struggle as they begin to live as a family, against the prejudices of an ultra-conservative and viscerally homophobic society.


The impact of war on the day-to-day lives of citizens of a small town in Ukraine is profiled in When Spring Came to Bucha (UK Premiere), which poignantly captures how a small community continues with life amid trauma and loss, while war rages on close by. After a month of intense fighting, the Russian army withdrew, leaving the town destroyed in its wake. Yet in the midst of suffering, a young couple gets married, and life must go on. This heart-rending yet empowering documentary tells stories of loss, hope, and resistance, as the spring flowers of Bucha begin to bloom.

Details about the screenings and discussions can be found HERE


The Pilgrim (2022)

Dir.: Joshua Benson; Cast: Jeff Worden, Rachel Colwell, Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Rebeka Stein, Lou Llobell, Emerald Clarke; USA 2012, 96 min.

First time filmmaker Joshua Benson has adapted George Killock’s short story about a visit to the West of America which turns into a homecoming – of sorts. Will (Worden) has it made. Now a successful architect in London he loves his work and the glittering city buildings, but puts his subordinates down, and neglects his girlfriend Claire (Llobell).

Then comes a phone call from the American West – South Dakota border with Wyoming, to be precise – his sister Jeannie( Billy for short) informing him about the death of his estranged mother. Will jets immediately over the pond, only to be told by Billy that the funeral has already taken place. She has a task for him: to sprinkle their mother’s ashes on the mountains near the family home where their sister Kay (Oliver-Touchstone) still lives.

This is not a close family – for an unnamed reasons – so Will is reluctant to fill the requested task but does so in order to put the past behind him. What follows involves a series of minor disasters with people he meets on the way: A blonde All-American-Beauty and a hitch-hiker Alva (Colwell) who is building oil rigs with her brother, Will’s mood deteriorating rapidly until he finally leaves his car behind and continues his odyssey, travelling light with a back bag.

As an idea, the feature works beautifully, all Wenders and “Weltschmerz”. But in reality there are too many questions left unanswered: Will’s family has fallen out in a big way, but we never find out why. The Wild West which Will re-visits is just a fata-morgana, as is the London world of sky-scrapers, introduced with a heavy Beethoven score. Everything Will falls for is a product of his longing for the past. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. What gradually emerges is Will’s inability to be a team player: he has to have the leading role – no matter which country. His so-called feelings are just projections of something he will never really possess: he is a runner by nature. Worden leads an impressive cast and DoP’s Alex Grigora’s panoramic images of the West are equally beguiling. But Benson’s script is like a first draft, ideas held together by excellent production values. AS

THE PILGRIM is available to rent or own on North American digital HD internet and satellite platforms on March 14, 2023 through Freestyle Digital Media

The Blaze | En Plein Fer (2023)

Dir: Quentin Reynaud | Cast: Andre Dussollier, Alex Lutz | France Thriller, 85′

There have been a number of good films about the ecological disaster of wildfires in the past few years, perhaps the most memorable being Fire Will Come. Sadly, Quentin Reynaud’s feature debut feels rather underwhelming considering the dramatic potential of its subject and exciting plot elements: a forest fire that rages out of control through the Landes region in South Western France killing animals and terrifying the human population. And a father and son hoping for reconciliation.

On the plus side Quentin Reynaud uses the topical tragedy to reflect the troubled backstory of a grieving man (Alex Lutz) who is keen to reconnect with his father (the reliable Andre Dussollier). But unlike the fierce forest fire that gets The Blaze off to a tense and exhilarating start, powered forward by convincing CGI effects and a nerve-needling score, the film soon fizzles out in the glowing embers of enigma without a satisfying conclusion leaving us high and dry on the sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast. Reynaud had a great cast and some really strong plot elements to work with, he just needed to develop his script more. MT.




The Fox | Der Fuchs (2023)

Dir: Adrian Goiginger | Cast: Simon Morzé, Karl Markovics, Hana Geißendörfer, Marko Kerezovic, Joseph Stoisits, Pit Bukowski, Stanislaus Steinbichler, Adriane Gradzie | Austia, Drama 117′

A boy brings meaning to his life after a tragic childhood rejection in this enchanting Austrian wartime Heimatfilm that harks back to the cinema of Leni Riefenstahl, with its academy ratio and suberb visual allure.

The Fox is a sophomore feature for the Austrian director Adrian Goiginger who was inspired by the true story of his great-grandfather Franz Steitberger, who grew up in a farm on the Pinzgau mountains in Austria.

In the early 1930s rural life was still unmechanised and little Franz is forced to work hard in the farm until he is forcibly removed from his father, Karl Markovics in a cameo role, and taken away. The story then jumps forwards several years to 1937 when Franz (Morze) is conscripted into the army during the Second World War, when Austria became part of Nazi Germany during the Anschluss.

The harsh reality of war leaves the introverted young soldier traumatised but wandering in the woods one day he finds solace in the discovery of a baby fox separated from his family after the death of its mother. The two become inseparable, the fox travelling with Franz in his sidecar as a dispatch driver from Poland to France and towards the Eastern Front.

Despite its rather unsatisfactory plot resolution, this is a slim but beautifully told and deeply affecting wartime drama that once again emphasises how animals can often replace the human element offering comfort and emotional security in times of crisis. MT

Adrian Goiginger and lead actor Simon Morze will attend the screening and take part in a Q&A as part of watchAUT Austrian Film Festival that opens in London on 23 March 2023 


The Damned (1961)

Dir: Joseph Losey | Cast: Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed, James Villiers | Thriller, 82′

The film that concluded the journeyman phase of Joseph Losey’s career. Based on H. L. Lawrence’s novel ‘The Children of Light’, and called ‘The Damned’ because ‘Village of the Damned’ had recently scored a big hit. I would have loved to have been present when this film was first screened for the top brass at Hammer Films, who must have seen the film out in stunned silence.

Unable to know what to do with it, they pushed it out as a second feature, when it rescued by an admiring review from Philip French just months before Losey made his critical breakthrough with ‘The Servant’. Writer Evan Jones said they could have made half a dozen different films from what they’d shot and that one cast member so exceeded expectations they built his part up; he didn’t name names but I suspect he meant Kenneth Colpe.

Despite Losey’s admission that he’d never read the novel, it’s actually a very faithful adaptation of the original. The opening chapters depicting the hero fleeing the accidental killing of his wife have been discarded, the children in the book are hot to the touch rather than cold, the villain in both is called Bernard and and one point he instructs his minions to send a helicopter (so much for Losey’s claim that that was an original idea!) While Oliver Reed and his marauding gang obviously inspired the Droogs in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. @RichardChatten

The Fabelmans (2022)

Dir: Steven Spielberg | Cast: Michelle Williams, Gabriel LaBelle, Paul Dano | US Biopic Drama 151′

Steven Spielberg’s own family story unfolds in this delightfully tender look back at his childhood seen through the eyes of his fictional alter ego Sammy (played as an adolescent by Gabriel LaBelle).

The Fabelmans is also tribute to the wonder of cinema and the American Dream, the nostalgia for the days of our own childhood, and a rose-tinted reverie about a fractured family that feels convincing and (justifiably) sentimental rather than bitter. This is a story than envelopes you in its warmth and heartfelt conviction – you get a palpable sense of this pragmatic young storyteller who would eventually, through conviction and perseverance, become one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers.

There’s also a whimsical quality that makes The Fabelmans such a joy to watch through Janusz Kaminski’s softly-lensed visuals. And that’s largely because Spielberg has such emotional intelligence and pours it all into a brilliant script with his co-writer Tony Kushner. Casting-wise the film is also a triumph: Paul Dano and Gabriel LaBelle are undeniably watchable as a father and son who are worlds apart – Burt a scientist, Sammy an artist – but eventually come to understand one another, without violence or rancour. Michelle Williams is sublime as Mitzi, the blond, pixie-haired Jewish princess of a mother of four, who could have been a concert pianist but settled down as a traditional postwar matriach and feels frustrated and unfulfilled, but is still worshiped by her decent, loving husband (who won’t admit there is anything wrong) and accommodated by her giving son (who discretely unveils his mother’s treachery on the medium of cine-film). And this generosity of spirit and tolerance makes for a satisfying family story with a happy-ish ending.

The tale begins in one of those snowy Hollywood-style Christmases in 1952 where the Fabelmans are celebrating Chanukah in their expansive home in New Jersey – with candles rather than fairy lights and Santas. Burt, an outstanding computer engineer, and Mitzi, a homemaker, take Sammy to his first movie: Cecil B DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, which is shocking and transformative for the wide-eyed little Sammy (played by Mateo Zoryon). Burt’s brilliant career then takes them all to Arizona where there is plenty of scope for family fire-side barbecues and singing with Mitzi, the dynamo at the centre of it all, and where her subversive relationship with demon seed ‘Uncle’ Bennie (Rogen) strikes a subtle note of caution, although Burt’s mother Hadassah (Jeannie Berlin) has been hinting at this all along. And this episode is fleshed out when the family finally move to California.

For Sammy filming is his saving grace and a way of escape from all these traumas. It also, amusingly, comes it handy as a ‘babe magnet’ when Sammy falls foul of antisemitism in his California high school where he comes up trumps despite a variety of hateful stock characters. There is also an entertaining visit from Mitzi’s wayward Uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch) who offers Sammy valuable career advice:, “Art will tear your heart out.” MT


Damn the Defiant (1962)

Dir: Lewis Gilbert | cast: Dirk Bogarde, Alex Guinness, Anthony Quayle, Murray Melvin , Victor Madden | UK Drama

Following hard on the heels of his brave performance in ‘Victim’ Dirk Bogarde’s determination to trash his pretty boy image continued apace taking second billing to Alec Guinness in what the late David Shipman described as “another subtle study in nastiness” as a head card-carrying swine who personally takes part in press gangs, carries a rope and smirks with quiet satisfaction when watching floggings.

Scripted by Nigel Kneale and Edmund North, filmed in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor in Spain by Christopher Challis and commencing at Spithead in 1797 in the days when two dozen lashes denoted a soft captain and edited by Peter Hunt (soon to make his name on the James Bond franchise) with a cast that spans the generations from Walter Fitzgerald to James Bolam. @RichardChatten


Creed III (2023)

Dir.: Michael B. Jordan; Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Phylicia Rashad, Mila Davis-Kent; USA 2023, 116 min.

With Creed III nearly 50 years of Hollywood’s boxing history has been relegated to the back burner. What started in 1976 with Sylvester Stalone’s rollocking Rocky Bilbao is now in the hands of titular star and debut director Michael B. Jordan and veteran producer Irwin Winkler (Goodfellas, The Irishman). And it shows.

Avenging his father to become World Heavy Weight champion, Adonis Creed (Jordan) has settled down as a family man and boxing promoter residing in a super posh penthouse above the Hollywood Hills. His wife, the singer Bianca (Thompson), has given birth to baby daughter Amara (Davis Kent), super cute, but prone to violence in the Kindergarten. The past then rears its ugly head in the shape of Damian (Majors) who rocks up after 18 years behind bars to face his old school mate Adonis in the ring. The face off between the two egos is going to be interesting.

Creed III is pure melodrama with family relationships taking centre stage rather than the fighting, which is now reduced to an art form unfolding in a series of dazzling set pieces, rather than brutal set-tos. Creed III has been neutered, with Damian as the pantomime villain rather than a menacing hero. There is too much talk, and not really enough trousers, not to mention some really bad parenting, with Bianca letting Amara watch Dad fight in the ring.

The production values are on top form with DoP Kramar Morgenthau conjuring up some impressive fight scenes, panorama shots and stunning luxury apartments: but what ever happened to the raw Rocky of the ring?. Creed III is too slick for its own good, a triumph of consumer dreams. AS


Mary Cassatt: Painting the Modern Woman (2023)

Dir: Ali Ray, Writer: Phil Grabsky | Biopic, 74′

Mary Cassatt is often described as the most misunderstood of all the Impressionist artists but her work, and particularly her print-making was groundbreaking in showing 19th women actively engaged in their lives rather than merely as passive or decorative figures. Her radical images showed them to be intellectual, feminine and real, which was a major shift in the way women generally appeared in art during the 19th century. Part of the Exhibition of Screen series this new documentary biopic is directed by Ali Ray (Frida Kahlo) and written by Phil Grabsky (Hopper). 

In 1844, Cassatt was born into a privileged and well-connected family in Allegheny  near Pittsburgh which was then one of the largest cities in America. Beginning her career in the early 1860s, she, like other women artists, were not allowed to work from nude models so she honed her figurative painting by copying from plaster-castes. After the American civil war ended, she went to Paris where she found a stimulating art scene and studied under Jean-Leon Jerome, visiting the Louvre each day to gain inspiration and socialise with other artists of the day.

In 1867 she headed to Northern France to join an art colony in the town of Ecouen. Here she painted The Mandolin Player 1868, her first work to be accepted in a Paris salon, later returning back home, during the Franco Prussian War. But success eluded her on the home front, and she came to the realisation that her future lay in Europe where she was later welcomed into an artistic community in Parma, and then to Spain in 1872 where she settled in Seville and came under the influence of Hispanic painters and local styles.

Back in Paris, the rebuilding after the war provided a boost of creative energy and  Cassatt met Edgar Degas who had seen her work at the Academy des Beaux Arts and invited her to exhibit with the more radical Impressionists, after some false starts with the Salon des Refusés.

By 1878 she was collaborating with Degas. And the arrival of her parents and her sister Lydia provided her with support for socialising freely and making new connections. It was during this time she began working as a printmaker – a process involving etchings transferred onto a coated copper plate. With this distinctive style, she made a name for herself in works like The Lamp, so by age of 42 she was ready to show independently.

Cassatt’s career eventually encompassed not only painting and print-making but using the sale of her work to support the Women’s Suffrage Campaign. And by her sixties she had also become invaluable as an art advisor encouraging her fellow Americans on how to purchase French Impressionist paintings and build collections. Her successful career came to a close in 1914.

The world’s most eminent Cassatt curators enlighten this story of social and cultural change; a time when women were fighting for their rights, with the language of art being completely re-written. Mary Cassatt and her modern women were at the heart of it all. Sadly there is no mention here the outstanding female Impressionist, her French colleague Berthe Morisot.

In UK cinemas to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8th 2023.

Between Revolutions (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir.: Vlad Petri; Documentary with the voices of Ilianka Hanrnut, Victoria Stoiciu; Romania/Qatar/ Iran/Croatia 2023, 67 min.

Two women separated by political revolutions in Iran and Romania share their respective experiences of trauma through a semi-fictional series of letters in this fascinating documentary from Romanian director Vlad Petri.

Petri has plundered the Secret Police archives and pieced together images from TV and film documents to create a semi-fictional correspondence between the two women who studied Medicine together at Bucharest University during the 1970s,            

Zarah came originally from Tehran to Bucharest to study medicine and formed a close friendship with fellow student Maria, who grew up in Bucharest. Around the same time, revolution is breaking out in Iran, and Zarah, in her last year of studies, joins her father in the effort to bring down the Shah’s regime, but in her first letters after the return of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, express fear rather than joy. It appears that social progress has been perverted by a the clerics who seek instead to repress women, and make the hijab obligatory.

Zarah’s father’s organisation is shut down, and he vanishes without a trace, and she is told to stop looking for him. Over in Romania, Maria is told by her father, to stop writing to Zarah, and start a family. By now, the two women’s correspondence  becoming more poetic, Maria urging Zarah “We used to be one, let us be together again”. In Iran, the war with Iraq results in many deaths on both sides, Zarah complaining in her letters to Maria “ I have no voice in the matter of my 15-year old nephew going to war, because I am not a mother. If he is killed, we will be the ‘family of a martyr’”.

After Khomeini’s death in 1989, a new wave of repression breaks out, and Zarah’s flat is ransacked, her books and photo albums strewn all over the place. Maria, her graduation completed, has been transferred to a small village hospital where she feels trapped. A return to Bucharest seems impossible, and Zahar’s letters seem to dwindle. Maria has been finally granted a return to Bucharest, and she has acquiesced to her parent’s wishes and married Marius, a colleague from the hospital.

The Secret police are on her tail, in their long coats they look identical to those in Iran. Maria is active in the uprising against Ceausescu, but her husband stays at home. She continues her correspondence with Zarah, telling her all about the fall of the dictato which will have dire consequences, including widespread poverty from the devaluation of the currency: “We are supposed to be free now. But I know from you, that victories can be confiscated”. A year later, Marius has left the hospital and is selling contraband cigarettes and other goods from Turkey. Maria is desperate: “I wish we could start all over again. We are fading together”.

Vlad Petri has crafted a melancholic essay film about dashed hopes and stolen futures, that underlines the perils of fighting for change. In the end, Zarah’s fate is left open, with Maria fighting to keep their past and their friendship alive. Short, but utterly devastating in its harsh conclusions, Between Revolutions is a testament to lost lives and shattered dreams – with political and personal defeat going hand in hand. AS



The Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo (2023)

Dir.: Fatmir Koci; Cast: Alex Seitaj, Donald Shebu, Enisa Hysa, Jorida Meta, Amos MujiZaharia, Xhona Karaj, Petrit Malaj, Samuel Vargu; Albania 2022, 119 min.

Fatmir Koci’s amusing drama takes place in Albania, at the height of the Cold War when Stalinist functionaries, banal but powerful, tried to stay in their jobs against a tide of permanent change. The film is based on Dritero Agollis 1973 satirical novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by co-writer Mike Downey

The Soviet bureaucrats’ incompetence is highlighted by the plight of aspiring author Demka (Shehu), who has given up his own writing to churn out speeches for his superiors in the Cultural Department. The main benefactor of Demka’s output is the Zylo (Seitaj), whose ‘follies de grandeur’ are bolstered by his other half Adila (Hysa), while his oldest son Diogenio (Vargu) is a “Wunderkind” composer, in reality, just a fraud like his father. Zylo and his wife are friends with the playwright Adam Adashi (Zaharia)) and his wife Cleopatra (Meta). Another character called Zenepja (Karaj) cannot deal with his bitterness about his own literary career manque – or his neglect of her – and orders him to quit his job.

Adashi’s play “The Storm is defeated” leads to a fall-out between Zylo and other members of his department: some are keen, others condemn the work, and Zylo is left trying to guess which side his boss Comrade Q (Malaj) will come down on. Meanwhile he complains that Demka is too slow in his speech writing – largely because the poor man is bogged down with Zylo’s endless re-writes. Adila is in love with her husband’s literary output, unaware that another man is actually penning them, namely Demka, who she flirts with at a reception for an old-fashioned Albanian folklore band.

Some scenes are particularly farcical: Zylo’s obsession with the idea of bringing Socialism to West Africa. He, Demka and Cleopatra visit the dark continent, but their meetings with government officials are non-events due to it being ‘harvest time’. During their trip Demksenses there is something going on between his boss and Cleopatra, and he is not far wrong. On another occasion, Zylo takes Demka on a visit to the countryside where he wants to impress the local leaders with his cultural plans, but he ends up getting drunk and frightening his guests with a revolver. But dark clouds are gathering over Zylo, who also happens to be a sleepwalker. 

DoP Marek Wesolowski showcases the protagonists in Ozu-style medium shots, and turns to black-and-white when describing Demka’s dreams of a better life. But despite Koci’s enthusiasm for the subject, there are just too many one-dimensional characters involved in a self-indulgent drama highlighted by its absurdist humour. AS

Pearl (2023)

Dir.: Ti West; Cast: Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew  Sunderland, Emma Jenkins-Purro, Alistair Sewell; USA/New Zeland/Canada 2022, 103 min.

Going into the cinema and expecting the worst excesses from slasher movies makes Pearl a satisfying surprise. This neo-classical noir is a sister feature for John M. Stahl’s Leave her to Heaven (1945) where the brilliant Gene Tierney played a twisted socialite with a fetish for killing. Director and co-writer Ti West (X) takes a leaf from Stahl with this refreshing new creation.

Pearl – whose aesthetic of garish candy colours also channels Stahl’s feature – sees the titular young woman (Goth, also the co-writer), living on a homestead in the American countryside with her parents. The First World War is on its way out and Pearl is expecting the return of her husband Howard (Sewell) in the big city. But her repressive German Mother (Wright) hates the idea of her daughter having any fun and envious because Pearl’s father (Sunderland) is an invalid: mute and wheelchair bound.

It soon emerges that Pearl has a penchant for killing their farm animals and feeding them to her pet alligator in the lake. The beast appears like a faithful dog on Pearl’s command while her real pet canine has already fallen victim to a compensatory killing spree. Out of frustration, Pearl has taken to humping a scarecrow and also fancies herself as a dancer, and when Mitsy (Jenkins-Purro), Howard’s sister, gets wind of a local dance competition, with the best selected to entertain the soldiers, Pearl is only to keen to join up, supremely confident she will prevail.

But first there is the uncomfortable matter of Pearl’s affair with the local projectionist (Corenswet), who promises to take her to Europe. When the visit is not forthcoming, she uses a pitchfork to drive her message of disappointment home in a fit of pique that knows no bounds involving a variety of vicious weapons and victims. After accidentally setting Mum on fire and smothering Daddy, the last person standing is Mitsy, who bears the brunt of Pearl’s anger after losing out on the dance competition. An axe comes in handy and finally Pearl can sit down to dinner. But hold your horses: Howard is on his way home.

The humour is deliciously deadpan There is even a moving scene near the end when Pearl is cuddling up to Mum, listening in her mind to an old German lullaby from back in the day.  Pearl combines originality and past values of the horror/noir genre with an antiheroine who gradually finds a place in our hearts with her relatable revenge campaign – after all, most of us are occasionally tempted to follow her example. The difference here is that Pearl has lost her inhibitor reflexes which prevent ordinary people from running amok. DoP Eliot Rockett ensures the grisly deeds are as understated as possible in this highly entertaining shocker. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 17th March 2023

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Dir: F. W. Murnau | Cast: George O’Brian, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston | US Silent, 87′

Lured to Hollywood by producer William Fox, German Expressionist F.W. Murnau created one of the silent cinema’s last and most luminous masterpieces. Having already made a name for himself on the continent, Sunrise – a tale of two country mice overwhelmed by the temptations of the city after the husband is seduced by a sophisticated urbanite – represented an auspicious Hollywood debut that promised much, but tragically produced little. The recipient at the very first Academy Awards, in 1928, of a special award as the “most unique and artistic production” of the year, Murnau failed to build on its great success and after two more ill-fated Hollywood silents the German director went to Tahiti to recharge his batteries on Tabu.

Posterity alas will never see what impact Murnau would have on the classic era of the thirties because he tragically died in a car accident at the shockingly early age of 42. Richard  Chatten

SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927) directed by F.W. Murnau. now screening courtesy of the BFI player subscription from 6 March 2023

Watch Here

Simple Things | Les Choses Simples (2023)

Dir/Wri: Eric Besnard | Cast: Gregory Gadebois, Lambert Wilson, Marie Gillain | France, Drama 97′

Gregory Gadebois, Lambert Wilson and a frisky french bulldog are in fine comic form in this odd couple buddy movie. Simple Things is far from simple totally subverting expectations in a comedy drama that is actually quite subtle and complex. 

Set in the heady landscapes of the Auvergne Alps an evocative opening sequence reminds us how stressful modern life has become in the big city. And this is where the uber chic eco entrepreneur Vincent (Wilson) is heading when his sports breaks down on a lush mountain highway. Plump country bumpkin Pierre (Gadebois) just happens to riding by and offers him a offers him a lift on his motorcycle.

This being the rural life Pierre – not a man to be trifled with, or hurried – insists on cooking an delicious omelette and taking a siesta before the two finally set off for the big smoke, Vincent offering Pierre dinner for his kindness. But spying an angry yuppie complaining of Vincent’s late arrival Gadebois speeds off into the distance.  

In the thick of the boardroom it dawns on Vincent how fed up he is of the fast lane. But before he has time to reflect on his frayed mental state the meeting is in full swing, but he is clearly coming apart at the seams. Back at the ranch Pierre is feeding the chickens when Vincent reappears on the pretence of losing his Mont Blanc pen, but really to ask Pierre if he can stay awhile and the disdainful loner offers him a meagre straw mattress in his nearby rustic cabin. Next morning Wilson makes an offer Gad immediately – and angrily refuses – that of offering to finance his friends existence as part of an eco project.  Deeply insulted that anyone should try and patronise his modest way of life as if it were somehow quaint rather than real on every way, Pierre sends the smug ‘cool guy’ packing.

The subtle interplay between Wilson’s trendy entrepreneur and Pierre’s disdainful mountain hermit provides the film with its rich vein of humour but the romance between Pierre and his cousin’s widow Camille (Gillian) sounds a bum note in this otherwise engaging comedy drama. Bernard and his co-writer Anne Wermeligere cook up a clever script which ticks all the zeitgeisty boxes and there’s a terrific car chase and an evocative score too not to mention some eye-catching mountain scenery. MT


Creature (2023)

Dir.: Asif Kapadia; Ballet choegraphed by Aksam Khan with Jeffrey Cirio, Stina Quagebeur, Fabian Reimair, Erina Takahashi, Ken Saruhashi; UK 2022, 87 min.

Asif Kapadia has drastically shortened Aksam Khan’s titular ballet from 120 to 87 minutes. One should not forget, that the original Ballet reviews were not too positive, and one point often mentioned was the running time, seen as overly self-indulgent. Kapadia’s version is not only streamlined, but concentrates on the main themes of the production: existential loneliness and revenge.

Georg Büchner’s unfinished play “Woyzek” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” are the cornerstones of the ballet. With Khan having changed the repressive small town atmosphere of “Woyzek” to the arctic laboratory, Kapadia can stage the ballet more or less in one place: the scientists/soldiers’ wooden hut which later on partially collapses.

The Creature (Cirio) is very much in love with his wife Marie (Takahashi), but she is drawn to the loudmouth Drum Major (Reimair). Whilst the Creature tries to gain entrance into society, he exists merely to serve as a test object for the group of scientists/soldiers who are keen to find out how long their specimen can withstand the deadly hypothermia. At the same time  scientists and soldiers are seen as a compatible unit and that the female camp doctor (Quagebeur) is a comic copy of Dr. Mengele, whose horrific medical tests were responsible for many deaths at Auschwitz/Birkenau. On the middle level of the ruling hierarchy, the captain (Saruhashu), uses the Creature to provide for his daily comfort.

Repeated tape recordings of the conversation president Nixon had with the astronauts of the moon landing on 20.7.1969 play out through the film, Nixon calling them –  rather derogatively by their first names – Neill and Buzz. Andy Serkis lends his voice to some computer-voiced commentary, but neither of these elements particularly enhance the ballet feature.

DoP Daniel Landin keeps the light arctic dark, with the protagonists looking like shadows of themselves. Symbolically, and in line with his prototype status, the Creature is stripped of any form of warm clothing and treated like a wild animal, rather than a human. The minimalist wooden set is constructed like a fortress in the white arctic landscape, with the Creature enduring endless tests to measure his resistance to ice and snow. But his personal battle with the Major for the soul of Marie is even more inhumane, since he is not even granted the status of a combattant. The Major and The Doctor head up the oppressive regime, science and military might working hand in hand. This central theme connects the ballet with Shelley’s Frankenstein: the creature being led loose into a world bent on destroying him while his once proud creator stands by helpless.

Creature is a brutal and unforgiving ballet of sorrow and alienation, both physical and psychological. A true horror feature, set like a spartan Western film, with the main protagonist literally stripped of everything. AS


A Happy Man | Un Homme heureux (2023)

Dir: Tristan Seguela | France, Comedy 97′

A mayor finds out his wife wants to be a man but is more concerned about re-election than his marriage in this perky outing from French director Tristan Seguela.

Sexual transitioning is a tricky subject to tackle and one that could easily be maudlin, misconstrued or even cringeworthy. But Seguela and his writers successfully pull it off, opting for a wafer-light, tongue-in-cheek treatment for this amusing contemporary comedy that treads gently through classic Chabrol country: a conventional Northern French town with its shuttered windows, family-run shops and bars where the locals tend to be conservative, and are not going to take kindly to an LGBTQ+ council. It’s hardly Paris.

Fabrice Lucchini is perfect for the role of Jean Leroy: first incredulous and then gently scandalised in an ‘oh la la’ way when his wife declares, over the pig’s trotters, that she feels like a man, and always has done throughout their 40-year marriage and three children, although, is still in love with him and, in deference,  agrees to transition after his election campaign.

Catherine Frot clearly relishes the role of Edith, now Eddy. Soon the hormones are kicking in, and she’s sporting an incipient beard and moustache, not to mention a tweed jacket and sensible shoes. She even tells the daily to stop calling her ‘Madame’, and enlists in support groups where she meets other transexuals..

Philippe Katerine provides an ironic foil for Lucchini’s mayor, a little bit suggestive, never judging him, and always ready to provide a sympathetic listening ear even when the going gets tough and Leroy goes into meltdown behind the scenes. And especially when he is caught on a traffic camera, his wife embracing him in full drag in a video that naturally goes viral threatening to destabilise his “Forward as Before” campaign trail on social media. Tristan Séguéla offers up a mature, entertaining and insightful comedy drama where the watchwords are understanding, kindness and tolerance, ensuring a happy – almost moving – ending. MT


Berserk (1967)

Dir: Jim O’Connolly | Cast: Joan Crawford, Diana Dors, Ty Hardin, Robert Hardy, Michael Gough | US Drama 97’

If you didn’t think that Joan Crawford could sink any lower than William Castle see what happened when he fell into the clammy embrace of Herman Cohen.

Crawford obviously wasn’t bothered about the quality of the script as long as she got the star treatment (the fabulous outfits she wears were probably the biggest part of the budget; I wonder if she was allowed to keep them?).

Crawford is a woman after Cohen’s own heart playing a queen bee who thinks the deaths are good for business lusts after Ty Hardin and still looks fabulous in tights, as do Diana Dors and Judy Geeson (we even get to see Dors wrestle Marianne Stone).

The ludicrous ending comes as no surprise to anyone who seen Crawford’s earlier film ‘Strait-Jacket. @RichardChatten

Marlowe (2022)

Dir: Neil Jordan | Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Colm Meaney, Daniela Melchior, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston, Seana Kerslake, Francois Arnaud, Ian Hart | Noir thriller, 95′

Liam Neeson stars as Marlowe in this often vicious noir thriller that transports us back to late 1930s Bay City, California with vague echoes of Polanski’s Chinatown, but there the similarity ends.

Raymond Chandler’s classic character Marlowe was most successfully evoked by the craggy-faced icon Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely (1974) but Neeson adds a certain warm soulfulness to the role as the private detective based on the book by John Banville.

In the capable hands of Neil Jordan’s direction Marlowe certainly looks decent and boasts a strong international cast and some witty dialogue but too many characters and subplots overload a story that loses its way in the complexity of it all. Essentially Marlowe boils down to a series of starry vignettes held together by a circuitous storyline, written for the screen by William Monahan. 

Philip Marlowe is looking into a missing persons ‘cold’ – or rather – tepid case involving a certain Hollywood film exec Nico Peterson (Arnaud) who has slipped away from his married lover’s embrace, a hard-edged blonde called Clare Cavendish (Kruger tries – and fails – to channel Dunaway) who is keen on Marlowe keeping her amused while she employs him to track down the much younger man who is normally between her sheets.

Neeson gets some good lines in the witty and often virtue-signalling dialogues: “Is your husband a homo”.? he asks Clare: “No he’s not remotely that interesting”. But there’s no gay twist here just an old-fashioned story of jealous women and men chasing the dollar. Fedora in place, Marlowe makes his rounds in the area and this brings in some car chase scenes and leads to an upmarket private establishment called the Corbeta club where louche lounge lizards and moneyed widows wile away the warm evenings in what is actually Barcelona rather than the US West Coast.

Here he comes across Clare’s mother, a charismatic blonde called Dorothy Quincannon (Lange oozes style unlike her spiteful daughter) who claims to have seen Peterson despite reports of him fetching up dead, the victim of a ‘hit and run’. But Hollywood studio head Floyd Hanson, played by Danny Huston (whose stock in trade nowadays is playing debonair gentlemen of questionable intent) is keen to quash the rumour, and will go to violent lengths to keep Peterson’s disappearance a mystery. Huston is really effective as the suave but saturnine film exec, his father John was even more memorable in Chinatown. 

Other characters woven into the convoluted narrative add padding but feel entirely irrelevant. There is Alan Cummings’ mean and seedy nightclub owner who has dealings in Mexico, and police detectives Colm Meaney and Ian Hart. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje adds ballast as a uniformed chauffeur who gives Marlowe back-up when he needs it. Marlowe looks authentic with its swaying palm trees, sleek automobiles and elegant costumes but somehow never grips or moves us despite being enjoyable while it lasts. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | US and other territories.


High Noon (1952)

Dir: Fred Zimmerman | US Western

Although it received widespread acclaim and four Academy Awards John Wayne was so affronted by the attack on American values this film constituted he made ‘Rio Bravo’ with Howard Hawks to rebut it.

The film has been cited by those on both the left and the right to support their own specific political agendas (the film itself has it’s own internal contradictions embodied in the fact that the writer was blacklisted and that it stars Gary Cooper – a very friendly witness).

A once in a lifetime supporting cast ranges from Lon Chaney Jr. To Thomas Mitchell; while the presence of Lee Van Cleef bridges the gap between the classic Hollywood western and Sergio Leone. @RichardChatten

Last Night of Amore (2023) Berlinale | Special Gala 2023

Dir: Andrea Di Stefano | Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Francesco Di Leva, Katia Mironova, Linda Caridi | Italy, Crime Thriller 124′

Italian ‘man of the moment’ Pierfrancesco Favino stars alongside his Nostalgia sidekick Francesco Di Leva in this ‘al dente’ heist thriller with a Chinese twist from talented writer/director Andrea di Stefano (The Informant).

A magnificent nighttime opening sequence transports us over the rooftops of Milan from the Duomo and beyond finally zooming down on a soirée in full swing through the windows of an apartment. A little boy looks down on a man in the street below. Yes, it’s Favino as super clean detective Franco Amore on his way home from a jog to meet another colleague Cosimo (Gerardi) at a surprise party in celebration retirement the following day. The evening has been organised by his suave and savvy stiletto-heeled wife, Viviana (Caridi) who has hair as glossy as a freshly cracked chestnut and a décolletage to match in a crime thriller that is gripping and emotionally intelligent.

Di Stefano goes to great lengths to establish Franco’s probity as a policeman but also shows how important Viviana is in bolstering his career, underlining the strength of their relationship and their complicity. Crucially, Viviana feels responsible for limiting Franco’s career progression due to her links with the mob via her distant relative Cosimo (Gerardi).

After making a brief appearance at the gathering to enforce his soulful and squeaky clean image, Last Night then gets down to business when Franco is called away  by his boss Sarno to discover his best friend and longtime colleague Dino (Di Leva) has been shot dead on the highway while moonlighting ‘off duty’ on a diamond heist. The action then flashes back ten days to show how Franco had saved the life of a Chinese Mafia boss Mr Zhang whose son-in-law is working behind the scenes to undermine him in a diamond deal.

Things have certainly moved on from the days of Italian Mafia and male dominance in Italian detective thrillers, and thoughts of Franco’s imminent retirement are soon on the back burner when Zhang’s son-in-law presents the honest cop with a final gig before retiring, and a financial boost to his pension he could have only dreamed on, if he agrees to drive an accomplice Fei Fei and the precious booty of African diamonds to a given destination in the capital. 

Franco gets Dino (Di Leva) on board and they set off with Fei Fei and her boyfriend along Milan’s Carugate freeway but the vehicle gets a puncture. Fei Fei refuses to let Franco stop, but an officious policewoman pulls them over and in the shootout that follows Dino, the Chinese couple and the policewoman take the bullets. Suffering an existential crisis, Franco then stages a crime scene to cover his tracks, throwing the jewels in the river. He then calls Viviana to the crime scene for backup, refusing to fess up on his moonlighting activities.  At this point, it certainly looks like his retirement plans – and his marriage – are over. But all is not lost. Viviana is not a just pretty face, she’s a woman with an eye to the end game, and considerable perseverance, who is willing to get her hands dirty – quite literally – and will come up trumps in this inventive Robin Hood style thriller’s tense finale. Shot with brilliant bravura by DoP Guido Michelotti Last Night of Amore is a classic thriller of lost souls that feels entirely contemporary in its scripting, breathtaking yet relevant and emotionally engaging. MT


After the Fox (1966) Tribute to Burt Bacharach

Dir: Vittorio De Sica | Cast: Peter Sellers, Victor Mature, Britt Ekland, Martin Balsam | Comedy Drama

It’s not every day you see a film scripted by Neil Simon and directed by Vittorio De Sica, and this certainly will never be regarded as a highlight in any of the participants’ careers (with the possible exception of Victor Mature).

De Sica himself contributes an amusing cameo as himself (and probably had fun pillaring the critic who has to be bodily carried out of court) while Peter Sellers adopted the accent and mannerisms of the late Mario Zampi for the part of the bogus director claiming to be making a film called ‘The Gold of Cairo’.

Akim Tamiroff in a fez as usual makes Sellers look like a follower of The Method, while poor Martin Balsam looks as if he wandered off a different set. Once heard Burt Bacharach’s title song is never forgotten. @RichardChatten

La Montagne (2022)

Dir: Thomas Salvador | Cast: Thomas Salvador, Louise Bourgoin, Martine Chevallier, Laurent Poitrenaux | France, 113′

Not since Julian Polsler’s visionary Austrian drama Der Wand (2012) has there been such an imaginative eco-thriller, set this time in the French Alps. La Montagne successfully blends mountaineering and sci-fi into a lowkey love story that explores the mysterious kinetic qualities of the Alps.

Expect to see some really spectacular special effects along with superior widescreen panoramas of the mountains in the early Spring thaw. But also a sense of danger that slowly builds when the introspective main character Pierre – played by the director himself – is seen walking across a glacier in crampons and later enduring ferocious winds in his small bivouac pitched on the ascent to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi near Chamonix Mont Blanc.

Salvador, who won the SACD award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for this enigmatic sophomore feature, adopts a docudrama style with some impressive Alpine set pieces, and adds authenticity to this intimate story with some serious technical detail during Pierre’s meeting with his climbing pal Marc (Poitrenaux) that sees them take on a complex bit of rock climbing and offers impressive views of the peaks as well as emotionally charged moments when Pierre slips on the ice. 

In a mountainside restaurant Pierre then strikes up a conversation with Lea (Bourgoin) on the pretence of asking her to pop a card in the post. This leads to a meeting with his family at the base of Chamonix where he argues with his brother who is not happy about Pierre’s laissez-faire attitude to keeping in contact with the rest of them.

Pierre crosses paths with Lea again and a romantic frisson develops when she offers a handy tip on how to tie non-slip laces on his boots. Smoke from a distant landslide then grabs Pierre’s attention as the tone changes gear with a more sinister undertow as Pierre goes to investigate and discovers a mysterious light glowing out of the rock-face, the luminosity intensifying as night gradually falls on the hostile terrain.

On closer examination Pierre discovers what appears to be a sparkling globular mass that travels around the rock-face like the glowing embers of volcano magma. But before Pierre can investigate further his attempts are thwarted by an unexpected turn of events in this intriguing mountain adventure that splices the surreal with a serendipitous story of modern love. MT


Mal Viver (2023) Silver Bear Jury Prize | Berlinale 2023

Dir: João Canijo | Cast: Anabela Moreira, Rita Blanco, Madalena Almeida, Cleia Almeida, Vera Barreto Portugal / France 2023 Competition | World premiere Drama, Portugal

An inheritance proves to be a poisoned challis and one that will flush out memories and deep-seated resentments brewing between five members of a close family in this immersive drama from Portuguese auteur João Canijo.

The property has seen better days. Once a lavishly appointed architect-designed Sixties hotel boasting extensive grounds a generous kidney-shaped swimming pool – that still provides the women with a regenerative backwater and a break from each other – the place is now in need of extensive refurbishment and the staff have resorted to using bleach and fly spray just to keep the place clean.

Conijo’s female-centric narrative provides fertile ground for a richly discursive and contemplative slow-burn drama whose languid pacing often bristles with insight and delicate observations in mulling over the women’s collective past together, and seemingly futile future touching on domestic themes of cooking, child-rearing and the inevitability of ageing, as well as wider issues that allude to the social malaise in modern day Portugal.

Other scenes focus on trivial squabbles that often flare up from nowhere between mother and daughter as they try on shoes, or compare haircuts. Often there is intrigue or enigma surrounding what is said – as much as unsaid – as we piece together the past and present of these relatable interlocking characters.

Many of the conversations take place offscreen and focus on the central character Piedade (Moreira) whose desperate cries for help fall on the deaf ears of her mother (Blanco), daughter (Almeida) and extended family who are too consumed with their own trivial lives to focus on her subtle call for help.

Pietade is often seen eavesdropping on her mother Sara while trying to keep her snappy emotional support dog from squeaking or barking, other desultory conversations unfold in the peace and quiet of this tranquil rural location.

DoP Leonor Teles choses a a vibrant aesthetic and a variety of camera angles to keep us involved: often viewing the characters from above or at waist level, or on the widescreen and in intimate closeup while a quietly triumphant score of Elgar’s Nimrod at one point plays in the background.

The ending comes as no surprise to those tuned in to Piedade’s particularly middle-aged female sense of futility – yet it provides a perfect conclusion to this mature and artfully framed family drama playing this year in the Berlinale main competition  

BERLINALE 2023| 15 -26 February 2023

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023)

Dir.: Steven Soderbergh; Cast: Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek Pinault, Ayub Khan Din, JemiliaGeorge, Juliette Motamed; USA 2023, 112 min.

When Steven Soderbergh burst onto the film scene with Sex, Lies and Videotape the world was aghast at this shiny new talent. Decades later his final part of a trilogy that started in 2012 is tame and overloaded with characters and sub-plots. And by the end nobody really cares what happens. 

Last Dance centres on a wealthy soon-to-be-divorced couple – Maxandra Mendoza (Hayek Pinault) and ex-male stripper Mike Lane (Tatum). After their furniture business goes bust Mike meets his friendly creditors via Zoom. The couple then spend an evening of wild passion (no sex – mind) and Mike re-arranges Maxandra’s flat in Miami. She offers him an opportunity in the theatre business – having inherited London’s “The Rattigan” in the divorce settlement. There, a tedious costume drama is soon abandoned for a night out with male strippers who run riot under Mike’s direction (minus their g-strings). 

The whole saga is narrated by Maxandra’s teenage daughter Zadie (George) who is a mixture of “Alexa” and Wikipedia, and even finds time to write a novel in the ensuing chaos. Meanwhile Max’s chauffeur/confidante Victor (Din) tries in vain to keep his mistress from making any more mischief. A motley selection of half-baked characters join in the farce including Max’s soon-to-be-divorced husband and the local council chief-administrator who wants to close the theatre but is persuaded otherwise by a visit of the stripper ensemble in the bus (!). The focus here is really on Mike and Max: will they, or won’t they do it?

Brilliant production values nearly save the day but cannot make up for  an underwhelming and unfocused production that overstays its welcome at  nearly two hours. AS


Knock at the Cabin (2023)

Dir: M Night Shyamalan | Cast: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Rupert Grint, Nikki Amuka-Bird | US Thriller

A magical cabin in the woods becomes a scene of horror in this latest ‘apocalypse’ from M Night Shyamalan. Little Wen (Cui) and her parents Eric (Groff) and Andrew (Aldridge) are enjoying a family holiday when their rustic idyll is interrupted by four complete strangers with seemingly evil intent – judging by their weapons – although they profess otherwise, in this unusual home invasion thriller.

On of the interlopers, the meat-headed Dave Bautista, has already befriended Win in the film’s opening scene but we know he is not to be trusted. And pretty soon Dave make the bizarre request that the family sacrifice one of their members in order to save to rest of humanity.

Adapted from a novel by Paul Tremblay, the film’s initially intriguing premise soon gives way to some doom laden scenes of destruction, violence and existential menace. Saved – only just – by a solid and persuasive cast Knock in the Cabin is just another example of doom-laden fare we really could do without in the negative world we live in. MT


Battle of the Sexes (1960)

Dir: Charles Crichton | Cast: Peter Sellers, Robert Morley, Constance Cummings, Jameson Clark, Donald Pleasence | UK Comedy 90′

Despite the vaguely saucy title and brash opening narration by Sam Wanamaker this is actually a very gentle comedy made by veterans of Ealing Studios such as director Charles Crichton.

Made in the days when Peter Sellars was still a character actor rather than a personality he thoroughly immerses himself in the surprisingly self-effacing role of a mild mannered wage slave who rather recalls his drunken projectionist in The Smallest Show on Earth.

Shot in Edinburgh – the remotest location Constance Cummings’ superiors could think of to send her – the sombre mood is well served by Freddie Francis’ low-key photography allied to skilful use of sound plausibly evoking a clothing company so traditional that use of the word ‘synthetic’ makes grown men faint and even a pen with a squeaky nib seems intrusive. @RichardChatten


The Whale (2022)

Dir.: Darren Aronofsky, Cast: Brendan Fraser, Hong Chan, Ty Simkins, Samantha Morton, Sadie Sink; USA 2022, 117 min.

The Whale never breaks free from its claustrophobic stage origins, adapted for the screen by Samual D Hunter and based on his 2012 play. In contrast to his usual fare Darren Aronofsky’s direction is restrained, by his own admission, in a feature that deals with the ‘elephant in the room’ in the 21st century: Obesity. Brendan Fraser beefs up for a gargantuan performance as the fated fatty Charlie, traumatised by his partner’s suicide and wallowing towards an early grave in a dour Idaho backwater where he teaches creative writing via Zoom.

Charlie has no desire to be hospitalised and his ample finances provide for nurse Liz (Chau) to look after him, his estranged wife Mary (Morton) and daughter Ellie (Sink) – putting in appearances for obvious reasons – but they are angry and shouty in contrast to the benign and philosophical Charlie who feel for increasingly  as he tries to put past to rights. Christian cult member Elder Thomas (Simkins) brings an innocuous twist to the plot, completing the quintet of depressive truth-seekers.



The Apartment (1960)

Dir/Wri: Billy Wilder | Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston | US Drama 125’

As he handed Billy Wilder the Academy Award for Best Picture (the last to go to a black & white movie until ‘Schindler’s List’) Moss Hart wryly remarked to him “Better quit now, Billy. It’s not going to get any better than this!”.

Appropriately paired on BBC2 this afternoon (although in the wrong order) with Brief Encounter which contained the scene with Valentine Dyall that inspired it; when I first saw The Apartment half a century ago at the age of 13 even then I found it as melancholy as it was funny.

It was a sign of the times that Best Picture went to such a gown-up film; and ironically Hope Holiday (now 91), who played Margie MacDougall, has just revealed that soon after making this was sexually harassed by Jerry Lewis. The line “that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise” has become one of the most memorable lines in comedy cinema history. @RichardChatten


Women Talking (2022)

Dir.: Sarah Polley; Cast: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Frances McDormand, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, August Winter; USA 2022, 104 min.

With all the dystopian dramas around at the moment Sarah Polley offers a rewarding human story full of hope that unfolds within a religious cult in a remote corner of contemporary Bolivia.

In the aftermath to ongoing abuse from their menfolk, a group of women – carried by a stellar cast of Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Frances McDormand – try to come to terms with their experience and focus on finding a positive solution to determine their future and that of their children.

For years, men have used cattle anaesthetics to subdue the women, raping everyone of them between four and sixty. On top of it, they have accused the women of making it all up, claiming that demons were at work. But the seven men are now in custody in the nearby town, the rest are collecting money to free the perpetrators from jail. The women have two days to come up with a practical answer: there are three alternatives: Submit to the men by forgiving them -to keep the status quo; stay and fight – or leave. Scarface Janz (McDormand, (the film’s producer) choses the first option, but she is in the minority and soon leaves the meeting. Ona (Mara) changes her mind and votes to leave, Salome (Foy) wants to stay and fight, even if that means transgressing the religious laws of the colony. Mariche (Buckley) even speaks out the unspeakable: committing murder as an act of revenge.

The only man present is schoolteacher August Epp (Whishaw), who is taking the minutes of the meeting. None of the women can read or write, having been deprived of the basic education. Epp is in love with Ona who is pregnant after having been raped. Another question is how to deal with the children: if they vote for ‘leave’, what will happen to the children. Maternal instincts will clash with the overall decision.

Women Talking is a calm and edifying experience. Salome comments “freedom is an endless meeting”, something straight out of 1960s. And: “Looking back, we saw that violence was happening everywhere”; the women try to explore their own guilt examine whether they have somehow colluded with their menfolk by letting them get away with abuse, just to keep the peace – and the religious order “set up by men”.

DoP Luc Montpellier reflects the vapid existence of these women with a bleached out colour palette of pale hues. In the end, with The Monkees “DaydreamBeliever” blasting over the end titles, nothing will be the same any more.



Empire (2023) Gothenburg Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Frederikke Aspock; Cast: Anna Neye, Sara Fanta Traore, Claus Riis Ostergaard, Jesper Groth, Tyler Erroll Murray, James Sampson, Cherie Celeste Malone; Denmark 2022, 92 min.

This lively costume drama from Danish director Frederikke Aspock satirises racism with an outwardly light ironic tone, but behind the brightly coloured sets and costumes there lurk some hard facts about colonialism during the mid nineteenth century.

Back in 1848 the Danish West Indies comprised the island of Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix (sold to the US in 1917). The story follows Anna Heegaard (Neye), a ‘free coloured’ woman who owns her own slaves and is living in the State House Mansion with the Danish Governor General Peter von Schotten (Ostergaard) who has a wife and family back home in Denmark.

Anna runs the place with a rod of iron, subjecting her black staff members to her draconian power games while pretending to be their friends. Her Maid of Honour, Petrine (Traore), who lives ‘in house’ with her young son Frederik (Murray), gets the brunt of Anna’s methods, but behind the scenes the slaves are starting to contemplate revolt.

The plot turns on Anna’s dominating attitude which extends beyond mere household matters and into the governor’s affairs of state. Gradually she becomes embroiled on both sides of the fence after a visit from Admiral Irminger (Groth) requesting that von Schottten plead the King for military support against the Obeah rebels. Anna overrides the Governor’s agenda, writing her own letter to the King, forging von Schotten’s handwriting, and asking for military support to be prepared in the event of a rebel uprising – something von Schotten has no intention of doing – with tragic consequences.

Beyond the light-hearted voice-over this is a cruel feature with episodes of brutal violence that point to moral decay on all sides, led by the Danish authorities, who will later be instrumental in selling the colony to the Americans, without asking the inhabitants. DoP Linda Wassberg captures the resplendent colours of the island setting, but is equally apt in showing the fatalities in a tour-de-force of human evil. AS



We are Next of Kin (2022) Rotterdam Film Festival 2023

Dir: Hans Christian Schmid | Cast: Cast: Claude Heinrich, Adina Vetter, Justus von Dohnanyi, Hans Low, Yorck Dippe, Enno Trebs, Fabian Hinrichs, Philipp Hauss | Drama 118’

The aftermath of an abduction is seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old boy unimpressed by the bungled attempts of those entrusted to bring his father back in this sober domestic-centred drama from seasoned German director Hans Christian Schmid.

Jan Philipp Reemtsma was kidnapped in 1996, and the film is based on his son Johann Scheerer’s autobiographical novel that views the world through his burgeoning adolescent experience of adults in authority struggling to cope with their own infallibilities.

Johann (Claude Heinrich) is clearly in awe but also resentful of his father (Philipp Hauss), an accomplished academic who is clearly disappointed in his unruly teenage son. The opening scenes of We Are Next of Kin picture a typical scenario with a father trying to drum some sense into a boy who is more keen on playing in a band that focusing on his schoolwork.

Jan’s subsequent kidnapping is a subdued off-screen affair and Johann then witnesses his mother Kathrin (a steely Adina Vetter) and the family solicitor Schwenn (Justus von Dohnanyi) putting their heads together to work out what do in the face of the large ransom demanded by the abductors. Their efforts are supported when two special branch detectives Vera (Yorck Dippe) and Nickel (Enno Trebs) come on board with their ‘specialist’ negotiating skills.

From then on the drama turns on the fraught psychological and strategic aspects of the kidnapping with the focus on human error rather than the event itself, Jan’s whereabouts and circumstances remaining rather shady in a abduction that took place before the advent of the internet and today’s technological advances.

There’s a traditional feel to proceedings with old-fashioned ransom notes and letters being the kidnap ‘currency’ rather than mobile ‘phone messages and texts. Although there are some tense scenes, the film’s measured pacing reflects the often stark reality of the kidnap situation for the family and their advisors left to suffer the quietly devastating emotional toll of being controlled and menaced by an unknown outside force and to endure interminable delays while progress is made, or not.

Gradually Johann sees his father transform from a doughty figure of authority to a vulnerable human being desperate for help in this unusual kidnapping and rights of passage drama. MT






A Canterbury Tale (1944)

Dir: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger | Cast: Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Denis Price, John Sweet | UK Drama 124’

Described by Basil Wright as “the kinkiest film of the war” and recalled with distaste by the reviewers of Peeping Tom,  Michael Powell’s taste for the fanciful (the dialogue actually mentions marijuana) was already manifesting itself in the antics of the glueman and the use of Edmond Knight in three quite distinct roles.

The extraordinary resemblance of the early cut from the kestrel to the spitfire to the much-vaunted equivalent in ‘2001’ is almost certainly attributable purely to coincidence since until the late seventies the film had long languished in obscurity and it’s highly unlikely Kubrick had seen when he embarked on his own film in 1964.

Powell was born in Canterbury himself so the choice of the locale was evidently a deeply personal one. His eye for talent is well demonstrated by his casting the hitherto unknown Denis Price and the engaging American non-professional John Sweet. @RichardChatten

Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953)

Dir: Delmer Davies | Cast: Cornel Wilde, Constance Smith, Anne Bancroft, Finlay Currie, Walter Hampden | US Drama 93’

Delmer Daves couldn’t make a dull film if his life depended on it but he had a jolly good try with this glossy Technicolor remake of Son of Fury with Cornel Wilde in Tyrone Power’s role of an illiterate stable lad who goes out into the big wide world to make his fortune in Guatemala with the aid of a treasure map.

George Macready memorably plays his usual sanctimonious villain, and this is the only film I recall where he personally engages in fisticuffs himself. Finlay Currie in a tam-o-shanter does his usual Scotts thing, while the women include Fay Wray and Anne Bancroft (the latter in the role played in the original by Frances Farmer).

Officially Alfred Newman wrote the music, but the resemblance of a couple of musical cues to ‘North by Northwest’ serves as a reminder that Bernard Herrmann was then under contract to Fox. @RichardChatten

The Flying Scotsman (1929)

Dir: Castleton Knight | Cast: Ray Milland, Gordon Harker, Moore Marriott, Pauline Johnson | Uk Drama 50’

Castleton Knight anticipated his work in documentaries with the climax on location in this rollicking thriller which marks the unique interaction of Moore Marriott and Ray Milland.

Marriott was only 44 but already looks much older, while Milland (here already exhibiting the superciliousness that later became his trademark) already looks like he did in his Hollywood heyday. Even then Marriott looks more like the heroine’s grandfather than her father.

This marked the lovely Pauline Johnson’s penultimate film. She actually survived the scene where she (SPOILER COMING:) clings to the outside of the train in high heels – which rather resembles the climax of ‘Oh! Mr Porter’ – giving up films to marry and move to Australia. @RichardChatten

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968)

Dir: Clive Donner | Cast: Barry Evans, Judy Geeson, Angela Scoular, Adrienne Poster, Vanessa Howard | UK Drama

On the way to school back in the seventies I used every morning to go through Sheffield Botanical Gardens and pass a genuine Mulberry Bush planted in 1968 by Judy Geeson to promote this film (it now resembles a small tree rather than a bush).

Four years earlier Clive Donner had depicted in ‘Nothing But the Best’ the upwardly mobile career of a Jack the Lad played by Alan Bates. This time it’s the turn of Barry Evans (later best known on TV for ‘Doctor in the House’ and ‘Mind Your Language’), who like the delightful Angela Scoular met an untimely and tragic end.

Both films have in common the wonderful Denholm Elliot representing the establishment, while it’s a measure of the film’s dubious sexual politics that the great height of Sally Avery as Cathy is bizarrely assumed to denote plainness, even down to perceptibly dubbing her voice to make her seem even coarser. @RichardChatten

Kavur (2023) Rotterdam Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Firat Ozeler; Documentary with the voices of Cem Yilmaz, Funda Eryigit; Turkey 2023, 89 min.

A new documentary from Turkey’s Firat Ozeler pays homage to filmmaker Omer Kavur (1944-2005) who directed fourteen feature between 1974 and 2003 before his tragic death from lymphoma. His films were shown in Cannes and Venice, but, rarely – if ever – made it to the UK. The only English speaking retrospective was held at the Harvard Film Archive in 2001, where five features were shown. The film is both a biopic and a travelogue, narrated by Funda Eryigit, it visits the many places Kavur touched during his struggle to build a career. Cam Yilmaz voices Kavur’s own perspective of his life. 

Born in Istanbul in 1944 to wealthy parents who moved in all the right circles but whose marriage eventually broke down, Kavur was sent to a Swiss finishing school to be groomed for success. Clearly he had plenty of love but no home. Paris was the next step where the budding filmmaker studied in the daytime, and worked in a hotel at night. His 1987 feature Motherland Hotel (Anayurt Oteli) is a testament to his three year stint as a night porter – anything to reduce his debt.

An unidentified lover tells about the sadness which engulfed Kavur even in those days: “He was not a happy person”. His return to Istanbul saw the city transformed by  bulldozers and the developers. The old buildings were gone replaced by apartment blocks. Turkish cinema had moved on too and Kavur was dismayed to discover an industry which thrived on porn features. The Sex Life of a Belly Dancer, was a case in point.

Kavur’s own first films were not successful at the box office, and he became withdrawn and reclusive eventually leaving the city of his birth, blaming himself: “I should have adapted, and did what was expected from me”. He was critical of the socialist films of the era, calling them ‘trendy’. His travels next took him to a small Baltic town where the theme of rememberance became an important focus of his maturing style of filmmaking. 

Ozeler makes use of ample archive footage, clips of Kavur’s final feature, Karsilasma shot in 2003, and a video showing him as a deeply troubled man obsessed by death and decay. Plagued by dreams that transported him back to his childhood, Kavur seemed to be continually trying to escape the trauma. The film’s final act sees him reciting a poem with the unnamed woman. When death finally caught up with Kavur, he had come to terms with his life and discovered a certain tranquility, despite being exhausted from illness and therapy. It was like coming home again.

In his debut feature premiering at Rotterdam’s International Film Festival, Ozeler has caught the overriding melancholy of Kavur’s life as an artist who never felt at ease with himself after being sent away from his homeland at an early age. A motif running through his work shows him knocking at doors that will be forever closed, like in Kafka’s “The Castle”. Kavur certainly had his time in the sun as a director on the festival circuit, but he never quite moved with the times. Ozeler portrays his subject with skill and empathy, the travel rumination making an evocative backcloth to the tortured mind of this celebrated Turkish filmmaker. AS


Plane (2023)

Dir.: Jean-Francois Richet; Cast: Gerald Butler, Mike Colter, Yoson An, Daniela Pinada, Tony Goldwyn;, Evan Dane Taylor, UK/US 2023, 107 min.

With a title like Plane we are not expecting anything special – and while this airborne thriller doesn’t break any new ground, it will satisfy its “Boys-Only” brigade audience who like things ‘retro’. Plane is an 80s throw-back to films like Under Siege and the Cannon Group vehicles who even made it onto the ‘Red Carpet’ in Cannes back in the day. So let’s not pretend we never saw the like of it before.

Like all Action Man features, Plane relies on a leading man at the helm, and Gerard Butler, 53, still fits the bill. Now the older statesman of the “Save the World” Brigade his hang-dog pilot Brodie Torrence (widowed, with a daughter waiting for Daddy to return for New Year’s Eve) pilots his jet with just 14 (!) passengers from New York to Tokyo. One of them, Louis Garpare (Colter), is a murderer being accompanied by an FBI agent to his new prison home. Alas, an electric storm puts an end to all communication equipment on board, and Torrence has to land the plane on a small island in the Philippines. Needless to say, his troubles have only just started.

The corporate leadership, whose penny-pinching dictates are responsible for the catastrophe in the first place, want to let Torrence and his acolytes fight it out. But ex-military commander Scarsdale (Goldwyn), who has taken a liking to Torrence (having watched a video of him putting a passenger into a headlock), alerts his ex-buddies from the Special Forces to help ‘unlikely lads’ Torrence and Colter contain the local guerrillas under the leadership of a certain wild-eyed Jummar ((Taylor), so Torrence can get his plane into the air again, in time for New Year and his daughter.

Popular spy-thriller writer Charles Cumming wrote the script with J.P. Davies, and they are as politically incorrect as possible in an outing that sees simpering women watching the men folk get on with the   business of killing – by hand, sledgehammer and rocket launchers. DoP Brendan Galvin does his level best to indulge us with close-ups and impressive panorama shots. Butler suffers multiple bullet wounds but still remains dignified, ably supported by his Korean co-pilot Dale (An). Maybe not Batman and Robin, but another successful buddy relationship. Who says men can’t bond? AS



Phaedra (1962)

Dir: Jules Dessin | Cast: Melina Mercouri, Anthony Perkins, Elizabeth Ercy, Raf Vallone | US Drama 115’

After Anthony Perkins checked out of the Bates Motel he spent the next five years on the continent where he fell into the predatory embrace of lynx-eyed cougar Melina Mercouri.

Phaedra‘ is probably the nearest thing Jules Dassin ever made to a Hollywood soap opera, as he follows Mrs Dassin in the title role cheating on her husband (a shipping magnate who owns his own helicopter) while she swans about on boats, gets off planes in dark glasses in a succession of killer outfits, and generally behaves like a glamorous cougar.

Instead of pianos on the soundtrack we get guitars by Mikos Theodorakis. It’s all hilariously pretentious, but great fun. @RichardChatten

Mon Crime – The Crime is Mine (2023)

Dir: Francois Ozon | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Fabrice Luchini, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Rebecca Marder, Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Jean-Christophe Bouvet, Edouard Sulpice | France, Drama 102′

Isabelle Huppert and Fabrice Lucchini star in this cheeky little chamber piece. Fast moving and frothing with fun and his signature mischievous humour Francois Ozon’s latest is a 1930s-set feminist whodunnit that pushes all the buttons on today’s #metoo polemic while recalling the absurdist boulevard style of its original stage play, adapted by his regular co-writer Philippe Piazzo and driven forward by a jaunty, noirish score.

In 1930s Paris, two young women have a field day getting their own back on men in the style of the famous ‘Papin sisters’. After her boyfriend leaves her for an heiress, pretty but talentless young actress Madeleine Verdier (Tereszkiewicz) finds herself implicated in the murder of a famous producer after a tussle on the casting couch, but is acquitted with the help of her lawyer friend Pauline (Marder), on the grounds of self-defence. A new life of fame and success begins, until the truth finally comes out.

Ozon litters his production with throwbacks to the era: Danielle Darrieux is playing in Billy Wilder’s Bad Seed at the local picture house. And there’s an inspired guillotine scene just for good measure. Huppert makes her grand entrance an hour into the production – as the veteran star of the silent screen (and erstwhile casting couch victim) Odette Chaumette – but gracefully without stealing the show from her fellow divas who make a picaresque comedy duo. Andre Dussollier and Dany Boon are also there to entertain. MT


The Nothingness Club (2023) Rotterdam Film Festival 2023

Dir: Edgar Pêra | Cast: Victoria Guerra, Miguel Nunes, Albano Jeronimo, Miguel Borges | Portugal Fantasy Drama, 92′

Edgar Pera fans will recognise the Portuguese auteur’s baleful character sketches (O Barao from the IFFR 2019 retrospective) in this stylish psychological thriller that dives into the deranged world of one of the 20th century’s most significant figures, the Portuguese poet and writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), here played by Miguel Borges.

The Nothingness Club is possibly Pera’s most substantial and relatable film to date, a noirish mannered thriller that plunders the emotional vulnerabilities and vicissitudes of the creative psyche in exploring the many faces of Pessoa’s heteronyms, the three main being Ricardo Reis (Correia), Alvaro Campos (Jeronimo) and Alberto Caeiro (Nunes). At the poet’s literary salon the eponymous ‘Nothingness Club’, they argue, debate and spar with each other and with the poet himself, and Campos even engages with his only attested lover Ophelia (Guerra) who joins in, in her guise as a femme fatale. Highly entertaining for his devotees and enlightening for arthouse enthusiasts. MT


Five Fingers (1952)

Dir: Joseph L Mankiewicz | Cast: James Mason, Danielle Darrieux, Michael Rennie, Walter Hampden | US Thriller

James Mason actually quotes the famous observation that “no man is a hero to his valet”. At the time Mason was treading water in Hollywood and probably looked down with the same urbane contempt as Cicero himself obviously felt for the men her was currently working (witness the ease with which he opens his original contact’s safe when he’s briefly out of the room and the smug way he explains how he did it).

Based on a true story, and a novel ‘Operation Cicero’, Five Fingers is a wartime spy thriller that sees the valet to the British Ambassador in Ankara trying to make a fortune by selling secrets to the Germans while trying to romance a refugee Polish countess.

Mason was patrician enough to pass for “an Oxford-bred aristocrat if ever I saw one” (he actually admits to being Albanian) and was just the man to do justice to Joseph Mankiewicz’s witty dialogue, and the film boasts a score by Bernard Herrmann.

Daniele Darrieux brings a little Continental sophistication to the part of a Polish countess, John Wengraf is a reasonable facsimile of Von Papen (although Alfred Zeisler doesn’t look a bit as his co-defendant at Nuremberg Ernst Kaltenbrunner). @RichardChatten

Endless Borders (2023) IFFR 2023

Dir.: Abbas Amini; Cast: Pouria Rahimi Sam, Mino Sharifi, Behafarid Ghaffarian, Naser Sajjadi Hosseini, Ghalem Sakhi Nazari | Iran/Czech Republic/Germany 2023, 111 min.

Iranian writer/director Abbas Amini (The Slaughterhouse) explores personal and political struggles in this complex drama set in a remote village in Balochistan near the Iranian-Afghanistan border. Shifting alliances dominate, with the main protagonist having to face a truth he had denied for a long time.

Ahmad Vaezi (Sam) has been exiled from his native Iran for political reasons. Now living in a small Afghan community that comes under regular scrutiny from the border forces he serves as both teacher and doctor. But Ahmad has got off lightly. His partner Nilofar (Sharifi) has just been released on probation after a two-year imprisonment, accused of similar offences. Clearly the separation has put their relationship under strain and they struggle to contact one another.

A fresh wave of controversy confronts Ahmad one day when sixteen-year old Hasebah (Ghaffarian) desperately asks him for help to escape the village with Balaj (Hosseini), a local young man who has fallen in love with her. She also reveals that, on account of her father’s bankruptcy, she was forced to marry the village elder – who Ahmad had always assumed to be her father. To complicate matters further, family honour dictates that the elder’s son will kill Hasebah if she is caught trying to leave.

Despite the danger, Ahmad and the two lovers flee to Tehran where the teacher’s life becomes even more complicated when he is accused by Nilofar’s father of putting her life at risk due to his actions. The father has, meanwhile, given his house as security for Nilofar’s bail. This puts further pressure on Ahmad and his partner, and they decide, along with Balaj and Hasebah to continue their onward journey to freedom in Turkey, via a perilous trafficking arrangement, Ahmad insists to the reluctant Nilofar that he only joined the political resistance group out of love for her. At a dangerous river-crossing they are ambushed by the border patrol, and Ahmad is forced to make a life defining decision.                       

Religious affiliations seem to loom large in this fraught environment where once again it causes most of the conflict, not only socially but personally. The villagers are against the Taliban, not so much for their treatment of women, but because they follow another religious law. At the height of the couples’ dramatic escape into Turkey, Balaj refuses to even wear clothes that are associated with another Islamic group, even when his life is in danger. 

DoP Saman Lotfian follows the action with his handheld camera, focusing on middle distance shots or close-ups. Ahmad is a complex main character who belies his ‘holier that thou’ persona in a mature and analytical feature full of contradictions and unexpected twistsAS


La Guerre des Lulus (2023)

Dir: Yann Samuell | Cast: Isabelle Carre, Didier Bourdon, Francois Damiens, Alex Lutz, Ahmed Sylla, Paloma Labeaut, Leonard Fauquet, Mathys Gros, Tom Castaing, Loup Pinard, Luc Shiltz | France/Luxembourg, Drama 109′

Four kids embark on a boys’ own adventure in this upbeat coming-of-age drama that sees them evacuated to a religious school in Picardie at outbreak of the First World War.

During the time away from their parents the boys, of varying ages, will meet with a series of brief but challenging encounters that will make real men of them, when the time comes. French president Emmanuel Macron is now considering re-introducing compulsory military service, and this film seems to reflect its benefits, especially for young men.

In Yann Samuell’s well-paced drama, Ludwig (Fauquet) is a timid intellectual and an avid reader of Jules Verne’s novels – especially the one his mother left him with as a parting gift. He soon gets the support of Francois Damiens, in a serious role as the Abbot, and a schoolmaster (Lutz) who is then forced to leave for the front. Lucas (Castaing) is hardly out of nappies when he finds himself far away from home. Luigi (Gros) is the strongest boy, and pre-teen Lucien (Loup Picard) will soon discover the tender pleasures of first love when Luce (Labeaut) appears on the scene, as the only girl.

Isabelle Carre plays a feisty farmer’s wife who gradually takes on the role of the boy’s matron before she too faces tragedy. The scenes in her cosy farmhouse glow like a painting by Arthur Rackham, deep in the lush countryside where the war is never far away. The enemy forces are gaining ground, and one day the school building is bombed, nearly get killing them all. The advancing German troops are soon seen off by the farmer’s wife.

Escaping the village, the boys run into a German soldier called Hans who has defected from the army and hopes to join his wife back home. Hans befriends the boys and teaches them German. But dark clouds soon loom when Hans (Schiltz) tries to take them all across the border to safety in Switzerland. Thrilling scenes see them in the thick of trench warfare during the First Battle of Picardie in September 1914. A chance meeting with a French officer called Moussa (Sylla) comes just at the right time, but not before more they are surrounded by another enemy onslaught.

Shot in studio Babelsberg with some stunning visuals, and driven forward by Mathieu Lamboley’s terrific original score. There are some extraordinary performances from a cast so young, particularly Didier Fauquet as Ludwig. La Guerre des Lulus, is a  wonderfully rousing film that navigates some dramatic highs and lows. Samuell shows how kids, unlike adults, can often often trust and connect across barriers, untainted by prejudice or dogma. And that some adults: here a teacher, a soldier, a mother, and a maverick, can really inspire young people to greatness by mentoring and supportive companionship. MT


The Juniper Tree (1990)

Dir: Nietzchka Keene | Cast: Bjork, Bryndis Petra Bragadottir, Valdimar Orn Flygenring, Guorun Gisladottir | Fantasy Drama, 78′

Iceland is a magical setting for this enchanting medieval black and white adaptation of a 1812 Grimm’s fairytale that sees two sisters forced to flee the homeland after their mother is stoned to death for practising witchcraft.

Filmed and entirely funded by American writer and director Nietzchka Keene (1952-2004) and her co-producer Alison Powell, the film eventually premiered at Sundance 1991 nominated for the Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic. Keene’s career was cut short but her final film, another female centric story, Barefoot to Jerusalem, was completed after her death, in 2008.

Icelandic singer Björk, in her feature debut, makes for a perfect heroine as Margit with her feral looks and delicate diction so evocative of this Grimm’s inspired fantasy with its horrific undertones. The German brothers themselves had been captivated by the painter Philipp Otto Runge’s original adaptation of The Juniper Tree. Hailed as Germany’s answer to our own visionary poet and printmaker William Blake, his mysticism and symbolism seem to fit well with the English artist’s. And although the Grimms dialled up the darkness with their themes of cannibalism and child abuse, Keene reflects this in her own lyrical version with its violent misogyny and witch-burning while at the same time questioning its moral code in an ascetic spiritual ambiance straight out of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet or even Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. 

Margit and her sister Katla (a softly spoken Bryndis Petra Bragadottir) are wandering around stunned and looking for shelter after their mother has met her terrible death. Their recourse to witchcraft will be the only practical way of surviving in this bleak terrain where anonymity serves to their advantage, until they meet a widower called Johann (Flygenring) who has lost his wife, and been left with his only son Jonas (Pormar). Katla casts a spell on him and the foursome continue as rather unsatisfactory bedfellows, Johan deeply resenting Margit’s attempts to replace his mother by giving her weird and whimsical incantations short shrift with the sobering words: “she was better than you”.

Some may find the film too enigmatic even at only 78 minutes, but Bjork’s innovative presence gives a freshness that keeps The Juniper Tree otherworldly and radical rather than rooted in the distant past, and is this unique curio is definitely worth visiting. MT



Girl (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Adura Onashile; Cast: Deborah Lukumuena. Le Shantey Bonsu, Liana Turner, Danny Sapani; UK 2023, 87 min.

Two Congolese asylum seekers find out their Glasgow council estate is not quite the bed roses they imagined after escaping their war-torn country in this debut feature from Adura Onashile.

Girl, premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is another coming-of-age drama, almost a carbon copy of Caterina Mona’s 2022, Zurich-set feature Semret that premiered at last year’s Locarno Film Festival. It follows the lives of Grace, 24, and her teenage daughter who could even be her sister at 13 years old. Their new life in Scotland is easy up to a point, but the changes they both need to adjust to are going to be difficult in the long run. 

Grace, played by French actor Deborah Lukumuena in her first English-speaking role, carries the baggage of a traumatic past in the Congolese Civil War. Like many parents these days she is over-protective of her daughter Ama (Bonsu), for good reason, but filling her head with horror stories about the war back home and barricading the windows with cardboard is not good way to bring up your daughter. And Ama has grown into a bit of a rebel, sneaking out onto the balcony to watch the real world go by. Social Services have be involved and the school headmistress has complained about Ama’s attendance. Grace resists any attempt to socialise her daughter who soon befriends Fiona (Turner) who serves as her conduit the outside world, introducing her to all the modern teenage trends. Grace has found a job but is struggling to cope with Counting OCD, a condition impelling the sufferer to count to high numbers in a bid to ward off negativity. Grace also hyperventilates. Fellow employee Danny (Sapani) is the first man to break through Grace’ defences. 

Although this is no sink estate drama DoP Tasha Back captures the reality of life  there, and the comfortable home Grace has created in contrast to the harsh world outside. French actor Deborah Lukumuena, who won a “Cesar” for Divines, gives an imposing performance in a film that avoids sentimentality and polemics, with a focus on the women’s eventual liberation from their tragic past. AS

PREMIERING AT SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 19 -27 JANUARY 2023 | also playing at the opening film at this year’s GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2023

Holy Spider (2022)

Dir: Ali Abassi | Cast: Zar Amir-Ebrahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Hedi Bejastani, Arash Ashtiani | Thriller 114′

Border was a surreal gender bender fantasy set in Sweden. This time around Ali Abassi returns to his native Iran blending true crime and salient social comment with a scuzzy serial killer thriller that unfolds in the Islamic pilgrimage town of Mashhad, where millions come to worship at the shrine of Imam Reza .

This is where middle-aged Saeed Hanaei (Bajestani), a dedicated family man and construction worker, murdered sex workers at the turn of this century, before being trapped by a tenacious female journalist who nearly lost her own life in the process as she wades through the mire of a chauvinistic society fighting off advances from an incredulous policeman to convince an unscrupulous judge.

Holy Spider sets off in the sordid backstreets of the city (filmed in Amman) where it follows ex Iran-Iraq war veteran Saeed as he picks off his victims on a motorcycle, riding them back to a squalid basement where he strangles the women with their own hijabs, earning him the name of ‘Spider Killer’.

Tehran-based journalist Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), arrives in town determined to track Saeed down, and will stop at nothing, not least the misogyny of the police and local authorities, who undervalue women – and particularly ‘loose’ women – to bring him to justice. And her ongoing investigation exposes the wider implications of these murders in a society that holds men and marriage in high regard. And Saeed truly believes he is doing a service to Islam in ridding his community of these ‘low life’ women who are seen as no more than vermin on the streets of the city.

Border was mesmerising in its zinging Nordic setting but Holy Spider plays out as an exotic neon nightmare, Nadim Carlsen’s intimate close-ups gripping us by the throat in experiencing the strangulations for ourselves: the twisted purple lips, the bloodshot eyes, and bruised bodies, the sordid salaciousness of it all. A droning electronic soundscape from Lajos Wienkamp-Marques escalates the tension, feeding every fear engendered by the wickedness of this anti-female annihilation.

As Rahimi pursues the murderer she is beset on every side by negative forces aiming to discredit her in a narrative that persuades us that this task is a not just about exposing the truth but managing the lies and the wide-held belief, amongst Saeed’s family and supporters, that he is righteous in his crusade to wipe out junkies and prostitutes. And the suspense needles on until the final horrifying moments. MT

BEST ACTRESS WINNER (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) | CANNES 2022 | IN UK and IRISH cinemas from 20 JANUARY 2023

Iron Butterflies (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

Dir: Roman Liubyi | Doc with Bridget Fiske, Sofiya Gakh, Anton Ovhcinnikov, Joseph Lau | 84′

In his documentary debut, Director Roman Liubyi plunders the archives for clips and real life interviews that present a convincing expose of an act of genocide that changed the course of recent history for all of us. The film bears testament to the recent corrosive trend for questioning incontrovertible truths.

A case in point is the focus of Iron Butterflies. On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by Russian forces over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. The reality of this attack, and its possible ramifications for the then-ongoing war in Donbas and the West’s relationship with Russia, was immediately questioned by the Russian government and media which chose to spin the evidence and change the goal posts, presenting a different ‘truth’ – also known as ‘lies’ – to the one the rest of the world had accepted.

Gradually, the film pieces together ample evidence of what really happened – the title referring to butterfly-shaped items of shrapnel that were found in the bodies of the pilots. As the evidence gradually piles up Liubyi shows that denying what really happened eventually becomes more outlandish and incredible.

In a world where violence can only be defended by lies, and lies only maintained by violence, Iron Butterflies presents the truth of what happened to MH17, but also what was at stake by not confronting it.


When it Melts (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Veerle Baetens; Cast: Charlotte De Bruyne, Rosa Marchant, Amber Metdeppeningen, Femkevan der Steen, Naomi Velissariou, Sebastian Dewaele, Matthijs Meertens, Chrlotte van der Eecken, Simon van Buyten,Anthony Vyt; Belgium/ Netherlands 2023, 111 min.

Family conflict is at the heart of this provocative drama about a troubled teenager from first time Belgian director Veerle Baetens.  

Now an adult, Eva (De Bruyne) has clearly not recovered from the past. Out of quiet desperation, we see her (in flashback) deliberately breaking a gift rejected by another girl called Elisa (Van Der Eecken) who she tried to befriend when she was younger (played by Marchant). And desperation is a good way to describe her current existence in a Belgium city where she now lives, people around her clearly picking up on her angst. The truth will gradually emerge in a series of flashbacks fleshing out her childhood showing a happier time in the countryside where she grew up.

When It Melts sees Eva returning to the village many years after a sweltering summer where everything seemed to go wrong, leaving her scarred and emotionally fragile. This time, Eva has taken a block of ice in the back of her car, but not in preparation for the summer heat, as we soon discover as the tragedy unfolds. Her old friend Laurens (Van Buyten) is happy to see her. His mother – the local butcher – always seemed warm and protective, unlike her own parents who were dismissive and distant. Tim is still suffering from the death of hs brother Jan, who fell into a cesspit. His parents clearly would have preferred him to die instead. 

In the past Elisa (Van der Eecken), was always more mature and sophisticated than the others. Her Dad gave her a horse as compensation for his frequent absence. Elisa, out of boredom, hung out with Eva, giving her make-up lessons and lending some of her clothes. Eva saw this as true friendship, introducing Elisa to Laurens and Tim. But their relationship ends when Eva accidentally kills Elisa’s horse by feeding it poisonous flowers. Sex inevitably becomes another complication between the girls and the boys, in a game of truth or dare that goes seriously wrong. Graphic violence and cruelty takes place off scene, the sheer brutality of these encounters is clearly harrowing – but very much in line with the characters committing them.

When it Melts avoids sensationalism, but is once again testament to how far ordinary teenagers will go to fulfil their darkest desires. Strong performances across the board make this heart-rending and convincing, Baetens’ debut will stay with the audience for a long time after they leave the cinema. AS




Babylon (2023)

Dir.: Damien Chazelle; Cast: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calvas, Jean Smart, Olivia Wilde. Spike Jonze, Li Jun Li, Jovan Adepo. Max Minghella; USA 2022, 190 min.

Damien Chazelle (La La Land) is not the first filmmaker to depict the extravagance and outsized egos of the Hollywood years between talkies and sound. Before Chazelle came along there was Sunset Boulevard and Robert Altman’s 1992 The Player (among many others) but none resort to the dreary hyperbole of Babylon or its needless financial outlay that Chazelle burns through with boyish glee, greedily biting off far more than he can chew in this mouthful of mediocrity.

The extraordinary running time is also a nod to the director’s inflated ego: like it or lump it, we are stuck with this overblown ‘Director’s Cut’ that sees him unable to control himself in a homage to Hollywood’s Golden Era in a cartoonish version of what really went on. Glossy moving images glide meaninglessly over a depthless void, giving lip service to reality without ever engaging with it, and leaving out references to the “Hays Code” of 1934, and the influencing contribution of European directors like Chaplin, Lang, Curtis, Litvak and Siodmak. Chazelle turns a blind eye to cinematographic history.

Three main protagonists lead us through the Hollywood jungle in 1926 with the advent of the talkies. Matinee idol Jack Conrad (Pitt) works his way through the women and is only too aware of losing out to the talkies. On the phone to a mighty producer he complains: “this script for his new feature stinks, and the studio will blame him for the result”. But he soldiers on until self-disgust and disappointment drives him to tragedy.

Margot Robbie’s Nellie LaRoy, the “wild girl” with the New Jersey squawk and a penchant for drugs and gambling, is a born star before she even sets foot in a studio. Based on Clara Bow (the original ‘It’ girl`) Nellie gets her chance to act when the female lead is killed in the opening orgy scene. The body is smuggled out of the building while an elephant makes a grand entrance, grabbing the camera’s attention. Nellie is also a showstopper, but her scenes are raucous and obscene, and later she has difficulties with the sound system that sounds her death knell. Alas, Nellie’s type is superfluous to requirements, and she is written out of the narrative.

Mexican American “Manny” (Diego Calva), her counterpart, is dazzled by stardom, starting at the bottom and rising to the top, only to crash down to reality, and a 1952 epilogue where he is still in love with her despite her ruinous gambling addiction. She leaves him at the bottom where they first met.

Animals are treated with unbridled neglect and even cruelty. Manny, amongst other feats, is forced to manoeuvre said elephant up a steep hill where the poor beast becomes frightening and incontinent spraying everyone in sight. Another spectacular episode in the desert sees Conrad take on a rattle snake desperate to escape his clutches. It is finally slayed by the sinuous Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li) after Nelly’s attempts to kill by swirling it round in mid air.

There are (too) many cameos: Jean Smart’s gossip columnist is the only voice of reason, telling Conrad he shouldn’t grumble, at the end. “because fifty years from now some kid will stumble over your image.” Max Minghella is suitably tyrannical as an elegant Irving Thalberg, and Jazz musician Sidney Palmer (Adepo) is given a box of charred cork to blacken his face, so he can fit in with the rest of the band.

Chazelle’s regular DoP Linus Sandren holds it all together image-wise lending a visual unity that is lacking in the script. On a positive note, Chazelle occasionally shows sparks of real panache and humour, and succeeds in bringing cinema back as one of many attractions in the fairground. AS


Two Tickets to Greece | Les Cyclades (2022)

Dir: Marc Fitoussi | Cast: Laure Calamy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Olivia Cote, Alexandre Desrousseaux, Panis Koronie | France, Comedy 109′

Laure Calamy turns her talents to comedy and Kristin Scott Thomas lets her hair down in Marc Fitoussi’s uplifting French drama that navigates the highs and lows of female cameraderie and lifelong friendship. With humour, insight and maturity Fitoussi shows you never really know someone ’til you go on holiday with them.

Blandine and Magalie were inseparable as naughty teenagers growing up in Paris and then went their separate ways. Meeting up again decades later their lives have changed completely: Blandine (Cote) is a downbeat divorcee and mother to Benjamin Desrousseaux), bubbly ’80s disco fan Magalie (Calamy) is freelancing in the music business, with free being the operative word for broke.

On a whim they decide to embark on a trip to the Greek Islands, but their conflicting personalities soon see them coming to blows, Magalie is feisty and flirts with the reality – and every man she meets, always seeing the glass half full; Blandine works with cancer patients but has lost her bedside manner where love is concerned.

The trip gets off to a bad start when the two get thrown off the ferry, Magalie having brought the wrong tickets, they are forced to bed down in cramped conditions on a barren island with a group of SAGA holidaymakers. The next day gets off to a promising start – for Magalie, at least – when they meet some hunky surfers, but any hope of romance soon hits the rocks, despite Magalie regaling all with her song and dance routine, and nightfall sees them back in the same bedroom together.

When they finally get to Mykonos, Magalie’s old friend Bijou (Kristen Scott Thomas rocking flowing grey tresses) it ready to welcome them into her Greek idyll with her artist  boyfriend (Koronis). This is where Blandine shines, bonding with breast-cancer sufferer Bijou who is anxiously awaiting the results of a recent biopsy.

Les Cyclades brims with tears, recriminations and laughter – and Calamy is genuinely hilarious, Cote complimenting her spunky confidence with a sober sensitivity. As a comedy duo they chanel the same comedy dynamic as Alison Steadman and Harriet Reynolds in the TV outing ‘Abigail’s Party’. Meanwhile Kristin Scott Thomas’ Bijou – straight out of the swinging sixties – provides a fun and stabilising influence as a successful woman grounded by the feel-good influence of love. MT




Goodbye Happiness | Au revoir le bonheur (2023)

Dir: Ken Scott | Cast: Francois Arnaud, Antoine Bertrand, Louis Morisette, Patrice Robitaille, Julie LeBreton, Charlotte Aubin | France/Canada Comedy Drama 107′

Serious themes are given the simplistic treatment in this lightweight comedy that bobs along pointlessly in Canada’s Ken Scott one-note direction.

When their father dies, four adult brothers return to their childhood home in Canada’s picturesque Magdalen Islands, only to discover the housekeeper has turned it into a fully occupied b&b. But much worse is to follow at the reading of the Will, forcing the men – and their families – to completely reassess the future.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing authentic in about any of these main characters who are merely cyphers representing their individual personality flaws: Nicolas (Arnaud) is unfaithfulness personified: we see him mindlessly bonking Camille (Aubin) in the opening scenes, and then inviting her to join the trip. “With your family?” she splutters, incredulous, and soon fades into the background. Charles-Alexandre (Morisette) is greed personified, a bland financier who spends the film working out how to extract his inheritance. Then there is William, a writer unable to string two words together for a new novel. But perhaps the saddest of the foursome is Thomas (Bertrand), an overweight loser who cannot move on from the past and spends the whole time whingeing. The performances here are as flaccid as the various subplots that fail to resolve convincingly in a mawkish scenario held together by saccharine interludes picturing this happy extended family romping around the countryside never disagreeing despite justifiable reasons to do so considering the tragic issues that confront them. This is just abnormal, even comedy needs tonal nuance.

By the end we are supposed to feel happy and relieved for them but we really couldn’t care less. The only saving grace in this comedy without any laughs is Norayr Kasper’s stunning photography that puts this gorgeous part of Canada on the screen for all to enjoy. MT



Beat Girl (1960)

Dir: Edmond T. Greville | Cast: Gillian Hills, Christopher Lee, David Farrar, Adam Faith, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed, Peter McEnery, Nigel Green | UK Drama 89′

Gillian Hills is the teenage star of this 1960s classic from Nice-born director Edmond T. Greville, who trained under Ewald Andre Dupont, and who also made the horror cult classic The Hands of Orlac the same year.

Anybody in any doubt as to who really created the distinctive sound of 007 need look no further than the opening sequence featuring the John Barry Seven that starts this extraordinary meeting of talent from different places and different eras; ranging from the veteran French director himself to Christopher Lee, Adam Faith, Shirley Anne Field and a debuting Oliver Reed absurdly gyrating about in a loud plaid shirt anticipating the wally he’d ultimately end up as.

Based on Greville’s own story adapted for the screen by English scriptwriter Dail Ambler, the characterisation is far more nuanced than in the hippy era, as exemplified by the pouting Gillian Hills in the title role, far removed from the vapid bimbo with whom David Hemmings romped with purple paper in Blowup. She would later go on to secure the part of Sonietta in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971). @RichardChatten

The Old Way (2023)

Dir: Brett Donowho | Cast: Nicolas Cage, Clint Howard, Abraham Benrubi, Ryan Kiera Armstrong | US, 95′

Nicolas Cage is back to his old way of starring in second rate material, like this pale rider of a western that rather puts the genre to shame despite is stunning settings in Wyoming. Modern day westerns really need to have another string to their bow beyond just a passable script and solid production values to compete with the multitude of titles flooding our film screens from Netflix to Amazon Prime and beyond.

During the past decade or so filmmakers have revitalised the western genre updating the original concept with refreshing stories that still remain tethered in the past: arthouse chiller The Power of the Dog (2020), the sheer dynamism of The Revenant (2015) and Oscar-winning Django Unchained (2012) have earned their place in the pantheon offering innovative twists to style that was originally defined by the AFI as ‘set in the American West embodying the spirit, the struggle and the demise of the new frontier’.

The Old Way may tick the boxes but its torpid direction and formulaic revenge theme fails to set the campfires burning entertainment-wise, and Cage, who turns in a reasonable performance as a craggy gunslinger facing up to past misdemeanours, is certainly is no Clint Eastwood. Another also ran. MT

Copenhagen Cowboy (2023)

Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn | Cast: Angela Bundalovic, Andreas Lykke Jorgensen, Li li Zhang, Jason Hendil-Fors, Zlatko Buric, Fleur Frilund, Valentina Dejanovic, Maria Erwolter | Denmark, TV Series

A visionary woman from another planet is at the heart of this spellbinding 6-parter (Netflix), the latest from the maverick Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, scripted by a clutch of imaginative female writers and limned by glowering compositions and neon-soaked visual effects from award-winning Magnus Nordenhof Jonck (Bridgend, A War).

Back in his native Denmark for the first time since 2005, the arthouse auteur not only stars here but embellishes the film with previous themes from Neon Demon, Only God Forgives and Pusher in a lurid miniseries that is so edgy and aesthetically breathtaking you can forgive its minor narrative flaws.

Copenhagen Cowboy swoops down on the dystopian underbelly of the modern capital where vicious gangs hold sway fed by an evil influx of Eastern immigrants  vying for power in the drug trade. Miu (Bundalovic) is the connective tissue between them, an outwardly vulnerable faith healer with a mysterious provenance. This mistress of the martial arts is naturally misunderstood by the misogynist menfolk in her midst who are deeply fearful of her ability to rapidly switch allegiances, cast a spell – or kill with a stroke of her hand. The limpid-eyed Miu is also a miracle worker, a lithe ‘living lucky charm’ decked out in a Prussian blue ‘William Jacket’ tracksuit, for ease of movement.

The film’s casting is superb: Pernille Lembecke and Astrid Faarup have rounded up a compelling cache of actors who not only look surreal but also embody pure evil. As Miu, Angela Bundalovic exudes a laconic remoteness not unlike Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Female’ in Under the SkinAndreas Lykke Jorgensen is supremely scary as a snarling Danish prince of darkness, and his mother, a vampish blond with chiselled cheekbones, is straight out of a Helmut Newton photo. Then there is Zlatko Buric’s slobbering Slavonic lawyer, a criminal fixer who inhabits one of the city’s stylish skyscrapers, and later emerges as Miu’s negligent relative. A deluded Serbian housewife (Dejanovic) and her vicious axe-wielding pimp of a brother make for nefarious siblings early on in proceedings. Winding Refn also gets a wordless look-in, Hitchcock-style, in a subplot involving the design of a supercharged prosthetic penis. There are also killer pigs whose maniacle squealing provides the soundtrack for one particularly gruesome episode involving the tattooed Aryan prince of darkness in an imagined Danepack-style factory.

These vibrant characters will captivate diehard fans during the many haunting longueurs, and keep us glued to the screen for fear of missing some vital clue or visual flourish. The novelty here is the use of a 360-degree camera that revolves round the set like a southern cassowary scanning for prey.

Refn plays fast and lose with the plot-lines, but who cares with so much visual mastery at play; performances that zing with originality, not to mention Winding Refn’s penchant for avantgarde synth-pop soundscapes – one by Cliff Martinez, another by Julian Winding, complete the spell. Refn’s time with Netflix has ensured the worldwide exposure of his unique brand of talent but word has it that he is returning to the big screen with another bizarre offering. Bring it on soon. MT



Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel (2023)

Dir.: Amelie van Elmbt, Maya Duverdier; Documentary with Merle Lister, Rose Cory, Steve Willis, Bettina Grossmann, Nicholas Pappas, Larry Rivers, Stanley Baird; USA 2022, 76 min.

Dreaming Walls tells the story of one of the most iconic hotels of America and its transformation into a bland ‘luxury’ hotel eradicating a glorious and decadent history of one of the final haunts of New York’s vibrant bohemian society.

Belgian filmmakers Amelie van Elmbt and debutant Maya Duverdier visit the current Chelsea Hotel, where the last of New York’s libertine literati still hold sway trapped between unaffordable rent rises, renovation chaos and nostalgia.

The story artist Steve Willis laments the downsizing of his former one-bedroom flat to a studio, gone is the bathroom where Janis Joplin’s toothbrush holder once reigned as a witness to her short romance with Leonard Cohen, inspiring his “Chelsea Hotel No. Two”.

Photos of Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas Marylin Monroe, Patti Smith, Arthur Miller, Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, William S. Burroughs – to name only a few – light up the walls, in homage to another former resident, the avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas who was the first to brake away from screen projection.

And Andy Warhol, whose Chelsea Girls (1966) immortalised the residents during the hotel’s heyday. Languishing like ghosts from a bygone era these tantalising images are a poignant reminder of the rip-roaring yesteryear gradually being eradicated by the gruelling renovation – now in its tenth year.

Yet there’s a comfort in the building works; clinging on in grim solidarity and herded together onto the first floor by the management, some sitting tenants secretly hope the renovations will go on forever, fearing the inevitable rent rises will drive them out when the makeover morphs into just another piece of property porn riding on its former glory, to accommodate a flush but vacuous nouveau riche. but only attracting those who can pay the exorbitant price.

Decay and violent has always featured heavily at the Chelsea Hotel – according to former manager Stanley Baird the Sid Vicious/Nancy Spungen affair in 1978 was a case in point, quoting artist and performer Rose Cory: “the Chelsea was a place for love, divorce, drugs and creativity. It’s a powerful location”.

Merle Lister, once a famous choreographer, tries to befriend the construction workers, but they give her short shrift – like the old ghosts of the past. Some of them actually die during filming: Bettina Grossmann (1927-2021), a conceptual artist, was the hotel’s longest resident. Wild flowers and fauna have now taken over the balconies, and a poster proclaiming “Help me, I am being killed”.

Joachim Philippe and Virginie Surdej have stuck to the concept make Dreaming Walls a night ride into the past with their evocative camerawork, as the past collides uncomfortably with present reality. Dylan Thomas provides the symbolic epitaph: “Do not go gently into the night”, along with a fitting tribute : “TO ALL WHO ONCE STAYED IN THE CHELSEA, AND THEIR DREAMS”. Dreaming Walls is an ode to a New York that was artistic, experimental and untamed. AS



The Cat and the Canary (1978)

Dir: Radley Metzger | Cast: Wilfrid Hyde-White, Honor Blackman, Olivia Hussey, Edward Fox | US Drama

While John Willard’s original play was produced in 1922, this version updates the action to 1934 (which still predates the Bob Hope classic by five years).

Whereas the mansion in the earller films had been dark and covered in cobwebs, here it is vast but tinny, hopelessly overlit and decked out in what Honor Blackman sardonically describes as “my favourite period, early Devil’s Island!”

But as seventies remakes go however it could be a lot worse, and making Lawyer Crosbie a woman is a bright idea (especially as she’s played by Wendy Hiller). Beatrix Lehman makes a memorably spooky housekeeper as the ironically named Mrs Pleasant, while the depiction of mean old millionaire Wilfred Hyde White at the film’s conclusion makes a novel use of colour. @RichardChatten

Tár (2022)

Dir: Todd Field | Cast: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss | US Biopic Drama 158′

Cate Blanchett is sheer dynamite – allegedly mastering fluent German – as a world famous musician foisted by her own petard in this hefty near three hour biopic from US director Todd Field.

Field, in his first film since Little Children (2006), firmly establishes the gravitas of Lydia Tár’s prestigious position as head conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in the prodigious opening scenes of a feature which luxuriates in its endlessly fascinating main character; her peripatetic high-net-worth lifestyle amongst the Berlin’s musical luminaries, her pioneering grit and perseverance in accomplishing her multiple worthy achievements: now at the zenith of her career she is a pianist, composer, conductor and successful family woman who has adopted a Syrian refugee with lover Sharon Goodnow (the ever luminous Nina Hoss) and is seemingly in-eclipsible, or so it would seem. But then allegations of impropriety surface – as they always seems to these days – leading to a down-spiralling in professional and homelife. Is she a narcissist? or simply a perfectionist unwilling to accept second best from her fellows, or herself – Field leaves you to make the final decision.

Slow-burning towards a coruscating crescendo after a languorous, immersive overture, Tár’s denouement is decidedly gut-punching. Certainly a film for cineastes or fans of classical music, this is heavyweight yet compelling entertainment, that keeps us engaged throughout its running time. A magnum opus for Field and a tour de force par excellence for Blanchett. Let’s hope she wins the Oscar – she certainly deserves to. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 13 JANUARY 2023 | Copa Volpi Award for Best Actress Cate Blanchett | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022


Empire of Light (2022)

Dir.: Sam Mendes; Cast: Olivia Colman, Michael Ward, Colin Firth, Hannah Onslow, Toby Jones, Tom Brooke; UK 2022, 119 min.

This noble tribute to the golden days of the picture palace and the power of human connection is underwhelming despite the deep humanity of its intentions. A brilliant British cast of Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Tom Brooke and Toby Jones are the motley crew of characters trying to keep their cinema afloat in the seaside town of Margate, where the chance to show a regional premiere of Chariots of Fire gives hope to a movie theatre that is well past its glory days. Director and first time script writer Sam Mendes certainly offers a flawless visual portrait of provincial England at the beginning of the 1980s but his script lets him down, lurching between lethargic melancholy and over intense melodrama unfolding in a series of episodes rather than a cohesive and flowing feature.

The Empire is a cinema on Margate beachfront where troubled employee Hilary (Colman) has suffered a breakdown and is barely coping with the unwelcome sexual advances of unhappily married cinema manager Donald (Firth), and a much younger addition to the team, Stephen (Ward), who falls for her as the two begin a torrid affair. But after getting close to Hilary, Stephen, who is black, rekindles his relationship with his first girlfriend Ruby, destabilising Hilary’s fragile stage of mind. Hilary is somehow in thrall to Donald and their conflict comes to head on the cinema’s first night screening of Chariots of Fire, when she then trounces him by reading an Auden poem, before spilling the beans.

During a National Front rally, the mob then storms the cinema, seriously injuring Stephen and landing him in hospital. The other three main members of the cinema staff: the sensitive ticket manager Neil (Brooke), cranky projectionist Norman (Jones) and usherette Janine (Onslow) in her “Rocky Horror Show” outfit, barely get a look in as characters, despite the rich tapestry of the storyline and its exciting potential.

Instead, Mendes concentrates far two much on nostalgic detail and the negative aspects of Hilary’s condition which robs the film of momentum and the chance for the other characters to play a real part. Strangely Roger Deakins’ rapturous camerawork becomes the focus of Mendes’ mournful semi-autobiographical recollection, upstaging even Colman’s soulful performance and the support of the underused and talented cast who struggle with their underwritten parts. What could have been a landmark film about the healing nature of cinema, music and community ends up as another decent, but rather unbalanced production where politics instead of people takes centre stage. AS

EMPIRE OF LIGHT in UK and IRISH CINEMAS from 9 January 2023

Piggy (2022)

Dir.: Carlota Pereda; Cast: Laura Galan, Richard Holmes, Carmen Machi, Julian Valcarcel, Irene Ferreiro, Camilla Aguilar, Jose Pastor, Claudia Salas; Spain/France 2021, 99 min.

Always original – surreal even – Piggy is a vibrant coming-of-age psychological revenge thriller from Spanish director Carlota Pereda, developed from her 2019 short film of the same name, that shows how in some European countries obesity is still socially unacceptable.

The opening shot sees the main character Sara (Galan) standing in her parents’ butcher shop in small-town Extramadura, her homework soaked in pig’s blood. Outside, three girlfriends Claudia (Ferreiro), Roci (Aguilar) and Maca (Salas) are about to go swimming with the local boys. Sara is not only over-weight she is downright obese. And her parents have made things worse by favouring a younger brother. What follows is a disturbing but all too common look at teenage bullying that can lead to emotional trauma.

When Sara eventually gets to the pool her girlfriends try to drown her with a lacrosse stick in an extreme act of bullying, stealing her clothes in the process. Waddling home in her bikini, the tables are soon when she is accosted by car carrying her screaming friends, driven by The Stranger (Holmes). In a supreme act of revenge Sara ignores their desperate pleas for help, and heads back to the village where more horror unfolds when a video featuring her being bullied by her pals has been circulated by Claudia’s boyfriend Pedro, who has deleted it “out of pity”.

Scenes of graphic horror unfold in the revenge spree, not only in her parent’s house but also in a  slaughterhouse in the nearby countryside, where Sara gets her own back on the entire village. And this being Spain, a bull –  in this case an escaped prize fighter – also colludes with The Stranger in the ensuing bloodbath. In her clever script Pereda clearly implies that he might also have been a victim of bullying like Sara. Far from being just a slasher, Piggy is a startling and intelligent look at teenage angst, complete with a complex blood-soaked narrative. AS



The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Dir: Robert Wise | US Sci-fi 92′

A key work of fifties science fiction recently awarded the accolade of yet another unnecessary remake, The Day the Earth Stood Still remains one the sadly few contributions to the genre made with grown-ups in mind.

Robert Wise’s classic hits the ground running with a terrific title sequence and a tingling theramin score by Bernard Herrmann (one of the few genuinely original scores ever written for a sci-fi movie) dovetailing into a still unsurpassed depiction of a flying saucer sweeping across the Washington skyline before gracefully settling in the centre of the Washington Mall.

Michael Rennie had the role of his career as the tall, personable, well-spoken Klaatu (writer Edmond North later admitted to Klaatu’s use of ‘Carpenter’ as an alias and his resurrection as conscious references to Christ). His nine-foot robot Gort was played by Lock Martin, the doorman at Grauman’s Chinese Restaurant, the tallest man in Hollywood.

Klaatu in the words of Peter Biskind is “not one of those diffident aliens who land on a farm somewhere in Iowa and takes years to make their way to Washington or Los Angeles. Klaatu means business and goes right to the top.” At the height of the Cold War Rennie’s testy remark “I’m not concerned with your petty squabbles!” is an extraordinary thing to hear in a mainstream Hollywood movie; while Albert Einstein – obviously the model for the wise Professor Barnhardt –  was also at that time a controversial figure. @RichardChatten


The Minute you Wake Up Dead (2022)

Dir: Michael Mailer | Cast: Morgan Freeman, Cole Hauser, Jaimie Alexander | US Crime Thriller

Why Morgan Freeman went for this clunky cliched ‘neo-noir’ whodunnit is anyone’s guess. The only other mystery is how such a poor script got a budget to be made in the first place. Set in deepest Mississippi it sees a group of honest but deeply uninteresting people emerge as suspects in a story so far-fetched and implausible even Freeman fails to gain credibility as the local sheriff investigating the case. It all starts with Russ (Hauser), a financially successful broker, enjoying drink in his local after trousering a fortune on the city’s stock markets. Tongues start to wag when he is confronted by an angry punter lamenting the loss of his life savings. It appears Russ has duped the locals in an ill-thought out insurance scam, and they are not best pleased at losing their money. Russ then gets a series of anonymous phone-calls announcing: “Where will you be the minute you wake up dead?” Do we really care? Russ’s next door neighbour Delaine (Alexander) does, and she temps him round to her place to enjoy ‘the best beef stew in the neighbourhood”, according to her daddy (Dahlgren) who survives the stew but then gets shot dead. This is the first in a series of murders, Morgan Freeman losing the will to live as gradually bodies and plot-holes pile up. MT



A Man Called Otto (2022)

Dir.: Marc Forster; Cast: Tom Hanks, Mariana Trevino, Mario Garcia-Rullo, Truman Hanks, Rachel Keller, Cameron Britton, Peter Lawson, Anita Jennings; USA 2022, 126 min.

This lightweight user-friendly remake of Hannes Holm’s dour original A Man Called Ove (2015) is styled for the American market, based on a bestseller by Fredrik Backman. It stars Tom Hanks as Otto, a lonely pensioner suffering from the recent death of his beloved wheelchair bound wife Sonja (Keller).

On a condominium outside Pittsburgh, Otto is Pennsylvania’s answer to Victor Meldrew, a miserable old buffer hellbent on bringing rule-breakers to task, particularly parking offenders and neighbours who put their rubbish in the wrong container – there are so many to choose from. In flashback we see a much happier Otto (Hank’s son Truman), courting the bookworm Sonja in his petrolhead days when speed was his main thing.

Tragedy strikes on the way back from a day out at Niagara Falls when the two are involved in a road accident killing Sonja’s unborn child and condemning her to life in a wheelchair. An office tantrum soon sees Otto edged out of his long-term job, and a place on the condominium Administration Board. Otto then comes to blows with his  best friend and neighbour Rueben (Lawson) who buys a Japanese car, an act of treachery in Otto’s opinion.

But all is not lost – the very start of the film has already predicted a return to grace for grumpy old Otto who is seen buying a rope that leads to a botched suicide attempt. Otto now has new neighbours, the do-gooding twosome Marisol (Trevino) and Tommy (Garcia-Rullo). Marisol is pregnant again, and Otto offers her driving lessons and becomes a reliable babysitter. He also offers sanctuary to teenager Malcolm – now transgender rather than gay – after the boy’s father throws him out.

Hanks’ easy charm and bountiful bonhomie is the key to his casting, he can never be seen in a negative light – for long at least – so the rest of the film is bland and predictable. Gone is the quirky indie feel of the Swedish original and we are left with a feel-good story of schmaltz and saccharine, just saved by the production values and an humanising Tom Hanks. AS


The Wicked Lady (1946)

Dir: Leslie Arliss | Cast: Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, Patricia Roc | UK Drama

Described by the late David Shipman as a “junk classic”, and Margaret Lockwood as a “calculating husband-stealing murderous bitch” (surrounded by decor and wearing costumes that must have consuming half the budget) who relieves her boredom by moonlighting as a footpad and enjoying a sado-masochistic relationship with a very saturnine young James Mason (who calls her a “green-eyed devil”).

Critics absolutely hated this film, but it went to become the top-earning British film of 1946. Like all the best melodramas the women call the shots (and if anything Lockwood particularly enjoys rubbing her own sex up the wrong way concentrating on their jewellery and devoting much of the film tussling with them like a prizefighter).

The ladies in the audience obviously derived considerable pleasure from the sight of Lockwood plunging ever deeper into sin while rooting for Patricia Roc – who gets to slap Lockwood’s face – and gone home well satisfied when she dies (SPOILER COMING:) with a bang followed by a whimper. It’s even rumoured that Queen Mary used to regularly watch it at Marlborough House. @RichardChatten

Rimini (2022)

Dir: Ullrich Seidl Wris: Ullrich Seidl, Veronika Franz | Cast: Michael Thomas, Tessa Gottlicher, Hans Michael Rehberg, Ibrahim Isiktas | Austria, Drama 116′

Rimini is a comedy of the most tragic kind. Accurately reflecting the tawdry reality of life in a washed-out seaside town in winter where lost souls come together disillusioned by lives that turned out to be shadows of their hopes and dreams it pictures the sleety coalface of the 21st century as it really is for many, warts and all.

Fans of Austrian auteur Ullrich Seidl will welcome another addition to the archive. Rimini is less horrific than his gruesome Safari. More long the lines of Paradise: Faith, and Paradise: Love this latest is less poetic, infinitely more grotesque and quietly brilliant in its acute observations. A muted colour palette and exquisite compositions offer some visual redemption but for the most part Rimini is a heart-sinking film to watch.

The first and only laugh comes near the beginning when the main character, ageing nightclub singer Richie Bravo (Thomas), swaggers back home to Austria from his squallid apartment in Rimini to attend his mother’s funeral, during which his dementia-ridden father (beautifully played by Hans-Michael Rehberg) shouts out “who’s dead?” It’s an all too familiar situation for many and Rehberg (who died in 2017 shortly after filming) will also provide the film with its devastating finale that conveys the pity and poetry of this ghastly yet deeply affecting drama.

But when Richie later beds down in his single-bedded teenage room after the funeral, the sad truth emerges: his life has never really moved on from leaving home, to a failed relationship that inadvertently bore him a neglected daughter Tessa (Tessa Göttlicher). But more of that later.

Off-season Rimini is a tacky retirement backwater where the raddled paunchy figure of Richie Bravo returns. After the sobering events of the funeral, his sweaty leather trousers and bleach-blond looks still seem to cut the mustard with the budget crown of Austrian/German holidaymakers who are prepared to pay for a few awkward ‘senior’ moments between the sheets, despite the usual sexual accoutrements,  although passion has long left the bedroom for both parties.

The louche lounge lizard zips himself up and heads back for another grotesque stage appearance eking out strident cover versions from the past. And then home to confront Tessa who has suddenly fetched up in Rimini to reveal her pregnancy with a Muslim refugee (Isiktas) and is demanding bed and board along with his entourage of religiously observant pals. Tessa’s indomitable appearance provides the touchstone to reality that will bring Richie full circle to the present and a future of deeply-felt pain and financial hardship that will lead to his descent into venality. MT

ON RELEASE in the UK early in 2023


Caravaggio’s Shadow (2022)

Dir: Michele Placido | Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel, Lolita Chammah, Micaela Ramazzotti | Drama 120′

Riccardo Scamarcio hogs the limelight as the painter Caravaggio, aka Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610), in this visceral epic that glows like one of the painter’s original masterpieces in this imagined drama from Michele Placido.

Accused of murder in 1609 the maverick painter flees the depraved bacchanalian world of 17th century Rome but is unable to escape the clutches of Louis Garrel’s inquisitorial Catholic investigator Ombra (a fictitious character) or the lustful advances of Isabelle’s Huppert’s Marchesa Costanza Sforza Colonna whose family offers him sanctuary in Naples while urging the Pope to offer clemency until Caravaggio’s suspicious death in Porto Ercole the following year.

Scamarcio gives an incendiary performance as the legendary ‘bad boy’ who purportedly loved young boys as much as beautiful women, and whose talent for taking outcasts and sinners and transforming them on the canvas into saints and madonnas is almost eclipsed by his salacious lifestyle.  

Caravaggio has long captured the imagination of art lovers and world specialists – such as Andrew Graham Dixon – and Placido’s ambitious art thriller certainly evokes the savage mystery of the era with stunning set pieces, an emotive original score and Michele D’Attanasio’s painterly camerawork although it often feels like the script, co-written with Sandro Petraglia and Fidel Signorile, overelaborates the sensationalism at the expense of historical facts.

Caravaggio’s talent as the era’s most spectacular painter elevates him into the realms of superstardom while he himself remains a grounded character despite his undeniable genius. Scamarcio really brings out the humanity in the painter and his vulnerability as an artist and convinces us of his efforts and his subsequent failure to rise above the negative impact of the nefarious characters surrounding him. This thrilling expose of the life and times of a legendary and revolutionary artist is lusciously mounted entertainment on a grand scale. MT



Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972)

Dir: Bob Clark | US Horror

A bunch of hippies learn the hard way to sow some respect for the dead in this cross between an episode of ‘Scooby Doo’ and The Blair Witch Project played for laughs with the production values of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This no-budget lark shot in Florida directed by ‘Benjamin’ (as he was then billed) Clark sure delivers the goods. The atonal score by Carl Zittrer frequently sounds more like sound effects than music and art director David Trimble (not that one, I hope) adds to the levity by putting his surname on a tombstone.

The usual bunch of hippies are an engaging bunch, particularly feisty Valerie Mamches and wide-eyed Anya Ormsby. The climax when it finally comes doesn’t disappoint you when it erupts (SPOILER COMING:) into a wondrous pastiche of Night of the Living Dead.


Paris Blues (1961)

Dir: Martin Ritt | Joanne Woodward, Sydney Poitier, Paul Newman | US Drama 98’

The cinematic legacy of the Beat Generation has always been far more interesting than that of the hippies. Graced by the black & photography of Christian Matras this film creates a Paris far removed from the early work of Godard then being made.

A testament to the days when cool dudes wore suits and ties, of whom none were cooler than Paul Newman and Sydney Poitier in their pristine youth (the former playing a bad boy in a role originally meant for Brando is seen perusing a copy of the New York Herald Tribune carrying a picture of Kennedy’s inauguration on the front page).

Like most films about jazz it’s far too in awe of itself and everyone talks too much (it’s at it’s most self-satisfied in the musical duel between Newman and Satchmo); and Duke Ellington’s noisy score makes no attempt to complement the action.

The performance that gives the film real soul is that of Joanne Woodward, who when she herself gets to tickle the ivory ironically plays a few bars of the ‘Blue Danube’. @RichardChatten

Speed (1994) Prime video

Dir: Jan De Boni | Cast: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Joe Morton | US Action thriller 116′

An exemplary piece of high concept filmmaking that provides plenty of bang for your buck. Director Jan De Bont does a lovely job martially the components with results that really look as dangerous as they’re supposed to with none of that obvious CGI and wobbly steadicam that makes watching modern action films such a trial; and there’s none of that glee in indiscriminate death on a vast scale that disfigures the Die Hard films.

Keanu Reeves is a charmingly dedicated hero, and Sandra Bullock gives the performance that made her a star (her distress when she thinks she’s hit a child’s perambulator is genuinely touching).

Dennis Hopper is obviously having the time of his life playing “an encyclopaedia of bombs” whose line “Poor people are crazy. I’m eccentric” is worthy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. @RichardChatten


You Resemble Me (2022)

Dir.: Dina Amer; Cast: Lorenza Grimando, Illona Grimando, Mouna Soualem, Sabrina Cuazani, Dina Amer, Alexandre Gonin, Gregoire Colim, Agnes de Tissandier, Zinadine Soualem; US/France/Egypt 2021, 90 min.

Who was Hasna Ali Boulahcen?. Mistakenly known as “the first European woman suicide bomber” by the media, after a series of coordinated Islamist terrorist attacks that rocked Paris on Friday 13 November 2015, it later turned out that her only ‘crime’ was to flee the building where the terrorists were hiding. A male accomplice detonated Hasna’s suicide vest, bringing to an end her tragic life, and inspiring American-Egyptian journalist Dina Amer to make this passionate feature debut that plays out like a slowly detonating bomb.

The film follows Hasna (9) and Mariam (7), who are played by real life sisters Lorenza and Illona Grimando, growing up in a rough part of Paris where they often steal to survive with their Maghrebi parents: an abusive mother, and a father who is hardly ever there forcing Hasna to take responsibility for her little sister. The social services place them with different foster families and their religious dietary requirements are totally ignored: foster parents (Colim/Tissandier) have no idea that Hasna cannot eat pork. As an adult, Hasna is played by three actors with the help of Deepfake technology: the “party girl” (drugs and sex) is Mouna Soualem, the “assimilated pretty-girl” identity by Sabrina Ouazani. Amer lends her face to the now radicalised freedom fighter.

Mariam is astonished when she sees her cousin Abdel Hamid (Gonin) on TV, talking about joining the fight against the “infidels”. Hasna always dreamt of joining the French Army – but, like many radicalised people – becomes bitter after being rejected by a recruitment officer (Soualem), who is more French than the French themselves. After the “Charlie Hebdo” and “Bataclan” shootings, Hasna calls the French protesters ‘a mindless mass’, setting up the gruesome finale to her life.

Amer finally turns the camera away from Hasna and onto her family with the usual  interviews that express deep sadness. But somehow Hasna as a person still eludes the audience, although she emerges a deeply damaged person. There are simply too many contradictions in the life of a young woman caught up the culture war currently fracturing French society. Hansa emerges an innocent by-stander, driven into hands of male chauvinists who killed her before she could get away.

DoP/co-writer Omar Mullick uses his handheld camera to great effect, tracking the tears of Hasna’s terrible life. You Resemble Me is anything but perfect, but at least it’s authentic, a tragedy that truly reflects life finally becoming more positive as the story unfolds. AS

IN CINEMAS 3 February 2023

The Grand Bolero (2021)

Dir.: Gabriele Fabbro; Cast: Lidia Vitale, Ludovica Mancini, Marcello Mariani, Filippo Prandi; Italy 2021, 90 min.

Gabriele Fabbro draws on an award-winning background in music promos and commercials with this surprise mixture of horror and musical drama with a lesbian twist. Borrowing for the best of Dario Argento and Luis Bunuel The Grand Bolero will particularly appeal to classical music lovers.

In a dilapidated 17th century church in the Italian countryside during the recent pandemic, a banner proclaims “Everything will be fine” – but everyone knows this is wishful thinking. Father Paolo (Mariani) spends his days ringing the bells to mark another steep rise in the number of victims struck down during the first lockdown . The church houses two organs: one from the 15th century, the other from the 19th – that really came into its own during the era of silent films.

Middle-aged control freak Roxanne (Vitale) is in charge of the organ’s restoration programme, and is furious when Paolo presents her with a mute assistant called Lucia (Mancini) who has been taking artefacts from the church and passing them on to a man called Luca (Prandi) – who could be her brother or even a lover.

Roxanne becomes so obsessed with Lucia she does everything in her power to humiliate the young woman, but has to pipe down when it turns out Lucia is also a gifted organ player. For Lucia’s character Fabbro and his co-writer Ydalie Turk clearly had Jeanne Moreau in mind from Bunuel’s The Diary of a Chambermaid – the original tempestuous subordinate turned mistress. The enigma of Lucia remains mysteriously, and suitably, unresolved. The peaceful wood near the church becomes a hunting ground of violent emotions transforming the fairy story into a Grand Guignol finale.

The Grand Bolero culminates in an orgy of music, featuring everything from the Ravel to Holst and other European organ masters. The narrative is driven forward by Roxanne’s lust for Lucia that seems to devour everything as it builds towards the climactic reveal. Gabriele Fabbro leaves us breathless but satisfied: having pulled out every stop, in more ways that one, for this imaginative debut underpinned by considerable filmmaking experience. AS


The Big Freeze

With temperatures this Christmas dipping to -18 in parts of Scotland, Richard Chatten reflects back on Britain’s Big Freeze of 1963 and the films that were on in the cinema back in the day.


Sixty years ago in December this country was hit by months of sub-zero temperatures and actually made it into the Guinness Book of Records for one of the coldest UK winters ever.

Britain was covered in a thick blanket of snow long enough for it also to leave an indelible mark on the British cinema, through which its progress can actually be charted.

Perhaps the earliest film of The Big Freeze was Stanley Goulder’s The Silent Playground, a drama shot set in South London during which the snow obviously first fell, playing havoc with the film’s continuity, since it comes and goes scene from scene.

The snow was firmly established by the time of the two classic Pinter adaptations The Caretaker and The Servant, the cold being so bitter that Joseph Losey was hospitalised with pneumonia, and Dirk Bogarde had to take over the latter as director for several days.

Val Guest’s 80,000 Suspects, starring Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom, depicted the attempts to control an outbreak of smallpox in a Bath covered in snow, and became a metaphor for generalised crisis, although people were hardier back then having been through one, and some of them even two, World Wars. Several Edgar Wallace mysteries (notably John Moxey’s Ricochet) are also shrouded in snow along with Calculated Risk, a heist thriller with music by George Martin.


By the time of Wolf Rilla’s The World Ten Times Over the snow had visibly turned into slush. Probably the last film that appeared during the frosty weather was Hammer Film’s Nightmare, a psychological thriller marking the film debut of Jennie Linden. It hit cinemas in the chilly April of 1964.

The only feature depicting The Great Freeze in colour appears to have been Snow, a British Transport Films short shot by the veteran cameraman Wolfgang Suschitsky which portrays British Rail making light weather (if you’ll pardon the pun) of the snow. The Great Train Robbers sensibly waited till the following summer. @RichardChatten.





Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (2022)

Dir.: Pawo Choyning Dorji; Cast: Sherab Dorji, Ugyen Norbu, Keiden Lhamo, Kunzeng Wangdi, Tshering Dorji, Sonam Tashi, Pem Zam, Tsheri Zom; Bhutan 2019, 109 min.

A delightful story from Bhutan that sees a vain and self-centred young man deciding to leave his close knit community to forge a career as a singer in Australia.

Ugyen Dorji (S. Dorji) feels misunderstood by his friends and family for wanting to emigrate to Australia, particularly as his job as a teacher is much valued in his hometown of Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. During his fifth and final year of the mandatory government service, Dorji’s boss sends him to the remote mountain village of Lunana, eight days by foot and horse from Thimphu, to teach a class of nine primary children.

During the journey Dorji remains detached and hostile towards Michen ((Lhendup), a guide who leads him all the way up the mountains: he never takes his headphones off (until the signal gives out), and is generally unapproachable, refusing to give a ritual offering to the Gods. In the village, he is incensed to discover the outside loos and primitive conditions, and immediately asks to be taken back, but changes his mind, when 12-year old Pem Zam (her real name) the “School Captain” reminds him of his commitments.

Pem Zam’s father is an alcoholic, and her niece Saidon (Gurung) a singer of traditional songs, given as offering to the Gods. Dorji soon becomes a favourite with the children and Asha (Jinpa (Wangdi), the village elder, starts singing again for the first time after the death of his wife. Dorji is enchanted by Saidon who teaches him a melancholic song “Yak Lebi Lhadar”, about a yak herder who mourns the loss of his favourite animal. Saidon also gives Dorji the titular yak named Norbu who takes up residence in the class room. Even though Dorji has given up on the internet, he is adamant to leave the village before winter sets in, telling the villagers that he will not return, but fulfil his dream of a singing career in Sidney, where we watch him performing to a totally disenchanted audience.

In his director debut Pawo Choyning Dorji borrows a reverse storyline from Andrei Konchalovsky’s second feature The first Teacher (1965) that follows a teacher sent from Moscow to a Muslim village where, contrary to Dorji’s experience, the villagers greet him with hostility.

We expect Dorji’s heart to melt – but no such luck. He is fixated on a goal which he has “imported’ from the internet: his dislocation in Australia is just the outcome of a collision between the TV images Dorji has internalised and the reality. Like many others, he is chasing a dream which does not exist.

DoP Jigmet T. Tenzing takes full advantage of the breath-taking beauty of the mountain world, threatened by extinction due to Global Warming – a term the villagers have not heard yet, but are fully aware of the dramatic consequences of climate change. Tenzing, like the director, avoids any sentimentality: although Dorji is a prime example of a person who has buttoned themselves down emotionally to avoid dealing with long term trauma from the past, and possibly the future

When Dorji asks his students the classic question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” one boy tells him his chosen profession is to be a teacher because “he reaches towards the future”. AS

Lunana was shortlisted for the Foreign Feature Films Category of the “Oscars” and had its world premiere at the LFF 2019 in London. Director Pawo Choyning Dorji has since finished his second feature Four Day to the Full Moon in 2022.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom – In cinemas and digital 10th March

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Brussels (1975)

Dir.: Chantal Akerman; Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, Henri Storck, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Yves Bicat; Belgium/France 1975, 202 min.

Ironic that Chantal Akerman’s epic of female loneliness has replaced Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo as the “Greatest Film of all Time” according to the “Sight and Sound Magazine’s 2022 Critics’ poll”. Hitchcock, the leading perpetrator of the male gaze, has finally been ousted by Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman: a rigorous chronical of visual storytelling.

On the other hand it is no co-incidence that the iconic British director has found countless imitators over the years: ‘Hitchcockian’ is now a commonplace adjective in film parlance. Meanwhile Akerman’s disciples – Kelly Reinhardt and Gus van Sant – are still grafting away at the coalface of arthouse film; celebrated by cineastes, but certainly not the mainstream.

Chantal Anne Akerman was born Brussels in 1950 to the holocaust survivor Natalia (Nelly) Akerman, whose family perished in a concentration camp. Chantal had a sister, Sylvaine, but Nelly would be her guiding light, encouraging Chantal to forge her own career rather than marrying young, as her mother had done. But Chantal still saw life from her mother’s perspective, despite a radical relationship with Sonja Wieder-Atherton, and a job as a university lecturer in New York. Akerman’s final feature No Home Movie (2015) captures Nelly’s final months. Akerman would take her own life the same year, in Paris.

Jean Dielman was shot in five weeks with a modest grant from the Belgium government of around 20,000 euros (in today’s money). Anchored by a luminous performance from Delphine Seyrig, one of the day’s foremost film stars in France and Belgium, Seyrig was also one of the first feminist filmmakers whose Be Pretty and Shut Up (Sois belle et tais toi) 1981 ruffled quite a few feathers in the male-dominated French-speaking cinema world at the time. Seyrig carries the feature, haunting every frame with her elegant obduracy. She is fragile – yet always capable and in charge – until blind-sided by an event she had never anticipated.

Jeanne Dielman lives a modest existence with her teenage son Sylvain (Decorte) in a tiny flat in Brussels. A widow trying to keep up appearances on reduced circumstances, she leaves nothing to chance. Daily-life plays out in a repetitive timetable over the course of three days. The relationship with her son could best be described as detached, the closest they ever get to closeness is when competing for the most accurate pronunciation of a word from his Flemish-speaking school. Even a letter from her sister in Canada is viewed with formality rather than sibling affection, and this style sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Incessant washing, cleaning and cooking form the basis for the meticulous monotony of Jeanne’s daily life. And there’s a comfort in the quotidian, punctuated by brief errands, or to replenish the larder. Whenever Jeanne leaves a room, she switches off the light. Relief comes as a poisoned chalice when her neighbour’s baby arrives in a portable cot, driving her to distraction with its endless mewling, all beyond her control. The afternoon sees Jeanne receiving clients (Storck, Doniol-Valcroze, Bical), who pay for her bedroom services, and keep the wolf from the door.

The first signs of mental disorder erupt in highly controlled emotional meltdown over an incident involving potatoes. Jeanne then forgets to put the lid on the tureen, a hiding place for her hard-earned cash, and is afterwards seen frantically going round the shops in search of a button missing from a coat. The following day will see Jeanne pushed to the limits, the formal minimalism morphing into a melodrama that is implied but never shown. Under a mantle of discrete ecstasy Jeanne’s world spins out of control when a client dares to threaten her stability, challenging her control and exposing feelings that can be never be realised or properly acknowledged in her life of emotional asceticism.

DoP Babette Mangolte shoots in colour but her images owe much more to black and white. Jeanne is always in charge, and always busily involved in a world of repetitive housekeeping. Her casual outings take us into a world of stasis – the roads and pavements bereft of movement, make Jeanne happy, because they submit to her orderly sense of self. At the end she is almost catatonic, and somehow purged of her inner angst, for a while at least. Akerman’s triumphant study of displacement activity is almost a horror story, a psychological thriller that sees Jeanne forced to keep herself engaged in a mindless, male-enforced rigorous ritual to avoid a loss of control and its contingent breakdown that would expose the gaping emotional void in her life.

BFI will screen JEANNE DIELMAN as part of the full 100 Greatest Films of All Times in JANUARY, FEBRUARY and MARCH 2023.

Broker (2022)

Dir.: Hirokazu Kore-eda; Cast: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Joo-young, Lee Ji-eun, Park Ji-young, Im seung-soo; South Korea 2022, 129′.

Surrogacy is given an upbeat comedy treatment in this touching crowd pleaser from Japanese humanist Hirokazu Kore-eda, his first to take place in Korea.

Broker is very much in the same vein as his Cannes winner Shoplifters, proving once again his talent for turning melodrama into social realism, even though the film is rather too fluffy in its near formalistic conclusion. It all starts in film noir mode: the rain is pelting down on the South Korean city of Busan where distraught mother Moon So-young (Ji-eun) has just given birth to a child she cannot afford to keep. There is a baby hatch in a nearby religious charity building, and she puts baby Woo-sung (Ji-yong) in front of the hatch and disappears into the night. Following hot on her heels are two baby trafficking detectives – Soo-Jin (Dona) and Lee (Joo-young).

The day after, So-young has a change of heart – even though she had put a note into the baby-basket promising that she would return she confronts a pair of kidnappers Ha Sang hyon (Kang-ho) and Dong soo (Dong Gang-dong-won) who are actually stealing her baby for a money-making scam. When So-young threatens the two men with the police, they admit their crime, but offer So-young a part in the “sale” of her baby: it’s always better to have the biological mother present. The detectives are puzzled when So-young gets into the spirit of things, refusing to lower her asking price, even though the adopting couple lower their offer claiming “the baby isn’t as cute as in the photos”.

Broker occasionally risks turning into a farce, but Kore-eda cleverly avoids it. The same going for the role playing changes with the two detectives seemingly are the only ones, who want the baby to be sold, just to solve their case. DoP Hong Kyung-pyo shows off his love of small details, and Song Kang-Ho, who won “Best Actor” in Cannes, perfectly pitches his melancholic take on proceedings. Broker is certainly not Kore-eda’s best, but it may be his warmest, most humanistic and passionate statement, moving the audience without spilling into sentimentality. AS



In his first Korean-set film unfurls itself into another touching, wryly funny tale of surrogate families. It’s not quite on a par with his Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters – what is? – but it’s a crowd-pleaser and a gentle joy, with a standout performance from Parasite’s Song Kang-ho.

Broker opens with a young woman, So-young (K-pop star Ji-eun Lee), leaving her new-born son at one of Busan’s so-called baby boxes. They’re a real-life mechanism to enable struggling parents to ensure unwanted children find their way into care. But they come with social judgment – ‘You threw your baby away’, So-young will be told on more than one occasion – and in Broker’s world, at least, they’re ripe for exploitation. Sure enough, two adoption brokers, Sang-hyun (Parasite’s Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), steal the baby and begin touting him around on their network of wealthy wannabe parents, using their laundrette as a front for their criminal enterprise.

It’s an unlikely scenario – even before So-young, wanted for murder and being trailed by two cops, forms an unlikely alliance with the two baby traffickers – but Koreeda’s warmth and wit make it easy to let it slide. He wants to take you on a journey with a burgeoning family of misfits that’s soon swelled by another young orphan. The quartet, and the young moppet, travel around in a battered van full of dry cleaning from one lot of potential parents to another. It reminded me of Little Miss Sunshine in its easy charm, and there are similar dynamics are at play here: touching bonds slowly forming, life lessons being learnt and some big laughs.

The thieves-with-a-heart-of-gold trope is reinvigorated by Song Kang-ho’s Basset Hound charms
The hackneyed thieves-with-a-heart-of-gold trope is reinvigorated by the sharpness of the writing and Song’s Basset Hound charms. While Broker occasionally gets close to cloying, especially in its neat ending and jaunty score, Koreeda keeps it the right side of cutesy. It’s best enjoyed as a modern-day fairy tale – only, one where the abandoned baby sparks nothing but enchantment.


Anonymous Club (2021)

Dir.: Danny Cohen; Documentary with Courtney Barnett; Australia 2021, 83 min.

Australian filmmaker Danny Cohen takes full control in this musical biopic about the singer/songwriter and ‘anti-influencer’ Courtney Barnett, who sprung to fame with her witty deadpan lyrics in an album called “I’ve got a friend called Emily Ferris”.

The whole point about Barnett is that she became a sensation not through a glossy image of self-promotion but because of a reclusive style that makes a virtue of her tortured inner conflict and deems her to be a powerful feminist voice for audiences all over the world, and a ‘mega-star in the making’. That may make her sound like a female version of Morrissey, but time will only tell if her talent matches up to the iconic 1980s superstar of the Smiths who is still going strong in his sixties.

Cohen gained access to Barnett through their many music-video collaborations, and paints an intimate picture of the 35-year-old Sydney born singer who is not afraid to admit to deep-seated low-self-image issues and occasional bouts of depression. But somehow Cohen is too overcome by the artist’s persona, and allows the feature to turn into a sort of self-help therapy session.

The film’s title is taken from Barnett’s 2013 song, which we never hear, even though her world tour (without backing band) offers ample opportunity. Starting in 2018, when Cohen told Barnett to use her dictaphone for an ongoing commentary – later used in the feature – the singer had just split up with girlfriend and musician Jen Cloher, who had taken an active part in the creative works. “Tell me, how you really feel” is a proper break-up album, words not being minced: “Tell me when you are getting bored//And I leave//I’m not the one who put the chain around four feet//I am sorry for all my insecurities// But it’s just part of me//”.

The tour takes Barnett on the road to places like Bloomington (Indiana), Oslo and Berlin, but the focus is firmly on the singer herself, and Cohen never lets her escape: “I am not your mother//I am not your bitch” she rages, shouting so loudly during performances, that she loses her voice. Barrnett is often passive-aggressive: “Sometimes I sit and think//and sometimes I just sit”. And: “You know it’s ok to have a bad day”.

When somebody new enters her life, Barnett calms down a bit, but the film’s overriding impression does not compute with the ‘girl next door image’ concocted by the networks and her PR. This would have been fine had the director left his safe spot of chronicler and admirer and posed a few direct questions. Yes, it is absolutely normal to be insecure in the music industry where dog eats dog and the other way round – but  nowadays we are all living on the edge of a precipice in a climate we have helped to create.

Barnett still has a voice – literally and figuratively speaking – but most ordinary people do not. Nobody wants to take the cuddle blanket away from her, millions are clearly waiting to buy her records. But please, save us from long shots with purring cats listening to her guitar songs: this is not a therapy session open to all. In her mid-thirties, Barnett still has the right to feel insecure, but Cohen is obliged to shoot some straight, even awkward, questions. By negligence, he is derailing his project by finishing with another version of “Courtney is just like you and me”. She is not, and the star and her chronicler know that only too well. Therapy might be free, at least in this case – but not much else. AS


Mr Bachmann and His Class (2021)

Dir: Maria Speth | Doc, Germany 217′

A weighty documentary Fred Wiseman would be proud of takes an in-depth look at the life of dedicated German teacher, Dieter Bachmann, and his teenage class in Stadtallendorf near Marburg.

Germany has learnt a long lesson in the aftermath to the Second World War, and the atrocities of Nazism are still drilled into  pupils, particularly here in a city infamous for its history as a munitions centre that made use of forced labour in the local factory, now buried by its roof covering of trees.

Of course nowadays the class is also made up of immigrant communities from Turkey, Bulgaria and Russia who see the world from a different perspective: ‘the war’ has another meaning for them, but they have all suffered crisis back home and find themselves adjusting to another country, and a diverse set of rules.

Laid-back and placid, Bachmann strikes a jovial figure in his youthful garb of jeans and tee-shirt, despite nearing retirement. His speciality is music and art, along with the classic curriculum of German and Maths, and his comforting phrase “Wir schaffen das” (“We’ll handle it”) makes him a popular teacher and mentor all round. The length of the film allows us to get to know the man himself and appreciate his methods and the enormity and subtlety of the task at hand – not only instructing the next generation, but making them into culturally sensitive, compassionate individuals.

Away from the didactic sounding title, the film unfolds as an enlightening and immersive study of classroom multiculturalism along the lines of Laurent Cantet’s 2008 docudrama Entre les Murs (The Class) and Nicolas Philibert’s classic Etre et Avoir (2002) with Bachmann being the German equivalent of the film’s Georges Lopez. A Hollywood equivalent Dangerous Minds, where Michelle Pfeiffer takes on a monumental task as a retired marine turned teacher in a deprived and racially divided community in California, shows just how challenging teaching can be. MT



January (2022)

Dir.: Andrey Paounov; Cast: Samuel Finzi, Iossif Surchadzhiev, Zahary Baharov, Svetoslav Stoyanov, Leonid Yovchev, Malin Krastev; Bulgaria,/Luxembourg/ Portugal 2021, 108 min.

A first feature for Bulgarian director Andrey Paounov, who honed his craft as a documentarian,   January sees two men and a bird trapped facing an existential crisis in a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere.

January is the coldest month in Bulgaria, and no-one in their right mind would venture outside, particularly into the woods, where wolves and vampires lurk in a ghostly white wilderness.

Borrowing from Beckett and Lynch and based on a play by Yordan Radichkov, Paounov and his English co-writer Alex Barrett (best known for City Symphony) drench their evocative icebound thriller in post-socialist gloom, aesthetically it is close to the “Dybuk” features set in Eastern Europe in the late 1930s.

In a small hut next to an old industrial building, the guard (Finzi) and an old man (Surchadzhiew) are bored, trying to master the crossword. They are waiting for a certain Peter Matorow, who went out early in the morning with his sled and gun to drive to the nearby city. Matorow seems to be in charge, and able to find a solution for the current impasse. Soon twins (Baharov/Stoyanov) arrive, wanting to know about the whereabouts of said Matorov. They are threatening, and the guard tries to pacify them. Finally, Moratow’sled arrives, but the horse carries just his gun and a wolf frozen to death.

The arrival of a priest (Yovchev),makes everything even more enigmatic, and the ritual of the horse returning only with a gun and a frozen wolf is repeated four times – without any hope for the return of Matorov. After dark, a group of vampire hunters arrives, accusing the old man of being dead for a long time. But they leave in the sled with the now customary outcome. In a brilliant scene towards the end – shot in glittering colour in contrast to the sombre black-and-white of the rest of the feature – the guard, by now contemplating suicide, visits a 1950 night club, where the bartender (Krastev) treats him like an old friend.

DoP Vasco Viana composes images of a prison like existence, where the two men live in the shadow of the plant next door, whilst they are reduced to opening walnuts with a self-built apparatus. It is clear, that the huge building next door represents communisms, old photos of their leaders are laying around, decaying like the building itself. On the other hand, the modern oligarchs, who are ruling the country now, are not much better, the twins just want to participate in the exploitation of their home country. The Guard is trying to keep the vampires at bay, and save something of the past for himself and the old man, before becoming more and more suicidal. Symbolically, the crow kept in an cage and suspected to drink the local brew of rakia, is uncertain to leave its cage after given the chance to fly away.

JANUARY is compelling first feature , but the running time doesn’t  legitimsed by the rather thin narrative..


White Noise (2022) Netflix

Dir.; Noah Baumbach, Cast: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy; USA 2022, 136 min.

The curse of the festival opener was alive and kicking at Venice when this feature has its world premiere: Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, an adaption of Don de Lillo’s 1985 novel, is simply an embarrassment. In New York, Jack Glasdney (Driver) and Babette (Gerwig) have a brood of kids to look after from their own fraught marriage and earlier relationships. And they fail miserably: the toddler and younger children are a drain on their energy and, the older ones – including teenager Denise (Cassidy) seem more mature than their parents. Then an ecological disaster comes to town, and Jack is caught in the fallout. Mysticism and graphic violence ensues, but no plot resolution of any kind. DoP Lol Crawley does his best to keep the frantic tempo going, but it’s all empty noise.AS


Tori and Lokita (2022)

Dir.: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; Cast: Pablo Schils, Joely Mbundu, Alban Ukaj, TijmenGovaerts, Charlotte Bruyne, Nadege Quedrago,Marc Zinga; Belgium/France 2022, 88 min.  

With Tori and Lokita Belgium writers, directors and producers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have found their way back to the brilliance of Rosetta and L’Enfant – both Palme d’Or winners – with their angriest feature yet. Winning the 75th Anniversary award in Cannes 2022 was also recognition of their continued commitment to shining a light on those at the outer margins of society in films that were neither sentimental soap operas nor Ken Loach-style agitprops: Tori and Lokita is a tragedy, a drama and a poetic love story of a different kind.

Back in the Dardennes’ old stamping ground of Liège and the industrial suburb of Seraing we first meet eleven year old Tori (Schils) and his sixteen-year old sister Lokita (Mbundu) during a committee hearing to establish her status as bona-fide emigrant. It later emerges the two are not related but met on the boat to Italy, Tori having been forced to leave Cameroon purportedly as the child of a sorcerer. So the two of them cooked up a story to increase their chances of getting refugee status for Lokita. But the authorities only grant Tori leave to remain, and Lokita is threatened with deportation.

The two are meanwhile under extreme pressure not only to provide financial assistance for the education of Lokita’s brothers back home in Cameroon, but also to take into account the restaurant Chef Betim (Ukaj) and the people smugglers Firmin (Zinga) and Justine (Quedrago) who got them into Belgium – at a steep price. Betim uses them in his drug trading activities, and when it becomes clear that Lorita will not get a resident visa, Betim promises to get her papers if she tends a hash plant for three months. Lokita agrees, even though Betim is sexually abusing her. Tori hatches a plan which will seem like a victory for the two of them, but turns into a tragedy of epic proportions.

DoP Benoit Dervaux’ handheld camera catches the full range of emotions etched across the faces of these two desperate people struggling to be accepted. Much the same as every visa system, the Belgium one is arbitrary, and laced with an undercurrent of xenophobia. Lokita is fiercely protective of Tori: she is his mother, sister, and companion: always encouraging him to go to school so that he can realise his ambitions. Lokita herself wants to become a home help, if granted refuge status. Somehow, the Italian song Tori picked up in Italy becomes ‘their song’, a theme tune Tori sings to cheer Lokita forward, through thick and thin. Their loving interdependency is the beating heart of this tender tragedy.

Tori and Lokita is a stark reminder for parents all over the world who may be ignorant of the dangers of people trafficking. The Dardenne brothers keep their distance, never judging the youngsters, always trying to see things from their perspective in a humane and passionate story of our times. AS

Released exclusively in cinemas on 2 December 2022 | Picturehouse Entertainment


More than Ever (2022)

Dir: Emily Atef | Cast: Vicky Krieps, Gaspard Ulliel, Bjørn Floberg | France, Drama 123′

Taking control is a powerful part of dealing with terminal illness. And choice is at the heart of this romantic drama from French filmmaker Emily Atef. The film follows Helene (Krieps) a bright young woman madly in love with her husband, Mathieu (Ulliel), and overwhelmed by feelings of loss and isolation at the thought of dying, just as her friends are looking forward to the future.

Anxious not to be defined by her incurable condition Helene is naturally depressed, not least at contemplating the end while those around her are beginning their married lives and looking forward to having children – one is already pregnant, the usual pictures of the growing baby are passed round the dinner table, where Helene becomes a figure of pity, people not knowing quite what to say as she struggles on alone.

Naturally Mathieu is keen to find a cure for her illness, but Helene feels shut out by his own desperate need to keep her alive, against the odds. And forcing her to be positive when a new treatment offers hope. Even her mother imposes her own feelings of self-pity, breaking down in tears rather than giving Helene strength and the time to talk and express herself.

Atef clearly understands the situation. There is nothing more normal than wanting to get away from the wave of pity and silence that descends on us when we face challenging situations, such as life-limiting illness, or the curse of infertility. And Helene also realises that her lover will go on to have a full life and a family with somebody else.

Feeling lost and isolated she seeks solace on the internet and gets to know a terminally ill man (Bjørn Floberg) living in the pristine paradise of the Norway’s fjords, and feels comfort and solidarity from reading his daily blog. Off she goes to meet him, without Mathieu, who wants her to stay in France in case a suitable lung donor becomes available. The peace and solitude, and the spartan surroundings of a boathouse adjoining the man’s property provides distance and a chance to rediscover herself and take control of her illness. Atef does not look for easy exits or a sentimental treatment for her dying heroine. And Helene is not always a sympathetic character, but she is vulnerable, and we feel for her – it’s a monumental performance from Krieps, and from Ulliel, who ironically would die suddenly in an accident, months after filming wrapped.

The stunning cinematic setting of the Norwegian countryside in early Spring offers a bracing backcloth to a tragedy that could happen to any of us facing certain death or contemplating the final days of a loved one. And More than Ever offers an upbeat message of hope, not just unmitigated doom. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE and in the UK from early 2023.




It was a Sunday evening in November (2022) Turin International Film Festival 2022

Dir: Lina Wertmüller | Doc, TV 120′

It went almost unnoticed outside Italy that earthquake that struck the southern Irpinia region on a Sunday evening in November 1981.

But filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, who blazed a trail through Italian cinema during the Seventies with hits like Swept Away, was there with her camera recording human tragedy in a nation continually rocked by seismic disaster. And this was just another incident that would go down in history. More lives lost. A government repeating that lessons would be learnt. But they never were.

Just a year after her death Italian Television pays tribute to the pioneering director with a restoration of the made for TV documentary: È una domenica sera di novembre which aired a year later on RAI TV2 and during Turin International Film Festival 2022

The Roman-born filmmaker said at the time: “This poor South captivates me, stimulates me, land of wolves and kings, where I feel planted perhaps because of an Irpinian grandmother. This deep South, the part with the least, left behind. Alone, that always feels at disadvantage from the others. This unknown South that everybody think they know, and therefore feel entitled to define, judge, maybe condemn and when a catastrophe like the earthquake brings it up again, you realise that you know nothing at all about that South, that it is a continent as distant as the Third World, but with the space and nature of other third worlds”.

As the cameras roll over the scene of total devastation during that tragic Sunday night, a woman’s voice echoes from deep in a crater, another pitiful old lady talks of five such earthquakes in her lifetime alone. Mangled bodies are pulled from the wreckage and wrapped in white shrouds amid tangled debris, broken glass and exposed masonry. A helicopter glides over the region giving us a bird’s eye view of the area involved: churches and buildings lie in ruins most look almost beyond repair.

The South has always been forgotten and marginalised in the scheme of things. The regions of Campania, Apulia, Abruzzo, Basilicata, Molise, Calabria and Sicilia seem like a different country from the industrial powerhouse of the wealthier northern regions. There are clearly parallels here with the recent floods in the southern states of America – the voyeuristic TV cameras are there to offer an armchair view of human misery, but the government seems largely to have turned its back, although prime minister of the time Amintore Fanfani makes a sheepish appearance in dark glasses, and is then driven away in his limousine. Public support from the richer industrial north of the country was certainly offered, but coordination was clearly lacking and politicians’ empty words fell on deaf ears.

What starts as a reportage of the unfolding catastrophe and the subsequent proposals for reparations soon broadens out into an in-depth ethnographical portrait of local traditions, folklore, religious devotion and time-honoured customs. All this is interwoven with Wertmüller and Piera degli Esposti’s readings of the comments on the South made by literary luminaries Alberto Moravia, Carlo Levi, Furio Colombo, Alberto Ronchey, Giampaolo Pansa and enriched with passages taken from the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Pliny the Younger, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Giacomo Leopardi. The documentary ends with a final interview with Martin Scorsese who is still very active in promoting the wider cinema world beyond his own focus on Italian American features.

With this glowing digital restoration, Lina Wertmüller’s documentary does what it set out to do: bear witness to an ongoing Italian tragedy: “It is my dream that everyone should be made aware of what’s happening in Italy. No just today, when the events are unfolding, but for posterity. In short, let us remember that the future is ancient”.

TURIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | 25 November – 3 December 2022

Lina Wertmuller courtesy of Torino International Film Festival



She Said (2022)


Dir: Maria Shrader | Cast: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Angela Yeoh, Zach Grenier, Ashley Judd, Samantha Morton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angela Yeoh | US Drama 129′

Maria Shrader’s worthy trudge through the Weinstein saga sees women tearing up at the slightest provocation – even those who never met him – but there’s one consolation: Carey Mulligan.

She plays Megan Twohey, one of a pair of New York Times journalists, along with Joe Kazan’s Jodi Kantor, who wrote a harrowing Pulitzer Prize-winning expose of the prolific sexual crimes committed by Hollywood mega-mogul Harvey Weinstein back in 2017, when the scandal finally broke.

The City of London was my domain for nearly fourteen years, and so no stranger to sexual shenanigans on the trading floor. I was once asked to keep a Norwegian shipping magnate ‘happy’ after a night out with fellow brokers. Naturally I froze in anger and disbelief back in the day as a twenty something graduate used to more respectful behaviour from the opposite sex. But hey – you faced up to them, or moved on, or got over it. It was very much the territory for working women in a man’s world, particularly attractive ones.

Nowadays we have the #MeToo brigade who – quite rightly – objected to their big bosses’ beastly behaviour. Not just a slap and a tickle but hard core sex. One of them, Rowena Chiu (Yeoh), complains Weinstein asked for ‘just one thrust’. The whole idea is faintly ridiculous.

She Said is sober, well-acted but terribly dull because we know what’s going to happen as the torpid narrative, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, trundles along solemnly with the two tracking down rumours and substantiating the umpteen financial settlements that allowed Weinstein to avoid legal proceedings in preying on actresses and assistants for decades. Nearly 90 people would eventually agree to share their stories about Weinstein – who we never see – although we do hear his stentorious voice during a telephone call. The women affected included Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Ashley Judd (who plays herself).

The reporters work would also spawn a book: She Said. And that literary tome provides the basis for this earnest but bland account of the take-down of the most powerful man in the movies who is now serving a 23-year sentence for rape and sexual assault.

Mulligan saves the day as a pre-possessed and powerful reporter, softened by motherhood, but still ‘having none of it’; Kazan’s Jodi feels she’d be more at home running a knitting class, but her sympathetic face seems to do the trick in getting the information out of run-down mothers and film execs who were clearly devastated by their casting couch experiences. The rest of the cast is supportive: Samantha Morton’s Zelda Perkins stands out as the most grounded, philosophical and convincing victim, Patricia Clarkson is solid and reliable as the NYT editor who guided some of the era’s most seismic investigations. Shame then that the real villain of the piece is nowhere to be seen. Who would play him? MT



Enys Men (2022)

Dir.: Mark Jenkin; Cast: Mary Woodvine, Edward Rowe, Flo Crowe, John Woodvine; UK 2022, 91 min.

Enys Men is a surreal leap forward for Cornish auteur Mark Jenkin after his striking 2018 debut Bait. Once again we’re back on the Cornish coast with another unorthodox feature and Jenkin taking full control of the artistic process: from directing and writing to creating the soundscape. The setting, a small island off the Cornish coast, plays the lead role in the mystery and we, the audience, join the human cast in groping the way through a maze where a beast is waiting in prey.

Mary Woodvine is the red mackintosh wearing ‘Volunteer’ – a sort of caretaker and biologist. And that red Mac strikes fear into our hearts – a pavlovian response from Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Mary’s lonely days are spent documenting the genesis of lichen on six experimental flowers with distinctive red stamens. Nightfall sees her tucked up in bed with Edward Goldsmith’s 1972 bestseller “A Blueprint for Survival”.

From her flower diary we know the year is 1973, and the month is April, and the film is drenched in this seventies atmosphere. The colours produced by the 16mm camera reflect the bleached out and grainy look of the era. A radio – Mary’s only contact with the world beyond crackles away, a live wire of conflicting channels zinging with static, just like wirelesses did back then. But this wireless is the only way of communicating with the outside world, apart from sporadic visits from a boatsman (Rowe) who offers provisions and carnal delights for the lady of the house. The forth protagonist, an ecclisastic (J. Woodvine), is straight out of Wicker Man, and, together with the pagan statue on the island, creates a menacing ambiance of mounting dread and expectancy for the plantswoman. Her younger ‘Alter Ego’ (Crowe) occasionally rears  her head to remind us of a history suggestive of violence, and the scar on the woman’s stomach is testament to some kind of past brutality .

All this minimalism brings to mind Bresson, but a certain opaqueness very much echoes Resnais. Repressed love and terror mingle with images of angelic children all dressed in white suggesting some kind of pagan ritual. Enys Men scratches at the edges of horror and the tropes are all there along with the evocative soundscape that signals a change in the emotional atmosphere. The past has taken its victims, and the future is unpredictable. The missing minotaur is always just hiding beyond the next rock, ready to pounce.

ENYS MEN is pure cinema, constantly catching the audience by surprise. As we search for visual clues it soon becomes clear there is nothing to understand in this enigma open to individual interpretation. Although the lack of a concrete conclusion may frustrate many audiences, Enys Men sees Jenkin developing his visual style and language as an unique auteur. AS


My Neighbour Adolf (2022)

Dir: Leon Prudovsky. Israel/Poland/Colombia. 2022. 96 mins.

Udo Kier adds a certain twinkly allure to this rather saccharine tragicomedy about a concentration camp survivor who suspects his neighbour of being a war criminal – Adolf Hitler, no less.

Israeli director/co-writer Leon Prudovsky clearly thought it was a good idea to make an upbeat film about the Holocaust after so many understandable tragedies. A shame then that My Neighbour Adolf comes across as a tonal misfire that could have worked better as a sinister thriller or a wacky comedy – some may indeed find the glib 1960s set feature rather tasteless. On the plus side it’s got Udo Kier as the offending ‘man next door’.

Somewhere in South America – possibly Colombia – the grumpy old Polsky (Hayman) is the sole survivor of a family that purportedly perished during the Holocaust leaving him to live out a placid existence tending his black roses transported from the homeland.

When not playing chess or chatting to the postman Polsky is puzzled by his new German neighbour Mr Herzog – a dead ringer for the infamous Nazi leader. But his efforts to probe the man’s background come across as clunky and insubstantial, and are drawn out right until the finale, Kier stealing the show as a cantankerous old bugger whose vulnerability occasionally adds a certain charm. But David Hayman gets most of the screen time with his curious accent – leaning towards Scots rather than Eastern European – forced to compete with the insistent, irritating score. MT 


Bones and All (2022)

Dir: Luca Guadagnino | Cast: Taylor Russell, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, Jake Horowitz, Mark Rylance | Romantic Drama, 130’

Ten years ago Let the Right One In told a coming of age story about teen vampires. Bones and All turns the spotlight on cannibalism in a tale that is both tasty and tender thanks to the troubled twosome at its heart, Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet. Luca Guadagnino brings his talents to the table for the third time with writer David Kajganich.

Lee and Maren are two cupid-struck cannibals who drift across America in a blood-spattered blue Chevrolet from Virgina to Nebraska. Slowly falling for each other in a western-style romantic drama Bones occasionally veers into gore and visceral thrills but not nearly as much as in Raw. This is a sympathetic celebration of young love, freedom and self-realisation laced with a strumming score of country tunes. Arseni Khachaturian’s lushly lensed locations are loosely inspired by Edward Hopper’s cold-edged canvasses and a Camille DeAngelis 1980s novel.

But unlike the source material Maren is looking for the mother she never knew. She developed a taste for human flesh after nibbling a friend’s finger, and then cut her teeth with a menacing man-eater in the shape of Sully (a menacing Mark Rylance) who prefers his flesh cold. Then she falls for Lee, a grifter of sorts with a penchant for gay-mey meat despite being straight. And although they gorge themselves endlessly on love and lean meat there’s a hollowness here that is very 21st century. Can they reconcile their individual weirdness and make a go of it? Deep down they’re just like everyone else. MT

NOW in CINEMAS | Best Director Award | Venice Film Festival 2022


Westerns are Back in Town | Turin International Film Festival 2022

Turin Film Festival has long been synonymous with westerns. A favourite genre of artistic director Steve Della Casa, the tradition goes back to the turn of the 21st century when the festival paid tribute to those venerable veterans of the Wild West: Howard Hawks, Budd Boetticher, Anthony Mann and John Ford.


Terror in a Texas Town


Steve Della Casa has spent the past two decades focusing on a fistful of lesser known films from the era. Delving into the archives of the more niche directors like Ray Enright, Lesley Selander, Randolph Scott and Sterling Hayden, he has presented a clutch of cult classics championed by critics and western lovers like Bertrand Tavernier or Phil Hardy, films that celebrate an eclectic variety of characters, tones and styles – and some curios such as Sam Newfield’s 1938 outing THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN, starring dwarf actor Billy Curtis, and his 1937 hit HARLEM IN THE PRAIRIE with its African-American cast. Wacky, eccentric characters are the name of the game in FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER (1954), actor Richard Carlson’s first film as director, adapted from Louis L’Amour’s novel, showcasing the simmering sensuality of its leading star Colleen Miller.

The Terror of Tiny Town


TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (1958) was one of four acclaimed B-movies that brought Joseph H. Lewis’ cinematographic career to a close, a dynamic duel between the black-clad gunslinger and striking sailor Sterling Hayden, armed with just a whaler’s harpoon – is one of the most memorable scenes in western history. The American Civil War made its mark on the lives of western heroes, staging scenarios that were as divisive and irreconcilable as the war itself – and reverberate even today.

Four Faces West


In Roy Rowland’s 1947 outing THE ROMANCE OF ROSY RIDGE (1947) these conflicts take on a poetic and lyrical tone. FOUR FACES WEST (1948) is, by contrast, peaceable by western standards with hardly a shot fired – ironically it was a box office flop – and SHOTGUN (1955), the jewel in the crown of Lesley Selander’s prodigious 100-feature output – is a taut revenge western, filmed in blazing Technicolor. Worth a mention is also CORONER CREEK (1948) which was shot in the more economical Cinecolor by Ray Enright, a film that would lead Randolph Scott – one of western’s most popular stars – to his long and fruitful collaboration with Budd Boetticher.

The Romance of Rosy Ridge


And where would be without a psychological western, a sub-genre very much in vogue from the late 1940s onwards: the choice fell on Harry Keller’s SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN from 1960 (it is the most recent of the eight films in the review), featuring another western pioneer, and hero of the World War II: Audie Murphy. Sometimes these Hollywood classics give a nod to more successful models, occasionally they anticipate them. See them all on the big screen at this year’s Turin Film Festival. MT


The Punishment (2022) Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2022

Dir: Matias Bize | Wri: Coral Cruz | Cast: Antonia Zegers, Nestor Cantillana | Drama 85′

A small child turns the tables on his parents in this taut and discursive two-handed drama from the accomplished Chilean director Matias Bize and his screenwriter Coral Cruz.

Ana and Mateo have stopped their car in the woods on their way to visit Ana’s parents for dinner. But a heated argument soon absorbs their attention and seven-year-old Lucas is left to fend for himself. When they are ready to leave, the boy is nowhere to be seen.

Both blaming each other for his disappearance, uncomfortable truths start to surface as the couple question their failure as parents. Ana sternly calls out to Lucas, threatening him with all sorts of privations for his bad behaviour, before eventually ‘phoning the police. It’s a fraught scenario that rings alarm bells for every parent, anything could happen in this bosky backwater, and the camera roves through trees and undergrowth during one tense take.

Zegers’ Ana is ‘mean-mummy’ with her hard-faced disciplinarian approach to dealing with Lucas, and our sympathies lie with her son and his more tolerant father (Cantillana) who, at least, tries to come up with solutions. But then it emerges that Lucas is a bit of a rebel, and not easy to manage, his teachers suspect he is suffering from ADHD.

Gradually Zegers’ wins us over with her plausible confession that eventually brings the drama to its satisfying conclusion, persuading us that motherhood is no picnic; much of the time it is frustrating, gruelling and thankless.

The Punishment is a well-crafted but dour drama that could have worked better as a radio play given the monotonous confines of its setting. Zegers and Cantillana do their best to make Ana and Mateo feel authentic and relatable in a drama that proves, once again, that we are always toughest on the ones we love. MT


A Letter from Helga (2022) Tallinn Film Festival 2022

Dir/Co-Wri: Așa Hjorleifsdottir | Romantic Drama | Iceland, Netherlands, Estonia | 118′

The wild and windswept fjords and mountains of Iceland are the setting for this visually resplendent romantic drama that sees a poet fall hopelessly in love with his neighbour. A Letter from Helga is based on a novella by Bergsveinn Birgisson who co-scripts.

Așa Hjorleifsdottir follows her first feature The Swan with another lyrical and more accomplished look at how nature and Iceland’s rural and folkloric heritage shapes the emotions of the inhabitants of this extraordinary scenic island in the Northern hemisphere.

For Helga (Hera Hilmar) and Bjarni (Thor Kristjansson) loves comes like a lightening bolt although they are both – unhappily – married, Helga has two young kids with Hallgrimur (Bjorn Thors), Barni and Unnur (Anita Briem) are locked in childless misery. Forbidden fruit is always more tantalising, and the lovers secret trysts grow more passionate as they reflect on their stale marriages, in heart-rending flashbacks. And yet changing their lives seems impossible in the disproving social set-up.

The story is simple with its themes of infidelity, jealousy and bitter regret, but embellished with such poetic poignancy and passion and leads Hera Hilmar and Thor Kristjansson really feel real in their romantic adventure. Hjorleifsdottir scores the intimate scenes and teasing tete-a-tetes with a sweeping score from Kristin Anna Valtysdottir that often tingles with its icy top notes and strident strings, riffing on local ballads and dances. Dreams of starting a new life in Reykjavik hint of a promising future that can never be but seems so possible in the brave new world after the War. MT



Nostalgia (2022)

Dir: Mario Martone | Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Francesco Di Leva, Tommaso Ragno, Aurora Quattrocchi | Italy, Drama 117′

Mario Martone’s moody reflective thriller Nostalgia, adapted from the novel by Ermanno Rea, sees a man returning to his past in Naples having made his mark in the Middle East. But this attempt to turn back time and is not greeted with the warmth he had hoped for in all quarters.

Martone floods the screen with the faded glory of the southern Italian seaport in a lush and classically styled rumination that contrasts the positive outlook of his central character Felice Lasco (Favino) with the bitter resentments he finds back home. His moribund mother Teresa (Quattrocchi) is overjoyed to see him but his attempts to reconnect with an old sparring partner, the infamous gangland ‘Badman’ Oreste Spasiano (Ragno), are less successful to say the least. Their nefarious past is pictured in flashbacks – and he is warned to keep away from the crumbling neglected backwater of Rione Sanita where Oreste now hangs out under the protection of his acolytes.

But although Felice is determined to gloss over the ups and downs of his complex relationship with Oreste, who tears up at their reunion, an unresolved incident from the past is still a sticking point between the two men: one who has found personal and professional success, the other failure and a life of crime. Naples is very much a character here and the simple but satisfying plot works to the film’s advantage allowing Martone to embellish his local characters, the most memorable is the local priest Don Luigi Rega (Francesco Di Leva) who still provides a spiritual touchstone to the community from his base in the vast cathedral. Buzzing around on a motorbike in full ecclesiastical regalia he is a comforting but commanding figure, his steadfast moral compass providing the guiding light. But Felice is ultimately a tragic figure, trapped by his determination to heal the past and his inability to face the truth. MT


Emily the Criminal (2022) Prime Video

Dir/Wri: John Patterson Ford | Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Jonathan Avigdori, Gina Gershon, Kim Yarborough | US Thriller 93′

Best known for her dead pan comedy dramas Aubrey Plaza puts out her claws as Emily the star turn in this slick urban thriller from John Patterson Ford.

Emily is a woman at the end of her tether: broke, jobless and desperate to clear a mountain of student debt. An opportunity to make easy cash turns out to be illegal – but needs must when the Devil drives. Unsure, at first, of her criminal credentials she soon gets the hang of it, and as the scams get more serious, Emily finds an inner strength. This diffident damsel in distress turns feisty feminist felon, beating the men at their own game.

But things get more complicated when she joins forces with her charismatic conman boss (Theo Rossi) forcing her into deeper water than she ever thought possible. Emily turns the table on the criminal underworld coming up trumps into the bargain. 

Good production values, moody lighting and a pounding score from Nathan Halpern sets the scene for Patterson Ford’s watchable first feature showcasing Plaza’s cool and compelling screen presence as a modern-day Nikita. MT 


Silent House (2022) IDFA 2022

Dir.: Farnaz Jurabchian, Mohammadreza Jurabchian; Documentary with Nassrin Mirsadeghi, Houssein Mirsadeghi, Mohammad Mirsadeghi; Iran/France/Canada/Philippines/ Qatar 2022, 100 min.

A striking Art Deco villa in Tehran becomes ‘silent witness’ to four decades of Iranian history in a revealing new documentary from the sibling filmmakers who grew up there during the Islamic revolution and beyond.

Farnaz and Mohammadreza Jurabchian spent nearly their whole lives in a palace once owned by Esmat Dowlatshahi, the fourth and final wife of Reza Shah Pahlavi (although the marriage was never officially recognised). The property came into the family when their grandfather, a local trader, decided he had to possess it. His own passion for photography was soon shared by his daughter Nassrin, and later by his grandchildren who would eventually become independent filmmakers, honing their craft in and around their impressive family home.

Silent House unfolds entirely within the confines of the villa, its proximity to the Shah’s official residence, the Sa’dabad Palace, restricted the cameras from roaming further afield. But the family story speaks volumes painting a colourful picture about their life and times. Enriched with personal reflections and archive material from TV and film, the doc provides a potted political and social history of post 1979 revolutionary Iran across three generations.

Their grandmother made her home comfortably on one floor of the building surrounded by gardens and a brood of cats. Growing up the daughter of a wealthy and religious family, she was married off at only thirteen to a much older, middle class, man who put an end to her studies and ballet lessons: “He was mean and treated me like dirt. He beat up any man who looked at me – and he was unfaithful”. But the couple lived there together for fifty years and had six children.

Her daughter Nassrin is an enterprising, over-achiever. But her own husband’s sudden death in the north of Iran forced her to become a single parent. Undeterred, she was soon finding ways to keep the family coffers replenished by turning the tennis courts into a country club. But despite her industriousness, her own mother wanted her younger brother Hossein to take over the running of the house until Nassrin found herself back in control after he was conscripted into the Iran-Iraq war. Hossein came back shell-shocked and suffering from severe PTS and soon cloistered himself in a cottage in the garden, where he later died.

Nassrin had meanwhile joined the 1979 revolution, even taking baby Farnaz with her to meetings where she wore army fatigues and taught her to sing revolutionary songs. Many houses were confiscated by the regime, and Farnaz’ grandfather had to buy back his house for the second time, forcing him into bankruptcy. He died shortly afterwards, of grief.

Nassrin had by now turned herself into a filmmaker and bequeathed a camera to her children. Her father’s funeral, a stately affair attended by all the local traders, is her personal cinematographical tribute to the family’s history. The house then underwent extensive renovations and Nassrin turned it into a film studio – with the fixtures and fittings providing the props. It made a perfect set for many feature films, with the family appearing in bit parts – “everyone in the house became part of the film set”. In 2005 it provided the location for Masud Kimiai’s feature The Command and later Ziaeddin Dorri’s The Pahlavi Hat series. The siblings then started to make their own short films.

Ever ambitious, Nassrin moved on to education, becoming director of the PBO Kindergarten in charge of 144 children and over 2000 employees. During the Iran-Iraq war, Nassrin had banned TV for her children, preferring them to watch light-hearted dramas such as The Sound of Music. Soon they were real cineastes. And while their mother was developing an interest in running for President during the 2009 elections, civil was breaking out, and Farnaz was encouraged to leave Iran.


In Montreal, Farnaz decided to enrol in film school rather than study engineering. “But whenever I wanted to shoot something, I had visions of home”. Meanwhile Mohammadreza had stayed in Tehran and was studying  photography. The siblings (and their cameras) were re-united in the villa when their mother’s eldest brother Mohammad arrived. He had left Iran forty years previously to live in the UK.

A family wedding is the last hurrah for the palace, their grandmother died shortly afterwards in her late eighties. The siblings film her non-stop during the last days of her life; “that was all we could do for her”. During her funeral, the cats roamed freely throughout the property, finally making a home for themselves in the house. Nassrin gives in to the demand of the rest of the family to sell. And prospective buyers are filmed, looking round a house where in 1943 Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin once carved up the world.

DoP Mohammadreza Jurabchian’s camerawork certainly improves during the long Gestalt period. Personal and political events interweave seamlessly, the mood is melancholic in this unique combination of social history and personal tragedy, as well as happy times.

The authorities in Tehran felt so threatened by the feature they refused to allow the directors and producers to attend the screening at the IDFA in Amsterdam on its world premiere. Another case of Iranian censorship taking the country backwards rather than forwards into the 21st century. AS


Armageddon Time (2022)

Dir: James Gray | Cast: Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Strong, Domenick Lombardozzi | US Thriller, 115′

Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway star in this coming of age story about growing up in Queens in the 1980s. Armageddon is a solid but rather bland, sentimental drama that feels overlong and underwhelming, from the director who made his first New York-based drama Little Odessa – about a family of Soviet Jews – at the tender age of 25.

Armageddon Time returns to the same territory with another working class Jewish family trying to fit in. And there are some spirited outbursts both at home and in the classroom, although for the most part it’s a toned down rather docile affair. The plot lines are predictable, and references to the Holocaust are a hollow echo of much more moving dramas on the subject of antisemitism. The oblique references to the local influential Trump family feel like cheap point-scoring with intentionally unlikeable cameo roles from John Diehl as Donald Trump’s father Fred, and Jessica Chastain as the hard-faced US judge Maryanne Trump, along with the fact that the Graff family hail originally from Ukraine.

The youngest boy Paul (Banks Repeta) is possibly an autobiographical portrait of the young James Grey – unruly, artistic and at odds with the rest of the striving family, particularly his hot-headed father (Jeremy Strong). He only really connects with his grandfather Aaron (Hopkins) who will finance his private education after the subversive troublemaker gets a bad name for himself at his local ‘comprehensive’, with his black friend Johnny ending up taking the rap. Celebrated cinematographer Darius Khondji tries to lift Armageddon out of the torpid settings but, all and all, this brings nothing new to the party in contrast with Gray’s later more avantgarde sci-fi outing feature, the space-hopping Ad Astra (2019). MT


Million Dollar Pigeons (2022)

Dir: Gavin Fitzgerald | US Doc 98′

Whoever thought there was money to be made from a pervasive variety of bird that many regard as a pest? Well – as its title suggests – there’s millions to be made from the common or garden pigeon. Award-winning Irish filmmaker Gavin Fitzgerald takes a sympathetic look into the lucrative sport in his latest documentary Million Dollar Pigeons.

Pigeon fanciers from all over the world – from Thailand to America – enter their feathered friends in a high stakes competition – a sort of avian Tour de France – where the winners – from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds -stand to make millions of dollars from the humble and mostly unwanted winged athlete.

Fitzgerald’s skill as a director and cinematographer make this visual appealing as well as fascinating as another study of human exploitation of the animal kingdom. The birds become a unifying force for good in creating meaning in people’s lives; a blank canvas for their hopes and dreams – rather like we saw in Dark Horse and the recent Middle Eastern doc Kash Kash: Without Feathers We Can’t Live. But the modest birds can also have a negative impact on lives, when they become a divisive tool in race to make money. Fitzgerald explores the sport in general and probes the lives of a handful of fanciers competing in the sport. MT



Turin International Film Festival headlines with The Beatles

Celebrating its 40th year anniversary, The Torino Film Festival – Italy’s second largest after Venice – looks sets to be a really glitzy affair with a musical and visual extravaganza showcasing two of the world’s best known bands – the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Themed on their links with film legends Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Jean-Luc Godard and scouser Malcolm MacDowell – who remembers the Liverpool band when they were still the Silver Beatles back in their ‘Cavern’ days – this year’s festival comprises an international Competion and two retrospectives amongst other events – and takes place from 25 November until 3 December 2022.

‘Help’ courtesy of Torino Film Festival


On the opening night of 25th November, Turin’s historic Teatro Regio will play host to a musical and cinematic evening that captures the imagination of the Swinging Sixties, divised by the festival’s artistic director and critic Steve Della Casa, and broadcast nationwide. Most people know Turin as the headquarters of the famous FIAT motor company; this year’s 40th Anniversary celebrates the city’s baroque credentials with the initiative Casa Festival a film ‘citadel’ set in Turin’s World Heritage Site the ‘Cavallerizza Reale’ (Royal Horsewoman) a baroque 1740 building designed by the First Royal architect Benedetto Alfieri to carry out equestrian activities.

Malcolm McDowell courtesy of Torino Film Festival


The 40th Anniversary line-up presents films from well-established directors and exciting new talent. Expect to see 81 world premieres along with award-winning releases from this year’s festival circuit, cult classics and sophomore features. Charlotte Le Bon’s coming-of-age drama Falcon Lake, Nicaraguan filmmaker Laura Baumeister’s magic realist tale Daughter of Rage Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s fantasy thriller Pamfir and Lola Quivoron’s provocative revenge thriller Rodeo about a feminist motorcyclist in a world of macho man.

Also in the programme are Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO, Aleksandr Sokurov’s Fairytale  Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland and Lav Diaz’s latest epic look back at his nation’s chequered history A Tale of Filipino Violence.

There will be also be a chance to meet the talent in platform masterclasses with world famous Italian stars and directors Mario Martone, Paolo Sorrentino, and Toni Servillo.



Paradise (2022) IDFA 2022

Dir/Wri: Alexander Abaturov | DoP Paul Guilhaume | France, Doc, 91′

When it comes to wildfires the spectacle of a roaring blaze in the middle of a snowy landscape does not normally spring to mind. But climate change has recently played havoc in the northern hemisphere, as filmmaker Alexander Abaturov discovers in his cinematic ethnological portrait of Siberia where sweltering heatwaves and drought are a new phenomenon.

Paradise opens with a smoozy rather seductive opening sequence as the camera glides softly over frosty rooftops and sweeps down onto a reflective scene picturing a little girl saying her prayers with the words: “Tell me, Sacred Mountain, do you see the whole Earth from here?”.

In 2021 alone, fires burned 19 million hectares in Russia, and for first time ever ashes blew to the North Pole.  Back down to earth in the heart of the ‘taiga’ lies the village of Shologon where and the natives are adopting a zen approach to dealing with the exceptional circumstances. By nature a peaceful people their calm collaboration contrasts with the – hardly surprising – inflammatory reaction we have come to expect from the recent outbreaks, but the Siberian stance is certainly novel, and makes for a reflective and contemplative look at how these chilly lands are fighting fire – not with fire – but with collaborative calm. 

In the distance billowing smoke heralds the incendiary arrival of trouble. A group of firefighters make their way on open trucks to the root of the problem through sparse woodland. There is no blaze to speak of, just a smouldering scarlet-tinged landscape and the locals name it ‘the dragon’ as they quickly retreat back to base to report their findings and regroup.

Without a formal fire service or governmental aid they are forced to rely on mutual and community support.  Helicopters supply water to assist in quelling the outbreak and the final scenes, filmed in slow-burn close-up, take us right to the centre of the blaze creeping like a seething living carpet of flames through the undergrowth.

What impresses here is the way the firefighters work serenely and methodically to put out the blaze. Making use of an evocative soundscape scored by Les Percussions de Strasbourg, Abaturov’s sophomore documentary morphs into a surreal and dreamlike meditation as humans battle the elements, almost beyond them, and ‘The Dragon’ is tackled and finally laid to rest. MT



Hopper (2022)

Dir: Phil Grabsky | UK Doc, 90′

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) is probably the best known American painter in the world. Mysterious, ephemeral – and despite their bright colours – airless; his depictions of bleak backdrops and isolated people tell a story that allows us to connect on some deep level despite the enigma of the artist himself. Hopper’s work influenced the likes of Rothko, Banksy, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, and even The Simpsons for the unique way it captured 20th century America.

Edward Hopper (1903) Self-portrait


Of his urban landscapes the 1942 painting Nighthawks (main pic) has come to represent loneliness and big city isolation – but that’s not what Hopper had in mind, as we later discover. In this latest art documentary Phil Grabsky uncovers the detached and reclusive artist through his relationships and his life.

Hopper is possibly one of Grabsky’s most immersive biopics to date. The director and photographer combines fascinating archive footage, expert interviews and the artist’s personal diaries to reveal an informative visual reflection of American life in the first half of the 20th century. Refreshingly, Hopper is his own art movement, his work sits entirely on its alone although it is classified as realist, Neo-realist and even impressionist, amongst others. By nature a loner Hopper never tried to connect with any artistic movement, he simply followed his own style, studying art in New York at a time when the US was responding to European avant-garde:. ‘The big painter always has something to say.’

Early Sunday Morning (1930) Edward Hopper


Born into a well-to-do cultured family open to new ideas, the young Hopper was encouraged to be creative, and given the materials to do so, growing up in the riverside town of Nyack (NY). Described as bookish he underwent a growth spurt which made him the subject of bullying when he grew to 6 foot 4′ in his early teens.

Hopper dreamed of being a naval architect, and his interest in the built environment, light and shadow, would dominate his work. But out of economic necessity a career as an illustrator proved lucrative at the turn of the 20th century. And after a ten-year fruitless infatuation with a fellow painter he fell for Josephine Nivison (1883-1967) who gave up her own promising art career to be his manager. They would marry in 1924. Through her we gain so much insight into the private man behind the brush. Together they painted their way through a marriage that wasn’t always emotionally fulfilling for Josephine, but gave the buttoned-down Hopper the buffer he needed from the outside world. She often supported him when he only painted two or three canvasses a year, and a painting could take him months to complete even though the subject was quotidian; such was his intellectual process in telling ‘the story’.

Compartment C, Car 293 (1938) Edward Hopper


A jazzy music score heralds Hopper’s 1913 move to New York’s Washington Square in Greenwich Village where in 1920 he would paint one of his most controversial canvases: Soir Bleu criticised for its misogynist theme. But unlike George Bellows’ exuberant often chaotic NY scenes, Hopper’s paintings here were devoid of noise. Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, claims Hopper followed his own unique vision in these depopulated landscapes. Deputy director of Washington’s National Gallery, Franklin Kelly, describes how Hopper depicted NY as an isolating city. Yet it was this sense of isolation that was a natural part of the human condition, according to the Whitney’s Kim Conaty, and Hopper wanted to articulate that.

His 1927 Automat painting features a woman on her own in a cafe. But far from lonely, it seems she was actually enjoying a break from the hubbub of the capital’s streets. Yet this stillness seems to be interpreted – often by the critics – as loneliness. Hopper – in an archival interview – clearly states he never thought of it that way. And even though he had no interest in capturing the zeitgeist, his work inadvertently took on a socio-political angle: it charted change. The Great Depression of the 1930s saw women joining the workforce and becoming financially  independent. Yet his pictures of the simple low rise buildings and empty streets of New York in the 1930s – such as Early Sunday Morning – convey an enigmatic emptiness that contradicts the hustle and bustle of the time – but therein lies the contradiction in Hopper’s unique view of his world.

Mansard Roof (1923) Edward Hopper


A move to Gloucester Connecticut saw Hopper’s love of buildings and architecture coming to the fore. His most joyous canvas Mansard Roof (1923) was the first painting sold since 1913, when he had hoped the sale of Sailing (1911) would rapidly lead to more. But this ‘mansard’ phase took off with Hopper’s love of light and shadow being the focus of a series of energetic depictions of local buildings providing a pictorial digest of the small seaside town during that time. Lighthouse Hill (1927) would later capture Hitchcock’s imagination for the Neo-Gothic house in Psycho. This interest in film works both way, often inspiring Hopper, as his work influenced other creatives, as in Shirley, Visions of Reality : he also claimed to have felt a deep affinity with Delbert Mann’s noir character Marty (1955). There’s certainly a noirish quality to his Compartment C, Car 293 1938

In the early 1930s in seaside village of South Truro, Massechusetts. became the couple’s new home and ushered in a more prolific phase for Hopper. The couple built a house – that still stands today – on isolated sandy road. Together they started to travel backwards and forthwards across the States looking for painting locations where he could explore light and contrast, best seen in Morning Sun (1952) and the much later Sun in an Empty Room (1963). And although these seem to tell troubled stories – Hopper had no interest in revealing himself, or explaining his motives. One of his most devastating pictures is arguably the ironically titled Summer Interior (1909) which appears to show a woman in emotional crisis. But, like the artist himself, her story remains a closed book. MT

Released to coincide with the major Hopper exhibition (Edward Hopper’s New York) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (Oct 22 – Mar 23).

Frames of Mind | Peter Greenaway Retrospective 2022

The BFI celebrates Peter Greenaway‘s 80th birthday with a retrospective and the premiere of his new feature Walking in Paris. And here Andre Simonoveisz reflects on his career to date

The Welsh born director, writer, artist and painter Peter Greenaway is certainly one of the most controversial contemporary filmmakers, and to this day his films are an acquired taste. The jury is still out on whether Greenaway wants to be an arthouse filmmaker, or merely a trained artist who uses the big screen as a canvas for his painterly creations, and the fact that his films lack any formal narrative structure seems to point to the latter: Greenaway’s features often have a stilted feel, unfolding in a series of formal set pieces rather than in flowing storytelling.


Composition, lighting and costumes are always the most significant elements in a Greenaway film. And yes, the aesthetics are wonderful to look at, but they are only as alive as Greenaway allows them to be. The artist/painter Greenaway is always in control of the filmmaking process: and rather like Robert Bresson before him, the actors are merely pawns in the process, with the camera as a paintbrush. The rest is amateur philosophy and a total reliance on art history, Renaissance, Baroque and Flemish predominating. On his way to visual perfection, second-hand or otherwise, Greenaway chanced upon film as his medium, and has used it as an intermediate step.

This is perhaps too critical of his work, but let’s go back to the beginning of his feature film career with The Falls (1980) an avantgarde sci-fi mockumentary that looks at the 92 victims of a phenomenon known as VUE (Violent unknown events) and whose names begin with the word ‘Fall’. Just over three hours long, this an etude, a whimsical compendium of surreal and bizarre circumstances explores just how far away from his creation the filmmaker was – or pretended to be. Can we ever be an objective observer of death? Or was the result proof, that the highbrow ‘intellectual’ Greenaway was above all the parochial issues of real life – and death.

The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) was a bracingly beautiful piece of work scored by Michael Nyman’s minimalist soundscape which carried the narrative forward and is more memorable than its contrived murder story. The dapper draughtsman, Mr. Neville (Higgins) is foisted by his own elegant petard and falsely accused of murder after a series of sexual dalliances with the aristocratic ladies Mrs. Herbert (Suzman) and her daughter Mrs. Talman (Lambert). But the ‘story’ pales into insignificance in comparison with its magnificent surroundings, and what we remember is the bucolic backdrop, the feudal mansion, the immaculate costumes and the way Mr. Neville plays the director whilst he re-arranges life to suit his drawings. Many Greenaway films are about sexual obsession and The Draughtsman is no exception, it is a remote object of desire rather than an involving comedy of manners; sex, after all, is just another construct for the filmmaker to exploit.

The Cook, the Thief his Wife and her Lover (1989) is considered Greenaway’s most mature feature. From here he could have taken another route: instead of being obsessed by numbers or esoteric subjects, he could have really embraced the meaning of life, but instead his feature once again mirrors art, quite literally, recreating the 1616 painting by Flemish baroque artist Frans Hals. Michael Gambon is the churlish and sadistic thief Albert Spica, who owns a French restaurant in London where he entertains his cronies, amongst them is a young Tim Roth. His wife Georgina (Mirren) is appalled, and soon finds herself a suitable lover, Michael (Howard), a bookseller. They have to be careful, and conduct their romance in all sorts of seedy settings. Albert wises up and tortures Michael by force-feeding him. Georgina exacts her revenge in an equally disgusting way before she shoots him. This sounds ghastlier than it actually is – but crucially the takeaway is once again the aesthetic rather than the storyline – which is entirely unreliable. Jean-Paul Gaulthier designed the 17th century costumes and camerawork by DoP Sacha Vierny reflects the airless grandeur. Dutch producer Kes Kasander would stay with Greenaway for more tilts at artistic perfection. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival in 1989, The Cook was shown “Out of Competition”. When asked why he decided not to enter Greenaway’s film “In Competition” festival director Guglielmo Biraghi explained that loved the work of Greenaway, but “it his films are not really like others.”

What followed were highs like Prospero, The Baby of Macon and total flops including the soulless series of The Tulse Luper Suitcases. Somehow, the world decided to move on. AS


All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)

Dir.: Laura Poitras; Cast: Nan Goldin, David Armstrong, Marina Berio; USA 2022, 117 min.

US photographer and activist Nan Goldin (1953-) captures her own life from behind the camera of this documentary directed by Laura Poitras, best known for her 2016 biopic Risk that centred on Julian Assange. The film is in part tribute to Nan’s battle with opiod addiction that came about after a wrist injury. And she holds the wealthy Sackler responsible for bringing about ‘an unfathomable death toll’ with their opiod drugs.

Certainly less idolatrous than Poitras’ look at the Australian Wikileaks editor this novel but flawed ‘interview’ style structure works – up to a point – and went on to win her the Golden Lion at Venice 2022 on account of its timely subject matter, rather than the film itself.

Goldin comes across as straightforward and pragmatic in an outing that often feels like  two films rolled into one, told in seven chronological chapters starting with the Washington born Goldin’s early years in a well-to-do but dysfunctional Boston-based family whose ethos reflected the sexual repression of the Eisenhower era.

It emerges Nan’s older sister Barbara was influenced by the suppressive regime and spent her life in and out of psychiatric hospitals before committing suicide at the age of eighteen and leaving her younger sister traumatised for the rest of her life. The film takes its title from a quote in Barbara’s’ diary. Nan was placed in foster care by the Social Services but ended up being evicted.

New beginnings came with Art-School, and then Nan joined the underground community in New York where films by Bette Gordon and Vivienne Dick bore testament to a wild but creative scene. Velvet Underground, James Brown, Nina Simone and Charles Aznavour were regulars, and Nan was influenced by the work of Cookie Mueller and and David Wojnarowicz, both victims of the Aids Epidemic. A breakthrough came with “The Ballade of Sexual Dependency”, which started life as day-in-the-life slide-show for its subjects. A year later, in 1986, the work appeared as a celebrated photo book showcasing the love life of New York’s Bowery neighbourhood, starting in 1979.

All the Beauty then flips to March 10th 2018 in the then “Sackler Rooms” of the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art where Nan and her con-activists demanding an end to the “Temple of Money’ financed by the Sackler family by staging a ‘die-in’ on the flat. Later the same group “PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) launches more protests in Museums all over the world, including the Louvre in Paris, which became the first gallery to remove the “Sackler” label from its exhibitions. The “National Portrait Gallery” in London soon followed, rejecting a gift of £100,0000.00 from the Sackler family, after Goldin threatened to take her exhibits out of the show. Today, many large Museums worldwide have taken her cause on board.

Goldin’s lead of the campaign is very personal, like everything about her work. After being trolled by Sackler employees, the family settled with PAIN for a hefty figure of six billion dollars, which later escalated to ten million, in compensation for the victims. Three members of the disgraced family are interrogated by Goldin and her co-activists as part of the settlement. The Zoom meeting shows them rather sheepishly grinning into the camera, words fail them.

Nan Goldin is not only hard on the ‘greedy’ corporates, she also admits to working as a sex worker, and shows videos of the wounds received from a boyfriend. Nan Goldin is still fighting the battle, her sister Barbara lost. AS


Incubus (1966)

Dir; Leslie Stevens | Cast: William Shatner, Allyson Amers Kia, Eloise Hardt | US Fantasy thriller 78’

Leslie Stevens blew the considerable capital he’d made from ‘The Outer Limits’ on this almost wilfully uncommercial folly. Aided by a tingling score by Dominic Frontiere, fellow ‘Outer Limits’ veteran cameraman Conrad Hall (who does a lovely job) later recalled it as ‘ten days shooting, great fun’, ruefully admitting “I don’t what it means but I love it”.

The decision to shoot it in Esperanto – deliberately intended to make the film hard to follow – Leonard Maltin laconically observed “sort of limits its appeal”, which is one of the reasons so few people have heard of it, let alone seen it.

If the thing wasn’t already weird enough there’s even the sight of William Shatner speaking his dialogue with English subtitles.@RichardChatten

Living (2022)

Dir: Oliver Hermanus | Cast: Bill Nighy, Tom Burke, Alex Sharp, Aimee Lou Wood | UK. 102 mins

The English middle class world of the 1950s is gracefully captured here in a sombre but sonorous drama about a dying civil servant. What makes it particularly interesting is that the director is South African Oliver Hermanus and the screenwriter is the Japanese born novelist and Nobel prize winner Kazoo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go) whose story of discrete mid 20th sensibilities was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece Ikiru (To Live).

Quintessential English maxims like ‘keep calm and carry on’ and ‘never explain, never complain’ immediately spring to mind with reference to Living‘s noble main character Mr Williams who is the embodiment of a dissipated but dignified gentleman of a certain age – and played wistfully by Bill Nighy – whose world is rocked by the revelation that he is suffering from terminal cancer. But life goes on in the corridored confines of his Civil Service offices where he heads a department dedicated to planning applications, staffed by his young assistant Mr Wakeling (a thoughtful Alex Sharp), who guides us through the film, and secretary Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood of Netflix’ Sex Education) who could best described as gently ‘petillant’, rather than ‘bubbly’ – a quality normally ascribed to female typists in the small ads, back in the day.

Moving but never sentimental, one of the more touching scenes pictures Mr Williams at home and desperately rehearsing the words to explain his diagnosis to his son and daughter-in-law who are unaware of his presence in their unlit sitting room, and at the same time, talking amongst themselves about asking him to move on, And this tragic event sets in motion Mr Williams’ determination to start living before he dies.

In Brighton, regarded as a louche seaside setting back in the 1950s, Mr Williams comes across Mr Sutherland (Tom Burke) a writer of questionable origins, and engages on a night of excess that unleashes in Mr Williams an impressionistic reverie of nostalgic thoughts and ideas as he reflects back on his life. These scenes take on a dreamlike quality expressed by vibrant juxtaposed images, in contrast to the crisply formal daily procedural he has grown accustomed to in the offices the Civil Service in County Hall.

Returning to London he encounters Margaret and decides to invite her to join him in his final ‘hurrah’. At this point he also takes to singing a plangent Scottish folk song as he swings in the children’s playground at dusk. The final act briefly explores Mr Williams’  last planning project and labour of love – a children’s playground built on a former bomb site in the East End. And this provides the film with a whiff of internecine controversy amongst his staff who claim the iniative as their own. The final scenes are slightly underwhelming but nevertheless provide a satisfying finale to this elegant and rather lovely look back in time. MT


Come Come Come Upward (1989) London Korean Film Festival 2022

Dir:Im Kwon-taek | Cast: Kang Soo-yeo, Jin Yeong-mi, Yu In-chon, Han Ji-il, Chon Moo-song | 120 mins | 1989 | South Korea

South Korean director Im Kwon-taek, now nearly ninety, is possibly best known outside  Korea for his ground-breaking documentary Mandala, (1981) arguably the finest film ever made about Buddhism as part of human society. In Come Come Come Upward a young woman makes her way to a mountain convent where she undergoes a demanding initiation programme in an environment best described as challenging – both physically and spiritually – not helped by aloofness erring on hostility from the other young nuns, and the almost draconian convent elder – yet none of this seems able to put her off. Flashbacks allow a glimpse of her motivations for leaving the world behind. However, the world, in the strange form of one broken yet determined man, pursues Soon-nyeo/sister Chung-hwa right to her refuge.


All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

Dir/Co-Wri: Edward Berger | Germany, War thriller. 147′

A century after the ‘Great War’ (1914-18) took its toll on 17 million lives,  Erich Maria Remarque’s classic German language novel ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ finally comes to the big screen in this elegant arthouse adaption from Edward Berger (Jack). Previous Hollywood versions pale into insignificance alongside this passionate and quietly devastating epic, seen from the unique perspective of a German soldier.

Like many teenagers throughout Europe Paul (Felix Kammerer) is thrilled at the chance for adventure and joins the ‘glorious’ war effort along with his school-friends after a rousing call to arms. Little did they know the fate that awaited them.

The war was well under way when the chums Müller (Moritz Klaus), Kropp (Aaron Hilmer), Tjaden (Edin Hasanović) and the slightly older professional soldier Katczinsky  or “Kat” – (Albrecht Schuch) finally arrive at the front expecting an exciting run of it before finally marching to victory as German heroes. Just like the Allied forces of Tommies and ‘Poilus’ were hoping for on the other side.

Berger and his co-writer stay reasonably close to the original telling their harrowing story in a thrilling and lyrical anti-war action drama that captures the spirit of English war poet Wilfred Owen’s famous ‘Strange Meeting’ without ever stinting on the brutal reality of tday-to-day violence and terrible bloodshed. Some mean feat. And yet the film remains compulsive for well over two hours.

Paul and his fresh-faced comrades at arms spend their days lurching from the screaming horrors of trench warfare to the hysterical joy of ‘downtime’ when they steal a goose and roast it, or catch sight of some nubile French girls in a distant meadow. Experiences that see them desperately longing to be back home, away from the nightmare that is their daily reality, and one that foreshadows a doomed future made all the more poignant because only we know the truth.

Rather than confusing us with complex military strategics, Berger fills his film with the mundane yet fascinating detail of the wartime experience: blood-soaked uniforms of the dead are routinely collected from the battlefield and washed in steaming vats before being recycled on to the next eager soldier, name tags of the dead still attached; a body hangs naked and legless from a tree, its uniform blown off by the sheer force of a shell; intimate letters are read aloud revealing an unspeakable tragedy from back home.

Meanwhile German officers enjoy opera music while they dine in splendour, or munch on crisp croissants in a railway carriage at Compiègne begging the French for an armistice through their learned politician Matthias Erztberger (Daniel Bruhl). But Thibault de Montalembert’s Marshal Foch says, decidedly: “Non”.

After the truce is eventually signed – without compromise – a German general informs his emotionally broken troops – only Paul is still fighting – that they have one last chance to save the nation’s honour before the war officially ends at the 11 hour of the 11th day (November 1918). For once, a literary adaption worthy of the original.

Netflix’s German-language adaptation broke BAFTA history with a record-breaking 14 nominations and seven wins, including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. MT

NOW ON NETFLIX | All Quiet on the Western Front won numerous awards including 4 Oscars, one for BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM and several BAFTA awards.



The Blood of Jesus (1941) Black History

Dir: Spencer Williams | Cast: Cathryn Caviness, Spencer Williams, Juanita Riley, Reather Hardeman, Rogenia Goldthwaite | US Drama 57’

A remarkable film located between Green Pastures and Cabin in the Sky, made all the more remarkable because it centred on the experience of a woman.

At the end the possibility lingers that the whole thing was a hallucination and the marked disparity in style between individual scenes was swiftly confirmed by a quick search of Wikipedia which reveals that the scenes of heaven were actually lifted from an Italian film made twenty years earlier.

The silent influence can also be discerned by imagery like the angel wearing a huge pair of wings which suddenly appears in a fashion reminiscent of Melies; which also has the advantage of making the contrast with the documentary-style footage of urban black nightlife over eighty years ago doubly striking. @RichardChatten



Never Let Go (1960)

Dir: John Guillermin | Cast: Richard Todd, Peter Sellers, Elizabeth Sellars, Adam Faith, Carol White, Mervyn Johns | UK Drama 90’

This meaner, uglier British version of Bicycle Thieves was a key film both in Peter Sellers’ development as an actor and as a human being, it being his first attempt at a heavy and also because he took the role home with him each night, which placed a terrible strain on his marriage for reasons only too obvious if you watch it.

Modern audiences probably don’t even know what a Ford Anglia was, but the moment when Sellars’ boot comes crashing down on a terrapin it still elicits gasps from people who’ve unflinchingly sat through Peckinpah.

Henchman David Lodge seems suspiciously loyal to Sellers’ character (always addressing him as ‘Lionel’). Kubrick at the time was a huge fan of Sellars so he almost certainly saw this film; is it merely coincidence that both this and ‘Dr Strangelove’ employ ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ on the soundtrack? @RichardChatten



Cette Maison (2021) Viennale 2022

Dir.: Miryam Charles; Cast: Florence Blain Mbaye, Schelby Jean-Baptiste; Canada 2022, 75 min.

Time, space and identity are disconnected in this enigmatic debut feature that looks at the mysterious death of a fourteen year old Haitian girl. First suicide was suspected, but it soon turns out that Tessa was murdered.

Best known for her award-winning short films This House is a highly personal project for Quebecois Miryam Charles because Tessa was her niece. The two-handed narrative of displacement plays out on three time lines: the past, the present and the future. The first segment sees Tessa (Mbaye) trying to comfort her mother Valeska (Jean-Baptiste) who is still grieving ten years after her daughter’s death. Valeska’s voice-over shifts between her guilt at having taken her daughter to Connecticut – instead of their home in Haiti – and a conversation with Tessa that brings some consolation to both of them.

Valeska glides through the rooms of the titular house where the brutal crime was committed. Intercut are some scenes of the women’s Haitian family who are shown celebrating a victory in the 1995 referendum that would have given independence to Quebec, but was narrowly defeated. Tessa is seen complaining and asking the adults to change channel. Another scene sees Tessa and Valeska sitting at a table groaning with Haitian fare, the mother warning her daughter about the spicy delicacies. Equally down to earth are Tessa’s ruminations about a future she was robbed of, in the lush landscapes of Haiti.

But there are some disturbing scenes: Tessa in her coffin, giving a running commentary while her bereaved family looks down on her body shrouded in white. Deeply affecting is also a scene where social workers ask Valeska how she is coping with her bereavement, and mistaking her apparent composure for complacency. Valeska and Tessa clearly had issues to deal with; the mother’s guilt and the daughter’s ghostly appearance are often at odds with their communication – and even though the teenager tries to console her mother, her anxiety about the future is palpable.

DoP Isabelle Stachtchnko underlines the Proustian atmosphere with hazy visual allure, the light filtering through the Venetian blinds giving the couple an eerie almost ghostly appearance. Some may find the enigmatic treatment annoying, but somehow Charles overcomes this in an otherworldly gem that never outstays its welcome. AS


The Innocent (2021)

Wri/Dir: Louis Garrel | Cast: Louis Garrel, Noemie Merland, Roschdy Zem, Anouk Grinberg | France, Romcom, 100′ 

At a loose end emotionally after his wife dies a young man becomes obsessed with his mother’s new lover who has just come out of prison.

The Innocent is Garrel’s most enjoyable outing since turning director. It takes a frivolous idea and spins it into a witty and soulful story that also works as a love letter to Lyon and its gourmet reputation and an homage to the French comedy capers of the sixties with noirish undertones primped by a lively original score from prolific composer Gregoire Hetzel (Incendies) and underpinned by a starry cast of Noemie Merlant, Roschdy Zem and Garrel himself.

Abel (Garrel) certainly has mixed emotions about Michel (Roschdy Zem), convinced that his mum Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) will end up a victim – again – when her new lover returns to his life of crime, although the couple’s marriage certainly seems like a bed of roses. And when they start a new floristry business in Lyon’s trendy Corbas district, Abel, who works in the local aquarium, is appalled to hear them having raunchy sex in the stockroom. Sylvie’s romance reminds him how much he misses his own lost love and he is driven to tears laying flowers on her grave in the shadow of Lyon’s famous Notre Dame de Fourviere, a scene that gives the film its tender touch of melancholy. . But Abel certainly has mixed emotions about Michel – and some of them are downright hostile. So with his spunky new girlfriend Clemence (Merlant) Abel hatches a mischievous plan to spy on Michel at work, and this neurotic quest to dig the dirt on his father in law provides the film with its rich vein of humour. But Michel is no fool and calls their bluff with embarrassing results as we start to wonder whether he really is a reformed character. 

But, true to form, Michel is soon back to his old tricks while fronting as a delivery guy for the furniture shop ‘Conforama’. Abel soon finds himself inveigled into the robbery involving caviar as the movie moves into heist mode, with Clemence saving the day. Garrel skilfully navigates the tonal shifts between comedy crime caper and soulful romcom in a film that ends with mixed emotions of a different kind as the romantic tables are turned. MT

Lynch/Oz (2022)

Dir.: Alexandre O. Philippe; Documentary with Amy Nicholson, Rodney Asher, John Waters, Karyn Kusama, David Lowery, Justin Benson, Aaron Morehead; USA, 108′

Swiss born director Alexandre O. Philippe has created a niche for himself with a clutch of informative film essays exploring late twentieth century American Horror cinema in Memory: The origins of Alien, Hitchcock’s shower scene in 78/52 and Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist. With LYNCH/OZ he takes a look at David Lynch, arguably the world’s most enigmatic living director, with the help of seven filmmakers and one film critic.

Told In six chapters the film goes back through the annuls with extensive clips from The Wizard of Oz and comes to a definitive conclusion: That David Lynch is completely obsessed by this “Dada picture” of Hollywood, directed by Fleming in 1939, the same year he finished Gone with the Wind.

David Lynch is well-known for not wanting to discuss any of his films. But when asked if Wizard influenced him – he replies: “Not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Wizard of Oz“.

Billowing curtains feature heavily in the Lynch archive, so it seems appropriate that each segment of Philippe’s documentary opens and closes with plush green drapes. Critic Amy Nicholson kicks off proceedings which her chapter entitled “Wind”, highlighting the many connections between Wizard and the Lynch oeuvre. There are the ruby slippers (Blue Velvet and the Twin Peak series); the man behind the curtains who (re)appears in Mulholland Drive; Dorothy (sic) Vallens in Blue Velvet and the wind – which captions this chapter – in Eraserhead.

But the focus is on two worlds where the Lynchian protagonists alongside Dorothy and her re-incarnations exist side in a parallel universe: reality and fantasy. Like Lolita, who was forced to live in two disconnected hemispheres: that of the schoolgirl and the mature man’s lover, Mullholland Drive is perhaps he best example of this dichotomy. We watch an ingénue grow into a mature woman and actor, but at the same time, the traumata brought on by the chaos that surrounds her, prevents Lolita from really growing, forcing her to adjust to an alien world of grown-ups in the film business. Meanwhile her friends’ delusions are a state of induced schizophrenia.

David Lowery, in chapter V (“Judy”), wants to save Dorothy and Judy Garland, one of the many doppelgängers that inhabit the Lynchian universe. Garland’s personal tragedy being pre-played in Wizard. In chapter IV (“Maltitudes”), director Karyn Kusama discusses reality and transformation, seen when The Yellow Brick Road morphs into Lynch’s Lost Highway. John Waters is his usual sardonic self, talking about his friendship with Lynch and their parallel careers in chapter III (“Kindred”). And Rodney Asher (“Membranes”, Chapter II), is still fixating on his feature Room 237 and its relationship to Kubrick’s The Shining, trying to expound his thesis of original and remake in general discussion.

The Peter Pan syndrome is mentioned, both in connection with Lynch himself and the Dorothy character. And the evil witch in Wizard is compared to Kurtz in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, him being both wizard and witch, his own destructive doppelgänger.

Some try to make Wizard into a film noir, but it is all genres rolled into one: Musical, thriller, comedy, horror and Sci-fi. Corruption couched in suburban perfection is the overriding theme in the Lynch cycle, and best showcased in the Twin Peaks series. Lynch tries to liberate Dorothy in Twin Peaks:The Return. But Garland was an unhappy Wendy in the adult world of her Peter Pan universe, crushed by the Neverland pirates of the film industry. A happy home-coming only happens in the movies.

DoP Robert Muratore and editor David Lawrence manage the treasure trove of clips and material seamlessly. LYNCH/OZ is a labour of love, and a gratifying compendium of film history. AS


She is Love (2022)

31Wri/Dir: Jamie Adams | US Drama 83′

Ever wondered what happened to Sam Riley after his breakout role as frontman Ian Curtis in the much-acclaimed biopic Joy Division? He plays Idris in this perky romcom that sees a long divorced couple revisiting their past in a bid to salvage the good times. Idris is now in a new relationship with Louise (Marisa Abela) and running a hotel in Cornwall where Patricia (Haley Bennett) checks in for a few day’s holiday. Clearly still very fond of each other their awkwardness at suddenly meeting up again soon gives way to a fun-filled vibe touched with soulfulness as they reminisce, write songs and share the odd tear. Although She is Love treads familiar ground and brings nothing new to the party it provides light-hearted entertainment for just over an hour. MT







Utama (2022)

Dir: Alejandro Loayza Grisi | Bolivia, Doc 87′

All over the world small rural communities are struggling to survive amid the inexorable march of progress particularly in the light of climate change and economic crisis. In his first feature Bolivian filmmaker Alejandro Loayza Grisi transforms this gruelling struggle into a quietly stunning drama with avant-garde vision, working with a cast of local non-pros.

In the arid Bolivian highlands, UTAMA follows an elderly Quechua couple determined to stay in their remote smallholding surrounded by the magnificent highlands of Bolivia hundreds of miles south of La Paz. And who would blame them? Virginio and Sisi have been living the same daily routine for years tending their flock of llamas whose pink-ribboned ears marks them out in one of the film’s inspired and endearing touches.

But this year’s drought has cast a long shadow over their traditional way of life forcing them to reconsider the future and potentially move with family members in the city, particularly in the light of Virginio’s worsening health. The arrival of their teenage grandson accentuates the widening gulf between the hardworking old couple and leisure-driven younger generation. Sisa must decide whether to stay and maintain their traditional way of life or admit defeat. Harnessing the brilliant light of this ethereal part of the world, 3500 meters above sea level, award-winning cinematographer Barbara Alvarez makes each frame a visual masterpiece. MT




A Date in Minsk (2022) Winner Best Film Doclisboa 2022

Dir.: Nikita Lavretksi; Cast: Volha Kavaliova, Nikita Lavretski; Belarus 2021, Drama, 88 min.

Belarus director/producer Nikita Lavretksi is best known as the pioneer of Belarus’ mumblecore, an independent style of filmmaking pioneering by Mark and Jay Duplass, A Date in Minsk is an existential and personal portrait of a couple of filmmakers who try to figure why their relationship failed by pretending to meet each other for the first time.

Lavretski and Volha Kavakiova indulged in “a toxic, interdependent relationship” for eight years continually coming to blows in their personal and professional lives. Shot by DoP Yalia Shatun in one take – no mean feat – the couple first meet first in a rundown billiard hall where it becomes obvious Volha has no idea of how to master the game. With Nikita forced into instructor mode the relationship re-boot gets off to a poor start as they both re-hash the other’s past misdemeanours which are manifold.

Nikita sometimes adopts a self-critical attitude, admitting to his “new friend” that he laughed when his ex fell over on a skiing holiday, landing arse about face in the snow.  During this “first date”, it also emerges that Volha is a games developer, and Nikita used to teach maths, and is now an independent filmmaker pioneering a radical new style.

As the date wears on Nikita becomes more and more contrite: “I am bearing the weight of being a terrible person”. They more they distance themselves from their failed relationship the happier they become; discussing their favourite comics, which, in Volha’s case is James Acaster.  She is also fond of the UK TV series “Peep Show”. Although the dump of a pool hall is anything but stimulating it was better than meeting in a cinema, they both agree as they circle each other like two Western duellists in a Mexican standoff. Shatun’s camera is as shaky as the couple’s faltering morale. Little inserts of the couple’s former life echo Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, and after the two leave the pool hall, the film’s title appears.

On their way to the tube station, Nikita and Volha wax philosophical: do they really belong in Belarus now many of their friends have emigrated. It seems that Nikita is trying to prolong the meet-up for a long as possible, making the most of every minute.  His insecurity is palpable but Volha has already moved on with her life and left the relationship behind.

This is filmmaking as therapy, and we can clearly imagine JL Godard and Anna Karina in the place of Volha and Nikita. Radical but passionate, this is an emotional tour-de-force with improvised dialogue. It leaves Nikita like Orpheus back at the closing doors of the tube station. A Date in Minsk won ‘Best FILM’ at the ‘DocLisboa International Competition’ 2022. An inspired and refreshing choice. AS

City of Lisbon Award for Best International Competition Film. | DOCLISBOA 2022 | OCTOBER 6-16

Marrakech Film Festival | Programme Highlights 2022

Marrakech Film Festival is back after two years under a new artistic director Remi Bonhomie. With its fabulous climate, medieval walled Medina dating back to the Berber empire, exotic palaces and lush gardens – Yves Saint Laurent’s famous Majorelle is the standout – Marrakech is the ideal location for a winter festival celebrating international cinema with an emphasis on Moroccan and MENA film in general. The 19th edition includes an international competition, gala screenings, the Moroccan Panorama, and the 11th continent celebrating innovative film that challenge cinematic boundaries and

Here is the festival line-up:


by Cristèle Alves Meira / Portugal
Principal Cast: Lua Michel, Ana Padrão, Jacqueline Corado, Duarte Pina, Catherine Salée

by Youssef Chebbi / Tunisia
Principal Cast: Fatma Oussaifi, Mohamed Houcine Grayaa, Rami Harrabi, Hichem Riahi, Nabil Trabelsi, Bahri Rahali

by David Depesseville / France
Principal Cast: Mirko Giannini Samuel, Jehnny Beth, Bastien Bouillon

by Makbul Mubarak / Indonesia
Principal Cast: Kevin Ardilova, Arswendy Bening Swara, Haru Sandra, Rukman Rosadi, Yusuf Mahardika

THE BLUE CAFTAN (Le Bleu du Caftan/Azraq al-qaftan)
by Maryam Touzani / Morocco
Principal Cast: Lubna Azabal, Saleh Bakri, Ayoub Missioui

FARAWAY SONG (Cañçao ao Longe)
by Clarissa Campolina / Brazil
Principal Cast: Mônica Maria, Carlos Francisco, Jhon Narvaez, Margô Assis, Matilde Biagi, Ricardo Campos

by Alena Lodkina / Australia
Principal Cast: Nathalie Morris, Hannah Lynch

RED SHOES (Zapatos rojos)
by Carlos Eichelmann Kaiser / Mexico Principal Cast: Eustacio Ascacio, Natalia Solian, Phanie Molina, Irine Herrera

by Anthony Shim / Canada
Principal Cast: Choi Seung-yoon, Ethan Hwang, Dohyun Noel Hwang, Anthony Shim, Hunter Dillon

SAVAGE (Amina)
by Ahmed Abdullahi / Sweden
Principal Cast: Nimco Ahmed Ali, Jamilah Mohamed Kirih, Ariane Castellanos

by Selcen Ergun / Turkey
Principal Cast: Merve Dizdar, Saygın Soysal, Asiye Dinçsoy, Erkan Bektaş, Derya Pınar Ak

A TALE OF SHEMROON (Chevalier noir)
by Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi / Iran
Principal Cast: Iman Sayad Borhani, Payar Allahyari, Masoumeh Beygi, Behzad Dorani

THE TASTE OF APPLES IS RED (Ta’am al-tufah, ahmar)
by Ehab Tarabieh / Syria
Principal Cast: Mariam J. Khoury, Tarik Kopty, Rula Blal, Hussien Rumiah, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Suheil Haddad

THUNDER (Foudre)
by Carmen Jaquier / Switzerland
Principal Cast: Lilith Grasmug, Mermoz Melchior, Benjamin Python, Noah Watzlawick, Sabine Timoteo


Opening Film
by Guillermo del Toro / Mexico et Mark Gustafson / USA
Principal Cast: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Tim Blake Nelson, Burn Gorman, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton
by James Gray / USA
Principal Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Anthony Hopkins

BOY FROM HEAVEN (Walad min al-janna)
by Tarik Saleh / Sweden
Principal Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares, Mohammad Bakri, Makram J. Khoury, Mehdi Dehbi

by Neil Jordan / Ireland
Principal Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston

by Paul Schrader / USA
Principal Cast: Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Quintessa Swindell
by Maha Haj / Palestine
Principal Cast: Amer Hlehel, Ashraf Farah, Anat Hadid, Samir Elias, Cynthia Saleem, Shaden Kanboura

THE SITTING DUCK (La Syndicaliste)
by Jean-Paul Salomé / France

Principal Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Grégory Gadebois, François-Xavier Demaison, Pierre Deladonchamps, Alexandra Maria Lara, Gilles Cohen with the participation of de Marina Foïs, Yvan Attal

by Sally El Hosaini / Egypt/United Kingdom
Principal Cast: Mana Issa, Nathalie Issa, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ahmed Malek, James Krishna Floyd, Ali Suleiman

BURNING DAYS (Kurak Günler)
by Emin Alper / Turkey
Principal Cast: Selahattin Paşali, Ekin Koç, Erol Babaoğlu, Erdem Şenocak, Selin Yeninci

by Marie Kreutzer / Austria
Principal Cast: Vicky Krieps, Florian Teichtmeister, Aaron Friesz, Katharina Lorenz, Jeanne Werner, Alma Hasun

by Fyzal Boulifa / Morocco
Principal Cast: Abdellah El Hajjouji, Aïcha Tebbae, Antoine Reinartz

by Mahesh Narayanan / India
Principal Cast: Kunchacko Boban, Divya Prabha, Lovleen Misra, Danish Husain, Kannan Arunasalam

by Joanna Hogg / United Kingdom
Principal Cast: Tilda Swinton, August Joshi,
Carly-Sophie Davies, Joseph Mydell, Crispin Buxton

(Vanskabte Land | Volga∂a Land)
by Hlynur Pálmason / Iceland
Principal Cast: Elliott Crosset Hove, Ingvar Sigur∂sson, Vic Carmen Sonne, Jacob Hauberg Lohmann, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir

by Philippe Faucon / France
Principal Cast: Théo Cholbi, Mohamed Mouffok, Pierre Lottin, Yannick Choirat, Omar Boulakirba

by Andrea Pallaoro / Italy
Principal Cast: Trace Lysette, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Browning, Joshua Close, Adriana Barraza
by José Miguel Ribeiro / Portugal
Voices: Elisângela Rita, Vitória Soares, Feliciana Délcia Guia, Marinela Furtado, José Adelino Barcelo Carvalho

NO BEARS (Khers nist)
by Jafar Panahi / Iran
Principal Cast: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi, Vahid Mobaseri, Bakhtiar Panjei, Mina Kavani

QUEENS (Reines)
by Yasmine Benkiran / Morocco
Principal Cast: Nisrin Erradi, Nisrine Benchara, Rayhan Guaran, Jalila Talemsi, Mohamed Nider Hamid

RETURN TO SEOUL (Retour à Seoul)
by Davy Chou / Cambodia
Principal Cast: Park Ji-min, Oh Kwang-rok, Guka Han, Kim Sun-young, Yoann Zimmer, Louis-Do Lencquesaing

RHINEGOLD (Rheingold)
by Fatih Akin / Germany
Principal Cast: Emilio Sakraya, Kardo Razzazi, Mona Pirzad, Arman Kashani, Hüseyin Top, Sogol Faghani

SAINT OMER (Saint-Omer)
by Alice Diop / France
Principal Cast: Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanda, Valérie Dréville, Aurélia Petit, Robert Cantarella

UNDER THE FIG TREES (Sous les figues)
by Erige Sehiri / Tunisia
Principal Cast: Fide Fdhili, Feten Fdhili, Ameni Fdhili, Samar Sifi, Leila Ouhebi
BEIRUT AL-LIKA (Beirut, the Encounter)
by Borhane Alaouié / Lebanon
Principal Cast: Haitham El Amine, Nadine Acoury, Renée Deek, Refaat Haidar, Hussam Sabbah, Najwa Haidar, Rafic Najem (1981)

DRY GROUND BURNING (Mato seco em chamas)
by Joana Pimenta / Portugal
and Adirley Queiros / Brazil
Principal Cast: Joana Darc Furtado, Léa Alves Da Silva, Andreia Vieira, Débora Alencar, Gleide Firmino, Mara Alves

by Paz Encina / Paraguay
Principal Cast: Anel Picanerai, Curia Chiquejno Etacoro, Ducubaide Chiquenoi, Basui Picanerai Etacore, Lucas Etacori

by Kivu Ruhorahoza / Rwanda
Principal Cast: Mediatrice Kayitesi, Aline Amike, Yves Kijyana, Cedric Gisubizo

by Adnane Baraka / Morocco
With: Mohamed Oubakha, Abderrahman Ibhi, Lahcen Oubakha, Youssef Oubakha

by Rania Stephan / Lebanon
With: Samar Yazbek
MARINER OF THE MOUNTAINS (Marinheiro das Montanhas)
by Karim Aïnouz / Brazil

MUNA MOTO (The Child of Another)
by Jean-Pierre Dikongué-Pipa / Cameroon Principal Cast: David Endéné, Arlette Din Bell, Philippe Abia, Gisèle Dikongué-Pipa, Jeanne Mvondo (1975)

by Albert Serra / Spain
Principal Cast: Benoît Magimel, Pahoa Mahagafanau, Marc Susini, Matahi Pambrun, Alexandre Melo

by Ainara Vera / France

by Mohanad Yaqubi / Palestine, Morocco

by Alain Gomis / Senegal


All is Vanity (2022) London Film Festival 2022

Wir/Dir: Marcos Mereles | UK Drama 72′

Made on a shoestring and none the worse for it Marcos Mereles’ watchable little indie drama imagines what really happens from the perspective of the crew and cast when a fashion shoot in a London warehouse goes off the rails. Naturally the egos and idiosyncrasies of the entire crew soon surface and have to be taken into consideration when the production – and the film itself – goes into meltdown, never to return.

Sid Phoenix brings a touch of Alan Partridge to proceedings as ‘the photographer’ taking control of the team. His drole and offbeat tongue-in-cheek performance is the best thing about this slim feature debut that often feels like a graduation film. The rest of the team lack originality character-wise despite some decent performances: his volunteer assistant (Yaseen Aroussi) is keen but clueless, the make-up artist (Rosie Steel) disappears during the shoot, and the model (Isabelle Bontrer) is bored to tears. Mereles clearly has good ideas and needs to focus on bringing structure and a more engaging dramatic arc to his next production.  MT


Made in Prague Festival 2022

The popular, multi-genre festival Made in Prague returns to London for its 26th year. Representing one of the oldest national celebrations of European culture in the UK,
the festival presents an exciting programme covering film, music, science, visual art and literature across London and beyond between 1 November and 4 December 2022.

This year’s highlights feature:

Olmo Omerzu’s wry black comedy Bird Atlas, often quoted ‘Czech Republic’s answer to the smash hit series Succession‘.

Kunstkamera, Czech surrealist and filmmaker Jan Švankmajer’s lastest film introducing the artist’s unique private collection of artefacts to the world.

Powerful documentary 107 Mothers, an exquisite docudrama telling the stories of mothers and pregnant woment in a Ukrainian prison.

Gustav Machatý’s 1929 silent gem Erotikon + live accompaniment by UK pianist Stephen Horne at the BFI Southbank.

Hommage to the great Czech film composer Zdeněk Liška available on BFI Player.

a number of critically acclaimed contemporary Czech films, many of which will be introduced by their directors.


Occupation | Okupace (2021) Made in Prague Festival 2022

Dir.: Michal Nohejl; Cast: Antonie Formanova, Aleksey Gorbunov, Martin Pechlat, Otokar Brousek, Tomas Jelabek, Cyril Dobry Vlastimil Venclik; Czech Republic 2021, 98 min.

This bizarre absurdist chamber from Czech director/co-writer Michal Nohejl (Fobie) sees the crew and cast of a Prague theatre imagine the emotional aftermath to the invasion of their country by Russian and Warsaw Pact troops in 1968.

Okupace never really escapes its stagey stetting – the bar of the theatre – Nohejl borrowing freely from Milos Forman’s Fireman’s Ball – but adding a critical nuance in terms of the historical traumata of the old Czechoslovakia.

For many Czechs the Munich tragedy of 1938 comes back to haunt them in 1968. In both cases, there were no heroes to save the day and the drunken arguments of the cast and the play’s director (Brousek) are very much a reaction to this lack of muscular leadership. Pavel Neskudia (Pechlat) plays the artistic boss of the theatre. The play – about the Czech communist martyr Julius Fucik – is hailed as ‘mediocre’ by all present. Neskudia is interviewed by the enigmatic beauty Milada (Formanova), who heaps praise on him for having returned from Western exile after the invasion. Unfortunately Neskudia, like everyone one else in the room, is slightly paranoid, and accuses the woman of being part of the secret service STB, sent out to spy on him.

One of the actors has remained in his SS costume and this freaks out a drunken Russian officer (Ukranian actor Aleksey Gorbunov), who arrives desperate to get even more drunk. He accosts Milada and a scuffle breaks out. Somebody decides it would be good idea to pretend that the Russian has fallen into the hands of the Nazis, represented by the “SS man”. Violence escalates, and the artists leave the Russian for dead. A Russian patrol then turns up inquiring where their officer is, and the Czechs’ total denial of his whereabouts leaves the group in a precarious position: they know very well what will happen to them if the truth comes out. Fuelled by more alcohol, the  troupe decide to aspire to the heroes the country never had.

Inspired lighting effects from DoP Jan Baset Stritezsky make the bar look like something out of Visconti’s The Damned. He then conjures up pure evil with his shadow-play as the violence escalates. Performances are decent with the protagonists falling out with each other over the violence they have brought upon themselves. Despite all this the production fails to soar above the confines of its one-location setting. Occupation remains very much a filmed theatre play which does require a basic knowledge of Czechoslovakia’s history. The war in Ukraine also plays a role, underlining how just much Czech people feel let down by their own country. Occupation is a brave and avant-garde endeavour which doesn’t quite live up to its intentions. AS


Charlotte (2022)

Dir.: Èric Warin, Tahir Rana; Animated feature with the voices of Keira Knightley, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent, Sam Clafin, Eddie Marsan, Sophie Okonedo, Mark Strong; Canada/Belgium/France 2021; 92 min.

The soapy main image may lead you to believe that Charlotte is just another children’s animation. Quite the contrary. Èric Warin and Tahir Rana’s film is a film of substantial gravitas in the style of Studio Ghibli, a lyrical storybook based on the life of German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) whose autobiographical work entitled “Life? or Theatre?, depicting her own life, may very well constitute the first graphic novel.

Charlotte, voiced by Keira Knightley, would be blighted by tragedy. Growing up in Berlin where she studied art prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, her mother Franziska committed suicide when she was only eight, although Charlotte was under the impression that the death was due to influenza. Charlotte grew up fearing she would meet the same fate, as suicide was common in a family who suffered from poor mental health. Her father, a surgeon, had then married her mother’s sister, the opera singer Paula Salomon Lindberg.

A love affair with the much older, married, Alfred Wolfson (Strong) coloured Charlotte’s years at art school. But after the “Kristall Nacht” tragedy of 1938, she moved to the South of France where her depressive grandmother (Blethyn) was under the care of her  grandfather Ludwig Grünwald (Broadbent), and would take her own life, like Charlotte’s mother had done years earlier.  In the early 1940s, Charlotte found refuge with American Ottile Moore (Okonedo), who helped many Jewish refugees. Charlotte would entrust her prolific creative output of over seven hundred works to local doctor George Morrides who was able to present Charlotte’s father with the paintings in 1947. He had survived with Paula in hiding in Amsterdam.

Charlotte’s 35-page confession was published in 2015. It emerged that she had poisoned her grandfather after he insisted on her sharing his bed, and threatened to call the police, as Charlotte was only given leave to remain in France as his carer. She sent the confession to Wolfson, but he never received it. Brief happiness came with her marriage to Alexander Nagler (Clafin) in 1943. The couple were expecting a child when she was deported to the camp in Drancy, and Nagler to a forced labour camp where he died the following year. Charlotte Salomon arrived in Auschwitz on 10. October 1943, and was killed the same day, aged 26, and five months pregnant.

Quite why the filmmakers chose to set this tragic tour-de-force in soft-focused pastels remains unclear. Perhaps they had in mind the Studio Ghibli style of a narrative open to two-way interpretation: light and dark. But there is nothing light-hearted about Charlotte’s story and Keira Knightley’s “little-girl” voice puts a trivial spin on epic art work that unfolded in the midst of genocide.

Salomon’s oeuvre is now exhibited at the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam. Charlotte is a dubious undertaking but if it helps to raise awareness of Salomon’s prolific output and attracts new admirers it has fulfilled its purpose. AS


Little Axel (2021) Raindance Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Fabien Greenberg, Bard Kjøge Rønning; Documentary with Axel Joachim Jensen, Marianne Ihlen, Leonard Cohen, Nick Broomfield, Axel B. Jensen; Norway 2021, 57′

A new and heart-breaking documentary about Axel Joachim Jensen (*1960), who has spent more than forty years in Oslo’s Gaustadt Psychiatric Hospital, being treated with anti-psychotic drugs. Best known for being the son of Norwegian writer Axel Buchardt Jensen (1932-2003), aka the Norwegian Jack Keouac, and Marianne Ihlen, muse of Leonard Cohen, who both died a few months apart in 2016, his life has been tragic, to say the least.

In the 1960s, the Greek island of Hydra was a paradise for sex, alcohol and drugs and haven where artists and would-be artists had the time of their lives. When Marianne Ihlen and her new-born son Axel Joachim Jensen arrived on the island, Marianne presumed that Axel sr would be there to raise his son. But the author had already left with another female admirer leaving Marianne and Axel in the lurch. Enter Canadian writer and poet Leonard Cohen, who would for over twenty years be Axel’s more or less caring father. Cohen paid Alex’s eduction at the anti-authoritarian Summerhill in Suffolk, and later in a much stricter Swiss boarding school.

But Axel, like many children in the artist colony, roamed free from an early age. Kids were present at the parties, and the partner changes, and Axel started smoking when he was seven. Later he turned to hashish and, when he met his biological father Axel sr for the first and last time as a young teenager, Axel sr then introduced him to LSD, profoundly affecting his emotional development.

When Axel jr was nine, he and a friend of his – just three years older – travelled 260 km around Greece without any supervision. India was his next traumatic playground, at the tender age of fifteen. By his late teens he was institutionalised in Gaustadt after spending time with Cohen in New York where the international star spent the nights at the famous Chelsea Hotel. His relationship with Ihlen had ended after eight years, but the two remained friends ’til the end of their lives.

Filmmaker Nick Broomfield, who directed Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love, is one of many witnesses interpreting the environment where Axel jr and other children grew up. But the main reason why Axel went off the rails was his father, author Axel. B Jensen, whose comments on marriage and child-rearing are bizarre to say the least. He was a patient of the anti-establishment psychiatrist David Cooper, who rated his mental state as borderline.

As for Axel Jensen’s legal guardian, who encouraged his ‘participation’ in the documentary, one can only guess for motives: Axel comes across as a shell of a person, after being prescribed forty years (and counting) of mind-altering drugs. His mother was the only person who regularly visited him in Graustadt, but she too had a new family to look after.

Little Axel’s childhood may have had an enviable childhood but his personality was simply too sensitive to withstand the abrupt changes his life took. This is one of most depressing documentaries for a long time exploring unintentional childhood neglect leading to lifelong psychiatric care. Poor Axel was well-nourished and provided for materially but deprived of the stable and unconditional love he deserved. AS


Robe of Gems (2022)

Dir/scr: Natalia López Gallardo. Mexico/Argentina/US. 2022. 118 mins

A visually striking, thought-provoking and disquieting feature debut from Natalia López Gallardo who joins a talented array of female filmmakers such as Tatiana Huezo (Prayers for the Stolen)and Fernanda Valadez (Identifying Features) in bringing more intriguing stories from Latin America.

Isabel (Nailea Norvind) and her family live with her mother (Monica Poggio) in a rambling estancia where the threat of gang violence seems a million miles away from their languorous existence, although for their housekeeper, Maria (Antonia Olivares), it is very real and possibly the reason for the recent disappearance of her sister. Isabel is going through some kind of emotional trauma of her own after a potential marital disagreement. At a loose end and in empathy with Maria, she decides to make some discrete but ultimately ill-advised inquiries of her own.

In a bid to be enigmatic Robe of Gems loses its impact drifting around nebulously between a police thriller and a stylistic arthouse drama until finally gaining some shape in the second hour. The connections between the characters are never fully explained, their lives gradually fading into view in the woozy heat of a Mexican summer, the focus on mid-shots and close-ups only adding to the air of mystery in a drama where a great deal happens off-camera, in a series of episodes. Beyond the artistic flourishes though, few clues are given to enable understanding or feeling for the rather buttoned-up characters. That all said, López Gallardo must be applauded for telling a sinister story with such a lightness of touch and without resorting to violence; the final scene is quietly devastating. MT



Two films by Wendy Toye | British Directors

Born in London on 1 May 1917, Wendy Toye made her stage debut at the age of three when she appeared at the Royal Albert Hall as a member of a juvenile dance troupe. Her solo turn as part of the act brought her considerable publicity, and Toye began to perform in music halls and charity shows with many of the day’s top stage stars. By the age of nine, she appeared at the Palladium in a ballet she had choreographed herself, entitled The Japanese Legend of the Rainbow. Toye was soon in much demand as a choreographer and was invited to perform with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, where she met the film-maker/artist Jean Cocteau.

In 1931, she made her first film appearance, appearing in Anthony Asquith’s Dance Pretty Lady, but was more interested in the technical process of filmmaking than in acting. By 1942 she was arranging the dances for The Young Mr Pitt (where she was befriended by director Carol Reed, editor David Lean, cameraman Ronald Neame and actors Robert Morley and Richard Attenborough) and in 1946, she served as choreographer on Herbert Wilcox and Anna Neagle’s Piccadilly Incident. During this period, Wendy’s talents as a stage director meant she was in increasingly high demand.

On meeting the British producer George K. Arthur, Toye expressed interest in directing a short, The Stranger Left No Card (1953), for him. Made on a budget of £3,000, the film was a delightfully sinister parable which won the best short film award at The Cannes Film Festival and impressed Alexander Korda sufficiently for him to offer Toye a contract.

Toye directed the ‘In the Picture’ episode of Three Cases of Murder (co-d. David Eady, George More O’Ferrall, 1953), The Teckman Mystery (1954) and the domestic comedy, Raising A Riot (1955) for Korda until his sudden death in 1956 saw her contract shifted to Rank. There, she made All for Mary (1955) and the nautical comedy True as a Turtle (1957). Both films did well at the box office, but Toye had to wait until 1962 for her next film assignment, We Joined The Navy; another seagoing comedy. Toye’s last theatrical film was a short entitled The King’s Breakfast (1963), after which she turned to directing television drama, as well as continuing to be celebrated for her extensive work in the theatre.

Although Wendy Toye complained that Rank refused to support her desire to direct projects more ambitious than her comedies, she took pride in the fact that she never went over budget, and that her responsible example paved the way for other women to enter the field. She continued directing stage comedies until the mid 1990s, when she retired, with a lifetime of work in the theatre and film to her considerable credit.


Toye directs a thriller by Francis Durbridge that sees a writer fall in love with the sister of a pilot missing during during a test flight. Despite being superficially set against a backdrop of Cold War intrigue, nobody seems to be taking an ambling anecdote about a missing pilot terribly seriously. It might well have worked better as a B movie, still with the same supporting cast, of whom the most entertaining by far is Duncan Lamont as a sardonic detective involved in the case.@RichardChatten


It’s not every day you see a film starring Kenneth More, Lloyd Nolan and Mischa Auer (the latter playing a double role)! Directed by a woman, scripted under a pseudonym by a blacklistee from a 1959 novel by John Winton that vouchsafed a few home truths about Naval Intelligence, set against the backdrop of a revolution abroad and released the month after the Cuban missile crisis.

It it all sounds fascinating on paper, but evidently wasn’t considered any threat by the authorities since the makers were permitted the use of the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and had the money to lavish upon widescreen & colour location work in Villefranche-sur-Mer. @RichardChatten



Nocebo (2022)

Dir: Lorcan Finnegan | Wri: Garret Shanley | Cast: Eva Green, Mark Strong, Chai Fonacier, Billie Gadsdon | Ireland, thriller 90′

A blood-sucking insect is a metaphor for the exploitative fashion industry in this ingenious horror outing starring Mark Strong and Eva Green. She plays a fashion designer suffering from a mysterious illness that frustrates her husband (Strong), the pragmatic voice of reason, and leaves their little daughter Bobs -a stunning Billie Gadsdon – totally distraught. Help arrives in the form of a Diana, a Filipino carer (Fonacier) who uses traditional healing to reveal a terrible truth in this latest riff on the nanny sub-genre.

Best known for his distinctive sophomore feature Vivarium Irish director Lorcan Finnegan plunders Filipino folklore and may have had his fellow countryman Sheridan Le Fanu’s The Evil Guest in mind for this incendiary thriller set in the contemporary and contentious world of children’s fashion. Once again, as in Vivarium, the focus is a married couple in crisis, this time a well-off professional couple: Chrissi (Green) and Felix (Strong) who live in a vast Victorian mansion in smart part of Dublin, but Bobs comes second to their high-flying careers.

The marriage is not without its flaws and the opening scene that sees the couple  arguing about who should pick Bobs up from school – as they climb into their top of the range cars in their gravelled driveway – will strike a familiar cord for parents who both work. Eva Green’s delicate – almost feral – beauty is just right for the role of Chrissi a highly-strung children’s designer whose health takes a turn for the worse after a difficult phone-call provokes a series of ghastly hallucinations featuring a dog festooned in tics.

Feeling generally under the weather Chrissi completely forgets hiring Diana (Fonacier), a spooky Filipino helper who arrives on the doorstep making herself immediately at home. Felix resents her intrusive way about the house calling her “a backward snake oil merchant”. Diana is indeed a mixed blessing – she cooks sumptuous meals and provides Chrissi with symptom relief – but always with the sinister caveat “for the time being”. A sinuous use of slow-mo and an exotic score ramps up our fears for the family, and flashbacks reveal Diana’s troubled past toiling in a Filipino sweatshop. Garret Shanley’s well-thought out script touches on all the right notes with convincing characters, a backstory that feels real and a satisfying plot resolution, and although the finale is a touch overwrought Nocebo is a slick and gripping watch. MT


Pamfir (2022) Raindance Film Festival

Wri/Dir.: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk; Cast: Oleksandre Yatsentyuk, Stanislaw Potiak, Solomiia Kyrylova, Yelena Khoknahlatkina, Miroslav Makoviychuk, Ivan Sharan, Oleksandr Yarema; Ukraine/France/Poland/Chile/ Germany/Luxembourg 2022, 102 min.

Pamfir may look like the typical gangster movie, but it turns out to be quite different from any other genre outing: a noirish fairytale Western where the Indians have been replaced by wild beasts from the past. It all unfolds during the folkloric Malanka festival in the wild and inhospitable western part of Ukraine’s Romanian borderlands around where the director grew up, .

Leonid (Yatsentyuk), also known as Pamfir – which means stone returns home to his village after a stint in Poland. His wife Olena (Kyrylova) and teenage son Nazar (Potiak) have really missed him and their re-union is emotional. But not so with his father Pamfir’s (Makoviychuk), who lost an eye after a fight with his son. Victor’s grandmother (Khoknahlatkina) tries, with the help of her younger son Victor (Sharan), to bring the feuding men together, but the feud continues.

It soon turns out the whole family have been involved in smuggling contraband to Romania, with Pamfir as the ringleader, earning the nickname of “Godfather”. He now wants to go straight but his attempt to reintegrate into mainstream society are scuppered when his son Nazar burns down the local church, destroying not only Pamfir’s documents bit making his father liable to pay compensation. Working with his sidekick , “The Rat”, he continues his illegal trading with Romania unnaware of being watched by another gangster who goes by the name of Oletsa (Yarema) and his men. Oletsa not only runs the smuggling operations, but also the church. Oletsa’s men attack Pamfir, asking the crimelord to do “one last run” to pay back his debts. But, as usual, there is a snag: the tunnel, leading to Romania is narrow, and only Nazar will be able to get through.

The focus then turns to Olena whose back-breaking job at her father in law’s factory, keeping the family afloat, also contributed to the loss of her first child. She now becomes more and more instrumental in ending Pamfir’s smuggling career once and for all.

DoP Nikita Kuzmenko’s heightens the atmosphere of terror that propels Pamfir in primal almost poetic journey. The camera is constantly on the prowl in long tracking shots through foggy woods encompassing vast widescreen landscapes and ancient forests that belong in a fairytale. And this is exactly what the director is aiming for: the villagers’ straw costumes during the carnival celebrations; their wooden masks, garishly painted, bring to mind the ghastly ritual of pagan festivals and the fear generated by The Wicker Man. The ghastly brutality of this atavistic festival resurges through Pamfir’s effort to liberate himself from the violence of the modern day. Gorgeous to watch, full of twisty revelations, PAMFIR is a stunning feature debut. AS


Winners (2022)

Dir/Wri: Hassan Nazer. UK. 2022. 85 mins.

Cinema Paradiso comes to mind and is actually mentioned in this sunny tribute to cinema and the Iranian directors past and present from award-winning filmmaker Hassan Nazer. It follows the adventures of a young film fan who comes across a shiny Oscar like statuette in the dusty wasteland surrounding his village in the remote desert of Kavir, and decides to trace its owner. The film also stars Mohammad Naji from Majid Majidi’s 2007 Song of Sparrows another delightful drama that also charmed the birds off the trees.

Iranians love their cinema so much so that there are no less than three newspapers dedicated entirely to the subject. And this delicate lyrical fable echoes with the spirit of Iranian cinema and filmmakers such as Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi , Majid Majidi, and many who languish in prison. Hassan Nazer made the film in Scotland where he arrived as a refugee two decades ago.

It opens when keen cineaste and Afghan refugee Yahya (Parsa Maghami) watching Jafar Panahi’s 2015 Golden Bear-winning Taxi while his widowed mother is imploring him to go to bed. During the day he works for Nasser Khan (Naji hiding from the authorities) on one of Tehran’s scrapyards for a minimum wage. In the dusty rubble he then discovers the statuette which has already had a colourful history of its own, that started in the back of a taxi and finished in the middle of the road via the local post office. Nazer packs a great deal into his charismatic feature and the joie de vivre it generates makes it a success. MT


1976 (2022)

Dir.: Manuela Martelli; Cast: Aline Kuppenheim, Nicolas Sepulveda, Hugo Medina, Alejandro Goic, Carmen Gloria Martinez, Gabriel Urzua; Vilma Verdejo, Yasna Ríos; Chile 2022, 97 min.

Another classically styled arthouse drama taking us back to the turbulent 1970s in Latin America seen through the eyes of a well to do Santiago woman, under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.

1976 is a first feature for Chilean director/co-writer Manuela Martelli who works with a predominantly female crew and seasoned actress Aline Kuppenheim (A Fantastic Woman) who gives a sensitive performance in this lowkey but thematically vibrant domestic drama as 49 year old Carmen.

Carmen is redecorating the family’s holiday home near the beach in time for the season. As she chooses paint for the walls the sound of gunshot is clearly audible in the nearby street. Back at the house, she meets the local priest Father Sanchez (Medina) who has been involving her in various charity efforts, and his latest suggestion is that she takes in a young homeless man called Elias (Sepulveda).

Elias has been classified as a fugitive from Pinochet’s ‘Secret Police’, and is currently sheltering in one of the out-houses. He seems mild-mannered enough although in need of medical attention for a bullet in his thigh. Carmen always wanted to be a doctor but her father would not allow her to follow in his path, but somehow Elias brings out her caring side, and her recent Red Cross stint certainly comes in handy to took after the young man.

Father Sanchez later reveals that Elias was put in charge of two children after the Pinochet putsch, but that he panicked and became traumatised when they were later murdered. Carmen’s three grandchildren arrive with their mother and the rest of the family, the kids complaining that their favourite TV programme has been interrupted by a broadcast from Pinochet, adds further context. During all this, Carmen looks after Elias, tending to his bullet wound, soon finding herself assisting Elias is some of his underground work. She meets Silvia (Ríos), a fellow conspirator who gives her the code name “Cleopatra”, and sets up a meeting with another link in the resistance chain, who want to spirit Elias away.

Carmen’s husband Miguel, a doctor in Santiago, arrives at the house, much more interested in his college Osvaldo, who has chosen Miguel (Goic) to “re-organise” the hospital where one of the doctors has already fled the country. But when a young girl is found dead near the beach, and the writing is on the wall. Carmen’s next rendezvous with a parish priest does not go according to plan, and she is followed in her car which is later ransacked. Carmen knows she is living on borrowed time, and her maid Julita (Verdejo) soon confirms Carmen worst fears in a rather spooky scene at dusk. Will Carmen’s status and marriage save her?

The main thrust of the story is the developing relationship between Elias and Carmen. Keeping her distance at first and seeing Elias as just another charge to take care of for father Sanchez, the memory of her thwarted career and the negligence and nagging by her husband (who sees her as a ‘trophy’ to show her off to family and friends) changes the dynamic between them.

The tipping point for Carmen is another dig by Miguel, due to her wearing a dress showing off her figure: Carmen cuts the dress into pieces, but also ends all emotional ties to her status. She asks Elias, jokingly, if she will be remembered after the downfall of the Pinochet regime, and he claims a hospital will be named after her. But Elias is also aware of the danger for Carmen: “Tell them you never saw me, that you did not know my name. They will believe you”.

DoP Yarará Rodgriguez lets the camera glide over the beautiful coastal landscape, but his close-ups of Carmen are equally impressive, highlighting her personal transformation. She is anything but a dutiful member of the underground: thanks to Father Sanchez, she has stumbled into something much more dangerous than she can imagine, but she also has a point to prove: her rebellion is personal, disobeying her husband and all he believes in has become her tool for resistance. Aline Kuppenheim is brilliant as Carmen, supporting by an impressive cast. 1976 is a small gem, made on a shoestring it brings together the personal and the political in a subversive way. Maria Portugal’s mournful score very much underlines the lyrical narrative. AS


Confetti (2021)

Dir.: Ann Hu; Cast: Harmonie He, Zhu Zhu, Amy Irving, Helen Slater, Li Ya Nan; USA/China 2021, 97 min.

Dyslexia is a common condition that bears no relation to intelligence. In CONFETTI Chinese-American writer/director Ann Hu presents an engaging, humanistic drama about the struggle for adequate education for dyslexic students in two vastly different cultures and countries namely China and the USA.

In China where dyslexia is barely recognised, Mei Mei (He), daughter of Lan (Zhu Zhu) and Lao Chen (Ya Nan) is teased and bullied at her small-town primary school. Lan, who is illiterate, fears her daughter will ostracised by society, having to do a menial job as a cleaner, like her illiterate mother. When Thomas, an American teacher, meets Mei Mei, he immediately suspects she is dyslexic: his sister displayed the same symptoms, but still went on to enjoy an academic career. Lan discusses the educational offering for dyslexic students in the USA and proposes she and Mei Mei emigrate there to benefit from these schools.

In New York Lan and Mei Mei stay with Thomas’ friend Helen McCellan (Irving), a wheelchair-bound writer who has lost her close family in a car crash, and is just in the process of finishing her book. The search for a suitable school gets underway in a much more positive way than in China where the authorities were blatantly ill-informed and unhelpful. But in the US money is the key to accessing schools and social services. Eventually, Lan and Helen come across ‘Horizon’, an institution catering for students with all kinds of special needs who are prepared to consider taking Mei Mei providing the child gets a neuro-psychological evaluation from a registered psychiatrist. And this does not come cheaply. But this means that Helen can connect personally with Dr. Wurmer (Slater), head of the ‘Horizon’; but Lan’s patience has run out, and she want to fly home to China.

As always in Hu’s feature, details play a big role; and culture clash is not just linguistic but brought about by very different expectations between the two countries, Hu letting sentimentality creep into a narrative whose structure does not leave much room for  ambiguity. Still, Confetti – named after the colourful paper rain symbolising Mei Mei’s attempt to deal with language – is a worthwhile feature, but not one of her most intriguing as a director. AS


Beyond the White (2021)

Dir: Evgeny Kalachikhin | Wri: Anastasia Gorokhova | USSR, Doc, 90′

If your idea of heaven is vast open seascapes and silence then Beyond the White is a documentary that may appeal

Cut off from civilisation the Northern Russian villages of the Kola Peninsula are scattered along the shores of the White Sea a southern inlet of the Berents Sea. Here on the Tersky coast wild white horses roam freely, rather like in the Camargue, and bring to mind Andrey Konchalovskiy’s award-winning film The Postman’s White Nights (2014).

In this remote location the twenty or thirty inhabitants live in traditional blue painted wooden houses surrounded by water, forests, and sand. Most have now moved to the larger cities and the major port of Arkhangelskaya. The weather-beaten inhabitants that remain live in blue-painted wooden houses and survive from dwindling fish stocks -mostly herring – home-baked bread and pies that are cooked in kiln-like ovens built into the chimney.

The focus is a fire that has been burning across the flat steppe like-terrain providing cause for concern reflected in Alessandra Medianikova’s incendiary images. But Anastasia Gorokhova avoids a traditional narrative relying instead on the stunning landscapes themselves and an often epic soundscape to paint a vivid panoramic picture of the locals and their animals – including mosquitoes- living in communion with nature in the wild beauty of the primitive elements at the end of the world. MT




No Bears (2022)

Dir: Jafar Panahi | Cast: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi, Vahid Mobaseri, Bakhtiar Panjei, Mina Kavani, Narjes Delaram, Reza Heydari | Iran, 104’

Two love stories intercept in this latest from Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. No Bears sees him play arbiter and remote filmmaker – from a laptop in exile in his own country – in a deceptively simple political docudrama set on the Turkish border with Iran: Borders being the major thematic concern.

The gulf between tradition and modernity, city and countryside, fact and superstition is expounded and questioned with dark humour and a lightness of touch as the director tries to get on with shooting his film amid dodgy wifi connections. It follows Zara (Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Penjei) who are hoping to find freedom in Europe. In the process of securing fake passports, Zara makes it clear that they must leave together – or the deal is off. So much for love!.

From a remote village just over the border in Iran, Panahi is monitoring proceedings from his laptop with the help of Ghanbar (Vahid Mobaseri), his earnest assistant director who suddenly leaves to attend a wedding ceremony. Panahi asks him to film the ceremony involving a couple who have been betrothed since the cutting of the newborn bride to be’s umbilical cord. But another man has become involved with the bride and she has jumped at the opportunity to go him to Tehran causing much concern for the traditional local community who have resorted to smuggling, as farming no longer makes any money since the drought.

While desperately trying to keep a low profile from the authorities Panahi finds himself drawn into village politics with the local sheriff (Hashemi) claiming the director has taken a photo of the two putative elopers – witnessed by a little boy. Although Panahi is adamant to the contrary, giving his photo-card as proof, he gradually finds himself ‘persona non grata’ amongst the locals. And as the tone grows progressively more urgent for the troubled lovers Panahi ponders not only freedom of movement but also creative and intellectual liberty in his beleaguered nation, and further afield. No Bears is no great shakes from a visual point of view but carries a potent sociopolitical message. MT

No Bears BFI London Film Festival 2022 | October 5-16 in cinemas and on BFI Player On general release nationwide from Friday, November 11.


Live Now Pay Later (1962)

Dir: Jay Lewis | UK Drama 104’

One of the most grievous tragedies of British film preservation was the wiping by the BBC of the original TV version of David Mercer’s ‘A Suitable Case for Treatment’, but a good idea of what Ian Hendry’s performance was like can be gained from this long-forgotten gem described by Raymond Durgnat as “a key film, a worthy harbinger of Joan Littlewood’s ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing’.

Hendry was nominated for a BAFTA for most promising newcomer in a leading role, but soon after swiftly declined into alcoholism before the sixties seriously got under way. Knowing this adds further poignancy to this reminder of the era when Harold MacMillan was telling the public that “most of you have never had it so good” and £14.09d was a sun large enough to be worth sending bailiffs in to recover.

The script by Jack Trevor Story contains cynical lines like Hendry’s admission that he preys upon people “I con into buying things they don’t need and can’t afford”; notably Liz Fraser as one of his victims whose misfortunes culminate in a truly harrowing scene when men come to repossess her furniture while her husband is in the middle of impressing the chairman of the local golf club. @RichardChatten


Copenhagen Architecture Film Festival 2022

Copenhagen Architecture Festival x 2022 presents its most comprehensive edition to date: more than 100 events throughout the Danish capital will offer the opportunity to contemplate and explore what ‘Sense of Place’ means for architecture and the built environment today in films, exhibitions and debates with a host of international guests.

Film highlights include Claire Denis VENDREDI SOIR (2002) that sees Vincent Lindon and Valerie Lamercier star as strangers drawn to each other in an erotically-charged encounter on one of the hottest nights of the summer in Paris. The streets are jammed with traffic but a balmy limbo descends on the couple who are like ships that gently collide in the starry night. Claire Denis uses her unique recording and detailed cinematic language to tell a very sensual story.

The film is presented by Mathias Ruthner, film editor at Øjets Bibliotek. (Introduction in Danish)

Vendredi Soir / Claire Denis, 2002 / France / French with English subtitles / 90 min. + introduction

Vendredi Soir (2002)



Allowing hostile and friendly encounters, the street is the bedrock of modern society; a motif so deeply engrained in the narratives and images of culture and a centuries-old engine of Western architectural and modernist theory.

6/10 The Dangerous Street I: MEAN STREETS by Martin Scorsese

7/10 The erotic street: FRIDAY NIGHT  by Claire Denis

10/10 The Dangerous Street II: MANILA IN THE CLAWS OF LIGHT by Lino Brocka

15/10 The Social Street: DO THE RIGHT THING by Spike Lee

16/10 The anti-social street: NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS by Kleber Mendonca Filho

16/10 The Dilapidated Street: BEHIND THE MASK OF JOY by Georg Pabst



Emily (2022)

Dir.: Frances O’Connor; Cast: Emma Mackey, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething, Fionn Whitehead, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Adrian Dunbar; UK/US 2022, 130 min.

This big screen imagining of Emily Bronte’s life is a wild affair that will offend scholars but delight cinema audiences. Emma Mackey is dynamite as the 18th century poet and novelist who dares to have sex with a curate and revolts against patriarchy and her two sisters, who are only too happy to conform.

Emily is a rebel with a cause: the early death of her mother has seen two of her Brontë sisters Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling), Anne (Gething) cow-towing to their stern, rather blustery father Patrick (Dunbar), who regularly hammers home the word of God from the pulpit. His Byronesque son Branwell (Whitehead) will become a role model for Emily: she copies his tattoos proclaiming ‘freedom of mind’ and turns a blind eye to his opium habit which will be his undoing.

The new curate William Weightman (Jackson-Cohen) is handsome beyond belief but deeply wedded to God. All her sisters swoon over William, but only Emily takes action: their affair is passionate and sweepingly romantic, firing up her senses and sublimating real life into her poems and famous, and only, novel ‘Wuthering Heights’.

Alas, William gets cold feet, the fear of God and Patrick, his stand-in on Earth, plays on his conscience, driving him to terminate their affair. But on the eve of Emily’s departure with Charlotte to Brussels, the curate rues his decision, and gives a letter to Branwell, begging Emily to stay and be his love. The remainder of the drama plays out in this mood of utter devastation of mind and body, before the final triumph of ‘Wuthering Heights’.

The plot turns on the letter episode: O’Connor does not go with the submissive suffering of the three women – she hurtles headlong into Thomas Hardy territory and ‘Jude the Obscure’. But although Branwell is a less evil creature than Hardy’s Arabella, he still plays God to the detriment of the lovers.

DoP Nanu Segal makes nature as foreboding as the lovers’ souls with the English countryside blossoming in tune with the lovers’ springtime emotions and brooding in the murkiest of winter hues, as the camera exploring the ghostly atmosphere of the moors in gloomy tracking shots. Haworth, the village, where Emily is seen as an outsider, is shown as a bastion of local traders and shopkeepers.

Abel Korzenioski’s Gothic score ramps up the romance but the self-defeating story perseveres with its passionate tale of woe. The only slight drawback in this gut-wrenching tale about a woman colliding with a world run by men is the self-indulgent running time that takes away the sting of the bitter male/female confrontations. Although O’Connor plays fast and lose with a few literary facts this is no place for anaemic scholarly retrospection – Emily is a drama seen through the prism of female emancipation; a vivid re-imagining of what could have been. AS


The Lost King (2022)

Director: Stephen Frears| Cast: Sally Hawkins, Steve Coogan, Harry Lloyd, James Fleet, Jessica Hardwick, Robert Jack, John-Paul Hurley, Sinead MacInnes | UK Drama, 108′

Sally Hawkins plays the researcher who discovered the remains of Richard III in this low-key drama from director Stephen Frears. The result is entirely watchable but ultimately a little uneven, as if it can’t quite decide which story it wants to tell.

Hawkins plays Philippa Langley, a divorced mother of two young teenage boys, who’s passed over at work possibly due to suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. When she takes one of her sons to see a production of Richard III, she feels an instant kinship with the King (played by Harry Lloyd) and is compelled to learn more about his life.

After becoming a member of the Richard III Society and doing some diligent detective work, Philippa becomes convinced Richard’s remains are buried beneath a car park in Leicester. However, she meets continual resistance from various Leicester authorities, who are then only too pleased to take all the credit once Philippa’s hunch turns out to be correct.

Understandably, given the similar based-on-a-true-story premise, Frears has reunited a significant number of the creative team behind his 2013 hit Philomena, including co-writers Steve Coogan (who has a token support role as Philippa’s supportive ex-husband) and Jeff Pope. Also on board is Philomena’s composer, Alexandre Desplat, who opens the film with a bizarre pastiche of Bernard Herrmann’s theme for Psycho, setting entirely the wrong tone.

That tonal inconsistency continues throughout the film, as the script cycles between several different story aspects seemingly unable to settle on whether it wants to be a fantasy-tinged tale of self-discovery, a symbolic battle against the establishment (men) and injustice, or a heart-warming, lightly comedic family drama. In the end, in trying to be all three elements at once, it fails to fully satisfy in any of them.

Hawkins is on her usual excellent form as Philippa, but it frequently feels like she’s only been given one note to play. On top of that, the conceit of having her essentially haunted by Richard III (Lloyd appears by her side repeatedly, with very little dialogue) largely backfires because she starts to look crazy, especially when passers-by observe her talking to herself in the street.

The script’s most compelling element is the way it addresses how history is written – Philippa isn’t just exhuming Richard’s remains, she’s also restoring his maligned reputation, compounded through the ages by Shakespeare’s play. The film attempts a parallel in the way it suggests the establishment tried to write Philippa out of her own story, but it ultimately comes off as clumsy, something that isn’t helped by a misjudged ending that’s almost laughably sanctimonious and fails to ring true. Matthew Turner



The Oil Machine (2022)

Dir.: Emma Davie; Documentary with Holly Gillibrand, Kevin Anderson, Emeka Emembolu, James Marriott, Mikhaela Loach, Steve Waygood, Sir David King; UK 2022, 82 min.

Taking on the oil industry is no mean feat but Emma Davie tackles it bravely in her first single outing as a director in a father naive feature documentary that explores the implications “the death of oil” would have in the UK. Whilst this is an activist’s s film first and foremost, Davie does not shrink away from questions that challenge our perception of the issues involved. There are no easy options when it comes to the desperate need to reduce our reliance on this energy source which is reeking havoc on the environment with the increase in world water levels – destroying – among others – large parts of Bangladesh and Vietnam  and the loss of life and displacement of around 15 million people, but also on the the destruction of  parts of Vietnam along the Mekong Delta , the largest rice producing region in the world that feeds millions.

Closer to home, the UK is financially reliant on its North Sea for a long time to come and the cost of dismantling the oil industry cannot be put into figures. economic structures such as the stock market are linked to the Pension Funds radically affected by a downturn in industries such as ship building that provide a vital source of employment. Never mind the everyday products that we rely on such as plastic.

So it comes as no surprise to hear that the new licensing of the Cambo oil field off the coast of Shetland is in direct contradiction to the Paris Climate Agreement to which the UK is a signatory member. The reason is not only the North Sea Oil lobby, which has the ear of the government, but that technological breakthroughs like Carbon Capture are unlikely to guarantee the Net Zero ambitions (and promises) of the industry for a long time. So, like it or not, “our future rests on a future no one wants”, says Steve Waygood from Aviva Investors.

Holly Gillibrand, also known as “Scotland’s Greta”, can be as adamant as she likes in asking for an end to fossil fuel culture because the results would be catastrophic and cause irreversible damage to the planet over the next 30 years. And the question “how quick can we do it” is actually hindered by all those participants, not least the investors and entire regions who rely on North Sea Oil.

It is right for former Chief Scientific Officer Sir David King to claim, “there were thousands of years of history without the use of gas and oil – until the 1970s, when drilling began in the North Sea.” But the world is now a far more complex place and the cost of dismantling a whole industry still seems too daunting to be realised more or less ad hoc.

Davie soon finds herself on a slippery slope putting forward questions she does not really want to ask. The result is what is called a balanced view: in this case, the gulf between what is needed and what is possible is simply too wide; King Oil will go on reigning to the detriment of the planet and everything that breathes. AS



The Shadow of Goya (2022)

Dir: Jose Luis Lopez-Linares | Writers: Jean-Claude Carriere, Cristina Otero Roth | With Julian Schnabel | Doc, 90′

Jean-Claude Carriere’s final visit to Spain informs this new documentary on the nation’s most outstanding 18th century artist whose output reflected all aspects of life from the beautiful to the bestial, and beyond.

The French writer – who died months after his trip – wanted to look at how Goya – often called ‘the father of modern art” – influenced other painters such as Picasso, Salvador Dali, Cezanne, Van Gogh, and even the filmmaker Luis Bunuel (with whom Carriere also collaborated). Artist Julian Schnabel (who appears in a white overall, slit to the waist) claims Goya’s broad brush strokes have a distinctly modern look that would have a great impact on impressionism and even surrealism. In the light of this, The Shadows of Goya soon widens out into a compendium culture trip suffused with cinema, art and creativity, also taking in a visit to the major retrospective on Goya currently happening Basel, Switzerland. 

By way of background, Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, born in Zaragoza in 1746, had already felt the first rumblings of revolution that would go on to loosen the Spanish nation from its colonies throughout the 19th century, and this turbulence echoes through the dark clouds of his early landscapes and engravings with his large canvasses depicting full blown conflict: ‘The Disasters of War’ and ‘The Third of May 1808’. ‘Los Caprichos’, his eighty or so engravings, mercilessly satirised the failings of Spanish society of the day; from religious fanaticism to professional incompetence and even The Spanish Inquisition. Goya even lampooned doctors after they failed to help him when he grew deaf from a debilitating illness, depicting them as donkeys famously in  ‘Tu Que no Puedes”. But he always made his titles ambiguous so as not to offend his bread and butter clients from high society and the aristocracy whom he charged extra for painting hands, but not feet.

Carriere waxes lyrical on his subject, showing us round Goya’s various haunts and explains how the artist was intrigued by his fellow men and gave them equal exposure in his work as he did his wealthy clients and most famously in ‘The Burial of the Sardine’, a tribute to an exuberant crowd celebrating on the first day of Lent. We also hear about his famous ‘Black Paintings’, often portrayed on the walls of his home ‘La Quinta del Sordo’ (literally “Deaf Man’s Manor”). These fourteen works depict the base aspects of humanity: madness and deformity features largely in these works, and in the ‘Dos Mujeres’ that sees two ugly old women almost mocking the artist for painting them.  The ‘Black Works’ also incorporated Goya’s famous use of symbolism echoing his desire to get beyond the visual and into a spiritual domain, brilliantly portrayed in ‘Saturn Devouring his Son’. He even painted a dog – ‘El Perro’ – who seems to be drowning or in distress. All these pictures are open to interpretation.

Bunuel and Goya both came from Aragon and we get to see various clips from the surrealist filmmaker’s That Obscure Object of Desire, as well as Schnabel’s biopic At Eternity’s Gate to show how Van Gogh’s intense style echoed the Goya’s detailed ‘Caprichos’ engravings.

The film also gets out and about to show Goya’s frescoes in Cadiz and Zaragoza cathedral, and the captures the flowing landscapes of Aragon and ancient villages, some untouched since the Civil War. For some reason Carriere decides to break into Spanish at regular intervals and seems particularly obsessed by a reclining female nude and her clothed counterpart in Madrid’s Prado Museum (‘La Maja Nesnuda/Vestida’) the film is given valuable context from historians, specialists and curators: Antonio Gonzales Marin, Antonio Gascon, and Charlotte Castel-Rousseau from the Prado in Madrid. 

So a lively and informative look at this eclectic Spanish artist who eventually died in Bordeaux after becoming completely deaf, reflected in surrealist sequences by the award-winning director and documentarian Lopez-Linares (Bosch: The Garden of Dreams) and his DoP Andres Recio Illan. And an enlightening valedictory offering from Carriere. MT



See How They Run (2022)

Dir: Tom George | Cast: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, David Oyelowo, Charlie Cooper, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Pearl Chanda, Sian Clifford, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd | UK Drama 98′

Agatha Christie’s long-running play The Mousetrap finally gets a film version of sorts in this character-laden farce carried by a brilliant comedy performance from Saoirse Ronan.

On a snowy night in London’s Soho, 1953, she is police constable Stalker, called in to investigate the murder of the director hired ‘to make the film version less boring than the play’, after its 100th staging.

The dead man turns out to be accident-prone Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody in Wes Andersen mode) a friendless American who sees an opportunity to reinvent the play for Hollywood, with his philandering producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith). Obviously that’s not going to happen, but what comes next is a cosy re-imagining of the good old days of post war whodunnits positively bristling with roaring fires, red herrings and a starry cast, although none shines as brightly as Ronan whose perfect timing lights up every scene.

Not so her boss Sam Rockwell (Inspector Stoppard) whose shifty behaviour and muffled attempt at a cockney accent strike a bum note in this amusing, if confusing, comedy caper (too much editing, Ed). And this is a glaring plothole because writer Mark Chapell has him as one of the main characters in his dawdling script, but from Stoppard’s shifty demeanour it starts to feel like he may actually be a suspect. Or is that just another red herring?.

Harris Dickinson plays The Mousetrap’s dapper lead Richard Attenborough and Pearl Chanda his wife, Sheila Sim. Ruth Wilson shines as the glossy but tight-fisted impresario Petula Spencer. Shirley Henderson is magnificent as a crusty old Agatha Christie in what turns out to be a rather entertaining cameo role – shame there wasn’t more of her – and David Oyelowo is the pompous writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris, let’s forget about his preposterous Latin lover Gio (Fortune-Lloyd).

See How They Run is all a bit hit and miss but the silliness is half the fun, and it really does look rather super, especially the scene where they all arrive, after receiving a mysterious invite, at Christie’s stately mansion in deepest Berkshire.

The Mousetrap is one of theatre land’s most iconic plays and started life as Agatha Christie’s 1947 radio play called Three Blind Mice. Later adapted into a TV film, and then a short story before taking to the stage in October 1952, it’s still going strong at St Martin’s Theatre seven decades later. Sadly See How They Run will probably soon be a distant memory. MT









Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Dir.: Olivia Wilde; Cast: Florence Pugh, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Harry Stiles, Gemma Chan, Kiki Layne, Douglas Smith; US 2022, 122 min.

Not even three three publicity stunts could elevate Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to her debut feature Booksmart at the Venice Festival this year where the film written by Katie Silberman, Shane and Carey Van Dyke was screened Out of Competition.

Was Shia LaBeouf really fired and replaced by Harry Stiles? And did Styles really spit at Chris Pine? And what about Florence Pugh. Did she cut down on press work because she was miffed by Wilde?

Don’t Worry Darling turns out to be a pale imitation of Stepford Wives, The Truman Show and Pleasantville rolled into one. In the southern Californian desert a model community called ‘Victory’ has been set up very much along the lines of Pleasant Living, with the wives cleaning and cooking while their menfolk put their minds to the top secret ‘Victory’ project, all kitted out in dapper 1950s suits and driving souped-up retro cars.

In this empty-headed utopian Eldorado Alice (Pugh) are Jack (Styles) are always hard at it – even on the kitchen table – cutlery and plates flying all over the place. Frank (Pine) and his wife Shelley (Chan) are meanwhile the leaders of the clean living brigade. Frank is not only the boss at work, he is the spiritual guru who keeps everything together like a scout master. Bunny (Wilde) and Bill (Smith) are trying hard to fit in with the set-up; the only one having doubts is Margaret (Layne).

One day a toy airplane lands in her lap and soon afterwards Alice sees a full size version falling from the sky and detonating in the desert. After Margaret commits suicide on the roof of her house, Alice takes matters into her own hands. But instead of offering insight into why these female characters are being gas-lit, Wilde opts for a car chase.

PD Katie Byron and Aronofsky’s regular DoP Matthew Libatique keep the production values up, mustard and pistachio dominating in the desert sand and the cloudless sky. Vacuous and totally humourless, Don’t Worry Darling is a void, held together by Pugh who struggles desperately to bring something fresh to the production. A first class actor in a lousy imitation game, she has all the right to be angry at Wilde – never mind the rumour mill. AS


Juniper (2022)

Dir/Wri: Matthew Saville | Cast: Charlotte Rampling, George Ferrier, Marton Csokas, Edith Poor | Drama, 95′

Charlotte Rampling steals every scene in this poignant if predictable drama from debut director Matthew Savile. Light-hearted and upbeat Juniper also showcases the verdant landscapes of Auckland captured on the widescreen by Marty Williams.

Ruth (Rampling) is a prickly English wartime correspondent convalescing in her son Robert’s (Csokas) country house in New Zealand where she has wised up to his ulterior motives – a need for financial support and to act as a rudder for his unruly teenage son Sam (Ferrier). Sam has no wish to look after a cantankerous old woman and is furious about her sleeping in his late mother’s bedroom.

A keen battle of wits develops as Ruth and Sam find common ground as intergenerational tearaways with the same rebellious take on life, although Ruth has the edge in this amusing character drama that shares certain similarities with Justin Kurzel’s recent hit Nitram, without the incendiary power and implications of that thriller.

Rampling brings out the humanity in Ruth whose eloquent resolve is unaffected by her regularly hitting the gin bottle and calling a spade a spade without ever losing her cool determination not to be outwitted by a petulant grandson who has recently lost his mother and been expelled from school, and eventually uses him to achieve her own benevolent ends.

Avoiding sentimentality and astute in his observation that age and infirmity have no bearing on a person’s innate character drives, Juniper is a witty and well-written debut taking its clever title from the Juniper berry that goes into making gin. Ruth is a courageous woman whose desires are undimmed by her increasing years bringing to mind Dylan Thomas well worn poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. MT



All that Breathes (2022) Grierson Award BFI London Film Festival

Dir: Shaunak Sen | India, Doc, 91′

In New Delhi nature is adapting far more intuitively to pollution than humans according to this visionary documentary that embodies the stealth of the animal kingdom.

All That Breathes works on three levels: as a melancholic, dreamlike meditation on the vital synergy that exists between all living creatures; as an eco-doc exploring the worsening effects of pollution and climate change in India; or simply, as a human story about two brothers working together to make the world kinder and more humane.

Living in an increasingly violent and overpopulated capital city, Mohammed, Nadeem and their friend/co-worker Salik dedicate their spare time to a home-based mostly self-funded organisation called Wildlife Rescue. For the past two decades they have rehabilitated kites and other birds of prey in the cramped conditions of a makeshift clinic. Key to the relevance of kites is that Muslims believe feeding them will bring some kind of religious reward or sawab.  Since the brothers started the clinic in 2003 the situation has got worse and their patient list is constantly growing, consuming more of the brothers’ time and impacting on their own family wellbeing.

Director Sen creates an evocative portrait from the opening scenes that see ants, mice and rats scurrying around under the neon-lit night skies of Delhi oblivious to the looming violence and public unrest that rages, on a daily level, in the background. Meanwhile, landfill sites are invading the landscape, rivers are drying up and monsoons are worsening causing flooding that brings sewerage out into the open. “Delhi is an open wound, and we are tiny a band-aid” says Nadeem.

The air is becoming so heavy with chemical pollution and smog that birds are tumbling from the skies and often literally crash into one another as they hover over landfill sites, scavenging for food. Crucially, many chemicals are not fully tested for their environmental impact and these birds act as a monitor for toxicity – rather like the famous ‘canary in the coal mine’ back in the Industrial Age. But the brothers have no time for chemical testing and analysis as they face a growing list of avian patients. Cinematographer Ben Bernhard creates a woozy poetic bird’s eye view of a city intoxicated by its own chemical brew. His camera also allows us intimate close-ups of the kites, vulnerable but beady-eyed on the operating table.

Swooping between the real and the surreal Shaunak Sen invites us to gaze at the beauty of the animal kingdom and the ugliness caused by humans, in this decadent apocalyptic world, and draw our own conclusions. MT

Everybody Loves Jeanne (2022)

Dir/Wri: Celine Devaux | Cast: Blanche Gardin, Laurent Lafitte, Maxence Tual, Nuno Lopez, Marthe Keller | France, Drama 95′

Jeanne founded an ecological startup to save the world from plastic. Now on the verge of bankruptcy she has some tough decisions to make about her future in this cross between a screwball comedy and a reflective romantic drama.

First time director and illustrator Celine Devaux opts for a jokey narrative device featuring animated inserts of a female version of ‘Mr Blobby’ voicing Jeanne’s worst fears, hopes and melancholy musings. These illustrations actually interrupt the narrative flow making you wish the director would just get on with a story powerful enough to carry a drama that gets more and more enjoyable as it finds its groove, although the message it finally delivers is a bit of a cop out feminist-wise. Not sure whether this was what Devaux originally intended. 

Fortunately Jeanne happens to have inherited her mother’s place in Lisbon where she grew up with her brother Simon (Tual). So off she heads to the sun to clear her debts with the sale.  On the way she meets old school friend Jean (Lafitte on top form as a pain in the arse) and spends the flight wondering whether she fancies, or finds him deeply irritating. This dilemma is soon resolved when Jean is met by his wife and little daughter, and also turns out to be loaded – in a withering twist on Jeanne’s own financial failure. She, by contrast, is met by her ex Victor (Lopez) who is also now a father, and married into the bargain, although she re-kindles secret desires to bed him. And it’s these amusing insights that make the film entertaining and Jeanne so appealing as a character who everyone can relate to: a woman who is not afraid to be disliked but also wants to be perceived as doing something worthwhile, while suffering the secret need to be loved – a tough call but one that Blanche Gardin pulls off successfully in this impressive feature debut.

In Lisbon she sees her mother everywhere in the flat – a hoarder who nagged about her never calling. So clearing out the flat is the last thing on her mind. Gradually slumping into a low level depression she escapes into the sandy beaches and mellow sunsets of the Portuguese capital until the unexpected arrives in a soft-pedalling finale. MT



The Tiger and the President (2022)

Dir: Jean-Marc Peyrefitte | Cast: Andre Dusollier, Jacques Gamblin, Anna Mouglalis, Astrid Whettnall, Laura Benson | France, Drama 108′

Jacques Gamblin is the star of this jaunty political drama inspired by on real events surrounding an almost forgotten French president Paul Deschanel (1855-1922).

Paris in the roaring 1920s and a transformational time for French politics in the wake of the Third Republic. President Georges Clemenceau (Dussollier) aka ‘The Tiger’ for his contribution to the Allied Victory, has just been ousted from office by a forward-thinking and sharp-witted successor Paul Deschanel (Gamblin) a radical reformer and inspired orator. Deschanel realises his task is to transform the post world war lives of the French people whose battle cry is: “you won the war, now let us win the peace”. Meanwhile the Treaty of Versailles is being signed, with Germany the last to put ink to paper. On his victory the new president launches into a raft of sweeping reforms including the vote for women – poopoo-ed by Clemenceau – ridding France of the nightshift in factories, along with the death penalty – were amongst his most positive social changes.

In his first feature French director and writer Jean-Marc Peyrefitte freely admits to embellishing the storyline co-written by Marc Syrigas, ramping up the sparring between Clemenceau and Deschanel to give the film its comedy elements and adding a picaresque even whimsical quality to an often poignant drama about a man whose fervent desire was to better his country recovering from the First World War. But this humanist side of his character also gave rise to deep anxiety, and to remedy this his doctor prescribed a controversial barbiturate called Veronal – later withdrawn from use – that led to a famous episode of him sleepwalking off the back of train, during a presidential visit which culminates in a painterly stay in the French countryside with a family of yokels. Anna Mouglalis offers a shoulder to cry on and much valued pillow talk to both men who apparently shared the same ‘Salon’.

Peyreftte cleverly dovetails both presidents into news highlights from the 1920s archives. And these along with stylish Art Deco settings and a score of appropriate musical hits from the era add to the allure of this intelligent and jaunty interwar drama about a man slowly losing his mind. MT






Kompromat (2022)

Dir: Jerome Salle | Cast: Gilles Lellouche, Joanna Kulig, Louis-Do de Lenquesaing, Michael Gor | France, Action thriller 122′

Gilles Lellouche brings some much needed Gallic charm to this chilly political espionage outing co-written and directed by Jerome Salle and based on real events.  

Kompromat is a story that couldn’t get much grimmer if it tried in shadowing the current state of affairs in Russia. Lellouche plays affable French diplomat Mathieu Roussel who is thrown into jail in subzero Siberia on a flimsy charge of child pornography. In reality he is being framed by the FSB in a ‘no-win’ situation known as a ‘Kompromat’. But Matthieu is mystified as to why, in a plot that only goes to underline just how impossible his situation is when up against the Ruskies.

You can’t help feeling sorry for Mathieu when it later emerges his marriage to French wife Alice (Lasowski) is is also doomed. They are briefly seen in a lukewarm exchange before the authorities arrive to arrest him in a violent incursion. Later Alice returns to France with Rose, but not before filing a complaint about him to the authorities.

So begins a Kafkaesque nightmare of epic proportions as Mathieu takes on the authorities from a weakened position. Friendless and down on his luck, he turns to a mirthless Russian lawyer called Borodin (Godunov) who manages to get him released on an electronic tag. Then there is Louis-Do de Lenquesaing’s sharp-suited French ambassador, who briefly swings into action but to no avail. A Russian woman called Svetlana (Kulig) – whose marriage is also in trouble – supplies a frost-bitten romantic frisson. The two had briefly danced together at a work do, and she enables his bid to escape by supplying a mobile phone. But can he really trust her as he makes his way across the frozen wastelands in this dour but watchable thriller. MT


Blonde (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Andrew Dominik; Cast: Ana de Amas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson, Lilly Fisher; USA 2022, 166 min.

Australian director Andrew Dominik adapts Joyce Carol Oates Monroe’s novel – all 738 pages – by the look of it, for this Golden Lion hopeful. Worth mentioning this because the feature is, like the book, a work of fiction; an imagined drama. Dominik is dealing with a myth, and the way he does it certainly raises questions of exploitation and voyeurism.

In the opening scenes a seven-year-old Norma Jean Mortenson (Fisher) is told by her single mother Gladys (Nicholson) that her father is a movie-star. A black-and-white photo is all the ‘proof’ she is given – and from that moment onwards Norma Jean, who will become the legendary Marilyn Monroe, will look for her Daddy in most men she meets. The real Marilyn believed Clark Gable was her father – ironically both starred in Monroe’s last feature Misfits (1961). During shooting Marilyn’s husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Brody), fell in love with set photographer Inge Morath, and married her soon afterwards. Nothing of this found its way into Blonde, nor is there any mention that Monroe supported Miller in his legal battle with the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) – a move that could have ruined both their careers. Instead we get a choppily edited, slapstick parody of a three-some with Charlie Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. This symbolises the director’s salacious choices: the more scandalous, the better.

Suffice to show Monroe being raped by studio boss Daryl Zanuck at the start of her movie career, but Dominik decides to spice up his narrative with a full frontal display of her tumultuous time at the hands of JFK. Her comments: “that she felt like meat being delivered” only adds grist to this shameless ‘expose’.

Billy Wilder gets off far too lightly, into the bargain. Dominik still thinks the infamous scene in Seven Year Itch, when Monroe’s skirt is blown up around her ears by the passing subway, is ‘funny’, and not a provocation for Monroe’s newly wed husband Joe Di Maggio (Cannavale). The marriage, unsurprisingly, did not last long. Wilder also wrote a horrible monologue for Monroe in Some like it Hot, showing her off as the typical scatter-brained blonde and to underline the point Ana de Armas (as Marilyn) runs around semi-naked for no apparent reason other than titillation.

DoP Chayse Irvin uses all tricks in the book to get the bandwagon rolling: hopping from old-fashioned colour to pristine black-and-white, and using slow-motion sequences to accentuate what appears to be history. It is not.

Netflx, as the producers, as well as Dominik, can be sure that the kaleidoscopic mayhem will find a willing audience. It will no doubt sell like hot cakes in cinemas, where, after a brief run, it moves on to the beleaguered streaming platform.

But the real culprit is Alberto Barbera, director of the Mostra. Nobody held a gun to his head to make him chose Blonde. He just went for the glory, never mind a possible scandal. The result is at best a feature filmed for the voyeuristic male gaze, at worst pornography masquerading as an art form. @Andre Simonoveisz.


It Is In Us All (2022)

Dir/Wri: Antonia Campbell-Hughes | Cast: Cosmo Jarvis, Rhys Mannion, Claes Bang | Drama

This enigmatically titled thriller is the confident feature debut of seasoned actor Antonia Campbell Hughes who certainly knows how to create atmosphere even if her writing needs some fine-tuning.

Cosmo Jarvis leads in a pent-up performance as Hamish Considine a nihilistic young man whose past comes back to bite him with tragic consequences after a motorway accident unleashes a lifetime of suppressed emotional baggage.

Campbell Hughes creates a terrific sense of place in the rain-lashed countryside of Ireland, And it’s here where Hamish returns to visit the grave of his Irish-born aunt and deal her estate – a desolate house – on behalf of his pragmatic father, an expat businessman (a bearded Claes Bang who we only see on zoom). Outwardly blasé and self-assured Hamish soon turns out to be anything but after his car collides with another vehicle setting in course a cataclysmic chain of events as he pieces together his childhood to makes sense of the present.

The crash has destabilised Hamish physically and mentally but he shrugs it off stoically discharging himself from hospital too early with a severe concussion. When the only survivor of the other vehicle – a 17 year old livewire called Evan (a brilliant Mannion) – drops round to the house the two develop an almost surreal bond as Hamish is sucked into his mother’s homeland, feeling a palpable connection with the locals who share their own experiences of growing up with her and her sister.

A humble cow in Evan’s family farm becomes the symbol of this cherished motherhood and the fear of her being slaughtered in the abattoir nearby has Hamish reliving the devastation of losing his own mother when he was only a boy. Evan’s volatile personality comes to represent a seething life-force for Hamish drawing him inexorably to the past until he realises there is no going back and no way forward. It Is In Us All is not much of a thriller, in the traditional sense, but certainly a spellbinding look at how places create emotional memories that bind us eternally to the past. MT




Beyond the Wall (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Vahid Jalivand, Cast: Navid Mohammadzadeh, Diana Habibi, Amir Aghaei, Iran 2022, 123 min.

This nightmarish siege drama with a tentative love story at its heart is one of the most accomplished features competing for this year’s Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival. Iranian films can be weak on the cinematic front despite their gripping storylines but Beyond the Wall is full of spectacular action scenes and tender close-ups. For once content and aesthetics come together in truly unique form.

Told in a series of flashbacks the sinuous thriller takes place in an apartment block where Leila (Habibi) is looking for her 4 year old son after evading the police during a workers’ protest. Meanwhile, one of the occupants, a blind man called Ali ((Mohammadzadeh) is attempting suicide but only succeeds in dislodging some hot water pipes when he is interrupted by the concierge of the building with the news that a hostage is somewhere in the building. Ali soon realises that Leila is actually hiding in his flat and becomes obsessed with trying to help her, escaping his own personal trauma and disappearing into a fantasy world with the unknown woman. Why is Ali so adamant to help Leila? The flashbacks gradually reveal the disturbing answer, and the brutal finale will have you cowering in your seats. AS



The Son (2022)

Dir.: Florian Zeller, Cats: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Zen McGrath, Vanessa Kirby, Anthony Hopkins, USA/UK/France 2022, 123 min.

The Son is a glib and one-note second feature for director Florian Zeller after his Oscar-winning debut The Father took the film world by storm with its emotional clout and authenticity. The Son is too verbose, and too monotone to be engaging despite its slick production values, never escaping its stagey origins in a screenplay adapted by Christopher Hampton from Zeller’s play.

Anthony Hopkins again stars as a father, this time to successful lawyer Peter (Jackman) who is on the verge of a potential White House association and has left his wife Kate (Dern) for a much younger trophy wife Beth (Kirby). The couple have just had a baby son but Kate contacts him about taking on board their own teenager Nicholas (an underwhelming McGrath ) who has obvious mental problems, self-harming and playing truant from school. Peter’s relationship with his stern father Anthony (Hopkins) has not helped him bond with Nicholas and after a suicide attempt, Nicholas is sectioned in a psychiatric ward turning his parents’ world upside down. Performance wise the standout is once again Hopkins who is commanding as a tough pragmatist, against Jackman’s dignified but hamstrung lawyer, with the female characters more or less brushed aside. The Son feels too redactive in contrast to its successful predecessor, with Zeller stranded in the middle between a film and a theatrical production. The upshot is a depressing psychodrama. AS




Saint Omer (2022)

Dir.: Alice Diop; Cast: Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanda, Valerie Dreville, Aurelia Petit; France 2022, 123 min.

This gripping feature debut from award-winning documentarian Alice Diop is a courtroom drama of a special kind. Saint Omer is a quest for a seemingly unobtainable truth in contemporary France.

Isolation and loneliness are felt particularly keenly by the main character Rama (Kagame), a Paris-based university lecturer who arrives in Saint Omer to cover the case of Laurence (Malanga), a mother on trial for killing her own daughter after a suffering the shame of being ostracised by her much older white husband.

The French-Senegalese director and co-writer is already a successful documentarian  and won the Silver Lion (Grand Prix) and the “Luigi De Laurentiis Lion of the Future Award” for best first feature at Venice Film Festival.

Diop could have hardly chosen a more incendiary subject based on the case of Fabienne Kabou, who killed her 15-month old daughter by drowning her in the sea off Northern France then going back to Paris as if nothing had happened. Diop used the trial documents as a basis for her heart-wrenching tale of the re-telling of the ‘Medea’ myth.

Rama – Diop’s Alter Ego in the film – is also pregnant but does not want to tell her family, since she has a dysfunctional relationship with her own, abusive, mother Odile (Kamate) shown in flashback. She’s also keen to collect collect information for her forthcoming book on Medea. During the trial, Rama finds more and more personal parallels to the life of the accused, Laurence Coly (Malanga), who was studying for a PHD in philosophy even though – like everything else in her CV – this is not really a given. Coly had hidden the birth of her daughter from nearly everyone, including her mother whom Rama meets during the breaks in the court proceedings. The two women wander through the streets of the small city, with Odile being really proud of her daughter’s academic style of conversation.

These encounters raise more questions than answers for Rama who has doubts about her ability to be a good mother. Her partner Adrian (De Pourquery) comes down from Paris and tries to puts her mind at rest. Rama’s partner is the exact antithesis of Luc Dumontet (Maly), the father of little Elise, who is 30 years older than Laurence. He too helped to hide Elise’ existence from the world by not registering her birth.

The Judge (Dreville) tries hard to find out what drove Coly to her desperate deed, and Coly seems equally confused about her motives throughout the trial. She mentions witchcraft, but has no proof. She is adamant about not wanting to hide the truth, and has a high IQ and proud of the fact. Laurence grew up in Dakar in a wealthy Catholic family and always achieved high academic results. But her personality remains an enigma throughout the trial and she is stubbornly closed to the help offered.

Saint Omer opens with an archive extract from the liberation of France in 1944: women collaborators are punished by having their hair cut off publicly. Are they victims, are they heroes? Diop insists throughout her film that she is not interested in easy solutions, wanting to question the objective as well as the subjective. Which brings us to Marguerite Duras. Rama is also a novelist and lectures on Duras (again shown in  flashback) and this certainly raises the question of how much she wanted to gain inspiration from the case. But the Laurence case unsettles her in a way she had not bargained for.

DoP Claire Mathon frames Laurence in the style of a Velasquez portrait, putting her firmly in the limelight. The close-ups clearly borrow from Ozu, the camera travelling slowly upwards – or downwards when it comes to Rama, who is hemmed into the rows of spectators. The light is sometimes diffuse, reflecting Laurence’ state of mind.

At the end, there are mostly women left: the protagonists of the legal proceedings, the crowd on the spectator benches. The same goes for the film crew.

Austere and fragmented, Saint Omer is not looking for solution but leaves us to make up our own minds, almost like an offscreen jury. Nowadays it seems as if the truth is becoming a moveable, mutating feast. AS



Other People’s Children (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Rebecca Zlotowski, Virginie Efira, Callie Ferreira-Goncales, Roschdy Zem, Louana Yamee, Fred Wiseman, Chiara Mastroiani, France 2022, 104 min.

Rebecca Zlotowski (Planetarium) explores a woman’s desire to have children when she bonds with her boyfriend’s daughter. Hitting forty and changing her mind about becoming a parent, Rachel (Efira) decides to go for it with the help of her gynaecologist (Fred Wiseman!) and hunky Ali (Zem), who she falls for just in time. But there is a hitch: Ali is already a father but his cute daughter Leila (Ferreira-Goncales) wins Rachel’s heart. Leila’s mother Alice (Mastroiani) seems happy with Rachel getting involved and a holiday in the Camargue is the highpoint leading to a joyful epilogue. But somehow Rachel seems empty. Virginie Efira storms through the streets of Paris like a tornado in another pragmatic performance in a sunny snapshot that somehow lacks bite.



World War III (2022) Venice Film Festival | Horizons 2022

Dir: Houman Sayeddi | Drama, Iran

A sardonic streak of deadpan humour lights up Houman Sayyedi’s pitch black parable that sees a humble labourer’s life transformed when he lands the star role in a film.

Deep in the Iranian countryside on a rain-lashed building site Shakib (Tanabandeh) is homeless and alone in the world after losing his wife and son in an earthquake. Things  looks up when the modest drifter is offered lodging and a bit part in a feature film about Hitler’s atrocities, shooting nearby – the only condition: no friends or family can stay. So Shakib’s death mute girlfriend Ladan must make herself scarce.

The days on set are hectic with Shakib rushing around in crowd scenes dressed up as a concentration camp detainee – striped pyjamas and all. In another stroke of luck, he then lands the role of Hitler – a man whom he has never heard of – and a swanky new pad in the prefab that houses the main crew. But Ladan puts her foot down, a plan to smuggle her into his comfortable billet will have unimaginable consequences, potentially ruining his big break. Then her violent guardian appears on the scene demanding cash to the tune of 20k from the new “film star”. This is the least of Shakib’s problems in a morose and meandering morality tale like only the Iranians can tell.  

Sayyedi had Hannah Arendt in mind when crafting World War III, and her words certainly ring true : “Societies ruled by totalitarian regimes are the most effective creators of anarchists”. With a whip-smart script the director and his writers strike just the right balance between dark humour, tragedy and melodrama, although melodrama slightly wins out in the cataclysmic finale where poor Shakib – a decent man driven to distraction and brilliantly played by Mohsen Tanabandeh – will fight tooth and nail for what really matters most. MT


The Wandering Princess (1960)

Dir: Kinuyo Tanaka | Japan, Drama 102′

Kinuyo Tanaka moved up several gears after a five-year hiatus as a director with this ambitious blockbuster for Daiei based on Saga Hiro’s 1959 best-selling memoir made in colour & ‘scope with Oscar-winning Machiko Kyo and superlative production values.

The Wandering Princess is based on the autobiography of Aishinkakura Hiro, who lived a turbulent life as the consort of Fuketsu, the younger brother of Emperor Puyi of Manchukuo.

Full of spectacle and drama it chronicles the war years from 1941 to 1945, the sight of all those uniforms marking an extraordinary departure for a director associated with woman-based intimate drama. It was huge hit ranked 27th in the ‘Cinema junpo’ poll for best films of 1960, despite – or perhaps because – it perpetuates the myth that remains popular in Japan that the Land of the Rising Sun’s participation was solely as a victim.@RichardChatten


Casa Susanna (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir/Wri: Sebastian Lifshitz | France, Doc 97′

In the open scenes of this well made gay interest film an American broadcaster talks to four dolled up women who turn out to be men. Shock horror probe. But that was back in the Sixties, Nowadays cross-dressing is par for the course thanks to ‘Full Personality Expression’ that allows people to wear whatever they want, wherever they go.

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s this underground network of transgender women and cross-dressing men were forced to find refuge at a modest house in the Catskills region of New York. Known as Casa Susanna, the house provided a safe place to live for a few days as they had always dreamed—dressed as women – without fear of being incarcerated or institutionalised for doing so. Told through the memories of those whose visits to the house would change their lives, the film looks back at a secret world where the persecuted and frightened found freedom, acceptance and, often, the courage to live their lives out of the shadows. 

Award-winning documentarian Sebastian Lipshitz enlivens his expose with wonderful photos of New York in the 1960s along with archive footage of Danish cross-dresser Christine Jorgensen, who became an overnight celebrity, and others who joined in. Another woman remembers her father paying visits to the Casa where he enjoyed wearing women’s clothing and only felt comfortable wearing a female nightie in bed. And although the doc slightly overstays its welcome in driving home the point repetitively, it certainly provides a unique and valuable insight for those interested or affected by the issues concerned. MT



Blackbird (2022)

Dir/Wri: Michael Flatley | Drama, 97′

Michael Flatley’s self-financed spy thriller has a checkered history, premiering briefly four years ago, and now back in cinemas in the UK and Ireland.

The Riverdance supremo directs and also stars as a James Bond style spy turned luxury hotel owner, retired to Barbados for some peace and quiet after his fiancée is killed in a mission. But the past comes back to haunt him when another old flame (Nicole Evans) reappears on the arm of an arch villain (Eric Roberts) whose game plan is not unlike Hitler’s idea of exterminating the Jews. 

Flatley has certainly splashed out budget-wise in a story that flips between lush Irish countryside, rainy London and beachside Barbados, but although his moves may be slick on the dance floor Flatley’s directing skills are less so. Blackbird is certainly a watchable if rather predictable little thriller with its heart in the right place. MT


Burial (2022)

Wri/Dir: Ben Parker | Cast: Harriet Walter, Tom Felton, Charlotte Vega, Barry Ward, Bill Milner, Dan Renton Skinner, Niall Murphy | UK Drama 95′

Christmas Day 1992 and the Red Flag has fallen with Gorbachev’s resignation bringing an end to seventy years of Communist rule in Russia. Anna Marshall (Harriet Walter) is watching the BBC News from the comfort of her country home in a domestic vignette that bookends this ambitious historical drama from English director Ben Parker. 

But when her dog Gulliver is let out for a nighttime sniff he gets a nasty surprise in the shape of a masked intruder demanding retribution for the past. Anna is a feisty and highly intelligent Jewish bird, and a one time officer in the Russian army, who refuses to be taken for a ride by the foul-mouthed Nazi sympathiser Lukasz (Felton). And after chaining him to the fireplace she launches into her version of what really happened when she was Brana Vasileva, one of an elite group of Soviet soldiers tasked with taking Hitler’s remains back to Stalin’s Moscow, as proof of his death. Many theories have circulated about what became of the Nazi leader’s body after he committed suicide. Ben Walker’s narrative offers one plausible suggestion.

The story then transports us back to rural post war Germany (actually Estonia) where Charlotte Vega takes up the role of Vasileva (aka Anna Marshall as her younger self). Shortly after setting off on their mission the group heads into deep forests and comes under attack from what appears to be a pack of werewolves carrying a load that suggests there are some supernatural powers at work in this remote bosky backwater. It soon emerges they are actually German ‘Wehrwolf’ partisans, using guerrilla tactics and hallucinogenic gas to disorientate their enemies. In a bid to keep their leader’s secret buried forever, the Germans go hell for leather in a bloody and brutal fight against the Russian contingent doing anything in their power to thwart the Soviet mission of returning the Nazi’s leader’s remains to Russia.

Burial is written and directed by Ben Parker whose feature debut The Chamber garnered critical acclaim back in 2016. This latest, an ambitious and lavishly styled historical drama, really comes alive in the brilliant camerawork of Estonian DoP Rein Kotov who often works from an aerial perspective suggestive of prey being tracked by an unknown force of some kind. All credit to Parker for his ingenious idea and for casting an indomitable Harriet Walter to play the feisty Soviet veteran, her counterpart Vega having a difficult act to follow as the younger heroine, leading a cast that also fails to distinguish itself on this occasion. So despite some tense and brutal action set pieces the rest of the feature doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the opening, but Burial is nevertheless a watchable take on a mystery that has haunted many in the intervening years since the fall of Nazism and its arch villain Hitler. As a footnote, whoever did the subtitles should be taken out and shot at dawn: Bolsheviks is translated as ‘Bastards’ and Berlin, ‘Violin’. Fortunately these are autogenerated by Vimeo, but certainly do a disservice to the aurally challenged. 

BURIAL PREMIERES AT FRIGHTFEST 2022 | On digital from 26th from 101 Films. On Sky, iTunes and Amazon from 12th September 2022



Valeria is Getting Married (2022) Antalya Film Festival 2022

Dir: Michal Vinik | 78′

Michal Vinik’s gripping and artfully filmed sophomore feature sees two Ukrainian sisters trying to make the best of things in Israel. It reflects a reality for many women who have been conditioned to suppress their real desires in order to meet traditional societal values when their own security is threatened. But they soon discover that Israeli men are tough but fair in a situation that is far more complex than it initially appears.

Valeria (Dasha Tvoronovich) is met at the airport by her sister Christina (Lena Fraifeld) where a marriage has already been arranged, but life in Bat Yam seems super stressful even by comparison with the turmoil she has left behind.

Christina (Fraifeld) is newly married to an attractive Israeli man Michael (Yacov Zada Daniel) but already the pressure to get everything right is felt through a series of panicky telephone calls from Michael to his mother, Christina trying to smooth over her sister’s nervousness with broad smiles and reassurances.

After a treatment at the local beauty salon, Valeria (Dasha Tvoronovich) go back to the flat where she is introduced to her intended, a likeable but rather goofy vegetarian called Eitan (Avraham Shalom Levi). The guy is clearly strung out and starts blabbering about his nervousness and her need learn Hebrew at the Ulpan, presenting her with a brand new mobile phone loaded up with apps. You immediately get the impression that Valeria is less than keen about her future husband, and as the dinner proceeds the conversation is stilted and Eitan makes a series of social faux pas as a palpable tension descends on this cosy dinner for four.

It soon emerges that Christina and her husband are going to need to access state fertility treatment which can only start when she becomes a legal Israeli citizen. But clearly she is playing this down so as not to emasculate her husband. Valeria listens patiently and then asks her sister a simple question that speaks volumes: “Do you love him?”. Christina responds “it’s not like in the movies, but I have everything I need”. The couple live in a spacious modern flat in the seaside city just south of Tel Aviv.

Unfortunately Valeria behaves rather childishly refusing to come out of the bathroom to discuss her feelings like an adult with the others who are sympathetic and open to suggestions including having her own separate bedroom in Eitan’s place. After all he has paid 5,000 dollars to find a suitable bride. But it gradually descends into farce as they two sisters giggle behind the bathroom door, throwing the key out of the window. So they all go back to drawing room of this brilliantly acted and compulsive domestic drama that gradually descends into farce as the various plot strands coalesce to a satisfying conclusion. MT





Hilma (2022)

Wri/Dir: Lasse Hallstrom | Cast: Lena Olin, Tora Hallström, Catherine Chalk, Jazzy De Lisser, Lily Cole, Rebecca Calder, Maeve Dermody, Tom Wlaschiha, Anna Björk, Clare Holman, Adam Lundgren, Jens Hultén, Emmi Tjernström, Martin Wallström, Lukas Loughran | Sweden, Biopic Drama, 113′

In this artful family affair Lasse Hallström casts his daughter Tora and wife Lena Olin as the pioneering avant-garde Swedish painter and mystic Hilma at Klint (1862-1944) recognised as being one of the first and foremost abstract painters, before Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian.

The elegant painterly styling certainly suits this English language biopic drama about a creative spirit who was developing her ideas sexually and artistically in upmarket Stockholm at a time of rapid artistic change at the turn of the 20th century. The European creative community in general was embarking on a quest for psychological truth and exploring the unconscious through their work, and Hallstrom reflects on Hilma’s evolving modernist style and spiritual leanings in his inspired direction and Ragna Jorming’s floating images and fluid camerawork that echo Hilma’s radical progression from her student days to accomplishment as a full-fledged artist. The focus here is the spiritual inspiration that drives Hilma’s creativity, and her turbulent relationship with the landscape artist Anna Cassel (Chalk).

The film opens with the death of her little sister Hermina (Emmi Tjernström). Their deep spiritual bond would go on to be an inspiration throughout Hilma’s working life. Born into a noble but not wealthy family Hilma’s mother stresses the need for her daughter to find a husband rather than dabble in the dilettante world of art, where only men were considered painters, and even enjoyed an exclusive entrance to the Royal Academy in Stockholm where Hilma studied classical drawing and painting techniques.

Hilma then struggles against a tide of negativity due to the very nature of her radical style and makes no bones about revealing how the spirits inspired her to paint, an approach considered outré and highly questionable back in the day. And to be fair, she does bang on about it almost evangelistically rather than play it down as a subtle and enigmatic adjunct to her talent. She is obsessed with the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and shares her spiritual ideas with him to little avail despite his admitting to receiving messages from the soul through the medium of colour.

Lasse Hallström’s well-crafted film will certainly appeal to art-lovers. Although Hilma herself remains an acquired taste, brilliantly portrayed in an impressive double act by Tora Hallstrom and Lina Olin who trace the artist’s life from her early twenties to her late middle age. MT




The Damned Don’t Cry (2022) Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Fyzal Boulifa; Cast: Aicha Tebbae, Abdullah El Hajjouji, Antoine Reinartz; France/Belgium/Morocco 2022, 110 min.

A mother and son embark on an eventful odyssey across Morocco in this daring and strikingly beautiful sophomore feature from award-winning British-Moroccan writer/director Fyzal Boulifa (Lynn + Lucy).

Fatima-Zahra (Tebbae) is a 43-year-old widow and extremely alluring, although rather naive: dressing provocatively she tries to seduce a much younger man in a secluded spot near Tangier beach and is robbed off her jewellery. Her relationship with her 16-year-old son Selim (Hajjouji) swings between over-protectiveness and harsh criticism: the two are interdependent and neither of them has really grown up.

From squalid studio accommodation in town, the odd couple hitchhike a lift to relatives in the country. But they are not welcome in the midst of preparations for a wedding. We also learn that Fatima has a few skeletons in the cupboard: ostracised by local society after being raped in her twenties –  Selim was the offspring – she was forced into sex work to support her son.

Selim is eager to get back to Tangier and break free from his mother’s influence. Abdoul, a shady character, offers him a job on a building site, but really lines him up for sex with Sebastien (Reinartz), a wealthy Frenchman. The two hit it off to Salim’s surprise, and he quite takes to Sebastien who later apologises to him. The Frenchman later employs Selim on a regular basis, and Fatima tells her son she is working for a well-known brand in the fashion industry – in reality she is working for a minimum wage in a sweatshop.

Later she meets a bus driver who wants to take her on as his second wife, his existing spouse suffering from mental problems. But Selim sabotages the planned marriage, telling the husband-to be the truth about his mother. When Sebastien’s partner from Paris arrives, Selim reacts with extreme jealousy and channelling his anger into criminal behaviour that will inadvertently separate him from his mother for the first time.

DoP Caroline Champetier follows the odd couple with sweeping camera moves across the Moroccan landscape and the imposing urban backdrop of Tangier: her handheld shots in the narrow alleys, and the sordid domestic interiors contrast with Fatima’s imaginative embellishment of reality. Tebbae and Hajjouji are brilliant as the destructive couple, driving each other further and further into the quicksand of social deprivation. A tight script helps, and Boulifa uses all his running time to push the narrative forward. An award-winning first film is always a difficult act to follow but this talented filmmaker triumphs with an even more impressive second feature.


Queen of Glory (2021)

Dir.: Nana Mensah; Cast: Nana Mensah, Meeko Gattuso, Oberon K.A. Adjepong, Adam Leon, Christie Mensah, Madeleine Weinstein; USA 2021, 78 min

A first time feature for American Ghanian filmmaker Nana Mensah who directs and stars in this lively female empowerment drama, short-changed by her rather uneven script.

In “Little Ghana”, New York’s Bronx, we meet Mensah’s Sarah Obeng studying for a PhD on Molecular Neuro-Oncology at Columbia University. She has a married boyfriend, Lyle (Leon), who works in the same department, and has promised Sarah he will leave his family and move with her to Ohio. We know how this will turn out.

But then tragedy suddenly enters the picture: Sarah’s mother Grace dies of an aneurism, leaving her with a house in Accra, and a shop selling kitsch Christian merchandise run by Pitt (Gattuso), an ex-convict, whose whole body is covered in tattoos. Sarah’s estranger father Godwin (Adjepong) soon fetches up from Accra, angling for a part of the inheritance. Thwarted, he slaps Sarah and treats her like a servant, asking her to follow him to Ghana, but Sarah hits back.

Life in Ghana is very much a family affair. Sarah is sucked into back into domestic scene and has to dress accordingly, her aunts hoping she will soon produce a child. Faced with the appalling misogyny amongst the menfolk, Sarah ends up running the Cult shop with Pitt.

In an interview with ‘Vogue’, the director made it clear she had intended Sarah to be a cis-woman. But this doesn’t quite work with the acceptance of her marginal existence for Sarah – working in the shop, instead of pursuing her scientific career. Going to Ohio State, just to be with her lover was bad enough – exchanging the prestigious Columbia University for an academic backwater – but giving up her profession altogether is a bridge too far.

DoP Cybel Martin underlines the realism of the script, her images brilliantly evoke the choice facing Sarah with the “Tracey Towers” block in Pelham Parkway, Bronx, and the university atmosphere of an environment dominated by academia.

Mensah’s protagonists are cyphers rather than fully-fleshed out personalities: Lyle remains sullen and tight-lipped, and even Gattuso’s Pitt is just a caricature of a semi-reformed convict. Mensah is a committed director and a convincing actor, but even with a running time of 78 minutes and a few laughs, the reductive characters lack authenticity. AS


The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Wri/Dir: Martin McDonagh | Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, David Pearse, Pat Shortt | Ireland, Drama, 109′

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star in this big screen bittersweet dramady that reunites them with In Bruges director Martin McDonagh completing his “Aran islands Trilogy” of plays set in the early 1920s during civil war. The first two stage outings: “The Cripple of Inishmaan” and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” had been a great success in theatres McDonagh opted for a   film version for this final part that never quite escapes its stage bound origins, although the drole deadpan humour saves the day along with the natural beauty of the emerald island landscapes of Inishmore.

Colm (Gleason) and Pádraic (Farrell) have always been the best of buddies. But one day, out of the blue, Colm calls time on their friendship for no apparent reason apart from wanting to spend the rest of his life with his fiddle and his border Collie. There is no place for Pádraic any more. End of story. And the last straw is an incident with Jenny, Pádraic’s mini donkey.

But Pádraic is having none of it and gets his sister Siobhan (Condon), and Barry Keoghan (Kearney), the unstable son of the hated village policeman, to beg Colm to reconsider.  It all comes down to Colm threatening to cut off one finger at a time if Pádraic ever speaks to him again. Siobhan takes in these wider implications brought on by the battle raging on the mainland, but the men go, as men do, for all out victory – or nothing.

The allegory of civil war is clear, but the hostilities always take a back seat in Banshees. The focus here is on personal relationships , and about how friendship can often turn to hatred overnight, usually rippling out from a petty slight or disagreement, the fault line for deep-seated resentment, the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or this case the donkey’s. McDonagh gradually fleshes out his three main characters but never enough to explain the war of attrition between them. Regret, sadness or a simple lack of fulfilment is channelled out into the open, into hurting the nearest and dearest, and the injured party is left bewildered and bereft.

The Banshees of Inisherin met with critical success and an award for Colin Farrell and “Best script” for McDonagh in Venice 2022. The pointlessness of war comes home on a human level through the sheer inanity of the broken friendship. It’s silly, childish and without real grounding. And McDonagh showcases this vacuity through the solemnity of his drama that unfolds like a procession without any core belief. The formal brilliance of the confrontation is based on trivial home-spun philosophy. Underneath the smouldering fractures, there is a vacuum – and that is the pity of war.


Fall (2022)

Dir: Scott Mann | UK Action Thriller, 107′

British director Scott Mann Takes a shoe string budget and turns it into one of the best action thrillers of the summer with ‘a feel the fear and do it anyway’ premise.

Totally far-fetched and ludicrous it may be but certainly effectlve (and aimed at the GenZ generation) it all starts with accident when experienced climber Dan (Mason Gooding) falls to his death from a vertiginous mountain face leaving his wife Becky (Grace Fulton) and her and best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner) stranded thousands of feet above ground level, and then left to cope with his tragic loss.

Becky is still drowning her sorrows a year later when Hunter, now a unfeasibly fearless extreme sports fanatic with a massive online following, suggests they scatter Dan’s ashes in style, rather than moping around mourning his death. But what Hunter actually has in mind actually beggars belief: the two will climb 2,000 feet to the top of a rusty old pylon support – the same height as the Eiffel Tower – for the ceremony, it’s the stuff of nightmares.

Mann and his DoP MacGregor and team make terrific use of cutting edge visual effects to make us believe the girls are really up there in the skies where its searingly hot and scorching) but what’s beyond belief and most impressive is their clear-eyed vision and steely resolve to survive once things start to go wrong. Admittedly Becky is hard-nosed and cruel as we’ve already discovered in an earlier scene where she leaves a coyote to be eaten alive by vultures, relaying the spectacle to her followers, she also admits to feeling hungry when the smell of a BBQ drifts up to the skimpy metal platform they are standing on (surely the last thing on your mind on the brink of death). With its simple but effective plot-line Fall is a buddy survival movie that never outstays its welcome in delivering watchable, stylishly artful thrills – in contrast to the summer’s overblown blockbusters such as Nope and Bullet Train.

Fall is out in the UK on 2 September


Black Mail (2022)

Dir.: Obi Emelonye; Cast: O.C Ukeje, Allesssandro Babalola, Julia Holden. Nikolay Shulik, Natalia N, Tony Richardson, Emma Fletcher, Mladen Petrov, Jelena Borovskaya; UK 202, 98 min.

UK writer/director/producer Obi Emelonye (Badamasi) puts lots of punch into this London based crime drama, centred around a Russian blackmail ring trying to destroy – among others – the life of film star Ray Chinda (O.C Ukeje).

Emelonye handles the insecurities of his hero with great sensitivity although Ray Chinda is not best suited for a role that somehow diminishes his physical presence. His wife Nikki (Holden), a well known immigration lawyer, is dragging him to “Relate”, and the two real live children of the director, Kosi (Luchy E.) and Zorba (Richy E.) are playing up, because they are not getting enough attention from their workaholic parents.

Things get much worse when Ray gets an email from a Russian blackmail ring informing him they have salacious footage of him reacting to porn on the net. The first amount they are asking for is reasonable, but, as Ray’s friend Ruben (Rabalola) tells the actor, the next figure will be higher. We soon encounter the Russian Mafia at work: Igor (Shulik) works for bar owner Alexei (Petrov), but is also in charge of the blackmailing scheme. He treats Ivana (Natalia N) with contempt and forces her to have sex with him. But he also has a softer side: caring for his sick daughter Jelena and wife Kathryn.

Unfortunately, Alexei finds out that Igor has embezzled 200 000 sterling from the night club business, and is about to be sent back to St. Petersburg to face the music of the senior Mafiosi. Igor is keen to finish the ‘business’ with Ray, but Ivana’s attacks him viciously before committing suicide. Petra, another member of the night club’s women, who have been forced into prostitution, spills the beans to the police, while Ray is on his way to a final show down with Igor, who is ready to die. Will the force arrive in time to prevent a bloodbath?

Ukeje is convincing as the guilt-driven antihero: his glamorous status for the outside world is nowhere near the reality he experiences in his private life. The black mail episode is the final straw that brings on a TIA (Mini-Stroke). He seems unable to get his two identities together, coming closer and closer to a total breakdown. DoP Robert Ford captures contemporary London – will all its glitter and dirt – even though some multi frames are superfluous. Overall, Black Mail is high octane drama that spills over into sentimentality. A genre feature with some noir elements and a very broken hero. AS


Akilla’s Escape (2021)

Dir.: Charles Officer; Cast: Saul Williams, Thamela, Mpumlwana, Donish Rita Claire Prendergast, Mensa Prince, Ronnie Rowe, Olunike Adesiyi, Theresa Tova; Canada/USA 2021, 90 min.

Jamaican-Canadian filmmaker Charles Officer has spent most of his working life in TV gradually breaking into cinema most notably with his 2018 biopic Invisible Essence: The Little Prince that shed light on the life and legacy of Eugene de Saint-Exupery. 

After a short black-and-white introduction to Jamaican history – reggae, gangs, drugs, politics and class war fare – the focus is New York in the mid nineties. Fifteen-year old Akilla is interrogated by police, having witnessed the violent death of his father Clinton (Rowe), a member of the Jamaican Garrison Army gang. Twenty five years later, the story shifts to Toronto where Akilla (Saul Williams was also involved in the score) is dreaming of retirement having joined his father, a drug gang kingpin.

By this time, the Canadian government has legalised Marihuana – and taken a slice of the profits. But just before the proverbial ‘last heist’, his operation falls victim to a brutal machete attack by a rival gang. Akkila overpowers 15-year old Sheppard (Mpumlwana, who also plays  the young Akkila)) but instead of feeding him to his boss, Akkila hides the young man. Meanwhile, Sheppard’s aunt Faye (Prendergast) is as helpless as Akkila’s mother Thetis (Adesiyi) was way back in Jamaica: both are victims of toxic masculinity.

Officer weaves quotes from Homer’s Iliad and James Baldwin into this genre piece, and just as anti-war films always end up glorifying the conflict, drug heist movies can never escape from explicit violence. Akilla sees Sheppard as a ghost from the past, trying to destroy what’s left of him after his mother’s death. We see what Officer had in mind: a requiem for two – but there is only one way out for Akilla, and this becomes more and more obvious as the story plays out with hypnotic night scenes from DoP Maya Bankovic whose close-ups during the heist sequences give everyone a human face. One wants to like Akilla more than the film deserves, because Officer has tried so hard to overcome the limits of the genre both aesthetically and narrative wise. AS


Nope (2022)

Dir.: Jordan Peele; Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Keith David, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun; USA 2022, 131 min.

Best known for his much acclaimed feature debut Get Out, the mantle of ‘cult director’ is now sitting comfortably on Jordan Peele’s shoulders with this latest, rather confused epic, an accomplished B-movie that runs at over two hours. His backers, who budgeted a quarter of a billion dollars on his first two flics, are waiting with baited breath to see if Peele can score a hatrick with Nope – (yes, seems the answer could be there).

OJ (Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Palmer) live on a ranch in the Californian desert where they train horses for Hollywood productions, after their father Otis Sr (David) was killed in a freak accident when metallic UFOs rained down from the sky.

Divided into chapters named after the ranch’s horses, OJ and Em are alarmed by ‘phone and electricity black-outs, and spot some saucer-like apparitions in the night sky. Emerging from a cloud, the creatures resemble birds caught in the mist, but soon morph into a manta ray or a peculiar form of octopus. OJ treats them like animals and avoids starring at them, hoping to keep them at bay.

Meanwhile the siblings see a chance of making it big in Hollywood, and team up with a salesman (Perea) and cameraman Antlers Holst (Wincott) in the hope of capturing images of the entities with his advanced equipment.

In an unrelated plot-line, OJ sells some of the horses to Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Yeung), who runs a tacky Western show in the valley. Jupe has a weird backstory: he has been traumatised for life after playing a boy called Jupiter in the 1990 sitcom Gordy. In one of the episodes, a chimpanzee suddenly runs riot, killing all human cast members apart from Park.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that the Gordy massacre was telegraphed by a bible quote from ‘Nahum’ Chapter three, in which the citizens of Nineveh are threatened with punishment: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle”. Peele somehow connects the quote with the massacre, having the chimp pull off his garish birthday hat off and throws it to the ground. He certainly had enough.

This is certainly a Hollywood spectacle, but too far-fetched to give it much credit – it’s not even on par with the overrated Once upon a Time in Hollywood – without the historical underpinnings. There are gaps in the narrative, and some sort of structure would have helped. What makes it really worthwhile are DoP Hoyte van Hoytema’s brilliant 65 mm images (Ratio 1:2.39), unfortunately only available in Imax theatres.

Overall, NOPE is certainly a bit of fun, but the lack of depth – despite some allusions to history and politics – reduces its impact to just another fairground attraction. AS


Il Pataffio (2022) Locarno Film Festival

Dir.: Francesco Lagi; Lino Musella, Viviana Cangiano, Giorgio Tirabassi, Giovanni Ludeno, Vincenzo Nemolato, Allesandro Gassmann, Valerio Mastandrea, Italy 2022, 117 min.

When Francesco Lagi took on Luigi Malerba’s 1978 novel he clearly had ambitions for a  screen epic along the lines of Branca Leone by the great, late Mario Monicelli. But in trying to sex up this historical fable, all we get is coarse gags and rambunctiousness in a protracted medieval adventure that lacks the master’s irony and finesse.

Marconte Berlocchio (Musella) and his motley group of courtiers really have their work cut out in taking possession of the remote fiefdom of Tripleball handed to him by the King, and the father of his new bride Bernarda (Cangiano). After a long uphill struggle Berlocchio soon realises they have reached Castlebad rather than Tripleball, far away on the other side of the mountain range.

But the nightmare continues in Tripleball: the castle is in ruins; the villagers are nowhere to be seen; and worst of all – the farm stock and horses have made off with all the food. To add to his woes, Bernarda is pressurising him to consummate the marriage, and while Frate Cappucio (Gassmann) tries to placate her, she turns to one of his monks – with disastrous results.

Meanwhile Berlocchio leads his troops into a battle against the enemies of Castlebad, but they are routed and he eventually finds himself face to face with the King who has come to claim back his property. There are naturally twists and turns in this flawed and drawn out narrative but to reveal them would spoil all the ‘fun’. DoP’s Diego Romero Suarez Llanos’ hyper realistic images are often far too provocative for the historical fable in a feature that would have Malerba turning in his grave. AS


Official Competition (2021)

Dir.: Mariano Cohn, Gaston Duprat; Cast: Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martinez, Jose Luiz Gomez, Irene Escolar; Spain 2021, 115 min.

Argentine directors/co-writers Mariano Cohen and Gaston Duprat made an uproarious comedy satire The Distinguished Citizen which never got a decent showing in Britain. So it’s a shame that their ludicrous latest outing is now on general release, and not even Oscar Martinez, the star of the 2016 film, can save it. Films about movie making schemes are notoriously prone to disappoint – and this is no exception. Even the premise feels phoney.

Super-rich entrepreneur Humberto Suarez (Gomez) wants to be remembered as an art lover. So to celebrate his 80th birthday he gets eccentric director Lola Cuevas (Cruz) to adapt a best seller for the big screen with his daughter Diane (Escolar) bagging a role in a drama starring Hollywood duo Felix Rivero (Banderas) and theatre-loving pseudo intellectual Ivan Torres (Martinez) as feuding brothers, who hate each other on and off set.

Cuevas has all her hands full from the get go. The gags are not particularly promising: a rock made of cardboard dangling over the actors’ heads is mistaken for a real boulder. Rivero pretends at one point to have pancreatic cancer, and Torres, testing his rival, tries to make Rivero believe he is a serious actor. Meanwhile lesbian Cuevas sets up a kissing contest between the two men, and ends up doing the most convincing job and leaving Diane gasping for more, the two of them rolling around on the floor to the horror of Suarez senior. Finally, Rivero goads Torres into attacking him, but ends up falling down several floors with tragic consequences.

Official Competition is all glitter and glam with its loud and confrontational characters and a predicable plot-lines. Sometimes the self-parody actually succeeds in spite of itself. DoP Arnau Valis Colomer does his best to conjure up a chaotic ambiance which would make Cecil B. DeMille proud – but this is a tawdry Tinseltown project, not Ben Hur. AS



Fledglings (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022


Dir.: Lidia Duda; Documentary with Zosia, Oskar, Kinga; Poland 2022, 82 min.

A specialist boarding school in Poland explores how blind and visually impaired the children gain strength and confidence from supporting each other in Lidia Duda’s surprisingly stylish first feature that serves as a warm tribute to both staff and patients.

Zosia, Oskar and Kinga are barely out of nappies when they find themselves separated from their parents and in the care of Ewa, a strict but gentle nurse who is only satisfied when they do their best to interact in the new surroundings. Oskar is learning to play the piano but Zosia is still finding her feet away from the family home. On a speaker-phone she listens to her mother wishing her ‘sweet deams’. Sensitive to noise, Zosia finds the other kids challenging, particularly Oskar who shouts a lot.

Surrounded by toys and learning aids – the swings turn out to be difficult to master – the children also use a sort of typewriter with buttons for every letter, to learn to write. Zosia is more concerned with her mother who: “has to work, she could not come to visit, she has to earn money”. Zosia pleads with Oskar not to clap “you can clap after school, but otherwise you’ll get us expelled. You have to learn not to sleep in class”. Suddenly, Zosia is alone with no friends to play with: “I need a hug”. she cries. But despite Oskar pushing her Zosia admits that she does like him.

In this religious institution the children are taught that “God loves us all”. Oskar seems to respond, telling Zosia he loves her, but she is not so sure of him and really just wants to see her parents, desperate for them to visit: “I am in a bad mood today. I miss Kinga and Dad”. At a meeting for the whole school, Zosia is chosen to recite a poem by a well-known author. The results are impressive. But the day after her uncle and aunt finally managed to visit, Zosia complains: “Yesterday I had a bad day, a really tough day.”

Zosia finally learns to play the piano, and she and Oskar enjoy a role-play with teddy bears, the kids pretend to be doctors curing them. One bear is told he has to stay in bed for three years (!). After recovering from a emergency visit to hospital, Kinga’s birthday provides a welcome break for the kids with Oskar accompanying the celebrations on the piano, Zosia touching his shoulder gently as he turns to stroke her face.

These children are forced to grow up early – and relying on verbal communication has made them advanced for their age where speech is concerned in a world that will remain a mystery to them forever, in many ways. As a result their role-plays become very complex and mature. With sensitive black-and-white images from DoPs Wojciech Staron and Zuzanna Zachara, Fledgings is endearing but never sentimental in showing that the struggle for a non-visual identity is tough but enormously satisfying. An impressive first feature and a special achievement in every way. AS


A Perfect Day for Caribou (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022



Dir.: Jeff Rutherford; Cast: Charlie Plummer, Jeb Berrier, Oellis Levine, Connor Brenes; USA 2022, 95 min.

A father and son come together to mull over their failing relationship in this meditative rather inconclusive first feature from US filmmaker Jeff Rutherford’s. Partly Nebraska, partly Beckett, A Perfect Day is also eye candy: the gleaming black-and-white images of DoP Alfonso Herrera Salcedo, masterfully transferred on a 4:3 format ratio, are a joy to behold.

Herman (Berrier), a man in his early sixties, has come to the end of the road, and has decided to end things, but not before leaving a message for his estranged son Nate (Plummer), at which point the phone rings and Nate asks to see him. The two, both unemployed, meet with Nate’s seven- year old son Ralph (Levine) in one of those large US cemeteries that stretch out endlessly. It has emerged, from the now abandoned message, that Herman’s father died in a drowning accident and Herman’s brother jumped to his death from a bridge. Herman’s partner Tracey has recently left him, and Nate is disenchanted with his wife Sandy, having recently discovered that Ralph is not his biological son. In short, both men feel let down by the women in their life.

Meanwhile, Ralph – “who is not right in the head” – according to his father, wanders off into the surrounding countryside, and, suddenly aware of his disappearance the two men panic and an organised search gets underway during which time Herman narrowly avoids being shot by a woman with a gun. Nate starts a confessional monologue revealing how he would like to see both Sandy and Ralph dead. Not that he wants Ralph to suffer, but he feels more animosity towards Sandy for the way she diminishes him with her derisory comments: “She always laughs about my plans, even when I say I want to be a “weatherman”. Quick insert of Nate trying his hand at forecasting on the TV.

Plummer and Berrier are outstanding as the odd couple – they are clearly meant for each other, even though Nate makes a big deal of telling his father “I am different from you”. Nate is emotionally intelligent and fully aware of his marital shortcomings: “Sandy and me are bad versions of ourselves”. With the wild landscape playing the part of the third main character, A Perfect Day for Caribou is a sombre reminder of how male self-pity can often lead to violence against women and children. The dry humour barely conceals the serious implications. A  commendable debut. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Concorso Cineasti del Presente

Flux Gourmet (2022)

Dir/Wri: Peter Strickland | Cast: Asa Butterfield, Gwendoline Christie, Ariane Labed, Fatma Mohamed, Makis Papadimitriou | UK Comedy Horror, 110′

Blending elements from his previous offerings Peter Strickland concocts a mind-boggling soup of style over content. You will either relish Flux Gourmet – or retch into your popcorn.

The soundtrack has echoes of Berberian Sound Studio, but the look is distinctly In Fabric in style with its garishly macabre 19th mitteleuropaïschen overtones. There is the same teasing quality of The Duke of Burgundy but the narrative is precarious and difficult to pin down. The humour – if you can call it that – is deadpan and lavatorial rather than witty or amusing. The performances are generally engaging, Strickland working with his core team of Gwendoline Christie and Fatma Mohamed Asa Butterrfield, Ariane Labed and Makis Papadimitriou boosting an eclectic cast. 

This is Strickland’s most self-indulgent and unrelatable film to date. Some may find it laborious – I certainly did. There is a feeling the auteurish filmmaker just wants to mock his audience with a piss-taking pot-pourri of outlandish ideas that somehow fail to make sense, let alone entertain.  

In an old English country house, Christie’s Jan Stevens runs residential courses in “sonic cooking” that boil down to a series of creative experimental events taking place with a live audience egging the team on. Participants are selected for their inspired ideas in preparing food, and invited to present their efforts during a series of workshops that culminate in a showcase showdown on the final evening. The sound element is provided by microphones placed strategically into the food that sometimes consists of whipped up terapins or pigs’ ears, and ultimately of those taking part, with ghastly results.

To add to the film’s bizarre nature, there is part-narration in Greek by flatulent commentator Stones (Makis Papadimitriou) who has the job of interviewing the attendees for an in-house journal. Stones is forced to share a dormitory with the rest of the team: tousle-haired Billy (Butterfield), the chain-smoking Lamina (Labed) and Elle (Mohamed). During the small hours, Stones makes frequent trips to the ensuite bathroom to fart ferociously and empty his bowels, and this malaise forces him to seek medical advice from Dr Glock (Bremmer) who takes delight in prolonging his agony with a battery of invasive tests, some of them staged for the live audience.

Meanwhile Billy has a fetish for eggs that somehow leads him into an erotic clinch with the voluptuous Jan Stevens (sporting a ‘Jester’ style nightcap). There are feint connotations to Marco Ferreri’s 1973 curio La Grande Bouffe but that was a film with heart and emotion. Flux Gourmet will no doubt go down in history as a “cult classic”, a label it does not really deserve. There is a visceral emptiness here that leaves you with a feeling of gut-churning disgust. But there again it may be ‘bread and meat’ to some. MT



The Harder they Come (1972)

Dir.: Perry Hanzell; Cast: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw, Ras Daniel Hartman Bobby Charlton, Basil Keene, Winston Stona; Jamaica 1972, 104 min.

When Jamaican director/co-writer Perry Hanzell (1946-2006) came to Venice Film Festival fifty years ago, not many people watched his debut, the first Jamaican feature The Harder they Come. Only select screenings, away from the Lido, led press to the discovery of a US distributor in shape of Roger Corman’s New World Film. And while time has not always best served this singular movie, it is still a monumental achievement. There is a raw quality which can only be appreciated by Jamaica’s post-colonial status, just ten years after Independence.

Ivan (Cliff) arrives in Kingston from the countryside hoping to make a career as a singer and songwriter. Taking a job with the local preacher (Keene), he soon falls out with him after talking his ward Elsa (Bartley) into letting him use the church for a recording session. When Ivan tries to claim a bicycle from his successor, as the preacher’s handyman, the man denies his claim, and the two end up in a brall. Instead of prison, Ivan is sentenced to eight lashes – a public humiliation he will never forget. Ivan is finally manages to record a single, but his promoter only pays him twenty dollars. Desperate for cash, Ivan calls on his friend Jose (Bradshaw) who lntroduces him to a police protected drug ring involved in moving hash from the countryside to the city.

Although the law usually gives Ivan a wide berth on his drug-running tours, one day he panics and kills a police officer who flags him down on his motor cycle. Ivan is now a wanted man, and what’s worse, he shoots three more policemen. Pedro (Hartman) helps Ivan to hide, but detective Jones (Stona), the ringleader, shuts the operation down, until such time as Ivan is killed or handed over to him. In a wild last reel, Ivan tries to escape to Cuba but is too weak to swim to the rescue vessel. On the beach, imagining he is the hero of an Italo-Western he watched soon after arriving in Kingston, Ivan is attacked by the whole police force, But his record is great hit, making a fortune for the record producer.

The second line of the title reads “They harder they fall” and this is very much true for Ivan. His one-man assault of everyone in power has to end badly. But he takes it like a man: mixing cinema and life, and is only to grateful to get some  when applause, even at the end. Ivan is the archetypal loner, a ‘Django’ without the skills to survive. Furious and uncontrolled in the style of this iconic feature, Ivan loves his life on the fast lane – whatever the cost. The Harder they Come is a sledgehammer, its blows still rain down today. AS


Piaffe (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022



Dir: Ann Oren | Cast: Simone Bucio, Sebastian Rudolph | Germany, drama 86′

A game of willpower and discipline sees a young women transform herself – with alarming results – in this stylish arthouse drama from German director and visual artist Ann Oren, competing for the Golden Leopard at this year’s Locarno Film festival 2022.

Sharing script duties with Thais Guisasola, Oren brings her skill as a visual artist to bear in  this unique piece of filmmaking driven forward by its distinctive soundscape and pristine cinematic allure captured by Carlos Vasquez’ camerawork.

The shy main character Eva (Bucio) is forced to take on her sister Zara’s job as a Foley artist when she suffers some sort of nervous collapse. Replicating the accurate sound of horse hooves trotting on the spot in the famous “Piaffe” manoeuvre – along with those recreating  training and dressage positions – is no mean feat, and physically quite exhausting for Eva as she struggles to make the soundtrack for a commercial featuring a horse. But then something weird happens: Eva actually starts growing a horse tail – complete with coarse, dark hair – that luckily matches her own shade of chestnut. And somehow her newfound excrescence gives her considerable agency, allowing her to turn her love life around.

Oren has certainly created a curio: her inspired plot line and acute attention to detail is laudable, certainly qualifying her for a pole position as one of this year’s most original and intriguing arthouse features in the main competition. MT


Paris, Texas (1984)

Dir.: Wim Wenders; Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Nasstassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson, Bernhard Wicki; West Germany/France 1984, 147 min.

German director Wim Wenders follows his earlier road movies with a real cult classic. Paris, Texas is perhaps most memorable for Harry Dean Stanton, Ry Cooder’s moody score and the burning images of the Wenders regular, Austrian DoP Robby Müller. Written by the Sam Shephard, and adapted for the screen by L.M. Kit Carson, this enigmatic character drama won the “Palme d’Or” in Cannes 1984.

Wim Wenders in Cannes | Debussy Cinema @Meredith Taylor copyright


Stanton is Travis Henderson, an aimless drifter who stumbles into a bar in the Texan desert, and promptly passes out. A German doctor (Wicki) revives him and finds a piece of paper with a phone number, in the man’s pocket. It belongs to Travis’ brother Walt (the charismatic Dean Stockwell), who collect him and endures his brother’s stony silence on the long drive back to LA where Walt lives with his gentle wife Anne (Clement) and Travis’ 7 year old son Hunter (H Carson, son of Karen Black and Kit Carson) who they have raised for the past four years.

Hunter and Travis hit it off – against all odds – and Anne tells Travis that Hunter’s birth mother is paying a monthly deposit money into an account for her son. Travis and Hunter track Jane (Kinski) down to San Antonio, Texas where it transpires she is working as a sex worker in a Peep-Show. Pretending to be a client, Travis, who can not be seen by Jane because of one-way glass window, talks to her via an intercom, sharing their love story until she cottons on. Confused by his emotions but wanting the best for Hunter, Travis finally hatches a very unlikely plan.

Guilt is the watchword in Wenders’ movies. Overtaken by the emotion from an early age, he considered taking the priesthood to fulfil his strong feelings about Catholicism. Nearly all his anti-heroes live their lives in the past, and fear the future. Travis’ unfounded jealousy and alcoholism led to the break-up of the torrid relationship with the much younger Jane (a luminous Kinski). He had even bought a plot of land to prepare for their future together. Only a crumpled photo of a ramshackle hut in the desert remains. But Travis clings to it like a totem. Along with the titular hero in The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (1972), who kills out of boredom, Travis is always running away, not to find anything, just to lose himself.

The German photographer in Alice in the Cities (1974) escapes to another continent to ‘forget’ a relationship, only to be trumped by a mother who leaves her daughter in his care, expecting him to trace the girl’s relatives in Germany. Kings of the Road (1976) sees two lorry drivers dreaming of a future which will never be realised because they can only talk about women, and how much they miss them. Finally, in The American Friend (1977) Zimmermann, a painter and frame-maker, is unable to communicate his physical and emotional turmoil to his wife; instead he goes on murdering spree, for money.

Paris, Texas raises the timely theme of belonging: As nurturing fill-in parents to Hunter for most of his life, Walt and Anne are the losers of the piece. But Wenders hardly touches on their emotional arc – or their pain – in the aftermath to Hunter’s departure. His focus is the birth mother and son who must be united at all costs. And their final scene together brings to mind the emblematic coupling of Christ with the Virgin Mary.

Leading men are generally loners in Wenders’ features, their isolating fear of women gradually diminishes their persona as the narrative unfolds. Violence is never far away, and Travis suppresses his anger into a brooding silence. Harry Dean Stanton channels a palpable intensity of feelings into a performance that is subtle and exquisitely felt, but barely shown. His brother Walt is likeable and articulate along with his delicate wife Anne, a touching turn from Aurore Clement. There’s an almost whimsical quality to the early domestic scenes with the four of them together. Where there could have been emotional trauma and harsh words, Wenders instead brings a tender, almost comedic lightness of touch.

Wenders’ love for America and its culture is explainable: violence is simmering under the surface, ready to explode at any time. Paris, Texas is never violent, but the emotional pain is only too visible. A cult classic that needs to be explored again and again.

ON RE-RELEASE AT Picturehouses | Curzon Cinemas | from 29th July 2022

Fire – Both Sides of the Blade (2022)

Dir: Claire Denis | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Grégoire Colin, Issa Perica, Bulle Ogier, Mati Diop | France Drama 116′

Claire Denis explores the intense dynamics of a love triangle in this coruscating character drama that reunites her regular cast of Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Gregoire Colin and Bruno Podalydes.

Sara (Binoche) and Jean (Lindon) have been in love for nearly a decade living together in a stylish penthouse in Paris where she runs a radio station while Jean, a former professional rugby player, is getting back to normal after serving time. Despite his impulsiveness and potent physicality, Jean offers warmth and stability to Sara who can be controlling and neurotic, rather like his demanding mother Nelly (Ogier) now confined to the family home in the suburb Vitry where she barely manages his troubled teenage son Marcus (Perica) who is slowly going off the rails.

The opening sets the tone for this torridly sensual romantic drama with its elegantly ecstatic sex scenes: Jean and Sara are pictured cavorting in the sea on a winter break. Back in Paris grey skies call time on their idyllic romance when Sara’s saturnine former lover Francois comes back on the scene, offering Jean a new start as a talent coach in his rugby start-up. Sara has certainly found contentment with Jean but catching sight of Francois for the first time in ages leaves her breathless and ready for another dose of the intoxicating chemistry they once shared. Caught in the emotional crossfire between the two men in her life, she probes Jean obsessively for details about Francois and the new venture. But Jean keeps her in the dark while he processes his own feelings, fully aware of the dangers that lie ahead.

Cleverly adapting Christine Angot’s novel, Un tournant de la Vie, for the screen, Denis keeps the camera close and intimate but retains her distance, avoiding sentimentality in charting the emotional volatility and shifting moods with laser sharp intensity as a baleful score hints at turmoil and heartache for the star-crossed lovers. At this point ad libbing takes over between Lindon and Binoche as their onscreen relationship starts to falter and fall apart amid scenes of barely controlled hysteria as powerful emotions surface. Sara, in denial, tries to contain her turbulent thoughts and real motives, becoming defensive: Jean gives her tenderness and security but it is Francois who really sends her wild with his mercurial charm. Jean knows this love is out of control and he prepares to leave only just suppressing the hurt and fury he really feels inside.

The final scenes of enduring love imploding on the rocky shores of passion are revealing and compulsive to watch. Denis keeps us guessing right up to the devastating denouement which is left open to interpretation, satisfying in its ambiguity. MT


Tommy Guns (2022) Locarno Film Festival



Dir.: Carlos Conceicao; Cast: Joao Arrais, Anabela Moreira; Gustavo Sumpta, Leonor Silvera, Ule Balde, Meiriulo Mendes; Portugal/Angola/France; 120 min.

Angolan writer/director Carlos Conceicao delves into the bitter Colonial history of his country in this magic realist feature set in 1974, during the final year of Portuguese rule in Angola. With enchanting camerawork from DoP Vasco Viana, Conceicao lulls us into an alluring rhythm of seductive serenity despite the gruelling nature of the subject matter.

The struggle for freedom has been a painful and long-fought battle, particularly for the innocent bystanders caught up in civil war. Conceicao establishes the violent ambience in the opening scenes set in a small village where an Angolan tribal girl Tchissola (Balde) is given an amulet depicting the Virgin Mary by a Portuguese nun (Silveira). In return Tchissola sets out to bring repay her kindness in a journey curtailed by a Portuguese soldier who prays before making love to her, only to shoot her in a seemingly motiveless attack. Meanwhile, the nun is set upon by rebels, shooting into the air with their titular guns.

The action then shifts to a walled encampment where seven disgruntled soldiers are barracked along with their presiding sadistic colonel (Sumpta) who has fostered a hostile atmosphere amongst the men by ordering one of the group, Ze (Arrais) to shoot Prata (Mendes), the cook and food provider of the camp, suspecting him of being a traitor. Ze gains promotion and is granted a wish. Asking to visit his mother again but we later find out that he does not even known her name and is possibly the victim of abduction, his request an attempt to escape.

The young soldiers are bored and frustrated with being cooped up in the confines of the camp so they swim out into the lake where they find a picture of a young blonde woman, which they hang up in one of the dilapidated buildings. Wising up the mood of frustration the Colonel brings Apolonia (Moreira) a sex worker into the camp, but when Ze is too rough with her the woman tries to escape with tragic consequences for all concerned in the surrealist finale.

The irony of the conflict sequences often collides with the grim reality, but Conceicao handles these contradictions with consummate ease managing to keen the audience on tenterhooks throughout the film’s generous running time. Boosted by brilliant performances from its ensemble cast Tommy Guns is a unique and impressive film reflecting a horrifying episode from Angola’s turbulent past. AS


The Shuroo Process aka The Shuroo Retreat (2021)

Dir.: Emrhys Cooper; Cast: Fiona Dourif, Donal Brophy, Emrhys Cooper; USA 2021, 95 min.

This first feature film by British director/co-writer Emrhys Cooper is an unstructured, freewheeling comedy bent on creating dramatic confrontations – seemingly just for the sake of it.

NYC based Journalist Parker Schafer (F. Dourif) is at a crossroads – emotionally and career wise – having just lost her lover and a job at “Rogue” Magazine after a shambolic TV award appearance. In desperation she turns to Guru Shuroo (Brophy), also known as Declan, hoping that a weekend at his summer retreat in the Catskill mountains will turn things around.  Ironically, this turns out to be the case, but not the way the guru had in mind. There are some embarrassingly clumsy “solutions” for all concerned: a gay coming-out and childhood sex abuse among them, Schafer admitting to guilt surrounding her brother’s death after introducing him to cocaine. The guru adopts a ‘one size fits all’ approach to healing his patients, and clearly the cast enjoyed themselves judging by those attending the press screening. Cooper and his co-writer Donal Brophy go all out for laughs in a film that has nothing really to say, leaving the audience scratching their heads in amazement. AS

THE SHUROO RETREAT out on demand from 25 July 2022



Fairytale | Skaska (2022) Locarno Film Festival 2022



Dir.: Alexandr Sokurov; Cast: Igor Gromov, Vakhtang Kuchava, Lothar Deeg, Tim Ettelt, Fabio Mastrangelo, Alexander Sagabashi, Muchael Gibson, Pascal Slivansky; Russia/Belgium 2022, 78 min.

“You strangled Satan, passion bearer, with the godly strings of your suffering” M22 K, 4-4

Russian writer/director Alexandr Sokurov has been a thorn in the side of the Stalinist authorities throughout his film career that started in the early 1970s and is still raging on with this latest opus, a compelling curio competing in the main competition at this year’s 75th celebration of Locarno International Film festival. Fairy Tale was originally due to be shown at Cannes in May 2022 after ducking the boycott on Russian directors, but Sokurov later changed his mind. Apparently the organisers “could not handle a feature uncommon in the world”, which is “far more complicated than some festivals need”. Sokurov also is quoted as saying: “the organisers in Cannes are afraid to show such things”. Others claim the master was miffed that A Bird Searches for a Cage (directed by his protégé Malika Musaeva) had not made it into this year’s competition on the French Riviera.

Fairy Tale opens with a New Testament quote: “You strangled Satan, passion bearer, with the godly strings of your suffering”. What follows is as enigmatic as it is opaque. Against a black & white backcloth, specially designed by Sokurov, animated figures of Churchill (Sagabashi, Gibson), Hitler (Deeg, Ettelt), Mussolini (Mastrangelo) and Stalin (Kuchava) meander along in a landscape – which could be hell or heaven – the Supreme Force (Gromov) directing proceedings to a certain degree, whilst Napoleon Bonaparte (Slivansky) makes a guest appearance.

Some of these world leaders seem preoccupied with the scent of their peers; Hitler, sniffing Stalin, asks “Are you a Caucasian Jew?” Hitler goes on grumbling, “even here, in paradise, they pummel Germans”. Napoleon makes an appearance, and Hitler tries to deceive the assemble, claiming he had conquered Moscow and lived in the Kremlin. Churchill is convinced “Mussolini is sort of an oddball”. Later we will see the Duce’s body, along with that of his lover Clara Petacci, in rather gruesome circumstances. Hitler is angry with himself: “Why did I not burn down Paris?”. He also reflects on his possible marriage to Wagner’s niece. Churchill meanwhile talks of resistance, we see the image of a Lamborghini. Stalin advises Hitler, “you should join the Bolsheviks, we will knock some sense in you.” Hitler then grows sentimental “I love you all”. Churchill remarks “You can Google me”. Churchill is also happy “that he talked to God alone”.

In a colour sequence we witness the masses passing the Moscow grandstands at the fabled First of May parade, set to the tones of Strauss. Churchill again meets God and tells him “I will try. They should all be coming soon”. Mussolini wails: “Where is my Clara?”. Hitler quails in his boots when Jesus reappears. Churchill tells Hitler to forget about Wagner’s niece, “Eva is still better”. Hitler promised everyone that the best is still to come, claiming he didn’t make a bad start (!). Stalin sees lilacs everywhere, but Churchill rebukes him “Communists are blind and deaf.” Churchill has another pop at Stalin: “You did not go to your mother’s funeral”. Stalin meekly responds: “I was away”.

Following Moloch, Taurus and The Sun, biopics of Lenin, Hitler and Hirohito and his 2015 feature Francofonia , Sokurov applies the same individual treatment for the leaders of WWII. They are reduced to ordinary citizens, complaining and trying to be correct their misjudgments in hindsight. But there is nothing heroic about any of them, on the contrary, they are petty and vengeful. Reduced to an everyman status, they have lost all the grandeur of their historical status. Now they are ready to be put out to grass.

The production design is awesome, eclipsing even Sokurov’s Faust, black & white somehow adding to the film’s phantasmagorical allure, the elusive characters fusing with the fog, like ghosts reduced to deceptive legends, their heroic personas diminished by the mists of time. Fairy Tale takes no prisoners: there is no middle-ground, and Sokoruv is a brilliant provocateur – his inventiveness never fails to beguiled and bewilder. AS




Only in Theatres (2022)

Dir.: Raphael Sbarge; Documentary with Greg Laemmle, Tish Laemmle, Robert Laemmle, James Ivory, Roberta Grossman, Cameron Crowe; USA 2021, 95 min.

Arthouse cinemas are facing tough competition from the likes of streaming platforms Netflix and Amazon Prime. But one Los Angeles chain is still thriving after thanks to the pioneering spirit of its owners, the Laemmle family.

US director Raphael Sbarge chronicles its fight for survival against the odds for the new  generation of Laemmles, who (still) own the much-loved 84-year-old chain in Los Angeles. Founded by German-Jewish emigrants Max and Kurt Laemmle in 1938 – they were nephews of Hollywood tycoon Carl Laemmle – the cinema chain fought off the threat of closure from dwindling audiences during the Covid-19 epidemic.

Founders Max and Kurt followed their uncle Carl from New Jersey to California after Thomas Edison insisted on all film production companies using his patent. Any producers who refused had cameras and other film-making equipment smashed to pieces; the police were unable to intervene. Capitalism was tough, it was the survival of the fittest.

Today’s Laemmles: CEO Greg, his father Robert (the president), Greg’s wife Tish and their triplet sons Gabriel, Nadav and Ezra, are fighting a different battle of survival. Since the early 1950s the various outlets, headed up by their marquee theatre “Royal”, has specialised in European Arthouse fare from Bergman, Resnais and Godard. The Laemmles enjoyed a certain monopoly on the foreign market as Hollywood productions dominated the LA cinema scene.

Streaming started to take great chunks out of audiences, and the profits; rather like the advent of TV seventy years ago. Laptops and iPads threatened the very existence of the Arthouse scene. Director James Ivory, one of many filmmakers, critics and film historians – among them Roberta Grossman and Cameron Crowe – is adamant in not wanting his films to be streamed: “If anyone told me they’d seen my films online, I would say ‘Oh no!'”

For months during the second half of 2019, CEO Greg Laemmle mulled over the possibility of selling the family business. His father Robert and wife Tish watched him getting more and more depressed. But finally, on Christmas Day, Greg told a delighted audience he had decided against selling. A few months later Covid-10 led to the closure of all cinemas in the state of California. The doors would not open again until March 2021. Greg and Tish had to sell their LA house and move to Seattle, Washington. They were also forced to put two cinemas up for sale to finance the remainder of their outlets, This ‘victory’ has certainly taken its toll on Greg – the responsibility to carry on the family tradition is a tall order for anybody who values quality above the profit margin, particularly in the materialistic world of the United States.

Only in Theatres is passionate but never sentimental. The battle of art versus commerce is fought out in the open with DoP Matt Kubas’ handheld camera being a witness to this war for the ‘soul of cinema’. A informative piece of living film history. AS


Rifkin’s Festival (2020)

Dir/Wri: Woody Allen | Cast: Wallace Shawn, Gina Gershon, Christoph Waltz, Louis Garrel, Elena Anaya, Sergi López | US comedy 92′

Woody Allen’s latest addition to the archive needed more oomph. The weary reverie tinged with wistful melancholy reflecting on the golden age of arthouse cinema and the nature of longterm love is let down by dreary characters.

The annual San Sebastián Film Festival is in full swing and jaded novelist, the shrew-like Mort Rifkin (Shawn), is there with his hard-faced publicist wife Sue (Gershon). But their marriage is in trouble. Super busy Sue is handling press for a breakout hit directed by popular French filmmaker Philippe (Garrel) who who will inadvertently seduce her with his signature brand of self-obsessed seriousness while hot-footing it from interview to press conference.

The Basque capital positively glows in the gilded tints of Autumn (captured by Woody’s regular cinematographer Vittorio Storaro) but this drama feels dour and decidedly lacklustre, largely due to a charmless set of one-dimensional characters. Mort and Sue seem a mismatched couple from the start – hard to imagine they ever had much in common. Her lack of empathy sends his hypochondria into overdrive, and heart palpitations soon see him in the arms of local cardiologist Jo Rojas (Anaya) whose marriage to the cartoonish creative Paco (Lopez) is also on the rocks. Dreams of a putative future together and a trip round the scenic coastline provide us with cinematic relief, but all Mort needs is another neurotic – and Jo is certainly no picnic in the park – falling asleep through sheer emotional exhaustion after finding Paco in bed with another woman.

Rifkin’s Festival is certainly a highly intelligent film full of insight and spirited humour largely lost . Woody takes scenes from his own film favourites: Citizen Kane to Jules et Jim and The Seventh Seal (Christophe Waltz the standout as the grim reaper) re-staging and re-shooting them as black & white parodies representing Mort’s own experiences. The trouble is, we feel nothing for any of these people and their turgid marriages and lifeless new love affairs despite the very real and relatable nature of their problems. MT






A Tale of Filipino Violence (2022)

Dir.: Lav Diaz; Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Hazel Morenci, Shaina Magddayao, Agot Isidro , Charo Santos-Concio, Josef Nanding, Bart Goingona, Alsajir Puno, Earl Ignazio, Gio Gahom; Philippines, 2021, 409 min.

Filipino director, co-writer, co-DoP, designer and editor Lav Diaz once again delves into his country’s rich history from Spanish colonisation to present-day feudalism in an epic drama with touchstones to the present, based on Ricardo Lee’s short story and screen play “Servando Magdamag”.

As the title suggests – this is a blood-soaked ballad of brutal confrontations tracing the life and times of an infamous Filipino dynasty, the violence mostly happening off-screen in the director’s signature slow-burn style that envelopes us into the action. After seven hours we are very much part of his world, and the family feud at its core.

A Tale – shot once again in velvety black & white – takes place in the early days of the dictatorship of Fernando Marcos (1917-1989). Elected President in 1965 he declared Martial Law in 1972 so as to avoid calling an election shortly before the end of his second term, the regime gradually becoming more entrenched. Ironically, his son Marcos jun (Bong Bong) has just been elected president of his country in a landslide victory paving the way for his mother Imelda to return to the presidential palace. She would flee the country with her family in February 1986.

Servando Monzon VI (an impressive John Lloyd Cruz) proves to be a somewhat unreliable narrator, reading from the journal of his ancestor Servando Monzon I who was born in Spain but deported to the Philippines in 1979 after killing his lover, stabbing her 52 times. The founder of the family fortune used slavery to establish the huge and profitable ‘Hacienda’. In one of the early scenes the violent heir Tres Monzon III (Goingoa) is delivered back to his Villa in the Hacienda by ambulance. Suffering from pancreatic cancer, he only has a month to live, but he has been fortunate: family money has saved him from a long prison sentence for his crimes of rape and murder. But his comes uppence has finally arrived, fate delivering the final blow.

Servando is married to Belinda (Orenzio, who is also the film’s co-producer and assistant director). The university educated Belinda sympathises with her brother Delio (Gahom) who is an active part of the NPA forces operating in the vicinity of the Hacienda. Belinda is also taking care of Tya Dencia (Isodro) who has witnessed the 1945 murder of many of the Monzon clan and their women by Japanese forces. One of them, Dolores, gave birth to three children after being repeatedly raped. Dencia suffers from schizophrenia and has fled into her childhood, playing with dolls and singing sad songs. Delio is captured and interrogated by Captain Andres (Ignazio), who later promises a fellow guerrilla that he will be freed if he kills Delio. In the end we hear three shots, suggesting Andres did not keep his word. What follows is a catalogue of killing and corruption – leaving many maimed, murdered and damaged for life – meted out by the Monzons not only to their adversaries but also their own close family in a story that sees Diaz eventually turning the tables to show who Servando really is.

Diaz has made a serial version of the film in colour, and a cinema version in black & white. Crucially, he has chosen to classify A Tale as a cine-novela because, like many of other historical epics, the feature is structured rather like a long novel. The reader – rather like the film’s audience – gets slowly embedded into the narrative. There are no rush cuts, long static shots allow the audience to become at one with place and protagonist. The Hacienda villa, like a theatre set, is filled with sinister foreboding and gloomy shadows, not least because Tres is on his death bed. Diaz avoids any shock effects in a story that always retains an element of surprise. Rather like the doom-laden family mansion of the House of Usher, Servando’s house is tainted by the past. Marcos speaks on the radio while real history is unfolding, and it feels like a real and integrated part of the feature.

Strangely the atmosphere of the pandemic still pervades the film. The immediacy of the moment helps to explain the effect it will have on the audience: a sort of ‘dance on a volcano’ sensation with the same long shot techniques employed by the Lumiere Brothers to surprise their audiences. The poetry and songs (composed by Diaz) bring to mind Melancholia in their ritual function.

And one last point: Diaz’s features should be approached in the same slow, episodic, patient way as a Henry James’ novel, not read in one go. Diaz plans to create a three-part cinema version – the complexities are often hidden in James’ half-page sentences, while Diaz’ films hide their power behind the non-dramatic developments; as with the prolonged death of Tres, who becomes a main protagonist by simply dying, igniting the demise of the Monzon clan and, at the same time, immersing us in this house of death where we simply languish like all the other protagonists.

Patience is the key to entering Diaz’ world, where every little detail is painstakingly viewed from different angles, showing the characters caught in a magnificent spider’s web.AS


The Good Boss (2021)

Dir.: Fernando Leon Aranoa; Cast: Javier Bardem, Oscar de la Fuente, Manob Solo, Almadena Amor, Tarik Rmili, Sonia Atmarcha, Fernando Albiza, Celso Bugallo; Spain 2021, 119 min.

Javier Bardem plays another arch villain in this darkly satirical Spanish arthouse flic which is entertaining up to a point, but doesn’t quite do justice to the serious nature of the material with bland jokes and one-dimensional characters often reducing the narrative to a farce, the many plots and subplots are still left dangling despite the generous running time.

Blanco (Bardem) has inherited a factory from his father, and somehow thinks he owns his employees into the bargain, lording it over them and interfering in their lives at will. The regional council is giving out a prize for the most progressive company and Blanco is keen on the prestige the award confers, and the prize money. His first target is José (de la Fuente), who takes his revenge on being sacked by building a minicamp outside the main gates of the factory where he is joined by his children in chaotic protests. Next in line is production manager Miralles (Solo). The two grew up together and Blanco believes he can sort out Miralles’ marriage rift when his wife decides to play the field. But all he gets for his troubles is a slap in face from the wife, in public. When new intern Liliana (Amor) joins the company Blanco’s luck seems to change. But after a night of passion with Liliana he find out from his long suffering wife Adela (Almarcha) that he looked after Liliana as the baby daughter of some close friends. Blanco ends the relationship unceremoniously, but Liliana teams up with Khaled (Rmli), who has taken over from Miralles’ role as productions manager, leveraging a pay rise and a job as marketing boss in return for not spilling the beans to her parents. So Blanco’s dream of winning the coveted award seems a long way off at this point in the game.

Best known for his breakout hit Loving Pablo, one can see what Spanish director Fernando Leon Aranoa had in mind: a modern version of a Frank Capra movie. But he lacks the finesse of the legendary American director, and even though Bardem makes for a charismatic lead there is no Jimmy Stewart to counter him. DoP Paul Esteve Birba and his handheld camera keep up the tempo in the production scenes, but the domestic stuff with Blanco in different bedrooms is rather old hat. Overall Boss falls between two stools, lacking the ballast to be a populist satire or enough humour and nuance for a modern screwball comedy – but it’s certainly worth a watch. AS


Operation Amsterdam (1959) TPTV

Dir/Wri: Michael McCarthy | Cast: Peter Finch, Eva Bartok, Tony Britton, John Le Mesurier, Alexander Knox | UK Thriller 104′

A harsh wartime drama with plenty of action and gunplay about infiltrating occupied Holland to obtain industrial diamonds. Vigorously directed by the late Michael McCarthy, augmented by Reg Wyer’s usual vivid photography and second unit work by Stanley Hayers; and lent class by the presence of Peter Finch and Alexander Knox in lead roles, with the usual entertaining supporting cast of familiar British faces such as John Le Mesurier.

The film’s biggest liability is Philip Green’s eccentric score, sometimes noisily percussive and full of drumrolls and sometimes attempting to convince us that this is all taking place in Amsterdam (perhaps to take our minds off the frequent process work both indoors and outdoors which show that much of it was actually shot at Pinewood! @RichardChatten


Robust (2022)

Dir.: Constance Meyer; Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Deborah Lukumuena, Lucas Mortier, Megan Northam, Florence Janas, Steve Tientchen; Belgium/France 2021, 95 min.

A short synopsis of Swiss director/co-writer Constance Meyer’s first feature film Robust might read like a second version of Untouchables, but luckily it is far superior. Starring Gerard Depardieu, also the leading man in Meyer’s two award-winning short films, this is a subtle comedy of growing-up pains – particularly where adults are concerned.

Pampered and terribly overweight, actor Georges (Depardieu) is playing the spoilt child who craves attention at all costs. Enter Aissa (Lukumuena), security guard – but also a talented wrestler. Aissa is charged by her boss Lalou (Tientchen) to look after Georges, who is on the verge of starring in a new film, a feudal drama set in 1847. Fond of his motorcycle, but crashing it during his nighttime forays, he lives in a posh Paris district where his home is dominated by a huge aquarium, the tropical fish gliding around in total darkness, and somehow assuring the hypochondriac George’s peace of mind.

Aissa not only has to deal with Georges, but also his family and friends: and his four-year old son Gabriel plus a new dog becomes also becomes his responsibility. Sofia, George’s ex-wife and Gabriel’s wants constants updates on the ‘phone, constantly wanting to know if all is well, not that she really cares either way.

One day Georges goes astray in the middle of the night and is set upon by eco-freaks who are easy meat for the well-trained Aissa, who may be the same weight as Georges, but also packs a mean punch. Her on/off boyfriend Eddie (Mortier) is a work college; but Aissa’s real roots are in a high rise block in the 20th arrondissment, where she lives with her little sister and mother. There is just one really ugly scene when Georges pesters Eddie and Aissa enjoying a Chinese meal: the actor makes his (imagined) superiority count: pulling rank on Aissa, and forgetting that she had comforted him hours before, when he had one of his panic attacks.

The running gags are the dialogues from the forthcoming feature film which Georges rehearses with Aissa. “Look at me now, deflated, timid and enslaved like a child”. Kids they may be, but Aissa is relaxed and in charge: soon becoming a team leader and taking on the protection of an important politician. Georges begs Aissa to stay – but Lalou will provide him with a new child minder.

DoP Simon Beaufils make use of an expressive colour palette, giving the narrative a distinct visual appeal. Depardieu and Lukumuena are both subtle and understated in their roles, even though the French star sometimes struggles to stay within “a mere human range”. Robust makes a welcome addition to the sub-genre of “odd couple” features in a humanistic and entertaining observation of human frailties. AS


Ithaka (2021)

Dir.: Ben Lawrence; Documentary with John Shipton, Stella Moris, Ai Weiwei, Vivienne Westwood, John Pilger, Nils Melzer; Australia/UK 2021, 104 min.

The contraversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (*1971) is the subject of this new documentary that takes the first lines of the titular 1911 poem by Greek writer Constantine Cavafy as its motto: As you set out for Ithaca /hope that your journey is a long one/full of adventure, full of discovery”.

Assange could not have asked for more: his discoveries are the stuff of nightmares, and the revenge of the governments he exposed has landed him in Britain’s High Security prison Belmarsh where he has languished for the last three years, actually managing to marry while in captivity: quite a feat for most people, particularly those accused of rape. Anyone who saw Laura Poitras’ hagiographic biopic Risk (2016/7) will have made up their minds about Assange’s persuasive powers where women are concerned, but Lawrence casts no judgement here, keeping his distance. An extradition order from the USA is pending, with British home secretary Priti Patel only too willing to oblige.

We meet Assange’s wife, the lawyer Stella Moris, at the unveiling of a statue of her husband in Geneva in November 2021. “I am here to remind you that Julian isn’t a name, he isn’t a symbol, he is a man and he is suffering”.

The couple have two young children, both conceived at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange stayed between 2012 and 2019. There is CCTV footage from the embassy, showing Assange and Moris, the former skate-boarding in his room. A guard warned Moris that the footage was to be sent to the US secret service every fortnight – Moris stopped visiting Assange. She also learned there were plans to poison her husband. The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Nils Melzer said “Torture is a tool used as a warning to others. It’s most effective when inflicted in public. In Julian’s case it’s about intimidating everyone else”. In this particular case it was Chelsea Manning, ex-US officer, who blew the whistle on Afghan war crimes by the US Army, and went to prison, to avoid talking about Assange’s part in the operation after she found out that Assange was depressed, and suffered a ‘mini’ stroke in Belmarsh Prison.

The time at the embassy coincides more or less with the Swedish Justice system accusing Assange of sexual assault, a charge bought forward by two Swedish women in 2010. In 2019 the case was dismissed, due to the long intervening period since the original accusation.

Besides Moris, Assange’s main defender is his father John Shipton (76), who travels the world in search of a positive solution to the case, neglecting his own five-year old daughter in Australia. John stepped out of Julian’s live when he letter was three, but re-entered when John was in his early twenties. John is tired, so much time is lost for him and his daughter Severine. He likens Lawrence to “Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor”. “He keeps burrowing away”.

On January 10th 2022, the UK High Court ruled Assange could be extradited to the USA, overturning a Lower Court ruling from 2021. On March 3rd of this year, the High Court refused Assange permission to appeal. On June 17th 2022 Priti Patel, UK Home Secretary, approved the extradition order. Two weeks later Assange and his team appealed against the extradition order. The war in the Ukraine has led to strong statements in the western media. It is perhaps helpful to remember that one of the WikiLeaks posted on 12.7.2007 concerned the killing of journalist Namir Noor-Eidsen and Saeed Chmagh, who were shot dead from the air by a US helicopter.

A strong score by Brian Eno helps to round off this passionate plea for a man who, according to Melzer, “never wanted to be in the spotlight”. AS


Death of a Ladies Man (2020)

Dir/Wri: Matt Bissonnette | Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Jessica Pare, Brian Gleeson, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilor, Karelle Tremblay | US Drama, 100′

To the dulcet tones of Leonard Cohen this familiar but feisty love story sizzles with mischievous humour courtesy of veteran Irish star Gabriel Byrne. 

Poetry professor Samuel O’Shea (Byrne) is one of those men who feels the need to chat up every woman he meets – in a well-intentioned way that inevitably leads to love and romance. Now past his prime and feeling dejected due to his wife’s infidelity and a recent cancer diagnosis he takes refuge in the bottle and decides to devote more of his time to his two adult children Layton (Pilor) and Josee (Tremblay) who are both facing difficult choices. But despite all this Samuel will soon embark on yet another flirtation, with another much young woman (Jessica Pare). Once again, falling in love – rather than facing his demons – is his default position.

Writer-director Matthew Bissonnette sets a melancholic tone with a score of memorable hits by Leonard Cohen that works well with the film’s Montreal and Dublin settings. The script is insightful and full of witty one-liners with its reflections on modern life and the generational divide but there are some rather odd interludes where Bissonnette attempts to liven things up with impromptu dance sequences involving the entire cast. Byrne is a charismatic class act perfectly capable of carrying a film without the additional dramatic device of casting a much younger actor as his old dad back from the grave to provide advice and insight from the past, although Brian Gleeson offers sanguine support as the father in question. MT


McEnroe (2022)

Dir.: Barney Douglas; Documentary with John McEnroe, Björn Borg, Billie Jean King, Patty Smyth; US/UK 2022, 104 min.

This new documentary about sporting (anti)hero John McEnroe overcomes the limitations of the genre in the same way as breakout hits Senna and Amy. US Writer/director Barney Douglas certainly mines the incendiary potential of his subject matter tennis icon John McEnroe (*1959) who never needs an excuse for his tirades and tantrums on and off court. Old age eventually mellows the star of Centre Court, after 37 psychiatrists, cocaine and countless affairs failed to do so.

John McEnroe won his first Grand Slam at the US Open in New York in 1979, age twenty, by defeating fellow New Yorker and best friend Vitus Gerulaitis; only five years later he would win his last and seventh Grand Slam title on the same ground, beating Ivan Lendl. He retired in 1992 from playing singles, but the question is: what happened in the intervening eight years.

The answer is not an easy one, even though McEnroe confesses: “I may be slightly on the spectrum”. Yes, he was one of the many high-functioning autism cases, always looking for perfection – for himself and others. And when both fell short, he exploded. But there is more to it: namely his relationship with his father John Patrick senior, who was for a long time his manager. When McEnroe junior wanted (needed) a father more than a manager, however successful, he sacked him, creating a lifelong rift. John senior was one of many fathers of his generation who proclaimed truthfully to love their offspring – but were totally unable to show it. Towards the end this father vs son struggle became bitter, with John junior blaming his father for the early death of his mother Katherine (of cancer in 2017); death also claiming her husband in the same year.

John’s marriage with Tatum O’Neal (1986-1994) did not help either – John was not prepared to take second place when it came to their media attention. Gaining custody of the three children from the marriage, his daughter sided with her mother. His 1997 marriage to vocalist Patty Smyth is more peaceful and produced two daughters, Ann and Ava, who also contribute their version of their father’s troubled existence. Björn Borg, who became a close friend after both men retired, and Billie Jean King, tell the story from a sporting point of view. After his retirement in 1992, John pursued the career of a musician, something he had planned with Gerulaitis, who died of carbon-monoxide poising at the age of forty, leaving a big hole in John’s life.

At the end of the day, there are many reasons why John McEnroe did not achieve the long lasting success of Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, who all are still winning at the wrong end of thirty: so far 20+ single titles. Even Pete Sampras has doubled John McEnroe’s record with fourteen grand slams titles; McEnroe not even ranking among the first fifteen of the all time Winners’ List.

DoP Lucas Tucknott really excels in the nighttime visuals in Queens where McEnroe stalks his old stamping grounds, asking and answering some of the questions that still haunt him. Rather like the ‘Flying Dutchman’  he will never really find a peaceful harbour from life’s emotional trials. McENROE, very much an American tragedy: gruelling competition, failed parenthood and the loneliness of a life so long without any real emotional awareness. “My greatest failing – my lack of empathy”, he confesses in the dark shadows of Queens.AS

OUT ON 15 JULY 2022

The Black Phone (2022)

Dir: Scott Derrickson | Cast: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies | US Horror, 104′

The Black Phone is set in the early 1970s around the time of Tobe Hooper’s cult classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre and with that same grungy aesthetic – there the similarities end. Derrickson has made some decent movies but this isn’t one of them; a despicable horror outing that follows two kids and their abusive father during the sinister goings in a down-at-heel rural backwater somewhere near Denver.

Bullied at school and beaten by their dad, their mother having committed suicide, Vinny (Thames) and Gwen (McGraw) do their best to survive by giving each other emotional support until Vinny is bundled into a van by a masked weirdo (Hawke) who goes by the name of “The Grabber”. 

Well that’s the first half hour, the remainder of the film descends into a well of psychological torture (for the audience as well as the kids) as spunky Gwen tries to track down her brother, and tough teenager Vinny is forced to endure the nefarious ministerings of Hawke’s uninspiring psycho and a series of silly anonymous calls from the so-called ‘Black Phone’ on the wall of his subterranean padded prison.

The only mystery here is why producers keep funding this kind of drivel. It’s sad, depressing and, worst of all, not even scary and has been done so many times before, and far better. If you don’t nod off early as the narrative torpor drones on, your attention will soon be drifting off to what’s in the fridge for dinner. And the gratuitous physical violence afflicted on Gwen by her deranged father (Davies) is simply inexcusable in a new feature film, given the current climate of hatred women are enduring all over the world. MT


The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Dir: Martin Scorsese | US Drama

A stylish, exhilarating film to experience (although hardly – despite the incredible ‘quaaludes’ sequence – three hours worth). Nor is it the first to be called ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. That distinction belongs to a long-lost early talkie starring George Bancroft that opened a few months before the original Wall Street crash of 1929. And the new ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ amply demonstrates that the United States of America has learned absolutely nothing in the intervening ninety years.

DiCaprio acknowledges at one point that the life that he and his cronies lead is unsustainable in the Real World, “but who wants to live there?” This is of course an option denied the colossal army of poor working stiffs (many of them women) with their feet planted firmly on the ground working long hours for peanuts serving as waiters, domestic staff and nurses; as well as manufacturing the sharp suits and industrial-strength quantities of drugs consumed by the leads “sailing a boat fit for a Bond villain”.

This army remains as invisible throughout most of this film as the consumption by the masters they spend their lives servicing and cleaning up after is conspicuous; which graphically demonstrates the harmfulness of giving the predominantly white male parasites who populate this movie “more money than you know what to do with”.

Billionaire conservatives meanwhile continue to lobby tirelessly for tax cuts and sanctimoniously and disingenuously to demand where the money to create adequate universal health cover in the richest nation on Earth would come from. @Richard Chatten



Incredible But True (2022)

Dir/Wri: Quentin Dupieux | 
Cast: Alain Chabat, Léa Drucker, Benoît Magimel, Anaïs Demoustier, Stéphane Pezerat
i | France, Comedy 74′

The age of electronic penises has finally arrived according french filmmaker Quentin Dupieux whose latest high-concept absurdist comedy sees two suburban couples trying to turn back the clock and pursue the dream of eternal youth with hilarious and disastrous consequences.

Middle-aged house-hunters Alain (Alain Chabat) and Marie (Léa Drucker) are captivated by a modernist villas in a leafy location near Paris and immediately move in. The house has a life-changing feature in the shape of a trapdoor to the basement: enter and you take three days off your life, while moving 12 hours forward. Marie is sceptical but soon becomes obsessed with going through the trapdoor and gradually the rejuvenating effects are noticeable. Alain struggles on with a difficult client, hoping not to lose his wife to a younger man. Meanwhile his boss and close friend Gérard (a paunchy Benoît Magimel) has an intriguing new toy to play with of his own. Invited chez Alain and Marie with his much younger girlfriend Jeanne (Anaïs Demoustier in bleach blonde mode), the two are desperate to share their cheeky secret about his new Japanese “electronic penis”, remotely operated by an iPhone.

Dupieux – also known as his DJ alter ego Mr Oiseau – certainly has a vivid imagination and his films get weirder and wackier with each passing year, Deerskin and Mandibles being recent examples. But although his ideas are plausible this blend of surreal and lowkey sci-fi feels out of place with the second-rate suburban settings and pedestrian characters, and the punchy plot lines are never full realised as they are for example in comedy sci fi outings such as Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man or the Korean comedy Miss Granny. Incredible But True is light-hearted fun that never takes itself seriously with a few laughs along the way thanks to some strong comedy performances before resorting to ludicrous back-to-back montage sequences in a rushed final showdown. MT





My Old School (2021)

Dir.: Jono McLeod; Cast: Alan Cumming, Clare Grogan, Lulu; UK 2022, 104 min.

Alan Cumming stars in this unconventional documentary about identity and belonging and a man who pretended to be someone else, named the martial arts legend Brandon Lee. Structured in to phases by first time Scottish filmmaker Jono McLeod who revisits his schooldays in an interview with his former classmates and teachers from Bearsden Academy in Glasgow, the 5Cof 1993. The centre of attention is a certain student: Brandon Lee, whose celebrity namesake met his death on set in Hollywood.

This Brandon joined the class late: his mother, an opera singer, had just been killed in Canada in a car accident and Brandon was under the care of his grandmother in Glasgow. Bearsden Academy was as close to a fee paying school as you can get. Little proof of Brandon’s identity was asked required to join the school: just the testaments of private Canadian tutors. But a birth certificate was missing. Headmaster Norman McCloud and his deputy Mrs. Holmes were obviously satisfied. And Brandon’s academic progress gave everyone reason to be happy. He would end up with five straight As, his knowledge of anatomy was so astonishing his biology teacher exclaimed “Brandon teaches me”. Brandon also helped to integrate other students and kept bullies at bay. Even more sensational was his acting, singing – and yes kissing – in the school’s production of “South Pacific”. He was admitted to read Medicine at Dundee University. A fight on a holiday trip with his fellow undergraduated brought the charade to an end: the police found an additional passport on Brandon Lee in the name of Brian MacKinnan. The latter had left Bearsden Academy for Glasgow University to study medicine in 1975.

It turned out Brian, to give him his proper name, had never been to Canada. His mother, posing as his grandmother, had been the motivation for his quest to become a doctor at all costs. After the death of his father – Brian used the family bereavement to skip a tricky physics test – Brian and his mother had plotted even harder to make his second chance a success: In Glasgow, he had been released for lack of progress in his first year.

After all this came to light Dundee expelled him, and he knew no university would take him on as by now he was over thirty, the cut off point for medical students in the UK. Now 58, Brian is not so keen on publicity; he requested that the actor Alan Cumming should lip read his answers to McLeod’s questions.

The most interesting aspect of MyOld School are the interviews with the anti-hero’s former class mates, the range of opinions differing very strongly. His co-lead in “South Pacific” finds it rather “icky” to learn that as a sixteen-year old she had been kissed by a man of thirty-two in public.

DoP George Geddes combines interviews, TV archive material and animation (Rory Lowe, Scott Morris) into a very lively watch. McLeod has skilfully assembled a study about time, memory and the way we are all unreliable narrators when our past is concerned. AS


We Are Russia (2022)

Dir.: Alexandra Dalsbaek; Documentary; France/USA/Russia 2019/21, 77 min.

The first feature length documentary by Russian-French director/co-writer, DoP and co-editor Alexandra Dalsbaek, is a study of a Moscow student group, protesting against the re-election of President Putin in 2018. Very much shot ad-hoc, but still able to catch the arrest of opposition leader Navalny (twice), this feels very much like a work in progress, even though it is the long version, shown at the DOCNYC in 2021, sixteen minutes longer than he original version from 2019.

The action revolves around Milena K. almost playfully leading her group in anti-Putin and pro-Navalny activities. Milena poses with provocative placards in front of the Duma building and the Lubyanka – as well as other residences of state power. “Sell your villas, and build roads”, is one of her slogans attacking Putin and his oligarchs. But the resonance of the mostly elderly public is is anonymous and negative: “What have you even done for your country” is one of the answers that echoes back to Milena and her agitator friends. For the older generation Putin is still considered the saviour of Russia. Milena’s boutique owner mother is afraid for her daughter and tries to persuade her to limit her activism. Milena’s friend Alexander, who works in Navalny’s election office, is beaten up over night by the police, and fined 400 Roubles after a court hearing. Kostya S is arrested with Navalny in January 2019, after he was “disqualified” from standing in the election, and had called for a boycott of the state controlled proceedings. Whilst Navalny was eventually poisoned and re-arrested after his return from Germany, Kostya is sentenced to three year’s house arrest. But in the end, the ‘election’ goes ahead and Milena makes a final attempt to show the proceedings are rigged by walking into a polling station, and claiming rigged ballots: the voting cards are not counted and just stuffed into mailing bags. Finally, at a major demonstration, Milena is arrested, along with over 16 000 others, but released after 48 hours.

The narrative’s lack of structure is compensated for by its sheer  sheer panache. Milena could well be the alter ego of the director, enjoying the political fight and sweeping away the restrictions of the past . WE ARE RUSSIA begs the question, has Russian youth stopped demonstrating since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Looks like the state forces could well have cracked down on insurrection. While Navalny languishes  colony what has become of Milena and her cause. AS

WE ARE RUSSIA on July 15 will also be playing for a week at the Bertha DocHouse cinema.

Paloma’s Wedding (2022) Munich Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Marcelo Gomes; Cast: Kika Sena, Ridson Rice, Ze Maria, Suzy Lopes, Samya De Lavor, Anita Souza Macedo, Ana Marinho; Brazil/Portugal 2022, 104 min.

Brazilian director/co-writer Marcelo Gomes (Waiting for the Carnival) combines the classical South American melodrama with a modern twist: In a remote village best known as Brazil’s capital of jeans, Paloma, a transgender woman with a daughter, wants to marry the love of her life in church. The tension finally erupts from all directions.

Paloma (Sena) works as a hairdresser and harvest mangoes the nearby fields. José (‘Ze’) (Rice) is very much in love with his motorcycle, but his commitment to Paloma is sometimes shaky. He tries to talk her out of wanting to marry in church but Paloma asks the local priest to perform the marriage ceremony. Jose is adamant that only the Pope can change the rules around church marriages where only a man and woman can be united in holy matrimony.

But Paloma’s not for turning and digs her heels in with a letter to the Pope, expecting a positive answer. When the priest reads the pontiff’s reply giving Paloma the bum’s rush, Paloma indulges in a one-night-stand with Ivanzilo, the driver who ferries the workers from the village to the mango fields.

Meeting up with old friends in the town of Saloa, one of them, Rikely, reminds Paloma of the wild times they used to have. Despite varies setback Paloma doesn’t lose sight of her goal and soon the local media gets hold of the story, causing more drama.

DoP Pierre De Kerchove creates vibrant images on the widescreen and in intimate closeup, the sex scenes are provocative and despite the darkness they have a poetic quality. Kika Sena’s Paloma is a brilliant portrait of a vulnerable person taking on the whole community while bringing up a child in challenging circumstances.

There is a very subtle scene featuring casual racism at a hotel swimming pool and Gomes never lets up: Paloma is always on the move, trying to fix problems – but never forgetting the dream of a church wedding. Few features have packed in so many diverse conflicts in a running time of just over a hundred minutes. Passionate and emotionally charged, Paloma is an ambiguous heroine, who wants all what heaven allows – and more. AS


Wayfinder (2021)

Dir: Larry Achiampong; Cast: Perside Rodgrigues; UK 2022, 83 min.

Wayfinder is British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong’s first feature, a more poetic and languid version of an unfinished project, based on series of apocalyptic cartoons where isolated figures walked through a torrid landscape, breathing filtered air.

In Wayfinder the wanderer is called Perside (Rodrigues) and she crosses England from Hadrian’s Wall to Margate, the freewheeling narrative touching on cultural heritage, exclusion and displacement, with regional aspects replacing a nationwide view of conflicts, current and historical. On her journey Perside visits a housing estate in Wolverhampton, a cafe in Bethnal Green, the National Gallery at night, and a fun fair in Margate. In Bethnal Green pays her last respects to a friend, and discovers that the longest surviving building is a funeral parlour, dating back some 200 years. Letting agencies and health food shops have replaced the old-fashioned outlets of her youth. Back then the Blair mirage of “Education, Education” was paramount and when she finished university with her siblings the three of them went straight to the local job Centre after the graduation ceremony. Their mother had bought a flat, hoping that her children would be able to pay off the mortgage. In reality it was bought by a wealthy man for his daughter who was studying from abroad. And while home pays and important element in all the segments, ambiguity overlays any identification. This is a Britain which is not only punished by the epidemic. Achiampong’s visionary outlook catches all the small details without losing the overview. AS


Elvis (2022)

Dir.: Baz Luhrmann; Cast: Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Kodi Smit McPhee, Richard Roxburgh; US/Australia 2022, 159 min.

Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977) was – and still is – the most successful recording artist on this planet, so hiring Baz Luhrmann, well known for his baroque output, to make a film of the entertainer’s life, and turn in a handsome profit seemed like a brilliant idea.

But casting Tom Hanks as the singer’s gambling, cheating and lying manager Colonel Tom Parker put Austin Butler’s Presley at a glaring disadvantage. Parker, who voices the linear narrative, is also a rather unreliable witness to the story; Butler is certainly entertaining and charismatic as the titular hero, but does he do a convincing job as the hip-swivelling legend? Let’s just say few performers would have fared better opposite a behemoth like Hanks. Olivia DeJonge, as Elvis’ wife Priscilla, is even more short-changed: she brings up their daughter and suffers in silence, while her husband shags and devours pills like candies. And no mention is made of her being a teen bride; Priscilla was fourteen when she met the twenty-four-year-old Elvis for the first time in 1959.

The writers offer no real explanation as to why Elvis left for the army as a rebel in 1958, only to return two years later his bad boy instincts buttoned down. Amateur psychology is used to lay the blame on the shady Parker and his greed – we are led to believe the scrupulous manager of dubious Dutch origins had a hold over Elvis using the star as a cash cow to payoff his own mounting debts. Presley’s father Vernon (Roxburgh) was a weak role model and ended up in jail. Elvis’ actress mother Gladys (Thomson) is also just an underwritten sketch.

Luhrmann dishes up the legend’s mammoth musical history in all its glittering details weaving in a strand about his formative musical associations with the  segregated black artists Little Richard and Mahalia Jackson who lend vibrance to the story. DoP Mandy Walker, who worked with Luhrmann on Australia, pulls out all the stops in a biopic that runs for nearly three hours. Rather than zero-in on a pivotal era of the star’s career, Luhrmann merely touches on his entire life, and any depth or resonance is lost in the cacophony of flashing lights and noise.

Behind the cinematic showcase lies a hollow heart. Luhrmann, an obsessive showman himself, again goes overboard with his obsession for split screens in another sparkling montage that will satisfy the lowest common denominator. But having spent all his budget on appearances there’s nothing left for the script. The story is a classic but the straightforward chronicle approach takes away the element of surprise leaving us with an ‘all singing all dancing’ cabaret showpiece that ends in tears; a burnished biopic to please the investors rather than arthouse enthusiasts with discerning minds. AS


It Snows in Benidorm (2021)

Dir/Wri: Isabelle Coixet | Cast: Timothy Spall, Sarita Choudhury, Carmen Machi, Pedro Casablanc | Spain Drama, 117′

Lost souls are marooned in an artificial ‘paradise’ in this meandering drama from Catalan writer director Isabelle Coixet.

The best thing about It Snows in Benidorm is Timothy Spall who carries the film with a permanently perplexed and world weary expression as Peter Riordan, a kindly but disillusioned bank clerk given early retirement when his ethics fall out of favour with the bank’s modern approach to lending.

Peter, also a keen meteorologist, heads off to Spain to visit his brother Daniel who he hasn’t seen for years, and who never appears either, providing the first in a long list of unanswered questions in this overlong and often farcical feature with its stagey internal scenes set against the towering skyscrapers of its panoramic backdrop of the Costa Blanca. Benidorm emerges a touristy retirement backwater for garishly dressed hysterical pensioners on their second lease of life; a sunny place for shady Spaniards, as Somerset Maugham who say, where people regularly disappear into its criminal underworld.

The dispeptic Peter does find love of sorts in burlesque dancer Sarita Choudhury who fails to bring out the humanity in the lonely ‘Pearl’ resigned to a life of displacement after a questionable past. Peter discovers his brother was embroiled in dodgy dealings in the property market, and ends up in a phoney kidnap attempt courtesy of Daniel’s business partner Esteban Campos (Casablanc) a longtime lamb butcher hellbent on making a killing of a different kind. There’s also a part for Almodovar regular Carmen Machi as the spunky seaside police chief: an awkward scene involving a tryst with her muscled young lover feels ridiculous.

Coixet has had some successes in her long career but with Snows it looks like she made a list of socially relevant themes to be incorporated into her storyline, and they crop up in offbeat scenes that sit incoherently alongside the main thrust of the narrative – the search for Daniel – robbing the piece of a much needed dramatic tension, rather like the adverts on TV. Whether It Snows in Benidorm is meant to be a dark comedy, or a comedy of manners, is unclear but it doesn’t succeed as either. And as the story draws to its cryptic conclusion we are left as uninspired and perplexed as Peter himself. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 23 `June 2022.





A Love Song (2022) Sundance 2022

Dir.: Max Walker-Silverman; Cast: Dale Dickey, Wes Studi; USA 2022, 81 min.

Ten minutes into Max Walker-Silverman’s first feature, and not a word has been spoken. A long, languid opening scene sees a woman waiting in a trailer in the midst of a fabulous, wild landscape in Colorado. The tale told is that of a past with no regrets and the hope of something to be shared in the future.

The woman’s name is Faye (Dickey), her trailer, hitched to a pick-up truck, is about fifty years old and we learn a lot about her: she has a bait-trap and catches crayfish, she makes coffee in the mornings, and enjoys Radio ‘Longines Symphonette’, where a twist of the dial offers a song suited to her mood. The wireless is about as old as the trailer – and functions perfectly. The same can be said about Faye, widowed a couple of years ago. She lives on campsite No. 7, not far from the place where she spent her childhood.

Chance encounters are her social contacts: a lesbian couple who live on campsite No.2 encourage Faye to shoot the breeze about love. A young girl arrives with four monosyllabic  brothers, their truck having given up the ghost. Faye lends them her car engine and gets the lease of a canoe for “Recreation and romantic excursions”. We see her paddling alone on the nearby lake.

Finally, about half-way trough, we meet the object of Faye’s patient affections: Lito (Studi), a childhood friend, Lito arrives with a bunch of yellow wild flowers and a docile black dog. They shared a forbidden kiss in summer camp, and more recently, the loneliness of being widowed. Their re-union is almost wordless. They play their guitars, exchange a few thoughts on their dead partners. Faye shows Lito the magic of the radio, lets him dial the perfect song. Two words, not even a sentence, will decide their future. Reticent as always, Faye takes care of the present.

DoP Alfonso Herrera Salcedo supports the slow flow of what is visible on the outside with long travelling shots. The inner workings of both characters are mirrored in the mountains, the woods and the lake. Not idyllic, but real, and enduring like the people who inhabit this weathered landscape.

In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, Emma Thompson’s Nancy tries to pays her way out of loneliness in a feature with its broken promise of something wild. Walker-Silverman’s debut takes the road of internalisation, offering so much more than the sum of its parts. Faye is a distant cousin of Fern from Nomadland. Not by chance, Dan Janvey is a co-producer for both features. Welcome to a film shot from the heart. AS


The Princess (2022)

Dir.: Ed Perkins; Documentary about Princess Diana; UK 2022, 106 min.

Hot on the heels of Spencer, The Crown and the musical Diana, THE PRINCESS does not promise or deliver any new insight into the life and tragic death of our much loved, Princess of Wales. Instead Ed Perkins pieces together a documentary made up exclusively of television news footage and public records, once again showing the Diana we have seen in the media and watched on TV for over 40 years – 25 of them after her death in a Parisian car crash. This is a digest of what was fed to the general public – rather than a feast of new information revealing the truth what really happened.

When the TV camera spotlight first fell on Lady Diana Spencer, it was 1981, she was an innocent twenty year old nursery teacher;  Prince Charles a well-travelled, sophisticated 32 year old prince. They harding knew each other, let alone loved each other, as the first TV interview shows. The media version of what happened next was “The Fairy Story”. In the midst of social and political turbulence, a fairy story was badly needed. But the fairy tale ended when Prince Charles, even after the birth of his first son William, continued to lead the life of a bachelor – including his adulterous affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, who was also married and a mother of two.

Much later, in the scandalous TV interview with Martin Bashir,  Diana spilt the beans: her own romantic affairs; the self harm; Bulimia; and a suicide attempt. Now the second phase, a “Soap Opera” was to begin. A collision between the royal family, representing traditional values, and Diana’s 20th Century lifestyle was played out before a public. A Disney movie perhaps, but nothing to do with the fact that the couple had never been in love in the first place. The so-called heart-break was the base the relationship was built on. Once again the British media drove the narrative forward, as it still does today, serving the public with what it thought they wanted, rather than the real truth of the matter.

Writer/director Ed Perkins (Tell me, who I am) and his editors Jinx Godfrey and Daniel Lapira have certainly cobbled together a hoard of information but for whose benefit? Certainly not the ones who have worshipped “the princess of the people”, who was clearly at the cash cow for everyone who benefitted from her tragic story. Perhaps the best use of this documentary is as material for media students – as an example of reality television of the worst kind. AS



Fire of Love (2022)

Dir.: Sara Dosa; Cast: Documentary with Maurice Krafft, Katia Krafft; narrator Miranda July; Canada/USA 2022, 93 min.

French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft are the focus of this new documentary cum love story that records a life-changing visit to the island of Stromboli that would see them developing early warning systems for volcano eruptions from the early 1970s and lead to a worldwide research project that ended abruptly in June 1991, when they were killed, with 41 others, by a pyroclastic flow at Mount Unzen in Japan.

Sara Dosa (The Seer and the Unseen) bases her film on on a script by Shane Boris, Erin Caspar and Jocelyne Chaput that tells how the couple had met in Strasbourg and decided to devote their life to the beauty – and danger – of volcanos. Maurice maintained that rather than having “a long, monotonous life he would rather have a short, exciting one, dicing with danger in getting his legs burnt in boiling mud and risking life and limb to cross a lake in a rubber dingy containing sulphuric acid, making Katia, a chemist, incensed. Meanwhile she was famous for wearing metal helmets and walking along the edge of active volcano craters, captured in stunning camerawork by Pablo Alvarez-Mesa along with stunning images of the volcano Krakatoa, situated between the islands of Java and Sumatra.

Dosa and her writers flesh out the personal side of the couples’ obsession – just like Werner Herzog in A Fire within: A Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft – yet their immense scientific oeuvre of over twenty publications is not even mentioned once which is a shame since the Kraffts warned the filipino president Cory Aquino about the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, allowing for the area to be evacuated. One of the Kraffts’ final publications before their death was “Understanding Volcanic Hazards and reducing volcanic risks”. In their own words, they “may have lived kamikaze existence”, but they contributed enormously to an arcane science. And like veritable pioneers they also paid the price. AS


Richard’s Things (1980)

Dir: Anthony Harvey | Cast: Liv Ullmann, Amanda Redman, Tim Pigott-Smith | UK Drama, 108’

Despite the fact that Liv Ullmann is the older woman in this psychodrama about a recently widowed woman’s relationship with her late husband’s mistress, she looks pretty much as one is used to seeing her in her films with Bergman. Amanda Redman as the mistress, however, is so much younger than we are used to seeing her (complete with an “introducing” credit) – as well as being a brunette – it’s like watching a different actress in this virtual two-hander between the two of them. The other reminder throughout of the age of this film is the distinctively touching sound of the late Georges Delerue on the soundtrack.

Adapted for the screen by Frederic Raphael from his book, the story pans out in so many unexpected ways I’ll avoid discussing what follows other than to say that despite the handsome photography by Freddie Young in and around parts of London that would probably now be prohibitively expensive for the people living there (as usual the women are all elegantly dressed and nobody seems to have any money worries) the number of scenes simply depicting two characters earnestly chattering immediately marks it out as a TV production. @RichardChatten


Bowery (2022) Tribeca Film Festival

Dir.: Mike Mintz, Irad Straus; Documentary with Richard ‘Dolla’ Thomas, Jaime ‘Rubia’ Gonzales. Steve Miller, Andrew Harris, Charlie ‘Sarge’ Duffy, Fifty; USA 2022, 100 min.

Bowery takes the spotlight for a year in the life of one of New York’s poorest neighbourhoods, located in the south of Manhattan, where life revolves round the subway station of the same name.

Capturing the Covid-19 epidemic and the BLM demonstrations first time filmmakers Irad Straus Mike Mintz (who also serves at DoP) and certainly see the place at its lowest ebb, Richard ‘Dolla’ Thomas is about sixty, sitting in his wheelchair, and ‘directing’ the traffic at the Delancey intersection. Hustling for a few dollars a day, he collects his ‘income’ in paper cup, all he can offer drivers is a traffic update to help them on their way. And his little ‘job’ serves as a kind of bereavement therapy since he lost his wife two years ago.

Another local character Rubia, forty-one, sometimes pretends to be his daughter; her drug habit has certainly addled her brain and she sprays the number ‘6’ three times on one of the pillars in the subway station, she is looking for work but will soon leave for New Jersey to be with her son. Fifty, in his late twenties, had previously held down a job as a courier where the money is decent. But he soon gets lost in New York, using his mobile as a Satnav, and is late for most of his deliveries, his employers disciplining him with a hefty wage cut of 90%.

Then comes the pandemic and empties the streets. Steve Miller and Andrew Harris, both in their mid-twenties, are drug dependent. They are looking for a hostel, but want to avoid the over-crowded ones. Rubia meanwhile, has spent her birthday in the launderette; and takes a break in the basket with her washing, well hidden in the shrubberies. On May 25th 2020, Geroge Floyd is killed by police officers. The first BLM marches erupt spontaneously. Police and demonstrators clash and Richard exclaims “I can’t believe I am seeing this.” We follow Charlie into a church where he begs God to help him back on his feet. He just can’t do it anymore. The last word goes to Richard: “I know, I am a survivor”.

The freewheeling lack of structure is for once just right, reflecting the lives of the protagonists struggling to stay alive and spontaneously doing what they believe can alleviate their situation. Drugs are the main problem, but hygiene and food are a close second. Bowery is certainly a tribute to human survival, faced with poverty and now the pandemic, the number of ambulances carrying the dying multiplying, this is just a question of keeping on, keeping on. Bowery is not an easy watch in its depiction of hard core realism,  but it certainly documents an important place in time.


Men (2021)

Dir: Alex Garland | Cast: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinear, Paapa Essiedu | US Fantasy horror

English director Alex Garland (Annihilation) dices with horror and comedy in his weird and wonderful hybrid set in a picturesque village in the depths of the English countryside where the male of the species appears in various guises – none of them favourable.

A secluded English country house with manicured gardens should be the perfect place to recuperate for a woman whose ex husband (Essiedu) has just committed suicide. But the Herefordshire hideaway where Harper (Buckley) seeks solace is more akin to the sinister Cornish village of The Wicker Man , and the owner, Geoffrey (Kinnear), an uppercrust oddball, is a dead ringer for TVs Harry Enfield complete with buck teeth and dandruff and a penchant for cavorting stark naked in the grounds. Other incarnations in his repertoire include the famous ‘loadsa money’ lookalike; a leery, misogynist vicar; and a schoolboy who looks like Anthony’s Hopkins’ puppet Corky from Magic.

Clearly Garland had a big budget to throw at this production that takes a tokenistic swipe at toxic masculinity, and gives lip service to domestic violence. But it does no favours for Jessie Buckley who is left incredulously hung out to dry with her character, a ballsy career woman who feels completely out of place in this meaningless ‘Midsomer Murders’ style charade, she seems to be in a different film.

For a time Buckley lends credibility to the film’s initial shock value but then our patience wears thin as Kinnear gets the more gratifying job of pulling different disguises out of his pantomime box of tricks. The overriding comedy element soon punches a hole in any vestigial tension the film has tried to instil, leaving Harper’s tragic backstory somehow diminished by the garish absurdity of the rest of the antics, and leaving us not sure whether to laugh or scream. A bizarre but watchable film. MT



There are No Saints (2021)

Dir.: Alonso Pineda Ulloa | Wri: Paul Schrader |  Cast: Jose Maria Yazpik, Shannyn Sossamon, Paz Vega, Keidrich Sellati, Neal McDnough, Ron Pearlman, Tim Roth; USA/Mexico 2022, 104 min.

There Are No Saints has that same sober nihilism that has ruled Paul Schrader’s last few films, such as First Reformed but is directed here by Alonso Pineda Ulloa, best known for his TV fare. Nihilism is the right choice for this hard-hitting genre feature, a revenge blood bath with an all star cast of Brian Cox, Tim Roth and Paz Vega.

Schrader (who also the exec produced) is the archangel who has fallen from grace in mainstream Hollywood; but he still packs a heavy punch. Arthouse it may not be, but few can come up with a tour-de-force like this.

Sadistic hit-man Neto Niente ‘The Jesuit’ (Yazpik) escapes death row after taking the rap for a ghastly crime he did not commit. But when his wife Nadia (Paz) and son Julio (Sellati), are murdered, he finds himself implicated in their deaths. There are no Saints is a visually stylish thriller in the same mould as Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way. Niente is constantly on the move amid escalating violence in a world run by criminals who are all successful businessmen of one sort of the other. Schrader’s is as powerful as his writing skills: in many ways, There are No Saints is Seventies nostalgia in a modern world where ‘everything but violence is fake’. Not for the faint hearted, but Jim Thompson would have loved it. AS

VOD FROM 27 MAY 2022

The Green Perfume (2022) Cannes Film Festival

Dir.: Nicolas Pariser; Cast: Sandrine Kimberlain, Vincent Lacoste, Rüdiger Vogler, Léonie Simaga, Arie Worthalter, Jenna Thiam, Pascal Rénéric, Thomas Chabrol; France 2022, 104 min.

A really seductive title that fails to live up to expectations, Le Parfum Vert tries hard, perhaps too hard, to revive Hitchcock mysteries in the style of Jacques Rivette. And while the French New Wave master would be delighted with the central pairing – two Jewish oddballs – along with the theatre setting; Nicolas Pariser is less successful when it comes to the modern version of Hitchcock: the plot is, to say the least, weak, setting aside the simplistic political plotline.

Martin (Lacoste), an actor, is witness to the onstage murder of his friend Vlad (Rénéric) during Anton Chekhov’s play ‘Ivanov’. In his last breath Vlad implicates the Green Perfume group. Martin, always the hypochondriac, freaks out when it turns out he is the main suspect. Fellow actor Caroline (Thiam) tries to calm him down but Martin is then abducted by a right-wing group with links to Russia, led by the sinister Hartz (Vogler), a cartoonish Austrian. Martin is then released the following morning, and running away from the police, led by detective inspector Louise (Simaga), meets Claire (Kimberlain), a cartoonist and owner of a bookshop, who is hounded by her sister and mother, phoning her in the middle of the night with a link to a Jewish dating agency.

Claire has spent a long time in Israel, she dislikes the snobby French but has to admit Israel is not European any more. Martin, who also spent time in Jewish summer camps, is more obsessed with his health and lack of love in his relationships: he is in the middle of a divorce and as self-obsessed as his new partner. Somehow, Louise catches up with the pair on Martin’s next engagement in Budapest where Corneille’s ”L’Illusion Comique” is on the programme. The Hartz Group will try to get hold of a super disinformation system. The clue to its whereabouts will be triggered by one of the actors who will use the wrong cue – the play is in French, the audience has a Hungarian translation. To find the traitor Claire follows Martin in the hunt, in spite of a bullet wound in her leg, before she too is abducted by Harzt and his men in the Budapest theatre.

Forget the farcical plot, The Green Parfum succeeds largely due to the compelling chemistry of the leads – both lonely and out of luck in love. A Jewish identity gets you only so far, and both have not really grown up and still hankers after ideas which are now on the scrap heap. Like Hansel and Gretel, they have lost their way home, only existing only in their imagination. Unaware of the danger of the real conspiracy, they save themselves by falling in love.

DoP Sebastien Buchmann pictures Paris and Budapest in a nostalgic glow. The chase scenes in the theatre are lively, but Buchmann is (like Pariser) most convincing, when it comes to small details, like the observations on the train when the two chases their pursuers – or find a corpse. Every day life is much more exciting than the wildest political plots – particularly when poorly executed. AS


The Night of the 12th (2022)

Dir: Dominik Moll | Cast: Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners, Théo Cholbi, Johann Dionnet, Thibaut Evrard, Julien Frison, Paul Jeanson, Mouna Soulam, Pauline Serieys, Anouk Grinberg, Lula Cotton Frapier | Thriller 114′

Dominik Moll’s memorable arthouse drama goes to intriguing places with a realistic and richly crafted narrative more focused on the moods and motivations of its authentic characters that the whodunnit at its core. Even though The Night of the 12th is an inconclusive crime drama it leaves you with a feeling of calm satisfaction rather than jangled nerves.

On the way home from a girls’ get together Clara (Lula Cotton Frapier) is.torched to death in an otherwise peaceful village in the suburbs of Grenoble. An extensive police investigation fails to flush out her murderer but in the process we are introduced to the local French detectives Bastien Bouillon (Yohan) and Bouli Lanners (Marceau) playing a rookie and hardened duo whose personal lives add valuable insight to the police procedural by exploring the wider implications of this violent murder in the context of contemporary attitudes towards women in France.

Moll and his regular co-writer Gilles Marchand base their script on a section of Pauline Guéna’s essay novel “18.3 – Une année à la PJ, Paris” that deals with this real crime but translocates the action to southeastern France. The remoteness of the mountain setting thrusts our focus onto the intense exchanges between Marceau and Yohan, and adds a scenic allure to the internal scenes of the police procedural with its acerbic macho observations of modern life and the eternal ongoing conflict between the sexes.

Marceau, whose wife has just left him, is increasingly disenchanted by the modern world; the lack of romanticism and culture amongst the young, and their glib attitude towards relationships. This spills over into his dealings with the various suspects, and he eventually retires from the case. But Yohan is the most mesmerising of the two; a deep thinker quietly fascinated by his work and the people he comes into contact with, especially his new colleague Nadia (Soualem) who brings her female gaze to the investigation:”men are often the perpetrators and women the targets” and the local judiciary judge, Anouk Grinberg, sublime in a cameo role. MT









Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Dir: John M Stahl | Cast: Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jean Crain, Vincent Price | US Noir 110′

I was once asked what the most glamorous film I could think of was; and this sumptuous adaptation of Ben Ames Williams’ best-seller was the title from my video collection I came up with.

Only in the movies could a man find himself being interrogated in court by a district attorney who had previously been the discarded suitor of the woman he married; played, moreover, by Vincent Price with all the vengeful malice he could muster.

Long after his death in 1950 director John Stahl was described by Andrew Sarris as “a neglected pre-Sirkian figure”, and with Natalie Kalmus making sure the images were clean and bright Leon Shamroy’s Oscar-winning Technicolor photography was not then permitted the dramatic high-contrast look Russell Metty created ten years later for Douglas Sirk at Universal (the lens flare at one critical moment probably made it into the final print only because it was in a scene shot on location and Technicolor therefore couldn’t insist upon it being re-shot). But the rich images and Alfred Newman’s magnificent score make it a glorious experience to savour. @RichardChatten


Luzzu (2021)

Dir/Wri: Alex Camilleri | Cast: Jesmark Scicluna, Marlene Schranz, David Scicluna, Marta Vella | Drama 94′

Fisherman all over the world are under pressure in what is surely one of the most honourable professions since the time of Jesus: bringing home the catch.

Maltese American filmmaker Alex Camilleri backed by award-winning screenwriter Ramin Bahrani casts a real working fisherman (Jesmark Scicluna) in his intelligent debut feature that plays out like an agonising arthouse thriller set in a fishing Mediterranean community struggling to survive. Jesmark is one of a long line of locals making (or not making) their living from the sea. Each days he sets sails in his colourful painted luzzu – a traditional man-made wooden boat – hoping to support his newborn son who needs medical treatment. The alternative is to decommission his vessel for an EU payout and possibly getting tied up in EU red tape, or go on the black market with the island’s criminal underclass. Seemingly a no-win situation. Interestingly Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and their exotic language sounds like a cross between Sicilian and North African Arabic.

So the odds are really stacked against Jesmark who manages to look resentful, hurt and bewildered in a convincing performance that won him Best Acting award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Meanwhile, his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia) manages to make everything look like his fault, along with his mother in law. And to makes matters worse he now has to rely on a friend (David Scicluna) to help him.

Their daily catch yields a mixture of sea bream, mullet and bass, but they are forced to throw a lucrative swordfish back in the sea, although the fish is already dead,  because it contravenes EU regulations, and this is a tense moment for Jesmark who clearly feels back-footed and diminished. Clearly this is not working. So he joins forces with the unscrupulous Uday (Uday Maclean) in a soulless (!) foray that goes his integrity. This black market option requires him to go back on his tracks after dark and collect the leftover fish which can then be sold on to restaurants.

With disappointment and anger etched on his weatherbeaten face Jesmark is the embodiment of male failure. Luzzu serves a vibrant snapshot of this ancient Southern European archipelago with its age-old traditions and tightknit community dogged by global economic turndown and EU restrictions. MT


Cannes – Un Certain Regard 2022

The Cannes Film Festival competition sidebar known for auteur driven features and alluring visual storytelling rather than star-strewn casts.


LES PIRES Lise AKOKA, Romane GUERET 1st film

First time directors Lisa Akoka and Romane Gueret take the brave step of making a film with teenage cast from the same neighbourhood, during the summer break.


Best known for his atmospheric widescreen thrillers Beyond the Hill and Frenzy and rural parable A Tale of Three Sisters, Alper’s latest feature – and his first time in competition at Cannes – takes him back to the Turkish countryside for a tale of smalltown political intrigue.

METRONOM Alexandru BELC 1st film

The doomed days of first love in Romania, 1972, are depicted in this feature debut from Alexandra Belc and starring Vlad Ivanov (The Whistlers).


A toxic relationship takes a turn for the worst in a darkly comic tale of oneupmanship from Norwegian filmmaker Borgli.


An adopted French woman’s attempts to rediscover her biological roots in South Korea are not as she imagines in this sophomore feature from French Cambodian director Davy Chou.


Unscrupulous property developers uncover a mysterious past and a surreal present when they threaten to take over a rural village in Mexico in this sophomore feature.

PLAN 75 HAYAKAWA Chie 1st film

Eugenics provide the haunting subject matter for this timely debut drama set in the Philippines.


Actress turned filmmaker Riley Keough joins Gina Gammell behind the camera for this first feature that follows two Lakota boys as they grow up in Pine Ridge Reservation.

CORSAGE Marie KREUTZER (main image)

After winning various awards at Berlinale, Austrian auteur Marie Kreutzer tackles the thorny subject of ageing and feminine allure taking a regal example as her main character. Empress Elisabeth of Austria was known for her sartorial elegance and the film explores her desire to keep up appearances as she turns 40, considered ‘old’ in 1877. Vicky Krieps stars.


In an incendiary subject for this year’s Cannes line-up, Maksim Nakonechnyi’s first feature explores rape and unwanted pregnancy from the perspective a POW returning home from active service on the Ukrainian front.



This Islandic filmmaker has won multiple awards for his distinctively dour and beguiling beautiful dramas such as Winter Brothers and A White, White Day. This latest is a moral fable that follows a pioneering 19th century Danish priest with a noble mission to found a church in Iceland. The deeper he travels into the remote wilderness the more he loses his way, literally and metaphorically.

RODEO Lola QUIVORON 1st film

So many ideas here been done before – the misfit angle, the woman in a man’s world who struggles against the odds after further setbacks – let’s see if first time filmmaker Quivoron can bring something new to the party.

JOYLAND Saim SADIQ 1st film

Pakistani LBGT filmmaker Saim Sadiq has won awards for blazing a queer trail in his shorts Nice Talking to You and Darling. His first feature film centres on a patriarchal family back in Pakistan and is certainly crammed with ideas, but can he put them together in a meaningful way for mainstream audiences?


The inexplicable bond between twins provides the intriguing heart of this latest feature from Polish director Smocynkska whose distinctive fantasy drama The Lure caused quite a stir at Locarno 6 years ago.


Along with ‘The Promise’, The Stranger is possibly the most over-used title for a film – a brief glance at imdb alone provides no fewer than five films with the title. But this Adelaide-set crime thriller from actor turned director Thomas M Wright – whose Acute Misfortune was described by Hollywood Reporter’s Neil Young as “one of the most striking and accomplished directorial debuts of 2018”. Plus it has a strong cast of Sean Harris and Joel Edgerton – so what could go wrong? Watch this space.




On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Dir: Nicholas Ray | Cast: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan | US Thriller 82′

Robert Ryan commences in full psycho mode in this further step up in the ascending career of Nicholas Ray. Filmed under the title Mad with Much Heart, it begins as a very noir noir before relocating to Colorado to become a snowswept rural drama, the two halves held together by George Diskant’s photography and by a superlative score by Bernard Herrmann (his personal favourite) which anticipates his later work for North by Northwest.

The presence in the early scenes on the mean streets of Charles Kemper, already dead eighteen months when it finally hit screens in February 1952, shows that like many other RKO productions of the time it spent months on the shelf at RKO while the studio’s new owner Howard Hughes dithered over when finally to release it. @RichardChatten


Cannes Classics – 2022 restorations

This year’s Cannes Classics strand opens with Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore in celebrating of its restoration 50 years after shooting began in 1972. The mammoth undertaking runs for over three hours and would later go on to win the Grand de Jury presided by Ingrid Bergmann, and the Prix de la Critique, causing riots back in the 1973. A full retrospective of the director’s work will in slated for 2023 in French cinemas.

Sciuscià | Vittorio de Sica | 1946, 1h33, Italy

Presented by The Film Foundation and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna. Restored in 4K by The Film Foundation and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata in association with Orium S.A. Restoration funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation

Thamp (The Circus Tent) | Aravindan Govindan | 1978, 2h09, India

A presentation of Film Heritage Foundation, India. Restored by Film Heritage Foundation, The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Cineteca di Bologna at Prasad Corporation Pvt. Ltd.’s Post – Studios, Chennai, and L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory, and in association with General Pictures, National Film Archive of India and the family of Aravindan Govindan. Funding provided by Prasad Corporation Pvt. Ltd. and Film Heritage Foundation.

The Trial  | Orson Welles | 1962, 2h, France / Germany / Italy

This restoration was produced in 2022 by STUDIOCANAL and the Cinémathèque Française. The image and sound restoration were done at the Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory (Paris-Bologne), using the original 35mm negative. This project was supervised by STUDIOCANAL, Sophie Boyer and Jean-Pierre Boiget. The restoration was funded thanks to the patronage of Chanel.

If I Were a Spy… | Bertrand Blier | 1967, 1h34, France

Presented by Pathé. 4k restoration, done scanning the original negative film. A project undertaken by the Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory (Paris-Bologne). Restoration funded by the Centre national du cinema et de l’image animée (CNC).

Poil de Carotte | Julien Duvivier | 1932, 1h31, France

A TF1 presentation. New 4K restoration done by TF1 studios, with the backing of CNC, using the original nitrate negative and a combined dupe negative on non-flammable film. Digital and photochemical work done in 2021 by the Hiventy laboratory.

The Last Waltz | Martin Scorsese | 1978, 1h57, USA

MGM Studios’ The Last Waltz (1978) is presented by Park Circus thanks to a new 4K digital restoration from the Criterion Collection, approved by director Martin Scorsese.

Itim | Mike De Leon | 1976, 1h45, Philippines

A Mike De Leon presentation, distributed in France by Carlotta Films. Restoration done using the original 35mm negative and optical soundtrack, stored at the British Film Institute. This presentation is a preview of the French release of Mike De Leon’s entire restored body of work, slated 2022-2023.

Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol | Glauber Rocha  | 1964, 2h, Brazil

Presented by and Paloma Cinematográfica. Restored from the original 35mm negative preserved at Cinemateca Brasileira and with a brand new 4K restoration by Estudios Cinecolor and Estudios JLS, Cinematographer Luis Abramo/Rogerio Moraes and with the supervision of Rodrigo Mercês.

Sedmikrásky (Daisies)  | Vera Chytilová | 1966, 1h14, Czech Republic

Digital restoration of this film funded by the donation of Mrs. Milada Kučerová and Mr. Eduard Kučera was carried out by Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in collaboration with the Národní filmový archiv, Prague and the Czech Film Fund in UPP and Soundsquare.

Viva la muerte  | Fernando Arrabal | 1971, 1h30, France / Tunisia

Viva la Muerte! was scanned and restored in 4K by the Cinémathèque de Toulouse using the original 35mm image negative, the original 35mm sound negative of the French version, and a 35mm interpositive element containing the end credits missing from the original negative.


Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman by Ethan Hawke The Last Movie Stars
Ethan Hawke, episodes 3 and 4 | 1h47, USA

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodwind enjoyed one of the most enduring relationships in Hollywood. Actor, director and producer Ethan Hawke and executive producer Martin Scorsese explore their lives and careers in a captivating, intellectual, and moving documentary. Divided into six chapters the film features Karen Allen, George Clooney, Oscar Isaac, Zoe Kazan, Laura Linney and Sam Rockwell, with archive interviews of Elia Kazan, Sydney Pollock, Paul Newman, who discuss the iconic couple and American cinema. Screened in the presence of Ethan Hawke and Clea Newman Soderlund

Romy, A Free Woman | written by Lucie Cariès and Clémentine Déroudille, Dir: Lucie Cariès | 1h31, France

Romy Schneider was a regular in Competition at Cannes, starting in 1957 with Sissi, and notably with Claude Sautet’s Les Choses de la Vie. This exceptional documentary recounts her illustrious career with passion and dedication.
Screening in the presence of Lucie Cariès and Clémentine Deroudille

Jane Campion, Cinema Woman | Dir: Julie Bertuccelli | 1h38, France

Director Julie Bertuccelli paints Jane Campion’s portrait with great sensitivity, humour and admiration, telling the tale of the first-ever woman to win the Palme d’Or in 1993.
Screening in the presence of Julie Bertuccelli.

Gérard Philipe, le dernier hiver du Cid Dir: Patrick Jeudy, 1h06, France

An adaptation of Jérôme Garcin’s novel Le dernier hiver du cid, this documentary built exclusively on archive footage and a delicate storytelling style celebrates the 100th anniversary of Cannois Gerard Philipe. His memory will flood back to the Croisette through a screening of Fanfan la tulipe.
Screening in the presence of Patrick Jeudy, Jérôme Garcin and Anne-Marie Philipe.

Patrick Dewaere, mon héros (Patrick Dewaere, My Hero) | Dir: Alexandre Moix, 1h30, France

The actress Lola Dewaere chronicles the film career and traumatic life of celebrated actor Patrick Dewaere, the father she never knew, under the watchful eye of director Alexandre Moix.
Screening in the presence of Alexandre Moix and Lola Dewaere.

Hommage d’une fille à son père Dir: Fatou Cissé, 1h11, Mali

Fatou Cissé accompanies her father, Malien director Souleymane Cissé, in a trip through his film career, painting an intimate and poetic picture of one of Africa’s most celebrated actors. Screening in the presence of Fatou Cissé and Souleymane Cissé.

L’Ombre de Goya par Jean-Claude Carrière | Dir:José Luis Lopez-Linares, 1h30, France

A restoration that rediscovers the magical language of the late screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, as he researches the painter Goya. An incredible trip through culture, emotion, cinema, painting and Spain. A French-Hispanic-Portugese coproduction: Screening in the presence of José Luis Lopez Linares.

Tres en la deriva del acto creativo (Three in the Drift of the Creative Act) Fernando Solanas | 1h36, Argentina

Last homage to the great director Fernando Solanas who came many times to the Festival En Competition and two times to Cannes Classics.  .

Screening in the presence of Victoria and Juan Solanas, and Gaspar Noé.

CANNES CLASSICS  | 17-28 May 2022

I Am a Camera (1955)

Dir: Henry Cornelius | Cast: Julie Harris, Laurence Harvey, Shelley Winters, Ron Randell | drama, 108’

I Am A Camera is based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin and John Van Druten’s 1951 Broadway play adaptation but somehow never escapes the confines of the stage in this chamber piece evoking Weimar Berlin in the early 1930s. South African director Henry Cornelius travelled to Europe where he made five memorable features and this fourth one has Julie Harris as one of Broadway’s greatest nightclub chanteuses Sally Bowles who finds herself sharing a tiny room with Laurence Harvey’s Isherwood. John Collier’s waspish script certainly nails down the animated exchanges between the flatmates but is less successful in capturing the social and political zeitgeist of pre-war Berlin than the novel which although more authentic than the Oscar winning musical Cabaret (1972) will always eclipse it entertainment wise.

Bowles is a simpering, irrepressible diva down on her luck recalled by Isherwood (in voiceover) in the film’s Bloomsbury-set opening sequence at his book launch, with the action flashes back to a wintery 1931 Berlin where she charms the earnest and unsuspecting intellectual into a doomed arrangement, playing on his better nature and ultimately leaving him exasperated when his half-hearted attempt at seducing her goes pear-shaped: “A puritan all of a sudden, or just where I’m concerned”.

The film is most entertaining when Bowles drags the penniless Isherwood into a cocktail bar where they meet moneyed American Clive (Randell) and Patrick McGoohan’s hydro-therapist, although Shelley Winters and Anton Diffring are less convincing as the Jewish lovers Fritz and Natalia who are haunted by the growing threat of Nazism.

Obviously there are no allusions to Isherwood’s sexuality it being the 1950s, this is played as a purely platonic relationship where Isherwood (and the audience) is gradually more and more irritated by Bowles’s flirty behaviour. MT

OUT ON 23 MAY 2022 | Bluray, DVD and Digital



This Happy Breed (1944)

Dir: David Lean | Cast: Robert Newton, Celia Johnson, John Mills, Kay Walsh, Amy Veness, Stanley Holloway | UK Drama 115′

Unfazed by the complexities of filming in Technicolor in wartime Britain, David Lean commences with a graceful glide in through a window (probably pinched by Hitchcock for the opening shot of Psycho) movingly reversed in the final shot twenty years later.

Not just unusual for its realistic colour the opening scene the feature also uses sound to convincingly evoke the emptiness of the house the family have just arrived in, with the effect repeated as the house is emptied when they prepare to move out at the end. Likewise the camera moves across the sitting room when the parents receive catastrophic news offscreen, while all you hear is jaunty music on the radio in another exemplary combination of image and sound. A shot that, by the way, required Lean’s crew to commandeer every arc light in the studio to facilitate – in colour – the depth of focus required. @RichardChatten

Casablanca Beats (2021)

Dir/Wri.: Nabil Ayouch, Cast: Anas Basbousi, Ismail Adouab, Amina Kannan, Meriem Nekkach, Nouhaila Arif, Zineb Boujemaa, Samah Barigou, Abdelilah Basbousi, Maha Menan, Mehdi Razzouk, Marwa Kniniche, Soufiane Belali, Zineb Boujemaa; Morocco/France 2021, 101 min.

French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch is no stranger to controversy: His feature Much Loved about prostitution in his home country was banned, and Horses of God is a sober fictionalisation of the the suicide bombing that killed 33 people in Sidi Moumen, a deprived neighbourhood in Casablanca.

Ayoch has returned to Sidi Moumen with CASABLANCA BEATS, the first Moroccan feature in competition at Cannes since 1962. An uplifting story of local teenagers, uses rap and hip hop to hit back at the male-dominated set-up, and the religious bigotry that condones it. All actors are playing out their own lives with Anas Basbousi being the central character. Basbousi is a rapper, who founded the ‘Positive School’ in a cultural centre in Sidi Moumen where he clashes with the leader who feels his progressive style of music will alienate the centre from the rest of the community. In real life, Ayouch was instrumental in setting up the cultural Centre ‘Les Etoiles’ in Sidi Moumen back in 2014, together with author Mahi Binebine, on whose novel ‘Les Etoiles de Sidi Moumen’ Horses of God was based.

“Hip hop is an art form”, exclaims Anas, but not everyone shares his enthusiasm. It certainly proves to be a divisive art form, particularly for the parents of teenager Maha Menan who protest “Not for us”, as they drag their daughter out of the centre. Meriem Nekkach’s brother even tries to prevent her visits. But her counter attack makes things clear: “For you, women are slaves/It makes me sick/For you, being a man, means dominating us/look at our mother in chains/never had a voice, and never complained. While all this is happening the male religious enforcers (known at The “Beards”) patrol the streets extolling the teachings of the Quran: “Everything that lures us from God’s path is a sin”.

But the dance craze is refusing to back down. More centres along the lines of the Sidi Moumen “Positive School”, have now been stablished in Morocco, and Casablanca Beats’ main dancers, Ismail and Mehdi have now turned semi-professional. The film comes to a head with the long anticipated ‘big concert’, which should have won over hearts and minds – but ends in a violent confrontation with the “Beards” and their supporters, leaving Anas’ future in the balance.

This effervescent feature fizzes with fun thanks to the lively camerawork of Amine Messadi and Virginie Surdej. Casablanca Beats is not simply a North African version of the Bronx or Paris sub-culture, but an indigenous approach to rap/hip hop artists, defined by the fighting spirit of a youth rising up against a repressive and often violent parental and authoritarian regime. In true Middle Eastern style Casablanca Beats is a feisty but fervent hymn to music, life and love. AS


Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War (2022)

Dir: Margy Kinmonth | UK Doc, 87′

“I find it hard to say what it is to be English, but Ravilious is part of it” says writer Alan Bennett in a new film on the artist.

Eric Ravilious by the British architect Serge Chermayeff @copyright Foxtrot Films


Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) was one of Britain’s most iconic creative forces defining the English landscape in the British pastoral tradition with his unique engravings and prints. What other wartime painter has captured Englishness with such gentle passion. And although his short life was touched by joy and tragedy his paintings, engravings and lithographs are accessible and so easy to like. His softly nostalgic subject: the countryside during wartime, the soft rolling hills of the South Downs; the chalky fields of the Chilterns and white cliffs of Dover. But his work would soon document the war effort with fishing boats, barage balloons and a painting entitled ‘Rendering mines safe: “He’s so loved and appreciated but somehow remains a shared secret”. says Alan Bennett, one of the talking heads in this new film by the Bafta-winning director Margy Kinmonth, along with Grayson Perry and Eric’s daughter Anne Ullmann and granddaughter  Profoundly serene yet profoundly disturbing, the documentary also serves as a visual record of war.

Born in 1903 into a family that fell on hard times after the Great War Ravilious won a scholarship to the RCA where he met his mentor the artist Paul Nash. He developed his own precise but elegiac style while sharing a house in Great Bardfield in Essex with the fellow artist Eric Bawden, who he met at Morley College. Inspiration came from the nature surrounding them and was chosen for its documentary quality, the two brought watercolours back into fashion as both Eric and Bawden detested oils (too much like toothpaste).

HMS Glorious in the Arctic @copyright Foxtrot Films


A satirical first project in 1930 offered the opportunity of meeting his wife, fellow artist Tirza Garwood and the two started painting a mural of a seascape with parachutes raining down from the sky, an undertaking that financed the first four years of their marriage. Times were hard but Tirza made an income from marbling paper for walls while Eric combined teaching in London with his design work. Anne Ullmann explains how his boyish good looks, wit and infectious sense of fun soon led to several affairs during which time his paintings became freer and more colourful. But Tirza’s first child John arrived with a marital reconciliation and she would keep the home fires burning alone with the children for most of their married life, although Eric wrote often and affectionately, and some of his letters are interweaved into the linear narrative along with ample illustrations and personal photographs from the family collection.

What drew Ravilious to work for the War Office was the chance of excitement but also the responsibility. It gave him a salary which was welcome after struggling financially for so long. War also gave him tremendous scope to broaden his horizons, painting things he would have never dreamt of had it not been for the conflict, although much of his work was destroyed when Morley College was bombed.

Submarine Dream @copyright Foxtrot Films


In April 1940 Ravilious was stationed in Norway on HMS Glorious which was later to be destroyed. Ready to fight as a soldier he was also trying to paint British battleships and Germans U-boats in the deep fjords and raging seas. From then on he travelled far and wide documenting wartime in Scotland and Iceland where he found himself painting warplanes that helped to inform today’s pilots. In Newhaven his drawings were censored on the grounds of them being ‘too informative for the enemy’.

HMS Arc Royal in action @copyright Foxtrot Films


Two years later in 1942 Tirza’s ill health brought Eric back down to earth and he was posted at RAF Sawbridgeworth (now defunct) in Hertfordshire, where he produced a series of watercolours providing a flavour of everyday life, from the types of aircraft to the activities that took place in the interior of the airfield’s ‘mobile operations room’. He wrote to Tirza: “the weather gets finer all the time but I feel bored of pictures of planes on the ground and want to go flying”.

Eric’s affection for the watercolours of Francis Towner took him next to RAF Kaldadarnes in Iceland where he would capture ice and snow and crater scenery. In August 30th 1942 Eric went missing, aged 39, in his plane on a royal marine Air Sea Rescue patrol. These imaginative scenes are hazily recreated showing him floating down through the heavens to a watery grave surrounded by leaves from his sketch book. “From the artistic side his loss is deplorable and he will be quite impossible to replace”. Tirzah would die nine years later of cancer leaving their children orphaned.

Eric Ravilious was the first Britist artist to die on active service in the Second World War. His paintings were forgotten for 40 years until they were discovered under Edward Bawden’s bed, by Eric’s children James, John and Anne. Now how romantic is that? MT

ERIC RAVILIOUS: DRAWN TO WAR | in cinemas 1st July 2022

Atabai (2021)

Dir.: Niki Karimi; Cast: Hadi Hejazifar, Sahar Dolatshahi, Javaad Ezzati, Danial Noorvash, Yousefali Daryadel, Mahlagha Meynoosh, Masoumeh Robaninia; Iran 2020, 106 min.

The Iranian countryside is the setting for this visually vibrantly but brooding feature that sees modern and traditional values colliding for Kazem (co-writer Had Hejazifar) a middle-aged man who left university without completing his architecture studies, and is now designing holidays villas for the rich and powerful who he desperately resents.

Kazem often resorts to physical violence, his secretive past seems more meaningful to than the present and he has not moved emotionally after an unhappy relationship during his student years, although he has changed his name from Atabai. He has never forgotten Sima, the most attractive woman on campus, and has not been able to have another relationship since their break-up.

Kazem’s emotional centre is his nephew Aydin (Noorvash), but he is unaware of  repressing the teenager, who has internalised his uncle as a Super Ego. Aydin has grown fond of Jeyran (Robaninia), but  is much more interested in the much older Kazem: “Marry me and get me out of this village” she implores Kazem,  Kazem’s relationship with his own father (Daryadel) is fraught to say the least. It will get even worse, when Kazem learns, that his father has sold an orchard to the realtor Parviz, whom Kazem blames for the death of his sister Farokhlagha, who set fire to herself at the age of fifteen. Kazem explodes, blaming his father for “selling” his daughter to a man of his own age, to pay for his opium habit. Parviz has two daughters, Sima (Dolatshahi) and the much younger Simin (Meynoosh), who are on a visit to the orchard. Aydin falls for Sima, but ends up at the wrong end of Kazem’s violent tantrums: “You have disgraced the family, this man murdered my sister”. But then, the wife of Yahya (Ezzati) dies, and Kazem and the bereaved husband, best friends for a long time, have the first serious talk for years. We learn, that Yahya had a relationship with Farokhlagha, with Kazem making sure, that the two could meet in secret. When Yahya told Farokhlagha, that he would marry his cousin, she told him, that she would commit suicide by setting fire to herself; with everybody believing, that she killed herself it to escape Parviz. Both men have much soul searching to do, particularly Kazem, who is falling in love with Sima, who by coincidence, shares the first name with Kazem’s great love. But will he be able to care more for the present than the past?

DoP Saman Lotfian has created a wide-ranging palette of colours for the outside action, whilst his close-ups of the the heavy emotional battles are set against the background of a landscape, which is never idealised. Somehow, the two go together, and Kazem finds no solace in being home – still hankering for Tehran. Karimi is very self assured regarding the aesthetically choices, but she is overloading the feature with too man conflicts; ATABAI does not always flow easily, and one has the feeling of an overly constructed structure. Still, it is a well worth a watch. AS


Happening (2021)

Dir.: Audrey Diwan; Cast: Anamaria Vartolomei, Luana Bajrami, Louise Orry-Diquero, Sandrine Bonnaire, Eric Verdin, Anna Mouglalis, Pio Marmaï, Kacey Mottet Klein | France 2021, 99 min.

It was bold of the Jury at Venice 2021 to award the Golden Lion to Happening, a fervent drama exposing the mental and physical cruelty aimed at women when abortion was illegal in France.

Based on Annie Ernaux’s 2001 semi-biographical novel Audrey Diwan’s sophomore feature is a powerful, uncompromising plea for women to be in charge of their reproductive rights at a time when the pro-choice movement is being pushed back; and not only in Catholic strongholds such as Poland and Republican controlled states in the USA. Carried by a brilliant cast, the harsh realism of DoP’s Laurent Tangy’s often handheld camera makes certain scenes in the final reel nearly unwatchable – but this is a past many male politicians want to recreate.

In Angoulême 1963, Anne Duchesme (Vartolomei), 23, is a dedicated student making her way successfully out of the rut lower-middle class women were condemned to. She is forced to tolerate insults from more well to do co-students who call her “a slut”. Anne is best friends with Helene (Bazrami) and Brigitte (Orry-Diquero); the three talk a lot about sex, imagining what the real thing would look like – all fun and games – but sex is taboo.

But when it finally happens at a party with Jean (Mottet Klein) a student from another college, Anne feels underwhelmed by the experience. Her world collapses when the doctor confirms her pregnancy during a routine check-up. Jean is unimpressed by the news – believing is to be her responsibility. And none of her friends, however caring, want to get involved. Abortion is a punishable offence for all involved, including the medical establishment.

At home, her parents (Sandrine Bonnaire/Eric Verdin) are proud of their daughter being the first person in the family to go to university. Anne cannot bring herself to tell them the truth, not wanting to destroy their illusions. Even her university tutor (Pio Marmaï) notices her mind is not on her studies. 

For Anne/Ernaux the choice is still clear: reproductive choice means the same nowadays as it did back then: “to have the illness that turns French women into house-wives”. Anne contemplates her own situation: “I’d like a child one day. But not instead of a life of my own”.

The feature’s rawness is underlined by the 4:3 format, conveying Anne’s isolation from her friends, and society as a whole. A minimalist score by Sacha and Evgueni Galperine, just piano and violins, also focuses on 12 weeks of hell,  Anne going from one humiliation to another. Abortion became legal in France in 1975. AS


The Lost City (2022)


Dir: Aaron Nee | Cast: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe | US Action drama | 112′

A scanty storyline that still took five screenwriters to cobble together is dragged even further into the mud by the film’s total denigration of its female lead – ‘reclusive’ novelist Loretta (Bullock) – who is forced, during her book tour, to jump astride a tiny bar stool in a skimpy sequinned jumpsuit and stilettos and then walk through sand without spraining her ankle. The whole thing ends in tears when her ‘cover model’ (Tatum) falls off a collapsing stage after catching his blond wig in her Big Ben sized watch. Not funny, or  ‘ironic’, just awkward and degrading for them both. A surprise kidnapping attempt then sees them involved in a ‘jungle adventure’ busting through the mammoth budget, together with the cameo for a beefed up Brad Pitt. When film adverts appear on the side of a bus you know what to expect: Nul points for this dull blockbuster whose stars are to be pitied rather than praised. MT



Cannes Film Festival 2022 – Programme additions

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL will celebrate its 75th Anniversary with a line-up featuring four previous Palme d’Or winning directors, three features by women, and nothing – one again – from the United Kingdom. That said, it’s a glittering programme featuring all the usual suspects plus a few new faces on the block. Tehran born Ali Abbasi was last in Cannes with his darkly dystopian troll fantasy Border, his latest Holy Spider is an Iranian-set religious-themed crime thriller, the detail is still under wraps.

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi always turns up trumps – either behind the camera or infront of it – here she has her first shot at the main competition directing a drama about the trials and tribulations of pioneering a creative path in life seen through the prism of Nanterre’s famous acting school Les Amandiers. Canada’s David Cronenberg has never won the main prize but bagged the Special Jury prize back in 2004 with his contraversial 1996 thriller CrashCrimes of the Future, starring Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart, will see him return to the Cannes line-up for the 7th time.

The Belgian Dardennes Brothers are now a legend in their own lunchtime with their left-leaning politically charged social dramas and Tori and Lokita is the latest in a long line of Cannes winners that started with Rosetta and The Child winning the main prize in 1999 and 2005 respectively. Claire Denis is arguably one of France’s most successful women filmmakers with a long career spanning back to her first short film in 1971 and continued with stylish arthouse fare such as Beau Travail and more recently sci-fi hit High Life. and comedy Let the Sunshine In both with Juliette Binoche. She has already bagged a Silver Bear at Berlinale this year for her love triangle drama Fire. The Stars at Noon based on a novel by Denis Johnson, is another romantic drama this time set during Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution where Margot Qualley and Joe Alwyn play the leading roles.

Arnaud Desplechin is a classical veteran of CANNES FILM FESTIVAL and made the competition line-up with Deception in 2021 and again with Oh Mercy in 2019. His latest feature will be his seventh attempt to win the coveted Golden Palme: Brother and Sister stars Marion Cotillard and Melville Poupard in a domestic drama that sees the two siblings brought together again at the death of their parents, after a long-standing feud.

A drama about a ballet dancer catapulted Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont to the international recognition as the Camera d’Or winner in 2018. Girl won three awards at Cannes for its delicate depiction of teenage gender dysphoria while Close centres on an intense friendship between two teenage boys. The sparkling Brooklyn set ’80’s thriller We Own the Night was James Grey’s first foray into the competition back in 2007. His fourth entry Armageddon Time takes him back again to New York of the era, and stars Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins in a coming of age story about growing up in Queens.

Broker is another child-centred story from Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-Eda (Like Father, Like Son) his sensitive domestic dramas deal with the intricacies of family dynamics where kids are concerned. Now competing in Cannes for the eighth time, Hirokazu won the Palme d’Or in 2018 for his darkly amusing satire Shoplifters. South Korean star Bae Doona leads in this unusual story that centres on a ‘baby box’ facility where passers by can leave their unwanted children.

Nostalgia, Mario Martone’s follow-up to his biopic of Neopolitan theatre legend Eduardo Scarpetta, is another project co-written by his wife Ippolita Di Majo. He previously competed at Cannes with l‘Amore Molesto back in 1995, based on another novel by Elena Ferrante of The Lost Daughter fame.

Cristian Mungiu – in competition this year with RMN – is known for his hardcore social realist dramas: his 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days tackled illegal abortion in 1980s Romania, he took a more nuanced approach to a lesbian relationship between two nuns in a convent in Beyond the Hills which won Best Screenplay in 2012.  Contrary to its title, director Ruben Ostlund’s latest Cannes hopeful, Triangle of Sadness, (below) is a dark comedy that sees two models at the crossroads of their career. The Swedish director divided Cannes critics with his ambivalent satire Force Majeure that scooped the Jury Prize at Un Certain Regard in 2015, and the Palme d’Or for The Square two years later. Starring Woody Harrelson and Oliver Ford Davies this promises to be another off-field outing for the provactive filmmaker.

South Korean maverick Park Chan-wook scandalised Cannes audiences with his rebarbative revenge thriller Old Boy seizing the Grand Jury prize back in 2004. He stormed back five years later with a stylish vampire outing Thirst grabbing another Jury Prize. The sensually sumptuous Handmaiden followed in 2016. And this year he is back again going for the jugular (?) with Decision to Leave a detective mystery thriller set in the mountains of South Korea.

2022 is set to be American auteuse Kelly Reichardt’s defining moment: with a feature Showing Up in the main competition line-up – her fourth collaboration with Michelle Williams – and a Special Tribute at this summer’s Locarno Film Festival she is one of the most individual of directors with her richly resonant fare. Set in Portland, Oregon her follow up to First Cow centres on an artist preparing for a life-changing exhibition. Iranian director Saeed Roustaee rose to fame in 2016 with his award-winning debut Life and a Day. His first film in competition is Leila’s Brothers.

Fares Fares (The Nile Hilton Incident) and Mohammad Bakri are the stars of Boy from Heaven Egyptian filmmaker Tarik Salee’s Cannes Festival debut, it sees the death of the main Imam in Cairo’s prestigious university lead to a bitter battle for overall control. Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov won the Francois Chalais award for his impressive 2016 feature The Student  Two years later he was prevented from attending Cannes with Leto, a musical paean to the Leningrad Rock scene of the 1980s that would win the Best Soundtrack Award 2018, and Petrov’s Flu followed in 2021. Abandoning his disgraced homeland, Serebreninikov is now living in Berlin where he wrote and directed his latest lyrical drama Tchaïkovski’s Wife. 

This year’s festival welcomes Polish Greats director Jerzy Skolimovski back into the competition line-up with the enigmatically titled EO. His comedy King, Queen and Knave was in the competition line-up back in 1972, he then took the Grand Jury Prize with Alan Bates starrer The Shout six years later, and won Best Screenplay for Moonlighting in 1982. Success is the Best Revenge went home empty- handed from the competition in 1984, as did his Torrents of Spring five years later. His latest feature, a contemporary adaptation of Robert Bresson’s 1966 cult classic Au hasard Balthazar a road movie that begins in a Polish circus and ends in a slaughter house for its tragic star, a donkey. EO is described in the blurb as “a panopticon of human behaviour towards a defenceless animal, a suggestive picture of social relations and cultural exchanges taking place in the modern world”. We wish him the best of luck!

There are three late additions to the programme announced on 14th April. Catalan auteur Albert Serra is known for his audacious often provocative highly individual but always sublime fare. His latest feature follows on the heels of the exquisitely niche drama Liberte that bagged the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 2019. Starring Benoit Magimel and Sergi Lopez (Harry He’s Here to Help) Torment on the Isles sees politics clash with a coup de foudre for a crisis-ridden novelist and an ambassador on the steamy island of Bora Bora.

Sophomore director Leonor Seraille’s moves from her directorial debut and Golden Camera winner Jeune Femme to the main competition with Un Petit Frere. Father/son buddy movies are always popular with the (male) critics and Belgian directors Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen have found another winning formula along these lines with their Palme d’Or hopeful The Eight Mountains set in Italy’s Aosta mountains. MT


Holy Spider Ali Abbasi
Les Amandiers  Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi
Crimes of the Future – David Cronenberg
Tori et Lokita Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne
Stars at noon Claire Denis
Frère et sœur Arnaud Desplechin
Close Lukas Dhont
Armageddon Time  James Gray
Broker Hirokazu Kore-Eda
Nostalgia  Mario Martone
RMN  Cristian Mungiu
Triangle of Sadness – Ruben Östlund
Decision to leave  Park Chan-Wook
Showing up Kelly Reichardt
Leila’s brothers  Saeed Roustaee
Boy from Heaven Tarik Saleh
Tchaïkovski’s Wife Kirill Serebrennikov
Eo Jerzy Skolimowski

The Eight Mountains Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen
Un Petit Frere Léonor Serraille
Torment sur les Îles Albert Serra Spain


Top Gun 2 : Maverick  Joseph Kosinski
Elvis  Baz Luhrmann
Novembre Cédric Jimenez
Three thousand years of longing George Miller
Mascarade de Nicolas Bedos

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17 – 29 May 2022 

The Northman (2022)

Dir.: Robert Eggers; Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawks, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, Björk, Oscar Novak; USA 2022, 136 min.

After his breakout success with The Witch and impressive follow-up The Lighthouse, the main problem with Robert Eggers’ latest – a violent Viking drama set in AD895 – is that it’s not weird enough. Yes, blood and gore will satisfy the aficionados of the sub-genre; and a dash of magic and some warmed-up Shakespeare, with the anti-hero Amleth (Skarsgard) impersonating the Bard’s Danish prince, although less reflective and more prone to spontaneous combustion. The cast is certainly up to it and Jarin Blaschkeof of Lighthouse fame does a brilliant job with the images but The Northman suffers the fate of most auteur-driven vehicles. Once the auteur is no longer in the driving seat the vision is lost in a big studio blowout that careens all over the place at two hours plus.

After returning home from a war to his Queen Gudrun (Kidman), King Aurvandil (Hawk) joins his son Amleth (Norvak) to celebrate victory with ferocious farting match as they impersonate wild dogs (a recurring motif). But the jubilation is short-lived when the King’s brother Fjölnir (Bang), murders Aurvandil in full sight of the boy who escapes and flees the country only to return as a fully-fledged fighter (Skarsgard). Having been sold into slavery by his uncle and mother – now an item – he falls for love interest Olga of the birch forest (Taylor-Joy), and soon turns the tables on Fjölnir spilling family secrets in a revenge-fuelled furore that culminates in a lava-spitting volcano at the Gates of Hell.

A cast of big names appear in cameos: Willem Dafoe has fun as court jester Heimir the Fool, and Björk warns of things to comes as eerie eye-less witch. There is a Valkyrie riding across the sky on a horse – again counterpointing the terrifying violence of spilled guts, death by fire and multiple mutilations. Perhaps the key to Eggers’ approach lies in an early scene when Aurvandil has returned and Queen Gudrun invites him to bed. But the King is too proud to admit he is wounded, and instead of conjugal sex teams up with his son for a bloody bonding session where Amleth watches his father’s intestines morph into a magical tree crawling up into the sky. Later we will see Amleth repeating his father’s penchant for toxic male activities in place of female company. Eggers struggles to close the gap between supernatural magic and an expensive conventional Viking noir adventure. One big question hangs over this overstuffed mainstream production: what would the beast look like had Eggers’ had full control of its reins?. AS


The World of Yesterday | Le Monde d’Hier (2022)

Wri/Dir: Diasteme | Lea Drucker, Denis Podalydes, Benjamin Biolay, Alban Lenoir, Thierry Godard | France, Drama 90′

Elisabeth de Raincy, the French President, has decided to withdraw from political life. Three days before the first round of the presidential election, she learns from her Secretary-General, Franck L’Herbier, that a scandal on a Russian news site will splash her designated successor and propel the right-wing candidate into the Elysée. They have three days to change the course of History.

Inspired by Stefan Zweig’s 1934 novel depicting the stability of the Austro Hungarian empire before the catastrophe of the First World War, this tense political character drama co-written by niche French director Diasteme (French Blood) is a timely reminder of how history repeats itself particularly with the French general elections coming to a head with the threat of major change.

Essentially a three hander this plush and persuasive political thriller unfolds in the elegant surround of the Elysee Palace where de Raincy – an impressive Lea Drucker – is concerned with her political past and her teenage daughter’s need for attention too as she faces difficult choices in a world that is clearly dying out. MT


Notre Dame on Fire | Notre Dame Brule (2022)

Dir: Jean Jacques Annaud | France, Docudrama 120′

Veteran filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud pulls out all the stops for this incendiary  docudrama that offers a blow-by-blow reenactment of the thrilling events leading up to the tragic fire that partially destroyed Paris Notre Dame Cathedral during 24 hours in the spring of 2019.

Tracing back to the human error that set the blaze in motion, the film also shows how La Brigade Des Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris (also known as the fire brigade) eventually quelled the flames and saved the iconic Christian monument – that took 182 years to build – from total destruction.

Notre Dame on Fire is a lavishly mounted epic that plays out like a thriller in revealing the perfect storm that leads to the climax. What’s crucial is the way Annaud and his writer Thomas Bidegain (A Prophet) – whose script rather overdoes the melodrama – show just how close Paris came to having its majestic Gothic centrepiece reduced to rubble in a fire that could have obliterated the cultural and religious touchstone of many a film and novel, Victor Hugo’s hunchback the most memorable.

Occasionally veering into dialogue as clunky as the blocks of limestone that bolster the cathedral’s foundations Notre Dame certainly makes for compulsive viewing with its blend of genuine footage – made up of government drones, TV clips, and mobile phones – and the imagined drama that follows the race to save not only the edifice but the priceless religious relics: a crown of thorns believed to be the original from the Crucifixion and a nail from the True Cross. They are locked away in a hidden safe, but the mystery that drives the action forward is – who has the key?

The dramatic scenes of the roaring inferno are brilliantly handled by DoP Jean-Marie Dreujou and production designer Jean Rabasse who has incorporated replica sets, which were subjected to fierce but controlled flames, and these impart an authenticity that is really impressive. The cast and crew had to wear real fire-fighting gear capable of withstanding temperatures of 1300° F. The fiercest parts of the blaze are the choreographed highlights in the belfry and the transept, and catastrophic collapse of the spire as it comes crashing down into the nave. A fascinating true story which makes for a visually exciting spectacle.


Man Caves | Garconnieres (2022) Visions du Reel 2022

Dir: Céline Pernet | Doc, Switzerland

Men share their innermost thoughts in this provocative sortie into the male psyche from first time Swiss filmmaker Céline Pernet.

After three years and over four hundred meetings with Swiss men dating apps and newspapers social anthropologist Céline Pernet, in her thirties, uncovers what it means to be a young man in Switzerland today. The subject of toxic masculinity is a hot potato in newsrooms and dinner parties all over the world, but less is talked about the more positive aspects of male behaviour. How do men see themselves in the 21st century?

Travelling the length and breadth of Switzerland in all weathers, and we watch her braving snowy motorways and summer pastures in her determination to probe the male of her generation and to unearth innermost desires and beliefs. Predictably she finds that men see themselves as strong and protective leaders of the pack who want to triumph in the workplace, avoid emotion and protect their womenfolk, while oggling porn on the quiet.

Under Pernet’s persuasive line of questioning the men – between 30 and 45 – are much more forthcoming than you would imagine. And credit to her. Coy and rather furtive initial encounters soon give way to candid and even tearful revelations as the male of the species reveals how women are viewed as seductive objects of desire to civilising influences in their lives, with sexual encounters leading to marital and paternal bonds and beyond. Interweaving the cumulative interview footage with her driving around in snow, fog and sunshine to undertake her research this is real real catnip for female viewers. And although Pernet brings nothing particularly groundbreaking to the party her clever way of coaxing out and editing her findings it what makes this quietly compelling. MT

VISIONS DE REAL 2022 | Swiss Competition


A Holy Family (2022) Visions du Reel 2022

Dir.: Elvis A-Liang Lu; documentary with Elvis A-Liang Lu, Elaine Lu, Lucas Lu, Ming Yang Dei, Y Zhu Zing, Yin Hsien; Taiwan/France 2022, 90 min.

Taiwanese filmmaker Elvis A-Liang Lu shares a personal family story: having left his hometown of Minxiong at the age of eighteen to study film in the capital Taipei, a phone call from his ageing mother Elaine, sends him back to his family – and he soon remembers why he left twenty-four years ago.

Elvis’ father Lucas is addicted to gambling. He has squandered the family home, and merely shrugs his shoulders in response to Elaine’s complaints. Elvis’ brother Lucas believes he is a successful medium: we watch him advising a farmer what to plant at which time of year. But his sideline in predicting the future doesn’t pay the bills, and his pineapple business is going badly. Time to try tomatoes or should he just concentrate of the spiritualism.

Elaine has a strange relationship with Elvis: She puts up with her husband sleeping all day, but takes a dim view of her son, unaware that Elvis and his brother Lucas have had to pay off his father’s gambling debts. And even though she tells Elvis “I never visited you in Taipei because I pretended you did not belong in our family”, she expects him to be in charge of her funeral arrangements, giving orders for her ashes to be scattered in the open air, and taking ‘funeral photos’ for the grave.

With New Year approaching, Elaine then asks Elvis to give his father an extra gift of 2000 TWD. Meanwhile, Lucas has no income at all, having left his job at the distillery, and forfeited a good pension, and is soon diagnosed with a cancer that has spread from his lungs. So he must undergo chemotherapy, but is reluctant to start the procedure even though the doctor tells him it will soon be too late. On his return to Taipei, Elvis learns of his father’s death – he had spent his final days gambling.

The three DoPs create fitting images of a dysfunctional family; often handheld, they show the repressed feelings in close-up: Elaine occasionally musters the courage to complain openly, and Lucas feels betrayed by life, he never won the pot of gold despite his mediumship. Both parents are ready to die in their different ways. The director manages a happy end despite making us fully away of his own feelings. Overall, Holy Family is a long, melancholic good-bye to a difficult past. AS


Navalny (2022) Oscar | Best Documentary Feature

Dir.: Daniel Roher; Documentary with Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Dasha Navalny, Zakhar Navalny; USA 2022, 98 min.

When Canadian documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher met Bulgarian investigative journalist Christo Grozev, they had different agendas in mind. But the poisoning of Alexei Navalny (*1976) on 20.8.2020 in the Xander Hotel in Tomsk, changed everything. Suddenly Roher was sitting opposite Navalny to discuss a film that could be his epitaph. And it may still be for the dissident politician who is currently languishing in a Russian penal colony on bogus charges.

Navalny had led two different political organisations – “Russia of the Future” and the “Progress Party” – and neither were permitted to run in the 2018 Presidential Elections on account of “Corruption charges” as well as accusations of “Embezzlement”, according to Putin-controlled jurisdiction.

But Putin and the FSB (a new name for the old KGB) were not finished with Navalny. Agents of the FSB poisoned his boxer shorts with the nerve agent novichok (known as LP9 Love potion No. 9 in the FSB handbook). On the flight from Omsk to Moscow Navalny suffered convulsions. His life was saved by an emergency landing in Omsk where he was treated in hospital where Roher and his crew met the dissident and his wife Yulia. They declined to be photographed preferring to maintain the image of a strong and healthy politician in the public imagination. A few days later Novalny was flown to Berlin for further treatment, where the novichok diagnosis was confirmed. The recovering Navalny could only laugh about the attack: “How stupid, they can’t be so stupid”. But they were.

At home in his Black Forest retreat Alexei, his family and the film team discovered, with the help of hackers, the names of the four FSB operatives involved in the assassination attempt. In late December, Navalny put a call through to them, impersonating a leading officer of the FSB, wanting to discuss “what went wrong” during the ‘operation’. The first three agents declined to talk to Alexei, one even pointing out he knew the real identity of the caller. But the forth member, Konstantin Kudryavstev, was only too willing to talk, and confessed that without the emergency landing in Omsk, the victim would have died. A few hours more in the air, without help and the antidote “would have done the trick” according to Kudryavstev. “He is dead, the poor man is dead”, exclaimed Alexei after the end of their phone conversation.

On January 17th 2021, Navalny was back in Moscow. At Vnukovo airport, huge crowds gathered to welcome back their hero and his family. The authorities quickly diverted the plane to Sheremetyevo, and even though supporters crowded round the disembarking politician, the authorities prevailed and Alexei was arrested on arrival.

His original punishment for the alleged embezzlement and contempt of court was two years and eight months. But since then Putin’s regime has come up with a nine-year sentence, to be served in a maximum security prison. All the organisations Alexei belonged to have now been declared “extremist” and are therefore illegal. Despite all this, Navalny started a hunger strike, only ending when he was on death’s door. After the start of the Ukraine invasion by Russia, he sent out messages from the penal colony, condemning the war.

DoP Niki Walti uses his often handheld camera to great effect, particularly in the scenes when Alexei engages with the corrupt FSB agents. Perhaps, Roher could have forced Navalny more on the extreme nationalist part of his coalition. But overall his film is a coup extraordinaire: the audience bearing witness to living history: to a man’s courage, and the cowardliness of the murderous organisation known as the FSB. Echoes are already sounding in Ukraine on a daily basis. A remarkable document and a worthy winner at the year’s Academy Awards 2023 . AS


Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)

Dir. David Yates; Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Mads Mikkelsen, Dan Fogler, Alison Sidol, Jessica Williams, Victoria Yates, Ezra Miller, Callum Turner, Richard Coyte; USA/UK 2022, 142 min.

British director David Yates has directed four of the original “Harry Potter” series, and the completes a Fantastic Beasts trilogy to be followed by two more instalments of the Harry Potter prequel.

The Secrets of Dumbledore is much less of a disaster than its predecessor The Crimes of Grindelwald, a weak and unstructured script (by JK Rowling and Steve Kloves) leads to fragmentation disengaging audience for long stretched in a self-indulgent running time of 142 minutes.

Covid and the Johnny Depp scandal led to postponements, and are responsible for a ludicrous budget of close to 200 M $. Mads Mikkelsen (Gindlewold) has replaced Depp, and whilst not the pantomime villain his predecessor was, is far too insipid for a megalomaniac wanting to rule the universe – the magic one as well as the muggle-world – where It soon emerges he shared intimate moments with Dumbledore (Law) when they were young. Both swore an oath never to hurt each other – but we will see how that turns out.

In 1930s New York, Berlin and Bhutan, Secrets deals with the rise of fascism and Grindelwald is the Hitler model. From the get go his face is on ‘Wanted’ posters, but suddenly he is a candidate for “Supreme Head of the International Confederation of Wizards”, something Dumbledore is going to block at all costs.

Magi-zoologist Newt Scamander (Redmayne), who was present at the birth of two oilins (Bambi-like unicorns) has to watch helplessly when Grindelwald’s forces, led by the frightful Credence (Miller), catch one of them, without knowing, that there is also a twin. Dumbledore’s team, including Newt’s brother Theseus (Turner), muggle Jacob Kowalski (Fogler), professor Lally Hicks (Wiliams), Newt’s main assistant Bunty Broadcare (V. Yates) are on the lookout for the Chillin, a dragon-like creature able to see into the future and determine a person’s purity of heart. Grindelwald is always a step ahead, harnessing the little dragon’s power but this only offers a patchy view of the future. The elections arrive, high on the Bhutan mountains, but not before Dumbledore’s second secret is revealed in a the rather underpowered finale. There is no inner logic here : just a continuation of fragmented highlights, leading nowhere. In the end the writers run out of ideas but the visuals are spectacular. AS


Kash Kash: Without Feathers We Can’t Live (2022) CPH:DOX

Lea Najjar / Germany, Lebanon, Qatar / 2022 / 90 min / World Premiere

Against the backcloth of their chaotic capital Beirut’s pigeon fanciers play the cruel sport of Kash Hamam. The object is to lure other players’ flocks into your own pigeon loft high above the capital. Catching a pigeon entitles you to butcher its wings with scissors, or feed it to the cats: “Because at the end of the day, it’s just animals, just birds”.

Lea Najjar’s lyrical impressionistic feature debut soars above Beirut’s skies to tell the story of a melancholic city and its beleaguered inhabitants still suffering shortages in public services and economic collapse for the past eighty years. But one thing Beirutis can control and master is the pigeon population, and they do so with the same cruelty they complain of receiving from the country’s ‘ruling classes’.

Radwan, a local barbar, has been raising pigeons since he was nine. Despite the rising price of grain he will still go on feeding and tending his birds from chicks, and throwing clementines at them to make stronger flyers, or even cracking whips and slings to scare them into flight from his loft. Kash Haman is a competitive sport but the camaraderie between the men is strong and supportive. In Syria (where the sport is banned because it is considered a form of gambling) the men claim the ‘Kashash’ are  prepared to kill over their feathered friends.

But behind the camaraderie lies a city in disarray. And the problem is the politicians “who pull the blanket to cover only themselves”, according to one fisherman as he navigates the city’s majestic shoreline under a skyscape of stratospheric apartment buildings and cavernous rocks. “If you go to other countries, everyone holds one flag. Here, every sect and party has their own flag”. His sons should be studying at their university but instead they are helping out with the catch. “Our Government does not take care of them” he claims.

Meanwhile Radwan’s little niece begs him to teach her the masculine art of Kash Hamam, but Radwan refuses: “you should be reading, or something”. Meanwhile his Armenian client at the barbar shop is pessimistic about the future of Lebanon. “No matter how much rouge and perfume an old woman wears, she’ll never be young again. Your country is old”. So Najjar doesn’t reach any enlightening conclusions in her film despite its beguiling beauty: the eternal conflict between rich and poor, politician and worker rages on as it ever did in another sad but stunning snapshot of the Middle East. MT


Buster (1988) Prime Video

Dir: David Green | Cast: Phil Collins, Julie Waters, Larry Lamb, Stephanie Lawrence | UK Crime drama, 102′

Like the Krays the Great Train Robbers have benefited from nostalgia for the early sixties and their dastardly deeds are here portrayed as a bit of a lark (it doesn’t dwell on the little bit of unpleasantness in the driver’s cab, for example).

An inadvertent irony is the culture shock by Edwards during his South American exile at the streets of Acapulco being full of beggars and the shoddy medical treatment his daughter receives when she swallows a coin during Christmas dinner (a difference that was rapidly becoming less marked as after nearly a quarter of a century Maggie Thatcher was well into her assault upon the welfare state).

Considering the producers spent all that money on flash suits and Austin Westminsters, you’d have thought that someone would have told Phil Collins to trim those anachronistic sideburns; it also has a very eighties rock by Anne Dudley. @RichardChatten


Faithless (2000) Blu-ray

Dir.: Liv Ullmann; Cast: Lena Endre, Erland Josephson, Krister Henriksson, Thomas Hanzon, Michelle Gylemo; Sweden 2000, 154 min.

This modern Strindberg variation on female guilt and male violence is Liv Ullmann’s second go at directing a script by Ingmar Bergman that sets out to illustrates why male-female relationships are often doomed. Lena Endre is the star turn here with Ullmann’s sticking faithfully to the page despite an over-indulgent running-time .

Actress Marianne (Endre) lives the idyllic life of the enlightened bourgeoisie with her composer husband Markus (Hanzon) and their precocious daughter, Isabelle (Gylemo). Skint theatre director David (Henriksson) often shares their mealtimes and, before long, Marianne’s bed. What starts as a ‘brother-sister’ relationship, culminates in  a passionate encounter during a weekend in Paris, where they barely leave the hotel. Marianne’s confessions about her marital sex life enrage David who becomes insanely jealous and violence follows.

But alarm bells fail to ring and Marianne becomes fascinated by the self-confessed loser, regularly spending time in his pokey flat, despite her strong relationship with Markus who soon discovers the couple’s hideaway and ends the marriage, claiming parental rights for Isabelle. David and Marianne move in together, but there is no happy ending to their affair.

This episodic narrative all takes place in Bergman’s seaside house on the island of Faro, where he plays the part of Erland Josephson patiently listening to Marianne’s melancholic version of events. DoP Jörgen Persson shoots the Stockholm scenes in intimate close-up with a palette of browns and yellows. Only in the Faro sections are we confronted with the bruising blue aesthetic of the enfolding melodrama. Bergman fleshes out the characters in his traditional style which may seem over-elaborate for today’s audience.

FAITHLESS is an honest approach to the dilemma of the female-male dynamic, only slightly dated by a psychological vocabulary. But it makes the point: that most relationships suffer from the inherent  emotional and physical violence present in men, particularly artists, who often hide their tendencies behind self-pity and and bogus helplessness. Will Smith’s Oscar outburst was a case in point. AS



The Quiet Girl (2021)

Wri/Dir: Colm Bairead | Cast: Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett, Michael Patric, | Ireland, 94′

This delightful coming of age drama set in rural Ireland in the early 1980s is the Gaelic-language screen adaptation of Claire Keegan’s short story Foster and won a major Jury award at this year’s Generation sidebar at Berlin Film Festival.

Anyone who grew up in the era will really appreciate the exquisite attention to detail, and nuanced performances that delicately convey the mood without ever overdoing the emotion. And there are considerable emotions and harsh realities at play here: a dysfunctional family ground down by poverty; a little girl starved of love and attention; a grieving couple suffering in silence. The tranquil beauty of the Irish countryside seems to wrap them all in the soft blanket of summer but the hardships are undeniable and deeply affecting. This is a memorable modern classic that transcends the minor flaws in Colm Bairead’s feature debut.

Although she says nothing eight-year old Cait (Clinch) absorbs all the tensions at home where she is largely ignored by her older sisters, gambling father and pregnant mother and left to go hungry and unwashed to school where she struggles with lessons. An unexpected day out with her father culminates in a visit to a farm where she horrified to be left with Eiblin (Crowley) and Sean (Bennett) Kinsella, the middle aged couple who live there. Cait gradually blossoms in Eibhlin’s tender care and her being there seems to have a beneficial all round as she learns the ways of the farm with Sean who buys her new frocks and choc ices, Eileen showing her how to make jam and keep house during those happy summer holidays. She learns that not all men are bad, and some mothers are kind loving, although most women are gossips. But soon she must go back to school.

Slim of narrative but rich and resonant in the small details and in glorious settings captured in Academy Ratio by Kate McKulloch (Arracht), Bairead’s drama builds to an impactful climax and a deeply affecting ending. MT




A Night of Knowing Nothing (2021)

Dir.: Payal Kapadia; Documentary with the voice of Bhumisuta Das; India 2021, 99 min.

Indian director/co-writer Payal Kapadia, whose short films have been awarded numerous awards, returned to Cannes in 2021 with her first feature documentary A NIGHT OF KNOWING NOTHING, winning the “Oeil d’Or, Prix Documentaire” for best documentary film of the festival. Poetic as well as politically engaged, A NIGHT is a collage made from home videos, archival footage, CCTV recordings and scenes shot from mobiles.

The feature unfolds in an around the campus of the ‘Film and Television Institute of India’ in Pune where letters and a box of clippings and letters written by a female student, simply called L, who was writing to her boyfriend K. The love letters, soon became more and more politically engaged. K. had left the campus, and was literally imprisoned by his parents, for dating the lower cast L. Arriving back. he did not even speak to L, obeying his parents. Now L.s letters were written not to K. but “the man he could have been, or the one I loved once”.

The story dates back to June 2015 when the Modi government, after a landslide victory at the polls, took over all aspects of public life in India introducing their Hindi nationalism to the whole country including the Film and Television Institute. Gajendra Chauhan, who rose to fame in the 1980s as an actor in soap operas, was named the new director of the Film School, his only qualification was his rabid espousal of Modi’s politics. These involved raising tuition fee by 300%, which particularly hit Dalits (formerly Untouchables) and lower cast students the hardest.

The students called a strike which went on for several months. The Police were called in by the government, female students were threatened with rape by the police officers. Violence spilled over to other universities. L, voiced by Bhumisuta Das, edits the films of friends, before engaging more and more in the strike actions. The students’ main slogan was “Eisenstein, Pudowkin – we shall fight, we will win”.

Students graduated with a much different perspective than before the strike. They now had to find a way to make films for Dalits and lower class members, who were repressed by the Modi government. L writes: “We must make sure the ones who make the shoes for the rich, or harvest their food, have a voice”. It is obvious her own experience with her ex-boyfriend played a large part in her politicisation.

DoP and editor Ranabri Das create a dramatic arc showing the escalation of police violence, and the students’ reactions. Like L, many students had started out as proponents of art-house films, but the experience of state violence changed their outlook dramatically. Apart from K that is, L asking in one of her letters, “how could you be so strong when the police attacked, and so vibrant and in the meetings when you give in so easily to your parents”.

A NIGHT is a vibrant kaleidoscope of film styles and personal experiences which suddenly become entwined in the vicious circle of police brutality. L’s identity is changed by outside forces and she emerges no heroine, but no victim either. AS

I’m So Sorry (2022) CPH: Dox 2022

Dir: Liang Zhao | Doc,

Liang Zhao’s gracefully cinematic and quietly persuasive documentary depicts not just the devastation caused by nuclear accidents but also the emotional fallout of those affected by events such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

In these days of dwindling power supplies the nuclear option is ongoing. According to the World Nuclear Association’s 2020 report there were still 442 reactors in existence, most are in the US, China and France and around 40 under construction. But Zhou departs from a dry scientific study to focus on the human and environmental cost and the eerie wastelands left by defunct nuclear sites. He also makes use of a Japanese figure that floats silently through abandoned power plants – if ever there was a scary device in an straightforward eco-documentary it is this one.

From the outset camera pans over the devastation caused by the nuclear power plants of Chernobyl and Fukushima, and the silent ruins left behind by the population who fled the directly contaminated areas. Some, mostly elderly people with nowhere else to go, stayed on, enduring the devastation and emptiness both accidents have generated in an existence that stretches before them, alone in the universe. One old woman has spent the past thirty years completely alone in the Chernobyl decontamination zone, surviving off the land in a smallholding. Her approach is calm and philosophical: “Death takes everyone eventually, but they told us a load of nonsense, and sealed all the water wells. How can the water be contaminated, when it looks so clean”.

A menacing soundscape accompanies a slow-paced collection of stunning shots of  remote landscapes and ruined interiors recording a poignant memory of lives destroyed. Melted dolls with singed hair, and tiny ballet shoes lined up against a row of painted cots are all that remains of a nursery school. The deafening silence is the most powerful element.

Driving home his anti-nuclear message in a gentle way is so much more persuasive than the threatening approach of so many eco-docs. Zhao also invites us to question the absurdity of a situation where the nuclear power plant accidents led the affected areas. “Is it the past or the future?”.

Many disused nuclear facilities are now being painstakingly taken apart, and we see the gruelling efforts by a team in Germany forced to spend their days hosing down every inch and angle of the former steel monstrosity; “What one generation builds, the next with dismantle” comes the inevitable voiceover comment.

The film culminates in a sorrowful scene in Belarus, near the Chernobyl Exclusion Site, of a mother tending to her seriously disabled daughter “we weren’t told not to love when we moved here” she explains.  Sadly, I’m So Sorry has no positive message to offer her after showing us a Hell we have been part of creating. There is no bright future on the horizon or any hope in the near future.  Zhao Liang crafts a powerful anti- nuclear plea to the world, if only the world leaders would listen. MT



Pawnshop (2021) CPH:DOX 2022

Dir: Łukasz Kowalski | Doc, Poland

Poland’s largest pawnshop has moved from the centre of the city to the outskirts, but still cannot make a profit, largely down to a lack of business expertise by its eccentric owners Jola and Wisek.

Clearly their bizarre relationship captured the imagination of first time writer/director Lukasz Kowalski in his rather dubious and structureless undertaking. The pawnshop is clearly a labour of love for Wisek and Jola who puts fake Zloty notes cut from a magazine in the till in the pretence of hard cash. Often customers are asked to pay “what they want”. There are only 86 Zloty in the cash register at the time of filming.

In a shop boasting over 70,000 items there seems to be a preponderance of deer antlers and non-functioning electrical items, including a kettle that nearly exploded on a trial run. Crystal glass is also a great runner, so we are told; but the 19th century phone, many have an eye on, is not for sale at any price, it belongs to Wisek and he is keeping it. A look at the book section shows an abundance of self-help titles: ‘Medicine and Sex’, ‘Women and Sex’ ‘A new way of Sex’. Either the previous readers want to pass on the knowledge or gave up trying to improve their lives.

Customers ringing to complain about faulty goods purchased are given short shrift by Jola who tells them, in no uncertain terms, to repair the items themselves. When Wisek shows her a ‘mammoth tooth’, he has bought and hopes will bring in a healthy profit, the two nearly have a bust up. Next, there is some complaint about some welding equipment and Loya nearly burns the place down with a blow torch.

The shop assistants moan about their pay, or the lack of it. Jola expects gratitude for keeping them on in the current climate, but the workers are not impressed. Jola and Wisek have been together for eight years, but there is not much love left, Wisek claiming: “You only care about money, not feelings”. Jolanta, one of shop assistants, is so bored she starts trying on fur hats. They suit her, but on her salary, she could never afford them. Finally, Jola and Wisek come up with a marvellous new idea.

DoP Stanislaw Cuske does his best to make the dowdy subject cinematically appealing but with a long line of banalities and hardly any dramatic arc, he runs out of ideas. Kowalski was clearly intending to make a mockumentary about this sorry state of affairs but sails a bit too near to the wind in the current state of living crisis. AS



L’Argent (1983) Bfi player

Dir.: Robert Bresson; Cast: Christian Patey, Vincent Risterucci, Caroline Lang, Sylvie Van Den Elsen, Beatrice Tabourine, Didier Baussy, Marc Ernest Forneau, Claude Cler ; France/Switzerland 1983, 83 min.

L’ARGENT would be Robert Bresson’s final feature, he was eighty-two years old but would live for another sixteen. Winning the Best Director’s Award at Cannes in 1983 was well-deserved and a suitable valediction for the aloof, enigmatic non-commercial filmmaker whose work always defied classification.

L’Argent is based on Leo Tolstoi’s last novella The Forged Coupon, and once again Bresson cast non-professional actors to shift the focus onto his rigorous style. In possibly the most unsympathetic of all his features, the simple plot centres on a forged banknote. Young student Nobert (Forneau) hands the 500 franc bill to the owners of a photographic shop (Tabourine/Baussy), who pass it on to the delivery driver Yvon Targe (Patey).

Yvon vaguely suspects the note may be a counterfeit, but passes it off in a cafe. At the same time the photographer instructs his assistant Lucien (Risterucci) to muddy the waters, and Norbert’s mother also makes use of money to get her son acquitted in court. Yvon too is exonerated in a legal battle, but loses his job. To feed the family, he drives a get-away car for a bank robbery, is caught and spends three years in prison where he meets Lucien. Yvon blames Lucien for his misfortune, embittered at the death of his daughter. And on his release from prison Yvon goes on a killing spree.

Bresson and his DoPs Pasqualino De Santis and Emmanuel Machuel avoid close-ups and tracking shots; the camera is mostly static, the medium shots often featuring the protagonists from the rear or cropping their heads and feet. Bresson refuses to show his character’s facial expressions, even in the final showdown, all violence happens off-camera. The focus is on hands or nearby objects. Jean-Francois Naudon’s elliptical editing lets the the narrative flow. Rather like Rohmer, no frame is wasted, editing takes place during the shoot.

Bresson’s formal rigidity required him to have complete control over his actors, he often used his wife and former assistant Madeleine van der Mersch to convey his ‘instructions’: The characters are simply there to serve the premise, that money has destroyed their identity as they are slowly destroyed by their greed. The story plays out with the inevitability a Dreiser novel, Bresson leaves no room for his characters to escape. The result is so full of elegantly constructed subtleties it demands more than one viewing. AS


Under the Sky Shelter (2022) Viennale

Dir: Diego Acosta | Doc, Chile 68′

The past collides with the future in this provocative pastorale shot in refreshing black and white. It follows Chilean shepherd Don Cucho on a sinuous almost sinister odyssey through the craggy wilds of the Andes mountains to the valley with his herd of over a thousand sheep, and dogs. His journey is as atavistic as the hills and as well-worn, but Acosta’s inventive filming techniques and an edgy ambient soundtrack give this a surreal and unsettling twist that makes the down-to-earth suddenly dangerous and otherworldly in the hostile terrain. Now is the time for the seasonal movement of the animals to pastures new. Once they reach the valley, the animals can graze at their leisure for the rest of the season.

Writer director Diego Acosta works as his own DoP on 16mm often viewing the herd from above as it flows like a remote and rhythmic river of moving objects or shape-shifting creatures surging along in outer space. Others scenes are straggly and fraught as the beasts struggle awkwardly through a rushing stream stumbling as they make their way up the hillside under a sultry sky sparkling with stars.

There are languorous times too in the heat of the midday sun where clouds scud mysteriously into a silent sandstorm. Then winds whistle through the makeshift overhead canopy that protects the shepherd from the searing sun. But the night comes soon with its secrets and shadows and the Don lies down for the small hours til dawn. A clump of flowers takes on an exotic guise in the moonlight, and a reverse flowing waterfall looks magical yet quite frightening – a simple idea but supremely affective in this dreamlike feature full of surprises and unusual juxtapositions, time-lapses, shifting lights and shadow-play. A yearly journey becomes meditative, mysterious and magnificent – yet as old as time. MT



Electric Malady (2022)

Dir.: Marie Lidén; Documentary with William Hendeberg; UK 2021, 85 min.

Radiation from mobile phones, electrical devices and pylons now affects around 3% of the World’s population, according to WHO.

In her first feature documentary Marie Lidén explores the condition through William Hendeberg, 40, who suffers from ‘Electro Sensibility’ and is forced to live in a special hut constructed by his father Jan, in the remote hamlet of Ekeby Björn, Närke, south central Sweden.

Only a decade ago William had a perfect life: he was writing his master thesis, having spent three years at university in Boras and Gothenburg. A gifted musician, he played in no less than four bands. Now he exists in a hut, like a Faraday cage, covering himself in blankets made out of cotton and copper threads to block the microwave radiation. And that’s not all. A special mosquito net also helps to dissipate out any other radiation. “I don’t want the camera so close”, he tells the film crew, “it makes it difficult for me to focus”.

William lives like a recluse. In the early days of his illness he used to venture out but now it makes him feel so unwell, he has stopped doing it. He listens to music, Sinead O’Connor is a favourite “I need music, it shakes the soul. I usually start with nice, happy music, then something more funky, ending up with punk. ‘Lindisfarne’, makes me feel good too. I put a cake tin over the CD player, so I don’t get too bad.” He points to a collection of tea caddies. “Me and my ex, Maria, we loved tea caddies”.

We watch a video shot by William himself in 2007, and another of him playing in a band. “I was so bewildered at first, but it was almost exciting for a while”. At that point he only went out into the radiation-free forest nearby, even though he loved the freedom of the city. But it made him too ill with burning and cramping pains in his forehead. He needed days to recover from his city trips. “Like having your head caught in a vice.”

When is all started, William worked in a library, standing in for his partner Maria who showed milder symptoms of the disease, particularly as a reaction to fluorescent light and the computer screen. “The counter in the library was fitted with a loop for the hard of hearing – this was the beginning. Three other people working there had the same symptoms”. He has had no contact with Maria for 18 months now, after she left the caravan they were living in she got married and had children. We watch a video, Maria cutting William’s hair. They seemed happy.

William has got used to darkness, even though he is addicted to colours, particularly green and red. As his father tells us, William has always loved Christmas. So his parents ‘visit’ their son with presents. They celebrate as if he was still a child. William knows his parents have cried a lot, they want the old ‘William’ back. And are hoping they can all go and visit his sister Alexandra in Karlskoga. One of his chief concerns is that people think he is exaggerating. Everyone just hopes he will recover one day.

Electro Sensitivity has not been acknowledged by the medical profession so William tries to soldier on, not wanting to upset his family. A herbalist has given him some relief: William can now stay up longer, and is more able to focus in his reading and writing. his autobiography is already underway, but he cannot write creatively. “I am still curious about life”. And has started to go out and about, even though it makes his symptoms get worse. He had a phone installed via fibre optic cable: “After 15 years I have a speaker phone. I can talk to somebody who is not here. It feels amazing. But I am still waiting for a miracle, to make me better slowly. I long to be out, in freedom”.

DoP Michael Sherrington uses the camera in a very sensitive way – the quality of the shot is always secondary to William’s condition. Maria Lidén has certainly raised awareness and understanding of this little known condition. Rather like lung cancer, as a result of smoking, and endometriosis, it took the medical profession many years to acknowledge their existence. Lidén approaches her topic without any frills or sentimentality in a direct and informative, but always empathetic approach. An eye opener, produced on a shoe-string budget. AS

ON CINEMAS FROM 3rd March | Premiered at CPH:DOX 2022



Hide and Seek (2021)

Dir.: Victoria Fiore; Documentary; UK/Italy 2021,85 min.

In the back streets of Naples’ ‘Spanish Quarter’, Entoni dreams of Gomorra. First time filmmaker Victoria Firore follows into teenaghood charting his descent into juvenile prison.

Entoni is just ten when we see him burning down Christmas trees and other petty crimes with his older friend Dylan. His grandmother Dora, is no stranger to crime, a former member of the Camorra she provides the key to Entoni’s past, forced into a life of crime when her husband went to prison. And so did her daughter Natalie when Entoni’s father was given a long-term sentence. Like father like son, crime is endemic in the local community, normal territory for these boys. For Dylan and Entoni this is par for the course. “Boys without fathers grow up angry”, according to Dora. Entoni’s younger brother Gaetano is only too willing to take on the mantel of crime – as we discover in the post credits.

Young Entoni already has a reputation: “Don’t bring Entoni here, he will hurt you”, is the word on the street. A local mother blames the movies: “They copy what they see in  films.” On the radio, a serious voice talks about taking the guardianship away from parents who are involved with the Mafia. Meanwhile Dora does a Tarot to predict Entoni’s future, and the future is not bright.

In a disused jail, Dylan and Entoni talk about their favourite film, surprisingly Titanic. Dora reflect; “We sin, because we have to survive”. Her husband told her he was on drugs when Natalie was seven months old. Stealing was her only way to survive, her husband dying in jail. He had some form of cancer, and when Natalie saw him for the last time, he was like a skeleton, and she was never the same again. Watching a procession, Entoni muses,” in ten years I will be twenty-two and married”.

To avoid Nisida juvenile prison, the authorities decide to put Entoni in a reform school – But Entoni has no intention of staying: “when put him into a reform school before, he was back home earlier than we were”, comments Natalie. Entoni seems to prefer the  countryside to the city, and there are some shot of him wandering around looking vaguely calm. During a visit to his father’s prison, he waves his bandera frantically. But his imprisonment in Nisida comes earlier than expected, setting the tone for the rest of his young years. Is seems the die is cast for these boys: “We are the kids from the Quarter, to hell with everyone else. Prions are always with us. Entoni is always with us.”

Fiore, who grew up in Naples, maintains her distance never sensationalising the boys’ sell-induced tragedy, conveying the inevitability of it all in a lowkey empathy but never sympathy. AS

NASCONDINO (Hide & Seek) – in UK cinemas from January 20th 2023 |  CPH:DOX PREMIERE

Seven Days to Noon (1950)

Dir: John & Roy Boulting | Cast: Barry Jones, André Morell, Olive Sloane, Sheila Manahan | UK Drama 94′

Just how long ago this was made is evident from the opening shot of the postman marching up to 10 Downing Street and what looks like less than half a dozen letters hitting the mat. That it’s set in a London of barrel-organs, when tickets on the Underground cost tuppence and memories of the Blitz made the evacuation of London seem far less far-fetched then than now makes you realise just how long this particular Sword of Damocles has hung over all our heads.

Before we know the contents to Willingdon’s letter the response of Follard’s assistant to reading it is all the more disturbing for being an amused “Another one for the loony bin I suppose” (the second we see reading it bursts into tears).

Although the authorities automatically declare Willingdon mad and what he attempts is monstrous, the film itself is deliberately ambiguous on the matter. The Boultings in later films sent up the clergy mercilessly but Willingdon’s vicar is portrayed sympathetically. But while the first thing we learn about the Professor is that he’s the son of a bishop but finds no comfort in prayer. @RichardChatten

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) Bfi Player

Dir: Val Guest | Cast: Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Richard Wordsworth, Margia Dean, Thora Hird, Gordon Jackson | UK, Sci-fi, Horror, 82′

Hammer’s sci-fi movies still tend to be overlooked, despite Losey’s The Damned being probably the best film they ever made.

Still bearing the banner of Hammer’s earlier incarnation Exclusive, and set – unlike their brightly coloured Gothic horrors – in a contemporary London vividly shot night-for-night, that now feels even more distant than nineteenth century Transylvania (in which TV announcers still wore black tie and drunks used the term ‘gin goblin’), this fantasy sci-fi horror outing is sprinkled with occasional wry remarks like the locals are “all in church or at the local”.

Nigel Kneale strongly disapproved of the casting of Brian Donlevy as Quatermass, but he works for me; and the rest of the film is consistently well acted by the usual wonderful cast of familiar faces from Jack Warner, an eight year-old Jane Asher (who has a poignant moment cradling her broken doll), Sam Kydd (of course), to my favourite London landmark, Battersea power station. But surpassing them all is cadaverous Richard Wordsworth giving what is probably the best performance ever given in a horror film as the unfortunate astronaut. @RichardChatten


The Divide | La Fracture (2021) Bfi Flare 2022

Dir: Catherine Corsini | Cast: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Marina Foïs, Pio Marmaï, Aissatou Diallo Sagna, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h | France, Drama 98′

Corsini’s Parisian dramady unfolds over 24 hours reflecting the political conflicts dividing France through a disintegrating romantic relationship between two women. Raf (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and Julie (Marina Foïs) have been together for ten years but the arguments are getting worse. After a night of angry texting distraught Raf begs Julie to stay chasing after her into the street and ending up in hospital with a broken elbow. The two are briefly united in a ward fraught with hysterical patients, Raf knocking back the tramadol to quell her physical and emotional pain. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi gives another of her signature melodramatic performances full of vulnerability and mischievous tongue in cheek humour.

Meanwhile outside the famous ‘gilets-jaunes’ are staging yet another rally against president Macron. One of the protestors is truck driver Yann (Pio Marmaï) who takes a bullet from the police and ends up in the same ward as Raf. ‘Casualty’ fills up with a constant stream of sick and injured while the staff do their best – led by real-life caregiver Aïssatou Diallo Sagna – in a microcosm of French society ‘du jour’ raging with anger, fear and disenchantment at the government and the world at large. Joined by her co-writers Agnes Feuvre and Laurette Polmanss Corsini directs a whip smart script laced with satire and acute observations. MT





Every Night Dreams (1933)

Dir: Mikio Naruse | Cast: Sumiko Kurishima, Teruko Kojima, Jun Arai | Drama, Japan, 64’

A typically handsome and vigorous example of this director’s early work with a star performance by Sumiko Kurishima as a youthful example of Naruse’s careworn, impecunious heroines working hard to to keep her head afloat and raise a child against the tide of the rat race waiting for her long-lost husband to come home.

Nearly ninety years later it still looks as fresh as a daisy and – sadly – just as pertinent too in the 21st Century in it’s depiction of life at the bottom of the heap. Although set in Tokyo during the depression of the thirties, it could be taking place at any time or any place. Including here and now. @RichardChatten

Wet Sand (2021) Bfi Flare

Dir: Elene Naveriani | Cast: Gia Agumava, Eka Chavleishvili, Zaal Goguadze, Kakha Kobaladze, Megi Kobaladze, Bebe Sesitashvili | Georgia, Drama, 115′

Elene Naveriani’s subtle and classically told auteur feature centres on a rather sinister turn of events in the closely knit seaside community on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. Neighbours who thought they knew each other are suddenly back-footed when a regular at the local beach cafe is found to have committed suicide to everyone’s surprise. The dark humour is in the realisation that savage mistrust and divided loyalties are just as at home here and they are in the big city, and perhaps even more so. Agnes Pakozdi’s camerawork creates a painterly sense of place in the faded grandeur of the settings. Naveriani directs with style and attention to detail in an unhurried but memorable gem that won Gia Agumava’s performance Best Actress at Locarno 2021. MT



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


Vilnius International Film Festival – 24 March – 3 April (2022)

Vilnius IFF will be the first international festival to actively boycott Russian film with the focus of this year’s 27th edition firmly on the recent petition from the Ukrainian Film Academy. Day Zero – on March 23rd – will be dedicated to the latest crop of features and documentaries from the besieged European country. With Lithuania now welcoming hundreds of thousands Ukrainian refugees – and adding children’s films to the line-up – there will free screenings to entertain all ages.

Five films in particular will highlight Ukraine cinema and will open this year’s celebration on 23 March 2022:

BAD ROADS  Dir: Natalya Vorozhbit (image above)

Lithuania knows a thing or two about staying silent. That silence ended on 23 August 1989 when two million people across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia formed a human chain: the Baltic Way. Seven months later, on March 11 1990, Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare independence.

MARIUPOLIS  Dir: Mantas Kvedaravicius

Daily news reports have shown the devastation of this Ukrainian sea port. In his sophomore feature Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravicius centres on ordinary life and happenstance in a community unaware that 2022 would bear witness to a tragic loss of life and destruction.

THE DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS  Dir: Simon Lereng Wilmont (main image)

Set in Eastern Ukraine town of Hnutove, on the frontline of the war, the film follows a year in the life of 10-year-old Oleg who lives with his grandmother. As his friends gradually leave the village we witness the gradual erosion of his innocence amid the constant pressure of the unfolding conflict.


ATLANTIS  Dir: Valentyn Vasyanovych

Ukraine’s Valentyn Vasyanovych would go on to win a slew of awards for his first feature that highlights the camaraderie and resilience that has been the life force of this year’s Russian invasion. It sees a soldier suffering from PTSD befriending a young volunteer and hoping to restore peaceful energy to a war-torn society.

MY THOUGHTS ARE SILENT Dir: Antonio Lukich (image above)

Vadim, a sound engineer, has decided to emigrate from Ukraine to Canada at the age of 22. But before he leaves he must undertake an unusual assignment: to record the song of a very rare bird native of the Transcarpathian mountains of Ukraine.

As part of the European Capital of Culture celebration in the city of Kaunas, the festival will build a one-off theatre for a special screening of Laurynas Bareiša’s PILGRIMS (Venice, Best Film Orizzonti 2021) in the village of Karmelava where the film was shot. Vilnius IFF’s industry program Meeting Point Vilnius (MPV) also disinvited Russian projects in line with the festival’s boycott. Instead It will dedicate a special Ukrainian day to its program on April 1 with panels on political, institutional and film industry levels. The Vilnius Film Festival is supported by the Lithuanian Film Centre, co-funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture, Creative Europe MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Vilnius City



The Hermit of Trieg (2022)

Dir: Lizzie MacKenzie | UK Doc, 79′

In these days of social media and lives in the fast lane Lizzie MacKenzie’s debut documentary is a breath of fresh air.

It’s all about Ken Smith, a 70 year old loner who has spent the past four decades in a log cabin he built overlooking Scotland’s Loch Treig. Growing up in Derbyshire, Ken had a accident in his mid-20s that would change life forever. A random attack left him with critical injuries: he would never walk or talk again. But Ken refused to give up and eventually he regained his mobility and some power of speech in another lease of life. Travelling to Canada he trekked to the forests of the Yukon where the peace and solitude convinced him to head for the most remote corner of Britain on his return.

Still reasonably fit and active he enjoys the tranquility of the open countryside. The cabin has no gas, electricity or running water but Ken has adapted to the lores of the natural world living off fish from the loch and growing his own vegetables. He must also acknowledge that old age and death may come sooner than expected but is this such a bad thing in the days of overpriced care homes and endless medical intervention?.

A simple story of self-determination and sustainability develops into a visionary film about living life within the bounds of nature and embracing our fate. MT




Mujde (2021))

Dir.: Alphan Eseli; Cast: Lale Mansur, Salim Kechiouche, Onur Bilge, Erdeniz Kurucan; Turkey 2021, 48 min.

MUJDE shines a critical light on Turkey packing a pithy story into an hour unlike so many features nowadays that drag on interminably relying on atmosphere to carry a paper thin narrative.

Recently widowed Mujde (a brilliant Lale Mansur) rightly suspects her son Okan (Kurucan) and his estate agent friend Berat (Bilge) of having ulterior motives in persuading her to sell the large family house and move to a poky flat in central Istanbul. But she goes ahead nevertheless and employs three Syrian immigrants to help with the move. One of the them, Sayyid (Kechiouche), has lost his son in the Syrian conflict, and his vulnerability leads to romance with the lonely widow. The two make an odd couple, Mujde’s friends disapproving either on the grounds of jealousy or general hostility towards Syrian immigrants who are seen as second class citizens by the local Turks. An unexpected turn of events leads to tragedy on Shakespearean proportions when Sayyid is called back to Syria leaving Mujde in the lurch.

Set amongst Istanbul’s colourful shops and bazars and domestic interiors that bring to mind Fassbinder’s Fear eats up the soul, Mujde is an affirmation of contemporary cinema, proving a strong script is still central to successful filmmaking. Best known for his critically acclaimed drama The Long Way Home (2013) Alphan Eseli is also co-founder of the Art and Culture platform ISTANBUL’74. AS



Hostile Witness (1969)

Dir: Ray Milland | Cast: Ray Milland, Sylvia Sims, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley | US Drama 101′

Ray Milland’s final film as a director was also one of the last in which he wore a toupee. But for the glossy colour it rather resembles a thirties quota quickie (complete with the presence of Felix Aylmer) or early sixties Edgar Wallace complete with opening and ending shots of the statue atop the Old Bailey, albeit at twice the length and with far more histrionics; but it provides the same undemanding entertainment and has a sublime final last line.

Milland stars as hot shot barrister Simon Crawford who finds himself on the wrong side of the law when his daughter is killed in a ‘hit and run’. When his neighbour is also killed, evidence points to his being involved in the murder.

The radiant Sylvia Syms represents the sixties, veteran silent star Percy Marmont the twenties; while fifties regulars Ballard Berkeley and John Horsley are also present, although by now no longer wearing trenchcoats.@RichardChatten


1970 (2021) Kinoteka Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Tomasz Wolski; Documentary/animation feature; Poland 2021, 70 min.

Tomasz Wolski finds an inventive way of staging the famous uprising of Polish workers in the Baltic towns of Gdansk and Sopot, that kicked off just before Christmas 1970.

The intense battle of wits plays out from the perspective of the leading communist bureaucrats and ministers played by puppets in stop motion mode. Their arguments are based on original archive phone conversations. Against this background, the director uses documentary material shot for TV and newsreel at the time of the uprising.

The quorum of six ‘decision-makers’ is led by Kazimierz Switala, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and number three in the Stalinist hierarchy, who died in 2011, without ever having faced trial. Barricading themselves in a room thick with cigarette smoke, the negotiators jabber away on multiple telephones. The protest, turning into an uprising, explodes at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, where workers lay down tools after the government increased the price of essentials by a massive 20 percent.  

Placards ask for the resignation of Wladislaw Gomolka, First Secretary of the Polish Workers Party – and even more worrying for a change of system: “Away with Communism!” The six leaders get more and more agitated when the Central Railway Station is set on fire, and three Militia officers are trapped in a fire on the third floor of a building, surrounded by demonstrators.

In scenes all too familiar with the current crisis in Ukraine, Molotov Cocktails are thrown by the protestors, people are on fire, and police water cannons have a brutal impact. The defenders of law and order are quibbling about the use of engaging the military in the conflict – they might be needed in Krakow, another hot point of protest. Six civilians are reported dead, with 19 police officers wounded – the interim score promises more casualties.

The black-and-white documentary material, shown in the original 4:3 format is frightening in its intensity: police beating up their prisoners, fires breaking out in apartment blocks. The cold makes matters worse, and the inadequately dressed demonstrators  freeze in the frosty weather. They make up for it by throwing even bigger stones at the police and militia.

In the end, the protests go on for over a week with 27 000 soldiers engaged in the open warfare, 550 tanks and 750 combat vehicles let loose by the Stalinist authorities with 1500 units of chemicals being poured over the demonstrators from low flying helicopters. 1164 protesters were injured, forty-one died. So nothing on the scale of the modern day Ukraine conflict but still a force to be reckoned with in this demonstration against the mighty kosh of the Stalinist regime.  

Over four decades later only one individual was found guilty: Czeslaw Kiszczak, one of the six in the command unit, and the only one to face trial, was given a two year suspended prison sentence.

The uprising led to a pyrrhic victory for the Workers Party: new puppets were installed by Moscow, and one of the highlights of the animated puppet show, designed by Robert Sowa, is the big hand reaching from above, and collecting the six warlords like marionettes, to be thrown into the dustbin the of history. To say ‘history repeats itself’ is once again proved true. AS




Ingeborg Holm (1913)

Dir: Victor Sjostrom | Cast: Hilda Borgestrom, Aron Lindgren, Erik Lindholm, Georg Gronroos, Richard Lund | Sweden, Silent Drama 96′

To anyone with a nodding acquaintance with silent cinema the idyllic opening scene depicting the happy Holm family will seem ominous rather than heartwarming; and when Ingeborg Holm’s husband starts placing his hand on his chest in discomfort, you know that trouble and strife lies ahead.

Based on a 1906 play by Nils Krok, it’s realistic and unmelodramatic depiction of hardship generated much discussion and led to changes in the poorhouse laws. A hundred years ago it would have seemed to the socially concerned that the current pace of technological process would ensure that poverty exacerbated by the harsh unyielding poorhouse regime endured by Ingeborg Holm would have become just a distant memory by the end of the 20th Century. More than 50 years later, however, Cathy Come Home (1966) showed that little had changed; and another 50 years has now passed since then. Ingeborg probably ends up costing the state infinitely more than the debts that forced her into the workhouse in the first place, where the irascible officials who have a budget to balance won’t pay for her to visit her sick daughter; but then end up having to foot the bill for the police investigation that tracks her down (just as the taxpayer presumably ended up paying for her later years in a mental institution).

The smattering of Danish films from this period that I’ve seen show that technically Ingeborg Holm is not really the trail-blazer it tends to be claimed. The naturalistic acting is less unusual for the period than those unfamiliar with silent cinema are usually pleasantly surprised to discover, the sets are convincing and lighting is skilfully employed by cameraman Henrik Jaenzon for dramatic impact; but Victor Sjostrom actually frames the action for the most part rather stiffly in the middle distance. It is the content rather than the form that really impresses.

There are no moustache-twirling villains. Even seemingly unsympathetic characters will show unexpected little flashes of humanity (such as the bullying old harridan at the poorhouse who then offers Ingeborg a sip from her hip flask; and the two coppers sent to recapture her). The nearest thing to a villain the film supplies is the jerk manning the counter discouraging customers and ripping off the Holms while Ingeborg’s husband is too sick to keep an eye on him. Having Ingeborg go mad is probably a surrender to the need for some sort of dramatic conclusion to the story. The rest of the film having been such a relentless downer, having her eventually reunited with her long-lost son (played by the same actor who had played her late husband) represents some sort of a happy ending. In reality she would look much, much worse after 15 years in the psychiatric ward than she does here; but the scene is played touchingly and without histrionics. (Although it raises again the question posed by other films with epilogues set several years later: was the main action set in 1898 or the epilogue in 1928?).

The atmospheric photography and period costumes and settings makes ‘Ingeborg Holm’ seem a lot quainter to a modern audience than it would have done at the time. In modern London she would probably end her days less picturesquely sleeping rough in a shop doorway somewhere.@RichardChatten

Autumn Girl (2021) Netflix

Dir.: Katarzyna Klimkiewicz; Cast: Maria Debska, Leszek Lichota, Krzysztof Zalewski, Bartlomiej Kotschedoff, Katarzyna Obidzinska; Poland 2021, 105 min.

Katarzina Klimkiewicz’s Autumn Girl is both a tribute a Kalina Jedrusik (1930-1991), Poland’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, and a snapshot of her homeland in the 1960s.

Krzysztof Kieslowski pictures life in sixties Poland as a time of austerity, to say the least. Not so according to Klimkiewicz and Maria Debska who turn this biopic into a first class Hollywood musical, overcoming sexism and dodgy politics, with a triumphant Debska getting away with everything, just like the original Kalina Jedrusik who died of an asthma attack after starring in Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique.

It all starts in a fashion boutique where Kalina refuses, and not for the first time, to toe the Party line: “The Woman of the 1960s should be fashionable, but modest. Dashing but modest. Chic but modest. Focused of Hearth and Home”. But Jedrusik is anything but modest, she lives the life of Laurie as the star of a Polish TV show, and men literally queuing round the block. After hours, she lives with husband and writer Stanislaw Dygat (Lichota), but their flat is also home to hunky, in-house lover Lucek (Zalewski).

When party bureaucrat Ryszard Molski (Kotschedoff) takes over the TV Ents department – he too wants a piece of the action with Kalina (literally), more or less calling her a whore. And when she rejects his advances she is blacklisted and even banned from her favourite show the “Elderly Gentlemen’s Cabaret”. Her mood swings from aggression to self pity but she paints the town red with her best friend Xymena (Obidzinks), the two ending up in the bus depot after midnight, one of the buzziest numbers of this revue.

Warsaw dazzles in Weronika Bilska and PD Wojciech Zogada’s stunning camerawork with Debska the star turn in an all-singing-all-dancing extravaganza set to Radoslaw Luka’s original score. The aesthetic choices are adventurous in a parallel universe where candy-colours quell dour black-and-white reality: Ken Russell minus the hyperbole springs to mind, with Klimkiewicz playing fast and loose with the facts. Autumn Girl’s success lies in not taking itself not too seriously, or resorting to camp. It maybe a man’s world, but this woman reigns supreme with her sparkling zest for life. AS


Batman & Robin (1997)

Dir: Joel Schumacher | Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Uma Thurman | US Thriller, 125′

Interestingly enough the venerable Leonard Maltin gave Batman & Robin a higher rating (two and a half stars) in his Movie Guide than Batman Returns (two stars), which over the years has probably caused plenty of outrage in some quarters; but with which I happily concur. As a fan of the TV series I never thought Tim Burton’s Batman movies were that great to begin with – and anyone who says Batman & Robin is the worst movie ever made should be forced to watch Catwoman – so I’d like to say a few words in support of this deliriously Big Dumb Movie.

Yeah, I know, the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan movies are “DARK”!! Big Deal…! They certainly take themselves very seriously; but this isn’t exactly Eugene O’Neill we’re talking about. Sure, Joel Schumacher couldn’t make a decent movie if his life depended upon it; but at least the money is all up there on the screen (it certainly looks as if it cost the $125 million Warner Bros. squandered on it). It contains a touching swansong from Michael Gough’s Alfred (who’s late sister Peg in an old photograph is actually Gloria Stuart, who played Old Rose in the same year’s Titanic), has a cool score by Elliot Goldenthal and swish special effects; and it’s refreshing to see a recent Hollywood movie that actually looks as if it was shot in Technicolor rather than just various shades of brown and beige.

And it has Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. Along with Jim Carrey’s Riddler, Thurman’s Poison Ivy is one of the two best villains in the entire eighties & nineties franchise: every bit the supple, purring jezebel that Michelle Pfeiffer’s whining crybaby of a Catwoman should have been but wasn’t. Elliot Goldenthal’s smooth saxophone theme further heightens her sinuous impact, while her sleek green one-piece (happily without nipples) actually improves upon all the previous versions; making her the only female character since Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman to wear a costume slinkier and sexier on the big screen than she did in the comic strip.

There are just two snags; and in keeping with the gargantuan nature of this epic folly they’re big ones. The first – Schwarzenegger being the bigger star – is that Poison Ivy gets only a fraction of the screen time devoted to his boring Mr Freeze. The other snag – surprise surprise – is Schumacher again.

Schumacher was openly gay and liked the rest of us to know all about it. But whereas gay directors like Pedro Almodóvar and François Ozon regularly populate their films with strong and glamorous women, in Batman & Robin we instead get nipples and codpieces adorning the Dynamic Duo in tandem with a lack of interest on the director’s part in Thurman’s thrilling little minx that amounts to negligence. (Schumacher shoots enormous close-ups of the Bat-Trio’s butts as they get dressed for action but repeatedly passes up opportunities to show us Poison Ivy from behind. Note the way that she sweeps in to meet Schwarzenegger in one scene with the camera tracking along behind her as she walks the length of the room photographed full-length from behind AND SHE’S WEARING A FUR COAT DOWN TO HER ANKLES; which she promptly casts off, never to wear it again! And later she places her boot on the bottom rung of a ladder and on the very frame that she starts to turn away from the camera to begin climbing SCHUMACHER CUTS!!)

But enough survives from the detritus to make this a far better way to waste a couple of hours than other overproduced dreck like Armageddon or Pearl Harbor. @RichardChatten


Batman: The Movie (1966)

Dir: Leslie H. Martinson | Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Merlwether, Cesar Romero | US, 105′

Incredible as it may seem, it was just over fifty years ago today that this movie originally premiered at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas. It’s a substantially different entity from the TV original, to which it doesn’t do justice. The series looks better each passing year with its clean lines and pristine, saturated colours which more resemble the dynamism and visual clarity of an actual comic strip than the murky recent big screen offerings. Despite the supposedly juvenile demographic of this ‘Batman’, it has more literate dialogue than any modern superhero movie: could you imagine Christian Bale’s Batman possessing the vocabulary to employ a phrase like “human jetsam”?

But at 105 minutes the movie feels overstretched and rambling, and I miss the narration by producer William Dozier that was so much part of the TV series. The bigger budget meant the producers could splash out on The Penguin’s submarine along with the Batboat, Batcopter, and Batcycle; which came in handy as embellishments to seasons Two & Three, but which for me slow the action down (I find The Penguin’s sub very confining during the latter half of the movie, and staging the final punch-up on it’s narrow deck feels more cramped than similar showdowns in the TV series; especially as it’s obviously shot on the studio tank in front of a painted backdrop of the sky). On the plus side there are none of those endless back stories for each villain that take up so much of more recent Batman movies; although the fact that The Catwoman is already a “known supercriminal” with a long career in larceny already behind her, yet Batman doesn’t immediately recognise her at a press conference masquerading as Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karenska Alisoff of the ‘Moscow Bugle’ really does strain credibility, even by the standards of an unabashed piece of hokum like this.

An incidental advantage the 1966 movie has over both the TV series and the later movies is in the characterisations. In one of the Tim Burton movies Batman casually turns a flamethrower on a few goons; which is really not acceptable conduct for the guy who’s supposed to be the Good Guy. This Batman risks his own life to spare a family of ducks; which is as it should be. Adam West spends much more time as Bruce Wayne in the movie than he usually does in the TV series, and as Wayne is permitted a more fiery temperament than Batman ever displays; as when he loses his temper and attempts to head-butt The Riddler. All those narcissistic egos cooped up together on Penguin’s submarine also generate friction: I particularly liked The Joker’s admonition when it falls to The Riddler to post a ransom demand: “And none of your stupid riddles, do you understand? Make those messages plain!”, and the droll nautical exchange between Penguin and two of his goons (probably ad libbed by Meredith), “Yo Ho!” – “Yo Ho What?” – “SIR!”.

And then there’s Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman.

Julie Newmar being unavailable, Ms Meriwether stepped into Newmar’s ankle boots (minus the gold chain and medallion around her neck that Newmar always wore) at the very last minute, and director Leslie Martinson initially had to shoot around her; yet another reason why she actually has so disappointingly little screen time uniformed as The Catwoman compared to the interminable Kitka footage. But from this liability a special strength inadvertently derives, and the film’s take on The Catwoman is both unique and closer to the comic strip; never to be repeated.

When the movie was made Julie Newmar had so far made only one isolated appearance in Season One; so this represents only The Catwoman’s second appearance among the premier league baddies (whereas Gorshin’s appearance as The Riddler is almost a swansong; after being nominated for an Emmy he fell out with the producers over money and made only one more appearance in the series in Season Three). Because all the usual lovey-dovey stuff between Batman and The Catwoman that Julie Newmar found so boring is reserved for the scenes with “Miss Kitka”, for the first and last time The Catwoman herself is portrayed purely as a ruthless career criminal bent on the defeat of the Dynamic Duo, her mind solely on her work with a single-mindedness far removed from the flirtatiousness and playful good humour of Newmar and Kitt. (More like an actual cat in fact.)

To this day most people still don’t get it that the Bruce/Kitka ‘romance’ was purely a calculated ruse on the part of The Catwoman to lure The Caped Crusader into a trap. Furthermore, while Newmar deliciously played The Catwoman with the light of madness forever dancing in her eyes (and alone of all the actresses to have played her seemed genuinely weird enough to have chosen to adopt a clinging wet-look catsuit as her regular working clothes), Meriwether by contrast remains uncomplicatedly mean & sociopathic. Both Newmar and Kitt seem authentically to have clawed their way from the wrong side of the tracks; but Meriwether has the insolent air of entitlement of a prom queen gone bad, thus cutting a much more incongruous figure as a grown woman in the fetish gear Newmar and Kitt seemed born to wear (as worn by them, wet-look black stretch lamé wasn’t merely a fabric it was a weapon!), in which Meriwether marches about rather than slinks. (SPOILER COMING: Any healthy, red-blooded male, by the way, would ultimately be far more likely to be thrilled than heart-broken to find the woman he’s been stepping out with attired as The Catwoman.) Of the three, Meriwether also most resembles those coldly handsome, high-cheekboned harpies that regularly populate comic books.

Gorshin’s Riddler is plainly headed for a padded cell rather than jail when this is all over, with Meriwether’s Catwoman the least flamboyantly crazy of the four: just another criminal to be caged. When Bruce Wayne warns the assembled baddies that “I swear by heaven. If you’ve harmed that girl. I’ll kill you all!”, unusually for a female adversary The Catwoman is obviously included in this threat. And when finally unmasked and batcuffed, Meriwether’s Catwoman reveals herself in her true colours by showing not the faintest flicker of remorse as she is led away pouting to the slammer; unrepentantly heartless and irredeemably evil to the end. Way to Go, Lee!! @RIchardChatten


Reflection (2021)

Dir.: Valentyn Vasyanovych; Cast: Roman Lutskyi, Nika Myslytska, Nadya Levchenko, Andrii Rymaruk, Ihor Shilha; Ukraine 2021, 208 min.

Valentyn Vasyanovych is an award-winning director whose films are set against the backdrop of Ukraine’s conflict with Russia that has been raging since 2014, erupting into a full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022. In 2019 he won the Horizon prize at Venice for Atlantis and garnered the Special Jury Price of the Competition of last year’s Mostra with Reflection, again in the climate of Russian/Ukrainian war. 

Both films revolve around love and reconciliation: in Atlantis the love is between a man and woman, Reflection sees a father and daughter united after a divorce: surgeon Sergiy (Lutskyi) and his wife Olga (Levchenko) have left young Polina (Myslytska, the director’s daughter) in the care of step dad Andriy (Rymaruk).

We meet the four of them during the Kyiv conflict, trying to make the best of things for Polina’s birthday. Later, we see Sergiy in his operating theatre, trying to save the life of a Ukrainian soldier in vain. But things will get worse for him and Andriy: the doctor is captured by Russian occupying forces: he is interrogated and tortured by the leader of the Russians garrison (Shulha) but survives, Andriy is not so lucky.

Sergiy bribes a Russian soldier not to incarcerate Andriy in the Russian mini crematorium van bearing the bogus inscription “Humane Aid from the Russian Federation”. Instead, the doctor promises the Russian soldier a hefty sum of money if he releases the body to Andriy’s family.

Vasyanovych writes, directs and serves as his own DoP using hyper-realism in an intense aesthetic dominated by the gloom – apart from one happy scene. The focus in the second half turns to Polina who is clearly hankering after Andriy while accepting her  biological father’s generosity in a drama that offers a powerful snapshot of the conflict from violence to enduring tenderness, Vasyanovych somehow unable to find a satisfying conclusion to the endless atmosphere of tragedy that is still destroying his country, even now. AS



Deep Water (2022)

Dir: Adrian Lyne | Cast: Ben Affleck, Tracy Letts, Anna De Armas, Grace Jenkins | UK Thriller

Deep Water abandons the subtle psychological ambivalence of Highsmith’s angsty 1950s  novel for a throwaway melodrama that doesn’t make sense.

After a 20 years Adrian Lyne is back in the saddle with an erotic drama to follow Fatal Attraction, but this one lacks the needling tensions of both book and bonk-buster.

Ben Affleck is still darkly drole but somehow dissipated as the lowkey psychopath Vic. But in this screen version he no longer has a physical aversion to his aimless wife Melinda – on the contrary – the two enjoy passionate encounters and express undying love, yet we still root for Vic rather than his wife. And their little daughter Trixie (Jenkins) almost steals the show.

Vic and Melinda enjoy a close circle of friends in the upstate town of Little Wesley where snail-fancier Vic has made a fortune, and allows his bored wife to play the field to avoid the financial meltdown of divorce.  

At first Vic tolerates the arrangement, it keeps Melinda entertained and out of his way. Vic has already dined out on the story of one of her flings, Malcolm McRae, who has mysteriously disappeared. But he takes exception when his flirty wife brings another man to their plush mansion, and masterfully shows him the door.

But one of their coterie, local writer Lionel Washington (Letts), has taken a dislike to Vic, probably jealous of his cushy arrangement, or even professional success. And he drills down on Vic determined to uncover the truth in a series of skanky strung together episodes that conflate the original story into a meaningless mess. MT


The Audition | Das Vorspiel (2021)

Dir.: Ina Weisse; Cast: Nina Hoss, Simon Abkarian, Jens Albinus, Ilja Monti, Serafin Mishiev, Sophie Rois, Thomas Thieme; France/Germany 2019, 99 min.

Nina Hoss brings her signature style to this muted portrait of middle age crisis from German director Ina Weisse (The Architect).

Suffering from a debilitating illness Anna (Hoss) has been forced to give up her career as a concert violinist and relegated to teaching at Berlin’s famous Conservatoire. A star pupil  Alexander (Monti) becomes the focus of emotional energy as her private life spins out of control. In the throes of an affair with colleague Christian (Albinus) she desperately tests her marriage to bewildered husband Philippe (Abkarian), a craftsman, and over-pressurises her son Jonas (Mishiev) into learning to play the violin.

Borrowing heavily from Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher and Denis Dercourt’s La Tourneuse de Pages, Weisse fails to put her personal stamp on the feature but Hoss gives a resonating performance channelling her angst into all the other characters without resorting to the histrionics Anna clearly feels inside. There are some really taut scenes particularly one where she plays in Christian’s string quartet with disastrous results.

Anna has clearly been affected by her over-achieving parents and she reprimands her draconian father during a terse set-to at a family get together when he tries to discipline Jonas. A dramatic finale follows Alexander’s titular audition, but somehow we feel shortchanged by the outcome. AS



The Loneliest Whale (2021)

Dir: Joshua Zeman | US Doc 96′

A stunningly photographed eco documentary that sets out to track the largest and most lonesome sea mammal, accidentally discovered through naval sonar during Cold War reconnaissance in 1989.

The whale – known as 52 for its unique-to-whale frequency of 52 hertz – has never actually been seen by a human being but marine mammal bioacoustics specialist William Watkins determined to put ‘a face to a name’. He searched for the creature for over a decade after its calls went unanswered suggesting it could be the only one of its kind.

The New York Times picked up the story in 2004 and it captured the public imagination with its relatable tale of loneliness and romantic disillusionment for a loveless creature travelling the vast oceans desperate to find a mate. Documentarian Joshua Zeman was also intrigued and got together with the team of marine specialists determined to find answers in a voyage of discovery that would be a drop in the ocean towards uncovering another of nature’s mysteries. MT

ON RELEASE from 4 April 2022





Elizabeth (2021) Tribute

“The Rock on which modern Britain was built” Liz Truss, PM

Dir: Roger Michell | Doc, 89′

As the nation pays tribute to the life of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, this warm hearted documentary celebrates and reflects on a long reign marked by a strong sense of duty to dedicate her life to her people, and respond to a rapidly changing world.

Roger Michell’s Elizabeth celebrates her 70 year reign with a focus on the “Platinum Jubilee” back in June 2022. Bringing together incredible archives, joyful, uplifting and mischievous, Michell creates an amusingly edited memoire from the archives in celebration of a much loved and treasured monarch (just before he died last September).

Elizabeth is a nostalgic, playful, fresh and modern chronicle of the longest reigning British monarch and longest serving female head of state in history. “To us teenagers she was a babe” croons Paul McCartney reflecting on the time The Queen visited Liverpool in 1971. A remarkable film about an even more remarkable life.


Days of Bagnold Summer (2019)

Dir: Simon Bird | Cast: Monica Dolan, Earl Cave, Elliot Speller-Gillot, Tamsin Greig | UK Drama 86′

The Inbetweeners star Simon Bird goes behind the camera for his screen director debut that sees teenager Daniel (Cave) spending his summer listening to heavy metal music and trying to get on with his librarian divorcee mother (Dolan).

Days of Bagnold Summer is a self-consciously quirky slice of twenty-first century life reminiscent of a less bilious early Mike Leigh comedy-drama. Originally based on a graphic novel, hence the incongruously bright colours that surround the mother and son stuck with each other in their otherwise grey little life together. @RichardChatten

OUT ON LIMITED EDITION SIGNED BLU-RAY at Anti-Words | BLU-RAY and DVD on 25 April 2022.

The Angry Silence (1960)

Dir: Guy Green | Cast: Richard Attenborough, Pier Angels, Michael Craig, Bernard Lee, | UK Drama 85′

I lived in Ipswich from 1967 to 1976 and actually recognised my old school playground in the only picture that I’m aware of being shot in what Alan Whicker described as “a small industrial town”.

Ten years after British cinema had already grappled with the ‘unsexy’ subject of labour relations during the Attlee years in Chance of a Lifetime (1950), with Macmillan now in Number 10 the issue continued to provoke controversy and debate, when fresh from portraying a shifty boss in I’m All Right Jack – under the direction of Guy Green with whom he’d just made SOS Pacific – Richard Attenborough joined the workforce in Britain’s answer to On the Waterfront which also praised the courage of a strike breaker standing up to threats and intimidation; complete with the final savage beating of the hero.

Italian actress Pier Angeli is deeply touching as Attenborough’s pregnant wife, and the film displays a new rawness in sexual matters. As in I’m All Right Jack the owners are portrayed as stupid, remote and venal, a factor overshadowed as in the former by the unflattering and libellous portrayal of trade unionists needing in UK critic Alexander Walker’s words “only bedsheets and fiery crosses to become a Ku Klux Klan purge”.

Originally titled A Dangerous Game, it was made on a shoestring and took still another ten years to break even; all the time drawing criticism from the likes of Ken Loach for its portrayal of the workers as mouth-breathing teddy boys (Michael Craig grew an enormous pair of sideburns for the film) unwittingly being used as cannon fodder by sinister agitator Alfred Burke (described by Walker as passing “through the strike-hit factory like a bacillus through the human body”). While it’s picture of the popular press (including writer Bryan Forbes helping cut costs by contributing an uncredited bit as a reporter) stirring the pot still resonates today. @RichardChatten

Vanity Fair (1932)

Dir: Chester M Franklin | Cast: Myrna Loy, Walter Byron, Barbara Kent, Conway Tearle | US Drama 78’

When she played Becky Sharp, Myrna Loy was still a couple of years away from her breakthrough role as Nora Charles in The Thin Man, which overnight established her as Hollywood’s most charismatic female star of the thirties. Her elevation to the ‘A’ list in 1934 almost exactly coincided with the introduction of the dreaded new Hays Code, which had profound consequences, as the Charles’s were never again to be such heavy drinkers, and the newly elevated Myrna the Perfect Wife was to be an entirely different entity from the gold digging tramps as which the pre-Code Myrna had until now tended to be typecast. The latter was far closer to the woman she actually was, but the former are not surprisingly much more fun to watch when the opportunity now arises – which is far too seldom. And is what makes Vanity Fair so tantalising.

Even in her star vehicles Myrna was rarely the focus of things; and had she played one of literature’s most celebrated vixens in this modernised Vanity Fair in a production properly mounted by MGM (in the sort of slinky backless gowns currently being designed by Adrian for Norma Shearer) it could have been a powerhouse showcase for Loy in her nubile young prime. The screenplay by F.Hugh Herbert does a creditable job of compressing the bare bones of the novel into just 73 minutes; and Loy is surrounded by a pretty good supporting cast (turning her mercenary charms on a trio of randy old goats played by Billy Bevan, Lionel Belmore and Montague Love). But unfortunately for Myrna, what could have been her big break was made on loan-out in just ten days for a poverty row outfit called Allied Pictures and creaks badly.

Miriam Hopkins made a far less appealing Becky three years later, but was backed by an opulent Technicolor production with all the trimmings; which although post-Code also permitted her a more upbeat fate than that suffered here by poor Myrna. @RichardChatten

The River (2021)

Dir.: Jennifer Peedom; co-directed by Joseph Nizeti; narrated by Willem Dafoe; Documentary; Australia 2021, 75 min.

An impressive collection of river images coalesce with a mellow voice-over commentary by Willem Dafoe and music from the Australian Chamber Orchestra in this languorous companion piece to the director’s 2017 documentary Mountain.

We start in the recording studio where the chamber orchestra tune their instruments, and Dafoe looks for the right nuance of tone. Then we are literally thrown into the river, in this case a waterfall, where a canoeist struggles to stay afloat despite losing the paddles. A historical, philosophical and ecological journey ensues, the story of mankind and rivers, and how they shaped each other. The loosely formed narrative flows, oscillating between soothing and wild – just like its subject.

Feel yourself sinking into the languid images; Peedom and the five accredited DoPs filmed in 39 countries, and the result is the capture of natures’ glory, with a few ecological warnings thrown in: “It is always the poor who suffer most”, underlining images of a river polluted by plastic bottles and other industrial debris. “Rivers have shaped us as a species; they are the source of human dreams. Worshipped like Gods, humans dreamt of rivers, forces of live and death”. “But now, our Gods have become our subjects”, dams, and other irrigation measures show the changing relationship between men and rivers. Global networks of transport, connecting metropolis and their smaller brethren: “The world’s great cities all have a river at their heart”. There are mystical cloud plays, connecting the rivers to the firmament.

Rivers is a lesson in visual filmmaking, that eschews ‘Talking Heads’ telling its story visually, images are used as an argument, sometimes poetic, then again also “as wild as the river itself”. Humans rarely feature and only dominant in black-and-white archive material about the ‘taming’ of waterways. But the bursting of dams and other catastrophes show only too clearly that the power is reverting to nature. But still, “we share our fate with the rivers, we flow together”. Rivers very much follows the course Joris Ivens’ A Tale of the Wind.  Peedom is also neither reverential, nor does she agitate on behalf of environmentalists, but simply shows the beauty of ecology. The music composed by Willaim Barton, Piers Burbrook de Vere and Richard Tognetti is an integral part of the feature; editor Simon Njoo is able to harness the ebbing and flowing of the Rivers into a stream of images, into which the audience can lose itself: “Rivers change you, gradually and permanently”. AS

RIVER nationwide Q&A preview 16 March 2022 with Robert Macfarlane and Jennifer Peedom, on general release 18th March

The Batman (2022)

Wri/Dir: Matt Reeves | Cast; Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Collin Farrell, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Keoghan, Jayme Lawson | US thriller, 175′

This ninth live-action thriller is a Batman film for modern times with its themes of female empowerment and white male supremacy in a Gotham City of corrupt politicians falling prey to serial killer, The Riddler (Dano is surprisingly scary in meltdown mode). John Turturro provides the villainous  subtext as Carmine Falcone aka The Rat, and is also father to Catwoman (Kravitz as Selina Kyle). Robert Pattinson makes for a gorgeous floppy-haired Gotham superhero still in his formative years flexing his muscles but also quivering his lips for universal appeal as Bruce Wayne, son of the city’s leading family who are not pulling their weight according to Jayme Lawson’s mayoral candidate. The chemistry with Zoë Kravitz’ sizzles nicely as The Cat and The Bat take it in turns to ‘save’ each other. Some scenes are almost poetic, the dark figures striking a pose or flitting delicately against the incandescence of Gotham City by night. The BatMobile doesn’t disappoint either with rip-roaring chase scenes set to Michael Giacchino’s thundering score riffing on Mozart’s Funeral March to add to the gloomy tone throughout. Matt Reeves juggles an eclectic cast of 129 actors but you’ll never guess who Colin Farrell plays. This Batman is certainly entertaining but an hour too long. MT


CPH: DOX 2022 | Focus on Ukraine

Scandinavia’s premier documentary festival CPH:DOX kicks off on 23 April with 200 international films of artistic quality and contemporary relevance that speak volumes about the world we live in.

76 are world premieres in a year that will have a particular focus on Ukraine and Russia in the festival’s main competition, Dox:Award. CPH:DOX 2022 will run as a hybrid festival with film screenings and industry events in Copenhagen from April 23 to May 3, 2022. In addition, a selection of films will be made available for streaming in Denmark from April 1-10.

Focus on Russia and Ukraine

With the war raging in Ukraine right now, expect to see the latest films that go behind the news flow and provide new perspectives on the reality in Russia and Ukraine. Here, the audience will get the chance to experience the story of the famous Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned with the nerve gas Novichok and is now imprisoned in Russia. The films Navalny, Holidays (image above) and Outside have all been selected for the main competition Dox:Award. CPH:DOX will also screen the world premiere of Novorossiya, a new film focusing on the lives of people in war-torn Eastern Ukraine. The focus programme includes the critically acclaimed Danish Sundance winner ‘A House Made of Splinters’ about an orphanage in the eastern part of Ukraine, as well as a number of other films about Russia and Ukraine.

Competition line-up

The five competitions, that will all be evaluated by an international jury, are: Dox:Award, New:Vision, F:act Award, Nordic:Dox Award, Next:Wave Award. The full competition line-up consists of 59 titles and features 39 world premieres, 16 international premieres and 4 European premieres.


12 films including 6 world premieres, 5 international premieres and 1 European premiere.

INTO THE ICE (Lars Ostenfeld, Denmark/Germany, World Premiere) main image

A grand, cinematic adventure on the Greenland ice sheet with three leading scientists in search of what the ice can tell us about our climate, our past and possible future.

THE ECLIPSE  (Nataša Urban, Norway, World Premiere) image above
With the solar eclipse in 1999 as her mirror image, an exiled film artist turns her analogue film camera on her family in ex-Yugoslavia to map how a dark past remains embedded in the present.

THE FALL  (Andreas Koefoed, Denmark, World Premiere)

A 10-year-old girl miraculously survives a fall from the fifth floor. Six years later, she is looking to escape the trauma. A subtle, sensitive coming-of-age film about a very unusual young woman.

FIRE OF LOVE (Sara Dosa, Canada/United States, International Premiere)

A unique, poetic and visually stunning adventure film about a French scientist couple, based entirely on their own footage from travels in search of erupting volcanoes in the 1970s and 80s.

GIRL GANG (Susanne Regina Meures, Switzerland, World Premiere)
A contemporary fairy tale about a 14-year-old influencer and her biggest fan. But life as a social media star has a shadow side that the adrenaline, fame and free sneakers can’t make up for.

HIDE AND SEEK  (Victoria Fiore, United Kingdom/Italy, International Premiere)
Four furious years in one of Naples’ toughest neighbourhoods, where all three generations of a single family live on the edge of the law. Can the family’s youngest son break the dark legacy?

HOLIDAYS  (Antoine Cattin, Switzerland, World Premiere)

Russia’s record-high number of holidays are celebrated at an upbeat balalaika pace and with black humour in a lively mosaic of impressions from life in the vast, inscrutable country in the East.

MIDWIVES (Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing, Myanmar, European Premiere)

A tale of the complicated relationship between Rohingya and Buddhists in Myanmar, told over five years through the eyes of two midwives from either side of the divide.

NAVALNY  (Daniel Roher, United States, International Premiere) image above

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalnyi is both detective and supposed murder victim in a brave docu-thriller about the assassination attempt at his life. Timely, urgent, nerve-wrecking.


OUTSIDE (Olha Zhurba, Ukraine/Denmark/Netherlands, World Premiere)
As a 13-year-old boy, he became the poster boy of the Ukrainian revolution. Now Roma is back on the streets with nothing in his pocket but a lighter and a knife as a new conflict looms.

THEY MADE US THE NIGHT (Antonio Hernández, Mexico, International Premiere)

Supernatural visions and indigenous folk myths intrude in an unpredictable and dreamlike Mexican film about a family living in the shadow of the apocalypse. A living, organic work.

UNDER THE SKY SHELTER (Diego Acosta, Chile, International Premiere)

Chilean debut in sparkling, analogue black and white. A lone shepherd crosses rivers, forests and cliffs with thousands of sheep. As he loses himself in the mountains, dreams appear like ghosts.

CPH: DOX runs from 23 APRIL to 3 MAY 2022


Maigret (2022)

Dir: Patrice Leconte | Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Jade Labeste, Aurore Clement, Pierre Moure | France, Belgium Drama 86′

Gerard Depardieu plays a downbeat Inspector Maigret in Patrice Leconte’s classically styled murder mystery set in 1950s Paris. The French star follows a long line of actors to play Simenon’s famous trench-coated ‘officer of the law’ (as Peter Sellars put it) from Pierre Renoir and Charles Laughton to more the recent portraits from Michael Gambon and even Rowan Atkinson. This is a decidedly dour endeavour, although Loic Chavanon’s production design is immaculately detailed. It all looks very much like the director’s 1989 Simenon outing Monsieur Hire but is not nearly as memorable.

Mourning the demise of his daughter Maigret finds himself reliving her loss through the violent murder of a young provincial girl savagely knifed to death, her haute couture evening gown reduced to a crimson rag. The portly Maigret is engulfed in his own private grief as he searches in vain for motive and killer, his usual masterful gravitas derailed by maudlin memories and fatherly regret.

Leconte bases his script on Simenon’s ‘Maigret et la jeune morte’ with a lesbian twist bringing things bang up to date in a tight ninety minutes where atmosphere is more abundant than tension. The detective still carries his classic pipe although he never lights it and has been advised by his doctor to give up smoking and take a rest. But rest is the last thing on his mind as he methodically ticks off the suspects trundling from morgue to graveyard and up to the squalid attic room where the girl lived out a miserable existence. There is Betty (Jade Labeste) a soulful young woman who reminds him of his daughter, and Jeanine (Mélanie Bernier), a neurotic actress desperate to clinch her liaison with pampered man-child Laurent (Pierre Moure), doted on by his aristocratic widowed mother (Aurore Clement). Everything comes together neatly in this elliptical but rather unsatisfying production. With its traditional themes of jealousy, male privilege and working class aspiration Maigret is solidly stage and well-performed but decidedly sombre, tainted by its hero’s sullen frame of mind. MT



A Woman at Night (2021) Kinoteka Film Festival 2022

Dir Rafael Kapelinski | Jennifer Tao, Lon Lin, Miles Richardson, Alex Change, Leigh Gill, Piotr Adamczyk | UK, China Polish 81’

London can be a lonely place as two girls from Shanghai find out in this stylishly suggestive fantasy drama from Rafael Kapelinski.

The young cousins move into the neighbourhood where the infamous serial killer Denis Nilsen performed his grisly murders. Nilsen preyed upon young boys who had lost their way and fallen through the cracks of society trying to find work down south in the capital. Here the marginalised characters are female and come from much further afield to discover that life in the big city is just as dangerous as it ever was, and potentially more so, but are certainly cannier than their 1980s British counterparts.

Yiling and Yao are very much Ying and Yang, but when the more spiritual of the two gets a job at an estate agency with Nilsen’s old flat on the books she suddenly gets a nose for the money. Far from a ‘des res’ the dingy attic flat in Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill becomes a potential gold mine attracting all kinds of undesirables obsessed with renting – but not buying – the property, and willing to pay any price for the pleasure. Hovering in the twilight certainly brings out the worst in the macabre visitors who will stop at nothing to gain access to the dank top floor premises: there is a professor with sinister sexual proclivities and a silvered tongued midget named Lee who echoes the dwarf in the Singing Ringing Tree.

Kapelinski assembles an eclectic cast of British actors alongside Tao and Lin who are no shrinking violets contrary to their delicate appearances. The standout is Miles Richardson who is really sinister as the posh Professor Laskey whose lewd suggestions meet with derision when Yiling lets him into her car.  Rather slim of plot but rich in atmosphere the Polish filmmaker cleverly works true crime into a strikingly imagined contemporary thriller that scratches at the edges of horror with a narrative that could provide rich pickings for more Nilsen-themed fare. MT


The Duke (2020)

Dir: Roger Michell | Cast: Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, James Wilby, Matthew Goode, Anna Maxwell Martin, Fionn Whitehead | UK Drama, 96′

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren are the stars of Roger Michell’s jaunty swan song that premiered at Venice in 2020 but has only just been released in the UK five months after his death.

In 1960s Newcastle working class amateur playwright Kempton Bunter (Broadbent) – a cheerful ‘Victor Meldrew’ type – blazes a trail for the common man with his outspoken take on social justice. And while his long-suffering wife Dorothy gets on with the business of living, determined not to let the side down, he nobly flouts the Law.

At the heart of all this lies a poignant sadness for the loss of their teenage daughter in a bicycle accident. A stoney silence has fallen between them on the subject, house-proud Dorothy channelling her grief into cleaning the life out of everything in their crummy red-brick house, and Kempton determined to champion the poor. We feel for them in their efforts to make the best of things. Dorothy works as a char lady for decent local dignitary Mrs Gowling (Maxwell Martin), while Kempton is to be found on his soap box voicing his views. Broadbent is amusing and vulnerable as the down-beaten hero who regularly gets the sack for his forthright opinions. But when he finds out that Goya’s painting of the Duke of Wellington has been acquired by National Gallery, at vast expense to public purse, he oversteps the mark with a plan to “borrow” the work to fund TV licences for the needy.

Richard Bean and Clive Coleman’s script is wittily adapted from a true story and bathed in the golden glow of nostalgia at the expense of dramatic tension. Broadbent and Mirren are the epitome of old-school Englishness, bringing out the humanity in two noble souls who have been through the mill – not to mention two world wars – determined to keep a stiff upper lip without resorting to maudlin introspection in this warm-hearted crowd-pleaser. MT





Echoes of the Past (2021)

Dir.: Nicolas Dimitropoulos; Cast: Max von Sydow, Astrid Roos, Danae Skiadi, Nickolas Papagiannis, Maximos Livieratos, Martin Laer, Alice Kriege, Tomas Arana, Prometheus Aleiferopoulos; Greece 2021, 98 min.

Echoes of the Past is a wartime drama dedicated to Max von Sydow in his final role of a stunning career. Sadly, Nicolas Dimitropoulos and his scriptwriter Dimitrios Katsantonis have made rather a mess of their attempt to fictionalise the 1943 Kalaryta massacre where 752 Greek civilians lost their lives at the hands of German troops, in the northern Peloponnese.

Alexis Andreou (Papagiannis) is a member of the Greek partisans fighting the occupying German forces. After some of them are killed, General Le Suire (Arana) asks commandant Tenner (Laer) to shoot all male inhabitants of the town and burn the women and children in the school house. Tenner, whose father deserted in WWI, is only too willing to follow orders, but Austrian private Friedrich Braun (Aleiferopoulos) single-handedly saves the lives of the women and children involved.

The two strands, past and present, unfold in parallel: German government lawyer Caroline Martin (Roos) is trying to avoid making reparations for the massacre, proud at having never lost a case. She visits Kalavryta and meets the only survivor, writer Nicholas Andreou, on his last legs. Out of the blue Martin then resigns, claiming the payout should go ahead. But not before she pays a ‘tea and sympathy’ visit to private Braun’s widow Frau Voss (Krige) in Thal, Austria, proving there to be one good German and one good Austrian in this war crime saga.

DoP Yorgos Rahmatoulin’s images are as uninspired as script and direction, Echoes hovers between sensationalist hyper-realism and soppiness ultimately lacking the gravitas to do justice to such a momentous episode in history. AS



Bergamo Film Meeting 2022

After the online experience of past few years BERGAMO FILM MEETING puts the audience and the idea of gathering together again central to this year’s live festival.

From March 26 to April 3, the 40TH EDITION celebrates cinematographic culture and auteur cinema kicking off with CIN’ACUSMONIUM, an acousmatic projection of the restored 35mm copy of Andrej Tarkovskij’s Stalker (1979). The legendary Russian filmmaker’s masterpiece relives on the screen in an all-encompassing sound-around cinematic experience on Friday, March 25th.


Bergamo dedicates a complete retrospective to the master of political cinema of Costa-Gavras (Konstantinos Gavras), who was born in Loutra Iraias (Athens) on February 13, 1933. From his mother, Greek Orthodox from his mother’s side his father, originally from Odessa (Ukraine) was a Resistance fighter during World War II, and this influenced his career as a political filmmaker. In 1949 he moved to Paris where, in 1956, he obtained French citizenship. There, he attended the Institut Des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (IDHEC). Later, he worked as assistant director to the likes of Yves Allegret, Jacques Demy and René Clément, rising to the international stage with Z (France/Algeria 1969), an amusing political satire that won the Jury Prize at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture a year later. Z is the powerful portrayal of a political assassination in Greece. The film is inspired by a novel by Vassilī Vassilikos on the Lambrakis affair, a university professor and left-wing deputy who died in 1963 “accidentally” hit by a car.



Compartiment tueurs (The Sleeping Car Murders), his first feature, was a thriller based on a detective novel by Sébastien Japrisot and produced with the support of his friends Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, who are also the film’s main characters. World War II drama Un homme de trop (Shock Troops, 1967), set in Nazi-occupied France.  L’aveu (The Confession, 1970), adapted by Jorge Semprun, followed a Czechoslovakian government minister, Jewish communist Arthur London, who was accused of treachery by party members and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Stalinist court. The film had clear implications for Costa-Gavras himself, and actors Yves Montand and Simone Signoret and forced them to re-consider their own fierce allegiance to communism.


Politics coloured his subsequent films. État de siège (State of Siege) (1973) was a direct attack on US support of South American authoritarian regimes. Séction spéciale (Special Section,1975) explores the Vichy trials, and caused an outcry in France, forcing Costa-Gavras to change tack to lighter themes with   Clair de femme (Womanlight, 1979), an intimate drama featuring Yves Montand and Romy Schneider.

Hollywood beckoned in 1982 offering Costa-Gavras  with the opportunity of directing Missing, a  denunciation of the US responsibilities in the post-Allende Chilean dictatorship. In Hanna K. (1983), Jill Clayburgh plays a Jewish lawyer struggling with a conflicted defence case, a Palestinian man accused of terrorism.

Music Box

Conseil de famille (Family Business, 1986), is a comedy about the internal contradictions of the bourgeoisie. In 1988 he shot Betrayed, a denunciation of the horrors of the Ku Klux Klan; the following year came Music box, a judicial drama in which a lawyer (Jessica Lange) takes on the defence of her father, a Hungarian exile accused of war crimes as a member of the pro-Nazi Hungarian militias. Less successful were La petite apocalypse (The Little Apocalypse, 1993), a satire on the failures and weaknesses of the European left, shot in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Mad City (1997), With Amen. (2002) Costa-Gavras tackles the thorny question of the relations between Pope Pius XII and the Nazi regime.

His latest films are: Le Couperet (The Ax, 2005), about a frustrated laid-off employee who is willing to kill his job competitors to get back on his feet; Eden à l’Ouest (Eden is West, 2009), a drama about illegal immigrants; Le Capital (Capital, 2012), about the corrupt and ruthless power struggle in the international world of finance), and Adults in the Room (2019), about the financial crisis that exploded in Greece in 2015 and the rise leftist politician Syriza to government.




Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965)

Dir: Joseph Cates | Cast: Sal Mineo, Juliet Prowse, Jan Murray, Elaine Stritch | US Thriller 84′

Although the Italian giallo officially dates from Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964), the genre didn’t bloom until the early seventies; with the unfortunate result that they are indelibly associated for this viewer with ugly colour and even uglier clothes and haircuts.

This Neo-noir thriller gives an interesting glimpse of what gialli would have looked like had they been made just a few years earlier when a modicum of taste still prevailed, and male dress sense (an oxymoron if ever there was one after the late sixties) hadn’t yet been wrecked by the bizarre notion that flares and sideburns looked cool, and sharp suits, thin ties and short back and sides were still standard male apparel (it’s nice to see Dan Travanty (sic) and Bruce Glover, for example, looking so young and clean-cut; the former playing a deaf mute, the latter an unnerving security adviser). That goes for the women too: I’ve never seen Elaine Stritch look more chic and glamorous than she does as the elegant lipstick lesbian she plays here.

Most of the conventions of the giallo are present and correct in this movie: including voyeurism, transvestism, flashbacks depicting childhood sexual traumas, the stalking of women, weird camera angles making us complicit with the killer, obtrusive musical accompaniment and cops who make the Keystone Kops look like Maigret (the unprofessional way the detective behaves at the end has to be seen to be believed!). But Who Killed Teddy Bear could only have been made at that fault-line in the mid-sixties when censorship was being rapidly eroded and subjects that would have been absolutely taboo just a couple of years earlier could even be hinted at; but before the descent into full-frontal crudity that makes so much modern cinema almost unwatchable.

Leon Tokatyan’s script is liberally sprinkled with words like “pervert” and “hooker”, for example; but there’s no swearing. And of course – although no one had any inkling of this at the time – it was made just at the moment that the black-&-white feature film as the cinema’s default setting was on the verge of disappearing forever. Six years earlier cameraman Joseph Brun had shot one of the most breathtaking black-&-white features ever made, Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959); so when I saw his name on the (extremely stylishly designed) credits I knew I was in for something special. @RichardChatten


No U-Turn (2022) Berlinale Film Festival

Dir.: Ike Nnaebue; Documentary; Nigeria/France/South Africa/Germany 2022, 92 min.

In 1995 filmmaker Nnaebue made a gruelling and abortive journey from his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria to Tangier in Morocco, ending up in Bamako, Mali. Now twenty years older, and wiser, he retraces his steps to discover what makes today’s migrants risk life and limb for an uncertain future in Europe.

The way back is teeming with his disenchanted compatriots who are prepared for the dangers awaiting them – thanks to social media that never enlightened them back then. “Nigeria has not enough to fulfil their dreams”. NO U-TURN keeps up a poetic rhythm in the face of the harsh realism of migrant life. For Nnaebue story-telling has been a primary motivation since childhood, when he ‘fell in love with the moon’: “I thought he was following me, and I knew I had a friend for life”. He also at a young age that stories influence people, and this is what led him to become a filmmaker.

Most of the arduous journey takes place by bus – apart from the last leg from Mauritania to Morocco, where Nnaebue resorts to a plane, Moroccan authorities forbidding him to film. On the first leg of the trip he meets a plucky Nigerian woman called Anita, who relates her rough time in  North Africa where the Algerians were hostile towards West Africans, beating up the men and raping the women. But Anita is undeterred, and is positive she’ll make it to Spain to join her sister, this time around.

Few women travelled alone back in the 1990s. Nowadays, women, particularly minors, are prey to sex traffickers. A Nigerian at the border of Togo and Burkina Faso tells horrific tales about the young Nigerian women’s fate: “They are being fooled, some under-aged girls are raped to death”. Women are particularly vulnerable having left their kids back in Nigeria, promising to send money back to their families once in Europe.

Reaching his previous turning point in Bamako, Nnaebue is filled with nostalgia but also determination: this time there will be no u-turn. Back in the 1990s he remembers doing a six-year car mechanic apprenticeship in the city, and although he fell out with his boss, who was supposed to give him the start capital for his own business, it opened the door to his filmmaking career.

At the last stop of his trek in Tangier, Nnaebue meets two young women, Sandra and Laura, who are begging on the streets to save money for a fibre boat to get them to Spain. The film crew accompanies the duo on their reconnaissance mission at the beach. Their plans are hazardous to say the least: the marines will chase them, and hopefully fish them out of the water if they capsize. But they are undeterred, they will try until they succeed – tracing the data of the shipping forecast will help.The migrants all share the ethos of “a journey of no return”. Home and family will be left behind, along with of way life and their culture, tempted away by the dream of a better life. But the grass is rarely greener, just different. DoP Jide Akinleminu’s lively and impressive images of this mammoth trip, often belie the sobering reality. AS



Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

Dir: Ahmir ‘Questlove” Thompson | US Doc, 118’

The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is the subject of this dynamite documentary from Ahmir ‘Questlove” Thompson ‘proudly’ showcasing that musical celebration of Black culture, fashion and history.

Back in the day – and we’re talking about the Sixties (and even the 1920s, 30, and ’40s) – everyone loved Black music, not because it was Black but because it was rhythmic, soulful and cool. But maybe that’s because I had a father who hummed, danced and played on the piano those heady tunes from Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw and more.

Soul followed on in the same effervescent way, the syncopated jazz of his era becoming the sinuous and sensual soul of my student days: music from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, Marvyn Gaye, Mahalia Jackson and the Supremes.

Thompson revisits this darkly glamorous era in a New York concert that coincided with the much higher profile of Woodstock just down the road. Now that was my brother’s territory: The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and Joni Mitchell. The Harlem affair somehow got buried under the weight of Woodstock, but why, when the music was just as fabulous – I never thought about ‘Black’ music – just music I liked…and I would been there like a shot given the opportunity…years later.

In Harlem’s Mount Morris 300,000 – mostly Black- fans gathered to enjoy a series of free ‘gigs’ and Thompson has assembled a treasure trove of archive footage that tethers the era to the present with just a smattering of talk heads that enrich rather than diminish the musical experience. MT


Master Cheng (2019)

Dir.: Mika Kaurismäki; Cast: Chu Pak Hong, Anna-Maiya Tuokko, Lucas Hsuan, Kaari Väänäen, Matti Loiri; Finland/China 2019, 114 min.

This film version of Hanno Oravisto’s novel could have been a zany oddball comedy but Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki turns it into a charmless predictable romcom far removed from his brother Aki’s dystopian scenarios and dark humour.

Cheng (Pak Hong) is a recently bereaved widow from Shanghai who fetches up at Sirkka’s Diner in the remote Finnish hamlet of Pohjanjoki hoping to track down an old friend and repay his loan. Neither the regulars Rompainen (Väänäen) and Vesa (Loiri) nor the owner and Chef Sirkka (Tuokko) can help. But Sirkka offers the mysterious outsider work and a place to stay with his son Niu Niu (Hsuan) in a small act of kindness that will change her life forever.

Master Cheng soon transforms Sirkka’s ‘Bangers and Mash” venue into the talk of the town. Cancer-sufferer Rompainen is the fist to reap the benefits of Cheng’s refined Chinese cuisine, and tourists and care home patients alike flock to the restaurant. Sirkka and Cheng soon become romantically involved before the police intervenes when Cheng’s Visitor visa runs out.

DoP Jari Mutikainen goes for minimalism and idyllic panorama shots of the stunning landscape in Lapland, but there is simply no chemistry between Pak Hong and Tuokko. Hsuan’s Niu Niu is pushed to the back burner with Cheng forced to put up with embarrassing acts of endurance before being accepted into the male community The Master turns out to be the quite the opposite of its title – no excuses here for Mika Kaurismäki’s 39th directional credit. AS



The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

Wri/Dir: Joel Coen | Cast: Frances McDormand, Denzel Washington, Alex Hassell, Bertie Carvel, Brendan Gleeson, Moses Ingram, Kathryn Hunter | US drama, 107’

This elegantly crisp version of Shakespeare’s Scottish play already looks like a modern classic, a cross between Dreyer’s Ordet and Ken Russel’s The Devils thanks to Oscar hopefuls Bruno Delbonnel, Stefan Dechant, and Nancy Haigh who have created a magnificent yet pared-down spectacle that manages to retain the intimacy of the stage.

Joel Cohen’s first solo outing behind the camera stars his wife Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth and Denzel Washington in the main role. Both bring a heady contemplative quality to the murderous machiavellian couple, but the standout is Kathryn Hunter who trebles up as The Witches in a particularly haunting performance that feels otherworldly but jester-like. A conspiracy of ravens give an inspired and deeply terrifying touch. MT



Mutzenbacher (2022) Mubi

Dir.: Ruth Beckermann; Documentary; Austria 2022, 100 min.

After her much lauded 2016 film The Dreamed Ones that centred on correspondence between poets Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan, Mutzenbacher would make a better radio play than a feature film. The Austrian writer/director invites a group of men from all walks of life to read excerpts from the pornographic 1906 novel “Josefine Mutzenbacher” by Bambi author Felix Salten.

Banned as a novel, with its authorship contested in court. Mutzenbacher tells the story of a down at heel Viennese sex worker who, according to the author, revelled in being abused from an early age.

The men are invited to share their thoughts on the novel, the majority viewing the “olden days” of the 20th century in a positive light in contrast to today where women are viewed as the ‘victims’ rather then the welcome recipients of unsolicited sexual attention, more so if they are minors. Most of the men fail to take into account that the author was a male, middle-class white man who skews the narrative from his own perspective claiming his heroine enjoyed his advances, even her own father makes her out to be horny at the tender age of ten: “Women had fun with men back in the day, now the focus is always negative, like toxic masculinity.”

For Josefine, even being examined by a doctor is purportedly sexually arousing – especially when her father is in the same room. Only a few of the men point out that children like Josefine were in fact made to feel guilty, questioning whether they were at fault in the first place. It appears that fear and lust make for arousing bedfellows. Even incest is described by Salten as an overwhelmingly pleasurable experience. Josephine’s resume says it all: “We are pounded, they pound us, that’s all there is to it.”

A shame then that such an important and timely debate should be undermined by Beckermann, who must have thought that reducing everything to a stripped down version of text would somehow enhance the audience’s understanding. A hundred minutes of verbal battering in a single room is in the end self-defeating: instead of revealing the “male gaze”, the lack of any structure or aesthetic concept simply diminishes the argument, levelling everything out into a repetitive experience. AS


Elephant Walk (1954)

Dir: William Dieterle | Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Andrews, Peter Finch, Abraham Sofaer | Drama

One of several films Elizabeth Taylor made where as much drama went on behind the camera as it did on the screen; a sort of ‘Rebecca’ written by Maugham, complete with a hostile Miss Danvers in the form of Abraham Sofaer. Taylor replaced a stricken Vivian Leigh only after Jean Simmons, Olivia de Havilland and Katherine Hepburn had politely said ‘no’.

It follows a similar plot arc to The Naked Jungle, with the radiant young Liz mistreated by a boorish Peter Finch until all their problems are rendered irrelevant by the double whammy of cholera and marauding heffalumps, and ironically concludes with Sofaer declaring “The time will come when the people will not fear inoculation. They will learn”. @RichardChatten.

Axiom (2022) Berlinale: Encounters 2022

Jöns Jönsson  | Cast: Moritz von Treuenfels, Deniz Orta, Marita Breur, Ben Plunkett Reynolds | Sweden, Drama 108′

Moritz von Treuenfels is the captivating presence at the centre of Jöns Jönsson’s unconvincing drama that wants be intriguing but grows less so as it unfolds. Cutting a swathe through his friends and colleagues Treuenfels is Julius a suave young German from an aristocratic background who is working in a museum before taking up a scholarship in Tokyo.

But there’s something bogus and hollow about this tousle-haired cypher who lords over his friends and colleagues with his intellectual pretensions and glib repartee: Julius is not what he seems to be, yet he fills every frame with a hypnotic charisma luring us into a drama that  speaks volumes about outward appearances and the emptiness of surface charm. There’s nothing remotely interesting or likeable about any of these people; his one dimensional opera singer girlfriend Marta (Breuer) or her tutor Mr Langley (Plunkett). Julius’ friends are there to serve the narrative but do not stand out in any way.

This kind of drama is tricky to pull off successfully and sadly Jöns Jönsson is hoisted by his own petard: in creating a story about the vacuousness of modern ideals of self-reinvention, he axiomatically ends up with a film that feels as empty and unsatisfying as its premise and goes into a dead end. MT



Death on the Nile (2021)

Dir.: Kenneth Branagh; Cast: Gal Gadot, Arnie Hammer, Annette Benning, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Mackay, Letitia Wright, Russell Brand, Sophie Okonedo. Tom Bateman, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders; USA 2022, 127 min.

Kenneth Branagh’s DEATH ON THE NILE has really been through the mill. Based on the Agatha Christie novel of 1937 and adapted by Michael Green, it originally planned to be premiered in 2019, delays on the shoot led to the first postponement, followed by Disney buying up Fox and the feature, followed by the pandemic – and to make things really worse, accusations of rape and other crimes against Arnie Hammer, one of the leading stars. A re-shoot with a Hammer replacement was seen as too costly, and so here we are.

The first surprise is the black-and white prologue, featuring Poirot (a digitally rejuvenated Branagh) in the trenches in WWI, saving his compatriots, but being wounded in the process. More heartbreak is on the way, this time emotionally, leading us to the main course of love and lust, starting in 1937 in a London Jazz club with the impressive blues singer Salome Otterbourne (Okonedo). The latter will join Poirot on the pleasure boat ‘Karnak’, cruising the Nile, where just-married couple Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gadot) and Simon Doyle (Hammer) are celebrating their recent wedding. But the couple are also engaging the help of the Belgian sleuth to fight off threats; mainly coming from the direction of Jacqueline de Bellefort (Mackay), who until recently was Simon’s lover, before super rich Linnet snatched hunky but impoverished Simon from Jacqueline’s clutches.

The action eventually kicks off after an hour: a falling pillar at the Abu Simbel temple just missing the Doyles. We have been pleasantly entertained by painter Euphemia (Benning), mother of Poirot’s best friend Bouc (Bateman), mysterious Dr. Bessner (Brand), Linnet’s thieving accountant (Fazal) and odd couple Mrs. Bowers (French) and Marie van Schuyler (Saunders). But before the first deadly shot is fired, and the victim identified, we are left in limbo. The final reveal makes up for some of the slack, but this Christie adaptation is outclassed by Branagh’s 2017 much less expensive Murder on the Orient Express, let alone John Guillermine’s Death on the Nile version of 1978, with the great Peter Ustinov as the Belgian sleuth.

Strangely enough, Greek DoP Haris Zambarloukas has not only shot Branagh’s MURDER, but also the director’s recent black & white beauty Belfast, costing perhaps ten percent of his latest Agatha Christie adventure budget. Shot in 65 mm (non-anamorphic), DEATH glitters, but it has no atmosphere, which is hardly surprising: only the second unit was dispatched to Egypt, while the remainder was shot against the ‘green wall’ and in a big tank in the studio. CGI can give you sparks, but it feels as hollow as the whole undertaking.

Branagh sadly fails Agatha Christie’s sparkling who-done-it which ends in melancholy mood at the same London Jazz club, Poirot at his maudlin best in the epilogue. AS


Kinoteka Polish Film Festival | 9 March – 3 April 2022

KINOTEKA celebrates its 20th Anniversary back on the big screen.

From 9th March to 3rd April 2022, the festival showcases the latest Polish films along with some vintage cult classics at the ICA and BFI Southbank and at Edinburgh’s prestigious Filmhouse cinema, and enjoy a selection at home on BFI player too.

Amongst the highlights are Jerzy Skolimowski’s IDENTIFICATION MARKS: NONE’, Andrzej Wajda’s Oscar nominated THE YOUNG LADIES OF WILKO; Andrzej Żuławski’s cult science fiction masterpiece ON THE SILVER GLOBE and Agnieszka Holland’s potent political period piece FEVER


The Closing Night film at the BFI Southbank, will be the UK premier of the newly restored 1924 black and white silent FORBIDDEN PARADISE (1924) directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring his Polish muse, Pola Negri as a luminous Catherine the Czarina accompanied by la live score specially composed by Marcin Pukaluk.



The Opening Night film, Agnieszka Woszczyńska’s award-winning thriller SILENT LAND (2021) Also headlining this strand of New Polish Cinema is Poland’s OSCAR hopeful LEAVE NO TRACES, (2021), Jan P. Matuszyński’s award-winning story of police brutality in communist Poland set in 1983. Other films in this strand include 25 YEARS OF INNOCENCE (below) a huge box office hit in Poland. SONATA, the inspirational, true story of a deaf pianist which won the Audience Award and Best Debut Actor at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival. 1970 is a compelling documentary looking at political unrest during that time when a series of strikes and riots took place against the communist government in Poland. The film draws upon archival photography, recently-discovered telephone conversations and stop-motion animation to give a new understanding of what actually happened and why. This screening will be followed by the Q&A with director Tomasz Wolski.


JW3 is to screen two outstanding and incredibly powerful films during the Festival. Ryszard Brylski’s THE DEATH OF ZYGIELBOJM  the true and little known story of the tragic fate of Szmul Zygielbojm, an exiled Jewish political activist who committed suicide in London in 1943 to draw attention to the plight of Jews in Europe. Seen through the eyes of a child called Tomek, Konrad Aksinowicz’s moving and raw BACK TO THOSE DAYS at his life with an alcoholic father, who eventually destroys his family life and childhood.

Full details on all of the films taking part in the Festival and a link to book tickets can be found on Kinoteka’s dedicated website:-


Return to Dust (2022)

Dir: Li Ruijin | Cast: Renlin Wu, Hai-Qing | China, Drama 131′

“Love is not about staring at each other, but looking in the same direction”

The sun shines and each frame glows with painterly charm in this modest but momentous story of love and adversity for two people rejected by their family after an arranged marriage, and forced into a humble existence on their isolated homestead in rural northwestern China, 

Return to Dust is the latest from Chinese independent director Li Ruijin who scores subtle political points behind his perfectly pitched storyline that speaks volumes about the China’s rapid urban shift. The focus is farming couple Ma (Renlin Wu) and Gui (Hai-Qing) as they face the odds together in the rugged landscape with only their livestock for company. Tenderness contrasts with dark humour as Ruijin depicts the crass materialism of modern China with the poetic honesty of the past: one scene features their donkey alongside a flash new BMW signalling that time, inevitably, must move on. 

Each day a new challenge presents itself and Ma and Cao seem to cope without drama fronting up placidly seemingly unsurmountable hardship in the haunting beauty of the remote setting. Li Ruijun – best known for his 2015 feature River Road – focuses on the growing strength of their relationship as it transforms from initial diffidence to enduring love. MT



Concerned Citizen (2022) Berlinale | Panorama 2022

Dir.: Idan Haguel; Cast: Shlomi Bertonov, Ariel Wolf, Ilan Hazan; Israel 2022, 81 min.

Israeli writer/director Idan Haguel tries hard debunk a few urban myths with an uninvolving drama that ends up as a farce.

Gay couple Ben (Bertenov) and Raz (Wolf) have moved to a downmarket part of Tel Aviv where they’ve have more space for themselves and their new baby. The hope is the kid will knock their relationship into shape and bring them closer together; they’ve paid a woman in a catalogue thousands to bear their bundle of joy, but somehow this detached approach to life seeps through the rest of the film.

For Ben and Raz the focus is on fitness, and they prance around their swanky new place wizzing up healthy drinks and exercising. “In five years, this will be a different area” is their positive take on the multi-cultural set up, which is still in its rather wild infancy.

As a gesture of neighbourly goodwill, Ben has planted a tree in the street below their apartment and takes a dismal approach to the two immigrants from Africa using it as a leaning post. Ben asks them politely to respect nature, but to no avail. The police respond to his complaint – and beat up one of the young men, who subsequently dies. Ben – the concerned citizen – then makes a call to the security forces. It turns out the victim lived below and Ben, rather at odds with himself, joins his grieving family at mourning along with his therapist (Hazan).

All the prejudices and latent racial tensions soon emerge at a therapy group session.

We are also watching some animation of happy people in the midst of new apartment blocks, mixing joyfully. But we do not need this reminder to learn about the ideological conflicts in existing in Israeli society, caused by the ‘polite’ racism of a so-called progressive middle class, pretending to be in Sweden or Norway. DoP Guy Sahaf succeeds very much in showing the emptiness of modernity, trying to hide the real conflict. But the structured, overly didactic approach never lets the feature flow, and leaves the audience emotionally disconnected. AS


Without Warning (1952)

Dir: Arnold Laven | US Thriller

I became aware of this film years ago from a passing reference to it in Carlos Clarens’ ‘Horror Movies’, which had led me to assume that it was better known than it actually is.

The maiden production of the company Levy-Gardner-Laven (later to become very active in TV), and the directorial debut of Arnold Laven, Without Warning! isn’t particularly original – following as it does in the well-worn footsteps of flavourful location-shot police procedurals like The Naked City; and the ending wraps things up a little too abruptly. But as photographed by the veteran Joseph Biroc it treats us to a magnificent tour of some of the seamier parts of Los Angeles as they looked in 1951 (no crime film set in Los Angeles at this time, for example, became complete without a visit to its storm drains, which duly put in an appearance). One of many memorable images the film provides is the all-blonde police decoy squad who resemble something out of The Man from UNCLE; and despite the ultra-noirish title sequence and the occasional night scene, much of the action actually takes place bathed in glorious Californian sunlight for a change.

There are hints that the grip of the Breen Office was beginning to weaken (the wedding ring visibly worn by the blonde that Martin picks up in a bar, for example, would have been vetoed a few years earlier for depicting adultery), and the killer in this film is obviously motivated by sex; although the fact that we later learn that he’s bearing a grudge at the blonde wife who left him makes him more of a sore loser than the all-out sadistic sex fiend the film initially promises (and doesn’t really square with the glee he takes in reading about the case in the papers).

Edward Binns, who plays the police lieutenant, will be most familiar to viewers as Juror 6 in 12 Angry Men, and both he and killer Adam Williams were in North by Northwest; the former again playing a detective and the latter again playing a gardener. @RichardChatten

Cinema Made in Italy 3 – 7 March 2022

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY is back in a live edition to kick off the Spring with the latest crop of Italian releases. The 12th edition takes place at Cine Lumiere, in London’s South Kensington, and is supported by Istituto Luce Cinecitta and the Italian Cultural Institute.


THREE FLOORS (Tre piani) | Director: Nanni Moretti

Nanni Moretti pictures everyday life in a Rome apartment in his latest domestic drama in which he also stars alongside an stunning cast of Adriano Giannini, Margherita Buy, Riccardo Scamarcio and Alba Rohrwacher. Enjoyable if rather conventional this is solid entertainment, the pithy plot turning on a series of events that will have a far reaching impact on all concerned: the women are the peacemakers; the men the troublemakers. Beautifully written and well performed Three Floors had its world premiere at last year’s Cannes film festival and is released in UK cinemas on 18 March

CALIFORNIE | Directors: Alessandro Cassigoli, Casey Kauffman

The five-year journey of a young woman from Morocco who tries to find her place in the sun after moving to a village near Naples: her dreams, her disappointments and her loneliness.

FREAKS OUT – Director: Gabriele Mainetti

Franz Rogowski is the reason to see this needlessly violent drama that follows the lives of three circus performers in 1940s Rome.

FUTURA | Directors: Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, Alice Rohrwacher

A portmanteau travelogue that travels the length and breadth of Italy focusing on teenagers’ hopes and dreams for the future.


After her impressive debut Sworn Virgin  and follow-up Daughter of Mine Laura Bispuri’s latest feature is an underpowered domestic drama that drifts around aimlessly despite its impressive cast led by Veteran star Dominique Sanda who plays a mother celebrating her birthday with daughter Caterina (Maya Sansa) and daughter in law Adelina (Alba Rohrwacher who won Best Actress for her central role in Sworn Virgin.

AMERICA LATINA | Director: Damiano D’Innocenzo, Fabio D’Innocenzo

Stylishly empty psychodrama that starts with promise but rapidly goes downhill from the much feted D’Innocenzo brothers who brought us Berlinale winner Bad Tales and wrote the multi-garlanded Dogman it sees a happy and successful man brought down by his own paranoia.

A CHIARA | Director: Jonas Carpignano

The Guerrasio family and their friends gather to celebrate Claudio and Carmela’s oldest daughter’s 18th birthday. There is a healthy rivalry between the birthday girl and her 16-year-old sister Chiara, as they compete on the dancefloor. It is a happy occasion, and the close-knit family is in top form. However, everything changes the next day when Claudio disappears. Chiara starts to investigate; as she gets closer to the truth, she is forced to decide what kind of future she wants for herself.

THE TALE OF KING CRAB (RE GRANCHIO | Directors: Alessio Rigo de Righi, Matteo Zoppis

Italy, nowadays. Some elderly hunters reminisce about the tale of Luciano together.
Late 19th century, Luciano lives as a wandering drunkard in the Tuscan countryside. His lifestyle and constant opposition to the despotic local prince have turned him into an outcast for the community. In an ultimate vengeful move to protect (from the lord) the woman he loves, Luciano commits the unforgivable. Now an unfortunate criminal, he is exiled to Tierra del Fuego.
There, with the help of ruthless gold diggers, he seeks a mythical treasure, paving his way towards redemption. Yet, little but greed and madness can grow on these barren lands.

WELCOME VENICE | Director: Andrea Segre

Two brothers are in conflict over the way the Venetian lagoon has been transformed, and the identity of the city and its residents has drastically changed.

COMEDIANS | Director: Gabriele Salvatores
Theatrical adaptation: a group of aspiring comedians at a Manchester evening school reunite for their last rehearsal before performing for an agent from London.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | 3 -7 March 2022


The Great Wall (2016)

Dir: Zhang Zimou | Cast: Matt damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau | 103’ Action Drama

I actually find the idea that the Great Wall of China was built to keep out alien invaders rather fun; and if you can buy that, the story that follows isn’t too hard to take. The basic narrative of ‘The Great Wall’ has seen service before in classics like ‘Zulu’ and ‘Assault on Precinct 13’, while the monsters (collectively called the Tao Tei) are the usual slavering CGI nightmares with rows of ferocious teeth; the later emphasis on the strategic role of their queen recalling ‘Starship Troopers’.

English director Clio Bernard had a hand in the script set in the 11th Century where the action is fast, furious and very noisy; with predictable pauses for the occasional bit of hushed Eastern-style philosophising. Ironically it’s when the action transfers from the Great Wall itself to the capital that it becomes much more interesting to look at, the capital providing a far better backdrop for veteran director Zhang Yimou to display the bold use of colour for which he is renowned (most notably in a climactic scene set in a tower inevitably lined with stained glass windows).

The return to the capital by balloon of Commander Lin Mae of the Crane Troop (Jing Tian) with her female comrades-in-arms is another visual highlight, and throughout the film it’s good to see women serving on the front line (in blue, for a change, with matching capes), albeit usually in the background; and Lin Mae’s armour as Commander doesn’t seem to have been designed to immediately distinguish her from her subordinates. @RichardChatten


Beautiful Beings (2022)

Dir/Wri: Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson | Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Czech Republic – 2022 – 123 min – Icelandic Cast: Birgir Dagur Bjarkason,, Snorri Rafn Frimannson, Blair Hinriksson, Askar Einar Palmason.

Life-threatening violence and magical realism make for an imaginative feature that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality in modern day Iceland. Beautiful Beings is the latest triumph from awarding winning Icelandic auteur and producer Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson (Heartstone) whose distinctive lyrical style makes him one of the most impressive talents on the international indie film scene.

Addi (Birger Dagur Bjarkason) is the charismatic boy at the centre of it all. Raised by a clairvoyant mother, he takes pity on a bullied misfit Balli (Askell Einar Palmason) in an impressive debut) and brings him into his gang of teenage hooligans. And the relationship will be the salvation of both of them in this full-throttle character drama that explores teenage-hood in all its dimensions from aggression and violence to loyalty, love and sex.

As the boys behaviour escalates from horseplay to murderous violence, Addi – under the influence of his quietly inspirational mother (Anita Briem) – is touched by series of enlightening dreams that sees him evolve into a sympathetic light-bringer rather than the destructive force he has ground into, along with his friends. But the director avoids simplistic solutions in a subtle narrative that uses its ample running time to explore every single chink of the boys’ developing personalities and how they react with each other, Addi’s dark side is fully fleshed out in a captivating performance from Hinriksson showing how his newfound intuition will have transformative effects on the rest of the gang, not least the most troubled boy Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frimannsson). Silver Bear awarded DoP Starla Brandth Grovlen (Victoria) works wonders with his camera to make Iceland into a summer paradise that provides the luminous backcloth to this human vision of Hell. MT

Signature Entertainment presents Beautiful Beings on Digital Platforms 19th December


The Souvenir: Part II

Dir/Wri: Joanna Hogg | Cast; Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, James Spencer Ashworth, Richard Ayoade | UK Drama

Joanna Hogg continues the impressionistic reflection on her twenties in The Souvenir Part II that sees her coming to terms with the abusive relationship that ended in tragedy for her boyfriend, Anthony (an archly sardonic Tom Burke) the first part.

There’s a strong feeling that Julie (Swinton Byrne) invested far more in the relationship than did Anthony. Somehow his caddish manner, pinstriped suit and ‘foreign office’ job made her believe he was worthy of consideration, love even; yet behind it all he was a fantasist and a drug addict who undermined her (“you’re lost and you’ll always be lost”) and stole from her to fund his habit. Hogg brilliantly epitomises this kind of fucked up weirdness of the 1980s that many repressed middle class girls still tolerated in the name of love, and the decent straightforwardness of her comforting parents (Tilda Swinton and James Spencer Ashworth) who provide a welcome sense of equilibrium that kept her going off the rails. But Julie resolves to go back to her London flat where the ‘love story’ forms the more authentic ‘autobiographical’ narrative for her graduation film, after the bogus script about poverty stricken Sunderland is vehemently rejected by her tutors.

Anthony remains the glowering elephant in the room, her colleagues, friends and family tiptoeing around the issue, not wanting to offend Julie who continues to elevate his memory with a solemn respect when secretly he was despised by everyone else accept his long-suffering parents, who gradually fade into the background. At one point Julie tentatively asks her flighty filmmaker friend Patrick (a standout Ayoade): “do you think Anthony worked for the Foreign Office?” He firmly bursts her bubble with: “he was a junkie – move forward”.

Still processing her feelings of grief Julie understandably lacks the conviction to take charge and direct her cast and crew with the confidence they desperately need, and Hogg deftly handles the ‘film in a film’ structure with its scenes of naturalistic on-set mayhem between all of them. Ably supported by her real life mother (Swinton), Honor Swinton Byrne glides through her performance with decorum avoiding histrionics yet imbuing Julie with all the pent up anxiety and hurt her upbringing has forced her to internalise. MT




England, My England (1995)

Dir.: Tony Palmer; Cast: Simon Callow, Michael Ball, Rebecca Front, Lucy Speed, Nina Young, Robert Stephens, Corin Redgrave, Guy Henry; UK 1995, 158 min.

Director Tony Palmer, excelling in portraits of composers like Shostakovich (Testimony), turns his talents to England’s foremost Baroque composer Henry ‘Harry’ Purcell (1659-1695) with a script by  This is no mean feat as Purcell was a reclusive character – and little is known of his origins. But he was a prolific composer, and conductor Sir John Eliot Gardener certainly does his music despite his verging on the pedantic.

The narrative works on two levels touching on Purcell’s involvement with Charles II (Callow) and Mary II (Front) of Purcell (Ball) and the subsequent monarchs James II (Henry) and William III (Redgrave), Callow doubles up with girlfriend Barbara (Speed who also acts the part of Neil Gwyn) in London anno 1960, to produce and direct G.B. Shaw’s “Good King Charles’s Golden Days” at the Royal Court Theatre. John Osborne, who died before the film premiered, turns his venom on the “Little Englanders” – bankers and merchants – in the more contemporary sequences. One of the settings is the same dressing room Osborne when he was a ‘mere’ actor, before “Look back in Anger” fame.

In England of the mind 1660s, freedom of speech was also an explosive topic, as it would continue to be three hundred years later. The first poet Laureate John Dryden (Stephens) has a word or two to say about while the bubonic plague ravished London, before the great fire destroyed most of the city. The later scenes were actually shot in Bulgaria, as part of the first Anglo-Bulgarian co-production.

Purcell’s life, as far as we know of it, was full of tragedy: his wife Frances (Young) was a prolific breeder before she succumbed to small pox, Henry went to an early grave with tuberculosis – other reports suggesting something more sinister.

But the music dominates, and Dido’s lament from ‘When I am laid in earth’ from Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas” is deeply affecting.

Had Tony Palmer, now eighty years old and with 65 directional credits between him, been born in France, he would be famous and probably quite wealthy. His knowledge of history, music and the arts is encyclopaedic. Most of his features (he assisted Ken Russell in the latters early music portraits like Elgar for BBC2), have a striking visual tone, in this case provided by DoP Nic Knowland, who contra-points the 1660 with the decades of the mid-19th century in stunning fashion. The script has so many ideas, comparing and contrasting historical themes, forming a rounded treatise on culture and politics, like many of Palmer’s works about England and the English. Alas, as the saying goes, the prophet in his own land…AS


Terra que marca (2022) Berlinale | Forum 2022

Dir: Raul Domingues | Portugal, Doc, 66′

I often wonder why some indie filmmakers stumble with such convolutedly arcane ideas when less is always so much more. With a strong story and a beautiful way of presenting it the rest will soon fall into place as Raul Domingues illustrates with his enchanting debut feature, an ethnographical portrait of nature entitled Terra Que Marca (Striking Land). 

The affirmative circle of life goes on year after year in a small corner of rural Portugal where two people develop an ongoing relationship with nature transforming a barren plot of land in Casal da Quinta into a gift that keeps on giving, cumulatively, as the years roll by.


It’s often said that people don’t own the land – it owns them. And that’s true. People return year after year to places that draw them in to an emotional bond that strengthens as time progresses. Domingues bases his narrative on a fable relating to a piece of land that came into his family generations ago and perpetuate a feeling that this land must be nurtured and cared for.

Time is of the essence and Domingues is in no hurry to tell his story dictated by the rhythms of nature, he creates a perfectly balanced structure. Senses, images and sounds blend as the year unfolds from Autumn right through to the end of the second year where the burning down of vegetation provides the ash and minerals to fertilise the loamy soil for the next year’s growth, helped along by a healthy presence of earthworms to mix and aerate the earth.  

Soon the robin redbreast makes his appearance along with some sheep and a clutch of chickens, all taking part in this thriving ecosystem. Grass grows, beans, apples and corn on the cob will flourish along with courgettes, barley, potatoes and maize for bread and polenta. Flowers in the shape of lilies, mallow and roses play their part, producing the pollen for the bees to do their stuff and the season draws to a close again as the orange trees yield a bumper crop weighing down the branches almost to the ground as they multiply in the following autumn.  

Relying on an ambient soundscape, Domingues acts as his own DoP and editor in this magical meditation on the comforting power of nature. MT


Sundance Film Festival 2022

Sundance 2022 once again followed the ongoing festival trend in this increasingly pandemic prone era: “festival-goers” were forced to peer into their home screens to watch the selection, rather than enjoying the fresh mountain air and apres ski moments in snowy Park City, Utah.

In the spirit of independent cinema the winners were nevertheless worthwhile in their subject matter, a sardonic Bill Nighy saving things from being too worthy with his cancer-themed drama LIVING described by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw as “a gentle, exquisitely sad film” set in 1950s London, deftly adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s original screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, and directed by Oliver Hermanus, a South African filmmaker who goes from strength to strength building on his previous success with Moffie (Venice 2020).

Bill Nighy appears in Living by Oliver Hermanus, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Number 9 Films/Ross Ferguson.


The main festival prizes went to Daniel Roher’s NAVALNY an expansive documentary that follows the increasingly relevant story of nerve agent poisoning survivor and politician Alexei Navalny, lifting the lid on the toxic backstory behind his struggle to survive in Putin’s ongoing regime.

Two Indian brothers choose the urgent plight of a bird known as the Black Kite to raise the profile of New Delhi’s toxic pollution and escalating violence in ALL THAT BREATHES, an impressionistic documentary that won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. From a makeshift hospital in their tiny basement the brothers look after the endangered creatures that fall daily from the skies into their tender care. Awarding the film 4.5 out of 5, Critic Amber Wilkinson wrote: “(director) Sen could easily just have made an observational documentary about the brothers’ day-to-day work or simply focused on the kites themselves but he stretches its wings much further than that”.

Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute


Other features to look out for are CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH an intoxicating love story which won an Audience Award and stars Cooper Raiff as a Bar Mitzvah party host who falls in love with Dakota Johnson’s divorced mother coping with an autistic child.

The tragic life of Diana, Princess of Wales gets another airing (thankfully in documentary form after Pablo Larrain’s ghastly fleshing in his ill-advised recent drama). UK director Ed Perkins’s THE PRINCESS uses a cash of clips and commentary to offer further insight into a tragic story that just keeps on going.

image courtesy of Sundance Institute


UTAMA, Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s feature debut and winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Prize, looks at the daily life of an elderly couple surviving against the odds in the challenging climate of the Bolivian Highlands. Another film exploring human stories of endeavour, THE EXILES, was awarded the US Documentary prize for documentarian Violet Columbus who continues her investigation into three exiled dissidents from the Tiananmen Square massacre, a feature she first started shooting in the aftermath to the atrocities in 1989.

And to end on a note of horror, Nikyatu Jusu expands on her TV series ‘Two Sentence Horror Stories’ with her feature debut NANNY that took the Top Jury Prize in the US Dramatic strand. Combining the well-worn themes of alienation, colonialism and privilege it tells the story of a young black woman who discovers strange goings on when she takes a job in an market New York household. MT



Lingui, The Sacred Bonds (2021)

Dir/Wri: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun | Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Rihane KHALIL ALIO BRAHIM Youssouf DJAORO FANTA Briya GOMDIGUE | Chad, Drama, 87′

Visual storytelling at its most resplendent Lingui is a simple tale gracefully crafted by a director at the top of his game and brought to life by his talented cast.

In a landlocked Muslim country Lingui (The Sacred Ties) follows Amina an observant single mother living on the margins of a male-dominated society with her teenage daughter Maria. The men not only hold sway, they hold themselves above the law, laying it down harshly for their womenfolk. So the women are forced to play them at their game as we discover when Maria falls pregnant and cannot, by law, have an abortion.

With his vibrant compositions and exquisite framing the director keeps dialogue to a minimum in this filmic ‘whodunnit’ relying on strong cinematic language and a propulsive occasional score by Wasis Diop to show how pleasure occasionally breaks into the harsh realities of life in Chad’s main city of N’Djamena, where a tribal society has given way to strictly enforced Islam with mosque attendance ‘de rigueur’. Woman are expected to be subservient and cover themselves up in public, ritual circumcision is routinely practiced and performed by the women themselves when the girls are still very young. To be an unmarried mother is considered sinful whatever the circumstances and so for Maria the future looks especially bleak. And rumours spread fast.

Amina makes metal household equipment which she sells for a pittance by the roadside, but not enough to pay for illegal medical intervention. Maria is a typical young teenager: proudly defiant and living by her own modern standards, but her pregnancy will take her back to the dark ages of backstreet abortions. Worse still, she won’t reveal the truth until circumstances suddenly point to a solution. MT

Born in Chad, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun first won critical acclaim for his short films before directing his first feature, Bye-bye Africa (Best First Film, Venice Film Festival 1999). In 2010, the Venice Mostra gave him the Robert Bresson Award for his complete works and in 2013, the Fellini Medal awarded by UNESCO.


Dual Alibi (1947)

Dir: Alfred Travers | Cast: Herbert Lom, Phyllis Dixey, Terence de Marney, Ronald Frankau | UK Drama

A typically offbeat British National production produced by the ill-fated Louis H. Jackson (the company went bankrupt the following year) and directed by the mysterious Alfred Travers with a plot that feels like a silent continental melodrama. James Wilson’s low keyed photography suits the drab, sordid nature of the story as well as enhancing the believable interaction throughout the film of twin brothers both played by Herbert Lom; achieved with the aid of nimble use of a stand-in, skillful editing and the occasional unostentatious use of trick photography.

Lom’s compelling portrayal of two identical but distinct twin brothers made him a star. Terence de Marney is such a skunk as he gets away with shameless daylight robbery (which the law predictably proves complacently powerless to redress) that I felt even the drastic reprisal taken against him let him off lightly. Holes can doubtless be picked in the plot, but it delivers powerful drama right up to the (very) bitter end.@RichardChatten

Love it was Not (2020)

Dir.: Maya Sarfaty; Documentary with Helena Citron, Roza Citron, Frank Wunsch; Israel/Austria 2020, 86 min.

Israeli writer/director Maya Sarfaty builds on her award-winning graduation short film The Most Beautiful Woman (2016) with this ‘impossible love’ story that took place in Auschwitz-Birkenau  between Helena Citron, a Slovakian Jew, and one of her captors, Viennese SS Unterscharführer (Sergeant) Franz Wunsch. Although the title suggests otherwise, witness reports from seven close female camp survivors claim ‘he loved her to the point of madness”.

And somehow Sarfaty helps, however involuntarily, to cement this statement. True, Wunsch, born in 1922 like Helena, was a sadist who beat male prisoners to death and helped at the infamous ‘Rampen’ selections. But he also risked his life to save Helena and her sister Roza (1932-2005) from certain death, literally storming into the corridor leading to the infamous “Shower Rooms” to free Roza, although he could not save her two children, much to Helena’s chagrin.

Helena and Roza were amongst several thousand Slovakian Jews deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942, before the Death Camp was fully functioning. The women helped with the demolition of older buildings and many were killed during the TNT explosions, where they were literally at the ‘coal face’. “We had become animals, ready to push our best friends to the front, just to survive ourselves”.

Helena first met Franz Wunsch on his birthday when he asked the women prisoners to sing a song in his honour. Helena chose the titular German hit song “Liebe war es nie” (Love it was Not) and Franz politely asked her for an encore. This was the beginning. Soon afterwards Helena caught typhoid, which was usually fatal, but Wunsch instructed the camp medics to look after her, and she recovered.

In an interview in 2003, Wunsch shares his memories of Dr. Josef Mengele who warned him “we are all going to be persecuted’ and promised not to denounce Wunsch, who had been wounded at the front and walked with a limp before being assigned to guard duty in Auschwitz. He found himself in active service again after the camp internees were sent on a death march. Helena and Roza were amongst the few who survived.

After the end of WWII Wunsch tried to pursue the relationship, but his letters were ignored and eventually he gave up. In 1972, Helena, who had emigrated to Tel Aviv in Israel, got a letter from Wunsch’s wife, pleading her to come to Vienna, where her husband was on trial for murder. “I know the two of you had been close, and I want you tell the court about it”. Under pressure to stay put, Helena still made the journey to Vienna and told the court about Wunsch’s crimes, but also how he saved her sister’s life. Wunsch was acquitted, the jury members, in an interview, claimed to have been on his side. “It was difficult in Austria to get a guilty-verdict in cases of concentration camp guards” said the state prosecutor of the Wunsch inquiry, very much resigned to the fact.

Wunsch’s daughter Dagmar also has her say, indignant that her father wore a medallion with two only photos: that of Helena and himself. “It should have been Mutti’s photo” says Dagmar, visibly upset. Bizarrely Franz Wunsch cut Helena’s face out of one of the photos, and superimposed it onto that of another woman, adding himself into the collage to make out they were just ordinary lovers in real life.

Artists Shlomit Goper and Ayelet Albeuda assemble a multilevel 3D photo montage together with the cuttings of Wunsch superimposed on the reality of the death camp. DoPs Itay Gross and Ziv Berkovich have taken great care filming the survivors, two of them having died before the feature was released. Helena Citron died in 2007, Franz Wunsch two years later. Their relationship in the hell of Auschwitz was a sort of ‘follie a deux’, unimaginable in the real world, rather like the death camps themselves. AS

FROM 26-28 January 2022 | JW3 Cinema LONDON NW3 | HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY


Outrage (1950)

Dir: Ida Lupino | Cast: Mala Powers, Tod Andrews, Robert Clarke, Raymond Bond | US Film Noir, 75′

Behind the sensationalistic title lies an earnest social drama of the sort one would already expect of director Ida Lupino. It follows a similar plot arc to the same year’s On Dangerous Ground, in which a human being damaged by the Big Bad City finds peace of a sort out in the country. (Although was it really possible in 1950 for a stranger to walk straight into a job – especially one involving handling money – without any sort of references or proof of identity?).

The assault on Mala Powers is never described more explicitly than as a “vicious criminal attack”, and it COULD simply have been a violent mugging – which would have been bad enough; but the morbid obsession with her on the part of her attacker makes it clear what the full nature of the assault was.

A religious component in the script – caring hunk Tod Andrews who provides Powers with a strong shoulder to lean on is revealed to be a clergyman – is one of many potentially provocative issues left unexplored; and there are various other loose ends. Her attacker is revealed to be not just an average guy who turned nasty, but a messed-up serial offender who progresses from sexual assault to armed robbery. The would-be suitor whose brusque advances prove she’s still not safe from such unwanted attentions even in the Garden of Eden she seems to have found is introduced very abruptly – and despatched even more abruptly with a blow from a monkey wrench. The ending is emotional but highly equivocal; although we have been explicitly told that it will probably take years of therapy and guidance to grant her eventual peace of mind.@RichardChatten


Something to Live For (1952)

Dir: George Stevens | Joan Fontaine, Ray Milland, Teresa Wright, Richard Derr | US Drama

The presence of Ray Milland prompts comparisons with The Lost Weekend, but it’s emphasis of the relationship between two mature professional people (and the lush score by Victor Young) makes it resemble a more mellow ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ (although the suspiciously short running time suggests the intervention of the censor).

Despite the star power of its leads (Fontaine, in particular, was never more appealing), the production values (especially George Barnes’ incredible photography), and the fact that George Stevens made it between A Place in the Sun and Shane, Andrew Sarris managed to entirely omit this very low-keyed soap opera with asides about problem drinking from his entry on Stevens in his seminal book ‘American Cinema’. Such lack of ostentation links it to Stevens’ other postwar chamber pieces I Remember Mama (1948) and his final film, The Only Game in Town (1969), another film few people have seen. @RichardChatten

The Enemy (2021)

Wri/Dir: Stephan Streker | Cast: Jeremie Renier, Alma Jodorowsky, Emmanuelle Bercot | Belgium/France Thriller, 105′

Part romantic thriller, part prison drama, the early scenes of The Enemy feel like something Terrence Malick may have made earlier in his career, but is now brought to you by Belgian critic turned director Stephan Streker.

Jeremie Reiner plays lovesick Rottweiler Louis Durieux convinced he’s being cuckolded by his flirty wife Maeva (Alma Jodorowsky) while they frolic through a series of emotionally charged encounters in beachside Ostend, enjoying rampant sex and winning big at the Casino.

But the loved-up atmosphere soon descends into a police procedural after Louis wakes up to tragedy and is forced to hire the services of a lawyer (Bercot as Beatrice Rondas) to defend him in a murder case that grows increasingly opaque when the press (as usual) blow it up out of all proportion. Meanwhile, Louis languishes in prison where he meets some ‘real’ people, sharing a cell with a colourful character called Pablo Pasarela de la Pena (Maritaud).

The film goes off the rails in the drawn out final act where Rondas tries to prove her client’s innocence. Trouble is, Louis is such a repellent, charmless individual and the cartoonish Renier does nothing to make us care whether he’s guilty or not. Zacharie Chasseriaud almost saves the day in an underwritten role as his son, Julien, injecting some much needed charisma into the torpid final stages. 

More fascinating to watch than the film itself is Renier’s hairstyle which looks like the turbo-charged tonsor of a medieval dauphin. Lacquered up to within an inch of its life to start with, it then takes on a different guise in every single scene, literally commanding your entire attention and getting it in lieu of a gripping plot-line. MT



Parallel Mothers (2021)

Dir.: Pedro Almodóvar; Cast: Penélope Cruz; Milena Smit, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Israel Elejalde; Spain 2021, 123 min.

This so-called women-centric drama from writer director Pedro Almodóvar promises more than it delivers –  many of the Spanish director’s features it peters out into a soppy soap-opera, overstaying its welcome like an overdue baby after a self-indulgent running time of over two hours.

Janis (Cruz) a fortyish fashion photographer meets teenage run-away Ana (Smit) in the maternity ward, both giving birth at the same day. They are going it alone: Janis’ love-interest Arturo (Elejalde) wants to say with his wife who is undergoing chemotherapy, and Ana has been blackmailed by two men into having intercourse. The baby mix-up is telegraphed, and Ana loses ‘her’ child to cot death. Meanwhile Janis has confirmed her suspicion regarding the baby’s identities, having done maternity tests on the sly. Janis then gets Ana involved as a babysitter: she jumps at the opportunity to escape her overbearing actor mother Teresa (Sánchez-Gijón) and emotionally distant father – and is only too ready to accept Janis as a replacement mother. But will Janis spill he beans? And will Arturo, a forensic archaeologist, leave his wife after her recovery?

In the lush interiors Penélope Cruz takes centre stage, dominating the cast, particularly Smit, who is the sacrificial lamb. Almodóvar even finds time for a political lecture with Arturo leading an excavation of a mass grave of victims of the Spanish Falange of the Spanish Civil War, among them members of Janis’ family. DoP JoséLuis Alcaine conjures up decorus images on the widescreen but fails on the close-ups which somehow come across as wooden and artificial.

Parallel Mothers is on par in the context of Almodóvar’s prolific output a minor work – a showcase of everything he is good at – but falls between entertainment and serious satire, leaving the audience disappointed on all accounts. AS

Nationwide from 28 January 2022

Flag Day (2021)

Dir: Sean Penn | Cast: Sean Penn, Dylan Penn, Mitchell McCormick | US Drama

Sean Penn plays the main role and gets his family involved in this torpidly sanctimonious true life drama about a father who turns to crime to finance his daughter (Dylan Penn).

Filming with kids and animals is a well known caveat, but family members should be included too. And the excuse that breaking the law is somehow ok if you need the money can never be justified. So there’s two reasons why Penn sets off on a dodgy wicket with his latest directing project – which rather than entertaining the audience brings nothing new to a mundane story of a feckless felon – the third is his own lacklustre performance as the charmless grifter at the centre of it all.

Growing up with an unreliable father big on grandstanding statements but mired in debt is never a good start for a girl, and even worse when her mother (Winnick) is also irresponsible. But Jennifer Vogel (Dylan Penn) and her brother somehow cope. Over the years John Vogel swings in and out of her life always vowing to do better, and Jennifer (played by various actors as a kid and pre-teen) generally buys into his lies for reasons that remain a total mystery as the two have absolutely no emotional rapport or redeeming qualities whatsoever – but there’s plenty of slanging matches amid rather idyllic shots of nature and swooping wildlife.

Unsurprisingly Dylan eventually goes her own way in Jez Butterworth’s joyless narrative (based on Jennifer’s own book) that does nothing to endear us to its characters, or even feel for them despite their flaws. We remain disenchanted outsiders desperately willing it all to end. The only flag here is a red one. MT



The Real Charlie Chaplin (2021)

Dir.: Peter Middleton, James Spinney; Documentary narrated by Pearl Mackie; UK 2021, 114 min.

Writers/directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney (Notes on Blindness) have tried with co-writer Oliver Kindeberg to explain the dualism between Chaplin’s professional and personal identity without the use of “talking heads”. A great idea but a flawed one – as it turns out – what we get instead is Pearl Mackie’s incoherent narration (Pearl Mackie) that takes the form of a “flow of consciousness” over-didactic commentary, without any inner artistic logic. The directors have also taken on more than they can chew. How do you do justice to an icon like Chaplin in under two hours? – his life deserves a mini-series. Middleton and Spinney do their best but the time factor makes mistakes unavoidable.

It begins in 1916, the first height of Chaplinmania. Across the US a hunt for the real Chaplin is on, whilst Chaplin-look-alike contests are very popular. The idol itself, Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London in 1889, his drunken father soon made a runner, and Charlie had to witness his mother succumb to mental illness. The room in Kennington was re-created later in The Kid. A female voice tells us that the woman – played by an actor in one of many re-enactments -, is Effie Wisdom, who in an interview in 1983 – she was 92 years old at the time – talks about the late 19th century, when she used to play with Chaplin in the alleys, the latter promising to never forget her.

Chaplin joined Fred Karno’s comedy troupe, who later toured the US. Chaplin was a man of the Vaudeville theatre and considered film work beneath his aspirations – until the producers trebled his salary. In a 1966 “Life Magazine” interview he explains the haphazard creation of the ‘Tramp’ personality in February 1914: discarded costume parts of his own, the boots of a college and Fatty Arbuckle’s pants. But behind the camera Chaplin left nothing to chance. In City Lights he drove everyone mad with a 534 days long chase for the perfect pivotal take. Extended clips from The Kid, Gold Rush and Modern Times lead to The Great Dictator, when Charlie finally talks. Chaplin’s sad 1952 expulsion from the USA, J Edgar Hoover and Hedda Hopper combining, is not given enough space, the documentary comes to life again in the Swiss exile, with interviews with the children Chaplin sired with Oona O’Neill, who was seventeen when she met the 52-year old – a rather common age gap for Chaplin’s relationships with women. Jane and Geraldine speak of the loneliness their mother must have suffered, because their father was cool and distant. “I imagine it would be lonely being the wife of Charlie Chaplin”.

All the so-called revelations about Chaplin’s personal life were known during his life time, leaving the re-enactments of his work as director/writer/composer/editor as the most enjoyable elements. Paul Ryan is Chaplin age 58, Jeff Rawle portraits the 77-year old maestro. DoP James Blann finds just the right aesthetic for the dramatisations, whilst composer Robert Honstein’s aggressive score underlines the directors’ gutsy approach for a “kaleidoscopic documentary collage”, which is another way of admitting to a lack of structure. Still, there is so much archive material, new and old, that everyone will find something to enjoy. AS


The Sanctity of Space (2021)

Dirs: Renan Ozturk, Freddie Wilkinson | US Doc, 101′

In this new documentary two climbers trace and film the steps of renowned photographer, cartographer, explorer and longtime director of the Boston Museum of Science, Bradford Washburn, who became obsessed with climbing after discovering its heath benefits.

Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson join fellow climber Zack Smith in this snowbound odyssey plotting their journey on a large photograph that Massachusetts-born Bradford had taken back in the 1930s. But Washburn’s dangerous historical quest with its impressive re-enactments rapidly take a back seat as Sanctity drifts into more personal territory for the three filmmakers who reflect on the fate of their climbing friends between 2007 and 2013. At this point the film becomes snowed under by two many voluble talking heads losing the thrust of the narrative as we zone out  overwhelmed by the magnificent mountains and the awe of nature. MT



Funeral in Berlin (1966) Prime video

Dir: Guy Hamilton | Cast: Michael Caine, Oskar Homolka, Eva Renzi, Paul Hubschmid | UK Thriller 102′

Probably the least familiar these days of the original Harry Palmer trio, brought to us by Len Deighton, it shows just what a difference a director makes.

Michael Caine returns as “that shrewd little cockney” from the original, transplanted from Blighty to Berlin, the presence of Oscar Homolka anticipates Billion Dollar Brain, and this time we get to see Major Ross doing the garden with his missus (“How can you work for that dreadful man?”).

The directors of the other two Deighton’s were show-offs; the helmsman on this old pro Guy Hamilton (earlier an assistant on The Third Man – and it shows – and recently in charge of Goldfinger), which ensures a film less flashy than the two that bookend it, but is still good fun nevertheless; and Palmer’s objection to his alias bears a suspicious resemblance to the gang quibbling over their colours in Reservoir Dogs.@RichardChatten

A Human Position (2022)

Dir.: Anders Emblem; Cast: Amalie Ibsen Jensen, Maria Agwumaro; Norway 2021, 76 min.

Norwegian writer/director Anders Emblem (Hurry Slowly) creates a slow-moving, considered portrait of a couple recovering from a trauma, set in the idyllic harbour town of Alesund.

The peaceful settings are not just mere background, but play an instrumental part in the interplay with the human duo: often movement is replaced by still shots, and the protagonists enter spaces or depart, dissolving into the panoramic idyll of placid landscapes, in the same style as Kogonada’s 2017 feature Columbus.

The relationship between journalist Asta Ostram (Jensen) and her partner Maria (Agwumaro) is anything but idyllic. Asta returns to work for the Alesund ‘Sommosposten’ newspaper, where she covers local news. All her colleges welcome her back, but we learn from their worried looks that all is not well with Asta.

At home, where a cat dominates the domestic spaces, the tension is even more obvious. Maria is a furniture restorer, doubling up as a composer on keyboards. She does her best to give her partner enough room for the yet unspecified wound to heal – both physically and psychologically.

Asta copes well with routine assignments, but her heart is not in it. At home, she slowly lets Maria get closer to her, very much the wounded animal. Then Asta comes clean about the case of Aslan, an asylum seeker, who ten years ago entered Norway where he worked in a fish factory near Alesund. Then the company had to close because of infringements of the Labour Laws, and Aslan, who was ‘illegal, faced forcible extradition from Norway. With Asta on the search for the elusive Aslan, she lets her guard down and allows Maria to literally touch her injury. We hope that Asta can also find Aslan before it’s too late.

DoP Michael Mark Lanham uses the setting of Alesund as a background for the protagonists who fade in and out of the momentous landscapes. The attic of the couple’s flat is a peaceful sanctuary, underlining the placid atmosphere, a natural habitat for their cat. Asta’s crisis is real enough, yet the narrative feels more like a fairytale fable where a pervasive dread often engulfs the couple as they work through their individual issues in non-verbal contemplation rather than open conflict. Human Position is an acquired taste, but patience is rewarded with a unique experience. AS


Reunion (1989)

Dir: Jerry Schatzberg | Cast: Jason Robards, Christien Anholt, Samuel West, Francoise Fabian, Maureen Kerwin | Thriller 110’

Obviously deeply felt by both writer (Harold Pinter from a novel by Fred Uhlman) and director, immaculately designed on what seems to be a lavish budget by veteran Alexander Trauner (who appears early on playing the caretaker) and photographed in widescreen suffused in a nostalgiac glow by cameraman Bruno De Keyzer.

The leisurely pace at which Reunion unfolds conveys something of the gradualness with which the appalling reality overwhelms its characters, although the slow-burning first hour is disrupted by jarringly emphatic black & white inserts to keep reminding the audience of the calamity about to strike (as if they needed such nudging). Konradin’s credulous willingness to give a demagogic snake-oil salesman like Hitler the benefit of the doubt – “He really impressed me. He is totally sincere. He has such… he has true passion. I think he can save our country. He is our only hope.” – however remains depressingly familiar today.

But for the final, very abrupt, ‘surprise’ ending to work, the audience is assumed not to be able to recognise the ferrety face of Roland Freisler, occasionally seen although never identified by name (and ironically – as played by Roland Schäfer looking remarkably like John Malkovich in heavy eye-liner – relatively restrained compared to the actual bellowing maniac preserved for posterity in newsreels). And would it really have taken over forty years and a trip all the way back to the very school in Stuttgart were they were originally pupils for Henry to only now learn Konradin’s fate? @RichardChatten

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (2021)

Dir.: Brent Wilson; Documentary with Brian Wilson, Linda Perry, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Jason Fine; USA 2021, 95 min.

Do we need another Brian Wilson documentary? I Just Wasn’t made for These Times and Love & Mercy have already told his story, but the billion or so the super-fans will always ask for more. And The Beach Boys were America’s answer to The Beatles, back in the day, they epitomised an era and their harmonies are almost as divine – so yes, we do!.

Director Brent Wilson (no relation), veteran of music docs like Streetlight Harmonies, has tried the linear angle, confronting the images of the ‘Beach Boy’ founder with today’s survivor of schizoid-affective and bi-polar disorders, who enjoys being on tour again, even though the hallucinatory voices still haunt him – and have done for the last 60 years – when he is performing, in spite of all the medication available.

‘Rolling Stone’ editor Jason Fine, a close friend of Wilson, drives the megastar composer/singer round his favourite haunts, sadly only getting monosyllabic answers to his leading questions. Brian is very much in the shell he has created to survive. And there is more that enough pain for anybody to deal with, let alone a highly-strung artist.

There is the Hawthorne home of his childhood, where his father Murry (who died in 1973) played sadistic games while managing the bank with Brian and his brothers Carl (who died of lung cancer in 1998) and Dennis, who drowned in 1963. The two then visit the house Brian shared with his wife Marilyn, and their two children Carnie and Wendy.

They even take in the darker times: The “Malibu Prison” where Brian spend the 1980s under the influence of psychiatrist Eugen Landy, whose infamous 24-hour therapy led to a total inter-dependency, and was only solved when Landy started to mingle in the music business. Landy too was responsible for Brian breaking up with Melinda Ledbetter, but the two then married after Brian’s ‘release’ from Landy – the couple have adopted six children, and Melinda still works hard as Brian’s business manager. Brian insists today “that Landy saved me”.

Music-wise there is extensive time devoted to the iconic “Pet Sounds” and SMiLE, that came into being in  the mid-1960s and finished thirty years later. There are few revelations, the bitter chapter of Brian’s relationship with fellow Beach Boy Mike Love is nearly brushed out of the picture. Only once the mask of self-defence slips, when Brian tells Jason “I have not talked to a real friend in three years.” At the Beverly Glen Deli, where Brian and Jason stop for lunch, Brian devours his ice cream sundae with almost childlike enjoyment: and its with this same soulful devotion that he plays the piano (again) for an audience who adores him. Oh yes, about the surfing: “Yeah, Dennis surfed, I never learned it”.

The movie poster says it all: the young Brian looking over the shoulders if his older self at the piano. But this is not a psychoanalytical study, but a love letter to the music of Brian Wilson. As Bruce Springsteen says of “Pet Sounds”: “The beauty of it carries a sense of joyfulness even in the pain of living. The joyfulness of an emotional life”. AS


Here Before (2021)

Wri/Dir: Stacey Greggs | Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Jonjo O’Neill, Niamh Dornan, Eileen O’HIggins | UK Drama 83′

Andre Riseborough always choses interesting roles and here she once again proves her talents as grieving Belfast mother Laura in this inventive thriller written and directed by Stacey Gregg who is best known for his TV work.

Profound grief is not only about depression. Tragic loss can play tricks with the mind inducing nightmares and even thoughts of reincarnation for the recently bereaved. And this is exactly what happens to Laura. Greggs clearly had Don’t Look Now in mind when writing the lead character who can’t get over the loss of her little girl in a car accident when her husband Brendan (O’Neil) was driving.

In the rainy rural outskirts of Belfast Laura lives in a semi with Brendan and their preteen son Tadhg (McAskie). Their next door neighbour’s daughter Megan (Dornan) bears a striking resemblance to her own little girl, and soon Laura is giving her lifts to school and even dreaming about her, but it soon turns out her suspicions are justified. What happens next is pivotal in this surprisingly tense thriller with surreal undertones and more than a few skeletons in its chilly cupboard. Greggs’ strong narrative keeps us intrigued in a story that doesn’t rely on atmosphere to carry the plot forward, as it so often the case with inexperienced filmmakers, and although the denouement teeters on melodrama the emotional fallout feels more than justified in the circumstances. MT


Russian Roulette (1975)

Dir: Lou Lombardo | Cast: George Segal, Cristina Raines, Bo Brundin, Denholm Elliott, Gordon Jackson | US Spy Thriller 93

The errors liberally sprinkled throughout the IMDb page attest to how confusing both viewers and editors have evidently found this grubby spy drama in the past. But it’s long been one of the conventions of this genre that their plots are invariably both fiendish and fiendishly complicated so I took that pretty much in my stride.

Tourism Vancouver aren’t likely to have been pleased with Brian West’s bleak winter photography which makes the place look a dump. George Segal’s presence evokes memories of The Quiller Memorandum, which ironically made Berlin look much more cheerful than Vancouver does here; while Gordon Jackson performs a similar function here to the one he performed in The Ipcress File.

It builds up to a satisfactorily slam-bang action finish; but I found the creepy and amoral exploitation of exiled dissident Rudolph Henke by both sides and (SPOILERS COMING) what seemed to me Segal’s gratuitous killing of him at the end when doped up to the eyeballs and plainly not capable of going very far unpleasant even by the ethical standards of the genre. Segal also fortuitously lands on his feet a few more times than is probable, engineering a car crash that kills the driver but which he survives, and using a rifle to shoot down a helicopter which crash lands without destroying the centre of Vancouver. And how did Henke’s abductors manage to leave so much blood behind, while still keeping him in one piece?

The unexpected presence in an extremely minor role of Louise Fletcher – looking most fetching in uniform but otherwise wasted – is accounted for because the film was co-produced by her husband Jerry Blick, and that she hadn’t yet made One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That was to be her next film. @RichardChatten

Nightmare Alley (2021)

Dir: Guillermo del Toro | Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen | US Noir Thriller, 150′

One thing you can say about Guillermo del Toro’s follow up to his much vaunted take on Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon is that it looks amazing. In fact Dan Laustsen’s dazzling camerawork and Tamara Deverell’s lush production design make this moral fable watchable, along with starry cast of questionable characters that includes that captivating duo from Carol, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. Even Bradley Cooper excels himself as a blue-eyed, hunky grifter who brushes up well as the besuited antihero in the second half of this flawed but stylish Neo Noir thriller.

Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel this is (again) not the first screen adaptation, far superior was Edmund Goulding’s 1947 noir that starred Tyrone Power and Helen Walker as the psychic duo. Despite a bloated budget, this latest version overstays its welcome at well over two hours, and feels very much like two films rolled into one, and the end result is as hollow and soulless as the characters portrayed, although the shadow play and menacing original score by Nathan Johnson does much to install the requisite sinister sense of foreboding throughout.

In a dark and lugubrious travelling circus populated by freaks and losers, Bradley Cooper stands out as the bibulous Stan, a charismatic wayfarer with a twinkling eye and strange psychic gift, or at least the knack of spinning a yarn. Banding together with a motley crew of ‘carnies’, (carnival workers) he soon falls for one in particular in the shape of Molly (a luminous Rooney Mara), after being seduced by the much older stage magician Madame Zeena (Toni Collette).

You might be forgiven for drifting off through this often macabre but overstretched opening half, but things get much more interesting when the action transfers to a sophisticated, sinister urban setting where Cate Blanchett joins the party as Lilith, a soignée psychologist with lustrous Veronika Lake locks and the sinuous poise of Lauren Bacall. She plies her profession from the elegant confines of an office lined with plush sofas and beautiful marquetry. But you don’t trust her an inch, and neither does Stan as he slips under her psychic spell and the two becomes partners in crime, one being smarter that the other. Sadly Richard Jenkins, Willem Dafoe and Blanchett herself are underused in a script that is underpowered in comparison with the extremely slick aesthetics, and the gory scenes seem right out of place in a noir thriller, albeit one that combines elements of horror. MT


Dear Pyongyang (2005)

Dir.: Yonghi Yang; Documentary; Japan 2005, 107 min.

In this intensely personal documentary Osaka born writer/director/DoP Yonghi Yang explores her father’s blind loyalty to North Korea.

It’s a long running story of exile and displacement. Yang was born in 1964 in Osaka, her parents were members of the North-Korean leaning Chongryun movement, who fought for a re-unification under the rule of Kim Il Sung, rather like their counterparts in the Mindan movement in Japan, Koreans who fought for the South, and wanted their country united under capitalist rule. Both movements each had about 100, 000 supporters, a small percentage of the Korean population which had been brought to Japan under Imperial rule.

Yonghi had three older teenage brothers: Kono, Kona and 14 year-old Konmin. They were fully integrated into Japanese society; Kono loving classical music and strong coffee. But in the early 1970s their parents packed them off on the ferry to North Korea, the Stalinist paradise Kim Il Sung had in mind. But Yonghi was left behind with her parents, trying to please them. In 1983 she visited North Korea for the first time as part of a youth delegation. Instead of spending time with her brothers, she and her friends were ferried around the country on a ‘cultural tour’ of monuments erected in honour of the wise leader.

Returning home, Yonghi soon find out that her parents had supported her brothers and their growing families with regular food supplies and other packages of ordinary consumer goods, which were unavailable in North Korea. Meanwhile the director’s father, a staunch supporter of the authoritarian leadership clique in the titular Pyongyang, lectured his daughter about staying true to the values he had espoused all his life – but only too glad to enjoy her financial generosity at his birthdays’ and other holidays. For his 70th birthday, the trio went on another ferry pilgrimage to the North, were Yang senior was the celebrated guest of honour, wearing all his medals and extolling the regime to all and his sons and many of their friends who were also received financial support from their parents from Japan. Eventually Yonghi put her foot down and her father agreed to her becoming a South Korean national. But his allegiance to Kim Il Sung never swayed, Yonghi’s mother claiming: “Beliefs get stronger, the longer you hold them”.

The personal and the political clash head-on here, the dualism occasionally becoming unbearably tense. At one point Yang senior puts on his medal-adorned jacket and announced: “I had no choice”. The director remained close to the sibling, and her niece Sona (leading to her subsequent 2010 feature Sona, the other Myself 2010) but was banned from visiting North Korea. AS

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Ring of Spies (1964)

Dir: Robert Tronson | Cast: Bernard Lee, William Sylvester, Margaret Tyzack, David Kossoff, Thorley Walters | UK Thriller

Bernard Lee had already twice played gamekeeper-in-chief ‘M’ in the first two James Bond films when he here played poacher Harry Houghton in this austerely realistic black & white telling of the sensational Portland spy case of 1961. After a deceptively fanciful opening sequence this crime thriller portrays the grubby reality of the life of a spy against an everyday backdrop of an early sixties London in which professional people lived in caravans and relaxed of a night by watching The Crazy Gang on stage, which nearly sixty years later seems as exotic as anywhere ever visited by 007.

Margaret Tyzack in her only film lead (reunited shortly afterwards with fellow actor William Sylvester in ‘2001’) gives easily the best performance as Ethel Gee (here curiously called ‘Elizabeth’). Most of the enormous but usually fleetingly seen cast of familiar faces rarely appeared in films; including later TV comedy veterans Paul Eddington and Geoffrey Palmer. @RichardChatten

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Dir: Stanley Kramer | Cast: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn | US Drama, 108’

A curious mass of anomalies. The daring subject matter is cocooned in a very old-fashioned production in which well-heeled professionals do little but talk in a glossily photographed, lavishly appointed set looking out on a diorama of San Francisco in which the trees never move.

The late Sidney Poitier has charisma to spare and it has old-fashioned star power in the final screen teaming of Tracy & Hepburn. The latter deservedly won an Oscar; and the former (whose final speech – which took longer to edit than shoot – in which he swears onscreen for the first and last time when he says “screw all those people”) should at least have been posthumously nominated. @RichardChatten

Now on prime video

Lynx (2021)

Dir/Wri/DoP: Laurent Geslin | Swiss/French Doc, 82′

In the heart of the Jura mountains, a raucous call resounds through the forest. The perfectly camouflaged Eurasian lynx creeps through the trees in search of a mate. After its release into the wild, cinematographer Laurent Geslin has spent the past few years tracking the daily life of this elusive and endangered beast as it forms a new family in the remote Alpine region that stretches between France and Switzerland.

In this full length feature documentary, a follow-up to Geslin’s pursuit of the London-based urban fox, the award-winning cinematographer enchants us with poetic almost Disney-like wonder in his self-narrated study that softens the act of killing without ever sentimentalising the subject matter, making it feel entirely in keeping with the delicate ecological scheme of things as the lynx goes about its seasonal struggle in often hostile terrain.

This is Northern Europe so the Alpine fauna is familiar to most of us but somehow magical and enchanting in Geslin’s limpid lens: owls, stoats, woodpeckers, eagles and mountain goats are so daintily captured in their natural daytime habitat or in the moonlight of starry time-lapsed nights that there are none of those awful ‘lookaway’ moments when the lynx – or any other animal – takes out it prey, as it inevitably does to survive. The feline’s only natural predator seems to come in human form: poachers are still active despite being illegal, and cars are getting faster. Absolutely mesmerising. MT


Too Late for Tears (1949)

Byron Haskin | Cast: Lisabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy | US Noir 99’

Don’t expect the tear-jerker the title might lead you to anticipate. To paraphrase Godard, all you need for a film noir is Lizabeth Scott with a gun in her handbag, and that’s what you get here.

Visually the film isnR