Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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

ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 12 AUGUST 2022

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

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 2022

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

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE LOCARNO 2022 

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

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

BACK IN CINEMAS ON 5 AUGUST 2022

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

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | GOLDEN LEOPARD

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

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

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

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

COMPETING FOR THE GOLDEN LEOPARD AT 75th LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2022. 

 

 

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

ONLY IN THEATRES PREMIERED AT THE GALWAY FILM FESTIVAL 2022

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

 

 

 

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

FID MARSEILLE | 5-12 JULY 2022

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

OUT ON 15 JULY at CURZON CINEMAS and CURZON HOME VIDEO 2022

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

NOW ON TPTVENCORE.com 

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

ON RELEASE DIGITALLY FROM 22 JULY 2022

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

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 July 2022

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

OUT ON THE 22 JULY 2022

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN NATIONWIDE

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

NOW OUT ON QUALITY DIGITAL PLATFORMS

 

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | BERLINALE SPECIALS 2022

 

 

 

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

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 19 August 2022

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

PREMIERING AT MUNICH FILM FESTIVAL | 24 June 2022

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

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 1 JULY 2022

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

IN CINEMAS FROM JUNE 24TH 2022

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.

 

 

 

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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

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

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

ON RELEASE FROM 30 JUNE 2022 FOR A SPECIAL ONE NIGHT ONLY EVENT ACROSS THE UK/IRELAND

 

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON JUNE 2022

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.

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 3 JUNE 2022 

 

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 GREEN PERFUME | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

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

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES | PRIME VIDEO

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

SUNDANCE SPECIAL JURY AWARD – ACTING | OUT ON 27 MAY 2022

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.

KURAK GÜNLER (BURNING DAYS) Emin ALPER

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).

SICK OF MYSELF Kristoffer BORGLI

A toxic relationship takes a turn for the worst in a darkly comic tale of oneupmanship from Norwegian filmmaker Borgli.

ALL THE PEOPLE I’LL NEVER BE Davy CHOU

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.

DOMINGO Y LA NIEBLA (DOMINGO AND THE MIST) Ariel ESCALANTE MEZA

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.

UNTITLED PINE RIDGE PROJECT Riley KEOUGH, Gina GAMMELL 1st film

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.

BACHENNYA METELYKA (BUTTERFLY VISION) Maksim NAKONECHNYI 1st film

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.

 

VANSKABTE LAND / VOLAÐA LAND (GODLAND) Hlynur PÁLMASON

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 SILENT TWINS Agnieszka SMOCZYNSKA

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.

THE STRANGER Thomas M WRIGHT

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.

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17 – 28 MAY 2022

 

 

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

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

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 Metropoles.com 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.

Documentaries

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

 

 

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

IN CINEMAS AND ON CURZON HOME  FROM FRIDAY 29 APRIL 2022

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

IN CINEMAS FROM 6 MAY 2022

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

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

NOW ON RELEASE

 

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

PALME D’OR COMPETITION

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

OUT OF COMPETITION  :

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

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 APRIL 2022

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

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

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.

IN CINEMAS FROM 22 JULY 2022

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

VISIONS DU REEL | NYON SWITZERLAND

Navalny (2022)

Dir.: Daniel Roher; Documentary with Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Dasha Navalny, Zakhar Navalny; USA 2022, 98 min.

When Canadian documentary filmmaker Daniel Roher (Once were Brothers) 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 and 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. 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 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 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 great coup: 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. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 APRIL 2022

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

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 8 APRIL

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

WINNER NEXT:WAVE AWARD 2022 | CPH:DOX COPENHAGEN

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

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

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

BFI BLU-RAY/DIGITAL RELEASE FROM 11 APRIL 2022

 

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.

IN CINEMAS AND ON CURZON HOME CINEMA
13 MAY

 

 

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

NOW SCREENING DURING CPH:DOX 2022

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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

SCREENING AT CPH:DOX 2022 | SELECTED FOR THE DOC ALLIANCE AWARDS

 

L’Argent (1983) Bergamo Film Meeting 2022

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 feature cropped heads and feet or the backs of the protagonists. 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 eaten up by their greed. The narrative 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

SCREENING DURING BERGAMO FILM MEETING 2022

Under the Sky Shelter (2022) CPH: DOX 2022

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, a few men 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 gives 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 peppered 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 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

SCREENING DURING CPH:DOX 2022

 

Electric Malady (2022) CPH:DOX 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

SCREENING DURING CPH:DOX 2022

 

 

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

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

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

SCREENING AT BFI FLARE | CANNES 2021 PREMIERE

 

 

 

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

NOW SCREENING AT BFI FLARE 2022

 

Boulevard! A Hollywood Story (2021) Bfi Flare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 2022

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

DAY ZERO | VILNIUS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | LITHUANIA 

 

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

SCREENED DURING GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL

 

 

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

NOW ON MUBI

 

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

SCREENING AT KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL | 27 March LONDON 2022

 

 

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

NOW ON NETFLIX

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

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

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

ON PRIME VIDEO

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

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO.

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

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF NEW WAVE FILMS ON 1st APRIL 2022.

 

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

 

 

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Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts (2021)

Dir: Roger Michell | Doc, 89′

In 2022, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her reign of 70 years on the occasion of the “Platinum Jubilee” this 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 woman who has spent the most time as a Head of State.”To us teenagers she was a babe” croons Paul McCartney reflecting on the time The Queen visited Liverpool.

IN CINEMAS on 27 May 2022 | PRIME VIDEO on 1 June 2022

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

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 www.river.film

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

OUT ON FRIDAY 4 MARCH 2022

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.

DOX:AWARD

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

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

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

SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL | 9 March – 3 April, 2022

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

NOW IN CINEMAS

 

 

 

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

NOW ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD

 

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.

Costa-Gavras

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.

AMEN

 

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.

Missing

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.

BERGAMO FILM MEETING 2022

 

 

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

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

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

BERLINALE FIM FESTIVAL \ SPECIAL MENTION \ ENCOUNTERS 2022

 

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

OSCAR WINNER FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | BEST DOCUMENTARY EE BAFTAS 2022 | NOW IN CINEMAS

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

IN CINEMAS 21 MARCH 2022

 

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

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE and on APPLE TV

 

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

SCREENING AT BERLINALE 2022 | PANORAMA

 

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

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE AND ACROSS EUROPE  FEBRUARY 2022

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.

 

NEW POLISH CINEMA

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.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS AT JW3

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:-https://kinoteka.org.uk/

 

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

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.

THE PEACOCK’S PARADISE (IL PARADISO DEL PAVONE) | Director: Laura Bispuri

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) Berlinale 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. It’s a relationship that 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 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

SCREENING AT BERLINALE 2022 | PANORAMA 2022

 

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

THE SOUVENIR II IS IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 4 FEBRUARY 2022

 

 

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

AVAILABLE ON DVD

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | FORUM STRAND

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

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | JANUARY 20-30 2022

 

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.

ON MUBI FROM 4 FEBRUARY 2022

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

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

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

FLAG DAY IS ON RELEASE FROM 28 JANUARY 2022

 

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

ON RELEASE IN UK and IRELAND FROM FRIDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2022

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

IN CINEMAS SOON

 

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) Tromso Film Festival 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 its 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

OPENING FILM OF THE 32nd Tromso Film Festival 2022

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE | UK and Eire

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

OUT NATIONWIDE ON 18 FEBRUARY 2022

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

OUT IN THE UK ON 21 JANUARY 2022

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

YAMAGATA: EXCLUSIVE SHOWCASE OF JAPANESE DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING ONLINE FOR FREE. | The complete selection will be available entirely for free on DAFilms.com from January 17 – 23 at this link: https://dafilms.com/program/1126-made-in-japan-yamagata-1989-2021

 

 

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

ON RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2022 | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

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 isn’t actually terribly noirish, since much of the action takes place in the modest but well-lit little apartment occupied by honest working stiff Arthur Kennedy and his wannabe Queen Bee wife Lizabeth Scott. However, since Ms. Scott’s extraordinary face framed by a sleek blonde bob is a prominent visual motif throughout the film, there are enough images of her framed by cameraman William Mellor in a succession of chic high-collared suits to inspire plenty of paintings by Richard Hamilton.

In a narrative that anticipates Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan, Kennedy and Scott have predictably differing ideas about what to do with a suitcase containing $60,000 in untraceable notes that unexpectedly lands on their car seat. Not long afterwards Dan Duryea at his scariest wearing an obnoxious little bow-tie comes calling wanting his money back, before learning too late – like Tony Perkins in ‘Pretty Poison’ – that he’s in way out of his depth with a true criminal sociopath like Ms. Scott.

There’s a lot of talk; but as scripted by Roy Huggins (who later created ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘The Rockford Files’) it’s good talk, and the interaction and development of the characters builds to a most satisfyingly conclusion to which little clues have been discreetly sown along the way. The characters of the man introducing himself as Kennedy’s former war buddy, and Kennedy’s sister herself who lives across the landing – played by Don Defore and Kristine Miller – don’t at first seem terribly interesting but grow to confound expectations.

All the acting is good, with the possible exception of Ms. Scott herself, who’s a bit one-note, but isn’t really required to do much except look like Lizabeth Scott, which she does to perfection. Aged only 26, she already looks as if she’s had her face lifted about half a dozen times; but on her it looks good @RichardChatten

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Farewell, Mr Haffmann (2021)

Dir: Fred Cavaye | Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Gilles Lellouche, Sara Giraudeau | France, Drama 115′

Daniel Auteuil is the quietly mesmerising star turn in Fred Cavaye’s sombre but satisfying occupation drama that sees a Jewish craftsman’s act of benevolence backfire with tragic consequences.

He is Monsieur Hoffmann a popular and talented jeweller with a live-in corner atelier in Montmartre when the Germans move into Paris in 1941 setting in motion a mass exodus of Jews and the rounding up of those unable to get away. Seeing a chance to escape and save his business, by transferring it to his  crippled (and it soon turns out impotent) assistant Francois Mercier (Lellouche), he sends his wife and family to the country, but is unable to get away in time and is forced back to take refuge in the basement of his former home, now occupied by Mercier and his mousy wife Blanche (a subtle Sara Giraudeau).

Based on Jean-Philippe Daguerre’s award-winning play and adapted by Cavaye and Sara Kaminsky for the screen, it’s a twisty little story that goes to unexpected places with a compelling undertow despite the rather grimy wartime settings and stultifying atmosphere. Hobbling around on his callipers and unable to impregnate his wife (Haffmann stepping in to do the honours) Mercier will also turn out to have feet of clay – and his hands are not much better either: the Nazis giving the thumbs down to his inferior design skills, forcing Mr Haffmann to burn the midnight oil from his underground ‘prison’ to provide elegant pieces to satisfy the Nazi molls and allow Mercier to keep up pretences.

Obviously it’s not going to end well given Mercier’s severely dinted ego (it’s a hapless role for Lellouche but he plods on undeterred…) and his wife’s sympathies turn to Mr Haffmann rather than her husband in a morally complex character study which hints at Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

Cloak and Dagger (1946)

Dir: Fritz Lang | Cast: Gary Cooper, Robert Alda, Lilli Palmer, Vladimir Sokolof, US 106’ Thriller

Made during that brief period just after the war before commies took over from nazis as Hollywood’s enemies of choice; when leftish sentiments penned by scriptwriters Albert Maltz and Ring Lardner (both soon blacklisted) could still be expressed onscreen by Gary Cooper (schooled in Dunstable and soon to be a ‘friendly witness’ before the HUAAC).

Anticipating Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain by twenty years, Coop plays a scientist sent into enemy territory to pick the brains of a top physicist (presumably based on Lise Meitner); aided on the ground by Robert Alda (father of Alan) and Lili Palmer (the latter making her Hollywood debut and receiving “and introducing” billing despite having been busy in British films since 1935).

It lags a bit during the second half but picks up with another sequence anticipating ‘Torn Curtain’ when he and a fascist fight dirty to the death. @RichardChatten

NOW DOING THE ROUNDS ON TALKING PICTURES TV

This is My Love (1954)

Dir: Stuart Heisler | Cast: Linda Darnell, Dan Duryea, Rick Jason, Faith Domergue | US Drama 91

Just as birds descended from dinosaurs, so the film noir of the forties morphed by the mid-fifties into the women’s picture; the histrionics of the Technicolor ‘Leave Her to Heaven’ (1945) evolving into Douglas Sirk’s throbbing fifties melodramas.

Occasional additional forays into Technicolor along the way in crime dramas like ‘Desert Fury’ (1947) and ‘Rope’ (1948) gave hints as to the way colour could embellish thriller material; and the fuzzy Pathécolor employed on ‘This Is My Love’ – along with the incredibly stagy sets – draws us gradually into what initially seems to promise to be a rather bland romantic drama, but proves anything but.

The presence of Dan Duryea warns us that peril lies ahead – and the fact that he’s in a wheelchair, in which he proves a pretty nifty mover – simply heightens the pent-up menace he brings to his part. (And wouldn’t you know it, he depends on medication administered by his long-suffering wife and sister-in-law to keep him alive?)

Practically everybody in the film turns to be nursing bottled up emotions threatening destructively to burst their banks in true 50’s style, and… but I won’t spoil it for you. @RichardChatten

Onoda (2021)

Dir.: Arthur Harari; Cast: Yuya Endo, Kanji Tsuda, Yuya Matsuura, Testsuya Chiba, Issei Taniguchi, Taiga Nakano, Shinsuke Kato | Action drama, 2021, 165 min.

French director/co-writer Arthur Harari collaborates with Vincent Poymiro and Bernhard Cendron in chronicling 29 years in the life of the titular Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda (1922-2014), who for nearly thirty years hid in the jungle of the Philippine island of Lubang, fighting a war which ended in September 1945.

Towards the end of WWII, young Hiroo Onoda (Endo) is chosen to be a Kamikaze pilot. But Hiroo – in contrast to many of his peer group – does not want to die, and he refuses to fly, citing vertigo for his decision. This brings him to the attention of Major Taniguchi (Ogata), who runs a school for secret war activities: Hiroo is told never to commit suicide, or surrender to the fast advancing American troops.

On the Philippine island of Lubang, Onoda is witness to the overwhelming power of the American army. But true to the promise he has given to Taniguchi, he refuses to concede defeat, and gathers a motley crew of three other soldiers embarking on a guerrilla war against the island’s population: “The four of us can kill hundreds”. One of the resisters, Akatsu, deserts in 1949 but Onoda battles on in his own private war still believing the islanders are in alliance with the Americans.

History this may be, but Onoda would be very much at home today: refusing to believe that the war has ended, despite all signs to the contrary. Everything signalling the truth is hailed as ‘Fake News’; even Hiroo’s father speaking with a loudhailer to make his son accept reality. For Hiroo, it is not the voice of his father, but an actor paid by the Americans. And on New Year’s Day in 1950, Onoda and Kozuka await a rescue party after they have “decoded” leaflets and other written material left for them by the population.

Harari tells the story from the POV of Hiroo: we live in his head, hear his inner dialogue, and apart from the overwhelming running time of nearly three hours, there is much to appreciate: Kanji Tsuda as the older Onoda is outstanding amidst an impressive cast. And there is always humour and irony: when Hiroo and Kozuka make a map of the island, they use names from their pre-war life experiences. And, strangely, there is sometimes a sort of beauty in the wild phantasies of a man who cannot give up his dream of becoming a hero, the guilt of his refusal to sacrifice himself as a pilot driving himself on. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

 

Licorice Pizza (2021) Best Original Screenplay BAFTA

Dir/Wri: Paul Thomas Anderson | Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Will Angarola, Ben Safdie, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Skylar Gisondo | US Comedy Drama,131′

The excitement and enthusiasm of being a teenager in search of the American Dream is captured in this satirical trip down memory lane set in the early 1970s during the politically turbulent years of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.

Paul Thomas Anderson follows a string of memorable and diverse classics: Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, Phantom Thread and There Will Be Blood with a soulful romantic comedy that unfolds in California’s San Fernando Valley where Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour) is a chubby spirited high school actor experiencing first love with his much older crush Alana Kane (Alana Haim), a gutsy Jewish girl with plenty of chutzpah and an overbearing father.

Much more than just a punchy coming of age story Licorice Pizza is a nostalgic journey through America in the Nixon era with echoes of Taxi Driver and The Graduate – and the same grainy look – and a soundtrack of iconic recalling a time where opportunities were endless and brushing up against Hollywood stars was still possible in the everyday scheme of things before they became a protected species. And the teenage realisation that they are just flawed, ordinary people, not gods to be aspired to gives the film some of its most enjoyable scenes.

Gary is not held back from pursuing Alana despite his puppy fat and pubescent acne. His inherent self-belief and entrepreneurial flair soon sees him capitalising on ‘start-ups’ involving pinball machines and the famous craze for water beds: a doomed endeavour involving a celebrity client in the shape of Bradley Cooper’s egocentric Jon Peters is one of the funnier detours the film takes, and there’s a surprisingly sinister undertone to Alana’s episode with Ben Safdie’s aspiring political candidate. This adds a dose of tension to her on/off relationship with Gary making it feel all the more genuine in its avoidance of sentimentality both in sunny and sombre moments – the two of them always feel real and endearingly human in their spiky single-minded belligerence. A bit of an odd couple at first Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman’s gradually emerging on screen chemistry is why the film is so compulsively watchable.

The film goes to unexpected places but always keeps us onboard with its compelling teenage love story that is charming, quirky and totally unpredictable – just like real life. We are drawn further and further into Gary and Alana’s world with its soap-opera elements in a narrative so rich and surprising it could go on forever.

Another part of the film’s success – and a great deal of the subversive fun – comes from trying to guess the real people behind the made up names (apart from Jon Peters): Sean Penn’s character Jack Holden and John Michael Higgins’ Jerry Frick are so familiar yet there’s a inclusive quality that makes them feel absolutely right for the era, whoever they are. Featuring a seemingly endless cast of well-tuned interconnecting characters Liquorice Pizza builds an entire world in the Valley that is both intimate and far-reaching in its scale. MT

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY EE BAFTAS 2022

Whity (1971)

Dir: Werner Reiner Fassbinder | Cast: Ron Randell, Hanna Schygulla, Katrin Schaake, Harry Baer | 85′ Germany, Drama

Never released commercially, Whity remains one of Fassbinder’s least seen films, and when spoken of it is usually with mild incredulity since the thing is reportedly a western. Naturally it’s a western the like of which English-speaking audiences have never seen before (or at any rate since Red Garters), but one that would look less eccentric to a German audience used to the popular Karl May adaptations of the sixties in which men are men and women are German. Although there are nods towards Sergio Leone – notably with Peer Raben’s score – it plainly owes more to Gillo Pontecorvo’s Queimada! (1969) and to the ‘slavery’ genre of the seventies that began with Herbert Biberman’s ‘Slaves’ in 1969 and reached its apotheosis with Mandingo.

Sumptuously designed by Kurt Raab and fluidly shot in widescreen and Eastmancolor by the late Michael Ballhaus, visually it anticipates the saturated colours of Fassbinder’s final extravaganzas like Lili Marleen and Querelle, with the cast resembling waxworks. It effectively does for westerns what Der Amerikanische Soldat did for gangster movies, but is far less fun; although Fassbinder’s own appearance as a macho, whip-wielding cowboy is as funny as anything to be found in Carry On Cowboy. @Richard Chatten

Within our Gates (1920)

Dir/Wri: Oscar Micheaux | US Drama 79′

In his provocative 1980 article in ‘Film Comment’, ‘Bad Films’, James Hoberman concentrated almost exclusively on Oscar Micheaux’s thirties sound films in painting Micheaux as a sort of black Edward D.Wood Jr. When Hoberman wrote that “the longer Micheaux made films, the badder they got,” the 1993 Library of Congress restoration of Within Our Gates was still several years away, but – possibly because Micheaux was free of the later encumbrances of dialogue and sound film technology – manages accurately to bear out his statement, since it stands up extremely well.

The fact that nearly a hundred years ago this film was made at all is remarkable enough; that it’s actually survived (in Spain, of all places) is miraculous, particularly as Micheaux’s final film, the three hour-long ‘The Betrayal’ (1948) – made over a quarter of a century later – is ironically lost. In addition to its indictment of institutionalised racism in the United States – where in the South any available negro could be lynched just for the hell of it – Within Our Gates is also remarkable for criticising bible-thumping snake oil salesmen like the black preacher Old Ned, who exhorts his congregation not to bother themselves with the injustices of this world as their reward will come in the next.

Micheaux not surprisingly gives short shrift to the American South, where the poor white trash are depicted as being treated as contemptuously by the land-owning classes as their black brethren (the identical appearance and beards worn by a trio of yokels suggesting in-breeding), and titles are written in dialect to lampoon the Southern drawl, rather than just black speech as tended to be the custom in silent films. The cross-cutting between a lynching and a rape attempt by a white man near the film’s conclusion serves as a well-aimed raspberry at the equivalent sequence in D.W.Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation’; although the abrupt uplifting speech about America by the handsome Dr. Vivian at the film’s very end feels extremely tacked on. But Within Our Gates has already hit home with enough ugly home truths by then.

American women, incredibly, still didn’t have the vote when Within Our Gates was made; and Micheaux equates women’s suffrage with black civil rights, in the process marshalling a cast of formidable female characters, both black & white. In one of several elaborate narrative strands that the film packs into less than eighty minutes, black heroine Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer) is taken under the wing of wealthy white philanthropist Elena Warwick, whose friend Geraldine Stratton is a rich Southerner and “a bitter enemy of woman’s suffrage, because it appalls her to think that Negro women might vote.”@RichardChatten

 

You Only Live Twice

Roald Dahl’s name on the script should have meant a wittier and more grotesque adventure than this; although the car full of goons plucked off the road by a giant magnet and tossed into Tokyo Harbour is classic Dahl. The action scenes are often spectacular but inclined rather obviously to have been achieved with stuntmen by the second unit, with Connery’s close-ups clearly matted in later, heightening the sense of a star wandering in and out of his own movie.

The characterisations alotted most of the supporting cast tend to be bland, and the leading lady is bizarrely replaced with a new one during the interminable ‘Ninja Training School’ section that further postpones our first proper meeting with Donald Pleasance’s flesh-crawling Blofeld in his lair which resembles a megalomaniacal version of the launching pad beneath Jeff Tracy’s swimming pool from which Thunderbird One used to emerge).

An extremely large cast of speaking parts includes several well-known actors whose contribution bizarrely goes uncredited (including Alexander Knox as the US President), while others like Burt Kwouk as ‘Spectre 3’ are plainly dubbed. @RichardChatten

Cyrano (2021)

Dir: Joe Wright | Writer; Eric Schmidt | Cast: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Ben Mendelsohn, Kelvin Harrison | UK Musical drama, 124′

Joe Wright gives Cyrano De Bergerac a musical makeover with this soft-centred lyrical approach to the time-honoured French classic, transposing the action to early 18th century Italy and dressing the love story up in macaroon pastels and tender gazes as delicate as the Capodimonte porcelain of the region that clearly inspired Sarah Greenwood’s production designs.

Peter Dinklage plays the sweet-natured romantic soldier unlucky in love due to his unfeasibly large nose and lack of stature, but whose way with words woes Haley Bennett’s wistful but unwitting maiden Roxanne (Bennett) through poetic billets doux penned on behalf of the real object of her affections, Christian (Harrison) a recruit in the service of her caustic suitor Duke De Guiche (an ebullient Ben Mendelsohn).

The everlasting appeal of the story lies in the cherished belief that inner beauty and noble intentions can override physical imperfections in our quest for love. And Wright certainly moves us with this woozy concoction and its touching performances particularly from Dinklage in the leading role as a captivating Cyrano crooning original tunes from Aaron & Bryce Dessner.

There have been several adaptations of the 19th century novel, the most famous, from 1990, stars Gerard Depardieu as the disillusioned dreamer, and this one is based on Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage show, which also starred Dinklage in the title role. A little bit lightweight but intoxicating nevertheless.

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Waiting for Bojangles (2021)

Dir: Regis Roinsard | Cast: Romain Duris, Virginie Efira, Gregory Gadebois, Solan Machado Graner | France, Comedy, 124′

Regis Roinsard brings none of the joie de vivre or steamy sensuality of the page to his lavish big screen version of En Attendant Bojangles co-scripted by Olivier Bourdeaut from his own bestseller. Instead we see two selfish, rather silly people pretending to love each other while intoxicated by their own narcissistic dreams.  

What starts as a frothy Côte d’Azur set ‘coup de foudre’ for Georges (Duris whose talents are once again wasted) and his self-seeking bride Camille (Efira) soon deteriorates into an over the top battle of wits while they tirelessly paint the town red, pooh-poohing reality to the astonishment of everyone in their wake, including their good friend Charles (Gadebois).

Meanwhile their spirited little love child Gary (Machado Graner) is left bewildered on the sidelines, his mother even taking an angry pot-shot at his much-loved pet peahen. Wo betide anyone attempting to burst this couple’s bubble of endless fun; reality is simply brushed under the carpet until they eventually run out of steam: Virginie Efira swinging between vicious virago and tedious drama queen in an un-involving ‘folie a deux’ which swerves into tragedy after over two hours. 

Top marks to Guillaume Schiffman and Sylvie Olive for making it all look so nice, but don’t expect any laughs in this depressing start to 2022. 

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRENCH CINEMAS

The 355 (2021)

Dir.: Simon Kinberg; Cast: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Krüger, Penelope Cruz, Bingbing Fan, Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramirez; USA/China 2019/21; 124 min.

British-born director Simon Kinberg, producer of the X-Men series, teams up with Jessica Chastain to co-produce this female super-spy caper, co-written by Theresa Rebeck and Bek Smith. Chastain asked Kinberg for a female super-hero feature, having been part of the star studded cast of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, a loss making 200M+ dollar project which he also directed, wrote and produced.

It all starts with a stock slaughter sequence in South America, where drug lords are fighting for an electronic device that gives its owner control over all electronic traffic worldwide. Next, said device turns up on Paris, with major intelligence agencies chasing the hardware destined to be sold in a mass auction on the Dark Net.

Mason ‘Mace’ Browne (Chastain) and Nick Fowler (Stan) represent the CIA as a couple with ‘special benefits’. Marie Schmidt (Krüger) of The Bundes Nachrichten Dienst (BND), (the German State Security organisation) is still reeling from the shock of her father’s role in the KGB. But Graciela (Cruz), a Columbian DNI agent and psychologist, is the odd-one out: roped in by her fellow countryman Rojas (Ramirez)mwho is dying after the unsuccessful attack on the drug dealer.

Rojas has just enough time to put Graciela’s fingerprints on the desired object’s tracking device. Thus the psychologist becomes the stereo-typical odd-woman-out, just wanting to go home to her family. An African-British computer expert Khadijah (Nyong’o) will later ‘direct’ the quartet, later a quintet, when Chinese MSS operative Lin Mi Sheng (Bingbing Fan) joins the party in Shanghai for the last act.

Rojas is not the only casualty: Fowler also comes a cropper, driving Browne even harder to get her paws on the device. Alas, her ex-partner is very much alive – and on the wrong side, making Mace’s retrieving action into a revenge story.

Structured along the lines of a Bourne feature, The 355 (named after the first US female spy operating under George Washington’s command), not only suffers from a convoluted script, but also outstays its dubious welcome, bloodied by needless fighting scenes: all decisions are actually taken by Khadijah, based on her superior technological knowledge. The agents on the ground are reduced to mere ‘action-women’ figures – not exactly “The Female Rainbow coalition” Chastain had in mind.

DoP Tim Maurice-Jones really does a great job on the look of The 355, but the vaunted female heroines are merely inferior James Bond replacements and we don’t care what happens to them, or indeed the upcoming Chastain/Kinberg collaboration entitled  Wayland, another high-budget production destined for a loss. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Dr No (1962)

Dir: Terence Young | Cast: Ursula Andress, Sean Connery | Thriller

The mighty Bond franchise – which turns sixty this year – begins with three blind beggars making their way through Kingston. Filmed completely out of the sequence in which the original novels were, he here meets both Quarrel and Felix Leiter for the first time despite in the 1958 novel having already worked with both four years earlier in Live and Let Die

The pop art credits anticipate a much rawer film than those that came later; with a thuggish Bond who in those days thought nothing a shooting an unarmed man twice (originally it was thrice, but the censor cut one of the shots).

As recently as 1962 the makers depicted a quick going over with a hose as sufficient for radioactive decontamination; and with the series still coining it in, so the sight gag about Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington will gain new currency when ‘The Duke’ opens in the West End next month. @RichardChatten

5 Branded Women (1960)

Dir: Martin Ritt | Cast: Van Heflin, Silvana Mangano, Jeanne Moreau, Vera Miles, Barbara Bel Geddes | US War Drama 94′

Martin Ritt’s only war movie is a strange hybrid which has the thumb prints all over it of producer Dino De Laurentiis – whose bright idea the inevitable communal nude bathing scene doubtless was, and saw to it that his wife Silvana Mangano gets most of the close ups. That said, the film comes a very poor second to the same year’s La Ciociara; also a gritty Italian war movie, which won Carlo Ponti’s wife Sophia Loren the Oscar for best actress.

While all given Yugoslav names, the five women of the title are plainly cast with the international box office in mind; although neither of the American contingent – Vera Miles and Barbara Bel Geddes – get sufficient screen time to make much of an impression. With the exception of Richard Basehart’s Good German, the male lead characters all come across as creeps. Van Heflin’s partisan leader is a sanctimonious bore, while Harry Guardino’s overactive loins (spoiler coming) directly lead to Miles’ death. (He plainly made no attempt to enlighten the court martial that it was entirely him who was responsible, and that it was he who left his post to get his paws on Miles; instead he just brags about all the Germans he’s killed. The other partisans meanwhile are far too quick to stick her in front of the firing squad by his side.

Despite the interesting cast, the whole thing leaves a pretty bad taste in the mouth, and you certainly come away feeling soiled at the waste and squalor depicted, although not necessarily in the ways that the film’s makers intended. @RichardChatten

 

The Danish Collector: From Delacroix to Gauguin (2021)

Dir: David Bickerstaff | UK ART Doc

A private collection of modern art including works from Delacroix, Monet and Gauguin forms the subject of this latest documentary from David Bickerstaff, best known for bringing international art exhibitions to the big screen.

The Danish Collector: From Delacroix to Gauguin shows how a self made man and his savvy wife saved a treasure trove of priceless paintings from the ravages of war in Europe by transferring them to neutral Denmark.

Wilhelm Peter Henning Hansen (1868-1934) rose from modest beginnings to amass a fortune from the insurance business. At the age of 25 he bought his first painting, Monet’s ‘Waterloo Bridge’ (1903) exploring changing light and fog in the haze of industrial development, and by 1912 Hansen’s French realist and impressionist collection was well under way as he set out to acquire twelve works from each of his chosen artists mapping the development of Impressionism from its origins and early influences of Ingres and Delacroix. These included paintings by Sisley, Pisarro, Monet, Corot, Corbet and Renoir and works by female Impressionist painters Berthe Morisot and Eva Gonzales.

When war broke out in 1914 he capitalised on the conflict by sending the paintings to his wife Henny in Denmark where they were housed in a specially designed country house in Ordrupsgaard (near Copenhagen). He later joined a consortium of middle-class Danish collectors whose aim was to bring outstanding French art to Scandinavia during in a wave of Civic pride.

Accompanied by an occasional score of strings and more romantic vibes, Bickerstaff’s agile camera lingers over the detail – particularly lovely is Manet’s 1882 ‘Basket of Pears’ – as well as giving a broad-brush approach to the works in their various settings, interweaving informative on-screen interviews from relevant curators.

Eschewing a straightforward narrative the style here is to gather together the various specialists and then give them free rein to talk about their own research and insights. This gives the doc a random, freewheeling yet highly informative quality as the curators go off on their different tangents.

After an intro from London’s Royal Academy chief Axel Ruger we swing into the gallery where Bickerstaff takes us on a fleeting tour of the exhibition, double hanging reflecting the way Hansen hung the pictures in his own home, whetting our appetite for what is to follow.

Anna Ferrari takes over telling us how Henny Hansen realised that the works acquired by her husband were becoming increasingly becoming valuable amongst collectors, and shipping them back to Denmark. The couple were particularly keen on Monet’s ‘garden’ period and Sisley’s landscapes paintings that mapped a journey down the Seine, with smoking chimneys charting the burgeoning industrial era, his ‘September Morning’ (1887) shows leaves tussling in the fresh breeze, with the sky dominating. The film travels from London to Paris, the cradle of the Belle Époque, with its experimental artist scene, and then on to Denmark where Ordupsgaard’s curator Anne Brigitte Fonsmark enlightens with a tour of the house and its specially designed Danish furniture complimented by flower arrangements gathered from the lavish gardens, and the recently added extension by the later Zaha Hadid.

Art historian Professor Frances Fowle makes the most impact with her amusing stories about the illustrious women Impressionist collectors namely the Welsh sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies who built up the country’s largest and most important series of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in the 1920s and bequeathed it to the National Museum of Wales, and Kentucky philanthropist Berthe Palmer (and her husband Potter) whose collection now forms the core of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionist collection. MT

NOW ON DVD

The King’s Man (2021)

Wri/Dir: Matthew Vaughn | UK, Action Comedy, 130’

Ralph Fiennes and Rhys Ifans lead a magnificent cast in this entertaining if occasionally ridiculous romp, a historical re-write riffing on an eponymous secret spy organisation active in preventing global conflict during the First World War .

Don’t worry if you haven’t followed the other episodes this stand alone comedy sees Fiennes’s back again as the dapper aristo Orlando Oxford, a patriotic pacifist war veteran who rapidly converts to killer mode when his family is slowly decimated by the war effort.

After his wife is killed by a stray bullet in the opening scenes Oxford actively discourages his only son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) from enlisting in the army – but boys will be boys. Aided and abetted by his game comrades Djimon Hounsou (who plays the token black guy) and Gemma Arterton (the token female with an unfeasible Yorkshire accent), Fiennes plays a chivalrous James Bond-style gentleman hero, impeccably suave in Savile Row suiting, and dashingly daring til the end.

Tonally off-kilter for most of its running time – patriotically reverent melodrama making an awkward bedfellow to ‘boys own’ rambunctiousness and silly humour, there are some rip-roaring set pieces, notably the hair-raising hike up a stratospheric mountain-side to find the home of a storied cashmere-bearing goat.

Rhys Ifans is terrific as the anti-hero Rasputin – although the accent is definitely more Gary Oldman’s 1992 Dracula than the sinister Russian mystic. There are various subplots that feel totally redundant to the main thrust of the narrative – a resentful Scotsman whose identity is only revealed at the end (who even cares?). A bit of a mess then, but a really enjoyable one. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Sundance Film Festival 2022 | 20-30 January 2022

SUNDANCE is the first major film festival of the year; a true indie festival coming to you from snowy Utah courtesy of its founder Robert Redford. Setting the benchmark for independent titles in 2022, SUNDANCE focuses on excellence in screenplays and innovativeness in cinematography: each filmmaker is put their paces before their film can be considered in competition. Unlike the Academy Awards, SUNDANCE is purely about talent. We have highlighted some buzzworthy titles – watch out for them in the coming year!

Elizabeth Banks photo credit Wilson Web

CALL JANE (2022) DIR: PHYLLIS NAGY

Chicago, 1968. As a city and the nation are poised on the brink of violent political upheaval, suburban housewife Joy leads an ordinary life with her husband and daughter. When Joy’s pregnancy leads to a life-threatening condition, she must navigate a medical establishment unwilling to help. Her journey to find a solution to an impossible situation leads her to the “Janes,” a clandestine organization of women who provide Joy with a safer alternative — and in the process, change her life.
Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy takes the reins as director and executes a riveting narrative, partially based on true events surrounding the Jane Collective, who provided thousands of abortions during a four-year period through their covert and precise mobilisation. Supported by a remarkable cast, Elizabeth Banks delivers an impressive lead performance as Joy, whose determination and strength of character holds relevance more than a half-century later. Call Jane poses urgent questions about systemic barriers, the ever-shifting nature of politics, and the struggle for women to maintain control of their bodies.

Image Courtesy of Sundance Institute

2ND CHANCE (2022) DIR: RAMON BAHRANI

In 1969, bankrupt pizzeria owner Richard Davis invented the modern-day bulletproof vest. To prove that it worked, he shot himself — point-blank — 192 times. Davis then launched Second Chance, which became one of the largest body armour companies in the world. Charming and brash, he directed sensational marketing films, earning him celebrity status among police and gun owners across the country. But the death of a police officer wearing a Second Chance vest catalyzes Davis’s fall, revealing a man full of contradictions cultivated over decades of reckless lies. Equally as questionable as he was captivating, Davis saved thousands of lives while endangering exponentially more.

Acclaimed filmmaker Ramin Bahrani’s feature-length documentary debut continues his fascination with the perilous pursuit of the American dream as seen through a uniquely individual lens. The film shrewdly juxtaposes Richard Davis’s actions with those of his righteous right-hand man, Aaron Westrick. Unwilling to passively present questionable truths, Bahrani instead lays bare the complexities of one man’s supposed virtue while speaking to the nature of power and impunity in America.

Bill Nighy in Living by Oliver Hermanus, photo credit Ross Ferguson.

LIVING (2022) DIR: OLIVER HERMANUS

A veteran civil servant and bureaucratic cog in the rebuilding of Britain post-WWII, Williams (Bill Nighy) expertly pushes paperwork around a government office only to reckon with his existence when he’s diagnosed with a fatal illness. A widower, he conceals the condition from his grown son, spends an evening of debauchery with a bohemian writer in Brighton, and uncharacteristically avoids his office. But after a vivacious former co-worker, Margaret, inspires him to find meaning in his remaining days, Williams attempts to salvage a modest building project from bureaucratic purgatory.

South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus (Beauty) offers a poignant reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Ikiru (To Live). Nobel and Booker Prize–winning author Kazuo Ishiguro’s adaptation elegantly transposes the story’s profound humanism to postwar London. Free of false sentimentality and tragic intonations, Living finds its soul in the wistful dignity Nighy brings to Williams. Transcending its period setting, Living is a timely reflection on the compulsions and distractions that obscure what it means to live.

 

Lucy and Desi by Amy Poehler – Image Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

 

LUCY AND DESI (2022) DIR: AMY POEHLER

One day in 1940, two budding stars met for the first time in the RKO Pictures commissary, unaware that together they would change the face of pop culture. After surviving a tumultuous upbringing, a teenage Lucille Ball left her family for New York City, where she first found success as a model before moving to Hollywood to begin working in movies. Hailing from Santiago de Cuba, Desi Arnaz was a paid musician by 16 and quickly broke out as a multitalented entertainer. The two would go on to consistently challenge the status quo in entertainment both in front of and behind the camera.

For her documentary debut, director Amy Poehler respects these two iconic trailblazers as driven individuals and a loving couple until the end. Clearly influenced by Poehler’s own history in entertainment, Lucy and Desi not only chronicles the pair’s personal and professional lives, it also smartly breaks down concepts like the rehearsed choreography of comedy, their innovations in studio production, the sisterhood of comedy, and much more. It’s a thoughtful telling made for those who loved Lucy (and Desi).

image courtesy of Sundance Institute

THE PRINCESS (2022) DIR: ED PERKINS

Decades after her tragic death, Princess Diana continues to evoke mystery, glamour, and the quintessential modern fairy tale gone wrong. As a symbol of both the widening fissures weakening the British monarchy and the destructive machinery of the press, the Princess of Wales navigated an unparalleled rise to fame and the corrosive challenges that came alongside it. Crafted entirely from immersive archival footage and free from the distraction of retrospective voices, this hypnotic and audaciously revealing documentary takes a distinctive formal approach, allowing the story of the People’s Princess to unfold before us like never before.

Director Ed Perkins distills thousands of hours of riveting material to present Diana’s story in a fresh and imaginative way, depicting not only one of the most alluring public figures of the 20th century but also the sociopolitical upheaval afflicting the United Kingdom at the time. The Princess exquisitely captures the echoes of a monarchy whose far-reaching impact on the public continues to this day, turning the camera back on ourselves to explore our own complicity in this enigmatic narrative.

Image of Karen Gillan courtesy of Sundance Institute

DUAL (2022) DIR: RILEY STEARNS

Recently diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease, Sarah is unsure how to process the news. To help ease her friends’ and family’s impending loss, she is encouraged to participate in a simple futuristic cloning procedure called “Replacement,” after which Sarah’s last days will be spent teaching the clone how to live on as Sarah once she’s gone. But while it takes only an hour for a clone to be made, things become significantly more challenging when that double is no longer wanted.

This darkly off-kilter comedy marks a welcome return to the Festival from writer-director Riley Stearns (The Cub, Sundance 2013). He straddles a inventive line between deadpan satire and high-concept storytelling to take us on a sci-fi journey into the ways a catastrophic life change can force reconsideration of one’s entire existence. In the lead dual role, an oddly charming Karen Gillan proves the perfect match for Stearns’s strange, strange cinematic world.

 

ALL THAT BREATHES (2022) DIR: SHAUNAK SEN

Brothers Saud and Nadeem were raised looking at a sky speckled with black kites, watching as relatives tossed meat up to these birds of prey. Muslim belief held that feeding the kites would expel troubles. Now, birds are falling from the polluted, opaque skies of New Delhi and the two brothers have made it their life’s work to care for the injured black kites.

Shaunak Sen’s intricately layered portrait reveals an evolving city and a fraternal relationship bonded by purpose. The film’s patient, roaming camera skillfully uses scale and perspective to draw attention to the interconnectedness of an ecosystem — one that humans are a part of, not apart from. The social unrest that begins to materialize in the streets is seen through the perspectives of the brothers and their family, as well as the insects and animals that share the urban landscape. There is both cruelty and tenderness in nature, and Sen elegantly captures how they coexist, while emphasizing the ways in which all living beings must evolve to survive.

A still from The Territory by Alex Pritz, courtesy of Sundance Institute

 

THE TERRITORY (2022) DIR: ALEX PRITZ

The Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people have seen their population dwindle and their culture threatened since coming into contact with non-Native Brazilians. Though promised dominion over their own rainforest territory, they have faced illegal incursions from environmentally destructive logging and mining, and, most recently, land-grabbing invasions spurred on by right-wing politicians like President Jair Bolsonaro. With deforestation escalating as a result, the stakes have become global.

With unprecedented access, and co-produced by the Uru-eu-wau-wau community, The Territory drops the audience into the center of this conflict. Young Indigenous leaders like Bitate and Ari, along with their mentor, environmental activist Neidinha, risk their very lives to defend the rainforest. On the other side, Sergio leads an association of indigent farmers eager to establish a settlement, while others like Martin, impatient and entitled, strike out on their own, clear-cutting the forest to establish a homestead. With the government unwilling to stop this brazen encroachment, the Uru-eu-wau-wau set up their own media team, using technology to expose the truth and fight back.

courtesy of Sundance Institute

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT COSBY (2022) DIR: W KAMAU BELL

During his nearly 50 years in show business, Bill Cosby became one of the most recognizable Black celebrities in America. With a career that included an astronomical rise on television in the mid-1960s; work in children’s programming and education; legendary stand-up performances and albums; and an epoch-defining hit sitcom, The Cosby Show, Cosby was a model of Black excellence for millions of Americans. But now, thanks to the brave and painful testimonies of dozens of women, we know there was a sinister reality to the man once extolled as “America’s Dad.”

Over the course of four gripping episodes that feature the voices of people closely connected to Cosby’s life on screen and off, including several survivors, director W. Kamau Bell digs into who Cosby was and what his work and actions say about America, then and now. We Need To Talk About Cosby is a powerful and timely reckoning destined to be widely discussed for how it urges audiences to reconsider not only what they know about Cosby but also about the culture that produced and celebrated him.

WHEN YOU FINISH SAVING THE WORLD (2022) JESSE EISENBERG

From his bedroom home studio, high school student Ziggy performs original folk-rock songs for an adoring online fan base. This concept mystifies his formal and uptight mother, Evelyn, who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. While Ziggy is busy trying to impress his socially engaged classmate Lila by making his music less bubblegum and more political, Evelyn meets Angie and her teen son, Kyle, when they seek refuge at her facility. She observes a bond between the two that she’s missing with her own son, and decides to take Kyle under her wing against her better instincts.

In his carefully observed, aesthetically pleasing directorial debut, Jesse Eisenberg adapts his audio project of the same name to tell the story of a mother and son who fail to understand each other’s values. With gentle humor and pitch-perfect dialogue, When You Finish Saving the World reflects a moment of internet fame and youth activism, but it also recounts the timeless tale of parents and children struggling to connect across the generational chasm that separates them.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 20-30 JANUARY 2022 | Words courtesy of Sundance Inst.

The Velvet Queen (2021)

Dir: Marie Amiguet, Vincent Munier | France, Doc, 89′

If you’re thinking this is going to be another children’s Christmas animation – think again. The Velvet Queen – or its more informative French title La panthere des neiges – sees two explorer/photographers heading to the snowy wastelands of Tibet in search of the elusive Snow Leopard.

A soulful love letter to nature The Velvet Queen focuses on ambience rather than facts in exploring an unexplored part of the world where animals still reign supreme in the echoing silence of the Tibetan plateau, one of the last sanctuaries of the wild where the rare and endangered leopard still roams despite poaching and environmental dangers.

Vincent Munier and Sylvain Tesson are clearly at one with each other pondering engagingly on the plight of the animals that venture past their long distance lenses in respectful coexistence, all camouflaged by magnificent furry winter coats that make them almost invisible to the naked eye against the sparse landscape known as ‘the roof of the World’.

Even when the feline eminence does make an appearance, towards the end of the film, a sinuous fluffy tail curling gingerly round a rocky outcrop, it cuts an unobtrusive figure prowling stealthily towards the body of a dead yak, then catching sight of the camera and warily withdrawing again into the hinterland. Bushy coated bears, mountain goats and a perky little bird with a black head and rust coloured body all wander by but are never identified, such is the impressionist style of this arthouse eco-doc: Oh David Attenborough where are you when we need a few names to faces? We do meet a local family with three young kids who are fiercely keen to learn and teach Tibetan to the French filmmakers who gladly join them later in their yurt for some welcome sustenance.

Director Marie Amiguet is best known for her documentary debut La Vallee des loups (2016) which goes on the trail of wolves in the French Alps, and she is also joined behind the camera by first time filmmaker Munier in this subtle but luminous look at a world fast disappearing. The film originally premiered in Cannes’ eco-conscious Cinema for the Climate strand and is now on general release at selected arthouse cinemas. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY

 

 

 

Minyan (2021)

Dir.: Eric Steel; Cast: Samuel H. Levine, Ron Rifkin, Christopher McCann, Mark Margolis, Brooke Blom, Alex Hurt, Carson Meyer; USA 2020, 119 min.

Eric Steel’s documentary The Bridge was a shockingly realistic study of suicide attempts from the Golden Gate Bridge. Here he turns his camera on a more sentimental subject, a gay coming of age drama set during the winters of 1986 and 1987 the rapidly changing milieu of Brighton Beach, NYC. Based on David Bezmozgis’ tale about Holocaust survivors from Europe, the title refers to a Jewish prayer meeting, requiring the quorum of ten men to go ahead.

David (Levine) is a seventeen-year-old yeshiva student at an ultra-orthodox institution, and wants nothing more than to leave his parents, an abusive father and over-protective mother (Blum) to start a new life at a state school. Close to his grandfather Josef (Rifkin), whose wife has died.

Josef wants to leave the flat he shared with his wife understandably because there are too many memories there. He and David try to get an apartment in a block of flats subsidised by a Jewish charity. David gets on much better with his grandfather’s generation, is drawn to Itzik (Margolis) and his partner Herschel (McCann), who share a flat, their relationship sanctioned by the other tenants.

With David discovering his sexual orientation, despite attention from the attractive Alicia (Meyer), he feels more and more out-of-synch with his family background. His first lover, super macho Bruno (Hurt), is a revelation for David, but also introduces him to the raging death count in the gay community as the AIDS epidemic claims many victims. More and more liberated, David joins a school in Greenwich village and is properly introduced to the writing of James Baldwin (who died in December 1987) having found out that Bruno used Baldwins’s “Giovanni’s Room” simply as a calling card for pick-ups. After Itzik’s death, his son selling all his furniture, Herschel is left homeless with David drawn into the complex undertaking to find flats for the two homeless old men.

There are too many flaws in what could have been a stunning feature: to start with the running time of two hours is indulgent, since there is no proper story, just a series of episodes. Steel wanted DoP Ole Bratt Birkeland to use images which could have been at home in any up-market Hollywood feature. Dull brown and grey colours give the proceedings an artificial background. And Steel, like many before him, does not do justice to the survivors of the Holocaust, whose lives are blighted by traumata and survivors’ guilt. Like many features set in the death camps, the post-life of the survivors cannot be caught in any way realistically – there is always too much of a chasm between reality and film set staging.

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 7 JANUARY 2022

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

Wri/Dir: Lana Wachowski | Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris | US action Thriller 138’

At two and a half hours all the hushed talk, bone-crushing violence and showy special effects gets very tiring. But there are occasional flashes of wit and grace; and Jessica Henwick and Neil Patrick Harris are welcome additions to the franchise. Richard Chatten

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Cicada (2021)

Dir.: Matt Fifer, Kieran Mulcare; Cast: Matt Fifer, Sheldon D. Brown, Sandra Bauleo, Michael Potts, Jazmin Grimaldi, Scott Adsit, Cobie Smulders; USA 2020, 96 min.

Auto-fiction can be very satisfying in feature films as well as novels, but the logo “based on a true Story” does not always guarantee the promising results anticipated. First time directors Kieran Mulcare and Matt Fifer – also the co-star, co-writer, producer and editor – have scripted reality into something which is often to pat, and looks more constructed than the authors might have wished.

New York drifter and sex addict Ben (Fifer) meets data-tech expert Sam (Brown, who also has a writing credit), gay and the only black employee in his company. Whilst Ben is only too happy to let everyone know how much in love he is, Sam is understandably more reserved about showing his emotions in public.

We are introduced to Ben’s family: his mother (Bauleo), sister Grimaldi) and church-going father (Potts) and also meet Sam’s father. These short encounters are mainly used to explain the past of the couple: Ben has been sexually assaulted as a child, and Sam nearly died, when he was shot in broad daylight. Misfiring cars bring his PTDS to the surface, whilst Ben has developed a catalogue of psycho-somatic illnesses, for which the stern doctor (Adsit) has no diagnosis. A visit to an off-beat psychiatrist (Smulders), whose dog shares the sessions, does not help Ben either. We are witness to the couple’s self-help, which is also limited, in spite of their best and long drawn-out discussions. The outside world, in from of a news commentary about the Jerry Sandusky trail (2012) does not often enough intrude into this often clumsy and over-wrought ‘Kammerspiel’.

The NY images of DoP Erich Schlicher save the feature from being a verbal slug feast: the scenes set in Washington Park Square are a poetic master-stroke. But even with a running time of only just over 90 minutes CICADA overstays its welcome: repetitions and a near pathological need to show the main protagonists in the best light, leave the audience for great parts unengaged – there are simply no barbs in this rather simplistic tale of love and coming to terms with the past. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 21 JANUARY 2022 theatrical and digital in UK and EIRE

 

A Hero (2021)

Dir/Wri: Asghar Farhadi | Cast: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Sahar Goldust | Iran Drama 127′

Another moral satire from Asghar Farhadi that mulls over truth, honesty and family life in modern Iran.

Lowkey in its sober setting but brimming with a growing complexity the story takes place in and around a modern prison in Shiraz where the likeable working class hero Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is a regular visitor for his various petty crimes involving debt.

The Royal Tombs of Persepolis provide a striking showcase early on when Rahim meets up with his brother-in-law (Alireza Jahandideh) to discuss ways of refinancing his life and paying back the money he owes a former brother-in-law, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), who won’t let him get away with a penny, determined to make him suffer over the divorce. Meanwhile Ramin is hoping to marry career-minded Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) once things are back to normal.

But the crux of the story revolves around a lost handbag containing a number of gold coins that turns up on a bus. Farkhondeh naively takes the bag home and Rahim tries to sell the coins through a dealer, but the amount offered doesn’t begin to cover the money he owes so he decides instead to put an announcement in the small ads, a relieved woman eventually coming forward to reclaim it.

This simple act makes Rahim a hero in the small local community boosting his self esteem with his family, and particularly his young son who has learning difficulties. But when the national press and TV get hold of the news his popularity leads to family jealousy, particularly for Bahram who now digs his feet in over the money. And so Rahim’s naive act of honesty sets him back even further, the envious family picking holes in the story, and his motivations – they can’t quite believe him to be capable of such a selfless act. Rahim’s lack of confidence causes him to change his take on events, and soon he’s up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Farhadi deftly weaves a social media strand involving false news into his thorny narrative, just for good measure, once again triumphing with this immersive, elegantly paced modern parable that shows how a little fame can boost your profile but too much soon garners envy and resentment from friends and family. More imaginative cinematography and set design would have taken this to another level. MT

IN CURZON CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 7 JANUARY 2022

Crisis (1946) Bfi player

Dir/Wri: Ingmar Bergman | Cast: Inga Landgre, Stig Olin, Marianne Lofgren, Dagny Lind | Drama, 63′

Ingmar Bergman’s directorial debut was according to him “a bona fide fiasco” on which everything that could go wrong did, but none of this is apparent in the finished product. It just seems rather average.

Since few English-speaking viewers have ever seen a forties Swedish potboiler, it’s difficult to know how Crisis compare with its contemporaries, but it looks good (as I imagine most of the rest do), aided by Arne Åkermark’s art direction and Gösta Roosling’s photography. The over-emphatic music by Erland von Koch ironically demonstrates how discreet Bergman’s use of music would be in his heyday.

Considering that it was purely an assignment, its interesting how woman-centred it is, like some of Bergman’s more auspicious later projects. The most involving of various plot strands is that concerning Dagny Lind as the young heroine’s adoptive mother. @RichardChatten

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Vortex (2021)

Dir; Gaspar Noe | 142′

Gaspar Noe’s latest is a tougher, spikier and less affecting version of Michael Haneke’s Oscar-winning Amour (2012) that pictured the final months of a couple in their eighties.

Vortex opens with a man and woman enjoying an evening aperitif on the balcony of their book-filled penthouse. It’s a contented, easy-going domestic vignette with improvised dialogue, but dark clouds soon gather as a split screen then follows their day to day existence, after waking up in the next morning.

Dementia is the focus and Françoise Lebrun will succumb to the illness in a fairly nuanced performance – there are no confrontations or outbursts of aggression – simply a slow downward spiral into mental disintegration. Dario Argento plays the more troubled character, a heavy smoker suffering from heart failure and desperate to complete a book about dreams in cinema – he is fractious and destabilised by his wife’s increasingly erratic behaviour and worried for her safety: “you can’t just go swanning about the place, Paris is full of really dangerous people”. Although his wicked sense of humour comes out in the scenes with their mentally unstable son (Alex Lutz) who gently tries to coax his parents into the idea of a care home – we’ve all been there before, and it doesn’t get better.

The father will protest, the son will desperately try to find another solution – but we all know the writing is on the wall. The tone here is more about resentment and desperate resignation than Amour’s tempered sadness that celebrated the glowing embers a long life full of tenderness and devotion between a couple. Vortex presents a starker more predictable scenario, and very much a Dylan Thomas style ‘rage against the dying of the light’ for Argento’s husband. There are none of the thrills and spills normally associated with the Argentinian maverick’s work. Certainly this is Noe’s most grown-up film to date. An sobering engagement with reality, maybe acknowledging his own mortality. MT

VORTEX COMES TO UK CINEMAS IN MAY 2022.

Belfast (2021) BAFTA Outstanding British Film 2022

Dir: Kenneth Branagh | Cast: Judy Dench, Ciaran Hinds, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Drama, UK

Kenneth Branagh’s happy little film glosses over the turbulence of The Troubles to give us a candy-coated memoire of his Protestant childhood in backstreet Belfast of the Sixties.

Most of us remember the endless reports on the telly and radio recounting the horrors of Catholic and Protestant confrontations in the ‘bogside’ area of the capital. And there’s no attempt to brush these under the carpet, but staged in lustrous monochrome set pieces the hostilities seem almost thrilling from his character Buddy’s cheeky 9 year-old perspective (Jude Hill is perfect for the part). Dressed in grey flannel shorts, a shirt and tie he watches it all from the bedroom window of his family’s two-up two down terrace where he grows up with his parents (Dornan and Balfe) and grandparents (Hinds and Dench) and older brother Will (McAskie). It’s a picture of domestic bliss.

The upbeat freewheeling storyline drifts from home to pub to schoolroom with a focus on his father’s constant trips to England to chase lucrative work as a carpenter, before the family eventually moved there. This leaves Buddy time alone to fathom out the religious conflict in his own mind, and dream and scheme about girls with his grandfather Pa, a jovial Ciaran Hinds, Judy Dench bringing them both down to earth with a cutting comment or two. There are trips on the bus and family outings to the ‘pictures’ to see Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC and A Christmas Carol. A redolent score by Van Morrison seems apt for this perfectly pitched family drama telling it just how it was back then. MT

OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM | EE BAFTAS 2022 I RED SEA FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

 

Les Enfants Terribles (1949/50) Blu-ray

Dir.: Jean Pierre Melville; Cast: Nicole Stéphane, Edouard Dermithe, Jacques Bernard, Renée Cosima, Maurice Revel, narrated by Jean Cocteau; France 1949/1950, 107 min.

It is difficult to imagine two different directors (and personalities) more different than Jean Cocteau and Jean-Pierre Melville. Yes, both were French – Cocteau, the poet of a decadent underworld; and the intellectually aloof Melville, whose policiers were disguised Westerns. But it happened, when Cocteau asked Melville to adapt his 1929 novel “Les Enfants Terribles” for the big screen, having watched his 1947 debut feature Le silence de la Mer. Detachment met passion, but the result was closer to a duel than a collaboration, fought out between two ex-students of the famous Lycée Condocet. Against the odds, a cult classic was born.

Paul (Dermithe), is severely injured in a snow ball fight at the Lycée Condocet; Dargelos (Cosima) who threw the fatal ice bomb, is expelled from the school. Paul lives with his dominant, possessive sister Elisabeth (Stéphane) and their dying mother, looked after by the maid, and supported by a kind doctor (Revel). Paul’s friend Gérard (Bernard), is the only person Elisabeth will give houseroom to but after her mother’s death Elisabeth’s fortunes improve: she becomes a model and meets Agathe, also played by Cosima, although her short marriage to a wealthy business man ends with his death in a car crash before they can consummate the marriage.

Elisabeth moves into his vast mansion inviting Paul, Agathe and Gérard to join her but Agathe and Paul soon fall for each other concealing their feelings, so as not to upset Elisabeth. But their love is exposed when Elisabeth intercepts Paul’s secret billet doux to his paramour, and she forces Gérard and Agatha to marry and leave the house, so she can be alone again with Paul.

On the first day of filming, Cocteau’s lover Dermitte was on set when the writer shouted “Oh no. Cut”, immediately apologising for upstaging the director Melville, and claiming: “Forgive me, I don’t know what came over me. I thought I was still on the Orphée set”. Later Cocteau went on “to advise” Melville, leading to a contretemps between the two, putting their relationship under strain until Melville, feeling ill one day, asked Cocteau to take over the helm and was surprising that he followed his instructions, “like a real Assistant Director”. Melville then explained, “The one thing Cocteau wanted was for me to die, so that he could make the film himself.”

Jean-Pierre Melville, who became the “grandfather” of the Nouvelle Vague (for a time), reported, that Truffaut had seen the film 25 (!) times, and Chabrol, during the shooting of Les Cousins, asked DoP Henri Decaë “to do exactly what you did in Les Enfant Terribles”. Decaë’s poetic black-and-white images are perfect for this decadent incestuous rapport between two siblings who did not want to grow up, playing games until the disastrous denouement. Melville chose Bach and Vivaldi in preference to the Jazz score, Cocteau had favoured – and  it perfectly accompanies this morbid and maudlin death dance. AS

Released on Blu-ray, iTunes and Amazon Prime on 13 December 2021

 

The 400 Blows | Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959)

Dir.: Francois Truffaut; Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Guy Decomble, Patrick Auffay, Georges Flamant; France 1959, 100 min.

Francois Truffaut was banned from attending the Cannes Film Festival in 1959 but that didn’t prevent him from winning Best Director for Les Quatre Cents Coup, paving the way for other “Cahiers du Cinema” critics like Godard, Rivette and Chabrol to follow in his wake – et voilá La Nouvelle Vague was born.

Dedicated to the eminent French critic André Bazin, who had “adopted” Truffaut and died just before shooting began, the over-literary translation ‘Raising Hell’ would have certainly been appropriate given the startling nature of this bitter coming-of-age story fraught with poverty, institutional repression and parental neglect and centring on Jean-Pierre Léaud’s pre-teen Antoine Doinel.

Victimised at school, Antoine’s home life is no better, his mother Gilberte (Maurier) and stepfather Julien  (Rémy) neglect him emotionally in their cramped Parisian apartment where he is forced to sleep in the hallway. Escaping this nightmare environment is the only answer: Antoine will play truant at school with his friend René (Auffay), sneaking into cinemas and a fairground, and hiding in René’s flat where his parents make it nearly impossible for the two to meet. A huge, stuffed horse dominates the bedroom, a metaphor for the absurdity of their marital life.

At school Antoine is the scapegoat of an obnoxious French teacher (Decomble) who regularly picks on him. When a photo of a pin-up girl is passed round under the boys’ desks naturally Antoine is caught in the act, painting a moustache on the woman’s face. Later, Antoine paraphrases a Balzac text for an essay and is accused of plagiarism – the writer is his hero, he even has an altar with a candle for him, almost burning down his parent’s flat.

Worse is to come: Antoine gets caught out lying about his mother’s ‘death’ until both parents turn up at the school, alarmed by the boy’s behaviour. Antoine sleeps rough, steals a typewriter from his step-father’s office, and ends up behind bars with robbers and sex-workers. Later Antoine is transferred to a juvenile detention centre, where he absconds during a football match – eventually ending up on the beach  – his dream of freedom comes true.

The humour is always harsh, even Antoine’s close friendship with Rene is turbulent – but at least he has a decent home. Truffaut explores the emotional affects of Antoine’s homelife through a psychologist at the detention centre, who asks him: “how do you feel, not knowing who your biological father is”. Antoine’s answer is cutting: “I always thought my mother was not my real mother”.

Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Leaud’s collaboration on the film led to a close friendship that would continue until Truffaut’s early death. DoP Henri Decaë sums up the cultural wasteland of the 1950s with this dispiriting picture of a Paris of grey facades. Black-and-white images are for once not poetic nor illuminating, just simply bland – ugly even. There is no compromise possible: family and institutions are the enemy of liberty and creativity in Truffaut’s mind. His debut would be his masterpiece. AS

Opening at BFI Southbank, HOME Manchester, Ciné Lumière, Broadway Nottingham and selected cinemas UK-wide on 7 January 2022

 

Ennio (2021)

Dir/Wri: Giuseppe Tornatore | Doc 157′

Ennio Morricone was one of cinema’s best loved and most prolific composers. Giuseppe Tornatore captures his complex romantic spirit in this warmly nostalgic tribute that also celebrates their own working relationship that started with Cinema Paradiso (1988) and continued for many years. In his lifetime Morricone scored over 500 movies, one year alone completing 18 films. 

The biopic straddles film and musicology enriched by a treasure trove of excerpts and the stars that brought them to life praising Morricone’s charisma and single mindedness and describing their own experiences with a man whose modesty contrasted with his prodigious talent to amuse. The final half hour does feel repetitive with its endless clips of concert performances which add nothing to the party, and almost fly in the face of the composer’s lowkey sense of style.

‘The Maestro’ is pictured in his palatial home relaxing in a armchair as he talks expansively about a career that started with his training to be a doctor before his father, a professional trumpeter, persuaded him to become a musician.

Times were hard and the family struggled during the Second World war years when Morricone played for a pittance writing dance tunes before a classical path at the Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory would see him training under the respected teacher and composer Goffredo Petrassi who would strongly influence for the rest of his career.

Working with an avant-garde collective inspired by John Cage allowed Morricone to develop his creative inventiveness using a variety of sound effects using tin cans to the famous whistles and even typewriters to produce his unique sounds during the Sixties in scores often inspired by Bach toccatas, but the bread and butter came from TV work where he was often uncredited.

Morricone often felt he was letting his classical training down preferring to remain in the background with his iconic scores for Westerns, but they allowed him to expand his contacts, and it was here that he would forge a long lasting working relationship with Sergio Leone, one of his old schoolfriends, he would go on to score all Leone’s films after A Fistful of Dollars. 

A Fistful of Dollars (1963/4) provided a springboard for other Western projects where he insisted on having control of the score, even when Leone proposed additions from another movie. He even replaced his mentor Petrassi on John Huston’s The Bible (1966), a moment he still considers regretful, and where he is uncredited. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) followed and Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (1968). He turned down an offer from Roland Joffe saying he couldn’t score The Mission (1986) without ruining the aesthetic appeal of the images, but then went on to enhance the epic. It was nominated for that year’s Oscar but missed out to Herbie Hancock’s Round Midnight, which was not an original score, and therefore not really eligible for the category. 

This is a film that somehow benefits from its plethora of talking head stars: Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone,  Dario Argento all make valuable contributions along with Bernardo Bertolucci and Bruce Springsteen. Even the elusive Terrence Malick gives his two pennyworth on working with the maestro in Days of Heaven, who received his first Academy Award nomination for the score. The only regret during his prodigious output is that he was unable to score A Clockwork Orange for Kubrick after a misunderstanding with Sergio Leone deep-sixed the collaboration, Leone claiming Morricone was too busy with his score for A Fistful of Dynamite, which was apparently untrue).

Tornatore really gets to the heart of a genuine and deeply sensual man who clearly lived for his music at a profound level and found happiness in his marriage to Maria who provided an invaluable sounding board throughout his career and got him his first job at RAI.

Ennio provides a rich vein of lesser known Italian films from the Sixties – Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s Love Circle, Alberto Lattuada’s Fraulein Doctor and Liliana Calvani’s I Cannibali (1970) as well as classics such as Elio Petri’s A Quiet Place in the Country, Bertolucci’s Partner; Pasolini’s Hawks and Sparrows, and Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers and Leone’s 1984 epic Once Upon a Time in America (still considered his best) whetting our appetite to re-discover these and fully appreciate how his compositions add another dimensions to cinema, Sidelined at the Academy Awards for many years he finally struck gold with Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, at 90. MT

IN CINEMAS AND ON DEMAND | 22 APRIL 2022 | PREMIERE – THE RED SEA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021

The Story of Film: A New Generation (2021)

Dir/Wri: Mark Cousins | Doc, UK 160′

A decade after The Story of Film: An Odyssey, comes Mark Cousins’ latest deep dive inquiry into the state of filmmaking in the 21st century. The Story of Film: A New Generation, sees Cousins focus on the past decade in a fascinating reflection on world cinema from 2010 to 2021. The film opens with Joker and Frozen showing the transformative power of the medium and its ability to bring stories from the desperate and disenfranchised on the world stage. Cemetery of Splendour (2015) features heavily in this exploration of recurring themes and emerging motifs, from the evolution of film language, to technology’s role in moviemaking today, to shifting identities in 21st-century world cinema.

Cousins’ research is encyclopaedic as he confidently talks us through a staggering array of films – not just from the last ten years but reconnecting to examples that demonstrate connections with the past that have influenced filmmakers of the present and future. Rather like fashion and architecture, cinema is an eternal reimagining of what has gone before marking out trends and themes only to reinvent them to appeal to a new generation, weaving in historical touchstones such as Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter as the world responds to its environment.

Plundering the archives for those iconic features there is everything from Jonathan Glazer’s visually and thematically groundbreaking Under the Skin to reworked upstairs/downstairs satires such as Parasite and Us which explores the dark and light sides of the human psyche through the an invasion thriller. In With films like Lover’s Rock and Moonlight Cousins identifies films, filmmakers and communities under-represented in traditional film histories, with a particular emphasis on Asian and Middle Eastern works, as well as boundary-pushing documentaries and films that see gender in new ways.

The streaming age has taken us from ‘cinema on show’ to ‘cinema on demand’. Cousins tracks the latest trends of the digital age with viewers calling the shots, a trend accelerated in the light of the recent pandemic. He looks forward to the future but what remains is a recurring motif that drives cinema forward: our profound desire to escape and travel beyond the ordinary, or see ourselves reflected through the medium of the silver screen as we are transported to a place of wonder and euphoria. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 17 DECEMBER NATIONWIDE

 

Opium (1919)

Dir: Robert Reinert | Silent film

Siegfried Kracauer – who hit thirty the year this feature came out – was able personally to recall the  film’s first release which ran in an expensive Berlin movie theater with the house sold out for three weeks. Of course, one avoided being seen on such occasions”!

With prescription of addictive opiates currently causing a panic in Britain it’s timely to see again this dire warning against the perils of opium a hundred years on; restored to its former glory with magnificent tinting, handsome exteriors and an involved plot starting in China and concluding in Europe.

With so much going on the plot thread involving opium is easy to lose track of, and director Robert Reinert is for the most part content to let his cast mug to the camera (Werner Krauss both looks and acts like Moore Marriott as the leering Chinese villain Nung-Tschang, who keeps magically popping up whenever the action relocates) and let the plushness of the production take care of itself. There are a couple of interesting camera tricks that anticipate Vertigo but Reinert more often favours scenes of Satan cavorting with nymphs to create the atmosphere he’s after!

Although he (eventually) makes an impressive entrance, Conrad Veidt isn’t actually in the film for very long, and the cast member who makes the most sympathetic impression is probably doe-eyed Sybill Morel in a double role as mother and daughter. Richard Chatten

Kayan (2021) Red Sea Film Festival 2021

Dir: Hakeem Jomah | Horror, Saudi Arabia 75’

A young Saudi couple’s past regrets and neuroses play out in this startlingly effective genre piece, a sophomore feature for Hakeem Jomah, who has made a name for himself as the man behind Madayen, Saudi Arabia’s first psychological horror ghost story.

A blood moon, poltergeists and a Dracula like receptionist are some of the sinister experiences the two encounter when they decide to check into a hotel after a boozy night with friends.

Kayan unfolds in modern day Jeddah where Salman and Thuraya are having a tough time relationship wise, and a house move and new baby doesn’t help. The tone darkens on their way home, deciding to spend the night in a rather mysterious old hotel with more that a few ghastly secrets behind its exotic portals.

The weird hotel manager gives them a chilly reception and not surprisingly nobody gets any sleep haunted by hallucinations and strange things that go bump in the night. Thuraya is menaced by a strange little boy – a reminder of an early abortion. She then appears hovering above the bed in a ghoulish transformation – or it is a figment of his Salman’s imagination?. Meanwhile in his dreams he floats between feverish fantasy and reality menaced by a baleful ex-girlfriend and a security guard with kinetic powers. 

Kayan makes effective use of red tints and an eerie electronic soundscape to ramp up the tension in a tightly scripted and stunningly realised psychological horror outing that certainly puts the Saudi Arabian filmmaker firmly on the map horror-wise. MT

RED SEA FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Jules et Jim (1961) Truffaut Season at the BFI

Dir.: Francois Truffaut; Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Oscar Werner, Henri Serre, Marie Dubois, Vanna Urbino, Sabine Haudepin, Boris Bassiak; France 1961, 105 min.

Truffaut mentioned Henri-Pierre Roché’s 1953 novel ‘Jules et Jim’ first in his ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ review for Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1955 western feature The Naked Dawn. Roché (1879-1959) had been a famous Dadaist; he wrote Jules et Jim at the age of 74. Three years later, he would publish ‘Les deux Anglaises et le Continent’, and Truffaut’s screen version followed in 1971.  Both novels are highly autobiographically, featuring a passionate menage-a-trois: Jules et Jim tells the story of a strong woman loved  by two very different men, Les Deux Anglaises is about a weak man in love with two wilful women.

Covering the time between 1912 and 1935, the script adapted by Truffaut and Jean Gruault follows German writer Jules (Werner) and his French counterpart Jim (Serre), who meet in Paris. Jim is a hedonistic womaniser (very much like the novelist Roché) whereas Jules is serious, self-pitying and naive, clinging to abstracts and words rather than actions. They both fall in love with Catherine (Moreau), who is the polar opposite of Jules who she ends up marrying, against Jim’s advice.

The marriage is a disaster, but the war intervenes, the two men fighting on different sides and afraid to kill each other. After the war, Jim goes to see Jules, Catherine and their daughter Sabine (Haudepin) in a small village in southern Germany. Catherine is unhappy, and Jules asks Jim “not to see me as an obstacle” in making love to Catherine. The ménage-a trois is a happy one, but Jim can’t tear himself away from Paris and patient girl friend Gilberte (Urbino), with Catherine’s passionate jealousy ending it all. The trio meet accidentally in Paris in 1934, watching a newsreel about the Nazis burning books. Catherine’s revenge is as brutal as its imaginative and leaves Jules bereft alone in a world which he never understood.

The casting of Moreau made Jules et Jim from a “film d’auteur” into a “film de comédienne”, as Claude Mauriac put it. Arguably, the great DoP Raoul Coutard also owns more of the feature than the director. Coutard’s roving camera, old-fashioned fade-outs and languid tracking shots creates an unreal atmosphere, keeping the audience at the whim of the changing camera angles, just like Jules is permanently wrong-footed by life and his love for Catherine.

Jules et Jim was certainly the high point in Truffaut’s career. His next feature, La Peau Douce (1963/64) would be his last in black-and-white for a very long time; but the change to colour was not only an aesthetic choice. Despite the radical ending, La Peau Douce (like most features which followed) were very much a return the French cinema of quality and psychological drama Truffaut had attacked so vehemently as a critic. AS

 

FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT SEASON ON BFI PLAYER & AT BFI SOUTHBANK
The BFI’s celebration of film critic-turned-director, François Truffaut takes place across the UK during January – February 2022 to include a two-month season at BFI Southbank and BFI Distribution re-releases of THE 400 BLOWS and JULES ET JIM.

LES MISTONS (THE MISCHIEF MAKERS) (1957)
A group of boys have a crush on a girl called Bernadette. As they are jealous of Gérard, her lover, they try to disrupt their relationship. When Gérard catches one of the kids spying on them, he thrashes him severely. In retaliation, the boys attempt inspiring Bernadette to doubt Gérard’s love.

SHOOT THE PIANIST (1960)
Charlie is approached by his crook brother Chico, who is chased by two gangsters. Charlie helps him to escape, but he upsets the criminals, so when his brother Fido is kidnapped, Charlie has to take an attitude with tragic consequences.

ANTOINE ET COLETTE (1962)
Now aged 17, Antoine Doinel (introduced in THE 400 BLOWS) works in a factory which makes records. At a music concert, he meets a girl his own age, Colette, and falls in love with her. Later, Antoine goes to extraordinary lengths to please his new girlfriend and her parents, but Colette still only regards him as a casual friend.

STOLEN KISSES (BAISERS VOLÉS) (1968)
It’s 1968 and the forever lustful protagonist of the Antoine Doinel series, has been discharged from military service. He stumbles into a position assisting a private eye where many misadventures, romantic and otherwise ensue.

BED AND BOARD (DOMICILE CONJUGAL) (1970)
Antoine has married his sweetheart Christine, and the couple have set up a cosy life of selling flowers and giving violin lessons while Antoine works on his long-gestating novel. As Christine is pregnant with the couple’s first child, Antoine finds himself enraptured with a young Japanese beauty.

ANNE AND MURIEL (AKA TWO ENGLISH GIRLS) (1971)
At the beginning of the 20th century, Claude Roc, a young middle-class Frenchman, befriends Anne, an Englishwoman. While spending time in England with Anne’s family, Claude falls in love with her sister Muriel, but both families lay down a year-long separation without contact before they may marry.

UNE BELLE FILLE COMME MOI (SUCH A GORGEOUS KID LIKE ME) 1972)
Stanislas Previne is a young sociologist, preparing a thesis on criminal women. He meets Camille Bliss in prison to interview her. Camille is accused of murdering her lover Arthur and her husband Clovis. She tells Stanislas about her life and her love affairs…

LOVE ON THE RUN (L’AMOUR EN FUITE) (1978)
Antoine is now thirty, working as a proofreader and getting divorced from his wife. It being the first “no-fault” divorce in France, a media circus erupts, dredging up Antoine’s past. Indecisive about his new love with a store clerk, he impulsively takes off with an old flame.

THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR (LA FEMME D’A COTE) (1981)
Two ex-lovers wind up living next door to each other with their respective spouses. Forbidden passions ensue.

FINALLY, SUNDAY! (VIVEMENT DIMANCHE!) (1983)
Based on ‘The Long Saturday Night’ by Charles Williams, the story is set over the course of a few nights in a small town in the South of France. Julien Vercel, director of an estate agency, finds himself suspected of a double murder: that of his wife, Marie-Christine, and her lover, Claude Massoulier. As circumstantial evidence is against him and a third murder is attributed to him, Vercel takes off to escape the police. His secretary, Barbara, conducts her own inquiry in a bid to find out the truth and gets herself into some worrying, unexpected situations.

River of Blood (2021) Red Sea International Film Festival 2021

Dir: Nitin Lukose | India, Drama 101′

In his beautifully realised revenge drama Indian director Nitin Lokose dives into the troubled waters of a divided Catholic community in the southern island of Kerala to show how an age-old vendetta can perpetuate ill-feeling despite religious cohesion. Each year at Christmas time the two factions at the heart of the story agree to bury their differences but Christmas is rarely a good time for families, and sparks from the fire soon ignite another round of violence.   

A body is brought out on to the sandy river banks deep in the lush Keralan countryside – was it a murder or an accident? The death seems to be connected to a decades long rivalry between two Catholic families unable to live by the values they espouse. Anna (Kosher) and Joey (George) had hoped to get married, but their nuptials are put on ice due to the inter-family feud, Romeo and Juliet style. 

Years later Joey’s uncle Kochappan (Kizhakkan) returns home from jail, having served 15 years for the murder, much to the consternation of his nasty little blind father, a devout Catholic and pillar of the local community who had urged Kochappan to take revenge, even providing the weapon of choice and encouraging Joey and the rest of male to perpetuate the cycle of violence.

Kochappan’s crime hasn’t been forgotten, and as history repeats itself the police are brought in to investigate uncle’s sudden disappearance- no prizes for guessing what’s happened as the killing spirals out of control.

A great premise but rather a simplistic script fails to flesh out characters or backstory instead plunging us immediately into a series of violent episodes between the menfolk – the women remaining cyphers on a sidelines, leaving us caring little for those involved. A curious comedy undertone feels tonally out of kilter with the otherwise baleful mood of constant conflict. Lukose gets into his stride as his narrative unfolds in the second act, full of Srikanth Kabothu’s wonderful images and a tense dramatic undertow that makes River of Blood entertaining arthouse thriller, despite the repetitive violence and rather predicable finale. MT

RED SEA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Ailey (2021)

Dir.: Jamila Wignot; Documentary with Alvin Ailey, Judith Jameson, Carmen de Lavallade , Robert Battle; USA 2021, 90 min.

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989), founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT), remains pretty much a mystery in this lyrical portrait of the dancer and choreographer – a black, closeted gay man. Cicely Tyson called him the “Pied Piper of modern dance”, and when Ailey received his award during the Kennedy Honours ceremony in 1988, ironically presented by Ronald whose policies had punished the gay community.

In her first outing as solo writer/director, Jamila Wignot works with Ailey archive interviews often as a commentator, escaping the ‘talking heads’ malaise which blights many documentaries. Alvin Ailey was born in 1931 in rural Texas, he never met his father, but his mother worked on the cotton fields and as a cleaning lady for white homeowners. In 1941 they moved to Los Angeles where their relationship became the corner stone of Alvin’s psychological world for the rest of his life. Later, when he suffered from Bi-Polar disorder and was institutionalised in a psychiatric ward, it was his mother who took him home and looked after him. Alvin was very protective of his mother, right to the end, when he made his doctor sign the cause of his death as a result of a blood disorder, so that she would not be stigmatised by him being a victim of AIDS.

Ballet was for Ailey a form of escape, he was captivated by the Ballets Russes Monte Carlo and Catherine Dunham even though his football coach at High school tried in vain to interest him in the sport. Alvin was taught by Martha Graham, among others, and founded the AAADT in 1958 at the age of only twenty-seven, after having moved to NYC, where he replaced Lester Horton as choreographer at his last engagement.

Perhaps Ailey’s most famous ballet, “Revelations” (1960) was called a “re-enactment’ of life, a mixture of passion and sorrows” by members of the ensemble. In 1970, AAADT was nearly bankrupt, and the Foreign Office sent the ensemble on a tour of Asia and Europe. They were extremely popular, particularly in Stuttgart (Germany) “where the sell-out crowd hollered and stomped, like they had an orgasm”. The audience called the troupe for 80 curtain raisers. But Alvin remained an enigma even for his closest collaborators, he was just another person when he left the building after performing. His work was sometimes criticised for not being political enough in the wake of the rising Civil Rights movement, but he answered “that his protest was on the stage, not the streets”.

Further successes were “The River” (1970) and a year later, “Cry”, a birthday present for his mother, and a solo performance for Judith Jameson. There is interesting footage from an interview of Alvin with Harry Belafonte, where they discuss race integration, which for Alvin did progress too slowly. After the death of close collaborator Joyce Trisher, he was shocked and honoured her with “Memoria” (1979). But the experience in Texas stayed with him forever: after successful performances in Paris, he claimed that he could not adjust to such different experiences, and left. He soon returned with “Fever Swamp” (1983). Alvin Ailey spent the last days of his life on a sofa, watching his troupe rehearse.

Apart from archive footage and Newsreel snippets, Wignot uses rehearsals by the new artistic director, Robert Battle, of “Lazarus” by Rennie Harris, to celebrate 60 years of the AAADT, with Masazumi Chaya, another co-director of the company, also commenting on the continuation of Alvin Ailey’s work.

AILEY flows like a dream, languid and indulgent. Perhaps Alvin Ailey was too much of a contradictory personality to have everything revealed in one feature. But Wignot has achieved enough, to make us curious to get to know him better. AS

IN CINEMAS AND ON DEMAND from 7 JANUARY 2022

Rotterdam Film Festival | Retrospectives 2022

A retrospective in this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival is dedicated to China’s Qiu Jiongjiong, one of the world’ most innovative artists and filmmakers, with a series of films and an exhibition. Intimate memory and national history resonate in Qiu’s baroque rhapsodies of music and design.

Six of his films are presented, including his latest masterwork A New Old Play. Its overview of China from the 1930s to the 1980s, filtered through the semi-fictionalised life of a Sichuan opera star, won the Special Jury Prize at the 74th Locarno Film Festival; the film was supported in development by IFFR’s Hubert Bals Fund. The accompanying exhibition Qiu Jiongjiong: A Play with Paintings, Drawings and Manuscriptsdisplays different stages of Qiu’s creative process.

Madame, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2010, China, European premiere

The Moon Palace, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2007, China, international premiere

My Mother’s Rhapsody, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2011, China

A New Old Play, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2021, China

Ode to Joy, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2008, China

Portrait of Mr. Huang, Qiu Jiongjiong, 2009, China

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 27 JANUARY – 5 FEBRUARY 2022

Hit the Road (2021)

Dir: Panar Panahi | Iran, Drama 98′

A promising debut for Panar Panahi (son of Jafar) proving that Iranian cinema need not have a political subtext but can just be relaxed and reflective, as Hit the Road certainly is, in spades. Clearly well-trained under his father, Panahi hits the spot with a bittersweet but un-involving story steeped in melancholy, a road movie that successfully blends light-hearted and more sensitive moments encompassing the nuances of human behaviour and the complexities of life.

Very much a critics’ film with its arthouse style and artful framing (it premiered at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight) the pace may be too slow-burning for mainstream audiences with a lack of real dramatic tension, and unexplained plotlines – in the old Iranian style the film meanders along at its own pace bolstered by enigma, but never really reaching a conclusion, other than the predictable, sad event that brings it to a melancholy close.

A car is travelling through the Iranian countryside and 6-year-old Rayan (Sarlak) is playing along to the classical music on the radio tapping imaginary notes on a hand-painted keyboard on his father’s plaster cast – clearly his much older father (Hassan Madjooni from The Pig) has broken his leg. Rayan’s mother (Pantea Panahiha) sits in the front and his older brother (Amin Similar) is in the driving seat, a sullen young man who doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the family unit, and is permanently on the verge of tears although we never really understand why.

Panahi shifts from dark comedy to Greek tragedy, the mother frequently breaking into tearful or cheerful song as they travel along. Rayan has a tiny tantrum when his mother decides to bury his mobile phone with her bare hands by the roadside, a bizarre action that is left open for our own conclusions.

The father is a moody, avuncular man who dotes on his precocious little boy, clearly an afterthought in the couple’s long marriage. Rayan plays to the audience, sometimes disingenuously, you get the impression he is being heavily guided off camera.

As they head into the mountains, the tone grows more sombre and we discover their adorable pet dog Jessy is a stray with not long to live. It then emerges in an elegantly framed father/son tete a tete, set by a backdrop of astounding natural beauty, that all is not well with the elder brother who reflects on his future, or lack of it.

The mother clearly absorbs all the sadness of her family as well as the ebullience of little Rayan, it’s a wonderful performance from Panahiha and balances Madjooni’s laidback nonchalance. There are shades of Kiarostami in the widescreen set pieces, and inventive use of CGI in a mesmerising scene shot from above, but some may find the final act too long and drawn out.

Hit the Road is an expressive four-hander with a strong aesthetic, plenty of new ideas and solid performances. But somehow you leave feeling disappointed – and the ending doesn’t help. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT THE RED SEA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 6 -15 DECEMBER 2021

 

 

Val (2021)

Dirs: Leo Scott and Ting Poo | US Doc 104′

The thing about Val Kilmer is his silly humour. It shines out in this warm biopic of an actor who struck gold commercially but still wants to make it in the arthouse world. Now in his early 60s, a glittering past is behind him, a cancer survivor clinging on cheerfully despite a robotic voice like Stephen Hawking, he still smiles radiantly. A shadow of his former self but his spirit is strong and full of positive energy for the future. And once you get used to the voice you realise he’s much the same as he ever was: just older and wiser – and more philosophical.

In Val, directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo use a hotchpotch of videos and snapshots mostly taken by Kilmer himself: an actor and writer but most of all a big human whose love for life and his family radiates through the 40 years of archive footage in a documentary that takes us from his childhood years in California to the Batman years for which he is most famous, and beyond. His latest project – a tribute to Mark Twain – is still ongoing and clearly fascinates him. 

The film starts with him playing around in his trailer with Rick Rossovich during the making of Top Gun, his complex character comes out in another scene where he’s filming John Frankenheimer on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Ordered to stop filming Kilmer carries on regardless. The director had threatened to walk out and so Kilmer bargains with him to stay and the camera continues rolling.

A training at New York’s Juilliard school has clearly instilled a strong sense of quality in his work. And this is probably the root cause of his reputation for being ‘difficult’. He was billed for the main role in the 1983 production of “The Slab Boys,” a Broadway hit play, Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon later pulling rank for the main parts. His creativity went on to be stymied by the commercial system that ultimately offered little by way of freedom to express himself, and this theme sets the tone for an entertaining portrait of a real man, rather than just a jobbing player of parts. This is why his story remains one of success rather than failure, despite the decrepit guy in the picture. Loss is a big theme: his marriage and divorce from Joanne Whalley affected him badly, and obviously the cancer diagnosed in 2015. But he soldiers on making us laugh with an infectious humour in this feelgood movie. 

Batman was a personal disaster for him weighed down by a heavy costume and hardly able to breathe, let alone speak. It crushed his performance and he signed out after one go at the Caped Crusader: “every boy wants to be Batman, but not play him”.

The Top Gun episode was a blast with much fooling around off set, sealing his reputation:“For the rest of my life I will be called Iceman by every pilot at every airport I ever go to.” he comments from his Malibu beach hideaway. But he wanted more than fame. Inspiration was really his watchword. In a bid to work with Kubrick and Scorsese he sent them audition tapes but nothing came of it. His force of personality projected him forward for choice roles but he didn’t always get them. Willow was another disaster but the The Doors would be special and he honed his performance again and again, even wearing the leather trousers in an obsession that ultimately cost him his marriage. 

Family intervenes throughout the film: particularly his sadness over his brother Wesley who died in a jacuzzi accident in his teens. And his mother was a big influence and he reminisces over her in some tearful sequences. Although his father was a big business man Val ultimately had to bail him out. His faith Christian Science also figures strongly and clearly gives him the strength to pursue his artistic projects. He may have fallen from the pantheon of stardom but seems to have found peace with his kids and a boundless enthusiasm drives him forward to the future. MT

NOW ON RELEASE

Cyrano de Bergerac (2021) Red Sea International Film Festival 2021

Dir: Joe Wright | Writer; Eric Schmidt | Cast: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Ben Mendelsohn, Kelvin Harrison | UK Musical drama, 124′

Joe Wright gives Cyrano De Bergerac a musical makeover with this soft-centred lyrical approach to the time-honoured French classic, transposing the action to early 18th century Italy and dressing the love story up in macaroon pastels and tender gazes as delicate as the Capodimonte porcelain of the region that clearly inspired Sarah Greenwood’s production designs.

Peter Dinklage plays the sweet-natured romantic soldier unlucky in love due to his unfeasibly large nose and lack of stature, but whose way with words woes Haley Bennett’s wistful but unwitting maiden Roxanne (Bennett) through poetic billets doux penned on behalf of the real object of her affections, Christian (Harrison) a recruit in the service of her caustic suitor Duke De Guiche (an ebullient Ben Mendelsohn).

The everlasting appeal of the story lies in the cherished belief that inner beauty and noble intentions can override physical imperfections in our quest for love. And Wright certainly moves us with this woozy concoction and its touching performances particularly from Dinklage in the leading role as a captivating Cyrano crooning original tunes from Aaron & Bryce Dessner.

There have been several adaptations of the 19th century novel, the most famous, from 1990, stars Gerard Depardieu as the disillusioned dreamer, and this one is based on Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage show, which also starred Dinklage in the title role. A little bit lightweight but intoxicating nevertheless. MT

CYRANO OPENS THE RED SEA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

 

The Case of the Vanishing Gods (2021)

Dir: Ross Lipman | US Doc 71

Ventriloquism is explored in this novel and darkly amusing experimental doc hybrid from US documentarian Ross Lipman who traces the phenomenon of ‘throwing voices’ from the oracles of ancient Greece to the spectacle of the modern horror film.

It all starts with a strange one-eyed man who welcomes us into his abode referred to as the ‘psycho ward’ to experience the deepest corners of human mind. The story of puppetry and ventriloquism then unfolds through a consultation between two puppets: psychiatrist Dr Labyrinth and his patient Hugo, interleaved and enlivened by a comprehensive cache of film excerpts and archive footage from the famous ventriloquist stage double acts such as Anthony Hopkins, Karru Mari, Chucky providing a terrifying and comprehensive collage of creepiness that dates back to the 17th century and possibly even earlier.

‘Ventriloquism’ comes from Latin ‘to speak from the belly’ (the Greeks called it nacromancy). Noises from the stomach were thought to be the voices of God that were interpreted by the ventriloquist – forecasting future events 

Essentially a two-hander (or a four-stringer) starring Hugo and Dr Labyrinth, the ‘case of the vanishing gods’ is what the puppet psychiatrist refers to as ‘Hugo’s case’. Hugo – a Bronx-accented classical marionette – is suffering from a fear of scissors and frequent memory loss. Dr Labyrinth puts Hugo under a trance where he experiences the most fantastic dream with sybilles or immortal nymphs becoming oracles and connecting us with the spirit world. Hugo then returns the following week for another session and once again is put into a trance, this time the Gods and Sybilles have disappeared and we learn how the 17th saw ventriloquism take shape as a more earthbound mode of communication. But it wasn’t until 1886 when Costa Joe introduced the first ventriloquist dummy to the theatre – Prof Echo brought his dummy Tommy who sang on stage with tunes like Sweet Rose O’Grady and soon the puppets were appearing in silent cinema: Lon Chaney provided the dummy’s voices himself. Then came Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

All this unfolds through the medium of the patient and doctor consultations. Hugo’s memories then become darker and feature clips from the film Dead of Night (1945), Hugo somehow becoming a character friend of Michael Redgrave. Another memory has Hugo reflecting over the comedy duo where a dummy called Caesar actually takes over his ventriloquist, the dynamic dramatically switching and putting servant in control of master. 

The third segment develops this sinister strand – the focus is now on puppets taking control of their owners – a worrying trend that has actually come full circle, hinting at the AI robots that are now with us in the 21st century. Meanwhile the Doc takes Hugo into his fourth session which encounters yet another memory featuring a Roubinska puppet who could see things the puppet ventriloquist could not express (“It’s schitzo Doc “).

The film touches on ‘Prophetic transition’ where the puppets become an alter ego helping us to bounce off our ideas and seek guidance for a higher unconscious and possibly unlocking the deep and potent inner resources of the human mind. The imagined puppet sequences in the first act are absolutely enchanting, delicately superimposed on Hugo’s first therapy session with the Doc. What follows is a compact yet immersive odyssey through the history of ventriloquism packing a richly thematic punch in just over a hour. And while the experimental style may not have wide appeal, content-wise Lipman offers an enjoyable dive into the history of this arcane form of entertainment. MT

ON FESTIVALSCOPE PRO

Petrov’s Flu (2021)

Dir: Kiril Serebrennikov | Cast: Semyon Serzin, Chulpan Khamatova, Yulia Boris and Yuri Kolokolnikov | USSR, Drama

Petrov’s Flu unites Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov with Semyon Serzin, the star of his 2018 drama Leto. His standout thought-provoking religious drama The Student (2016) screened at Un Certain Regard. It won that year’s Francois Chalais Award.

Based on the novel “The Petrovs In and Around the Flu” by Alexey Salnikov this film version is a deadpan, hallucinatory romp through post-Soviet Russia. With the city in the throes of a flu epidemic, the Petrov family struggles through yet another day in a country where the past is never past, the present is a booze-fueled, icy fever dream of violence and tenderness, and where – beneath layers of the ordinary – things turn out to be quite extraordinary. Set somewhere between reality and imagination, Petrov’s Flu is a visually captivating: rough, funny, violent and psychedelic, and yet at the same time tender and poetic. It’s not quite a good as The Student .but its ideas and striking visual aesthetic make it well worth watching. MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 11 February 2022

Tomorrow is Forever (1946)

Dir: Irving Pitchel | Cast: Orson Welles, Claudette Colbert, George Brent, Lucile Watson | US Drama 104″

A fascinating memento of Orson Welles’ extremely brief mid-forties spell as a bankable star in ‘A’ features, with Max Steiner crashing about on the soundtrack, a glamorous, expensively suited Claudette Colbert as his ‘widow’ and a cute little Natalie Wood as his adopted daughter. (Welles presumably hit it off with Richard Long, who plays his grown-up son, since he cast him in his next film, The Stranger).

Playing yet another role greatly in a advance of his real years, Welles wears the first of many false beards he would adopt in the years to come, along with a rather theatrical limp. Director Irving Pichel like all the other Hollywood hacks Welles worked with during this period produced work suspiciously far in advance of his usual accustomed mediocrity; such as a couple of nice uses of a mirror and a finale depicting a burning letter that recalls a certain sledge. The film competed at Venice in 1947 but went home empty-handed. @Richard Chatten

 

Lamb (2021) Mubi

Dir: Valdimar Johannsson | IFantasy Sci-fi | Iceland, 103′

This surreal sci-fi for animal lovers is one of a new breed of arthouse films that blends folklore and fantasy horror with a surprising touch of dark humour.

A first feature for Icelandic director Valdimar Johannsson, its intriguing premise invites us to suspend our disbelief when a childless couple in a remote farmstead in Iceland unexpectedly become parents during the lambing season. Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Guonason) and Maria (Noomi Rapace) realise this is no ordinary newborn. But the sense of joy they feel at finally being a family of sorts fills the couple with a warm contentment. The docile baby takes pride of place in their bedroom, and life goes on as normal.

But there’s an unsettling undertone to this much wanted birth that leaves a nagging doubt in our minds and fuels this sober arthouse curio with eerie dread. The reason for their muted joy soon becomes apparent in a way that is both amusing and bizarre, with its distinct references to Cannes 2021 title Annette and even the recent Border.

Johannsson’s spare soundscape echoes around the bleak lunar-landscapes of Iceland’s craggy peaks and windswept terrain. But the tone lightens with a visit from Ingvar’s musician brother Petur (Bjorn Hynur Haraldsson) whose reaction to young Ada is hilarious but also worrying until he gets used to the unorthodox new household. This amusing interlude provides the story with an upbeat vibe and some rather touching family scenes as the two bond both outsiders in their own special way. But the nagging suspicions remain. And it’s the film’s cruel finale that provides a tragic twist that reminds us that Ada may have been nurtured by loving parents but is still a wild child at heart. MT

NOW ON MUBI

Silent Night (2021)

Dir.: Camille Griffin; Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Roman Griffin Davies, Hardy Griffin Davies, Gilby Griffin Davis, Annabelle Wallis, Rufus Jones, Davida McKenzie, Lucy Punch, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Sopé Dirisu, Lily-Rose Depp; UK 2020, 90 min.

Silent Night is one of those plucky B-Pictures, with lots of ideas – not always fully realised – and a surreal plot. In this case the setting is in an English country mansion where friends from school and university are celebrating a time of “love and forgiveness”. But they will have to make the most of their get together because – according to News reports,  a poisonous gas will soon engulf the planet exterminating everything alive. The government is giving out ‘Exit-pills’, to relieve the suffering – sounds familiar, eh?

The hosts, Nell (Knightley) and Simon (Goode) are in charge of catering, their son Art (Roman Griffin Davis) cuts himself slicing the carrots. As it turns out, he’ll be in the minority, not wanting to accept the need for the government prescribed pill. Art’s twin brothers Hardy and Thomas (Hardy and Gilby Griffin Davies) are nowhere to be seen, but go with the flow making life for their parents easier. Then the guest roll in two by two, creating a reverse Noah’s Ark effect. Sandra (Wallis) self-centred and attention seeking with hubby Tony (Jones), candidate for ‘Mediocre Man’ of the universe and daughter Kitty (McKenzie), as unbearable as her mother.

Lesbian couple Bella (Punch) and Alex (Howell-Baptiste) are here to enjoy themselves, laid-back medic James (Dirisu) has issues with much his younger partner Sophie (Depp), an American, who is pregnant and joins Art in defiance.
Nell and Simon are proper hosts, trying to cater to everyone’s whim – whilst fighting a losing battle with Art, who will run off deep into the night where he will come across a car packed with the bodies of neighbours who have taken the pills, something Art wants to avoid at all cost.

As the hour of ‘no return’ creeps nearer, James wins the battle of wills with Sophie, whilst Sandra and Tony also make peace just in time, giving their daughter a peaceful exit. But Bella has big problems with Alex who gets so drunk she passes out. Bella administers the pill to her sleeping lover who wakes up and vomits the pill out. Alone in the kitchen with Alex Bella has to come up with a radical solution.- everyone else has retreated to their bedrooms, including Art who is asleep in his mother’s arms, the twins keeping up their personal rivalry to the bitter end.

There are simply too many characters here to given them a convincing backstory and make us feel for their desperate plight, although the leads – especially Knightley and Goode are impressive, and Art, the director’s son and his real life brothers Thomas and Hardy – give the cowardly grown-ups a run for their money.

Simon’s sermon to his children “It’s not our fault, nor is it yours”, rings very hollow but DoP Sam Renton makes the best out of the glittering claustrophobia of the domestic settings and the group interactions are entertaining particularly the hilarious scene where the adults discuss who slept with whom and why at university. A major twist at the end makes us forget some of the shortcomings – it may not totally win you over, but lovers of the bizarre are well served. AS

IN CINEMAS from 3 December 2021

Taming the Garden (2021)

Dir.: Salomé Jashi; Documentary; Germany/Netherlands/Switzerland/Georgia 2021, 91 min.

Georgian writer/director/co-DoP Salomé Jashi (The dazzling sight of Sunset) has portrayed her fellow Georgians justified but remorseless: whilst ex-premier Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Dollar billionaire, robs the country of its natural beauty, the ones directly concerned take the money and moan. Ivanishvili, who also has a private zoo with with kangaroos, penguins and zebras in one of his many villas near the Black Sea, has decided to re-plant old trees near his country mansion, overlooking the capital Tbilisi, were flamingos mingle near lakes. Jashi follows the re-planting on a 135-year old tulip tree, weighing 650 tonnes, on its journey to its new home.

The beginning is surreal, Fellini and Herzog could not have done it better: two men fish at the banks of the Black Sea, when suddenly a tree a tree floats along the waves, only when it comes closer, we make out the barge, which carries it. Cut to to the village of Tsikhisdziri in western Georgia, were the tree, “legally bought” by Ivanishvili, “because giant trees are my hobby, I am developing a park, I think tis is all appropriate”, is dug out from the ground, to go on a journey of forty km along the Black sea coast. Workers use diggers of all sorts and seizes, drills and pipes to extricate tree and roots, and load it on two coupled up HGVs, to drive to the coast.

The job will take about three months, and the crew of workmen compare the current enterprise with other jobs of the same kind, which they have done for Ivanishvili in the past. Planks are laid out, a new road is being constructed, leading to the coast of the Black Sea, where the tree will be loaded on to a barge. It goes without saying, that there will be collateral damage: trees in the neighbourhood of the prize object will be cut down or severely trimmed. The same goes for the trees of the neighbours, next to dirt street, where the tree will be transported. Five hundred Lai is the price per tree. The recipients of the compensation are muted about their response: “Never mind, what sort of villain Ivanishvili is, he is doing something. People never gave a shit about the trees.” One man, slightly drunk swears “I’ll never give way to the transportation workers, I am going for death”. When the deed is done, their is some regret, but also optimism: “The trimmed trees will bloom again in two years”, to which an elderly lady answers “But will I be alive then?”

Celia Stroom’s choral score ends the feature with close-ups of barge and tree, before we cut to Ivanishvili’s new park, were a bamboo forest is next to the newly up-rooted trees’, leaving the audience with the question if this is home or prison.

In foregoing the usual commentary, which tells the audience the obvious, Jashi concentrates on the images and Vox populi: the harsh realism of the work environment clashes with the poetic lyricism of he Black Sea travel. Taming the Garden is harbinger of a world to come, where not only the souls of trees will be up for sale. AS

In UK & Irish cinemas 28th January 2022

My Wonderful Wanda (2021) Prime Video

Dir: Bettina Oberli | Cast: Agnieszka Grochowska, Marthe Keller, Andre Jung, Birgit Minichmayr | Switzerland, drama 111′

Winner of awards at Tribeca and Vancouver, My Wonderful Wanda is a deliciously amusing satire that sees a wealthy Swiss family get more than they bargained for when a Polish au pair joins the family.

Reworking similar themes as Parasite this European ‘upstairs downstairs’ affair is nearer to home and much closer to the bone than its South Korean counterpart, set in a gorgeous lakeside villa in Switzerland where the head of the Wegmeister-Gloor family, successful industrialist Josef (an affable André Jung) is now wheelchair bound and needing 24-hour care after suffering a stroke.

Wanda (Agnieszka Grochowska), in her mid thirties, comes to the rescue leaving her own small children at home in Poland, managing the tricky dynamics of this privileged set-up while also being at the beck and call of Josef who seems to want more than just medical care. All families are complicated and this one is no different, even the adults are spoilt kids. Oberli and her writer Cooky Ziesche contrive a plot that is convoluted yet bang on the nail and extremely well-conceived – without putting too fine a point on it.

A brilliant Marthe Keller is the graceful matriarch who brings much needed perspective with her worldly experience and love for all the family – including Wanda (an appealing Grochowska) who is very much valued and far more influential than she at first imagined. Oberli brings warmth and humanity to this perceptive dark comedy that always looks on the bright side of modern life. MT

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Maytime in Mayfair (1949)

Dir: Herbert Wilcox | Anna Neagle, Michael Wilding, Peter Graves, Nicholas Phipps, Thora Hird, Desmond Walter-Ellis | UK Drama 94′

The reference to Sir Stafford Cripps in the opening foreword passes for satire in so light a confection; but also reminds us why there was a need for this sort of escapist fantasy seventy two years ago, with ‘Mr. Austerity’ in No.11 Downing Street.

Ravishingly shot in Technicolor and with clothes (designed by Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Creed and Worth) probably consuming much of the film’s budget ; it’s otherwise played out in sets by William C.Andrews that look as if they’d fall over if you blew on them (it relocates to Paris for a few minutes courtesy of one hotel room and an incredibly phony-looking ‘outdoor’ restaurant), and the wind never disturbs the branches of any of any of the trees that adorn the very occasional studio exteriors.

Never mind, material this slight doesn’t offend the way that Wilcox’s flat-footed direction of more ‘serious’ subject matter does. Michael Wilding is fun overacting like crazy as a conceited jerk, Thora Hird is permitted to look incredibly glamorous as Neagle’s secretary; and it provides a unique opportunity to see “our old friend” Tom Walls in Technicolor playing an Irish police inspector presiding over a station so minimal it could have been designed for ‘Dr Mabuse’. @Richard Chatten

Boxing Day (2021)

Dir.: Aml Ameen; Cast: Aml Ameen, Naomi King, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Fraser James, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Tim Aherne, Shyi Cole; UK 2021, 109 min.

Best known for his acting roles in Inside Man: Most Wanted and Parallel, Aml Ameen directs and stars in this Christmas cracker based on his own experiences in the Caribbean community in London. where black people are for once neither victims or perpetrators, just full of issues and contradictions just like everyone else.

Melvin (Ameen) is a successful author in the US and wants to take highflying girl friend Lisa (King) to London for Christmas, and introduce her to his Caribbean clan. Things will go disastrously wrong: to start with, Lisa is pregnant, but has not yet told Melvin, who has already told her he’s not ready to be a father. Melvin’s Mum Shirley (Jean-Baptiste), rules the roost and soon finds out Lisa’s secret, but has enough problems with her own new partner Dave (Aherne) who will meet the family for the first time over the holidays which would be no big deal, apart from the fact that he is white.

Melvin’s father Billy (James) is not much of a role model having left Shirley and the kids, like many men of his generation, and now runs a night club. He has ‘forgotten’ to tell Lisa that he has left London years’ ago without keeping up contact with the family, apart from a few postcards. And while the teenage generation of the clan is as wild and violent as Melvin’s own age group at the time, countless aunts and uncles are waiting with baited breath to meet Lisa, who is, needless to say, is just another outsider, due to her Afro-American background, charms everyone with her put-on Jamaican accent. But Melvin still seems to have feelings for his ex Georgia (Pinnock, from “Little Mix”), who is now a super star and planning to take up a job in New Zealand, Lisa spying the couple sharing a cheeky covert kiss in the garden.

Ameen skates over the identity politics with panache, never losing the light-hearted sense of humour. The cast is ready to rumble, particularly Jean-Batiste as Shirley, trying to align all the contradictory bits of family life into a Hollywood style happy-ending in a referential bow to Hollywood musicals of the mid 20th century. A cocktail of festive fun and games laced with a few home truths . AS

ON RELEASE FROM 3 DECEMBER 2021

Hive (2021)

Dir.: Blerta Basholli; Cast: Yllka Gashi, Cun Lazci, Kaona Sylejmani, Mal Noah Safqui, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi; Kosovo/Switzerland/Albania/Macedonia 2021, 84 min.

Feminist solidarity, male chauvinism and the effects of the Kosovo war (1998-99) and its aftermath coalesce in this impressive first feature for Albanian writer/director Blerta Basholli who triumph against considerable odds with this true crime story. The conflict came to be viewed as a Serbian act of genocide and her film went on to win all three main awards at Sundance, Yllka Gashi is brilliant in the main role.

In the village of Krusha e Madhe in Kosovo 260 men have been killed in the hostilities, with a further 64 still missing. One of them is Agim, husband of Fahrije (Gashi), who lives in a dilapidated house with Haxhi (Lazci), her father-in-law and her two children Zana (Sylejmani) and Edon (Safqui). The family makes ends meet selling the honey Fahrije produces – she has been stung all over her body to prove it. But she also has to look after the invalid Haxhi who is totally dependent on her. Haxhi does not want to undergo a DNA test, which would make it possible to identify the remains of his son; many remains are still being discovered. Fahrije gathers together he women of the village and starts a business  producing a spicy preserve made from red peppers, intending to sell the product in supermarkets in the nearby town, passing her driving licence so she can transport the goods with the help of her most supportive helpers Zamira (Agushi), Lume (Matoshi) and Nazmije (Hoxha).

But the men in the village make a bid to sabotage the women’s collective: calling Fahrije a whore, sexually assaulting her, breaking her car window with a stone, and even trying to turn her son and daughter against her. But Fahrije is determined to prevail against the  odds in this gritty portrait of a war-torn society where male chauvinism still holds sway. AS

CELEBRATING INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY RECLAIM THE FRAME presents HIVE plus recorded Q&A with writer and director Blerta Basholli on Tuesday 8 March 2022

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Dir.: Ernst Lubitsch; Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Felix Bressart, William Tray; USA 1940, 99 min.

“The American movie-going public has the mind of a 12-year old child; it must have life as it isn’t. (Ernst Lubitsch)”

Of all Hollywood’s immigrant filmmakers, German born Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) was the most successful in serving his new audience, adapting well to the change-over from silent to sound. The “Lubitsch touch” became a trademark, success was guaranteed, he reeled off classic Hollywood comedies like Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka or To Be or Not To Be. He would have churned out even more, but for a heart condition which slowed him down in final years of his life, succumbing to it whilst shooting That Lady in Ermine.

The Shop Around the Corner is based on the play ‘Parfumerie’ by Miklos Laszlo, adapted for the screen by Lubitsch regular Samson Raphaelson (Heaven Can Wait), with some uncredited work by Ben Hecht. Whereas most of his comedies played out in world of the idle rich, The Shop is set in a working environment, taking him back to his father’s tailoring business where he did the accounts as he took his first steps as a stage actor.

The setting is a leather-goods and novelty shop in Budapest (via Hollywood), run by the imperious Hugo Matuschek (Morgan), whose bark is worse than his bite. His deputy is Alfred Kralik (Stewart), a likeable but air-headed man and the day unfolds amid bickering with new shop assistant Klara Novak (Sullavan). Little do they know that after office hours they are falling in love through the post as each other’s anonymous pen pal.

When the great day arrives for the ‘lovers’ first meeting in a local cafe, Mr. Matuschek orders his staff to stay late for an inventory, and then later fires Kralik suspecting him of having an affair with his wife. The real culprit will be soon be revealed. Off to his meeting Kralik looks through the window and, to his horror, sees Klara reading Tolstoi at the cafe table. He enters, talks to her, but does not reveal his true identity. Meanwhile, Mr. Matuschek is saved from suicide by the apprentice Pepi (Tray) who is promoted, as is Kralik who then becomes the manager.

The film positively glows in fluffy fairy-tale black-and white by William Daniels (Cat On A Hot Tin Roof), Lubitsch again ducks the censors by talking sex, but only showing a perfunctionary final kiss. The director might have been inspired by the relationship of Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette McDonald who played love birds in numerous features, despite oathing each other off screen. Lubitsch directed McDonald’s debut (and also his first sound feature) alongside Chevalier in The Love Parade (1929). Often remade with disappointing results – with Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail (1998) the latest offering, Lubitsch’s The Shop is from another universe: A true classic.AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 3 DECEMBER 2021

Tailor | Raftis (2020)

Dir.: Sonia Liza Kenterman; Cast: Dimitris Imellos, Tamilla Koulieva, Stathis Stamoulaktos, Daphne Michopoulou, Thanasis Papagrogiou; Greece/Belgium/Germany 2020, 100 min.

The first feature film of Greek director/co-writer Sonia Liza Kenterman, a graduate of the London Film School, is a fine character study of a man in his early 50s who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, might be on the autism spectrum and is still a virgin. Unfortunately, Kenterman sticks to enigma, resulting in a rather sentimental meandering.

Despite his challenges Nikos Karalis (a brilliant Imellos), is under the cosh of his tyrannical father Thanasis (Papageorgiou), who has been in the tailoring business since the age of sixteen. But the demand for tailor-made suits is near zero in the recession plagued Greek capital of Athens and his clientele is now dwindling in the recession and the bank foreclosing on the shop and all other assets,.

The only joy in Nikos life is his relationship with Victoria (Michopoulou), the spoilt daughter of his neighbour Olga (Koulieva), a Russian emigrant, whom Nikos fancies, without being aware of it. Transformation is needed, after Thanasis is taken to hospital, suffering from cancer. Nikos becomes, overnight, a specialist in creating the most wonderful bridal robes and other feminine outfits. And he even finds the courage to go to bed with Olga – and event which naturally angers her jealous partner Kostas (Stamoulakatos) who destroys Nikos’ work place, sending him and his life possessions on a journey into the unknown. Will Nikos find the courage to fight for his first love?

There are subtle social comments, like the nurse, providing medicines for Nicos’ father in exchange for fashionable outfits. But overall, Tailor lacks a much needed bite, opting instead for an over saccharine approach resulting in a mundane feel-good movie, which panders to audiences’ expectations. A shame, since the impressive images of DoP Dimitris Mihelis and the wonderful ensemble acting deserve more than just another hard-luck story. AS

TAILOR WON THE FIPRESCI PRIZE AT THESSALONIKI FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

Masquerade (1965) Prime video

Dir: Basil Dearden | Cast: Cliff Robertson, Jack Hawkins, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Charles Grey, Bill Fraser, Felix Aylmer, John Le Mesurier | UK Drama 102′

Like Graham Greene, the writing-producing team of Michael Relph and Basil Dearden interspersed ‘novels’ like Sapphire and Victim with ‘entertainments’ like The League of Gentlemen; and they never made an entertainment more entertaining than this, attractively shot in Technicolor on picturesque Spanish locations with a once-a-lifetime cast (the witty animated titles sequence contains the extraordinary credit ‘Also Starring Michel Piccoli, Bill Fraser’; while Jack Hawkins ironically shares scenes with Charles Gray, soon to become his regular screen voice when Hawkins tragically had his voice box removed).

Dearden and Relph had for ten years planned to film Victor Canning’s 1954 novel ‘Castle Minerva’, originally with Rex Harrison in the lead; but fortunately Cliff Robertson starred when the film finally got made.

William Goldman earned his first screen credit making the hero more American, and it abounds in cynical one-liners like “In my country torture is still legal” and “I’ve – got – scruples?” and a priceless breach of the fourth wall when a sequence both suspenseful and hilarious ends with Robertson staring into the camera and saying “Somebody up there hates me!”

It’s full of surprises – some scenes resemble North by Northwest directed by Fellini – and in a scene worthy of Hitchcock an abduction is carried out in full view of a circus audience laughing uproariously. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

House of Gucci (2021)

Dir: Ridley Scott | Cast: Adam Driver, Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto, Camille Cottin, Jack Huston, Salma Hayek | Drama, 157′

Ridley Scott’s tragicomedy about the downfall of the Gucci family is a real epic: flawed, flamboyant but highly entertaining. A perfect clash between style and bravado. Adam Driver is the driving force behind it all. And he’s brilliant as the starchy patrician lawyer Maurizio Gucci seduced and ultimately murdered by Lady Gaga’s buxom firecracker, Patrizia Reggiani, the daughter of a haulage contractor, whose elbows are as sharp as her husband to be’s tailoring.

Maurizio is the son of suave Gucci scion Rodolfo played by Jeremy Irons whose well-tuned antenna has already spotted Gaga as a gold-digger. And predictably it all ends in tears when Rodolfo dies leaving Maurizio as the majority shareholder whose ideas for the family business conflict with those of his cousin Paolo Gucci – Al Pacino knows all the ropes here as the New York cousin who kept the brand exclusive offering his celebrity clientele loafers lined with gold leaf.

So the social side and the business story go hand in hand in a patchy drama that careers all over the place tone-wise – the bits with Jared Leto as Paolo’s idiotic son are awkwardly painful – but it speeds along like a Ferrari when Driver and Gaga are in the frame, their chemistry and glitzy lifestyle providing most of the fun, Pacino giving one of his best performances in recent years as the savvy businessman who finally loses out when Maurizio, and ultimately the Arab investors gain control. And Rodolfo’s predictions come true, and Maurizio eventually tires of his little wife’s unbridled ambition, and he moves onto the elegant charms of Paola, a woman from his own background in the shape of Camille Cottin (there’s a lovely scene where she shimmies, fireside).

House of Gucci is largely about a clash of cultures, and House of Gucci (based on a book by Sara Gay Forden) is spot on in its retelling of how the once chic emblem of the 1970s – anything by Gucci back then was considered highly desirable – is soon tarnished by family disagreements and over-exposure, so eroding the core values it represented as a brand. But never mind all that, House of Gucci is flamboyant fun. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 26 NOVEMBER 2021

Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Dir: Ingmar Bergman | Cast: Max Von Sidow, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin, Gertrud Fridh, Georg Rydeberg | Sweden, Horror 90′

Ingmar Bergman had had a penchant for short injections of fantasy into his films as far back as the chiaroscuro dream sequences of his forties ‘neo-realist’ dramas, although by the time of Vargtimmen the hero (Max von Sydow) has moved up market and is now an artist in retreat from the world on a remote island who happens to have a neighbour – played by Erland Josephson – who lives in a castle occupied by a court of dinner-jacketed idlers.

Based – like The Blair Witch Project – on the diary of an individual who then disappeared without trace, relaxed 60’s censorship permitted more explicit images than the vaguely Freudian nature of Bergman’s earlier fantasies; like Ingrid Thulin baring herself for the camera while cackling fiendishly, and one of Bergman’s sun-bleached nightmares in which Sydow bashes in the head of a young lad in speedos. Elsewhere there are creepy moments as when Josephson is depicted walking up a wall and Naima Wifstrand peels off her face and drops her eyeball into a wine glass; while Sydow prowls about at night like Vincent Price in one of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations – only shot by Sven Nykvist in glacial black & white rather than the hot Pathecolor hues of Floyd Crosby. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

Flee (2021)

Dir: Jonas Poher Rasmussen | With: Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Milad Eskanderi, Belal Faiz | Denmark, Animated drama, 90′

Based on real events, this noirish gay awakening story blends new beginnings and past trauma in an involving and surprisingly poetic way, the delicately drawn animations notching down the rawness of a harrowing escape for the central character whose real identity is kept confidential.

Director Jonas Poher Rasmussen calls his friend Amin but only discovered the true horror of his backstory years after they met. Amin is a refugee from Afghanistan who escaped Kabul during the the 1980s and is now safely settled in Denmark in a relationship he never dreamed possible.

Rasmussen recounts his friend’s adventures through a series of animated events and interviews in a way that draws us into his world as we experience the horrors from Amin’s own perspective. The conflict that caused his family to leave their home and suffer at the hands of the authorities on their way to Europe is not news to any of us but it is brought to life here in an alarming way that brings a sobering perspective to the refugee crisis that’s still unfolding every today. Being gay was a further hurdle that Amin had to overcome in this bracingly tense adventure. MT

IN CINEMAS and EXCLUSIVELY ON CURZON HOME FROM FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2022 | NOMINATED FOR THREE OSCARS

Feature Film About Life (2021) Black Night Festival Tallinn

Dir.: Dovile Sarutyte; Cast: Agne Misiunatie, Nele Savicenko, Kestutis Jakstas, Romuald Lavrinovic, Inga Maskarina, Aldona Bronislava Dausienie; Lithuania 2021, 100 min.

Don’t be put off by the rather banal title, this first film from Lithuanian director/co-writer Dovile Sarutyte is a small gem: genre wise, a trauma fuelled road movie that finds dark humour in the banal and the tragic when a young woman is suddenly confronted by the double blow of death and complex funeral arrangements. A time of mourning when we are forced to face the world at the most importune time.

In a Paris hotel we meet Dovile (Misiunatie), a young recording artist in her twenties, celebrating being young and independent with her two girlfriends Egle and Rasa. A day later, at work in her Vilnius studio recording studio in Vilnius, the world implodes with the sudden death of her father. The story continues as past happiness mingles with current anguish – home videos of Dovile’s childhood in the 1990s, and now the aftermath of family tragedy – a clapped-out Mercedes and a neurotic mother (Savicenko).

The two women meet Vladislavas (Lavrinovic) a greedy undertaker capitalising on their grief to sell them the most expensive funeral package. Afterwards, Dovile grapples with the Death Certificate from the hospital morgue, the cause of death was heart failure. Desperate for more detail to help her process her anguish Dovile learns that her father’s liver was severely damaged. The arrangements for the wake are also costly: 500 Euro for a one-day rental. “I could rent a concert hall for that” snaps Dovile and goes to meet Tadas (Jakstas), an old friend of her father, but not before the car breaks down.

Tadas has not seen Dovile’s father for more than six months but proves to be a ‘friend in need’. Father had stopped driving due to an alcohol problem, piling bewilderment onto her shaky state of emotional fragility. Gradually things come together, the Mercedes is repaired and Tadas finds a much cheaper venue for the wake: the boss of the funeral parlour, Zita (Maskarina), is a former flame. Dovile also makes a collage of photos from the family album telling her father’s life story in the wake room, where the urn looks solemn, a life reduced to a pot.

After the funeral, Dovile and her Mum make fun of Zita trying to re kindle her relationship with Tadas. But the laughter turns hollow, when it emerges Dovile’s grandmother somehow missed her lift to the funeral, and she explodes in anger: “You burned my little son”, insisting on a photo of the deceased in an open coffin.

The home videos show a joyful Dovile. But reading between the lines, the truth is quite different. Funny how we often remember the past with rose-tinted spectacles, bringing another strand of false memory to the narrative. At least Dovile and her father bought Christmas presents for each other, and this makes for a mellow ending to the traumatic and frustrating two-day adventure. DoP Eitvydas Doskus has kept up with the pace of the story, the images flying by, but his close-ups of Dovile, who is suffering from a worrying eye infection, are a testament to his skill of creating intimate moments. Dovile Saratyte is certainly a name to be reckoned with – you read it here first! AS

SCREENING DURING BLACK NIGHT INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL TALLINN

The Power of the Dog (2021) Best Film & Director BAFTAs 2022

Wri/Dir: Jane Campion | Benedict Cumberpatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee | Western drama, 125’

Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning drama The Piano defines arthouse film and remains seared to the collective cineaste unconscious as a classic for all time.

The Power of the Dog, which premiered at the 78th Venice film festival, has the same potent stillness, captivating characters and visual allure, a traditionally told Western it unfolds in a buttoned-down ranching community in 1925 Montana where outward appearances belie dastardly intentions and family dysfunction, inspired by the novel written in 1967 by Thomas Savage.

Benedict Cumberbatch holds sway as Phil Burbank, the swaggeringly macho, latently homosexual son of a cattle rearing family, an ability to castrate a head of cattle before breakfast is the touchstone to his sadistic prowess. His gentlemanly brother George (Plemons) is quite the reverse soon landing himself a wife in the shape of thoughtful  alcoholic widow Rose (Dunst) and her academic but weakly son Peter (a star turn from Kodi Smit-McPhee) whose wounded pride and keen interest in medicine and dissecting animals provides the key to this beguiling slow-burner.

Ostensibly this is a straightforward family drama about the dynamics of power that create a pecking order locked in stasis until one member cracks the code. At first it seems Phil is on track to destroy Rose and her son, but Peter is not to be underestimated, proving that canny inquisitiveness is far more potent than mere intelligence even in a toxic masculine environment where Phil lords it over the locals resting on his laurels as the sneering ‘intellectual’ cowboy whose crass manners and cruelty to animals and his fellow men makes him secretly unpopular.

Campion loads her film with subtle textural references, Ari Wenger’s widescreen set pieces glower and glow in the hostile terrain. The clever adaptation allows plenty of scope for three intensely unusual protagonists: macho Phil is ultimately trounced by his pride; Rose is weak but utterly sympathetic as a deeply affectionate woman starved of physical love and in thrall to her impossible situation. But Peter is far the most intriguing, his physical weakness hiding a steely resolve to succeed and protect his mother at all costs. MT

OSCAR FOR BEST DIRECTOR | AWARD FOR DIRECTOR, JANE CAMPION | EE BAFTAS 2022 | NOW ON NETFLIX

Rebel Dykes (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero Fucks Given (2021)

Dir.: Emmanuel Mare, Julie Lecoustre; Cast: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Mara Tarquin, Alexander Perrier, Jonathan Sawdon; Belgium 2021, 115 min.

This bizarre but brilliant first feature for French duo Emmanuel Marre and Julie Lecoustre follows a shameless young air-stewardess on a flight to nowhere, emotionally speaking. We soon understand why.

Cassandra (Exarchopoulos from Blue is the Warmest Colour) works for a budget airline mostly around Europe. She dreams of being hired by Emirates Airlines or even a high-paying company called Private Jets, but speaks only a little English apart from French.

From her base in Lanzarote relationships are tricky so she signs out of reality, keeps her family at a distance and opts for an online life on Tinder under the pseudonym ‘Carpe Diem’, a bare-breasted selfie setting the tone for some casual sexual encounters. In some ways she is typical of the resigned young millennial who literally doesn’t care what happens as long as she’s having fun.

Not only is the job repetitive and unfulfilling, Cassandra spends most of her time in airline terminals, a hostile and alien environment made worse since Covid. Drugs and disco are her favourite release on breaks from the inflight tedium. When her contract runs out, she is re-assigned to a course that includes saving passengers with CPR – an exercise Cassandra fails dismally, unable to interact even with a dummy: “You are breaking all his ribs” the course leader tells her, after Cassandra pummels the model doll mercilessly. Job follows job largely down to Cassandra’s ability to sell her persona on Zoom interviews – ‘Seize the day’ very much captures the economic and social climate of this disposal world.

Exarchopoulos gives a stunning performance as the women “with no attributes”, an empty vessel not even trying to find an engagement with the outside world. She is vague to the point of disowning herself, constantly on the move in transit positions. She is the modern young woman honed for the instant turnaround of her professional life, opting for a quick fix while treading water in the hope of a better opportunity, always with her eye on the main chance. Cassandra is the opposite of her sister and father: rootless and uninterested in her past, leaving them to deal with the emotional consequences of the mother’s death. DoP Olivier Boonjing excels with the cold airport images which contrast with the warmer colours of Cassandra’s hometown. Zero Fucks Given is certainly original: an almost sinister study of a modern milliennial. Hugely recommended. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE | The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Award for Best Screenplay, presented this year to Zero Fucks Given‹ by Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre |MANNHEIM HEIDELBERG FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Exodus – Pitbull (2021)

Dir: Patryk Vega | Cast: Przemyslaw Bluszcz, Tomasz Dedek, Andrzej Grabowski | Crime thriller, 115’

This nasty little English language crime thriller from Poland’s Patryk Vega’s sees his central character Nos (Przemyslaw Bluszcz) descend to the depths of depravity in the organised crime world in Poland and Eastern Europe. In an attempt to give credibility to the storyline the film uses the book of Exodus for its title but this doesn’t elevate what is already a choppy, unconvincing storyline. Nos is a self-confessed psycho and seasoned killer who speaks like an automaton and takes us rapidly through the backstory, growing up in a dysfunctional home where his pimp mother ran a brothel later blows that Nos destroys after honing his self-taught skills in explosives and bomb-making. The narrative drones on, Nos making a career out of his explosives, with a sideline in corporate bribery and extortion as part of a criminal gang. Eventually Nos gets arrested after proposing to a woman he’s only just met in the vain hope that having a family will put him on the straight and narrow. At the same time he makes an enemy of crime officer Jacek (Andrej Grabowski), after killing his colleague, and this feud fuels the rest of the film. Vega throws every crime into the mix from drug running to kidnapping and more murder for our tawdry antihero. An attempt to weave in biblical references make Exodus faintly ludicrous. A tragic case of less would have been more. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

 

Dying to Divorce (2021)

Dir: Chloe Fairweather | UK Doc, 84′

This grim but worthwhile documentary – the UK’s Oscar Academy hopeful – greets us with the news that one in three Turkish women experience domestic abuse.

Yes. And we meet two of them now living with life-changing injuries, merely for wanting a divorce on entirely reasonable grounds. One husband had openly taken a lover, and reduced his wife Arzu to a wheelchair-bound invalid leaving her unable to care for their five kids. Another,  caused catastrophic head injuries during a petty argument, leaving his wife Kubra – a former presenter for Bloomberg – virtually ‘gaga’, quite literally. And nothing to do with that famous celebrity.

English filmmaker Chloe Fairweather follows a typical day in the life of Istanbul lawyer Ipek Bozkurt who supports these courageous women in court standing up to their husbands in a male-dominated authoritarian regime that is modern day Turkey. At one point we actually see the Turkish president Recep Tayep Erdogan extolling the virtues of child-rearing as women’s only purpose in life in his increasingly authoritarian regime that continues to crack down on all forms of opposition since the attempted coup in July 2016. There is also ample archive footage showing how protestors demonstrated in the streets of the capital on International Women’s Day in March 2019, Police dispersing what looks like teargas into the crown.

We genuinely feel devastated by these women’s horrific injuries and humbled at their perseverance in seeking justice in a climate where men have the upper hand. Without the support of their families these women simply could not carry on.

Dying to Divorce is not a pleasant film but a vital document in the battle to raise awareness that femicide, toxic masculinity and domestic abuse is still an ongoing  occurrence in all societies where women are treated as second class citizens. MT

DYING TO DIVORCE – In UK cinemas from 24th November | Official UK Entry for the Academy Awards for: Best International Feature Film

King Richard (2021)

Dir.: Reinaldo Marcus Green; Cast: Will smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, John Bernthal, Tony Goldwyn; USA 2021, 138min.

The success story of mammoth tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams was already mapped out well before they hit a single ball, according to this extensive biopic whose focus is their father and tennis coach Richard Williams (a game by Will Smith).

Green and his writer Zach Baylin are keen to play on the sunny side of the former security guard’s character avoiding the more troubled aspects of a man who suffered from delusions of grandeur and narcissism.

We meet the Williams family in the seedy side of Compton, LA, were Richard and Oracene Williams (Ellis) are raising their five daughters, among them Venus (Sidney) and Serena (Singleton) who are coached by their father on the run-down tennis courts of the disadvantaged neighbourhood where a gang of youths give Richard a good kicking until he loses his temper and nearly shoots one of his attackers who is mowed down in front of him by bullets from a passing car.

At home Richard is a domestic tyrant with a work ethic high on his agenda. But he sometimes overdoes it, making the kids watch Cinderalla twice on TV to drill them on the virtues of humbleness. Richard is not a good advert for this particular style of parenting as he always knows best, even arguing with coach Cohen (Goldwyn), who teaches Venus for free.

Finally, Richard takes the whole family to the Florida training centre of coach Rick Macci (Bernthal), where there is a disagreement over how soon his daughters should play competitive matches before their mid-teens. Richard argues that the girls should have a ‘normal’ childhood, and just train hard. In the end, he gives in after Oracene takes Venus’ side. She will make her pro debut at the age of fourteen, falling to the World Number One player Sanchez-Vicario in three sets, after leading for a long time.

Richard struts around in tennis gear most of the time even though he has never played himself. Much time is spent on negotiations between the various companies wanting to sign Venus up for multi-million deals, with her father holding out for a better offer, infuriating Macci and well as his wife. Oracene finally reads Richard the riot act and it becomes clear how much the family relied on her contribution, even though Richard goes on hugging the limelight, turning the girls’ success story into his own triumph even when proved wrong.

DoP Robert Elswit’s images are on the conventional side, as befits a traditional bio-pic. King Richard is a star vehicle for Smith, who turns on the charm and totally  convinces as the prophet who makes things up as he goes along. The serious side of the story is hardly touched upon: William’s dealings with the Klu-Klux Klan is the elephant in the room. Overall, King Richard is overdone with a botched ending that leaves the characters of Oracene as well as Venus and Serena on the touchline, and worst of all, seem to believe in its message, that Father knows best. AS

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 19 NOVEMBER 2021

Drive My Car (2021) BAFTAs 2022

Dir/Wri: Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Cast Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima, Park Yurim, Jin Daeyeon | Drama, Japan

Ryusuke Hamaguchi follows Wheel of Fortune and Fame with another thoughtful love story this time Hidetishi Nishijimia is Yusuke Kafuku, a stage actor and director preparing to direct Uncle Vanja at a theatre festival in Hiroshima.

Daily rides to and from work in a stylish red Saab with his shy young driver Misaki (Miura) provide a safe space to share his feelings, and as a tentative relationship develops between the two lonely hearts, secrets from the past and heartfelt confessions gradually surface.

Based on the short story Drive My Car in ‘Men Without Women’ by Haruki Murakami, the Japanese director is still riding high on his feature Wheel of Fortune and Fame that won a Silver Bear earlier in Berlinale 2021. Once again this explores loneliness and the intense human need to share and be understood. Kafuku is a passionate and highly relatable character whose professional skills and strong sense of self belie his deep longing for a kindred soul to complete his happiness.

Modest in terms of his material needs, Kafuku has a complex psyche with a rich emotional inner world, and his soul is often laid bare during intimate chats with female chauffeur Misaki. She is a woman whose harsh and extreme life has afforded her a maturity beyond her years. And although the two companions are from different generations Hamaguchi’s textured script and layered characterisations show them both to be highly intuitive and emotionally intelligent.

The film’s ample running time allows for an indepth understanding of what it is to be lonely while also being complete from an intellectual and professional point of view. It’s a subtle, engrossing and enjoyable piece of cinema showing Hamaguchi at the top of his game as one of the world’s leading auteurs.  MT

OSCAR BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE | BEST FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE | BAFTAS 2022

 

Masha (2020)

Dir.: Anastasiya Palchikova; Cast: Polina Gukhman, Anna Chipovskaya; Maksim Sukhanov, Alexander Mizev, Iris Lebedeva; Russia 2020, 86 min.

This first feature from Russian writer/director Anastasiya Palchikova is a thinly veiled critique of the nation post Stalinism, wrapped up as a crime/revenge story. The director takes the forces to task in creating a society riddled with violence where Putin and his oligarchy cronies rule with impunity given the lack of a legitimate opposition.

We meet Masha (Gukhman) just before her thirteenth birthday; she lives in a small Russian town and is the darling of her uncle (Sukhanov), who is a crime lord, involving his sons and other relatives in all his schemes from robbery to murder. Masha, a gifted singer, has the family in thrall – and when school friend Sergey ignores her approaches, she asks Uncle’s sons to beat him up until he relents and offers her the attention she craves. But Sergey has also got mixed up in the family business and will later pay with his life for getting out of his depth.

Uncle is very critical of Masha’s mother Nadya (Lebedeva), who has married outside the clan, and has left her husband while remaining a close friend. Nadya wants to take Masha to a relative in far away Samara, but Uncle does not want to give up control, and asks his son Andrei (Mizev) to burn Nadya’s flat down, killing Nadya’s husband in the process. And he’s not the only one sleeping there.

The end is set in Moscow where a grown-up Masha (Chipovskaya) gets ready for a performance with Uncle, Andrei and other family members are in attendance, getting rich on the spoils of the now legitimate music business. But Masha has not forgotten.

Polina Gukhman carries the feature as Masha the 13 year old whose uncle and sons fulfil her every wish, the big family cushioning her from the big wide world. Violence is the norm for her – but the victims are always the ones fighting Uncle and his clan. Only once is the order disturbed, when one of Uncle’s relatives is killed by a rival gang, having raped an under aged girl. Told from the POV of Masha, for whom Uncle is a sort of God granting her every wish, this is a study of a regressive dog eat dog world, where violence holds sway. In Masha’s infantile understanding of the situation, brutality is just part of getting what you want – just ask Uncle whose soft spot for her (rather like the Kray twins for their mother) contrasts with his harsh treatment of all others, including his wider family. DoP Gleb Filatov’s harsh realism is sometimes hard to bear, but never gratuitous in showing how casually normal this hostile environment is for an adolescent like Masha. But Uncle’s little Princess would grow up one day. AS

MASHA is showing as part of the London Russian Film Festival, currently being held for the first time in the UK – from November 12 to December 10, 2021. New customers can enjoy the festival films as part of an extended Subscription free trial on BFI player using the voucher code RFF21.

 

May God Be With You (2021) IDFA 2021

Dir: Cleo Cohen | Israel Doc

Cléo Cohen’s directorial debut is a highly personal exploration of her own identity as the granddaughter of Jewish Arabs who emigrated from Tunisia and Algeria to France during the 20th century.

In the intimate confines of the family homes Cohen plays devil’s advocate, questioning the time honoured subject of Jewish identity and the relationship between Arabs and Jews in the Maghreb. What emerges is a generational conflict, as well as a very subjective view of the past from the older generation’s perspective.

Cohen starts with a provocative bon mot in the opening titles which manages to ruffle a few feathers back home: What is the shortest joke in history?: “A Jew met another Arab.” When defending the Arabs’ view of history she is told: “Defend the Arabs and you’ll see what happens to you”. When she answers back: “the worst massacre of Jews took place in Western, Christian Europe” a swift reply comes: “If the Arabs were organised, they would have done the same to us. Cleo does not feel Jewish at all when her grandma Denise tells her “the Arabs got what they deserved.”

In an attempt to gain context she then speaks to Richard Cohen (to whose memory the film is dedicated) former lawyer for the FLN in Algeria. He nods, too weak to answer in full. And Daniel Shebabo is equally frank: “The French got the Jews on their side during the wars of Independence in the Maghreb – separating them from the Arabs via the Cremieux Decree, which made Jews French overnight in 1960. I still remember the pride my mother felt. It caused some confusion with other Pied-Noirs, but my mother said we are Pied-Noirs. My family never mingled with Arabs.”

Denise Houri, is firmly in the Jews’ camp and considers herself ‘in exile’ from her native Tunisia. “It was hard finding ourselves in another country. But we can’t go back, the old country won’t be the same any more. Memories stay still in time. You are often disappointed if you go back. Alain went, he sent photos”. Nevertheless, Cleó is planning to visit Oran in Algeria. Denise is hard-line when it comes to Cleó’s duty regarding her own (as yet unborn) children: “You will be the guide for the people of Israel, on their behalf. You must pass that on to your children. Transient Jewish identity is a value. They should never marry an Arab. I practice my religion at home. Cultural blending is not a good idea.”

Daniel Shebabo talks about the thorny issue of identity: “Identity is never a foregone conclusion. It can always be undermined by yourself or others. I am re-assured by being Jewish, but I do not distance myself from others. The more you are re-assured, the better you can accept others with different identities. In Tunisia I mainly lived with Muslims.”

The director wanders around Denise’ flat, resting in the huge bath tub, and reading Albert Memmi’s classic of 1957 ‘The Colonizer and the Colonized” from his perspective as a French-Tunisian writer of Jewish origins. She reflects that “Arabs are not just Tunisians, there are Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs and Jewish Arabs too. We are not Muslims, but we are Jews with an Arab culture and identity. Our mother tongue is Arabic, but we are Jews. I am an Arab by culture, but not a Jewish Arab.”

A highly personal feature which nevertheless touches on ideological conflicts, not only between Jews and Arabs, but also within the Jewish communities themselves. An important film that attempts to shed light on the complex the issues surrounding cultural and religious identity, antisemitism, racism and colonialism. AS

SCREENING DURING IDFA 2021 | INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 2021

The Vampire (1957) Prime Video

Dir: Paul Landres | Cast: John Beal, Coleen Gray, Kenneth Tobey, Lydia Reed | US Vampire Horror 75′

The biggest spoiler connected with this horror outing is its title. Shot under the working title ‘It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn’, Pat Fielder’s story feels as if it started life as a drama about drug addiction revamped (if you’ll pardon the expression) as a horror film: The line “aspirin never hurt anyone” is ironic, since aspirin is used far more cautiously these days.

The plot, with its drug that causes “regression to a primitive state”, sounds more like Jekyll & Hyde. The few perfunctory vampiric details, such as the very inoffensive fang marks left on one victim’s neck, and the fact that the pills are extracted from vampire bats, feel like token late additions to the script. The climax takes place out of doors in broad daylight and detective Ken Tobey defends himself with a big hefty stick, which, if the film’s makers had been on the ball, he could have driven into his attacker’s chest rather than just used to protect himself. Veteran cameraman Jack MacKenzie’s photography of the small town setting and interiors is clean and attractive, but also fails to deliver in the more shadowy and horrific moments.

What makes this film so harrowing to experience is the quality of the acting and the human dimension. John Beal is so sympathetic you genuinely care about him (as you do for the other characters), and for the sake of him and his cute young daughter Lydia Reed, you badly want to see some sort of happy resolution; even though you know full well that that becomes more and more out of the question with every passing minute. The monster make-up comes as a double disappointment because its crudeness (he looks more like the Neanderthal Man than any vampire) is wholly unworthy of the build up by Beal’s performance @Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

The Conscience (2021)

Dir.: Aleksey Kozlov; Cast: Vladislav Komarov, Alexandre Kononets, Vasily Shcipitsyn, Natalya Sveshinova; Russia 2021, 93 min.

Already winning awards for screenplay and artistic achievement this compulsive crime drama from Russian director/co-writer Aleksey Kozlov takes place in the early 1920s Petrograd where Boris Letush, a law professor at the university, becomes embroiled in a dark underworld of politics and secret police while investigating the death of his brother and sister in law, – his nieceMargo survived, but was struck dumb by the traumatic experience.

Letush (Komarov) is a busy man. Teaching his university students, and actively working for the Police, his boss Matveer (Shcipitsyn) is an unscrupulous and greedy little man, who steals food and sleeps with women who are in thrall to, fully aware he has syphilis. So far the chief murder suspect is a well known felon and gang leader Lyonka Panteleev (Komonets). The police boss is convinced he has his man but Letush suspects Matveer himself of the crime, and his lover, a cabaret singer, is ready to denounce him. But the fly in the ointment is that Panteleev was also working for the police as undercover agent. But the do decide to go ahead with Matveer’s plan to have Panteleev ‘escape’ from prison, being shot “whilst escaping”.

Of course it all goes wrong on the night and Panteleev escapes for real, leaving Letush and Msatveer in the lurch, and attracting the attention of the Cheka (Secret Police) after  Letush’s lover Vera (Sveshinova) falls foul of the law trying to escape to Paris.

Paranoia seethes throughout a city where everyone seems to be untrustworthy, not least the Cheka on the regular Police. Letush, for all his scruples, is caught up in these over-lapping spider-webs of deceit. He may be a goodie with the best of intentions but somehow the climate conspires against him, leaving him no alternative but to participate if he wants to save Vera and Margo.

Throwing shadows all over the place, DoP Viacheslav Tyurin creates a German expressionist underworld of subterfuge and sculduggery where it never seems to get light as the characters struggle to survive the atmosphere of menace. There is no quarter given for mitigation or self doubt, the only way forward is to hunt with the wolves, as Letush will find eventually find out to his chagrin. AS

THE CONSCIENCE is showing as part of the London Russian Film Festival, currently being held for the first time in the UK – from November 12 to December 10, 2021. New customers can enjoy the festival films on BFI PLAYER as part of an extended Subscription free trial using the voucher code RFF21.

 

ALSO SCREENING AT THIS YEAR’S TALLINN FILM FESTIVAL 

 

Mothering Sunday (2021)

Dir: Eva Husson | Cast: Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Sope Dirisu, Colin Firth, Olivia Colman, Glenda Jackson | UK Drama 110′

A nostalgic reflection on English family life ravaged by loss in the Great War is the subject of Eva Husson’s languorous female empowerment melodrama.

Slim of plot but indulgently languid in its evocative sensuality Mothering Sunday is seen through the eyes of a young girl in service reflecting back on a fateful summer day in 1924 when tragedy changed her life forever: and she decided to become a writer. The timeline sashays backwards and forwards, Glenda Jackson adding grist as the older novelist Jane shrugging off the success of her prize-winning in the modern day.

Based on Graham Swift’s novella Mothering Sunday – a day when staff in service were given the day off to visit their mothers – evokes the sultry atmosphere of a doomed affair between a maid Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) and Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor) the only surviving son of a well to do family in the verdant English countryside. Released from duties Jane spends the day in bed with her lover at his stately mansion in his parents’ absence. Paul is going to be marrying Emma in a fortnight’s time, so both he and Jane know their affair is limited by time and social conventions.

In the background Colin Firth and Olivia Colman play the Nivens, an older generation broken by loss, and still mourning their sons killed in the Great War. But the focus here is on sensuality rather than storyline, and the camera lingers on their love scenes as Jane prances around naked. Meanwhile on the grassy lawns of Henley the Nivens keep calm and carry on over a tearful lunch with their coterie of bereaved friends, Colin fronting up well, Colman morose.

But there’s only so much loving-making and visuals of fusty libraries and flowers in a china vase a film can take. And rather than focus on Jane’s literary aspirations and how they eventually take shape and blossom professional – we see her occasionally penciling a word on a page, or in brief vignettes during a marriage in the 1940s, Husson is more concerned with the atmosphere permeating this soulful story with a pent up feeling of loss and longing, that eventually erupts in the tragic denouement. In this sense the film is a missed opportunity to make better use of its strong cast of Colin Firth, Olivia Colman and Glenda Jackson. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 PREMIERE

 

 

Prisoners of Ghostland (2021) Blu-ray

Dir.: Sion Sono; Cast: Nicholas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavates, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Charles Glover, Yazuka Nukaya; USA 2021, 103 min.

In his first English language feature Japanese director Sion Sono (Love Exposure) is still very much the enfant-terrible of today’s Japanese cinema with this wild visual extravaganza that sometimes loses the plot (by Aaron Henry and Sôhei Tanikawa). There are good bits and very bad bits. Nicholas Cage is – true to form- an OTT hero without a name – Ghostlands is a ride-and-a-half on the wild side.

Cage is first seen robbing a bank with Psycho (Cassavates), an enterprise that goes wrong and leaves Cage in prison and at the mercy of shady Governor (Moseley) of Samurai Town. letting Cage out of jail to liberate niece Bernice (Boutella) from Ghostland, wearing a suit which threatens to explode if he oversteps his time limit, and will blow up his testicles, if he makes a move with Bernice.

Ghostland is headed up by Enoch (Glover). Time has stood still since a convoy of dangerous prisoners collided with a transport of nuclear waste; Psycho being one of the victims. But Cage also recognises Bernice, whose mother he shot dead in the debacle following the bank robbery, injuring the child. Somehow the two escape and, with the help of Yasijiro (Sakaguchi), a samurai and young Susie (Nukaya), get rid of the Governor and his clique in a wild shootout with sword fights.

The Western meets the Samurai actioner and together they spawn a post-nuclear disaster movie with humans running around as Semi-Zombies clad in card-board. Cage lets fly, Boutella is underused, and in the end one no one gives a damn that nothing makes much sense. Sôkei Tanikawa’s excoriating images are wasted, as are the attempts of the audience to remember anything of the slightest importance after leaving the cinema. A void. AS

NOW ON BLURAY AND DVD FROM NOVEMBER 15th

Petite Maman (2021)

Dir: Celine Sciamma | Cast: Nina Meurisse, Margot Abascal, Josephine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Stephane Varupenne | Drama France, 72′

Petite Maman ia a haunting drama contemplating loss and longing through the eyes of two young girls.

Seeing things entirely from a child’s perspective French auteuse Celine Sciamma once again explores the subtle sensibilities of human dynamics with a cast of young performers (Gabrielle and Josephine Sanz) who are remarkably calm and detached in a wake of a family bereavement.

The director showed a keen appreciation of young minds in her 2011 film Tomboy. Here the focus is little Nelly and how she copes in the days after her grandma’s death as the rest of the family clears out the home that has become so familiar and comforting during the first years of her life.

Avoiding sentimentality Sciamma creates an atmosphere of placid ambiguity for most of this almost spellbound drama that sees solemn 8-year-old Nelly (Josephine Sanz) wondering into the nearby woods where she meets Marion (played by identical twin sister Gabrielle), the two striking up a tentative friendship as they build a tree house. There’s a touch of the twins in Kubrick’s The Shining about these children, with their chilly demeanour and distant, ambivalent gaze. But we are far removed from any horror story here in a style that is best described at fantastical realism.

Mature beyond her years Nelly views her bereft mother with emotional detachment, although she is very supportive and practical in other ways, doing chores around the house with her father (Varupenne) whom she regards with scepticism, ticking him off about his chain-smoking smoking. Sciamma gradually abandons enigma in the second half but also keeps us guessing as the story gradually unfolds in an eerie and suspended moment in time.

Building a gentle but restrained camaraderie throughout, the Sanz sisters give captivating debut performances as the confident but controlled friends. Meurisse is full of sensitivity as Nelly’s mother carrying her grief with a doleful dignity. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 |

 

 

Dettori (2021)

Dir: Anthony Wonke | UK Doc | 114′

This biopic about the Italian-born jockey Frankie Dettori is a film for everyone to enjoy, not just the racing fraternity. It gallops forward on the back of Dettori’s infectious charisma and sunny optimism, a role model who proves that perseverance and commitment is just as important as talent, often more so. With over 3000 wins under his belt, Dettori is as popular as he’s successful on the turf. An admiring portrait of a man who’s still raring to go at 50, but the admiration is justified, and, as a bonus, the camera just loves him, as much as the horses do.

Like the jockey himself, Anthony Wonke’s film darts backwards and forwards, while Frankie, spotlit, just talks into the camera. It all starts with a spurt of adrenaline in  October 2019 at the famous Arc de Triomphe in Longchamp (near Paris) where we first meet Dettori and his ‘soulmate’ Enable, the champion British Thoroughbred racehorse. The pair are a legend. And rightly so. Frankie describes his bond with the horse as a ‘living/breathing experience’. Riders can be “emotionally touched” by certain horses, and the champion Enable was certainly one of them for him. Dettori rode Enable in everyone of her 14 races, winning 11 of them. And although they didn’t win on this third unprecedented attempt to take the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, there is tremendous support from the 40,000 strong crowd who are more nervous than he is. The deflation of being pipped to the post is so emotional, and you feel for him – and the horse. Then comes the usual pep-talk from his father on the journey back home.

The story then flashes back to Italy and Dettori’s modest upbringing in Milan. His father Gianfranco had tried his luck as a stable boy and soon developed a talent for riding, becoming a champion jockey and one of the best riders of his generation. His constant presence as a taskmaster and mentor has shaped Frankie’s career. Frankie describes how his father (who still calls him Lanfranco) eventually gave him a palomino pony. But he had “all the gear and no idea” until he was shipped off to Luton, England – which was the making of him. Padre Dettori still spurs him on mercilessly, even today, where the story comes full circle with his own daughter Ella, now competing as a rider.

Frankie remembers a fraught childhood. And although his mother was an affectionate figure, the young Frankie was a ‘volcano inside’ according to his sister Alessandra who spent lockdown in the family home near Newmarket with his English wife Catherine and their five children, and still makes him his favourite “polpette”.

There’s so much to pack in, but Bafta-awarded Anthony Wonke somehow manages it in just under two hours: that day at Ascot in 1996 when Dettori won 7 races on the trot; the tragic plane crash at Goodwood that saw him escaping with Ray Cochrane (the pilot  was killed); his international achievements in Dubai, and the pinnacle of the racing diary The Epsom Derby. He covers the years with the training aristocracy: Luca Cumani, Peter Burrell and John Gosden who describes him as a “one-man marketing operation”. But Gianfranco really seems to have made him what he is today, pumping him full of confidence but also verbally horse-whipping his son into shape. Horses run for him. He seems to fly with the horse and the strong work ethic is there too. And his joie de vivre is extraordinary.

There are the lows too, where Frankie has a brush with drugs, spending time in a Hong Kong jail. But the film also describes his love of the limelight: he wanted to be famous too much to let that life get the better of him. Covid was the worst time, his wife Catherine describing how he very much needs the buzz of the track and the international competitions to keep his mojo up. She comes across as a powerful, stabilising force along with their united, loving family; a rift with his father is now healed. At its heart, Dettori is a feelgood film that captures the essence of an extremely likeable man who simply rides horses better than anyone else does. MT

ON RELEASE ON 15 NOVEMBER IN SELECTED CINEMAS, BLU-RAY, DVD & DOWNLOAD TO OWN.

107 Mothers (2021)

Wri/Dir: Peter Kerekes | Drama: Ukraine, 92’

This candid look at motherhood in a Ukrainian prison makes for grim viewing but it is fascinating nevertheless, and there’s stark honesty in the faces of these women who have brought babies into the world in harsh circumstances. All are criminals, but none are odious as they talk direct to the camera about their lives and misdemeanours. Most are murderers. One woman killed her husband’s lover with a piece of piping. A crime of passion, but one that comes with a certain sense of satisfaction. At least he’s alone now too.

Czech filmmaker Peter Kerekes melds reality and fiction in a documentary that features professional actress Maryna Klimova (as Lesya). A convicted felon cuddling a cherubic-faced newborn baby is the ultimate is contradiction, but maybe the experience of motherhood will offer redemption of sorts as they stare at stone walls and prison bars. Tenderness and torture in a cold climate. A woman punished emotionally and viscerally, unable to love and care for the child who’s been her most intimate companion for the past nine months.

There’s a grudging camaraderie amongst these females of all ages as they shuffle from one vast room to the next, exchanging words and glances, facing uncomfortable facts and surroundings, rather than the love and gentleness that normally surrounds motherhood, a woman’s ultimate goal; her raison d’être, reduced to nothing. Expressing milk from the breast to the bottle – and then pouring it down the plughole feels like a terrible travesty. Surely better to drink the precious elixir of life, than pour it down the sink? And the babies are the ultimate victims, torn from their mother’s warmth, they languish in metal cots crying pitifully until the orphanage or a family member claims them.

But prison is also a reductive experience. And these women are in no doubt as to what they really wanted out of life. And the sad circumstances that led them down the wrong road, their emotions taking over in the heat of the moment. Regret and endurance are now their only bed fellows  Even the prison guard Iryna (Iryna Kiryazeva) has missed her chance at happiness, and it’s her own mother who tells her as much, once the gruelling work day is over and the two sit in solemn silence, the mother lamenting her lack of a grandchild. In the morning, Iryna reads through the inmates’ personal letters, to her chagrin, before posting them in their respective mail boxes. One man writes to his girlfriend: “I’ll bring you tights and red lipstick, we’ll fuck for three days when you’re free”. Some have already managed a covert conjugal visit. There are ways and means, even in prison.

Motherhood behind bars is an unusual subject for a male filmmaker but one that Kerekes delivers with sensitivity in a delicate colour palette. There’s a rhythmic quality to his framing and mise-en-scene that makes this ‘docudrama’ appealing despite the subject matter. Social realism would have been too grim. 107 Mothers is compulsive and memorable despite its flaws. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL HORIZONS WINNER | BEST SCREENPLAY |  MANNHEIM HEIDELBERG FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Vera Dreams of the Sea (2021)

Dir: Katrina Krasniqi | Drama, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia. 87 mins.

The evocative title of this confident feature debut from Kosovo’s Katrina Krasniqi belies the toughness of the heroine in a family drama focusing on inheritance and male dominance. Vera (played with restraint by Teuta Ajdini Jegeni) is a calm but resolute woman who is not to be messed with, particularly when it comes to losing her home.

Vera is swift to point out that the only thing she has ever inherited is her bread-winning ability as a sign language translator, a talent that no one can steal, and gives her economic and personal freedom. She works for a TV news channel and lives in old-fashioned but comfortable surroundings in Prishtina with her husband, retired judge Fatmiri (Xhevat Qorraj).

But when he suddenly commits suicide, Vera faces the threat of homelessness due to Albania’s patriarchal society dictating that males automatically inherit. This taut character drama is a stinging indictment on a culture that places men at the head of the queue before women and children. After the funeral, Vera’s husband’s cousin, Ahmeti (Astrit Kabashi), shamelessly asserts how close he was to Fatmiri, so much so the judge had left him the family house. His side of the story is then endorsed by a disdainful crew of ‘village elders’ who refuse to countenance Vera’s righteous claim on the property. A series of sinister threats then ensue.

Vera’s daughter, Sara (Alketa Sylaj), is a single mother struggling for financial security of her own, which puts her at a disadvantage, confidence-wise, when auditioning for a part which she fails to land in the feature’s ‘play within a film’ structure.

Vera is of the old school of Kosovo women; keeping her own counsel, quietly firm and  pragmatic, unlike the strung-out and emotional Sara. But in private she does shed a tear at the injustice of her predicament, while driving back on the brand new Prishtina-Skopje highway (a nod to the nation’s economic future that has clearly come at a price).

And she will work things to her advantage in the satisfying conclusion, proving her a force to be reckoned with in Doruntina’ Basha’s refined screenplay where a great deal happens behind closed doors. Vera’s emotional outlet comes in her dreams where she sees herself drowning in the titular sea, a potent motif with its clear implications. Another powerful scene pictures Vera and Ahmeti in a cafe for the deaf, where she states her argument loud and clear, and in no uncertain terms. MT

NOW IN COMPETITION AT MANNHEIM HEIDELBERG FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | Grand Prix WINNER TOKYO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

There is No Evil (2021)

Dir.: Mohammad Rasoulof; Cast: Ehsam Mirrhosseini, Shaghayegh Shourian, Kaveh Ahangar, Mohammad Valizadegan, Maytab Servati, Mohammad Sedighi, Jila Shahi, Baran Rosoulof; Germany/Iran/Czech Republic 2020, 152 min.

Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof (Manuscripts Don’t Burn) is under house arrest in his own country waiting for a prison sentence to be enforced. And to make matters worse, is forbidden to direct feature films.

Nevertheless, Rasoulof managed to escape all restrictions and shot There Is No Evil secretly, and had the copies smuggled out of the country where his film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Festival in 2020. Anyone expecting a hurried guerrilla style film will be surprised: DoP Ashkan Ashkani’s measured wide screen images are intricately composed, and the tempo is either lyrical or unhurried in the four episodes which deal with the death penalty, part of the instrument of terror in Iran’s repressive regime.

The first episode (that takes the main title) shows an ordinary day in the life of an ordinary couple. We watch Heshmat (Mirrhosseini) leave his work place, fetch his wife Razieh (Shourian) from work, collect their spoilt daughter from school, visit the ailing grandmother, prepare for a wedding the next day, pay bills at the bank – with Heshmat having time to rescue a little cat trapped in the garage of his apartment block. It therefore comes as a surprise that Heshmat’s work is to carry out some of the many executions demanded by the Iran’s clerical fanatics aimed at punishing all forms of resistance. Needless to say, Heshmat’s ‘work’ room is as unremarkable as his life outside.

Episode two “She said, you can do it” is a thriller. Private Ponya (Ahangar) is in a room with five other soldiers. As dawn breaks Ponya will undertake his first hanging of the day, by kicking away the stool from the standing victim. Ponya does not want to blacken his soul, but there’s no other way of doing his job. His pleasant girl friend collects him in a car, and Ponya is overwhelmed by his own ‘courage’: triumphant music celebrates his escape from the deadly duty.

“Birthday”, the third segment, returns to the topic of hanging, this time again featuring a soldier whose duty is to kick the stool from under the execution victim: Javad (Valizadegan) agrees to perform the gruelling task in order to get three days off to propose to his girlfriend Nana (Servati). He arrives in the countryside, and washes himself in a stream. Chairs are set out in the garden of the country mansion where Nana is waiting for him, but the chairs are not for her birthday celebrations, as her father tells Javad, but for a memorial service for Keshurvaz, a local teacher and opponent of the Regime, who had been executed the day before. Javad is crushed, and later confesses to Nana. She is gentle but firm: saying good-bye to Javad for the last time.

The last episode, by far the longest, enigmatically called “Kiss Me”, features Baran Rosoulof (the director’s daughter) who plays Darya, a young medical student, living in the USA, and home to visit her uncle Mehr (Sedighi) and his wife Zaman (Shahi), who live in the remote Iranian countryside. Mehr suffers from TB, and is not practicing medicine any more, instead the couple lives from the proceeds of their bee-keeping. Darya is in permanent contact via mobile with her father Mansoor and her boy friend, but neither seems to be able to satisfy her many questions. Finally, Mehr admits the shocking truth about her origins which came about due to a lack of trust and disillusion with the brutal regime in another tragic family story.

Rasoulof avoids sentimentality directing with crisp emotionless precision and never dwelling on the overwhelming negativity. A near fatalistic air hangs above all four segments. “Kiss Me’, teeters on the brink of an emotional outburst but Rasoulof in the end opts for restraint, dwelling on a long shot in the beautiful mountain landscape. The feature was originally called by its direct translation “Satan doesn’t exist”, a more fitting title for this understated masterpiece. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 3 DECEMBER 2021

Playground (2021)

Die: Laura Wandel | Drama, Belgium, 62′

Bullying and the casual cruelty of children is the focus of this schoolground psychological thriller – Belgian’s Oscar hopeful in next year’s academy award.

Everyone remembers a school bully or being at the receiving end of acts of nastiness that caused emotional if not physical pain. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” was regularly trotted out by parents attempting to rationalise the situation but offered scant comfort as the next day at school loomed with trepidation.     

Playground launches us straight into the tearful time seven year old Nora is having when her father (Karim Leklou) drops her off at the school gates. And we feel for her, and it’s a touching and impassioned and astonishingly subtle performance from Maya Vanderbegue. She will gradually toughen up during the course of Laura Wandel’s debut feature but you get the impression there is a steely, not altogether, healthy resolve behind her wilful behaviour in the finale stretch, the camera lingering at the kids’ eye level, as the adult world seems far away, irrelevant, any grown up authority unable to intervene or limit the taunts and vicious outbursts of a playground transformed into a gladiatorial arena from the scared children’s’ perspective .

Nora clings to her elder brother Abel (Günter Duret) who soon becomes an unreliable ally: he’s got his own adversaries to deal with in the schoolyard pecking order, and resents Nora’s babyish demands for sibling allegiance when he has to protect his own interests and not appear weak, or involve her by association. Seen through the naturalistic gaze of Frederic Noirhomme’s camera kids are just as complex as fully grown adults but not yet capable of guile and disingenuousness in their facial expressions, making them fascinating subjects to watch.

Eventually Abel will turn the tables on his child tormentors in this impressive first feature which explores how kids separate from the parental comfort zone and learn to fight their own battles – quite literally. MT

PLAYGROUND wins the Grand Prix in Tallinn’s Just Film | FIPRESCI prize for Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival and the Sutherland Prize for Best First Feature at the London Film Festival.

 

 

 

A Thousand Fires (2021) IDFA

Dir.: Saeed Taji Farouky; Documentary with Thein Shwe, Hwte Tin, Zin Ko Aung; France/Switzerland/Netherlands/Palestine; 90 min.

The day to day life of a family in the Magway region of Myanmar, home to the largest number of unregulated oil fields, vividly contrasts the past and the present. Myanmar – the former Burma – was once best known for its paddy fields but nowadays farming provides only a minimal income in this shift from agrarian to industrial lifestyle.

Thein Shwe and Hitwe Tin are a married couple who, like thousands of others, followed the oil-rush. now eking out a meagre living from their ‘home-based’ production of less than a barrel day. Even though this is still more profitable than working the fields, the work is just as gruelling and unpredictable. And although rigs are machine-powered: ropes and wheels drive the piston – the operation is controlled manually, like in the 19th century, before drilling became industrialised. And the oil reserves are rapidly running out.

The opening sequence is a flaming blaze of fire setting alight a landscape full of derricks and make-shift huts. Clanging, humming and banging fills the air, mud and oil are everywhere, and humidity makes the work even more arduous with Thein Shwe constantly covered in grime. But the future doesn’t exactly look promising with the parents still doing the manual work, while their three teenage children were supposed to bring financial relief through their education. But they’re not much help on that front. One of the sons Zin Ko Aung still lives at home but is unreliable, having left High School without a degree he’s now drifting between the pass and the future although one of his qualified college friends earns good money as manager of a textile company.

Thein Shwe is highly critical of Zin but realises that the teenager should make the best of his talent for football. The local Soccer Academy coach offers him a place and his parents drive him there. But the Coach then tells  Zin “to cut all ties with his family”.

Meanwhile the couple resort to their Buddhist faith and Fortune Tellers who offer a comfort of sorts: Thein Shwe being told not to be greedy. A somewhat scary ritual ‘Feed the Dragon’ is connected to their work environment.

Farouky keeps his distance and even avoids social commentary. What we see is the parents’ abiding love for their offspring – a universal theme that never changes. The old-fashioned 4:3 format creates an intimacy connecting us all with it common threads. Shot by the director with a vibrant colour palette and wonderful night sequences, when absolute peace replaces the clamour of the day, A Thousand Fires is unremarkable but moving just the same. AS

INTERNATIONAL DOC FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM | 17-28 NOVEMBER 2021| Locarno Critics’ Week Winner – Marco Zucchi Award 2021

Naked (1993) Blu-ray and digital release

Dir.: Mike Leigh; Cast: David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Greg Cruttwell, Claire Skinner, Peter Wight, Gina McKee; UK 1993, 131 min.

Winning Best Director Award at Cannes Film Festival in 1993, catapulted British writer/director Mike Leigh from progressive, but marginal filmmaker, into worldwide recognition with Naked. The dark portrait of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain also garnered the Best Actor Award for its main protagonist David Thewlis, and British cinema had its first internationally recognised director since the New British Wave of the 1960s.

When Leopold Blum, the main protagonist of James Joyce’ 1922 novel “Ulysses” roams the streets of Dublin, both he and the city had an identity. Seventy years on, Johnny (Thewlis) flees his hometown of Manchester for London, stealing a car, as much of a wreck as he is, and fearing retribution after a bout of violent sex with a woman in some dark corner, Johnny, in his late twenties, has long lost any sense of himself or his surroundings. Disenfranchised, he heads towards the capital, the citadel of Thatcherism: a home for nobody, not even yuppies, as we will learn.

And just as there was for Odysseus, there is a Penelope waiting for Johnny – not that he will recognise her. Heading for the home of his ex-lover, Louise (Sharp), a Mancunian just like Johnny, she made a move to London for a job that somehow never materialised. When Johnny arrives he meets Louise’s flat mate Sophie (a brilliant Katrin Cartlidge, who died only forty-one years old in 2002), spaced out on drugs. Johnny enjoys brutal sex, and is soon replaced by the landlord in Katrin’s bed, the suave Jeremy (Cruttwell), who also gets high on violent rape. Katrin, now nearly out of her mind, is saved by the arrival of Louise: the two women locking themselves in a room. Johnny has meanwhile wandered off into the night as nobody wants to listen to his verbal diarrhoea: endless provocations and put downs. On his nocturnal wanderings, Johnny meets the middle-aged security guard Brian (Wight), who guards an empty office block. Just to show he can, Johnny enters the flat of a middle-aged woman, who is the target of Brian’s ‘peeping tom’ longings.

For no reason at all, Johnny decides he rather would continue to put Brian down, but then along comes ‘cafe girl’ (a melancholy McKee). She is so miserable that Johnny leaves her flat willingly when she chucks him out. He returns to Louise’s, where Sandra (Skinner), the main tenant fetches up, having finished a nursing stint in Zimbabwe. Sandra gets rid of the obnoxious landlord (who turns out to be not so tough, when confronted by a determined woman), and bandages Johnny’s injured ankle, the result of a fight. Whilst Sandra recovers in the bath, Louise and Johnny sing together about ‘Rainy Manchester’, and we get a glimpse of what could have been, when Louise leaves to give in her notice, and return to Manchester.

To say that Naked is bleak is an understatement. DoP Dick Pope, who went on to collaborate with Leigh on seven more features, shows grim nights, invaded homes and a general wasteland in colours fit for a funeral. The acting is just perfect and Leigh always gives Johnny a redeeming way out, before piling on more self-inflicted misery. Johnny’s Alter ego Jeremy is just ahead in the male rat race, but driven by the same need to hurt women. A pitiless ending closes a journey into the underbelly of humanity. AS

CELEBRATING 50 YEARS OF FILMMAKING, BFI RELEASES 4K BLURAY and DIGITALLY, INCLUDING BFI PLAYER on 29 November 2021

Eiffel (2021)

Dir: Martin Bourboulon | Cast: Romain Duris, Emma Mackey, Pierre Deladonchamps | France, Drama 108′

Martin Bourboulon’s elegant and ravishingly realised historical drama also goes by the amusing title of Eiffel in Love and sees the pioneering engineer who designed the iconic symbol of the city of Paris as a disillusioned romantic and national hero played dashingly here by Romain Duris.

In March 1889 Gustave Eiffel is sketching away at his drawing board way in the rooftops of Paris proud in the knowledge that his completed edifice, built for the ‘Exhibition Universelle’, had impressed everyone with its stature and daring design representing France’s return to power and industry after an era of ‘blood and tears’. A cutaway shows him receiving an American award for his framework design for the Statue of Liberty, three years previously, in 1886.

Now a household name, Eiffel feels a sense of professional achievement; the brief was to build a democratic monument that everyone could see: worker, child and aristocrat. It had been an ambitious and controversial undertaking based on Eiffel’s ingenious sand-based system, but dogged by setbacks, worker disputes and anger from local residents due to the disruption and enormity of the perilous building process, pictured in Matias Boucard’s majestic widescreen images.

The sumptuous social settings of his upper bourgeois circle of friends are overshadowed by a tumultuous and bittersweet private life revealing the engineer as a deeply sensual man, a proud father and widower – but destined to be unhappy in love. An early coup de foudre with the young seductrice and socialite Adrienne Bourges (the darkly attractive Emma Mackey) who he calls “spoilt” but soon impregnates, comes to an end when her father declares Eiffel ‘socially unsuitable’. So she goes on to marry his friend, the wealthy and influential Antoine de Restac (Deladonchamps) who supports Eiffel’s controversial tower scheme. His torrid love affair with Adrienne is then rekindled and runs throughout the film as a bittersweet motif in the rather choppy five-handed screenplay.  

Some may see this slickly realised social drama as a unique tribute to France’s 19th century industrial power, trivialised by the doomed love story at its heart. Others may find the romantic interludes flesh out the maverick engineer’s backstory and add emotional freight and tension to the awe-inspiring construction procedural that gradually gains momentum through the sheer human endeavour that built a ‘staircase to infinity’ soaring 300 metres high over the rooftops of Paris, the tallest man-made edifice at the time. Despite its structural flaws – and whichever way you see it –  Eiffel is an enjoyable and fitting homage to a man who was creative, romantic and cerebral. Certainly a hero to be celebrated.  MT

ON RELEASE IN UK and IRISH CINEMAS from 12 August 2022

 

Gaza Mon Amour (2021) VOD

Dir.: Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser; Cast: Salim Dau, Hiam Abbass, Maisa Abd Elhadi, George Iskandar, Manal Awad; France/Palestine/Germany/Portugal/Qatar 2020, 86 min.

Love and war on the West Bank where the refugee camp has become home for two generations of Palestinians. But politics plays second fiddle to this pithy personal story about the people who live here.

Fisherman Issa (Dau) is a grumpy, old man – and there are many reasons for single status. His best friend, Samir (Iskandar) has given all his savings to people smugglers, and will soon leave his family behind. Then there is Issa’s sister Manal (Awad), who wants to marry him off to a wealthy woman, dragging five suitable candidates into Issa’s small flat. But the fisherman has already fallen for Siham (Abbass), a seamstress, who lives with her divorced daughter Leila (Elhadi), who prefers university life to helping her mother. For Manal, this match would ruin her brother’s reputation: a divorced daughter and a bride who meddles in business – clearly a male prerogative.

Then things take a comic turn when Issa catches an old Greek statue in his net, instead of fish. He drags the man-sized object home, but drops it, and the rather large penis breaks off in the process. Issa takes the appendage to the jeweller, who offers him a good price, but Issa declines. Next day, the police search his home, uncover the statue (minus the missing piece) and Issa ends up in jail. The authorities ask an expert to value the piece of art, but when the academic claims it represents the God Apollo, he is ticked off: the use of the word ‘ God’ it not permitted. Religious scruples aside, a foreign museum offers a competitive price and would go higher if the missing piece is found. Issa gives it to the police, but only after having been promised a reward. Meanwhile his sister collects more ‘dirt’ on Manal, and there is nothing but offence left for Issa, he is simply an awkward bugger getting old, and lonely, so marriage seems his only option. Meanwhile Amir has had enough of it and leaves his wife and children behind. The other character with big dreams is Leila: she wants success on her own terms, and while she doesn’t want to be stuck at home with her mother, she loathes the thought of another repressive husband, despite her mother’s advice to settle down.

DoP Christophe Graillot shows Gaza as it is: a planner’s housing nightmare, put together decades ago as a transitional solution but now falling apart. And the inhabitants, are under just as much under the IDF cosh with their daily bombing raids as the business owners – Siham’s boss cuts her wages, telling her to be glad she’s not laid off – like others. And the electricity company charges exorbitant prices, even though regular black-outs disrupt everyday life. But then there is Issa, dreaming of love in midst of the chaos of this run-down but obdurate community.

With great performances by Dau and Abbass, Gaza Mon Amour is a slow-burning humanist tale of bizarre and absurd contradictions. AS

GAZA MON AMOUR IS PALESTINE’S OSCAR ENTRY IN THE 93rd ACADEMY AWARDS | NOW ON VOD AND in US theatres.

 

 

The Beatles and India (2021) Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival

Dir: Ajoy Bose, Peter Compton | Doc, 95

Regaling the time when The Beatles went mad in India – where Beatlemania was already a thing – this new musical documentary digs up some archive treasures from from an era that launched flower power and all things surreal and psychedelic.

The title sequence kicks off with Rammi Kapoor doing his stuff accompanied by India’s equivalent band the Savages and a motley crew of exotic dancers in Bhappi Sonie’s 1965 film Janwar. We then cut back to archive footage of a bomb-struck Liverpool where the boys recall their how grim it was back then in England – has anything changed – and confirming that the grass is always greener when you venture to pastures new. As they did.

The Beatle story has already been rung dry of new juice but somehow Ajoy Bose and his co-director Peter Compton switch stuff around to make this fun and entertaining, and a tribute to how four young guys electrified the youth of their day, who up to then looked and acted pretty much as their parents had done until this zippy injection of counterculture ushered in the Swinging Sixties.

And the band’s massive success certainly did its bit in turning the spotlight on India  which until then had never registered in the collective consciousness of the west (could they now please do something for climate change?).

Of course, George Harrison will always go down in history as being the most adventurous Beatle beating a path to India to take sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar in 1966. The others followed in 1968 captivated by the idiosyncratic sitar music and its history and transformational powers, and this is the thrust of this new film with its fascinating talking heads recalling their own memories of the band’s visit from the Indian perspective. MT

MALLORCA EVOLUTION INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 27 Oct 27 – 2 Nov 2021

Cow (2021)

Director: Andrea Arnold | UK Doc 94′

Andrea Arnold returns to her native Kent for a first documentary feature that follows the daily life of a best-loved farmyard animal, the Cow. An intrusive almost wordless look that starts with the birth of a female calf to Luma, a long-lashed beauty with a glossy black and white splodged coat. Hooves first, the baby emerges and all we see is an enquiring eye looking round at the world in amazement, Luma wiping a lustrous tongue round her baby’s fluffy ear. But mother and calf are soon parted, the calf is taken away to the plastic teat of the farmer’s bottle. Dairy cow Luma will then be milked mechanically for our own consumption til the end of her life.

Cow has echoes of the 2012 shocker Leviathan where Lucien Castaing Taylor and Vanessa Paravel took an intense arthouse gaze at commercial fishing through the eyes of the fish themselves. Gunda took a similar wide-eyed approach: A human attempt to see things from the animals’ perspective. Here the cow becomes our friend and the human a cruel, opportunistic and exploitative interloper. When the black bull arrives to do his business, Luma carries on unimpressed. The only moment of bliss in her life is grazing in the bucolic peace of the summery Kentish meadows, chewing buttercups and lush grass in the moonlight. Overhead a plane comes into landing its lights flashing like an alien spaceship in her natural world.

The mass production of milk is big business but Arnold doesn’t bore us with the facts or figures, or even talking heads. The only heads here are furry bovine ones, and muddy bottoms caressed by swishing tails. Bemused, bewildered and beguiling the cows look out in wonder at a world of exploitation. And when Luma’s calf disappears into a plastic pen with a plastic teat, Luma moos loudly in protest as the two are parted. And as each of her calves is born Luma becomes more and more protective, or at least that’s what we hear from a disembodied human voice. Clearly cows have feelings too. But here she merely exists to produce milk – gallons of it – and that repetitive diurnal task is what leads us to the film’s shockingly blunt finale. MT

Andrea Arnold’s first feature documentary COW in cinemas on demand from 8 April 2022.

 

The Laureate (2021) Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival

Dir.: William Nunez; Cast: Tom Hughes, Dianna Agron, Laura Haddock, Indica Watson, Fra Fee, Julian Glover, Patricia Hodge, Timothy Renouf, Christian Anholt; UK 2021, 108 min.

William Nunez chronicles three years in the life of British wartime poet Robert von Ranke Graves as a voyeuristic sex trip, the creative context being largely sidelined.

The focus is the late 1920s ménage-a-trois with his wife Nancy Nicholson and the American poet Laura Riding that gradually became a quartet when the Irish poet Geoffrey Phibbs joined the party. Graves was once of the most influential poets and writers of his generation, his WWI Memorial ‘Good-Bye to all That’ being a seminal text, yet with all that dramatic potential to mine, it does seem surprising that bedroom affairs and orgies take centre stage in The Laureate, Nunez portraying Graves as a straight man, rather neglecting his relationship with fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon who only has a cameo role.

Graves had several near-death experiences: as a boy he suffered from pneumonia and later, in the trenches, was left for dead returning shell-shocked from the front. His 1918 marriage to Nancy Nicholson, an early feminist resulted in four children but Graves was often plagued by writing-block due to his PTSD.

American poet Laura Riding visits the couple and their daughter Catherine (Watson) in a cottage in Oxfordshire where Riding at first seems more interested in Nancy than Graves. But soon, with Nancy’s open approval, Laura takes Robert to London’s Hammersmith where they indulge in some clumsily staged sex parties.

Laura, the archetypal destructive femme fatale, soon claims another male scalp: Irish poet Geoffrey Phibbs, a rather wooden performance by Fra Fee. But Phibbs is very taken with Nancy who has been left alone, renting a house boat on the Thames. Laura jumps out of a window when Phibbs fails to return her affections. Robert jumps after her. Both will survive and live together before separating in 1940. Phipps will divorce his artist wife and live with Nancy until 1934 in Oxfordshire, Nancy becoming a famous textile designer.

There is a great deal of name-dropping, with TS Elliot (Anholt) making a pass at Laura, promising to publish her writing if she goes to bed with him. Sassoon (Renouf) offers to help Graves with his writing block possibly for ulterior motives but then becomes miffed when Graves marries Nancy. Sassoon felt betrayed by Graves, believing their relationship should have meant more than the heterosexual relationship with Nancy.

In this sumptuously staged arthouse drama Nunez concentrates on salaciousness at the expense of the complex intellectual relationships between the writers: Riding continued to support Graves while he was writing “The White Goddess” (1948), even though their sexual relationship was over. Nunez also shamelessly re-constructs history: particularly where Graves’ daughter Catherine in concerned. And she only appears briefly to serve the narrative in showing Laura as an unfeeling mother who tries to trick the child into jumping out of the window, just to show her power. AS.

THE MALLORCA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 October 27 – November 2 2021 

Night Tide (1961) Mubi

Dir: Curtis Harrington | Cast: Dennis Hopper, Gavin Muir, Luana Anders, Linda Lawson | US drama 82’

Starring a fresh-faced young Dennis Hopper during his blacklisting following a row with the director Henry Hathaway; director Curtis Harrington was a film historian of some distinction who wrote glowingly of Val Lewton and this fanciful little Freudian psychodrama obviously draws upon Cat People. 

Enhanced by glacial photography by newcomer Vilis Lapenieks and haunting music by veteran David Rakin; in addition to Hopper the unique cast includes Gavin Muir (an urbane English-accented presence at Universal during the forties), Marjorie Cameron (who had appeared with Harrington in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome), and Luana Anders, later reunited with Hopper on Easy Rider

NOW ON MUBI

The Novice (2021)

Wri/Dir: Lauren Hadaway | Cast: Isabelle Fuhrman, Dilone, Amy Forsyth, Jonathan Cherry, Kate Drummond, Jeni Ross, Eve Kanyo, Nikki Duval, Charlotte Ubben, Sage Irvine, Chantelle Bishop | US Thriller 94′

The ‘sports or performance thriller ‘ is fast becoming a sub-genre in its own right: The Novice follows on from the recent skiing drama Slalom (2020) and The Coldest Game (2019), Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash and even the recent Israeli drama God of the Piano where the central protagonist is obsessed by chosen field, often to their own detriment.

In Lauren Hadaway’s rowing-related film, Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) skulls along in the dark waters of a river, desperate to beat all records, hellbent on her own performance despite being part of a team. Later, on the rowing machine, Dall is enters the ‘zone’ again high on adrenaline and challenging herself to the limit – ignoring an innate lack of talent but turning instead to strategy, hell bent on being better and better. Eventually her desire becomes a unhealthy obsession that somehow feeds on her soul, an all-consuming need to push the body further and further, until she feels physical pain in order to achieve her goal: the Varsity rowing team.

The Novice in actually a film about obsession rather than enjoyment – and Dall has to excel in everything she turns her hand to: be it a sport or a subject at college where she is a ‘Fresher’. Meeting teacher’s assistant Dani (Dilone) is the turning point – she is naturally gifted, relaxed and secure. Their chemistry sizzles for a time despite Dall’s lack of social skills – prickly and awkward – she is not popular, but her obsession soon takes over again and everything suffers in the wake of her drive to succeed. Dall is in flight from herself, restless, constantly on the move. Rowing gives her a ‘raison d’être’.

She does have one other ally in the shape of Jamie (Amy Forsyth), but soon even he is alienated, along with the others, in her desire to be the best. Her sporting prowess defines her, all the pain is worth suffering, or is it? Here – unlike the other films in the genre – there is no prize for Dani’s excellence – only the loneliness of extreme endeavour, and the misery of isolation. There’s a comfort in this mental anguish, it feels familiar – and that reinforcement is the reward for Dall, confirming her habitual unhappiness. This is the status quo that she’s grown used to since childhood. A welcome home from home.

Based on the director’s own experience The Novice is a convincing depiction of character implosion. And Fuhrman gives it her best efforts as Dall in an award-winning turn (Best Actress US Narrative at Tribeca 2021). Todd Martin keeps things suitably dank and murky with his watery visual aesthetic along with Hadaway’s confident direction in an unsettling study of an unbalanced mind. MT

NOW ON FIRETV, APPLETV, ROKU. 

 

Jane by Charlotte (2021) DocLisboa 2021

Dir/Wri: Charlotte Gainsbourg | Doc, 86′

In his rather tricksy biopic singer, photographer, actor and now director Charlotte Gainsbourg (1971-) attempts to unveils her legendary mother Jane Birkin (1946-), model, actor and enigmatic star of that kinky song “Je t’aime, moi non plus” by her rakish father Serge.

Keen to retain her mystique, Birkin smirks winsomely behind a tousled mop of hair, murmuring breathy soundbites to retain her allure, her daughter tentatively teasing out episodes past and present to avoid embarassing or disrupting the fragile facade that created her mother’s original elusiveness. The two speak French, Birkin sometimes breaking into ‘Franglais’. Meanwhile we desperately clutch at straws hoping for a meaty backstory, something more tangible to feed on; not so much of that flirty love affair between Birkin and Gainsbourg but of the essence of Birkin herself, and how she came to be celebrity muse to maverick star Serge Gainsbourg.

Many of her fellow female celebrities of the sixties: Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Marianne Faithful, and the like, have retained that place in history, seared to our collective consciousness as legendary icons. But was their legendary status justified; did it have ballast – or where they just lucky to be around to capture the essence of a time when this cloud of creative counterculture known as the ‘swinging sixties’ burst onto the scene?.

The legendary Agnes Varda had a go at revealing Birkin in her upbeat film essay Jane B. by Agnès V. but managed to keep her friend under wraps. Will Charlotte do the same, or will her piece a ‘peek behind the scenes’ that manages to find something more intriguing. Sadly no.

Loose and louche, this turns out to be rather sketchy, to say the least. Mother and daughter potter around in the garden of Birkin’s picturesque seaside home accompanied by various small kids, the veteran star, now 74, attempting to be edgy by admitting to hacking off her hair in a flattering mirror, catching sight of the finished result in a less attractive reflection, and is horrified. But the stunt gave her singing career another lease of life when she performed onstage at the Paris Bataclan, proving she did have a real voice. Previously she had lip-synced to a playback tape.

From her various interviews over the years, and searching on Wikipedia, we know that Birkin was married to prolific film composer John Barry and had Kate who later committed suicide in 2013. She then gave birth to Charlotte with Gainsbourg and  Lou Doillon with Jacques Doillon. The Hermes ‘Birkin’ bag was named after her and she wrote the “Munkey Diaries”, but what new gems are uncovered here? Not a lot in an arcane outing that feels like an intensely personal vanity project with its family footage and hushed mother/daughter chats, but nothing else. There are no archive clips or film excerpts to enrich the film for the entertainment and enlightenment of audiences young and older. Just a rather ‘off the cuff’ sortie that plays out as a series of snapshots of the two spending time together. They are clearly close, touchingly so, but also respective of one another’s talents and Charlotte never pushes the boundaries into real intimacy.

The most fascinating scene sees Jane and Charlotte swinging by Serge’s flat in the rue de Verneuil (Paris) which has remained untouched with his white shoes – even Gitane cigarettes and old cans of food (many having exploded!) – there for all to see. But that’s as interesting as it gets for the outsider. Another missed opportunity. MT

AT DOCLISBOA 2021 | CANNES 2021 PREMIERE.

 

 

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021)

Dir.: Will Sharpe; Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Amy Lou Wood, Haley Squires, Stacy Martin, narrated by Olivia Coleman; UK 2021, 111 min.

Louis Wain’s paintings of anthropomorphic cats changed the human perception of our feline friends forever. In his whimsical if uneven imagined biopic drama Sharpe raises the profile of the lesser known English artist in a conventional hyper-emotional approach that borders on a TV soap, but its solid cast and the wacky subject will certainly appeal to cat lovers, and Olivia Colman’s narration is exquisite.

The Electrical Life stays clear of any sensational rumours about the artist’s mental decline which seems to go hand in paw with Wain’s prolific output in In the early 1880s the shy and introverted Wain (Cumberbatch) is heading up the London home of a family of six women after the death of his father. Of his five sisters Caroline (Riseborough) would have been better suited suited to the task of pater familias but Louis does his best with his meagre artist’s income, leaving his secure teaching job, and counting the editor of the London Gazette, Sir William Ingram (Jones), as a client, along with the New York Hearst Newpapers where Louis visits in 1907. Marriage to the family governess Emily Richardson (Foy), who is ten years his senior – was a scandal in those days, but a move to Hampstead, where they adopt a stray cat, calling it Peter, changes Wain’s artistic outlook forever. Louis’ work is very popular, but as a businessman he is less successful and the tragic death of his wife puts a dint in his morale and ultimately leads to his downfall.

In fact mental health issues dog the entire family – his sister Mary (Squires) has to be committed to an asylum – and Louis himself suffers the same fate in 1924, entering the pauper’s ward of Springfield Hospital, Tooting. A year later, a campaign was launched to have the artist relocated to the Royal Hospital Southwark ((where H.G. Wells was a patron) and then the Napsbury Hospital near St. Albans, which had large gardens and a huge colony of cats. In the years before his death, Wain paintings entered a new stage: full of bright colours, flowers and intricate abstract patterns, the cats still the centre of his artistic universe. This repudiates views that Wain had suffered from schizophrenia, which would have resulted in a deterioration of his work. It is highly likely that he suffered from Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

DoP Erik Alexander Wilson choses a surreal approach, picturing Victorian England as a fanciful fantasy idyll echoed in Suzie Davies’s plush production design in the style of BBC Sunday afternoon classics.  AS

IN CINEMAS ON New Year’s Day 2022

 

You Will Die at Twenty (2020)

Dir.: Amjad Abu Alala; Cast; Mustafa Shehata, Islam Mubarak, Mahound Maysara Elsaraj, Bonna Khalid, Talal Afifi, Amal Mustafa | Drama 103 min.

This first feature film from Sudanese director/co-writer Amjad Abu Alala is a melancholic rites of passage fable that has won awards across the board since Venice Film Festival 2019. Based on the short story “Sleeping at the foot of the mountain” by Hammour Ziada, it tells the story of Muzamil, who was destined at birth to live no more than the titular twenty years. With gorgeous images by DoP Sébastien Goepfert, the feature won the Luigi de Laurentis Award for Best First Film at the 76th Mostra 2019 in Venice.

In a village near the river Nile, Sakina (Mubarak) has given birth to a son, Muzamil. The Sheik and Village Eldest oversees the ceremony, but just when he wants to wish the baby a long and prosperous life, the dancer reciting the incantatory verses loses consciousness, his last word being ‘Twenty’.

From that time Muzamil will be known forever as the man who will die at twenty. His overprotective mother Sakina goes into mourning and wears black from the day of that  fateful ceremony. The children tease him, calling him “Son of Death”. His father Alnoor (Afifi) reacts differently to the potential loss of his son.) leaves the family and becomes a nomad on the African continent.

When Muzamil (Shehata) reaches his teens, his childhood sweetheart, Naima (Khalid), tries in vain to make him marry her. Muzamil has a brilliant memory, and can recite the whole Quran in two versions. But he also has an admirer in the shape of local Imam.  But Muzamil’s life changes when he meets Sulaiman (Elsaraj), a cinematographer who has travelled the world and has filmed his foreign adventures, as well the nightlife in Khartoum. He enthuses Muzamil with his zest for life and cinema and soon an internal conflict grows in Muzamil’s heart challenging his modern aspirations with his traditional values.

Alala choses a slow tempo to recount his tale making it clear where he stands in the fight between religious repression and human desires. With its naturalistic performances and sparse dialogue, this is pure visual storytelling and despite the rather maudlin subject matter You Will Die At Twenty is delightful to watch. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 12 NOVEMBER 2021

Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2021

Hungary is to be the focus of this year’s Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) announces Hungary as the Focus Country for this year’s 25th edition of the festival. The 25th celebration will open with Ildikó Enyedi’s ninth feature The Story of My Wife, which premiered in competition at Cannes this year, with 18 more Hungarian films screening as part of the In Focus: Hungary programme, including 10 films in a special archive section and 8 new films representing the best of current Hungarian cinema.

Eight current feature films will be shown at PÖFF25, including Gábor Fabricius’ Erasing Frank, which premiered in Venice this summer, Kornél Mundruczó’s Evolution, which premiered in Cannes, and Péter Bergendy’s Post Mortem, Hungary’s entry for the Academy Awards. The archive programme includes cinematic gems from acclaimed directors including Ildikó Enyedi, Miklós Jancsó, Márta Mészáros and István Szabó.

The Story of My Wife is set in the 1920s and sees a middle-aged Dutch seaman betting his cynical business partner that he will marry the next woman who comes into the café they’re sitting in, and unfolds from there in an adaptation of the Hungarian poet Milán Füst’s novel of the same title – oosely based on the legend of the cursed Flying Dutchman.

The Hungarian theme continues with György Pálfi’s Perpetuity. And another, Wild Roots, will screen as part of the Just Film sub festival.

Opening Film / In Focus: Hungary

The Story Of My Wife / A feleségem története (2021, Hungary/Germany/Italy/France, Director: Ildikó Enyedi)

Official Selection – In Competition / In Focus: Hungary
Perpetuity (2021, Hungary, Director: György Pálfi)

In Focus: Hungary Programme

Erasing Frank (2021, Hungary, Director: Gabor Fabricius)
Evolution (2021, Germany/Hungary, Director: Kornél Mundruczó)
Post Mortem (2021, Hungary, Director: Péter Bergendy)
Things Worth Weeping for (2020, Hungary, Director: Cristina Grosan)
Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (2020, Hungary, Dir: Lili Horvát)
Cream (2019, Hungary, Director: Nóra Lakos)

In Focus: Hungary / Just Film Programme

Wild Roots (2021, Hungary, Director: Hajni Kis)

In Focus: Hungary Archive Programme

Merry-Go-Round / Körhinta (1955, Director: Zoltán Fábri)
Current / Sodrásban (1963, Director: István Gaál)
The Round-Up / Szegénylegények (1965, Director: Miklós Jancsó)
Love / Szerelem (1970, Director: Károly Makk)
Sindbad / Szindbád (1971, Director: Huszárik Zoltán)
Nine Months / Kilenc Hólnap (1976, Director: Márta Mészáros)
Mephisto / Mephisto I-II. (1981, Director: István Szabó)
Son of the White Mare / Fehérlófia (1981, Director: Marcell Jankovics)
The Midas Touch / Eldorádó (1988, Director: Géza Bereményi)
My 20th Century / Az én XX. századom (1988, Director: Ildikó Enyedi)

Tallinn Black Nights | 12-28 November 2021

No Time to Die (2021)

Dir: Cary Joji Fukunaga | Wri: Neil Purvis Cast: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Rami Malex, lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ralph Fiennes | Action Drama 163’

It seems rather ironic that the latest James Bond was thrice postponed because of Covid, since one of many plot elements is a weaponised virus. No Time to Die is being declared the best Bond movie ever; although I still feel that accolade belongs to From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger easily the most fun).

A nightmare rather than the usual 007 daydream, Daniel Craig’s James Bond is what ‘The Iron Mask’ was to Douglas Fairbanks’ D’Artagnan, with Craig’s Bond looking much older than before, and continuing to bear the scars from the pre-credits sequence throughout the film that follows.

There are three eye-popping action scenes (and the film is thankfully free of the unrelenting use of steadicam that is such a trial in modern films), but Ana de Armas is grievously underused as the nearest thing it has to a traditional Bond girl. Much more of the massive 163 minute running time is devoted to hushed talk in which little of Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ much-vaunted wit is in evidence; while the villains’ lair owed more to the German silent cinema than the swinging sixties, housing poisonous plants straight out of the final scenes of You Only Live Twice (the book not the film); likewise the chilling confrontation with a returning Christoph Waltz as Blofeld briefly wheeled on like Haghi in Spione. @Richard Chatten

The Exam | A Vizsga (2011)

Dir.: Peter Bergendy; Cast: János Kulka, Zsolt Nagy, Péter Scherer, Gabriella Hámori; Hungary 2011, 89min.

Hungarian director Peter Bergendy has made a taut B-picture of Norbert Köbli’s script about the mechanics of the Hungarian Secret Service under Stalinism.

Bergendry previous feature, Post Mortem, screened at the 2021 London FrightFest, and will have another viewing at Tallinn Black Nights this November – so we’re not surprised to discover this is much more of a horror film than a thriller: the director actually majored in psychology with a thesis entitled ‘Psychology of the Horror Film’.

Set over twenty hours on December 24th, 1957 in Budapest, Andras Jung (Nagy) is a teacher of German and also a low level informer for the Hungarian Secret Service. A year after the failed uprising, the Secret Police is busy cleaning up their ranks, hunting down remaining sympathisers of Miklos Rakosi in particular. Senior officer Pal Marko (Kulka) is in charge of a unit testing Jung, Marko’s protégé. Marko had been exchanged during the war for a French spy and was greeted personally by NKDW chief Lavrenti Beria on his return.

The young Andras is in a relationship with Eva Gati (Hámori), who has fought the Secret Police during the uprising in the ‘battle’ of Corvin Lane. Or has she? We doubt her more and more, because Jung’s flat is full of surveillance microphones, his conversations are listened to by Marko and his fellow spies, one of them the sinister Emil Kulscar (Scherer) – and Jung himself tapes a conversation he has with Marko. All will be revealed at the end, when a grand inquisitor in the underground HQ of the Secret Police will listen to the testimonies of the trio, with Jung’s tape of his conversation with Marko playing a central role to determine who will be the victim of the charade.

Jung’s flat and the one rented by Marko and the Secret Service members are the main locations, and DoP Zsolt Tóth’s grim images of black and brown are symbolic for a feature, where even the snow in Budapest’s streets is made to look grey. There are beautifully dark images of the banks of the Danube, and the huge cars are looking more like tanks than automobiles. All of the protagonists are ambivalent, or hiding their true motives: to survive, one has to denounce friends or lovers, just to stay on the right side of the permanent shifting Party line. A desperate portrait of a society where lies are the common currency for staying alive, told sparsely and without any glimmer of hope or redemption. AS

COURTESY OF HUNGARIAN FILM CENTRE LONDON

Dune (2021)

Dir.: Denis Villeneuve; Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgard, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa; USA/ Canada 2021, 155 min.

The forth realised adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 cult novel Dune, directed by Québécoise filmaker Denis Villeneuve (2049) is big news – with a budget of 165 million dollars Warner Brothers have taken a gamble in the hope that streaming on their platform HBO Max and good receipts at the cinema box office will guarantee a sequel covering the second half of Herbert’s book.

After the David Lynch version of 1984 was butchered by the producers (from 180 to 137 minutes), and two TV mini-series, Villeneuve’s almost two hour version could be seen as a mere set-up for the all-revealing two-and-half hour denouement – or even part of a new franchise. But Part Two is not a certainty at all, if you cast your mind back to the troubles Alejandro Jodorowsky had in the early 1970s, when even Salvatore Dali failed to get the Chilean helmer’s project off the ground, spawning only Frank Pavich’s 2013 doc exploring its contingent failure.

To their credit, Villeneuve and co-writers Eric Roth and Jon Spaiths, have played down only the background of the saga, so that non-aficionados of the Herbert novel can enjoy the more entertaining intrigues and endless battles: in the far, far future humankind has conquered the universe due to a super, life-enhancing spice that super-charges the brain endowing humans with preternatural powers of rapid mobility in space travel, that today would take millions of years. The downside is that this super-dust, called Spice, is only found on the planet Arrakis, aka Dune, where giant sandworms contribute to a very inhospitable environment.

The indigenous population known as Fremen (read Free Men) are engaged in an ongoing battle to combat the colonisation of the Emperor’s armies. Enter the House of Atreides, a noble family who is ordered by the Emperor to take charge of Dune and its rebellious population. They take over from the House of Harkonnen, but it is not clear if the Atreides are getting a promotion, or are just a toy in the hands of the Imperial ruler. Duke Leto (Isaac) of Atreides, his concubine Jessica (Ferguson) and their son Paul (Chalamet) arrive on Dune, only to be ambushed by evil Baron Harkonnen (Skarsgard). Paul’s mother belongs to a tribe of women known as the ‘Bene Gesserit’,who have been engaged for centuries in creating “The One” – but it’s still uncertain if Paul is really this long-awaited saviour.

Jessica trains her son in the art of “Voice”, which allows its user total mind control. Paul is being prepared for battle by Gurney (Brolin) and Idaho (Momoa), so he can lead the stranded family on their way to salvation on Dune, whilst taking the Spice and dreaming of Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen woman, whom we only see in Paul’s dreams. Will the enigmatic Paul and Jessica become allies of the Fremen, or is this just the start of hostilities with the black-clad Harkonnen?

The two-part script structure is clearly flawed but Villeneuve, DoP Greig Fraser and PD Patrice Vermette have created a totally unique universe where sandstorms (aka climate change?) pose an even greater threat than the mayhem caused by human armies. This is brutalist futurism where helicopters fly like birds with insect wings, and the Harkonnen army, with their hairless, pale faces bring to mind the SS ‘Angels of Death’. But the graphic descriptions of the battle scenes often feel  repetitive and gradually lose their power to shock, becoming ineffectual. DUNE is certainly a visual masterpiece, so let’s hope the producers’ pay-as-you-go strategy pays off with Part II. Shame though the the whole thing couldn’t have been down in one go. AS

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Brazil Indigenous Film Festival 22 – 24 October 2021

Inspired by the UN Climate Summit this first edition of the Brazil Indigenous Film Festival takes place in London’s ICA cinema on the Mall from October 22 -24, featuring a dozen or so features and shorts from indigenous filmmakers sharing their stories – both fact and fiction – from all over Brazil.

Twelve films, in six languages, from seven different groups will be showing in the three-day festivalbetween 22 – 24 October 2021. The programme is split into three strands: The Right toEarth combines work on different forms of Indigenous struggle – symbolic, practical, political, mythological – for the right to land; The Ritual Dimension documents and celebrates the Maxakali andKisedjê in rural Brazil, exploring their political rituals, and Orality, Film and History brings historical, social and philosophical perspectives from the Parakanã, Guarani–Nhandewa and Guarani–Kaiowácommunities.

A few highlights from the programme: Equilibrium, an ethno-media video art by Tupinamba journalist and educator Olinda Muniz Wenderley. The female filmmaker explores through an experimental narrative the connection of the Indigenous People with the Earth and their spirituality. Two animations explore colours of nature and traditions. The Celebration of the Spirits tells the saga of a Guajajara man, who, during a search for his lost brother, ends up on a voyage of self-discovery.

Other films to look out for are Tatakox, a hypnotic ritual film that documents celebrations evoking the spirits of dead children, and Nũhũ yãg yõg hãm: This land is our land!, winner of the Best International Film prize at this year’s SheffieldDoc/Fest.

The festival also presents two productions from Alberto Alvares: Dream of Fire, an interpretation of a dream – an omen of disease, according to Guarani Nhandewa traditions, and Tekowenhepyrun: The Origin of the Soul, is based on the belief that the soul is the connection between the body and the spirit. Alberto has had works exhibited in Arts Biennales and international film festivals.

FreeLandCamp a documentary by photographer and anthropologist Edgar Kanaykõ, portraying the massive 2017 demonstration organised by APIB, when diverse ethnic groups got together in the country’s capital, Brasília to demand their rights. Ava Yvy Vera: The Land of the People of Lightning, is a depiction of the Guarani–Kaiowá peoples’ struggle for land rights that gained international recognition after the release of a joint letter in 2012, protesting against the assaults and advances of Brazilian agribusiness.

The thought-provoking Zawxiperkwer Kaa explores the activities of the Guardians of the Forest, a group that has been fighting against illegal logging and working to protect the Awá-Guajá, one of the most threatened isolated Indigenous groups on the eastern coast of the Amazon.

This festival has the support of APIB, a national reference of the Indigenous movement in Brazil. Raising international awareness about Indigenous peoples as protagonists in the fight against climatechange and resisting the destruction of their traditional ways of living is urgently needed.

Festival Schedule:

Friday, 22 Oct @18h30 (Opening Night followed by a Q&A with festival curators and special guests)

Saturday, 23 Oct @16:20

Sunday, 24 Oct @16:20

Full programme can be seen here.

The Gravedigger’s Wife (2021)

Dir.: Khadar Ayderus Ahmed; Cast: Omar Abdi, Yasmin Warsame, Kadar Abdout Aziz Ibrahim.Somalia/Finland/Qatar/Germany/France 2021, 82 min.

This first feature from Somalian born writer/director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed – who moved to Finland aged sixteen – is full of feeling and emotional depth.

In Djibouti City, the capital of the smallest country on the African continent, employment, or the lack of it, is a major issue for nearly a million who live in and around the capital.

Guled (Abdi) and his wife Nasra (Warsame) are true romantics: they eloped as teenagers, Nasra’s family wanting her to marry an older, wealthy man. Even now, they only have eyes for each other, their teenage son Mahad (Aziz Ibrahim) has the freedom to roam the streets with his mates, but his truanting only comes to light after he has missed months of school.

Guled competes with his friends for the ‘bounty’: they are all lined up at the gate of the local hospital, ready to chase the arriving ambulances. Guled and Nasra never had much money, he left his herd of goats to his brother in their home village, after he and Nasra were expelled for disobeying the wishes of the elders.

The couple light-heartedly “borrows” a goat, presenting it as a wedding gift at a wedding they gate-crash. But their playful attitude has to stop, when Nasra develops a kidney infection requiring surgery at a specialist hospital in Ethiopia at the cost of $500 000

When Nasra’s condition worsens, the doctor has good and bad news: On a positive note the surgery can be managed locally by a visiting anaesthetist, but the price tag remains the same. So Mahad and his friends take on all kind of jobs to contribute to the staggering costs, Guled swallowing his pride, as he sets off for his home village to reclaim his goat herd.

You could call Ahmed’s debut a road movie, since most of it plays out in the streets of suburban Djibouti and the long desert road between the city and his home village. But the most intimate scenes are set in the modest family home where hope fades with day that passes, Nasra’s presence a pale comparison with her former strength in the local community, she now stays at home, her pain all too visible.

DoP Arttn Peltomaa contrasts the sun-dappled colours of the desert surroundings with sombre earthy colours of the intimate domestic interiors where the family fears for the worst.

Khadar Ayderus Ahmed adopts a less is more approach to the narrative, but the way he deals with conflicting emotions augurs well  for the future: this being the first Somali film nominated for the Oscars in the Foreign Features category. AS

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 17 OCTOBER 2021 | CANNES CRITICS WEEK PREMIERE

 

The Last Duel (2021)

Dir: Ridley Scott | US Action Drama 153′

This medieval parable based on a true story feels utterly up to date with its modern rape-revenge theme told from three perspectives: a savvy noblewoman, her pompous husband and the silver-tongued ‘Squire’ who rapes her. Ridley’s Scott’s latest is a magnificently mounted and gory epic, crowned by a string of charismatic performances: Jodie Comer is Marquerite de Carrouges, Matt Damon her husband Sir Jean, and Adam Driver. the squire, Jacques Le Gris. Ben Alffleck is dynamite as his close friend and ally Count Pierre d’Alencon, rocking a saucy blond wig; Alex Lawther plays a mincing King Charles VI. Strange accents are the order of the day – Laurence Olivier would turn in his grave.

Back in the 14th century chivalry was a big thing. And men took their gallantry seriously, and were even prepared to stake their lives on it. Women were merely impotent bystanders in this honour-bound society, and that’s – to an extent – the only flaw in the rape-centred story. Co-writer Nicole Holofcener (Gladiator) serves up revenge from a female point of view primped with contemporary credentials, showing that a woman’s mental resolve can be just as strong as the sword when her own honour is called into question.

Freighted by the gravity of its subject matter, The Last Duel bristles with intrigue from start to finish, a gripping crowd-pleaser that wears its ethical and moral emblems proudly on its 14th-century sleeve. Ridley Scott jostles us through the early part of his film establishing the milieu of brutal battlefield set-pieces finally getting down to business with the crux of the narrative: land-ownership and property in 1386. Norman knight Carrouges is locked in a bitter dispute with his nemesis Le Gris over parcels of land and military preferment. But when his wife Marguerite accuses Le Gris of rape, the feud turns murderous, Carrouges asking King Charles VI for the right to challenge his enemy to a duel.

Based on Eric Jager’s bestseller: The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial By Combat in Medieval France, the macho premise morphs into a female-centric tale reflecting on the putative assault from the three different angles, growing more persuasive as they pass from assailant to victim.

Once again Jodie Comer is the star of the show even through she only grabs part of the screen time from the macho male contingent  in a lavish and entertaining Hollywood style arthouse action drama. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS

 

 

Unpublished Story (1942

Dir: Harold French | Cast: Richard Greene, Valerie Hobson, Basil Radford, Roland Culver | UK Drama 82′

The British wartime authorities’ perennial obsession with fifth columnists (‘enemy agents’ were serving as baddies as early as the 1940 George Formby vehicle Let George Do It!) here finds elaborate expression in an ambitious production set in London during the Blitz. It took five credited writers to concoct this frequently hard to follow propaganda piece in which actual footage from the Blitz is adroitly combined with recreated studio footage. Censorship is benignly depicted as an essential part of the war effort (hence the title), while a pacifist organisation called ‘People for Peace’ is revealed to be not simply a Nazi front organisation run by British reactionaries but headed by authentic German ‘sleepers’ who privately converse among themselves in German. (With acts of terrorism in Europe by refugees from the Middle East now becoming almost everyday occurrences, the sequence depicting the arrival of a German agent masquerading as a Belgian refugee has disturbing contemporary resonances.)

Richard Greene and Valerie Hobson are colourless leads, and dependable supporting actors like Basil Radford, Roland Culver and André Morell are generally given remarkably little to do; with the notable exception of Brefni O’Rorke as the editor of ‘The Gazette’, the newspaper the plot revolves around, who gets to deliver the film’s stirring final speech at the fadeout. @Richard Chatten

 

A.rtificial I.mmortality | Warsaw Film Festival 2021

Dir: Ann Shin | Doc Canada, 74’

If you could create an immortal version of yourself, would you?

Don’t be put off by its tricksy title, this new documentary from award-winning Toronto-based Korean filmmaker Ann Shin is fascinating from start to finish. 

A.rtifical I.mmortality opens with a welter of technical experts fast-talking their way through their ground-breaking research. But the focus soon narrows on Shin, best known for her HBO title The Defector: Escape from North Korea, who is now working on how to capture the essence of her dying father who is rapidly sliding down the slippery slope of dementia. Is there a way to keep part of him alive, and leave something of herself for her own kids to reflect on? – she ponders while chopping away at those ubiquitous veg in her kitchen?.

Apparently there is. And Shin showcases each new discovery in a film that uncovers the cutting-edge world of AI: “what is it that makes us uniquely human, and cannot be recreated by a robot, however sophisticated?. The film’s first episode is possibly the least plausible and most confusing: we meet Lincoln Cannon, a leading proponent of the ‘Trans humanist Movement’ which believes in the ‘ethical use of technology to transcend human limits, even making death “optional”.’ Is this a load tosh, you may wonder? Well, watch on, it does get better.   

What follows is a deep dive into the realms of artificial intelligence, machine learning and biotechnology. Shin interviews specialists from the world of religion, robotic science, technology, philosophy and neuroscience.

She 52 year old mother of two then explores ‘mind-files’. Facebook and Twitter all possess these intensely personal impressions of us from the social posts that we share with them. So what if these could be downloaded onto a personal file and then uploaded and stored privately for our benefit on an avatar?. She talks to Dr Deepak Chopra has already created his own “digital Deepak” from his mind-file. The idea is to pass on the essence of himself and his accumulated knowledge for his grandkids.

Mind files can also be used for Chopra’s own commercial benefit, as a virtual mentor and guru.  He explains the difference between this unique personal version and, say, Siri. With your digital avatar you have a direct relationship with that tailored made ‘person’.  It can interpret your own feelings based on a personal knowledge bank, created by you in an AI version of yourself that you compile well before you die. 

Meanwhile in California, Profesor Alysson Muotri has found a way to replicate actual human brain cells in a petri dish using stem cellls known as organoids. These can produce a more complex and nuanced artificial brain material. So sometime in the future brains may be able to grow this material for positive uses, including the treatment of traumatic injury, and even to tackle mental illnesses such as depression or motor neurone disease.

Over in Japan where robots are very much part of everyday life, Hiroshi Ishiguro has pioneered ‘intelligent’ robotics. So lifelike is his own android that it actually fooled audiences into believing it was Ishiguro himself – but that’s possibly because he looks and acts more like an Android than a human, in the nicest possible way. 

One of the sceptics of the AI world is neuroscientist Dr Taufik Valiante who has been finding out exactly how memories are made in the brain. Very little is actually known about the brain and how it processes memory. But the significant issue here is how malleable memory is, and how much it is subject to individual and personal reflections. Memories are a ‘loved experience’ with a richness that AI does not have the capability of recording. Human cognition is an “embodied cognition’ far more complex that any AI can replicate. Robots, no matter how sophisticated, can’t smell, feel or touch. How could those elements be replicated by a computer?  Taufik heads up a think-tank at the neurological department of Toronto’s Krembil Research Institute and reminds us, reassuringly, that humans are capable of feeling exquisitely subtle qualities including ‘body memory’ that avatars are just not able to sense. This all very encouraging for those fearing a takeover by robots. The Japanese have coined an expression “sonzaikan” that refers to the unique presence of another being. So there’s hope for us real humans yet in the scary world of future intelligence. MT

WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Money Has Four Legs (2021) Bfi London Film Festivali

Dir.: Maung Sun; Cast: Okkar, Khin Khin Hsu, Hein Thiori San, Kio Thu; Myanmar 2021, 98 min.

Mynamar’s Maung Sun opts for a light comedy style to get this debut feature past the censors. Set in the capital Naypyidaw Money Has Four Legs is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a contemporary filmmaker and his trials and tribulations trying to get a movie in a country seemingly down on its knees.

We first meet Sun’s alter ego, Wai Bhone, arguing over his script in the censor’s office. All this unwelcome interference radically alters the finished product, proposing a scenario where the police force is the guiding force and sex scenes are symbolic rather than graphic. And Bhone could do without it. Back home in his living room, decorated with his awards and photos of his father, a famous director, Bhone contemplates an uncertain future, his wife Seazir (Khin Khin Su) is about to lose her job ay the bank, and there’s their daughter Meemi (Thiori San) to think about too. Seazir’s brother Zaw Mynth (Ko Thu), a film extra, is prone to violent episodes when drunk – which is nearly always. The film’s producer is at the end of his tether, considering replacing Bhone with another helmer. Luckily, he manages to keep the show on the road after digging up some some dirt on his producer, and when Seazir’s bank goes into liquidation, as anticipated, Bhone and his brother turn the situation to their advantage in a denouement that feels like a tribute to Jules Dassin.

DoP Thaiddhi conjures up fairytale images that certainly sum up the chaotic upbeat style  Sun had in mind: the colours are bright, the scenes in the hustling streets are well-observed. But behind all the bungling – in real life and film-making – this is a cry for help: if the banks are going under, what hope is there for an out-of-work population? Sun’s debut is a subversive attack, a welcome celebration of 100 Years of Burmese cinema. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 6-17 OCTOBER 2021

 

Who Dares Wins (1982) Prime

Dir: Ian Sharp | UK Drama

Interviewed on the set, Lewis Collins said the situation depicted was ambivalent since although his character deplored the terrorists’ methods he sympathised with their aims. The film itself naturally displays no such nuance; and the late Philip French described it at the time as the most ludicrous political picture he’d seen since the Boultings’ ‘High Treason’ over thirty years earlier. (An apt comparison, although the earlier production was plainly a much better film.)

After the Iranian Embassy Siege, Collins – always the less introspective half of ‘The Professionals’ – was quickly snapped up by producer Euan Lloyd for the lead for this fascinating document of the mood that prevailed in Britain during the bleak winter of 1982 between the Toxteth riots and the war in the Falkland Islands that reunites the writer and one of the stars of ’12 Angry Men’.

No such film would of course be complete without a voluptuous female psycho from Europe with an itchy trigger finger (played by Ingrid Pitt in fatigues), and despite being idyllically married to a wife in Laura Ashley (played by Lloyd’s daughter Rosalind) big-haired Judy Davis says Collins makes love like he “just got out of prison” while her glowering entourage of lefty malcontents look on enviously. (Since they have to to get their hair cut and be smartened up to impersonate a military band a fascinating scene that didn’t make the final cut must have been Ms Davis impatiently showing her confederates the correct way to do up their bow ties.) @RichardChatten

NOW ON ANAZON PRIME

Italian Films at the BFI London Film Festival 2021 | 6-17 October

Italian cinema has had a good summer so far. So expect to see a good selection at this autumn’s BFI London Film Festival, courtesy of Cinecittaluce.

SMALL BODY is a delicate fantasy drama from Laura Samani and had its premiere at Cannes Critics’ Week. MARX CAN WAIT is Marco Bellocchio’s documentary tribute to a much loved twin brother, and also screened at Cannes, where the veteran director was awarded the 2021 Honorary Palme D’Or for his body of work.

Paolo Sorrentino was on the Lido with his latest lush drama THE HAND OF GOD which took the Grand Jury Prize, its lead, Filippo Scotti, was awarded the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor. Meanwhile, Michelangelo Frammartino’s Special Jury Prize winner IL BUCO captured the hearts and minds of Italian and international critics at Venice: Il Buco is his long-awaited follow-up to Le Quattro Volte.

ITALIAN FILMS | BFI FILM FESTIVAL 2021 

Eugenie Grandet (2021)

 

Dir: Marc Dugain | Cast: Josephine Japy, Olivier Gourmet, Valerie Bonneton, Cesar Domboy | Drama, France/Belgium 103′

Another Balzac novel hits the big screen: this time his early 19th tale about the evils of capitalism and family inheritance, sombrely adapted by Senegal born director Marc Dugain.

Eugenie Grandet is a dour and joyless story and Dugain does little to lift it above the confines of the page despite thoughtful performances from Josephine Japy in the lead role, and Olivier Gourmet as her vehement property-dealer father Felix whose stinginess and greed makes her life a misery at a time when self-realisation was impossible for ordinary women.

Saumur 1819 during the Bourbon Restoration is the setting, and endless views of dripping rain and dank mornings establish the grim milieu where Eugenie Grandet and her mother (Bonneton) endure a monotonous bourgeois existence, her father poncing around the countryside doing deals and pretending to be down on his luck. Although the reality is quite different.

Felix Grandet is not a good father. Frugal, possessive and emotionally remote, he keeps his wife and daughter on a tight budget, making a big deal out of giving Eugenie a single gold coin for her dowry. Eugénie spends her days sewing and dreaming of love and when her cousin Charles (Domboy) arrives to stay she is completely taken with his dashing good looks and suave Parisian manners. So much so she falls in love with him – rather too quickly – offering her only worldly possession when it emerges that his father has killed himself due to mounting debts. And when the mean-spirited Felix finds out what has happened he further castigates Eugenie, imprisoning her in her bedroom.

Gilles Porte creates a morose atmosphere in the darkened interiors of the Grandet household, often softly highlighting the characters’ faces in the style of Caravaggio, and in Eugenie’s case this accentuates  her qualities of gentleness and devotion. And although Dugrain’s script successfully condenses the novel into a reasonable running time, it doesn’t quite give enough weight to Charles and Eugenie’s love affair which after all carries the novel’s uplifting emotional freight, much needed to counterbalance all the endless misery. Joséphine Japy is brilliant as the innocent, long-suffering heroine in a world where women’s happiness and wellbeing depended entirely on the integrity of their menfolk. MT

 

Shepherd (2021)

Dir/Wri: Russell Owen | UK Horror 103’

A little bit style over substance, Shepherd is an effective but rather overwrought third feature from Welsh writer/director Russell Owen, with Greta Scachi as the star turn and Tom Hughes as angst-ridden widow Eric Black.

Devastated after the mysterious death of his wife, who is pictured teasing him in menacing early flashbacks, Eric takes a job as a shepherd heading for the solitude of ramshackle  house on a remote island with only his faithful Collie Baxter for company.

Front-loading the narrative with foreboding tropes and jump scares before really establishing Eric’s grievances with his wife makes it difficult for us to really feel for him or appreciate his troubled state of mind. So Owen keeps things ambiguous with a recurring motif of gloomy mountains and a roaring soundscape, an ominous tolling bell driving the narrative forward in this wind-beaten setting. The island is purportedly uninhabited but soon after arriving on a lighter steered by a gaunt boatsman, Eric spies a sinister hooded figure darting around a disused lighthouse, and discovers human remains in a stream.

Trauma from the past resurfaces in a scary vignette from Greta Scacchi as his widowed mother who has somehow tracked him down and was clearly not a fan of Rachel. But is she alive or dead, a nightmare or reality?  Then Baxter goes missing and Eric’s state of mind down-spirals into a glowering night of the soul as the truth comes back to haunt him. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 26 November 2021

Boiling Point (2021)

Dir.: Philip Barantini; Cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Alice Feetham, Ray Panthaki, Jason Flemyng, Lourdes Faberes; UK 2021, 92 min.

Stephen Graham is a budding star chef in this adrenaline fuelled single-take drama that powers non-stop through the hectic kitchens of a top restaurant where staff and owner could lose their livelihoods at any minute.

Graham’s Andy is a committed workaholic, a ‘business before family’ kind of guy. But his dedication to the job is clearly not paying off. Boiling Point gets off to a simmering start with a visit from the food hygiene inspector who downgrades his restaurant’s kitchen from a five to a three, point-wise. Andy takes it all out on the staff, particularly his sous-chef Carly (Robinson) and commis chef Freeman (Panthaki). To be fair, Andy is not the only person responsible for restaurant’s shaky reputation: front-of-house maître Beth (Feetham) overplays the role of social media, particularly Instagram, and this has a detrimental affect on proceedings.

Everyone has a story to tell about Andy’s classy eaterie; there are reports of self-harm and drug misuse. And that bottle Andy carries with him seems to contain more than just water.  The fractious evening comes to a climax when TV chef Alastair Skye (Flemying) arrives with capricious food critic Sara Southworth (Faberes): A female guest is apparently feeling the affects of her nut allergy, even though the staff had been informed of her condition at the start of the evening. The ambulance arrives, and Skye puts the blame unjustly on Beth for the incident. But Andy refuses to “throw” Beth “under the bus”, leaving Skye in deep water over his £200K investment. But that’s not the end of it, new developments will test Andy to breaking point, again.

Everyone plays their part in keeping the tension going, and credit to DoP Matthew Lewis for making the best in a limited environment with his use of crane shots to break up the intensity of person-to-person conflicts. Often in these kind of films staff are either demonised for being jealous, or pushed into the eternal victim role by well meaning middle-class script writers. But in Boiling Point the focus is on competent professionals doing their jobs while falling victims to a boss on the downward spiral. AS

IN UK CINEMAS from 7 JANUARY 2022

 

Raphael Revealed (2020)

Dir: Phil Grabsky | Doc

Marking the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death, director Phil Grabsky was in Rome with his camera to document the greatest exhibition that has ever taken place of the Italian master’s work. Raphael Revealed celebrates the life of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino on the big screen allowing viewers all over the world access to several hundred masterpieces, including paintings and drawings – over a hundred of which have been brought together for the first time.

Director and cinematographer Phil Grabsky has made a name for himself recording a series of major art exhibitions and adding value with informative commentary from experts – in this case Nicholas Penny, Tom Henry and Dr Angelamaria Aceto, of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford – who bring the artists’ creativity to life for those unable to be there in person.

Raphael 1483-1520) is widely regarded as one of the three great masters of Renaissance Italy, along with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Mixing in eclectic circles from Popes to paupers his work reflects the diversity of 15th century society, not just through paintings but also in his skilful draughtsmanship of building design and architecture. Raphael also wrote poetry in his brief life of just 37 years.

Grabsky takes us on a tour of the exhibition itself interweaving vibrant shots of the paintings with outdoor vistas picturing Raphael’s forays to Florence and Rome as well as his his daily life in Urbino. The exhibition unfolds in reverse chronological order, starting in Rome, where he dies at the age of 37 – with a life-size facsimile of his tomb “built with cutting edge technologies” (which will later rest in his hometown of Urbino) – and then tracing his story back to Florence and Umbria.

Raphael honed his craft by drawing in pencil, a skill that enabled him to understand the intricacies of the human form and learn about spacial perspectives. His father was the official painter and poet of the Duke Montefeltro, and Raphael took over this role when he was still only a teenager on his father’s death.

At the age of 25 Raphael was commissioned to decorate the rooms in the Vatican where he spent the rest of life perfecting his skills not only as a painter but also as architect to the serving Popes, a role that allowed him to develop his artistic expression in sculpture, tapestry design and drawing in ink, charcoal, metal point and chalk.

During his lifetime Raphael also crafted two self-portraits and these bookend the exhibition – one from the Louvre, known as Self-Portrait with his Fencing Master (1518) and the other portraying the maestro as a young man.

Raphael Revealed also includes significant paintings from the Uffizi, Pinacoteca di Bologna and the National Gallery of Washington along with sculptures, tapestries and other works. The highlight for many devotees of the Italian artist are the portraits of the two popes hung together for the first time: Julius II from the National Gallery in London and Leo X with the cardinals Giulio de’ Medici and Luigi de’ Rossi from the Uffizi.

Along with Chopin, Mozart and the poet Shelley who also died in their thirties, Raphael’s incredible body of work puts him in the league of the world’s most revered creative geniuses. At his death he was still working on a graphic reconstruction of Ancient Rome  MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 12 OCTOBER 2021

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971)

Dir: Jean Rollin | French, Horror

Disinterred from it’s crypt in the small hours by London Live, not a lot really happens in this fanciful little trifle by Jean Rollin – who David Pirie wrote “it is tempting to see as the Claude Lelouch of the vampire cinema” – but it contains some beautiful colour effects, and an attractively lit chateau housing a coven of female vampires who glide about in big hair and little else.

Vampiress-in-chief, Isolde, is given to making dramatic entrances from hiding places as varied as a grandfather clock (whose door swings open in an image worthy of Nosferatu, from behind a curtain and up a chimney; while her handmaidens dance off into the night together before the film’s conclusion on the director’s favourite location, the beach at Normandy. Richard Chatten

NOW ON LONDON LIVE TV

Getting Away with Murder(s) (2021)

Dir.: David Wilkinson; Wri: David Wilkinson, Emlyn Price | Documentary with Philip Rubenstein, Benjamin B. Ferencz, Fritz Bauer, Donald M. Ferencz, Jens Rommel; UK 2021, 175 min.

Yorkshire born director David Wilkinson (Postcards from the 48%) has co-written and produced a unique, sober and frightening report on Holocaust murderers that have somehow avoided prosecution. How did it happen? How did the executioners of six million Jews get away it? Only one percent of the million or so perpetrators were actually brought to justice.

On his mission to uncover the truth Wilkinson has travelled the globe interviewing Nazi-hunters and survivors, horrifying clips from the camps make for testament of utter contempt for retribution that begs the question: what would the US government have done had the Nazis decimated the entire State of Maryland? And how would the British government have reacted, had the entire population of   Yorkshire lost their in the same way? Surely, the rate of successful prosecutions in both cases would have run into double-figures.

The (West) German government and the Allies played their part by turning a blind eye to the atrocities The victors all fell out, starting a Cold War which saw the USA, Great Britain and France freeing already convicted war criminals who would then see active service against the USSR. From the late 1949 to the mid 1960s the West German government was led by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who in 1934 had begged the Nazi Interior Minister Frick to have his state pension restored: “I have always treated the NSDAP properly, against ministerial instructions. I allowed the NSDA to meet in the city sports ground, moreover I allowed the Party to hoist up the Swastika”. His plea was successful. As Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), Adenauer surrounded himself with a cabinet that included Hans Globke, author or the Nuremberg laws of 1938 for the Nazis. Theodor Oberländer was Minister for Refugees and had been a member of the SA, having participated in the Hitler putsch of 1923, and had been directly involved in the plans to exploit the occupied countries in Eastern Europe. In 1965, Adenauer was replaced by Ludwig Erhard who had the dubious honour of being a member of the Nazi “Arbeitskreis für Aussenwirtschaftsfragen (AAF)” along with Ludger Westrick, Karl Blessing and Hermann Josef Abs. All played a major role both in Nazi Germany and the FRG,

But the government of the time merely reflected the view of the German population: war criminals lived on at liberty, often without having to change their names. Some even returned from exile in   South America to bury their dead: Dr. Joseph Mengele, the “Angel of Death” was a prime example, having ‘selected’ Jews on the ramps of Auschwitz for his infamous experiments. Reunited with his family in Switzerland in 1956, he returned to his birthplace in Günzburg/Bavaria in 1959, for his father’s funeral. Everyone in the small town knew that he was present – apart from the police. Mengele died of a stroke swimming in Sao Paulo in 1979, aged sixty-seven.

German justice actually made it extremely difficult for Nazi war criminals to be prosecuted, as Benjamin B. Ferenc, Chief prosecutor of the 1948 trial against the members of the Einsatzgruppen explained: German law did not allow retrospective interpretations of any criminal action, which meant that since it was lawful to kill Jews, Communists, gays and Roma in Nazi Germany, one had to prove, that the accused acted “in a way beyond the legal (!) requirement” – for example showing more than average brutality or indulged in extra-curricular actions. It was a reasonable defence to clam the Jews were the enemies of Germany. In many trials in Germany and Austria, witnesses were asked for the exact time when the atrocities took place – as if any camp inmate had a watch. Defence lawyers hunted down the witnesses, and the population in many towns joined in. Thus the trials became more a second punishment for the Jews and other victims, than for the perpetrators themselves. Even though, the names of Fritz Bauer and Jens Rommel, both having been in charge of the Central Agency for the Prosecution of Nazi Criminals in Ludwigsburg, should be mentioned – Bauer gave the Mossad a tip off about Eichmann’s whereabouts in Argentina, because Bauer believed his trial in Germany would not serve justice.

The number of major war criminals who got away it is long: Walter Rauff, who designed the specialised carriages where 100 000 victims met their deaths, fled to Chile, were he died in 1984 aged seventy-seven. Karl Jaeger, Nazi Colonel, carried out the murder of Lithuanian Jews, his diary showed that he killed over 100,000 men and women, of which 4273 were children. In the 1965 Sobibor trail in Germany, the main defendant Alfred Ittner was convicted of the murder of 68 000 Jews – his punishment was seven years in prison. Johanna Altvater, a mere secretary, killed Jewish babies, throwing them out of the window. She was never prosecuted and died aged at the ripe old age on 84, in 2003.

Dr Herta Oberweiler was responsible for the deaths of thousands of children who lost their lives as a result of her sepsis “research’. She was sentenced to twenty years prison, later reduced to five. After her release, she actually got her licence back, and it took years for her to struck off the register. Alois Brunner, Eichmann’s deputy, responsible for the murder of over 100,000 Jews, got the death penalty in absentia in France, but fled to Syria, where he advised the government on torture methods, dying in his late 90s. Herberts Cukurs, the “Butcher of Riga”, was not so lucky. He was responsible for killing 30 000 Latvian Jews. In a macabre incident, Cukurs asked an old Jewish man to rape a young Jewish woman, and then shot all Jews who looked away. He fled to Brazil, where he was killed by Mossad agents in 1965, aged sixty-four. But in 2014, a musical was produced in his home town, showing him as a hero.

The British government’s role in all this is rather shameful. Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden was asked by the Bulgarian government in the early 1940s, to allow over ten thousand Jews, threatened by the Germans, to emigrate to the British Protectorate of Palestine. Eden refused, and all Bulgarian Jews were murdered subsequently in Treblinka. Later, the UK Government clamed to be too broke, to contribute to the 1948 trial against members of the murderous Einsatzgruppen. Even though the trial went ahead, few of Einsatzgruppen were prosecuted. After the war, the UK became a safe heaven for Nazi war criminals; and Wilkinson visits places in Oldham and Selby, were many had hidden, a map showing that the perpetrators managed to settle throughout the UK. Philip Rubenstein, former director of the All Party Parliamentary War Crime Group, was instrumental in changing the law to allow for Nazi prosecution in the UK. He reports, that since 1943 Civil Servants were actively employed in avoiding Nazi prosecution, claiming that it “smelled of laws made by the victors.” Needless to say, the Holocaust is not on the main curriculum in UK schools.

GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER(S) is an epochal work, much more than a feature documentary. It is disturbing and asks grave questions of our judicial system? AS

ON RELEASE in UK CINEMAS FROM 1 OCTOBER 2021

 

The Astonished Heart (1950)

Dir: Anthony Darnborough Terence Fisher | Cast: Celia Johnson, Noel Coward, Margaret Leighton, Joyce Carey  UK Drama 85′

Like Brief Encounter based on one of the theatrical pieces that comprised ‘Tonight at 8.30’, this reunion of that classic’s writer and star is an equally garrulous but far more grandiose affair that failed as spectacularly as their previous collaboration had succeeded (although the scenes depicting the neuroses exhibited by Noel Coward’s patients are still haunting after the film is over; particularly the scene where John Salew is challenged to read a certain word Coward claims to have written down for him to look at.

All involved were as genuinely unhappy making this epic folly as they looked acting in it; Coward having taken on the lead only after Michael Redgrave took one look at the rushes and walked.

After lumbering through the wreckage like Frankenstein’s monster (Alan Strachan later observed that “Coward’s performance of ravaged heterosexual ardour is riotous”) the star subsequently found himself a far more congenial niche making guest appearances in other people’s films. @Richard Chatten

Pleasure (2021)

Dir.: Ninja There; Cast: Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Eva Melander; Sweden/Netherlands/France 2021, 109 min.

Girls in the world of porn is the subversive subject of this first feature from Swedish director Ninja There. Expanding her 2013 Cannes award-winning short offers a timely opportunity to explore the lucrative male-dominated sector of the economy where women are literally asked to betray their own gender. Whilst the cool, analytical form may not be everyone’s taste, Pleasure is a stunning portrait of an industry just invented to titillate men.

A young Swedish woman lands in LAX and is asked a common question: Business or Pleasure? She opts for the latter, but it turns out to be an illusion. With a new name, Bella Cherry (Kappel) she will join the many hopefuls who try to make a name and fortune in the porn industry. Apart from Kappel, all protagonists are in the business – so to speak – including top talent agent Mark Spiegler. Set in the grim industrial San Fernando valley and the interiors of some garish mansions, Bella joins collegues in a house where she makes friends with Joy (Reustle) who teaches the uninitiated the tricks of the trade.

When Bear (Cock), a senior crew member, asks her about her life story, Bella claims she has been raped by her father, laughing it off in the same breath and Bear warns her about the competition. Bella’s first shoot is fairly lowkey – one of the crew members is a woman. But then she enters the harsh end of the profession: rough sex, or, as it turns out, rape. Three men coerce her into hours of submission, threatening not to pay her all if she refuses to comply to their wishes.

Bella is a bit of a loner back in Sweden, as we learn this from a phone conversation with her Mum (Melander), but is determined to do her best She wants to succeed, at all costs. But friendships soon fall by the wayside. Joy, nicknamed “trailer trash” by one of the so-called stars, pushes him into the pool. Shortly afterwards Bella sides with the producers, when Joy is clearly hurt by a male actor – but Bella keeps schtum. She is in awe of the glittering Ava (Claire), the latest ‘Spiegler Girl’ who acts in girl-on-girl features. Their love/hate relationship is the pivotal point of the feature and its abrupt ending.

There are some parallels here with a recent Swedish feature, Holiday (2018) by Isabella Eklöf. But Thyberg goes into detail, including full erections. DoP Sophie Winquist keeps a firm grasp on her film with a woman’s gaze, always subverting expectations – in total contrast to a straight-up porn film. But the key element is Thyberg’s unflinching attack on the patriarchal power at play. Bold and with a brilliant eye for detail, Pleasure never lets the audience forget who is in charge and why. AS

https://youtu.be/1hl4D0sE5TA

IN CINEMAS & MUBI 17 JUNE 2022 | ZURICH FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

From the Wild Sea (2021) Zurich Film Festival 2021

Dir: Robin Petré | Doc, 77′

Weather conditions are becoming much more extreme. Marine animals are needing emergency care due to injuries caused by the effects of climate change on tides and changing oceanography.

The caring efforts of marine conservationists are at the heart of this cinematic nature doc From the Wild Sea from Danish documentarian Robin Petré known for her unconventional short nature films (Pulse, Stream and Distant Water) that push the borders beyond the norm. Along similar lines to Leviathan and Bird Island (2019) this deeply sensory film shows how vets in coastal regions are building up a strong support system of rescue centres to rehabilitate mammals and sea birds.

The sheer power of an image is all that’s needed to convey the tragedy of our changing climate which has given rise to powerful storms raging into Europe from the Atlantic, bringing with them injured and confused animals such as seals, dolphins, whales and seabirds. The film is swift to point out that untrained human interference in nature – however well-intentioned – is not helpful. Moving injured animals that have been washed up on the shore should be avoided at all costs. The changing tides have had a deleterious effect on seal mammals who rely on echolocation to get their bearings and forage of food: One such seal recently lost its sense of direction and headed to Morocco, wildly off course. After rehabilitation in Cornwall it made its way back north, then took a wrong turn at the Continental Shelf and headed South again only to be re-homed in the Cornish sanctuary. The release of these healthy seals back into the wild is the film’s highpoint.

Although the work being done in animal rehabilitation is an admirable labour of love, this is a really upsetting film to watch: we see seals in great distress – some of them uttering almost human cries as they struggle to breathe, their airways caught up with plastic or infection as the trained staff work to help them recover. We watch another seal gradually losing its fight for life, flippers twitching as it cries out in pain, its mottled fur coat is a thing of exquisite beauty, its soulful eyes speak volumes of the tragic marine odyssey that has led to its death.

Many animals are suffering the effects of starvation. One seal enjoys a basinful of fish, while another waits patiently for attention by the side of a ceramic bath. It’s extraordinary to imagine that an animal that spends most of its time under the sea can demonstrate so much awareness of a human setting on dry land. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that thousands of years ago we too came from out of the sea.

Whales fare particularly badly: we watch as a 19-metre-long whale lies beached like a massive, punctured tyre, off the coast of Cornwall. The team rushes to help but it’s already too late. The animal will not just die from its bleeding injuries but because its sheer weight will crush the organs, unless the tide favours transport back into the sea. Many whales die due to head-butting from a boat, or multiple injuries from propellers. An autopsy takes place on the beach itself, it must be one of the few times the pathologist actually gets inside a body to do his work. We also witness a fascinating autopsy of a small 4-5 year-old dolphin who has been terribly badly scarred by marine craft and survived and healed, before finally dying of other injuries.

Birds are particularly difficult to handle, and a white swan hisses savagely when it is given a bubble bath to wash off black marine diesel in the clinic, and here the camera offers intense close-ups of the meticulous cleaning process, including a blow-dry to return the bird to its snow white beauty before release. Frequently the camera pulls out to pan the coast in widescreen images of waves crashing down on the raging ocean. Nicholas (de) Montsarrat was not wrong when he called his 1951 war novel: “The Cruel Sea”.

Robin Petre maintains a respectful distance from her subject matter avoiding anthropomorphism at all times while filming with a deeply humane perspective.  A really immersive film for those interested in animal welfare and suitable for all the family (except for the very young). MT

ZURICH FILM FESTIVAL 25 SEPTEMBER – 3 OCTOBER 2021

Ascension (2021) Zurich Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Jessica Kingdon | Documentary; China 2021, 97′

Mesmerising in its imagery, Ascension is a frightening impressionistic portrait of China’s growing class divide through staggering observations of labour, consumerism and wealth.

In her documentary debut Chinese-American Jessica Kingdon explores this study of Chinese superiority by those whose crafted the system. But there is also the hankering after western values and traditions, coupled with a search for perfection in every aspect of working life. Through sheer determination this stealthy dragon will soon be the number economic power on the globe – a nightmarish vision.

The film is structured in three parts, ascending through the hierarchical levels: workers running factory production, the middle class selling to aspirational consumers, and the elites revelling in a new level of hedonistic enjoyment. In traveling up the rungs of China’s social ladder, we see how each level supports and makes possible the next while recognizing the contemporary “Chinese Dream” remains an elusive fantasy for most.

Job-seekers gather in front of buses which will ferry the chosen ones to their factories and dorms. The pay is a couple of dollars an hour, but there are restrictions: Only applicants between 18 and 38 are welcome, men are not allowed to have tattoos or ear-studs – and no illegals will be accepted let alone those with a criminal record. Then there is the roll call for the HUWAI bus, under a big sign of “Work hard, and all wishes come true” the workers put their luggage away before entering the bus. Other poster slogans tell the workers “Be civilised, set good examples” before we set off for the factories.

In a plant producing water bottles from plastic, the female workers discuss the role of the manager: “It does not matter how many days you work, the manager will decide how many days you get paid for. I buy the boss lunch, right after having been paid. We all plead to buy lunch for him so he can pull some strings for us.” In a factory producing jeans, the workers are told “to work harder”, because these jeans are for export: the stitching reads “Keep America great”. In front of a factory producing sex dolls, the chorus shouts slogans like “I love my company, I love my colleagues, I love my career even more. My fate is tied to the company’s, my glory bound to the company”.

Books are given out to workers and they are exhorted to study them with diligence, since the boss spend much time on writing the advice for his workers. During work hours, role play about how to be a perfect workmate is transmitted via loud speakers. We see workers marching like soldiers in front of factories. Meanwhile in the sex doll factory, the workers earnestly discuss the colour of the nipples and the trimming of the pubic hair.

A little more up the food chain, the middle-managers are equally enthusiastic about paying good money to listen to champion managers, who have a large fan base. “Monetise your personal brand. Knowledge must be monetised”. Others have participated in a two-day course and promise “to make millions and millions” in the coming months and years. There are other expensive courses that tell you how to smile (show eight teeth), nod and hug, the latter not being very popular in China.

At a lecture by the Senior International trainer we learn “either you influence me, or I influence you”. There is a training school for butlers too: The new Chinese ruling classes want to copy their European counterparts. “You may not have much time for your personal life, or your family. The rich people do what they want to do, and you have to accept it. They are the people who pay you, no matter how much they humiliate you”.

We watch a group of young men being trained as body guards for the big bosses – unfortunately the applicants fail: the boss has been killed. A group of rich Chinese business people complain about the West calling them out for their Human Rights violations. “They don’t understand the poor have to learn to survive, there is no place for human rights, just survival.” One of the directors tells the audience of employees that “If your intelligence does not match your wealth, Chinese society has hundreds of ways to take your wealth away”.

Before a rather melancholic ending, we are reminded again “that dreams are”. Kingdon keeps the tone understated, letting images and the slogans talk. The result is a mixture of false naivety – on behalf of the upper classes – and a kind of religious fervour of obedience from the workers. But whatever the future holds, the mixture of state capitalism (after all the Party rules supreme) and expanding consumerism, which will see China overtake the USA’s GDP by five times, is a reason for trepidation – to say the least. A brilliant study of a communist nation on the march. AS

ZURICH FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 25 SEPTEMBER – 3 OCTOBER 2021 | THE 2021 ALBERT MAYSLES AWARD BEST NEW DOCUMENTARY DIRECTOR to JESSICA KINGDON AT Tribeca Film Festival | JUNE 2021

Next Door | Nebenan (2021)

Dir.: Daniel Brühl; Cast: Daniel Brühl, Vicki Krieps, Peter Kurth, Rike Eckermann, Aenne Schwarz, Gode Bendix; Germany 2021, 92 min.

Spanish-German actor Daniel Brühl, who shot to fame in 2003 with Wolfgang Becker’s GDR satire Goodbye Lenin, also stars in his autobiographical themed feature debut, a political satire that riffs on Berlin’s modern day gentrification.

Essentially a two-hander It all takes place in a bar in Berlin’s now upmarket Mitte district where Brühl is self-important film and TV thespian Daniel preparing for a screen test in London. After the obligatory early morning work-out he swings by his favourite cafe (where owner Hilde jokes about the ‘new’ craze for espresso), and shoots the breeze with his East Berliner night-worker neighbour Bruno (Kurth), who regrets voting for re-unification ultimately handing over the power to the capitalist West.

Daniel has a private lift to his lush penthouse but relationships wise the two are on the same page:. Bruno listens to Daniel’s marital up and downs with Clara (Schwarz), who is now having him followed, Bruno knows the territory having had to put up with his wife’s unfaithfulness. But the men also share a chequered past with each other: Daniel’s father also cheated Bruno’s over the ownership of the flat Daniel now lives in. And the security agent has also found out that Clara herself has been playing the field and that Daniel himself is hardly pure as the driven snow as we will discover in the film’s end titles.

Daniel Kehlmann’s script is laced with satirical subtexts but these are only relayed verbally making the whole things feel rather claustrophobic: Next Door could have worked better on the stage or even as a radio play. We only see Clara for a few minutes groaning at being woken up early, and Hilde holds court as a sort of a verbal umpire who eventually falls out with Daniel.

DoP Jens Harant does his best to liven things up with overhead shots of the bar, the few street scenes make a welcome change from the interior bound verbal duel between Daniel and Bruno. The dialogue is sharp, and Bruno’s grievances are certainly plausible. but there are too many characters serving as bland window-dressing: Daniel’s two children and a particularly aggressive drunkard, and Vicki Krieps is under-used in the support.  Next Door makes a good point regarding gentrification and social inequality in Germany today, but cinematographically it misses the mark. AS

AT CURZON CINEMAS AND HOME FROM 1 OCTOBER 2021

 

 

 

Wild Indian (2021)

Dir: Lyle Mirchell Corbine Jr. | Cast: Michael Greyeyes, Chaske Spencer, Jesse Eisenberg, Kate Bosworth | US Drama 90’

Native Americans justifiably have an axe to grind in these post colonial retribution times. Coming from this background himself, Lyle Mitchell Corbine certainly knows the territory. His feature debut, “Wild Indian,” captures the zeitgeist in a sober debut that opens with scenes of past glory where a proud warrior is seen brandishing a bow and arrow, but is sadly unable to deal with his traumatic past and male prowess in modern day America.

But let’s forget all the stuff about tomahawk spirit guides and dusky squaws bedecked in chamois leather. This is actually a classic female abuse drama couched in a Native American heritage drama. It sees a disenfranchised man called Michael taking his traumatic past out on women, then asking Jesus for mercy in a phoney act of confession .

We first meet Michael as Ojibwe teenager Makwa (Phoenix Wilson) with his best friend and cousin, Ted-O (Julian Gopal), living on a Midwest reservation. Makwa is clearly a troubled individual whether as a result of his upbringing or his heritage is never really explored in-depth. Messing about in the woods one day with Ted-O, Makwa comes across a former classmate who he shoots and kills, unable to reconcile a long held grievance from the past.. Ted-O is so shocked he actually helps his friend bury the body – something he will live to regret as the crime comes back to haunt him in later years.

Fast forward to 2019 and the pigtailed Mawka, now Michael (Greyeyes), is living in another part of the US and married to an ex dancer Greta (Kate Bosworth) with whom he has a son. Enjoying the uplift his heritage proffers him in the context of workplace diversity Michael enjoys all the perks of his job in a successful marketing company alongside colleague Jesse Eisenberg (who is also the film’s producer). Ted-do (Gopal), on the other hand, has just served time for a drugs-related offence and looks the epitome of a hard bitten criminal covered in tattoos. Despite attempts to ingratiate himself with his sister Cammy (Lisa Cromarty) and her five-year-old boy, he bizarrely decides to sleep outside in a tent, rather than in her house. His manual job in a restaurant is not something he is not proud of, but he clearly feels remorse for the woods incident and tries to make it up to the family of the boy Makwa killed, an episode that ends in tears.

Greyeyes gives a convincing performance as the hard-eyed Michael emerging a vicious bully where women are concerned, and they are forced to deal with the full brunt of his particularly toxic brand of machismo throughout this feature, Michael continuing to cause havoc, many years after killing his school friend in cold blood.

Corbine manages the two-stranded narrative well enough although there is not enough about Michael’s American heritage – details of which could have been fleshed out in flashbacks rather than a ‘before and after scenario’ that leaves us wondering whether his abusive childhood was not the only factor contributing towards his becoming a psychopath.

Instead, the thrust of this fraught psychological drama focuses on his everyday casual violence in the present day as he struggles with the perceived injustices of his background while outwardly presenting as a high-performing almost seductive   psychopath prone to visiting lap dancing venues where he asks one ‘hostess’ to indulge him in his predilection for choking.

Well performed by the ensemble cast – Greyeyes is really chilling in the central role – Wild Indian is a brave attempt to highlight the issues facing Native Americans in the present day, but sadly rather a lost opportunity because of its confusing narrative. MT

On digital platforms (iTunes/ Apple TV, Amazon, Sky, Virgin, Google/ YouTube, Rakuten, Microsoft) this Friday 29th Oc

Vengeance is Mine (1949)

Dir: Alan Cullimore | Cast : Valentine Dyall, Anne Firth, Sam Kydd | ,UK Drama 59’

The unmistakable voice of Valentine Dyall as the Man in Black sent shivers down the spines of radio listeners in postwar Britain and led to a few leading roles in horror thrillers during the late forties, of which this comes nearest to a ‘straight’ lead.

Packing a remarkable number of twists and turns into less than an hour’s running time, the central premise of this film has seen service several times, usually played for laughs, and dates back at least as far as Robert Siodmak’s ‘Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht’ in 1931. Unusually it here serves as the basic for a luridly enjoyable thriller that as photographed by the reliable Jimmy Wilson vividly evokes a sleazy postwar London of spivs and a still-flourishing black market; suitably embellished by a noisy jazz score by Ken Thorne that sounds more 50’s than 40’s.

Veteran character actor Richard Goolden makes a rare but memorable film appearance in the pivotal role of Sammy Parsons, Anne Firth provides Dyall with a handsome Girl Friday and Sam Kydd has a much more substantial role than we’re used to seeing him in. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the casting of the smaller parts, such as Russell Westwood as an oily-haired henchman in a zoot suit and Betty Taylor as the silent but unnervingly watchful “The Little Girl”. Great fun. @Richard Chatten

Five Films for London Film Festival 2021

 

The BFI Film Festival is the highlight of the Autumn calendar for London cinema lovers. This year has seen a bumper crop of new films at major festivals all over Europe and America, as the post-pandemic backlog finally clears. So expect to see the best of them  – with a few premieres thrown in for good measure – along with virtual reality and shorts. Blockbusters Dune, The Last Duel and The Green Knight may have captured the limelight. But this is what we recommend off the beaten track:

HINTERLAND (2021)

This stylish noir thriller from Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky sees Germany and Austria brought to their knees after gruelling defeat in the Great War. While soldiers limp home to a decadent poverty-ridden Vienna a serial killer on the loose sets the scene for a desperate homecoming where their surviving comrades are being preyed upon by the grisly murderer. Wonky German expressionist framing and a sombre mood creates a jagged-edged, rather quaint feeling, echoing M by Fritz Lang or even Grimms’ Fairy tales. All this is suffused with Klimt’s Secessionist jewel-like paintings transporting us rather evocatively back to early 1920s Vienna where a mood of mistrust prevails. The background photograph technique works wonders in conjuring up the contrast between doom and the squalid splendour of the Austrian capital. But our war hero Peter Perg (Murathan Muslu) is still haunted by the nightmarish terror of the trenches looming up in dream sequences on the vast wall behind his bed. LOCARNO 2021

BROTHER’S KEEPER (2021)

Ferit Karahan’s stunningly captured second feature takes place in a draconian boarding school deep in the snowbound mountains of Anatolia. Bringing back memories of many British public schools where caning and freezing cold showers were commonplace, this study of cold-hearted repression serves as an artful metaphor for the ongoing conflict between Turks and their Kurdish underclass whose cultural identity has been repressed since the 1980 coup. In this chilly hellhole – and the cold here is palpable – Turkish teachers subject the poor but gifted Kurdish pupils to regular beatings in spartan conditions where internet connection is random. Once a week, the boys are allowed to shower, and on one such occasion twelve year-old Memo catches a chill in the freezing dorm and by the morning is very ill indeed. His friend Yusuf tries to alert the masters to the boy’s plight but they carry on their collective neglect of Memo – so desperate are they to keep up the macho facade – until the boy becomes unresponsive, along with the mobile connection to the emergency services. BERLINALE 2021

LAMB (2021)

This surreal sci-fi for animals lovers is one of a new breed of arthouse films that blends folklore and fantasy horror with a surprising touch of dark humour. A first feature for Icelandic director Valdimar Johannsson, its intriguing premise invites us to suspend disbelief when a childless couple in a remote farmstead in Iceland unexpectedly become parents during the lambing season. Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Guonason) and Maria (Noomi Rapace) realise this is no ordinary newborn. But the sense of joy they feel at finally being a family of sorts fills the couple with a warm contentment. The docile baby takes pride of place in their bedroom, and life goes on as normal. But there’s an unsettling undertone to this birth that leaves a nagging doubt in our minds and fuels this sober arthouse curio with eerie dread. The reason for their muted joy soon becomes apparent in a way that is both amusing and bizarre, with its distinct references to Cannes 2021 title Annette and even the recent Swedish fantasy flic Border. CANNES 2021

NITRAM (2021)

Justin Kurzel blows us away with this scorching arthouse psychodrama commemorating the Port Arthur tragedy, exploring the milieu that created a murderer (Martin Bryant) who would kill 35 people on that fateful day in 1996. Not since Snowtown has a film engendered such utter terror through its central character – the titular Nitram – played by a coruscating Caleb Landry Jones – a fully formed enfant terrible who lives with his long-suffering parents (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia) in the sleepy seaside town. Snowtown writer Shaun Grant again shows how long-term parental abuse and a casually toxic environment turns Nitram ((Martin backwards his hated school nickname) into a vulnerable, isolated loner who wreaks havoc wherever he goes. A display of his anti-social behaviour kicks off a story driven forward by his unpredictable behaviour, even more frightening than his brutal strength: like a firecracker he goes off without warning, but is also capable of loving affection for his mother who diminishes him with constant putdowns, unleashing a monster which roars through this splintering psychodrama. CANNES 2021 – Winner Best Actor Caleb Landry-Jones.

 

EUROPA (1931) Photo credit: Themerson Estate 

Stefan and Franciszka Themersons’ long lost 1931 anti-fascist masterpiece Europa will be screening at this year’s festival, 80 years after it was seized in Paris during the Second World War. Originally believed to have been destroyed by the Nazis, Stefan and Franciszka Themersons’ incendiary film was rediscovered by chance in the Bundesarchiv, Berlin, in 2019. On behalf of the Themerson Estate, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe negotiated the restitution of the film from the Bundesarchiv, which had preserved the original nitrate film since the reunification of Germany in the 1990s. LONDON FILM FESTIVAL (photo credit: Themerson Estate).

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 6 – 17 OCTOBER 2021

 

 

Earwig (2021)

Dir:  | Wri: Lucile Hadžhalilović, Geoff Cox | Cast: Paul Hilton, Romola Garai, Alex Lawther, Romane Hemelaers | 114′

French auteuse Lucile Hadžhalilović offers another bizarre but compulsive arthouse psychodrama, this time in the surgical horror sub genre, upping her game with a star cast of Romola Garai and Alex Lawther.

Arcane and edgy Earwig is immaculately crafted with its surreal Lynchian credentials that subtly inveigle us into the horror bound story of little Mia (Romane Hemelaers) who is forced to undergo the painful daily procedure of having her teeth surgically replaced by ice-cubes due to some unexplained medical condition. Yes, this is not for everyone but fans of her quirky style will thrill to Earwig’s macabre charm.

The Lyonnaise filmmaker’s previous film Evolution (2015) saw a young boy hospitalised and subjected to strange interventions performed by a series of female cyphers dressed as nurses. Once again writing with her Evolution collaborator Geoff Cox, Hadžhalilović keeps the storyline enigmatic in a dialogue-starved scenario: no explanation is offered for the procedure as we peer at the screen desperately looking for clues, our own teeth almost twinging with the agony of expectation. Ken Yasumoto’s scraping soundscape recalls the abject terror of the dentist’s chair, brought to cinematic life in Marathon Man, but there are also echoes of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’ Goodnight Mommy (2014).

Closely based on a book by sculptor and performance artist Brian Catling, the film actually takes its title from the male central character Albert (Paul Hilton), a singularly morose carer who tends to Mia in the confines of a squalid flat in mid century Liege, Belgium, redolently captured in Jonathan Ricquebourg’s dingy visuals where the weather is as grim as the storyline.

Part of Albert’s misery is being under the cosh of a telephone taskmaster, a mysterious man who hounds him unpredictably, demanding updates on Mia’s condition. Meanwhile he continues the meticulous molar replacement mission until forced into the outside world with Mia on a hospital visit which ends in more pain, this time in a local bar where Romula Garai is another hapless victim. MT

NOW AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY | SAN SEBASTIAN PREMIERE

 

Falling for Figaro (2021) Netflix

Dir: Ben Lewin | Cast: Joanna Lumley, Hugh Skinner, Danielle Macdonald, Shazad Latif | UK Comedy 104′

Hugh Skinner is the reason to see this instantly forgettable bit of fun. Just one look at him brings a smile, along with Joanna Lumley who has the finest English voice and diction in living memory. Bringing to mind the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, although the chanteuse in Ben Lewin’s comedy is American, and sees a jaded city whizz kid leaving her dead end romance and heading for the Scottish highlands to chase her dream of becoming an opera singer.

Unfortunately, Millie, a brilliant Danielle Macdonald, doesn’t realise that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and also has a voice strangely similar to Susan Boyle, despite the efforts of her talented but overbearing coach Megan Geoffrey-Bishop (Lumley). Amusing and light-hearted with Lumley carrying the film to its predicable conclusion. Worth a watch if you’re in the mood for unchallenging comedy. MT

ON RELEASE FROM October 1st | On demand on most platforms 

 

Prayers for the Stolen (2021)

 

 

Dir/Wri: Tatiana Huezo | Cast: Ana Cristina Ordonez Gonzalez, Marya Membreno, Norma Pablo, Mayra Batalla, Eileen Yanez, Emeo Villegas Olivia Lagunas | Drama 100′

A lush and haunting tale of friendship and survival draws us into the vortex of oppression and fear felt by three girls growing up during wartime in rural Mexico. Recent figures from Amnesty suggest that around ten women and girls are killed in Mexico alone, every day.

Based on the 2014 novel by Jennifer Clement this is the latest human drama from Tatiana Huezo who has been quietly raising the profile of social and personal abuse for woman all over Latin America – from Civil War in El Salvador (in El Lugar mas pequeno in 2011) to human trafficking in Mexico (Tempestad (2016)). This is her third and most accomplished feature to date.

In a tight-knit community nestled in the Mexican mountains, we first meet eight year old Ana (Ordonez Gonzalez), digging a hole in the ground with her mother Rita (Batalla). Ana will ‘bury’ herself here when the guerrilla soldiers come to kidnap the local girls who will be turned into captives and slaves. In the bosky remote hillside violence is an everyday part of growing up for young Mexican girls. So Ana and her two friends create their own impenetrable parallel universe where they play at being women, comforting each other with an affectionate bond of friendship, singing and painting their lips with beetroot. Soon Ana’s long hair will be cut into a boyish crop to avoid detection. On lonely days she hides out in the empty houses of villagers who have long disappeared or fled, such as Juana and Don Pancho, whose abandoned flock of cows now roams free in the village.

Strong on atmosphere the film is cinematic study of what it means to grow up as a girl in a hostile environment where men are almost constantly the enemy. Ana’s father is supposedly working on the other side of the valley, but he has not sent money back for several years, and so Ana and her mother are forced to fend for themselves on the brink of poverty. One surreal scene pictures Rita desperately trying to get a mobile signal on the top of a mountain, along the other abandoned women whose ‘phones light up the darkness like mini torches glowing in the gloom.

Five years later, at thirteen, the girls become teenagers as they face the harsh reality of what being a woman really entails in this toxic climate of war and macho culture. Abstract danger becomes an inescapable threat, as a Russian roulette plays out one day when soldiers arrive to take Ana, forcing her into the dugout as her mother is threatened with death.

Some films are moving but this rich character drama is actually harrowing too, as we become emotionally invested in the girls’ story fleshed out in Huezo’s richly textured script, joining them in their descent into traumatised hell as a daily experience. The casual involuntary abuse from Ana’s mother is echoed by the disorientating fear she feels from the outside male threat. Ana – both as a child and a teenager – is impressively performed by two newcomers (Ordonez Gonzalez and Membreno), and is matched by Huezo’s assured direction and luminous camerawork by Dariela Ludlow.

IN CINEMAS FROM 8 April 2022, and exclusively on MUBI from 29 April 2022 | San Sebastian FILM FESTIVAL | Latin American Prix HORIZONTES WINNER

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | UN CERTAIN REGARD SPECIAL MENTION AWARD

 

The Severed Arm (1973) Plex TV

Wri/Dir: Tom Alderman | Cast: Deborah Walley, Paul Carr, Marvin Kaplan, John Crawford | US Horror, 89′

Thomas S Alderman’s exploitation movie sees five trapped miners on the bring of starvation resort to butchering one of their mates, before rescue brings retribution for all concerned. The Severed Arm follows that old chestnut about a group of men haunted by a guilty shared secret, who receive a nasty surprise in the mail followed by scary nightly visits.

Dated by the seventies haircuts and moustaches, constant zooms and a synthesised score, and seemingly edited with the same axe their nemesis employs; it’s all played straight (including by veteran comedy actor Marvin Kaplan as nighttime D. J. ‘Wild Man Herman’) and reasonably effective on what was plainly half a shoestring.

Although top billed, early sixties teenage actress Deborah Walley is largely absent for most of the duration; although she certainly makes up for lost time at the conclusion. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PLEX TV AND YOUTUBE

The Alpinist (2021)

Dirs: Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen | US Doc 93’

Almost everyone is entranced by the thrill of mountains. And so another documentary about man pitting his wits and physical stamina against the elements is always welcome.

Just the sheer elation of being overwhelmed by stratospheric heights and snowcapped peaks only adds to the nail-biting suspense of the ascent: will the mountaineer make it to the top, or will nature hold sway. And then there’s the descent – the most critical part of any top-tier climber’s mission. More people die going back to base camp then scaling the summit in this perilous pastime

Mortimer and Rosen’s taut documentary offers much of the intensity Mountain and Free Solo and is probably more realistic about the pitfalls and realities of mountaineering. Not for the vertigo prone, the directors occasionally going off piste themselves in their storytelling, occasionally there’s a sense that the film teeters on the brink of a mockumentary in style.

The Alpinist does not refer to its namesake, the European Alps, but to the practice of tackling complex and perilous peaks, and here the focus is a complex climb in Patagonia where Canadian climber Marc-André Leclerc challenges perilous conditions. Best known for his derring-do in tackling mountain paths less travelled with the added challenge of racing against time to compete with established records, Leclerc is a courageous climber who pits himself against the elements. No mean feat considering he suffered ADHD as a child. A case in point is an ascent in Canada where he beat the record-holding alpinist Honnold in a complex endeavour given the challenging circumstances: like every sport nowadays enhanced gadgetry and equipment is increasingly de rigueur. Solo climbs are a speciality for Leclerc who gets his buzz from the spiritual experience that alpinism offers. Although he is occasionally accompanied by his girlfriend Brette Harrington, who is an accomplished climber herself.

Mortimer is not over-awed by Leclerc’s courage or the stratospheric scenery conjured up in The Alpinist’s dizzying visuals, keeping his distance – literally and metaphorically, although he doesn’t quite get under the Canadian’s skin. Leclerc is an unintentionally evasive character, and the shoot was not without its own ups and downs given the peripatetic and often haphazard nature of his life, when the spirit moves him he’s up and at it like a true pro. Talking heads help to break up the tonal intensity of Leclerc’s experience as fellow alpinists share their stories — some amusing, some intriguing in this heady foray into this extreme sport. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 24 SEPTEMBER 2021

IL Buco (2021)

Dir.: Michelangelo Frammartino; Documentary with Paolo Cossi, Jacobo Elia, Denise Trombin, Nicola Lanza; Italy/France/Germany 2021, 93 min.

Milan born director/co-writer Michelangelo Frammartino is not in a hurry: more than a decade after Le Quattro Volte his languorous essay on nature and the limited influence of humans, is a re-staging of the 1961 speleogical expedition, the doco-fiction hybrid paints a rather sober picture of the Abisso del Bifurto at the Pollino plateau in Calabria, where the then – third largest cave of nearly 700 m was discovered and meticulously measured.

Once underground, there is only artificial light: the team’s helmet lamps illuminate the usual detritus: old newspapers with recognisable idols such as JFK and Sophia Loren their images going up in flames to provide firelight for those men and women toiling meticulously in the abyss. It being Italy, a football match takes place underground, the two players overground unable to keep the ball away from the cave entrance. Other team members snooze, with a horse poking his nose into their tent.

In the nearby village, locals gather round a TV screen as if it was a cinema: the fuzzy black-and-white picture shows the 24-story high Pirelli building in Milan, and some crackly old dancing numbers. Strangely enough one of the old villagers, a man in his eighties, steals the show. He is a bystander collecting wood borne by his donkey to the hut where he lives with other farm workers. Somehow we expect him to be there forever (like the old boy in Quattro Volte), even when the film crew is long gone – but nature intervenes. The men transport him to his home where a doctor arrives later on another donkey. We’re prepared for the grim outcome reminding us of our own mortality and the fragility of life.

Meanwhile in the cave, the speleologists tool their way down, encumbered by ropes and other instruments. Afterwards they sit in the sunshine copying their measurements on old-fashioned writing paper with a quill. It all ends in a puddle in a cul-de-sac, without fanfares and celebrations.

DoP Renato Berta lets his camera glide lovingly about the landscape and the animals, showing the descent like in a glowing string of beads. Somehow we cannot take it all seriously, the animals and farmers overground seem much more real than the heroes with their determination to discover and measure. If there is any message, it is that so-called progress is very limited – as is fame. The age-old railway which brought the climbers to their destination, and the their motley collection of tents remain in the memory, along with the old man who has ‘sneaked’ in grabbing the limelight as a major attraction. Progress is measured by human patience and observance of nature, records of all kinds are fleeting.

AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE VENICE 2021

Buñuel: A Surrealist Filmmaker (2021) San Sebastian

Dir; Javier Espada | Spain, Doc 90′

Spanish filmmaker Javier Espada shares his birthplace of Calanda (Aragon) with the legendary Spanish surrealist and Palme d’Or winner Luis Buñuel Portolés (1900-83) whose story forms the subject of his engaging new documentary that premiered in the Cannes Film Festival Classics section.

As a teen during the Easter Semana Santa processions Espada escaped the loud drums of the ceremony for the relative calm of his local fleapit and was instantly bewitched by Luis  Buñuel’s The Milky Way (1969), the image of Christ fusing with the character of the Marquis de Sade in his subconscious, creating subversive undertones.

Although far from a full-bloodied biopic of Buñuel’s films, this plays out as nostalgic tribute to the legendary director from one of his most ardent admirers. Espada’s obsession would also provide the springboard to a lifelong friendship with Buñuel’s regular screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière whose script for Diary Of A Chambermaid would continue with cult classics such as Belle De Jour and The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, and would also pave the way for Buñuel’s memoirs ‘My Last Breath.’

A recently restored archive from stereoscopic glass plates, clips and personal photos – provided by his sons Juan Luis and Rafael – and the Luis Bunuel Film Institute is enlivened by Espada’s own thoughts and those of the director providing insight into a charismatic career that started with his traditional upbringing in a well to do influential family in Calanda. But a tragic incident involving a donkey would put a subversive spin on the director’s output and much of his work would be banned banned by Franco’s regime due to its controversial subject matter. DoP Ignacio Ferrando Margeli provides a pristine black and white aesthetic in this dive into cinema history. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | CANNES CLASSICS

 

 

I Want to Talk About Duras (2021) San Sebastián Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Claire Simon; Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Swann Arlaud; France 2021, Drama 95 min.

US born, French director Claire Simon explores one of the most obsessive love affairs in literary history: between Marguerite Duras (1914-96) and her much young partner Yann Andréa (1952-2014) that continued for sixteen years despite the age difference and his being gay.

Simon draws her material from the 1982 interviews made by Duras’ close friend, the writer Michèle Manceaux, who became Yann’s confidante in Neauphie-le-Chateau. The intimate two-handed drama sees a chain-smoking Yann (Arlaud) talking to Marie Claire columnist Manceaux (Devos) while the tape recorder is running. All this is intercut with archive footage and wordless dramatised sequences where the two lovers are pictured in romantic rendezvous. After Manceaux’ death, Yann entrusted the tapes to a friend who later handed them over to Andréa’s sister Pascale Lemée in 2015.

Marguerite Duras is possibly best remembered for her script of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour.  But it was in Caen during a 1975 screening of her film India Song, starring Delphine Seyrig, that she met postgraduate student Yann Andréa. He was an avid fan of her novels and initiated a – mostly one-sided – correspondence with Duras for the remainder of that decade. Then, in 1980, Duras invited Yann, who was gay, to live with her in a hotel in Trouville. Thus began an extraordinary relationship which lasted until Duras’ death sixteen years later.

Covering more or less the same ground as Josee Dayan’s Cet Amour Là, starring Jeanne Moreau as Duras and Aymeric Demarigny as Andréa, based on Andréa’s memoire, the interview is a sharp reminder of the closeness of love and death. Manceaux insistently but gently probes him with personal questions, Yann confessing “total love for Duras and her work. It was eternity that completely belonged to me. Passion yes, but passion struck by death”. He would leave his job, apartment and friends to be with Duras and was soon eclipsed and dominated by her. He tried to pull back, ending the relationship several times and even attempting suicide. Duras challenged his sexual orientation: “I am not just a writer, I am also a woman. You are not gay, I am all your desire”. Yann was soon convinced that his homosexuality was a form of solidarity that allowed him to escape his true feelings. But it went much deeper than that: “She was the master. She re-created me. And un-created my old self, to create me.” Passion and fiction overlapped. “I existed but at the same time I felt projected into her imagination.”

Duras emerges a bit of a control freak, reformulating her lover, changing the way he dressed and even his perfume, discouraging his personal friendships and forbidding him to read any  novels but her own. Even his rapport with Manceaux “felt like a betrayal of her”. His entire existence was subsumed by Duras, who opined “You only exist through me”. Yann felt like the main character in her book ‘The Malady of Death’. Andréa also played a part in Duras’ film L’Homme Atlantique (1981), “but I realised later, that she made me die by filming me; always in a chair, never moving. And finally, Yann actually felt inadequate and unable to satisfy his lover: “Maybe I love her less than she loves me, I am always a step behind, she wants to raise me to her intensity. She sees that I can not do it. That hurts her a lot.” But whatever went on between them Duras set him a monument in words: ‘Yann Andrea Steiner’, her final book.

DoP Céline Bozon uses a gap in the interview (which went on for two days) to focus on the countryside settings where Yann is pursued by alluring men. Enlivened by paintings of the couple’s sexual relationship and excerpts from India Song and L’Homme Atlantique this is a captivating piece of filmmaking that avoids sensationalism in portraying a remarkable, real-life relationship between a man and a woman. AS

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | COMPETITION

Small World (2021)

Dir.: Patryk Vega; Cast: Piotr Adamczyk, Enrique Arce, Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz, Montserrat Roig de Puig, Andris Keiss, Sally Day; Poland 2021, 117 min.

Poland’s Patryk Vega is well known for his unpretentious action thrillers like The Plagues of Breslau, usually mitigating the hyper violence with a certain glossy style, making it all worthwhile. But SMALL WORLD is a singularly unpalatable and relentlessly uncomfortable watch, the narrative – about victims of under-age sex trafficking – is ham-fisted and full of gratuitous violence, with its anti-hero policeman looking for vengeance, while morphing into a vile super-hero of the worst kind.

It all looks terrific: Norbert Modrzejewski’s brutal images leave nothing to the imagination, the camera gleefully recording unmitigated violence, making it all look like a titillating videogame for adults. Vega sinks to his nadir when his antihero Police officer Robert Goc (Adamczyk) is seen groping a young girl in the flume of a public bath. Ultimately the detective is just as depraved as the felon he’s chasing.

In the opening scenes Got is seen pursuing the abductors of four-year old Ola and her mother, but they narrowly miss a truck of under-aged kids being waived through the Russian border by a corrupt police officer. In Russia, years later, a gas explosion rips through the apartment belonging to Oleg (Keiss). In the wreckage are photos of under-age girls, including one of Ola. Goc re-opens the investigation, and the obsessive hunt for Ola. But once again he is too late, with Oleg’s brother whisking the girls away.

Later Goc meets Jasmina (de Puig), the evil leader of a satanic paedophile ring, celebrating a masked ball with her follows, But the police officer manages to slip through her clutches,  finally tracking down the (now) 16-year old Ola (Wieniawa-Narkiewicz) in Bangkok, where she lives with her wealthy abuser John (Arce), and his coterie of prostitutes. In reality, Goc is a bit of a nonce himself, and gets off on underage girls. But he manages to save Ola sending her back to her mother in Poland, before tackling the nefarious Jasmina and her masked followers. AS

NOW ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

The Djinn (2021)

Dir.: David Charbonier, Justin Powell; Cast: Ezra Dewey, Tevy Poe, Donald Pitts, John Erickson, Rob Brownstein; USA 2021, 82 min.

After their successful collaboration in Behind the Door, US writers/directors David Charbonier (also the PD) and Justin Powell (editor) get together to torture 12 year-old Dylan, whose new home is the battleground for a fight with an intrusive evil spirit, the titular Djinn. The mute boy is driven to the end of his tether for not heeding the warning, “be aware of the Djinn’s toll, for the gift you seek might cost your soul”. In other words that trusty old chestnut “be careful what you wish for”.

Set in 1989, and aesthetically beholden to this period, Dylan (Dewey) is left to his own devices when his father (Brownstein) goes off to work the night shift, after reading his son a bedtime story from ‘Pinochhio’, with the warning “What’s done, can’t be undone” ringing in our ears. Dylan finds ‘The Book of Shadows’, and asks the Djinn to grant him a voice. The nefarious entity is apt at switching into multiple personalities: Dylan’s mother Michelle (Poe), or an old man who recently died, are amongst its repertoire. The Djinn (Erickson) then chases the boy round the house, leaving him gasping for breath, his Asthma inhaler running out. Come the morning, Dylan is only grateful to be alive, welcoming his father with open arms.

Lacking tempo, and resorting to corny dialogue: “Would Mum have stayed if I was not …. different”, The Djinn is often tedious and predictable plot-wise, right up to the anticlimactic finale. Inventive production values mask a tiny budget, and save this from sinking without trace. AS

OUT ON FRIDAY 17 September

 

Balloon (2019)

Dir: Pema Tseden | Drama, Tibet 100”

Tibetan director Pema Tseden brings a tender sense of beauty and tragedy to this inspirational family drama, his seventh feature, exploring ordinary life in the early 1980s for a Tibetan farming community.

Vibrantly captured and delicately observed The Balloon initially appears to be a straightforward modern fable, but there’s much to it than that. Tseden’s clever script is underpinned by a subtle socio-political commentary and a contemporary female empowerment theme (in the style of Tulpan) highlighting women’s pivotal place in the East Asian pecking pecking order, running contrary to outward appearances.

In this much fought over territory an extended family of grandfather (Konchok), mother Drolkar (Sonam Wangmo), father Dargye (Jinpa) and two cheeky young sons (Druklha Dorje and ​Palden Nyima) eke out an existence from their cramped living conditions where privacy is impossible, so one of the boys soon finds a condom tucked under his mother’s pillow. Mistaking it for a balloon, the boys have great fun the following day, blowing it up in broad daylight, much to the amusement of the older menfolk.

Despite demure outward appearances their demure mother Drolkar is not just a pretty face, nor is she under her husband’s thumb. But China has just adopted a strict population-control policy with crippling fines extending to Tibet. Drolkar is anxious not to have any more children, but needs to satisfy her husband’s rampant sex drive into the bargain.

Ironically the Chinese birth policy does not apply to the family’s flock of sheep which are actively being encouraged to breed and the couple’s teenage son is tasked with engaging the services of a young ram to do the job. All this is further complicated when Dargye’s Buddhist father suddenly dies, leaving the grieving farmer with the obligation of having to provide another soul to allow for his father’s reincarnation, this religious touchstone adding further complexity to The Balloon‘s seemingly straightforward storyline.

Meanwhile, Drolkar has secretly consulted a savvy female doctor (Kangchen Tsering) providing her with the wherewithal to call the shots family-planning wise. The couple already have a teenage son who is running their ram breeding programme. But somehow Drolkar falls pregnant again and knows she must have an abortion but how she proceeds is both intriguing and amusing.

Peyman Yazdanian’s atmospheric score and Lu Songye’s stunning handheld photography     capture the sheer beauty of Tibet’s magnificent scenery boosting the wide-ranging appeal of this charming ethnological drama. MT

ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 2021

 

Whether the Weather Is Fine (2021) Toronto Film Festival

Dir: Carlo Francisco Manatad | Cast: Charo Santos-Concio, Daniel Padilla, Rans Rifol | Thriller, 105′

For his debut feature, a post apocalyptic fantasy thriller, Filippino director Carlo Francisco Manatad explores how the aftermath of catastrophe changes life for three individuals in his native city of Tacloban.

Hayan is not the first typhoon to devastate his hometown in the coastal region of Eastern Visayas and it won’t be the last. A young man wakes up one morning to discover that two close friends have disappeared in the utter chaos – his mother Norma (Santos), and Andrea (Rifol) the woman with whom he was a planning a new life.

But worst of all, the authorities impose strict regulations on the region leaving Miguel (Padilla) in a state of emotional turmoil that swings between cynicism and obdurance in a bid to survive food shortages and lack of shelter.  In their hour of need many of the religious villagers seeks recourse to their faith, even folklore. Others desperately clamber onto ships offering to take them to the nearby capital of Manila.

Spiked with flashes of dark humour, and the occasional foray into fantasy as a way of evoking the climate of loss, fear and confusion, Manatad directs with confidence in this follow-up to his short film The Imminent Immanent (2018). Whether the Weather is Fine serves as a rousing tribute to the people of Tacloban whose stoicism and resourcefulness is another example of the human will to survive in times of adversity. MT

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

 

Terrorizers (2021) Toronto Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Wi Ding Ho; Cast: JC Lin, Moon Lee, Po Hung Lin, Jie-Fei Huang, Pipi Jao, Cheng Ko, Annie Chen; Taiwan 2021, 127 min.

Taiwanese director/co-writer Wi Ding Ho is clearly disturbed by the youth of modern day Taipei judging by his nihilistic thriller Terrorizers playing at this year’s Toronto Film Festival.

Not to be confused with Edward Yang’s Taiwanese masterpiece The Terrorizers from 1986, there are clearly parallels to be drawn in the melancholy bleakness of the settings. But Wi Ding’s version deals with the VR world, now infringing what is called reality.

After six gruelling years in the kitchens washing dishes Xiao Zhang (Lin) returns to Taipeh, now a qualified chef on an ocean cruiser, hopes to open his own luxury restaurant with an uncle. Then up pops his old flame Yu Fang (Lee), now an actress in rehearsal for The Seagull, and soon they’re talking about moving in together. Yu has some doubts, she’s had a trail of doomed relationships that started when her mother left when she was a little girl, and an affair with a porn star called Monica (Chen), leaving her in the lurch. Family-wise her political father has just married his pregnant secretary and is on the verge of moving to another city, so Yu, once again, is alone.

In downtown Taipei Yu shares her apartment with Ming Liang (Hung Lin), the son of a politician, and her father’s financial backer. Liang and Yu are not on speaking terms but the psychotic Ming is somehow convinced that they’re an item. But worse is to follow: Ming has filmed Monica making love to her, and now wants to kill Yu for “deserting” him.

In spiteful act of revenge, Ming attacks Yu with a machete, Xiao narrowly saving her life. And Ming’s nasty side surfaces again when he gives the police the video showing the two women in bed together, claiming his attack was motivated by Yu’s betrayal of him.

All this dystopian darkness reveals Taipei to be a toxic male environment that seems to be particularly down on women: Yu’s father now forcing her to leave town, afraid that her staying in Taipei will harm his career. It’s ironic that a monster like Ming can sway public opinion to be on his side, denouncing the two women as perpetrators, and getting away with it, when we are all made aware of his monstrous nature, possibly inculcated by his abusive alcoholic mother, a ‘masseuse’ who regularly  gives her son a ‘full service’ – fortunately off screen.  But Ming is not the only villain of the piece: teenagers Kiki and Billy also prey upon randomly chosen strangers to get their kicks.

DoP Jean Louis Vialand shows the VR world for what it is: a fake construct where humans create substitutes of themselves and, in the process, become dependent on the media circus generated. Ming is the ultimate voyeur and ‘director’ of his sick universe. Chopin’s mournful Nocturne in e-flat accompanies this soulless descent into Hell.AS

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

La Cha Cha (2021)

Dir: Kevin Allen | Cast: Liam Hourican, Ruby Ashbourne Serkis, Sonny Ashbourne Serkis, Rhys Ifans, Llyr Evans, Dougray Scott, Keith Allen, Alfie Allen | UK Comedy

Rhys Ifans and Dougray Scott are the stars of this light-hearted bit of fun that follows the residents of a campsite in the North Wales who are hiding a dark secret.

Solti Buttering (Liam Hourican) is on a road trip to scatter his grandfathers ashes. Finding everywhere closed, he stumbles across La Cha Cha, a holiday park where a motley crew of pensioners are having time of their lives. Meanwhile spirited owner Libby Rees (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) and her brother Damien (Sonny Ashbourne Serkis) are struggling to keep the place alive and kicking with a very unusual plan.

LA CHA CHA is essentially a romantic comedy that riffs on that famous Under Milk Wood quote: “do not going gentle into that good night”. Set on the Gower Peninsula with a sterling cast of British talent, it’s aimed at an audience sick an tired of doom and gloom and look for some genuine comedy relief.

Kevin Allen (Twin Town, Under Milk Wood), wrote and shot the feature in a mobile film studio in Wales during lockdown, uniting the entire cast of the cult classic Twin Town for his ‘companion piece’, and adding a few young rising stars into the bargain. Essentially it’s a series of amusing cameos featuring real musical performances combined with the original soundtrack by Mark Thomas and, of course, a few Cha Cha Chas.

ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS FROM 17 SEPTEMBER 2021

London Spanish Film Festival 2021

A chance to see a selection of recent Spanish films which may not get a general release in the UK. Most are UK premieres from new talent and established filmmakers

LA ISLA DE LAS MENTIRAS | The Island of Lies

dir. Paula Cons, with Nerea Barros, Ana Oca, Sergio Quintana, Celso Bugallo, Darío Grandinetti | Spain/Argentina/Portugal | 2020 | 93 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Galician and Spanish with English subtitles

In dense fog of a Christmas morning in 1921, a boat with 260 emigrants bound to Buenos Aires sinks off the coast of Sálvora, Galicia. Three courageous women row out in a bid to save as many people as they can. The tragedy captures the imagination of an Argentine journalist who investigate the many fatal coincidences that happened on the night of the shipwreck. | Fri 24 Sep | 6.30pm

 

UN EFECTO ÓPTICO | An Optical Illusion

dir. Juan Cavestany, with Carmen Machi, Pepón Nieto, Luis Bermejo | Spain | 2020 | 80 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

Alfredo and Teresa, a married couple from Burgos, decide to take a deserved trip to New York. Shortly after their arrival Teresa starts to feel strangely uncomfortable. Then Alfredo’s pictures of monuments don’t match what they remember they saw. Cavestany’s film is a distinctive and daring take on tourism, globalised provincialism, the banality of a steady couple’s daily life… and much more. | Sat 25 Sep | 6.30pm

EL SUSTITUTO | The Replacement

dir. Oscar Aibar, with Ricardo Gómez, Pere Ponce, Joaquín Climent, Bruna Cusí, Vicky Luengo, Pol López | Spain | 2021 | 117 min | cert. 18 | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

In 1982 a young father and hardened police officer moves his family from Madrid to a small Mediterranean sea town where he is to replace an inspector, murdered in mysterious circumstances. During his investigation, strange links between the inspector’s assassination, drugs and property speculation come to light. Based on real events, Oscar Aibar’s beautifully made thriller takes us to a happy retirement spot on the Mediterranean coast that Nazi’s gained possession of due to Franco’s regime and kept through the Transition | Sat 25 Sep | 8.30pm, Mon 27 Sep | 6.05pm

EL PLANETA | Planet

dir. Amalia Ulman, with Ale Ulman, Amalia Ulman, Nacho Vigalondo, Zhou Chen | USA | 2021 | 79 min | cert. 15 |London premiere | In English and Spanish with English subtitles

A jobless young woman is forced to leave London and return home to live with her eccentric mother, after the death of her father. The wolf is at the door but they continue to live beyond their means in Gijon. El Planeta explores contemporary poverty, class awareness and female desires as well as mother-daughter relationships in post-crisis Spain all throughout with a charming and subtle sense of humour. | Sun 26 Sep |6.20pm

NIEVA EN BENIDORM | It Snows in Benidorm

dir. Isabel Coixet, with Timothy Spall, Sarita Choudhury, Anna Torrent, Carmen Machi, Pedro Casablanc | Spain/UK | 2020 | 117 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In English and Spanish with English subtitles

After a long career at his bank Peter is “awarded” early retirement and sets off to visit his brother in Benidorm on a trip that doesn’t quite turn out as expected. A poetic take by veteran Isabel Coixet on Benidorm’s particular beauty, its gloomy side and its “unpoetic” real estate mafias as well as on love at an older age. | Fri 24 Sep | 8.35pm

CATALAN Strand

SENTIMENTAL | The People Upstairs

dir. Cesc Gay, with Javier Cámara, Griselda Siciliani, Alberto San Juan, Belén Cuesta | Spain | 2020 | 82 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

Ana and Julio are a couple who seem to spend most of their time together arguing. Salva and Laura, on the other hand, never stop having sex.  Julio is extremely annoyed when Ana invites them for dinner for an eventful evening where secrets, fears and insecurities soon surface, spiced up by witty dialogue written by Catalan Cesc Gay. The result is a highly enjoyable and intimate comedy exploring the complexities of modern relationships. | Thu 23 Sep | 8.30p,

UN BLUES PARA TEHERÁN | Tehran Blues

dir. Javier Tolentino, with Golmehr Alami, Sina Derakhshan, Pezhman Dishad | 2020 | 80 min | cert. PG |doc | UK premiere | In Spanish, Persian and Kurdish with English subtitles

Javier Tolentino’s documentary debut  transports us to some of Iran’s most remote corners, discovering a truly sophisticated culture seen through the eyes of Erfan, a young Kurdish man who sings, writes poetry and dreams of being a film director. Tolentino is one of Spain’s most established journalists and film critics, now turned director.| Sun 26 Sep | 4.10pm

CHAVALAS | Girlfriends

dir. Carol Rodríguez Colás, with Vicky Luengo, Carolina Yuste, Elisabet Casanovas, Cristina Plazas, José Mota | Spain | 2021 | 91 min | cert. PG | UK premiere | In Spanish with English subtitles

After an initial stint as a professional photographer, jobless Marta finds herself having to go back to live with her parents in a suburban flat in Barcelona, where she grew up. There she reconnects with her childhood girlfriends Desi, Soraya and Bea, sharing the bond of their teenage years. Carol Rodríguez Colás’s first feature film is a sincere and tragicomic take on friendship. | Tue 28 Sep | 8.45pm

BASQUE strand

ANE | Ane is Missing

dir. David Pérez Sañudo, with Patricia López Arnaiz, Jone Laspiur, Mikel Losada, Luis Callejo | Spain | 2020 | 100 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Basque and Spanish with English subtitles

When Lide discovers her teenage daugher, Ane, is missing, she teams up with ex-husband, Fernando, to track her down. As the troubled Lide’s determination grows Fernando’s fear of Ane becomes more evident. Throughout most of the film Ane feels like a ghost and an oppressing and spectral unseen presence. A first feature for awarded shorts director David Pérez Sañudo,   moves seemlessly from from mystery to family drama and then to political thriller.

Preceded by the short:

QUEBRANTOS | Breaches

dir. Koldo Almandoz, Maria Elorza | Spain | 2021 | 7 min | doc | cert. PG | In Basque with English subtitles

Living with fear… Based o an interview on Euskadi Irratia Radio. | Tue 28 Sep | 6.30pm

NORA

dir. Lara Izaguirre, with Ane Pikaza, Héctor Alterio, Ramón Barea, Itziar Ituño | Spain | 2020 | 100 min | cert. 15 | UK premiere | In Spanish, Basque and French with English subtitles and English

Lara Izaguirre’s sophomore feature is a fresh and optimistic reflection on the road less travelled for a young Spanish woman prepared to put her self out there, and take a few risks. As the saying goes, “bad weather, good face” (in Spanish, “al mal tiempo, buena cara”). | Wed 29 Sep | 8.30pm

London Spanish FILM FESTIVAL 23-29 SEPTEMBER 2021

Courageous Mr Penn (1942)

Dir: Lance Comfort | Cast: Clifford Evans, Deborah Kerr, Dennis Arundell, Aubrey Mallalieu | UK Drama 78′

A straightforward history lesson plainly aimed at drumming up support from the isolationist United States of 1941, Penn of Pennsylvania wasn’t ready for cinemas until Pearl Harbor had already forced America’s hand and thus rendered this film obsolete by the time it finally opened in Britain at the end of January 1942. It received only a perfunctory New York airing at the end of 1943 retitled Courageous Mr. Penn to suggest action rather than history and was then quietly forgotten. (The print on YouTube is of the US version, with hasty-looking credits containing errors and omissions – Edmund Willard is billed as ‘Edward’ and the name of director of photography Ernest Palmer is missing altogether.)

Precisely because it’s moment was so brief makes Penn of Pennsylvania extremely interesting viewing today. In many respects it ironically resembles a German ‘genius’ film of the same period such as Friedrich Schiller (1940), in which a fiery young hero back in the Bad Old Days defies convention and outrages the reactionary old establishment. Both a jury of Penn’s peers and Charles II himself (played by Dennis Arundell) are shown taking the side of the dashing young Mr. Penn against the dead weight of the establishment.

The Merry Monarch thoughtfully opines for the benefit of any future waverers across the Pond that “We could take America and turn it into a vast continent whose freedom of thought and liberty of conscience will be the birthright of every man”. Penn goes one better by declaring “We would treat the Indians as brothers and gain their friendship”; although he’s later required to show himself handy with his fists to prevent the lynching of one of his new brethren. Penn also makes a point of obliging his colleagues to leave their weapons at home when he comes to negotiate with the local chief.

(A strange moment occurs when the King himself solicits the opinion of a gentlemen that he addresses as “My Lord Halifax”, who we then cut to in close-up – the actor himself is like many others in the film unidentified in the credits – so that he can respond “I think that Mr. Penn is an extremely brave gentlemen, and I should like to wish him luck.”)

The cast includes many familiar faces in wigs – including Henry Oscar as Samuel Pepys and Gibb McLaughlin as the Indian Chief (fortunately the latter isn’t playing a speaking part) – embellished with handsome sets and photography and William Alwyn’s first score for a feature film. A radiant young Deborah Kerr plays his wife Guli, whose memory a title informs us “was always with him” after her death in 1696. The film omits to mention that he remarried two years later and fathered nine more children. @RichardChatten

NOW ON YOUTUBE

A Brixton Tale (2021)

Dir: Darragh Carey, Bertrand Desrochers | Cast: Barney Harris, Lily Newmark, Ola Orebiyi, Michael Mahoney, Jaime Winstone | UK Drama 76′

Worlds collide in downtown Brixton where confident, coke-snorting Leah (Newmark) is making a film about thoughtful black guy Benji (Orebiyi) who she falls for in a big way. 

Her producer friend Tilda (Winstone) is impressed enough with Leah’s first rushes to offer her a potential screening, although Benji doesn’t always welcome the intrusion of Leah’s probing lens as their romance gets heavier, somehow softening the tone of Leah’s narrative, much to Tilda’s irritation. But the love affair is soon over.

When Leah finds out that a video of her making out with her ex (Charles/Harris) has gone viral, Benji is determined to defend her honour with tragic consequences for all concerned.

There’s a suitably experimental feel to this upbeat urban fable with its convincing performances, driven forward by a sensory soundscape and strong visual storytelling. Derek Holland’s lively editing offers a snapshot of the South London ‘hood, rainy streets and sweary locals epitomising this edgy part of town. MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 17 SEPTEMBER

Copilot (2021)

Dir.: Anna Zohar Berrached; Cast: Canan Kir, Roger Azar, Ozay Fecht, Julia Roth, Ceci Chuh; Germany/France 2021, 118 min.

German director Anna Zohra Berrached is the daughter of an Algerian immigrant who grew up in the GDR. Her sophomore feature, a complex character study, follows a Muslim couple in late 1999s Germany before the world was changed forever by the turbulent events of 9/11. Based loosely on one of the pilots (Ziad Jarrah) who actually took part in the atrocity (Ziad Jarrah), the film asks the question: how much do we really know about people close to us?

Asli (Kir) is a brilliant medical student, shy and insecure. She falls for a Lebanese student Saeed (Azar), whose dream is to be a pilot, but his wealthy traditional family refuse to support him, Asli’s Turkish just wanting her to marry the ‘right’ husband. Saeed is certainly not on this list partly because of his Arabic background. so the lovers will later marry in secret, but not before Saeed becomes more radical in his views, giving up alcohol and avoiding sex with Asli, telling her: “I don’t want to be like the Germans, who sleep around”.

But there are warning signs from the beginning. Saaed’s anti-Israel remarks soon make the two of them social outcasts amongst their group of friends as Saaed starts proselytising Islam to them and eventually Saeed disappears off to Yemen for a while. And when he comes back his behaviour has changed radically. Suddenly, he decides to take up his pilot licence in Florida, the cheapest and quickest way possible. Asli joins him and they fly together as she gradually becoming his titular co-pilot. Returning to Germany for an operation, Asli comes round from the anaesthetic to see breaking news about the 9/11 disaster on her beside TV. But Saeed’s mobile is switched off.

With its multi-lingual cast and differing cultural touchstones Copilot had quite a laborious scripting and filming process, and as the story unfolds hope gradually fades as Asil loses her focus on reality, preoccupied with work. As for Saeed, he lived in a dream world, sustained by a nightmare: his final letter to his wife is proof of his ghastly fantasy: “The world will be a different one, and happier for all”.

RELEASED IN UK & IRELAND IN CINEMAS 10 SEPTEMBER 2021

Amira (2021) Oscar hopeful withdrawn by Jordan

Wri/Dir: Mohamed Diab | 98’

Amira is a passionate but conflicted melodrama that turns on a case of mistaken identity involving one of the thousands of babies conceived through artificial insemination between men in Palestinian prisons and their wives in the outside world.

17 year old Amira (Tara Abboud) is the result of one such miracle: her father Nawar (Mohamed Ghassan) smuggling out a frozen packet of sperm from his cell in the Megiddo Prison to her mother (Saba Mubarak). But there’s an unexpected twist to the tale when it soon becomes apparent that Nawar is shooting blanks and unable to provide his wife Warda with a much wanted second child as Amira prepares to leave home to study photography.

Amira is close to both her parents, but particularly her father in his hour of need. Keen to keep him included in her life on the outside, she has skilfully photoshopped him into family snaps proudly presenting them as gifts on her frequent visits to Megiddo Prison where he has been on hunger strike.

Now her past and future descend into emotional turmoil when it emerges that Nawar is not her biological father, raising all sorts of questions not least about her real paternity, but also Warda’s fidelity.

The film gets off to a strong start with its thorny premise and fiery conflicting characters but these elements are handled with a surprising lack of finesse compared to Diab’s usual deftness so much in evidence in his previous features Clash and Cairo 678. An ill-considered final section that descends in raucous melodrama and an overbearing sound design only make matters worse.

In scenes that are quite shocking considering the 21st century advances in female emancipation, Warda’s inlaws put her under house arrest in a locked room, confining her until she reveals the identity of Amira’s father, even before she has been proved guilty of dishonouring the family, or indeed, any crime. Diab paints the Israel faction as inhumane yet fails to see how his own countrymen are still subjugating their own women as second class citizens, and the only character objecting to Warda’s treatment is a male colleague who then falls under the spotlight as Amira’s potential father simply because of his protective stance. Despite all this Abboud gives a dignified and restrained performance in the title role as a woman whose world is blown apart bringing about the final tragic denouement. MT

Jordan’s Royal Film Commission has withdrawn Egyptian director Mohamed Diab’s drama Amira as its submission to the 2022 international feature Oscar race following a local backlash against the film.

 

 

 

Marceline. A Woman. A Century. (2021)

Dir.: Cordelia Dvoràk; Documentary with Marceline Loridan-Ivens, Simone Veil, Judith Perignin, Jean-Pierre Sergent; France/Netherlands 2018, 76 min.

Cordelia Dvoràk’s biopic about the life of filmmaker and author Marceline Loridan-Ivens (1928- 2018) is an example of the triumph of opposition: Fourteen year-old Marceline Rozenberg was imprisoned in Bollène (Vaucluse) then deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 13.4,1944, having worked with her father Szlama for the resistance. She did not only survive Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Terezin (Theresienstadt), but became a filmmaker, working with her husband Joris Ivens (1898-1989) in Vietnam and China.

Loridan-Ivens was one of only 2500 French Jews who survived deportation, just under three percent of the total of 76 000 victims. After watching Loridan-Ivens signing copies of her auto-biography ‘Et tu n’es pas Revenu’, she meets co-author Judith Perignon in her Parisian flat, a cheerful place with flowers everywhere. This sets the tone of an upbeat documentary: the old Marceline talking to her young self. “Hunger, beatings, thirst. People die, and you instantly forget them. No soul is left. I can see her clearly, that little girl that is still inside me to this day. She is fairly shy”. Marceline met Simone Veil in Block 9, and the once Minister of Culture makes a (too) short visit.

After her liberation by the Red Army in May 1945, she returned to Paris where her mother “wanted her daughter to marry into Jewish families, have children and erase the past”. But “sexuality was a form of disobedience”, and Marceline, who never wanted children on her own, preferred to visit the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris and sit in bistros to discuss the past and present. This is how she met documentary filmmakers Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, whose star she became in Cronique d’un Ete (Chronicle of a Summer) in 1961. It also led to a liaison with 18 year-old journalist Jean-Pierre Sergent, who was supposed to teach Marceline all about Philosophy so that she could prepare to study at the university. But the two became lovers and later filmmakers in their own right, having discovered that filmmaking was not that difficult. The duo was very much a supporter of the FNL, Marceline even carrying suitcases for the FNL. The result was the documentary Algeria Année Zero. Today, Loridan-Ivens is very critical of herself: “We thought the FLN was led by progressive militants, little did we know the majority had their roots in Islamic fundamentalism.”

She met Joris Ivens whilst watching his feature A Valparaiso. He was impressed by Marceline, sending her flowers, but then disappearing for months. When they met again, they stayed together until Ivens’ death. The couple lived like vagabonds, Ivens being “very macho” at the beginning, but Marceline “imposed her will on him.” The past suddenly becomes the present, when Mrs. Phuong arrives from Vietnam to invite Marceline for the 50th Anniversary screening of The 17. Parallel, the couple’s iconic Vietnam documentary, with Mrs. Phuong not only doing the translating, but was also offering technical support. Next for the filmmakers was China, then ostracised by the whole world, after their split with the Soviet-Union.

Joris and Marceline documented the last two years of the cultural Revolution in the 763-minute epic How Yu Kong moved the Mountains (1976), which was to be shown in twelve parts. With “The Band of Four” making a power-grab, Premier Zhou Enlai told the filmmakers to leave the country immediately. Jean Bigiaoui, who worked with the crew, gives a lively commentary on the (film)adventure. We watch clips from Franck Leplat’s 2015 documentary Marceline Loridan-Ivens racontant sou passage a la prison de Sainte-Anneavant (2015). Loridan-Ivens is, for once, very bitter on the commentary. She remembers singing for her father, whose cell was near to her own. But this sets her off into an angry monologue about “never forgiving” the perpetrators.

Marceline is the only Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor who returned to the camp and made her own feature film about her incarceration there: La Petite Prairie aux Bouleaux (The Birch Tree Meadow) 2003. Anouk Aimée plays Marceline’s Alter Ego, who meets a German photographer and questions him about his motives for taking photos in the ruins of the camp. Marceline was not quiet satisfied with her effort: “The concept of a documentary was not enough, because I wanted a representation. I should have played myself.”

Marceline Loridan-Ivens died on 18.9.2018, six weeks after this documentary was finished. She wanted to be buried, even though it frightened her. “But everything is better than being burned”. AS

NOW ON TRUE STORY at all leading platforms | From September 17

The Hand of God (2021)

Wri/Dir: Paolo Sorrentino Cast: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luisa Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Betti Pedrazzi, Biagio Manna, Ciro Capano, Enzo Decaro, Lino Musella, Sofya Gershevich, Lino Musella, Dora Romano, Alessandro Bressanello, Birte Berg, Roberto Oliveri, Alfonso Perugini | Italy Drama 129’

Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino returns to Naples in the 1980s with this melodramatic coming of age drama fuelled by football, family and Fellini.

The Hand of God has all the hallmarks of Sorrentino’s signature style: the violent men, corrupt officials and voluptuous women who inhabit a larger than life landscape vibrantly brought to life by Daria D’Antonio’s lush camerawork. But this is a tragedy in the Greek style, complete with folkloric undertones and a soulful often strident chorus-line scoring the mosaic of magnificent vignettes that make up a poignant feature tainted by tragedy, and possibly Sorrentino’s most personal yet.

Naples is the star of the show, the majestic Campania coastline and the mauve mountains of Capri shimmering in the Tyrrhenian sea providing an amazing backdrop to the flamboyant storyline. In the traffic strewn Spaccanoli a big-breasted woman (Ranieri) waits wearily for her bus home. A limousine pulls up and a blue-eyed man (Decaro) claiming to be San Genaro, patron saint of Napoli, offers her a welcome life home and hints at the possibility of a much-wanted child to heal her marriage to Franco (Gallo), who the driver appears to know by name. Astonished, the woman climbs on board, but her arrival home is greeted with a brutal beating from her husband, forcing her to call her happily married sister Maria (Saponangelo) and husband Saverio (Servillo) who soon arrive with their teenage son Fabietto (Scotti) from whose perspective the story continues.

At this point it becomes clear that Fabietto is Sorrentino’s younger self: a gentle, thoughtful, football-mad teenager, desperate to lose his virginity: “just get the first time out of the way” urges his conspiratorial father Severio, a warm and loving pater familias with a fine line in tailoring and a solid job.

But Fabietto’s first love is football, hence the film’s Diego Maradona linked title – referring to a divisive goal he scored in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal. Welcome news for the lustful but lowkey Fabietto arrives when the Argentine player is signed for Naples and will turn out to be his saving grace in the final denouement.

But until then the film swelters with Neopolitan summer indulgences: robust encounters, raucous al fresco lunches and volatile viragos busting out of bikinis or stripping naked to bask in the sun. There’s a cheeky scene where Fabietto eventually scores, not in the football sense but with his much older neighbour (Pedrazzi). His creativity is stimulated by the charismatic film director Antonio Capuano (Capano) – whose 1998 feature The Dust of Naples, was co-written by Sorrentino.

Sorrentino recalls all this with nostalgia and a tender affection that steers clear of sentimentality in bearing its heart on an elegantly crafted sleeve. Scotti’s Fabietto makes for an appealing, introspective alter ego capable of extreme emotion and utter devotion in fervently pursuing his future career. MT

ON NETFLIX | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | SILVER LION – GRAND JURY PRIZE 2021 | BEST YOUNG ACTOR – FILIPPO SCOTTI

Stateless (2020) Latinx cinema at Casa Festival 2021

Dir.: Michèle Stephenson; Documentary with Rosa Iris Diendomi Alvarez, Gladys Feliz-Pimental, Teofilo Murat; USA/Canada/Dominican Republic 2020, 97 min.

Stateless, a documentary debut for Canadian writer/producer Michèle Stephenson, follows the turbulent lives of two feisty women at the opposite end of the political spectrum in the Dominican Republic (DR), a country undergoing a long history of conflict, not least the massacre of 30 000 citizens under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in 1937.

In Trujillo’s drive to “whiten” the population of the DR he ordered the slaughter not only of Haitians, but also the darker skinned DR population. To cap it all, in 2013, a decree by the nation’s Supreme Court stripped about a few hundred citizens of their rights (dating back to 1929) despite their heritage, making them effectively stateless in their own country.

Human rights lawyer Rosa Iris Diendomi Alvarez sums up the status quo: “They are here, but they don’t exist”. We watch her touring the country, and helping the disenfranchised to claim their rights, keeping up with the often conflicting stance of the authorities, who try to keep as many people as possible disenfranchised. Alvarez is also actively campaigning against electoral corruption and is an advocate of social justice. Later, she will run for congress, but the game is rigged, her opponent is able to triumph with the help of many 100 pesos notes.

Meanwhile, her cousin Juan Teofilo Murat, who has spent all his life in the DR, now lives in Belladere, Haiti, close to the border. He is one of the many “dispossessed”, even though his documents, according to Alvarez, are proof of his DR citizenship. Their trip together into the DR, the pair are wearing hidden body cameras, is an ordeal. They are countless times stopped for no reason, always being asked “Are you Dominican?” On TV, we listen to DR president Danilo Medina, responding to claims that his government is currently expelling Haitian Dominicans, although he claims the opposite, introducing an identification document under a “national regularisation plan”.

His ‘benevolence’ is in stark contrast to the behaviour of his political allies, such as Gladys Feliz-Pimentel, a member of the Dominican Nationalist Party, who is a direct descendant of one of the nation’s founding fathers. She was once married to a black Dominican man, whom she divorced. Both her children are black. We meet her at a bridge crossing between the to countries, where she pontificates that “the Haitians coming into the country only want to murder DR citizens, chopping them up”. She recalls, the Israeli government telling the then President Hipolito Mejia to ‘build a wall’. But he, unfortunately, did not listen. Pimentel and her party are making up for it, we see many posters advocating the building of a wall, which, so Pimentel “is the basis for nation building”. Later we see her on the podium during a party congress, quoting Philippine president Duarte as a positive example of how things should be done, before starting to sing the country’s National Anthem.

Alvarez also recounts the story of Moraime, a young, black girl, who had to flee the country during the genocide of 1937. Her spirit now lives in the rivers of the country, where she takes care no harm comes to children. The wonderful images of magic realism are in stark contrast to the grim political reality of white supremacy – in a country were 80%of the population is black or of mixed race.

Stateless is a sober document. More evidence of Trump’s ideology has poisoned other countries. Six DoPs share the work, avoiding “Talking Heads” as much as possible. But there is no happy-ending: Rosa Iris Alvarez, harassed and threatened, has asked for political Asylum in the USA. It was eventually granted. AS

LATINX CINEMA AT LONDON’S CASA FESTIVAL

Django and Django (2021)

Dir.: Luca Rea; Documentary about Sergio Corbucci with Quentin Tarantino, Franco Nero, Ruggero Deodato; USA/Italy 2021, 80 min.

Italian director/co-writer Luca Rea (Cacao) pays tribute to compatriot director Sergio Corbucci (1926-1990), who, with Sergio Leone, dominated the short era of the Italo-Western in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Corbucci, who made 63 feature films, is usually shunned by mainstream critics, even though he directed huge box office successes with Adriano Celantano and Toto, as well as the later Terence Hill and Bud Spencer Western comedies. Quentin Tarantino is the main source, leading us through Corbucci’s career in seven chapters.

Sergio Corbucci, like Leone, started out as a film critic, and via screen writing became an assistant director. In 1959 Leone and Corbucci worked for Mario Bonnard in The Last Days of Pompei and their valuable contribution set them both up for a great future, even though both Sergios’ insisted the glory belonged to Bonnard alone. Tarantino maintained that Corbucci’s ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ were a settlement of his scores with Fascism, since the young Sergio grew up under the Mussolini dictatorship and WWII. He even had the ‘honour’ – as a member of the Fascist Youth Choir – to be five feet away from Mussolini and Hitler he visited Rome. Corbucci’s villains rode roughshod through all his features as sadistic, misogynist and racist monsters, in love with spilling blood – particularly the one of innocents.

Romulo and Remo (Duel of the Titans) 1961 was Corbucci’s first attempt to show a prototype of the violent men which would later dominate his Westerns. His first, Minnesota Clan (1964) was shot in the same year as Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood. The shooting of Django (1966) didn’t go to plan: all the horses bolted, and nobody was sure which of the film lots they were shooing on. Nevertheless, the Kurosawa-inspired revenge story (nearly all Corbucci Westerns fall into this category), “was the most violent film, before Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch came along in 1969″.

Corbucci’s Mexican Revolution trilogy of The Mercenary (1968), Companeros (1970) and What Am I Doing in the Middle of a Revolution (1972) is perhaps his most popular, but the most violent by far is The great Silence (1968). The role of Gordon, the mute avenger, was meant for Franco Nero but he decided to go to Hollywood, making an angry Corbucci cast Jean-Louis Trintignant. Klaus Kinski acted the sadistic killer Tigero, who survives, whilst Gordon is killed. Shot in an eerie, snowy landscape, The great Silence also featured another re-occurring theme of the Corbucci’s Western: the cowardly citizens of the hamlets, who would rather obey the repressor than take the side of the avenger. “It feels like Corbucci is taking a swing at John Ford. The latter’s films show the town building and solidarity of the citizens, whilst Corbucci’s folks are rather meek and cowardly”. One of Corbucci’s last Western was Sid & Jed (1972), a Bonnie and Clyde story set in a Western milieu.

Tarantino offers a clever solution to an unsolved riddle in Django. When the titular hero arrives, we see him laying flowers on the grave of a certain Mercedes. Tarantino conjures up an explanation, in which Django is a soldier who has fought the Confederates, and now returns to give a keepsake to Mercedes, the wife of his black friend who was killed in the war. He then encounters the hooded KKK, who have done away with the black population, and are targeting the Mexicans. All set in Missouri, where slavery was not abolished.

Filmmaker Ruggero Deodato, once Rossellini’s assistant, who worked with Corbucci on 13 films, gives insight into the director’s work, as do many private videos sharing some hilariously funny and candid incidents during shooting. They also show a director who certainly enjoyed his work, and who was always ready for a good laugh – even at himself. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX | Premiered at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Calling All Stars (1937)

Dir: Herbert Smith | With: Larry Adler, Arthur Askey, Bert Ambrose, Caroll Gibbons, Evelyn Dall | UK Musical 75′

Shown in the small hours by Talking Pictures, this tinny Joe Rock potboiler is of archival interest for the visual record it provides of the likes of The Mills Brothers, Mantovani and Nat Gonella, loosely held together by a farcical plot involving Clapham & Dwyer in the doghouse for saying a naughty word on the air and getting involved with Claude Dampier as a gormless rat poison salesman rejoicing in the name of Pomphrey Featherstone-Chew.

Purportedly the film debut of Arthur Askey, a sassy young Evelyn Dall supplies the glamour; and the finale is broadcast using television technology far in advance of that actually then available. @Richard Chatten.

TALKING PICTURES TV

Silent Land (2021) Toronto Film Festival

Dir: Aga Woszczyńska | Poland, Drama 112′

In Aga Woszczyńska’s impressive first feature, a Polish couple’s relationship exposes serious fault-lines during a stressful Italian vacation where everything goes wrong,

Polish filmmakers certainly know how to be provocative and push the boundaries where love and sex are concerned and Silent Land excels in ramping up the tension in this subversive and acutely piquant two hander.

A cleverly written script and choice visuals keep us engaged with an all too familiar holiday scenario, primped with surprising twists and turns that are enough to derail the most loved-up up romantic break. And what initially feels like an ideal marriage soon shows cracks that run deeper than those in the dirty and disused swimming pool that awaits them in their dream villa.

Confronted by builders who can’t speak English – or Polish for that matter (Adam and black are from – they head for the idyllic beach for some rest and relaxation. On their return the pool has been repainted but it still lacks the requisite water, and a serious accident poolside involving the immigrant builder then deep-sixes any chance of a late afternoon swim, Soon the owner and the paramedics arrive, as the two holidaymakers give evidence in the ensuing police investigation, a dark vein of humour creeping into the narrative ‘lost in translation style’ when the carabinieri also turn up, and clearly don’t speak much English.

The compliant Poles are only too delighted to accompany the police to the station to help with inquiries, their holiday clearly heading into a disaster zone for no fault of their own, as a kaftesque scenario develops, the detective leading the inquiry picks apart their statement and asks them to return for further questioning. The tables a gradually turned as the justifiably disgruntled clients soon become unwitting suspects in an accidental death inquiry.

There are certainly touches of Michael Haneke’s observational storytelling in the precise framing as the voyeuristic camerawork tracks the couple in silent contemplation or sharing a private joke. The Colombo style police procedural has a understandably unsettling and de-stabilising affect on the couples’ sense of integrity and tranquility as they start to question their own response to the tragedy as foreigners in a unfamiliar environment increasingly coming under the xenophobic spotlight of a tightly knit community far away from home. Tense and highly intelligent filmmaking. MT

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL

 

 

Annette (2021)

Dir/Wri: Leos Carax | Marion Cotillard, Adam Driver, Simon Helberg | Drama France, 139′

French auteur Leos Carax last graced the Croisette with Holy Motors a weird and mysterious odyssey into the mind of one man. Annette his latest creation sees him back in Cannes nine years later with another cinematic sensation: another journey into the complexities of male psyche that explores the nature of fame and the fragility of love through his first English language film.

Adam Driver haunts this moody modern opera with a muscular expressiveness that lurches from rage to almost religious fervour as offbeat comedian Henry, although his comedy act sequences are overlong and not particularly amusing and detract from the central narrative which already has more than enough references to his anger issues. Marion Cotillard shimmers exquisitely as the diva he falls for but the baby they make together is simply out of the world.

Visually stunning in the style of Holy Motors, is Caroline Champetier once again beguiles with her luscious cinematography in a highly original film that blends its bizarre ideas and tonal switches with elegance, always surprising the audience: particularly with erotic sex scenes laced with obsidian black humour: this is a richly thematic modern classic with a focus firmly in the future.

The cult rock band Sparks performs and composes a score that is daringly racy and poignant in the style of a Greek tragedy (complete with a black female chorus) where its central character Henry (Driver) is a meglamaniac narcissist whose lust for new experiences and extreme carnal compulsion will be his devastating downfall, destroying everything challenging his dominance.

Opera singer Ann (Marion Cotillard) melts his heart with her dulcet tones – for a while at least – and the two wander deliriously in a verdant garden of Eden crooning the film’s catchy musical leit-motif “We Love Each Other So Much”. and soon their baby Annette is born and their joy now complete.

But storm clouds soon gather over on the loved-up paradise in a melodramatic tone shift. Carax goes into overdrive in a full-blown expose of macho toxicity where passions are given full throttle during Henry’s hysterical nighttime motorbike rides home to his tropical hideaway, the dizzying camerawork  recalling Holy Motors’ nocturnal taxi forays. There is a third narrative strand in shape of Simon Helberg’s compelling turn as Ann’s spurned lover now reduced to her accompanying pianist at her elegantly-staged opera gigs. Once again Cotillard get the chance to play Lady Macbeth and this will be teased out suggestively in the film’s third act.

Baby Annette is like a benign female version of ‘Chucky’, her blue eyes and auburn locks adding an endearing appeal and vulnerability to the subtle scariness she engenders but also hinting at A.I. She will grow up to be a thoughtful and intuitive little girl, whose presence pivotal to the storyline. At this point Carax uses the female chorus to clever effect as a #MeToo theme kicks in and this feeds into Henry’s violent anger management issues which are now the central focus of the story and pivotal to the final reveal.

Annette is a compelling visual masterpiece that utterly captivates and confuses for nearly two and half hours. An atmospheric soundscape, dreamlike images and extraordinary performances coalesce in a contemporary rock melodrama the like of which has never been seen before, and it world premieres here at Cannes. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT CURZON

The King of Laughter | Qui Rido Io (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir: Marco Martone | Cast: Toni Servillo

Toni Servillo is the star turn in theatre director Mario Martone’s resplendent portrait of Neopolitan comic theatre legend Eduardo Scarpetta, making its bow here in Competition at the 78th Venice Film Festival.

Scarpetta (1853-1925) who first took to the stage as a four year old, was best known for his role as the light-hearted slightly air-headed Felice Siociammocca, a typical Neopolitano who, in a break from tradition, was more good-natured than the darker stereotype of Pulcinella whose origins lay in 17th century ‘commedia dell’arte’ as a stock character from puppetry. Scarpetta was also celebrated for his plays – of which he wrote more that fifty – one in particular: ‘Poverty and Nobility'(1888), was later made into a film starring starring Sophia Loren and comedy star Totò. Scarpetta’s main achievement off stage was to translate into Neapolitan the standard Parisian farce of the era: Hennequin, Meilhac, Labiche and Feydeau. He also fathered actor and playwright Eduardo De Filippo along with two other children.

Martone’s begins his story at the beginning of 1900s, when Eduardo Scarpetta has already made his name as the most successful Italian comedian of the era, his plays are all box office hits, and the stage is his exclusive kingdom. But behind the scenes his unconventional family life is proving challenging, the drama tracing his eventually descent into darker times, including the his trial with the magniloquent poet Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Servillo lends his ebullient joie de vivre to the role in this lavish production which follows the star on stage and in real life in an around Naples and Rome in the mid 18th century. Martone and his writer Ippolita Di Majo keeping us entertained for over two hours with the gracefully-paced storyline, partly in Italian, and partly in Neapolitan dialect, and classically captured by Swiss Italian DoP Renato Berta (Au Revoir Les Enfants). MT

Venice Film Festival | COMPETITION 2021

Spencer (2021)

Dir: Pablo Larain | Wri Steven Knight  Cast: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris | Drama 113’

An imagined Christmas at Sandringham is the latest showcase showdown in the tortured saga of Princess Diana’s fated marriage to Prince Charles.

Pablo Larraín’s Venice competition hopeful Spencer makes for extremely painful viewing as an atmospheric arthouse portrait of isolation and emotional disintegration. But the fact that it portrays two well known figures representing the British royal family makes it all the more poignant. A story of two of unhappy people struggling within the confines of tight security and rigorous protocol was never going to be joyful especially when each one is a mannered caricature of their putative selves.

Chilean auteur Pablo Larain has become somewhat of a dab hand at painting marginalised characters: from Jackie Onassis to a group of distressed priests in his 2015 feature The Club. And those who hate the monarchy will have a field day with how dreadful a royal weekend is made to look.

Diana  – who died 24 years ago – is victimised to within an inch of her life by the regal system, eventually falling victim to her psychosis in Sandringham’s splendour during a visit that would send anyone screaming for a taxi to Norwich, if they didn’t have their own Porsche parked outside. The film’s timing is even more significant in a year where Her Majesty the Queen has had enough to contend with, not least the death of her husband.

Kristen Stewart couldn’t be more suited to her role as Diana, her wan pallor and delicately chiselled features mirror those of the tragic Princess who doted on her boys and wanted a normal life despite her wealth and privilege. That said, she lacks the vivacious charisma of the princess – who I once met. It’s a performance that plays to the crowd rather than the cognoscenti. Spencer will prove divisive: Some will find it brittle, glib and shallow; others will delight in its sullen melodrama.

The film starts with Diana literally losing her way in the depths of the Norfolk countryside, the film was actually shot in Germany, on a bleak winter’s day. Pitching up at a roadside cafe to ask directions, she eventually finds herself in the safe hands of Sean Harris’ Sandringham chef Darren who guides her back to face the music over her late arrival.

Larrain draws clever but rather chilling comparisons with Diana’s situation and that of Anne Boleyn (Manson). Dream sequences picture the hapless wife of Henry VIII drifting through Sandringham’s gilded corridors. In fact, there’s a great deal of drifting and floating in this often haunting tragedy, as Diana frequently goes awol in frosty nights and foggy mornings, in a bid to avoid the strictures of this regimented family ‘holiday’.

Playing out as a series of grim episodes during the festive break, Diana gradually implodes:.And if she’s not hounded by equerries (Timothy Spall makes for a ghastly bully) and dressers (her only trusted aide is Maggie played by Sally Hawkins), then the press are on her tail with their long distance lenses. Forced into wearing a series of specially selected twee outfits (Christmas lunch, boxing day tea etc) Diana erupts in anguish, biting into a rope of pearls that clatters into her pea soup – a scene that leads to a bulimia attack. The pearls were a gift from Charles (played by Poldark’s Jack Farthing) who offered the same jewels (known as a symbol of tears) to his lover Camilla Parker-Bowles. Only Diana, Maggie and Spall’s equerry are fully fleshed out, the other characters are cyphers only there to serve the narrative.

Diana is seen making the most of joy-filled moments with her boys (played gamely by Jack Nielen and Freddie) and eventually there is a happy ending to this particular episode which culminates with a liberating car ride to Mike and the Mechanics. A dismally depressing, washed out watch, fraught with sorrow. A terrible tribute to the real people it depicts. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Gaia (2021)

Dir: Jaco Bouwer | Cast: Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk, Anthony Oseyemi | US Eco-thriller, 97′

South African director Jaco Bouwer delivers a stunning eco thriller that’s less impressive on the narrative front despite a beguiling premise that unfolds in the mysterious depths of the country’s atavistic Tsitsikamma rain forest, home to some terrifying species.

South Africa’s rangers are well known for their intricate knowledge of the animals that inhabit the wild untamed landscapes of the Cape and beyond. But during a routine mission with her colleague Winston (Oseyemi), nothing prepares Bouwer’s heroine Gabi (Rockman) for the terrifying alien predators that lurk in the undergrowth. And when she is injured by a poisoned spear, help arrives in the shape of two mysterious human beings who initially save her life. These ‘post-apocalyptic survivalists’, father and son Barend and Stefan, are clearly versed in all sorts of natural medicine, but lying in a state of semi-sedation, Gabi starts to wonder whether they are as benign as they appear, while trying to contact Winston who has disappeared into the forest. Communicating exclusively in Africaans with the surreal cavemen-like couple Gabi is nevertheless none the wiser as to their motives. Things take a sinister turn when Winston is invaded by flesh-eating lichen like funghi and Gabi’s hopes of escape start to diminish. Bouwer comes up with some stunningly imaginative special effects captured by Jorrie van Der Walt’s immaculate lensing. But Tertius Kapp’s storyline is just too slow-burning and enigmatic to keep us engaged despite the film’s modest running time. Although highly entertaining for body horror fans, Gaia is perhaps best described as style over substance. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 27 SEPTEMBER 2021

 

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Dir: Michael Curtiz | Cast: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Vincent Price, Harry Stephenson | US Drama 106′

This depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex is obviously based on a play (the Irish debacle is plainly staged on a single Germanic-looking set, and Cadiz – although frequently referred to – is only talked about).

The film is sumptuously produced with an incredible supporting cast; some of them practically just glimpsed (with Olivia de Havilland – in reality one the few woman who resisted Flynn’s advances – as usual while she was under contract to Warners wasted but radiant as Davis’s most serious rival in love).

At the centre of course are two star performances, although Daves’ makeup is grotesquely aged but completely unlined with those famous eyes darting hither and thither as the elderly Queen, and – the vaguely ‘naughty’ title notwithstanding – they are shown doing little more in private than playing cards together. Richard Chatten

BETTE DAVIS: HOLLYWOOD REBEL SEASON IS NOW PLAYING AT THE BFI Southbank FOR THE REMAINDER OF AUGUST 2021

 

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Dir.: John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Lee Patrick, Gladys George, Jerome Cowan, Elisha Cook Jr; USA 1941, 101 min.

The second film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel ‘The Maltese Falcon’, which was serialised in the ‘Black Mask’ before being published by Knopf in 1930, became a corner-stone of a new sub-genre: the Film Noir. Directed by debutant John Huston, who makes good use of Hammett’s dialogue in his analytical script, the star of the show is Humphrey Bogart who plays Private Eye, Sam Spade. With Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet – the latter another newcomer at the rip of age of 61 – it made film history. John Huston would direct his most famous film The Asphalt Jungle nearly a decade later.

Partners Sam Spade (Bogart) and Miles Archer (Cowan) run a sleazy detective agency. One of their clients, the enigmatic Bridget O’Shaughness (Astor), using a false name, wants to track down a relative. The same night Archer is shot dead. The finger points at Spade due to his affair with Archer’s wife Iva (George). Spade and the widow are seen in a passionate embrace by ‘Girl Friday’ Effie Parine (Patrick). But it soon turns out that Bridget is one of four of crooks on the hunt for the titular Maltese Falcon, a bird emblazoned with priceless jewels. Bridget had shot Archer to get rid of a fifth bounty hunter, Thursby, who is the number one suspect in the Archer murder case. Kaspar Gutman (Greenstreet) leads the hunt for the bird, aided and abetted by his minions Joel Cairo (Lorre) and Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr) who are subjected to Spade’s robustness on more than one occasion. In the end, the Falcon turns out to be a fake, and the three men land in prison. But the worst fate awaits Bridget, Spade following head before heart in giving her up to the police: “You might get away with twenty years, I’ll wait for you. If they hang you, I will never forget you”.

Warner Brothers had first asked George Raft to play Spade, but the big star was not keen to put his reputation on the line with a newcomer like Huston. Greenstreet and Lorre would act together in nine more features, Bogart occasionally joining them. The highlight for DoP Arthur Edeson, who shot Casablanca, is a seven-minute take in a hotel room the highlight, shot over two days. But the feature belongs to Bogart: a violent detective, cynical womaniser, and crass opportunist in a nest of vipers. AS

ON RELEASE from Friday 17th September | IN UK CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Captain Volkonogov Escaped (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir: Aleksey Chupov, Natasha Merkulova | Cast: Yuriy Borisov, Timofey Tribuntsev, Aleksandr Yatsenko | USSR Drama 120′

A muscular yet strangely poetic drama suffused with human emotion by Russian directing duo Aleksey Chupov and Natasha Merkalova whose feature The Man Who Surprised Everyone, did just that.

Classically styled and set against the backdrop of the 1938 political persecutions – the colour red serving as a thematic touchstone for Soviet ideals of valour, sportsmanship and nationalistic allegiance – it stars man of the moment Yuriy Borisov fresh from his triumphs in Cannes with Compartment Number 6.

He plays Fyodor a hard-boiled, weightlifting law-enforcer in a Russia pulsating with subversive wartime undercurrents where cowing-towing to the Soviet system is the only way to go. But when Fyodor sees his peers being interrogated by the authorities he decides to abscond. Once on the run (to rousing sounds of ‘The Russian Red Army’ and a propulsive electronic score) Fodor is hotly pursued by his wiry, tuberculosis ridden superior Golovnya (Tribuntsev), haunted by the past as it plays out in a series of haunting hallucinatory sequences featuring his old comrades. So he decides to return as surreptitiously as possible while surrounded by a seething climate of savage mistrust.

Immaculate lensing by ace Estonian cinematographer Mart Taniel makes this a visually captivating as well as thrilling with its storyline that tracks Fodor’s evasion from his steely band of brothers with a pervasive feeling of danger and gritty authentic characters who feel real in their struggle to survive against the odds in a climate of fear and suspicion that forces them to root for themselves while keeping their backs against wall in their putative allegiance to the state. That said, the few female characters are seen as weak and febrile, the men physically and emotionally rigorous.

Powered forward but some really shocking violence: an execution scene is one of the most starling: a state employee priding himself by dispatching his firing squad victims with just one shot; in another a little girl recounts how her father was tortured by Spanish Fascists and then Russian Communists, the latter the more affective in sending him to him to his grisly death. Unorthodox weapons come in all shapes and sizes – an old fashioned telephone proving an effective stunning device. But the harsh brutality is tempered by some potently transcendent moments that Andrey Konchalovskiy or Tarkovskiy would be proud of: an enormous red zeppelin glides by silently framed between two buildings; a wild dog scampers along joyfully in the morning mist, and an emaciated man breathes his last moments of life cradled in Volkonogov’s tender embrace. MT

Venice Film Festival | 1 – 11 September 2021 | COMPETITION

Prophecy (1979) Blu-ray

Dir.: John Frankenheimer; Cast: Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Richard Dysart; USA 1979, 102 min.

US filmmaker John Frankenheimer (1930-2002), director of the original Manchurian Candidate, started out, like Sidney Lumet, directing TV fare including numerous reputable ‘Playhouse’ episodes. He never lost feel for a good newsworthy story, and Prophecy is a good example with its focus on environmental issues.

Written by David Seltzer (The Omen), Prophecy takes place near Maine, where strange findings are reported in the river Ossipee. Considering, the Flint Water Crisis in Michigan went on from 2014 to 2019, Seltzer’s script is very much ahead of its time.

Doctor Robert Verne (Foxworth) and wife Maggie (Shire) are working in Washington DC, and hope that a holiday in Maine might take their minds off the polluted capital. But soon they are witnessing strange incidents in the river Ossippee, near the paper mill run by Bethel Isley (Dysart). Babies are being born with physical defects, people are walking around in a drunken stupor even though they have not consumed a drop of alcohol, and in the local river salmon and tadpoles are growing to monstrous proportions, while on dry land racoon are running riot.

When a group of lumberjacks go missing, Isley blames the indigenous population, who in turn claim that the Katahdin, a Sasquatch monster, is responsible for the mysterious happenings. Maggie, who is pregnant, but has not told Robert, grows increasingly nervous – she has eaten fish caught in the vicinity. But worse is to come in the shape of an enormous bear with diseased skin that causes total mayhem for all concerned.

Bad timing saw Prophecy premiering only a few weeks before Alien, and Ridley’s Scott’s monsters were very far superior to the giant bear. DoP Harry Stradling jun. (Convoy, Little Big Man) is on fine form, and the mixture of conspiracy and horror is a potent brew. When the survivors leave the scene, a bear cub is left behind – but unlike Alien, a sequel to Frankenheimer’s outing never saw the light of day. AS

OUT ON BLURAY courtesy of Eureka Classics

Promises (2021) Venice – Orizzonti 2021

Dir.: Thomas Kruithof; Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Reda Kateb, Naidra Ayadi, Jean-Paul Bordres, Vincent Garayer; France 2021, 98 min.

Isabelle Huppert is the guiding light of this socio-political drama that centres on a deprived Parisian housing estate where she is Clemence Collombet the ambitious mayor with her eye on the main chance.

Modelled on local authorities like St. Denis or Bobigny, Thomas Kruithof’s sophomore feature accurately portrays the sort of self-seeking politician we have grown used to of late: Clemence has a wilful, authoritarian streak and limitless ambition. From her upmarket home she hopes the struggle on the decaying housing estate Les Bernardins will define her future, and has promised to resign after two terms, her deputy Naidra (Ayadi) – whose parents have immigrated from North Africa – is her chosen successor.

Clemence is keen to further her career and only to happy take on a ministerial post in central government when it is offered. Her chief of staff Yazid  – Reda Kateb on top form – is kept busy by her many machiavellian moves. Les Bernardins is run by the shady developer Chaumette (Garayer) and Clemence wants to replace him. The real victims are the tenants of the estate, who have seen promises constantly broken while the building falls into a parlous state of disrepair.

But the real villain is Jean-Marc Forgeat, the local Mafia boss. On the opposite side is Michel Kupka (Bordres), chair of the tenants’ association, trying to keep up a deal for renovation with the mayor and Yazid, even though Kupka does not trust the politicians. Then everything changes when Clemence’s ministerial appointment fails to materialise, and all she gets is a place in the Senate. In a furious volte face she reneges on her promise not to run again – offering the disappointed Naidra the job of mayor in three year’s time. Meanwhile Yadiz is involved in a race against time to get the renovation project off the ground, and into the hands of the local MP at an Elysee meeting.

Kruithof shows two different levels of the playing field, the mayor using the tenants merely to advance her own career. Yazid is shown as the beavering ‘nuts and bolts’ man who has still a little bit of engagement left, but is dependent on people on the ground, like Kupka, who is fighting a battle on two fronts, trying to unite the tenants in the hope that Yadiz keeps his promise.

DoP Alexandre Lamarque offers up a sophisticated looking feature reflecting the changing milieu, from council house to corridors of power, but there is simply two many plot lines going on for the audience to see things clearly. Isabelle Huppert once again running the show like a seasoned professional with composite ease.  AS

The Noise of Engines | Le Bruit des Moteurs (2021) San Sebastian Film Festival

Dir.: Philippe Grégoire; Cast: Robert Naylor, Tanja Björk, Marie-Therese Forline, Naila Robel, Alexandrine Agostini; Canada 2021, 90 min.

The bizarre debut feature of Canadian writer/director Philippe Grégoire is too clever by half, hurtling into cul-de-sacs, before petering out with a limp. There are some interesting moments, but overall The Noise is simply too pretentious and immature.

Gregoire kicks off in semi-documentary style with a group of Canadian customs officers being introduced by Alexandre Mastrogiuseppe (Naylor) to the use of firearms. Later Alex has sex with Laura (Rabel), one of the the trainees – all rather awkward as her efforts to wear a mask bring on an asthma attack, Alexandre coming to the rescue. He is nevertheless suspended from work by the strange unit chief (Agostini) who admits she is in an open marriage while she claws the underside her desk in frustration, enviously alluding to his multiple sexual escapades. Alexandre is then sent home to his mother (Forline), who owns a race course in a small town.

On the race course Alexandre is accosted by two police officers who accuse him of sticking an obscene drawing on the church door. Next he embarks on a treasure hunt instigated by Icelandic racing driver  Adalbjörg (Björg) a big fan of filmmaker Andre Forcier, the two eventually fetching up in a deserted backwater. The two policemen appear again, burning Alexandre’s hands on the hot plates of an oven, and other unspeakable parts of his body. Needless to say, things go from bad to worse for Alexandre who embarks on a journey to discover the holy grail of drag racing

Essentially The Noise is a series of disconnected episodes where everything feels unnatural, performed by an unexceptional cast, Shawn Pavlin’s images are as anaemic as the whole undertaking. So not a strong  debut for Gregoire despite some interesting ideas. AS

San Sebastian FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 17 – 27 SEPTEMBER 2021

The Pawnbroker (1964)

Dir: Sidney Lumet | Wri: Morton S Fine | Cast: Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Jaime Sanchez | US Thriller 116′

Director Sidney Lumet’s gritty New-York set Nazi survivalist movie made Rod Steiger a star with his unforgettable portrayal of a Holocaust survivor. Jewish refugee Sol Nazerman is a broken holocaust victim eking out an existence as a pawnbroker in Harlem’s squalid mean streets. His world-weary cynical approach to his customers is a study of indifference occasionally erupting in irritation – he’s too exhausted by misery and the memories of the wife he lost in the Death Camps to be angry or even sad any more, although at one point he’s reduced to tears of sheer emotional exhaustion by his tyrannical business partner, the gangsterish Rodriquez (Brock Peters).

Haunted by the lost and the misunderstood, The Pawnbroker is given a certain poignance with its louche jazz score from debut film composer Quincy Jones. Based on Edward Lewis Wallant’s cult novel – the film evocatively recreates a not so swinging Sixties America where life limps on in the shadows of the past. MT

THE PAWNBROKER IS OUT ON BFI BLURAY/DVD 16 August 2021

Wendy (2020)

Dir.: Benh Zeitlin; Cast: Devin France, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin, Kevin Pugh, Shay Walker; USA 2020, 111 min.

Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild was a breakout hit with its endearing little heroine. This take on the J.M. Barrie classic Peter Pan doesn’t quite have the same magic although is still a much worthier drama than Steven Spielberg’s Hook. WENDY’s long journey into being – principal photography started in 2017 – has left its imprint on the finished feature.

Siblings Wendy (France) and twins Douglas (Gr. Naquin) and James Ga. Naquin) live with their mother (Walker), who runs a diner in Louisiana where the adventurous trio hop on a freight train, following a black boy called Peter ((Mack). They eventually land on an island, vowing never to grow old in their partly submerged world ruled by an octopus-like creature the children call ‘Mother’. But the inevitable    ageing process arrives leading to a rather unconvincing ending

The whole undertaking is somehow spoiled by Wendy’s twee voice-over, which takes away from the magic of the settings – WENDY was partly shot on Montserrat – the stunning island captured by Sturla Brandth Grovlen. Devin France’s Wendy carries the film through some questionable plot twists: One somehow has the feeling that Zeitlin’s siblings never got far enough away from the Barrie original. Their re-imagining is also hampered by having to pull off some brutal shock-effects, which oversteps the suitability for younger viewers. WENDY is not a failure, but proves the curse of the sophomore feature is still alive and kicking. AS

NOW IN CINEMAS

The Last Bus (2020)

Dir.: Gillies MacKinnon; Cast: Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Natalie Mitson, Ben Ewing; UK 2021, 86 min.

The Last Bus is something between a feel-good-movie and an elegy on death in modern Britain seen through rose-tinted specs. Carried by the great Timothy Spall, it somehow lacks enough information on the character he plays, eighty-something Tom Harper, who is taking his wife Mary’s ashes all the way from John O’Groats to Lands End, making the 838-mile journey on public transport thanks to his bus pass.

After Mary’s death Tom’s reverse journey is a nod to the past, with flashbacks of their married life together as a young couple (Natalie Mitson/Ben Ewing) when they first made the trip, through to the present day. Undeterred by terminal cancer, Tom still firing on most of his cylinders: helping when the bus breaks down and rooting for a racially abused fellow passenger. As the bus travels southwards we’ll get to know more about Tom’s trails and tribulations finishing on a high note on his arrival in Lands End

The contrast between the early 1950s and today Britain seems more positive than realistic: the good old days reflect the happiness of Tom’s married bliss with Mary, nothing seemingly dimming their nirvana, even 70 years later. The goodwill shown by nearly everyone towards the pensioner seems idealist given what most older people have to put up with. Nostalgia rules visual and tonally, the characters reflecting this bland idealism in their conventional rather make-believe lives. A touch of irony would have been welcome to take the edge off the sweetness, Spall breathing life into a chocolate box existence. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 20 August 2021

Mandragore (1952)

Dir: Arthur Maria Rabenalt | Cast: Hildegard Knef, Erich von Stroheim, Trude Hesterberg, Denise Vernac, Harry Holm | Fantasy Drama 92′

The fifth and – to date – last film version of Hanns Heinz Ewers’ 1911 bestseller is handsomely mounted, interestingly cast but far too talky. It worked far better as a silent film, with Brigitte Helm much more convincing than dear Hildegard Knef as the soulless product of artificial insemination.

By bestowing such inauspicious parenthood upon his creation Professor Jacob ten Brinken (Erich von Stroheim!) explicitly states that his desire is to inject a bit of depravity in the female genes in order to create a more  exotic bloom by unnatural means than two upstanding citizens could ever hope to produce; although real life is constantly demonstrating that Mother Nature can always be depended on to bring into the world plenty of young women with more conventional antecedents that would be capable of wreaking just as much havoc among the male sex.

Although Ewers was initially an enthusiastic supporter of the New Order and joined the NSDAP in 1931 – and Alraune clearly reflected the eugenics debate that Hitler brought into disrepute – it wasn’t filmed during the Nazi era. The director of this postwar version, Arthur Maria Rabenalt, had been an enthusiastic propagandist for the Nazi regime, which makes him an ironic choice for such potentially touchy subject matter. @Richard Chatten

Black Diamonds (1932)

Wri/Dir: Charles Hammer Cast: Beckett Bould, Jennie Stevens, Norman Astridge, Jenny Morgan | UK 53′

Black Diamonds was made by working miner and amateur filmmaker Charles Hanmer “without the usual Studio facilities, or professional resources” as a follow up to his earlier documentary Tour of a British Coal Mine (1928), from which he reused footage to create a public relations film to promote awareness of the hazardous conditions worked in and to drum up public support for Britain’s miners. Starting with a recreation of the Cadeby mine disaster of 1912, it depicts the efforts of miner John Morgan to convince an initially unsympathetic MP to finance a film about pit life. Hanmer plainly didn’t know the first thing about filmmaking, but as a document of working life it still resonates. Nearly thirty years later, Beckett Bould, who plays Morgan, ironically played a small part in the union-bashing The Angry Silence (1960). Richard Chatten

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

Escher: Journey Into Infinity (2020)

Dir.: Robin Lutz; Documentary with George and Jan Eschen, Liesbeth Escher-Hogenhout; Netherlands 2018, 80 min.

Like many before him Dutch graphic artist M(aurits) C(ornells) Eschen (1898-1972) came late to fame. But his influence, particularly in pop-culture, is still growing. This might seem to be a contradiction, since Escher was a modest creative who told his admirers he was not clever enough to be an academic and had to wait until 1970 for his first exhibition. But he doubted his artistic talents because he believed a ‘real’ artist should not enjoy his work but be tortured in creating it

Escher met his wife, 24-year old Russian émigré Yetta Umica, in Ravello in 1923. The couple married in Viareggio a year later and settled in Italy where Escher marvelled at the blue skies “colour was needed, but I did not want colour”. He often sketched at nigh-time although he maintained: “the reality of the day is like a dream”.

Escher and his wife travelled on a cargo ship to Valencia, paying their way with ten drawings, which the company used for advertising. They then travelled through southern Spain to Granada where he worked every day in the Alhambra. Escher was particularly struck by the geometric figures used by the Moors. Back home in the Netherlands he worked from dawn to dusk “so that the inner images came out”. One of his most famous drawings was of people living in the ‘second and third dimension’ but never meeting on imaged of stairs, one person going up as the other went down. Mathematics became increasingly important to his work leading him to pose the question: “Is it still art?”. But as son Jan comments, “work was opium for him.”

By now, the Germans had occupied the country, and Jewish artists could not exhibit any more. Escher cancelled his membership of the Artists’ Society and the Graphic Association. He rescued over two hundred drawings from his art teacher, one of the many deported to the death camps. When the wartime food supply dwindled Yetta sacrificed her own well-being, saving what little was available for the three sons.

After the end of WWII, she became more and more fragile and her mental health deteriorated. She would later travel to Switzerland and live with her son and his wife Liesbeth, but they eventually had to put her into a nursing home. She survived her husband who died after numerous operations for cancer.

MC Escher had been supported by his wealthy parents for most of his life, but an interview with ‘Time-Life’ in the 1960s raised the profile of his work and he became famous virtually overnight. One of his most famous concepts pictured people as wheels, rolling forward. When he listened to Bach’s St. Matthew oratorio, he imaged the cathedral floating over the ocean to New York and San Francisco. And this drawing with its psychedelic beauty found many admirers in the growing counter-culture, even though Escher had little in common with the flower-power generation.

Stephen Fry reads Escher’s letters as a v.o. Music by Bach dominates the feature, hardly a co-incidence since the composer himself admired mathematics. Escher was a certainly a person of substance and wild imagination, and deserves all the plaudits he gets after a life of self-doubt. AS

NOW ON RELEASE

A Walk with Angels (2020) Locarno Film Festival

Dir.: Tomasz Wysokinski; Documentary with Jeremaiah Marobyane, Thandi Mbatha, Louisa Mbatha, Ma Mbatha; Poland 2021, 84 min.

Polish director Tomasz Wysokinski spent four years in the shanti Town of Kliptown, Soweto for this labour of love that follows ex-child soldier and civil war commander Jeremaiah Marobyaneon on his search for missing children. “Every sixty minutes a child is lost in South Africa” is the cruel premise of the raw and resonant documentary.

The focus is his search for Angie, kidnapped six months previously from her mother Thandi Mbatha and her family. Jeremaiah sets out on gruelling mission during which he’ll come across, always coming across children exposed to violence on an everyday basis. Soweto is a hotbed of superstition and Satanists are actively kidnapping kids for ritual execution. The members of the local show clear signs of mental disorder: “by day I am a boy, but at night a girl ‘they’ want to use”.

The perpetrators practising exorcism, “taking the genital parts from the babies, like penis and testicles from boys and breasts from girls”. The cult members are convinced that “demon power will give them power to kill”. Meanwhile, Jeremaiah has arrived in the small town of Witbank where he is told that Angie is no longer alive is told, and that the witch doctors have got hold of her. Unperturbed, he pushes on further to Johannesburg, a city “which looks good in the glittering lights from a distance”, but when he arrives we see colonies of children sleeping in the streets. In the borough of Hillbrow, Jeremaiah puts up the poster of Angie, who has a distinct birthmark near her eye. The children, sleeping in boxes on the pavement, go through the rubbish in the day time, often finding the corpses of babies. One shot is particularly disturbing. “The witch doctors crush the babies, mix their blood with herbal medicine and throw them into pots while they are still alive.

Finally, Jeremaiah finds a young woman who has interviewed Angie’s father Mbengeni, who apparently confessed to having abducted his daughter. Undeterred, and walking with the titular angels, Jeremaiah makes his way to meet Mbengeni.

This no-frills documentary is highly disturbing and makes for a grim watch. It shows a South Africa still suffering from abject poverty and dangerous superstition. Jeremiah is well aware that “Apartheid has destroyed South Africa’s people”, causing bitter conflict between the various factions, but the total absence of state intervention points to some serious underlying reason for this discord.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

The Nest (2020)

Dir.: Sean Dirkin; Cast: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell, Anne Reid, Michael Culkin; USA 2020, 107 min.

After the breakout success of his debut Martha, Mary, May Marlene Sean Dirkin’s follow up is a dark story of greed, lies and  – aptly set in the early 1980s during the high tide of Reagan and Thatcher. An alternative title could have been “Lie with me”, a crime story by British author Sabine Durrant.

In both book and feature film the two main protagonists are fully aware their other half is lying, but go along with it, as long as it suits them. Commodity broker Rory O’Hara (Law), born in London, returns to the city of his birth from the USA with wife Allison (Coom) with their ten-year old son Ben (Shotwell), teenager Sam(antha) and Allison’s daughter from an earlier relationship. This is not the first upheaval for the family, Allison has experienced four moves in the last decade alone. At one point Rory was a high roller, thinking he would be a big swinging dick forever, and this move to London is motivated by those good old working for tycoon Arthur (Culkin), running the show in his posh London office.

A bit of a flash git, Rory is keen to make a big impression: rentimg a huge mansion in Surrey, dishing out hefty school fees for the children, even transporting Allison’s horse from the USA (which will have dramatic consequences). He brags about ‘a Central Park apartment’ when looking for a Mayfair pad. But the reality is quite the reverse: the couple can’t even afford an expensive meal, using the issue to score points. And whilst Rory plans to trouser big bucks from the merger of Arthur’s company with a US outfit, he hasn’t checked the fine print and his boss has already written the move off.

As things go from bad to worse his relationship with Alison deteriorates Rory emerging a snarky bully, Jude Law is perfect for the part. Dirkin shows us a glittering balloon of material wealth, waiting to pop and deflate at any minute. Particularly harrowing is a meeting between Rory and his mother (Reed), whom he has not seen for more than a decade. Hungarian DoP Mátyás Ederly, who shot Saul and Sunset, really does his stuff here creating a visual masterpiece of riches beyond the dreams of avarice splicing horror and thriller elements with startling effect at home in the world of business his images convincingly conveying the business world as if it were an entertainment industry Rory soon finding out that they belong to neither. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | ON RELEASE from 27 August 2021

Victory of the Faith | Der Sieg des Glaubens (1933)

Dir: Leni Riefenstahl | Germany, Doc 64’

One gets a sense of déjà vu all the way through this trial run for Triumph des Willens, as so many of its images were deliberately recreated by Leni Riefenstahl a year later for the more famous film, which also reuses Herbert Windt’s music; although sadly there is no zeppelin in Triumph des Willens.

In addition to being almost exactly half the running time of the interminable ‘Triumph’, it’s the mismatches and the occasional moments of spontaneity that makes Der Sieg des Glaubens the more endurable of the two films. The presence throughout of Ernst Röhm is naturally the most remarkable feature; usually at Hitler’s side but otherwise not unduly prominent (the film overall contains mercifully far less speeches – and marching – although there do seem to be rather more shots of Goebbels this time round).

After years of being accustomed to seeing the aerial view of the threesome of Hitler, Himmler and Lutze (Röhm’s tame replacement as head of the SA) approaching the Ehrenhalle in ‘Triumph’, the sight of just Hitler and Röhm giving the salute comes as a jolt. The presence of Vice-Chancellor Papen (soon to be sidelined by the Führer until collared by the Allies in 1945 and brought back to Nuremberg as one of the defendants) reminds us that this is still very early days for the New Order, and Riefenstahl occasionally cuts to a suitably overwhelmed looking Italian delegation.

 

 

image coutesy of @wikiwand.

Two amusing moments depicting the Führer caught slightly off-guard are early on when he immediately thrusts a bouquet of flowers two little girls have just presented him with in Rudolf Hess’s direction; and the unaccustomed slouching posture he adopts while the leader of the Hitler Youth, Baldur von Schirach, attempts to quieten them down so that he can begin his address.@Richard Chatten

 

Rose (2021) Locarno Film Festival 2021

Dir/Wri: Aurelie Saada | Cast: Francoise Fabian, Aure Atika, Gregory Montel, Damien Chapelle, Pascal Elbe, Mehdi Nebbou | France Romantic Drama, 102′

Aurelie Saada brings her musical training as a composer to this brilliantly executed and vivacious film about love, family life and second chances.

A crowd-pleasing winner which will particularly resonate with Jewish audiences who will appreciate its finer details, Rose is a riff on Sebastian Lielo’s Berlinale winner Gloria, Francoise Fabian is absolutely magnificent as the grieving widow Rose. Elegant and graceful in her seventy-eighth year the opening scenes see her celebrating a joyous family occasion with her debonair husband (Bernard Murat in cameo) whose subsequent death sends her spiralling into overwhelming grief and confining her to the safety of her comfortable Parisian apartment.

Family and friends offer support but bring their own issues to the party, and this familiar outpouring of collective misery is not always welcome to the person most closely affected, Rose retreating into a world of her own, understanding yet unable to offer guidance or even deal with her three middle-aged children who are all experiencing emotional trauma unconnected to their father’s death. Her daughter Sarah (Aure Atika) is in the final throes of a separation for her straying husband (Mehdi Nebbou); Pierre (Gregory Montel), a doctor with his own marital issues, and Leon (Damien Chapelle) is a prickly man-child in trouble with the law.

In her feature debut Saada brings a maturity and wisdom to this hopeful story with its convincing characterisations and perfectly pitched mise en scene. Francoise Fabian understand her role and strikes just the right balance between vulnerability and self-possession as a woman who has dedicated her life to husband and children but now realises she needs an outside stimulus, and she finds one – quite unexpectedly – in the shape of a local restaurateur (Pascal Elbe) who restores her raison d’être and offers a sympathetic ear at a time when Rose needs it most.

A powerfully emotive score of well known classics and Saada’s own compositions give this soigne romantic drama a potent kick along with Martin De Chabaneix’ lush and sophisticated cinematography. Gracefully paced, smart and highly enjoyable Rose is an upbeat flight of fantasy and a tonic for those looking for a silver lining when family is actually the last thing we need. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | PIAZZA GRANDE

 

Zola (2020)

Dir.: Janicza Bravo; Cast: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Brown, Colman Domingo; USA 2020, 96 min.

Sex has never been so ugly in this rollercoaster ride on the sleazy side that makes Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers look like a film for kids. Sexploitation, kidnapping and a suicide attempt are just some of the highlights of this unsavoury tale, teetering self-parody and something much nastier. It’s the work of Janicza Brava who directs a script by Jeremy O. Harris, and the author of the original 148 tweets, A’Ziah King.

Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that Jim Thompson got the same treatment of disbelief from the established literati, back in the day (never mind during his lifetime) and his books are now sought after cult classics, analysed by academics.

Trailer trash white stripper/hooker Stefani (Keough) picks up titular waitress Zola (Paige) and they set off for Florida where they will be well paid well for working the poles, although they have to contend with Stefani’s nerdy boyfriend Derrek (Brown) who whinges non-stop. But when Zola sees X (Domingo), Stefani’s pimp, she gets cold feet: this is prostitution of the most sordid kind. Taking pity on Stefani, she organises more lucrative tricks which pay $500 instead of150, X is impressed and makes Zola his deputy.

Whenever Zola has to watch any bodily contact, she spits out “Gross” and turns her back on all kinds of graphic degradation – including Derrek’s suicide attempt: half desperation, half cry for help, which defines very much the whole enterprise.

DoP Ari Wegner just lets the camera roam around the sleaziness of it all, the scenes in the dystopian luxury hotels are a treat, and his night images on the road are some of the best recently commited to celluloid. Meanwhile Paige clearly enjoys every second, and so does Keough, who just gets the balance right between vulnerability and arrant naughtiness. When it comes to women’s sexual depravity it appears they are worse than men –  there are simply no limits for bad taste. No one can pretend its in any way a critique of anything: This is X-rated stuff with a mental health warning, but just enjoy the spectacle and have fun AS

In cinemas from 6 AUGUST 2021

House of Gucci (2021)

Directed by Ridley Scott from a script by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna based on Sara Gay Forden’s bestseller The House of Gucci brings to the big screen the shocking true story of the family empire behind the Italian fashion house of Gucci. Spanning three decades of love, betrayal, decadence, revenge, and ultimately murder, we see what a name means, what it’s worth, and how far a family will go for control.

 

COMING TO CINEMAS THIS NOVEMBER

 

 

Girl in the Headlines (1963)

Dir: Michael Truman | Cast: Ian Hendry, Ronald Fraser, Margaret Johnston, Natasha Parry | UK Drama 93’

Based on a 1961 novel by the actor Laurence Payne called The Nose on My Face. This enjoyable little murder mystery with an interesting cast – most of them still relatively young – and shot on familiar London locations seems on the surface charmingly old-fashioned (everybody is so immaculately dressed, and ball-point pens were still sufficiently novel for one to be an important plot point).

Yet the the victim is described as “a little nympho…without morals or scruples of any kind” who came to London to have “an operation” after getting pregnant by her mother’s fiancée. “Reefers” and “cocaine” are also mentioned by name and a character (described as “a rich and successful TV thing”) is stabbed to death in what is obviously a gay club. Incredibly this only carried an ‘A’ certificate in 1963, which shows how rapidly times were then changing.

Like Inspector Morse, Ian Hendry (who was still young and dashing then before his drinking got the better of him) as the detective drives a Bentley and knows his opera. Coincidence? @Richard Chatten

TALKING PICTURES

Human Factors (2021)

Dir.: Ronny Trocker; Cast: Max Waschke, Sabine Timoteo, Jude Hermann, Wanja Valentin Kube, Daniel Séjourné; Italy/Germany/Denmark 2021, 102 min.

Italian-born Ronny Trocker’s intelligent but underpowered invasion thriller has the same fault line that runs through many German features of the past few decades: a premise that looks promising on paper but fails to come alive cinematically because everything has to serve the central construct. This may work for Michael Haneke but Trocker’s film lacks the narrative heft that makes Haneke’s features so absorbing. DoP Klemens Hufnagl tries for a ‘Huis clos’ atmosphere but he’s further hemmed in by the narrative confines, and the actors can’t inject much verve either with their underwritten characters.

Human Factors centres on a repressed and deeply conflicted upper-middle class family. For some light relief they take a break in a holiday home in Belgium near the German border but this is a sticking plaster rather than a solution to their woes. Husband Jan (Waschke) and wife Nina (Timoteo) run a PR agency in Germany, but politically they are poles apart and this tension bleeds into their ongoing campaign in the run up the country’s elections. Their kids are suffering too: Teenage daughter Emma (Hermann) is having problems at school and hanging out with the wrong crowd, her young brother Max (Kube) has lost the plot completely and is only interested in his pet rat Zorrow.

The holiday gets off to a bad start with a bungled burglary, the repercussions having a knock on affect for all concerned in this Rashomon like set-up. Nina’s gay brother Flo (Séjourné) and his partner then fetch up on the scene, and this doesn’t go down well with the rather homophobic Jan, opening up further avenues of discontent. Back in Germany on the Monday, things just go from bad to worse. AS

IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 15 February 2022 | SUNDANCE LONDON premiere |

 

Misha and the Wolves (2021)

Dir.: Sam Hobkinson; Documentary with Misha Defonseca, Jane Daniel, Evelyn Haendel, Sharon Seargant; Belgium/UK 2021, 89 min.

Sam Hobkinson (Fear City) tells one of the most bizarre stories of modern times. Misha and the Wolves could be a fairy tale, but it turns into a nightmare – and then into something completely beyond the wildest imagination.

In the remote town of Millis, Massachusetts. Belgian immigrant Misha Defonseca regaled friends and neighbours with her experiences during the Holocaust. She told the members of Temple Bel Torah how, as a little girl in during wartime 1941, she left her loveless foster home and began to search for her biological  parents who had been deported to a death camp. Taking up with a pack of wolves she walked on foot from Belgium to Germany, it what would be an eventful and violent journey.

One of her neighbours of Defonseca Jane Daniel, ran a small publishing company, the Mt. Ivy Press and offered to publish the memoir as ‘Misha: A memoire of the Holocaust Years’. It came out in 1997 and was a great success, as was the French version. In 2007, the French filmmaker Vera Belmont shot the story as Survivre avec les Loups. But the cracks started to show: Defonseca took Daniel to court, over her refusal to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. Next came a major discovery: Defonseca had used two different versions of her birth name: one for the America edition, one for the French one. Than everything unravelled quickly, thanks to forensic genealogist Sharon Sergeant, and Evelyne Haendel, a Belgian researcher and Holocaust survivor. What emerged was a completely different version of events.  Misha was born in 1937 as Monique de Wael to catholic parents in Etterbeek, Belgium. She never left home as a child.

Hobkinson then uses the Errol Morris technique, turning the narrative into a Patricia Highsmith style story where the focus is no longer Defonseca – but a gullible public on both sides of the Atlantic intrigued to have discered just another plucky Jewish survivor. The guilt surrounding lack of social responsibility during the Shoah still haunts communities who react with denial (as in Poland) or half-truths as they do in France. Misha’s real story is also chained to this process of uncovering the kindness of strangers who courageously risked their own safety to help Jews. Opportunism is still rife in the publishing world, Jane Daniel being only one example. DoP Will Pugh documents this torrid tale of a deception that provides a welcome version of the truth, an antidote to bestseller spin. Misha Forenseca still lives in Millis. AS

NOW ON RELEASE

Writing With Fire (2021) Movies that Matter Festival 2022

Dir.: Sushmit Ghosh, Rintu Thomas; Documentary with Meere Devi, Shyonkali Devi, Suneeta Prajapate; India 2021, 92 min.

This Oscar nominated documentary by first time feature directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh (also co-DoP) once again exposes an endemic culture of police corruption, bribery and misogyny in Indian culture seen through the ‘Khabar Lahariya’ (‘News Wave’) newspaper. The publication was founded just after the turn of the century by women of India’s lowest cast – the Dalit, and operates out of Uttar Pradesh, a region which usually votes for the winning Party in the General election – and this will play a big part later.

We begin with chief reporter Meere interviewing the victim of a brutal rape, and her shocked husband. Meere then walks straight into the police station to demand why nobody has been charged with the assault. Alarmingly the police are not interested in helping the victim. Clearly they are not there to serve the people or enforce law and order, but to trouser lavish bribes from their venal local overlords who continue to operate with impunity.

Although the “Khabar Lahariya’ is now digital, at the end, with 125 million followers on You Tube, the journalists are not really taken not seriously – even by their own husbands – one proclaiming the whole operation will fail.

During the 2019 election, the sitting candidate of the region left his own party, and joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP. When interviewed by the women he gives the usual lip service to fighting corruption, if re-elected, since the BJP will allow him to be active on this front, unlike his old Party. Modi and the BJP won in a landslide, not only in Uttar Pradesh. But already a week later, the journalists are repressed by members of the BJP, wearing orange outfits, and pretending to represent religious groups. The danger of absolute Hindu nationalism is obvious.

The fate of the individual members of the newspaper is also told, centring around Suneeta, Meere’s best ‘student’. Disappointingly she then decides to give up her profession and marry. Lost in that immediacy is a deeper historical look at the paper itself; while we understand its creation was unique, Writing with Fire is so invested in the present that the filmmakers fail to offer key information about its founding.

Still, now is as good a time as any to follow the paper and its evolving reporters as we watch Khabar Lahariya grow in size and influence. It’s a double-sided coin: Increased visibility means increased impact, for the journalists and their subjects, but it also places the women in the crossfire of anyone opposed to them (and that’s plenty of people, especially as the country enters a key election period).

The personal toll is never far from the frame, and while some of the documentary drags as its filmmakers cycle through repetitive scenes (a husband rolling his eyes at his wife’s work, a family railing against the impossibility of marrying off their daughter, a puffed-up subject refusing to talk to female journalists), they also put the audience very much inside the world of Meera, Suneeta, and Shyamkali.

A startling finale makes Writing with Fire one of the finest features ever made about journalism, a real eye opener. AS

GRAND JURY DOCUMENTARY AWARD WINNER | MOVIES THAT MATTER 2022

 

The Sparks Brothers (2021) Sundance London 2021

Dir.: Edgar Wright; Documentary with Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Mike Myers, Giorgio Moroder, Tony Visconti, Christl Haydon, Steve Jones, Alex Kapranos; UK 2021, 135 min.

At first glance, The Sparks Brothers is an odd choice as a first documentary for director/writer Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver). They were the operatic star turn with their score for Annette at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and their music has endured half a century. Hits like ‘This town is not not big enough for Both of Us’, was a great success in the UK, but ignored in the US, leaving many fans with the impression they were British – but they were born and bred LA. The Sparks have produced twenty-five albums, and Wright (a self-confessed fan) has given everyone enough space here – which accounts for a self-indulgent running time of two hour fifteen minutes.

Ron and Russell Mael had a proper cinema upbringing with their parents, who, idiosyncratically, took their kids to the cinema whenever they saw fit. No surprise then that Ron and Russell wanted to compose for the big screen. But early efforts with Jacques Tati and Tim Burton came to nothing. Luckily, they ‘escaped’ the dud Rollercoaster from 1977, which fell instead to poor Lalo Schifrin while we get an uncredited glimpse of the brothers. Finally Ron and Russell got their just reward: this year’s opening feature at Cannes directed by Leos Carax, scored by the Maels. Not bad for a duo who inspired New Order, Duran Duran and The Human League.

The brothers Mael are great entertainers, even performing with a dummy. And Wright mocks the genre roles of the documentary, with animation and CGI inlets. Wright hits the spirit of the Maels: the 1979 album produced by Giorgio Moroder, featured classics like ‘Try outs for the Human Race’, just the sort of anarchy Wright reproduced in his feature films. The Sparks Brothers is a proper head banger, celebrating the feeling of anarchic creativity. AS

SUNDANCE LONDON | July 29 – August 1st 2021

Jungle Cruise (2021)

Dir.: Jaume Collet-Serra; Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Edgar Ramirez; USA 2021, 127 min.

Fizzing with feelgood vibes Jungle Cruise is a blockbuster extravaganza that takes its name from the famous Disney Land theme park ride and brought alive here by Catalonian born director Jaume Collet-Serra and his writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

After the overwhelming success of Pirates of the Caribbean it comes as no surprise that Disney would chose another fairground theme for a feature film, Taking place1916 during WWI, the action-packed prologue is set in London, where Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) and her gay brother MacGregor (Whitehall) hope that some dusty old relics will lead them to a magical tree in the Amazon jungle so they  can harness its much needed healing powers amid the slaughter of the trenches.

Arriving at the Amazons, Lily takes her wuss of a brother in hand and hires Captain Frank Wolff (Johnson) to lead them to the mystical  tree. But despite a massive ego the debit-ridden Frank is not really up to it and neither is his shambolic boat. His real name is Francisco and he fetched up here 400 years ago with the conquistadores. Over the centuries his quest for the legendary tree has been in vain in a desperate search to help his soldier friend Aguirre (Ramirez), who needs the petals for his sick daughter Anna. Aguirre still haunts Frank in his nightmares.  Meanwhile Prince Joachim, a relative of the German Kaiser, is also after the tree’s petals, hot on the heels of Frank’s motley crew in their U-boat. Luckily, Frank’s pet leopard is there to defend them – despite getting drunk and throwing up. The foursome face a fearful battle before a happy-end delivers them back to London.

Basque DoP Flavio Martinez Labiano can take all the credit for this spectacle. His roving camera almost makes you throw up – never mind the leopard – and his rapid change of lighting angles creates a hostile, supernatural atmosphere of dread. Johnson is, as always ‘The Rock’, but Blunt is no shrinking violet either in the petal quest. Whitehall’s understated MacGregor is just shy of a caricature.  Fabulous production values more than make up for the narrative torpor. Just enjoy the fun. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 30 July 2021

 

The Collini Case | Der Fall Collini (2019)

Dir.: Marco Kreuzpaintner; Cast: Elyas M’Barek, Alexandria Maria Lara, Franco Nero, Heiner Lauterbach, Manfred Zapatka, Jannis Niewöhner, Catrin Striebeck, Peter Prager; Germany 2019, 123 min.

A gripping courtroom drama based on a real events sees a modest man tried for a motiveless murder.

Even today war crimes are still being committed all over the world. German director Marco Kreuzpaintner‘s feature serves as a timely reminder of the Dreher Law that allowed many war criminals to get off by a technicality.

Inspired by Ferdinand con Schirach’s bestseller of the same name and adapted by Christian Zübot, Robert Gold and Jens-Friedrich Otto, The Collini Case brought the scandal to the international stage. It’s an impressive undertaking that rather overstays its welcome despite Franco Nero’s engaging performance as defendant Franco Collini.

It maintains that the German justice system and the majority of politicians wilfully obstructed the persecution of war criminals, in the majority members of the Waffen SS.

Lawyer Caspar Leinen (M’ Barek) is appointed by the court to defend Fabrizio Collini (Nero), who has killed the German industrialist Hans Meyer (Zapatka) with three shots to the head. Collini is not willing to defend himself, and refuses to talk to Leinen, whose mother was Turkish, and was abandoned by his father (Prager) when Caspar was two.

Leinen is inexperienced in court dealings and his position is not helped by his close ties to the Meyer family: Meyer senior has financed his studies and treated him like a son and he has been enjoying an affair with Meyer’s grand daughter Johanna (Lara). Flashbacks flesh out how  Leinen’s  relationship with the influential Meyer family ended after several members of were killed in gruesome car accident, and bring to light Meyer’s senior’s controversial past: he was a member of the Waffen SS and responsible for a massacre in Montecatino when he saved little Fabrizio from being shot as a hostage. instead the child had to watch his father being killed, with Meyer ending his life in a coupe de grace.

In 1969 Fabrizio and his family filed a law suit against Meyer, but were then told that the German parliament had adopted the so-called Dreher law, which meant that all German war criminals were guilty of Murder Two – in other words the statue of limitation run out after twenty years, whilst Murder One had no time limit for prosecution.

In tense but protracted court scenes Lenien is locked in a battle of wits with his mentor the Public Prosecutor Prof. Mattinger (Lauterbach) part of a committee which formulated the Dreher law.

Although some may consider the flashbacks self indulgent, distracting from the central narrative. DoP Jacub Bejnarowicz does a brilliant job of enlivening the court proceedings with his visualisation of a contemporary Berlin still full of reminders of a murderous past. But his flashback images are rather on the kitsch side. Franco shines in a central tour de force but the support cast is not always convincing. Somehow there is too much pathos, partly due to the script.

The Collini Case needed a touch of irony to lighten its ever-relevant themes: But despite its worthwhile and ever-relevant themes of corruption, judiciary ethics, and toxic masculinity. Nero adds allure in a film marred by a rather stuffy support cast, the whole ensemble resembling a fighting unit, ready to attack rather than engage. AS

IN CINEMAS 10 September 2021

The Plough and the Stars (1936)

Dir: John Ford | Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, Barry Fitzgerald, Denis O’Dea | US Drama 72’

Made during John Ford’s ten-year 1930s sabbatical from making westerns; he’d just won an Oscar for The Informer, so he could insist upon yet another Irish subject. The opening caption “Dublin — Ireland”, however, straight away betrays its Hollywood provenance, and despite photography by the great Joseph August, lurches throughout between beautifully designed and lit interiors and obvious studio exteriors.

RKO imposed upon him Barbara Stanwyck, who Ford treated very badly on the set before eventually withdrawing to his yacht in a huff when shooting wrapped. Of the Abbey Players themselves, F.J.McCormick is visibly younger and healthier here than in the role of Shell ten years later in Odd Man Out for which he is known today and Arthur Shields looks very dashing as Padraic Pearse. But considering how notoriously truncated a version of the play this is, far too much time is devoted to depicting Barry Fitzgerald’s ‘hilarious’ fondness for a tipple. @RichardChatten

TALKING PICTURES TV

European Arthouse Film | ARTEKino Selection Summer 2021

The ARTEKino Festival is an innovative online film festival presented by ARTE.tv and Festival Scope aimed at movie goers from all over Europe. The festival strives to celebrate and promote European films from new filmmakers to larger audiences in less accessible countries.

This year the ARTEKino Selection is also available free at ARTE.tv. Each month a new film is featured representing the richness and diversity of European cinema.

In July, the ARTEKino Selection features Claire Denis’s 2008 film 35 Shots of Rum, currently streaming onARTE.tv. For August, Tereza Nvotová’s powerful debut feature Filthy, explores hard-hitting issues of rape, trauma and secondary victimisation. In September ARTEKino presents the potent real-world feminist fable Sibel featuring a mesmerising performance by Damla Sönmez.

The ARTEKino Selection – August 

FILTHY

Slovakia, 2017

Director: Tereza Nvotová
Available at ARTE.tv from 1 August to 31 August

Seventeen-year-old Lena’s carefree world comes crashing down when she is raped at home by her maths teacher. The attacker calmly walks away, but Lena ends up in a psychiatric hospital. But even there she can’t bring herself to tell anyone what happened to her, since it doesn’t appear the staff are prepared to combat secondary victimisation. Tereza Nvotová offers up a drama which clearly demonstrates that rape only marks the beginning of a series of distressing experiences and brings to light an often-marginalised problem exacerbated by inadequate professional help. The oppressive subject matter acquires form as an assured study of the main character and of those around her, their contours nuanced by Marek Dvořák’s camerawork and by Dominika Morávková, whose Lena comes to realise that only she can find the strength that lies within her.

The ARTEKino Selection – September

SIBEL

Turkey, 2018

Directors: Çagla Zencirci & Guillaume Giovanetti
Available at ARTE.tv from 1 September to 30 September

25-year-old Sibel lives with her father and sister in a secluded village in the mountains of Turkey’s Black Sea region. Sibel is a mute, but she communicates by using the ancestral whistled language of the area. Rejected by her fellow villagers, she relentlessly hunts down a wolf that is said to be prowling in the neighbouring forest, sparking off fears and fantasies among the village women. There she crosses path with a fugitive. Injured, threatening and vulnerable, he is the first one to take a fresh look at her.

Watch free of charge, on ARTE.tv, via the ARTE mobile app and the Smart TV app  @ARTEen

 

Old (2021)

Dir.: M. Night Shyamalan; Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krisp, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Elizabeth Scanlen, Kathleen Chalfant, Ken Leung Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aaron Bird, Alex Wolf, Thomasin McKenzie, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliot; USA 2021, 108 min.

Somebody once said that M. Night Shyamalan more or less recreates an episode of ‘Twilight Zone’ in all his features. We wish! In reality this is filmmaking by numbers, aiming for mystery yet putting his cards on the table one by one the writer director is caught in his own universe with a tried and tested formula – OLD is just that. 

Based on the graphic novel ‘Sandcastle’ by Frederick Peters and Pierre-Oscar Levy, it sees a group of hotel guests unable to escape their a nightmare tropical holiday when they find themselves trapped on their beautiful beach ageing rapidly at an alarming rate in fanciful camerawork provided by DoP Mike Gureckis.

Married couple Guy (Bernal) and Prisca (Krieps) are giving their relationship a final try on the island idyll, with their two young children Trent and Maddox. Prisca develops a tumour in the blink of an eye – shock-horror-gasp. Another couple, Charles (Sewell) and wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and their young daughter Kara (Scanlen) are also victims of the ageing process; whilst a third couple, Jarin (Lesung) and Patricia (Amuka-Bird) are written out of the narrative early on. Prisca and Guy eventually make peace in the evening but by now the adult Trent (Elliot) and Maddox (Davidtz) are desperate to get away. A famous rapper (Pierre), going by the name of Mid-Sized Sedan, is not even spared, despite his fame.

Meanwhile Charles, who may or may not be a schizophrenic, is trying to remove Prisca’s tumour hampered by his inability to the film that starred Brando and Nicholson together. You guessed it: Missouri Break.

A solid premise – age gets to us all in the end – could have led to a twist in the tale, instead Old goes out with a whimper. Rod Serling of ‘Twilight Zone’ fame would have winced. AS

IN CINEMAS

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (2020)

Dir.: Kristina Lindstrom, Kristian Petri; Documentary with Björn Andrésen, Robine Roman, Annike Andrésen, Jessica Vennberg, Miriam Sambol, Margareta Krantz, Ryoko Ikeda; Sweden 2021, 93 min.

Swedish directors/writers Kristina Lindstrom (Palme) and Kristian Petri (Sommaren) explore the blighted life of actor/musician Björn Andrésen (*1955) who shot to international fame in 1971 as the blond youth Tadzio in Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice.

The remainder of the young man’s life resembles a Greek tragedy after a world-wide advertising campaign based on Andrésen’s androgynous image inspired, among others, Japanese Manga writers Ryoko Ikeda, sealing  his fate. But What’s crucial here is that Visconti ‘owned’ the image of the under-aged actor via a copyright agreement for three years.

Björn was the fifth of six actors Visconti tested in 1970 in Stockholm for role of Tadzio, the nemesis of gay composer Von Aschenbach, in the novel of the same name by Thomas Mann. Visconti intended to direct the movie for the big screen, having been obsessed by it for a long time. Paradoxically Visconti somehow got away with being a prominent member of the Italian Communist Party and a very wealthy aristocrat. He was openly gay (exceptional in Catholic Italy after WWII) and his film crew consisted mostly of members of the the same sexual orientation.
At the screening test, Visconti made Björn strip to his pants, making the teenager highly uneasy.

Visconti emerges a stern and authoritarian figure, issuing an edict: nobody could even so much as look at Björn. Meanwhile the director touted the teenager around at gay nightclubs during the film’s shoot in Venice, where – acceding to teenager “the waiters looked at me as if I was a particular rare food which they would devour at any time”.

Miriam Samboli was engaged by the production company to look after Björn as a governess, helping him with his homework, and Casting Agent Margareta Krantz. Word had it that Visconti was completely smitten by Björn:”Whenever he was with Björn, his whole body came alive.” The media circus gathered speed in 1971 after Death in Venice had its premiere in London with The Queen and Princess Anne in attendance. The festival in Cannes, a few few months later, made the young man into a worldwide star. He was particularly famous in Japan as the first ‘Western Idol’, and made some music records. Next came Paris, where a certain Mr. Durant paid Björn 500 francs a month as pocket money, and rented a flat for him. “I had never any of my own money during my travels round the world”.

But Björn still had his education to think about and at school the boys sneered at him for his ‘femininity’: “I only had to snap my fingers and ten girls would come running – I never learned the social skills to communicate with the other gender”.

Björn Andrésen amassed credits for 16 TV films and series (40 TV episodes), as well as eleven feature films. He had asked not to be cast in the “Tadzio” mould, because he wanted to escape the gay image. It goes without saying he never gained the same attention as he did in 1971.

But it would be wrong simply to blame the Visconti episode for Bjorn’s post 1971 career, there were clearly aspects in his childhood that contributed to his lack of ongoing success: Björn never knew his biological father and his mother Barbro, a writer and painter, committed suicide. We watch him in a heart-breaking scene with an archivist who shows him the police report of Barbro’s suicide. His sister Annike Andrésen, the siblings were born in the same year, and daughter Robine Roman, paint a picture of a haunted man who never came to terms with fame. But the worst was still to come: Björn’s son Elvin died, nine months old, of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. He is convinced he died “because I loved him not enough, I was not up to it”.

The present sees him with supportive girlfriend Jessica Vennberg, who helps Björn clean his flat and fight off an eviction order from a Housing Association. A an adult he cuts a shy figure, hiding behind masses of hair: clearly not wanting to be seen.

DoP Erik Vallsten follows Björn Andrésen’s journey with a respectful distance: Here is a man so much hurt by the past  he is a whisper away from disaster, totally lacking agency or self determination. Lindstrom’s biopic echoes an uneasy silence, captured with empathy in this diligent and dignified portrait. AS

NOW ON BBC IPLAYER

The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960) Prime

Dir: Budd Boetticher | Cast: Ray Danton, Karen Steele, Elaine Stewart, Jesse Whir | US Neo-Noir 107’

After a run of intelligent and highly-regarded colour westerns, director Budd Boetticher made a remarkable about turn with this classic recreation of the roaring twenties. The Production Code was by 1960 losing its iron grip on Hollywood, and The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond came at just the right moment to recapture both the breezy amorality of the pre-Code crime films of thirty years earlier, while Lucien Ballard’s crisp black & white photography vividly evokes the look of the era.

The absurdly good-looking Ray Danton is unforgettable in the lead, and the amused charm he brings to the part rather subverts the film’s message that he owed his fall to his lack of basic humanity, since you’ve spent most the film enthusiastically rooting for him  @Richard Chatten

ON AMAZON PRIME

Sabaya (2021)

Dir.: Hogir Hirori; Documentary with Mahmud, Siham, Shadi, Sheik Zyad; Sweden 2021, 91 min.

Kurdish director/writer/DoP/editor Hogir Hirori (The Deminer) has certainly ventured where few other filmmakers dare to go: he follows Kurdish resistance fighters, both men and women, in their efforts to liberate young Kurdish women who have been abducted, raped and sold by members of Daesh, during their reign of terror which lasted from 2014 to 2019. The Yazidi, a Kurdish minority religion, was one of their fiercest opponents, and Daesh took it out on them: By 2016 over two thousand six hundred women and girls – some still babies – were abducted, 3793 remain as sex slaves until now, given the titular name of Sabaya by their captors.

Mahmud, a Syrian, seems to live where he works, the ‘Yazidi Home Centre’ in north-east Syria. Mahmud and Sheik Zyad, the director of the Centre, lead a group sending female “infiltrators” into the nearby ‘Al-Hol’ refuge camp to locate Yazidi women. Daesh is trying to reconstitute itself by selling Yazidi women to sex trafficking groups. Bereft of any political aim, they are simply a Mafia organisation. Some of the Yazidi women are sold up to 15 times to different sex-slave operators. The fighter’s most important allies are older Arabic women who “look after” the captured Kurdish women evading Mahmud and his female spies by changing tents when the liberators arrive. The search is hampered by their inability to identify the women, post capture, and this is their main setback. Even when a positive identification is made, the real trouble begins: the liberators – including Hirori – are shot at in their cars, and near the end there is an armed attack on the Centre itself. Eylol, the commander of the female troops, also has to use rifles. The number of nationalities in the Camp makes is even more difficult and dangerous to spring the Yazidi women: 58 nationalities are involved, among them citizens of Morocco, Tunisia, Russia, Chechnya, France and Somalia.

Mahmund, whose wife Siham and young son Shadi suffer from his regular absence; but when he visits the nearby Hassaker Prison, where Daesh prisoners are kept, he can confirm the identity of Leila and Dilsoz, who were abducted from the city of Sinjar. Leila has a baby from her Daesh rapist/husband, but when even if her family are alive it’s doubtful they will welcome her with open arms. Finally, young Mitra, who is unable to speak or understand anything but Arabic, will be re-united with her parents – if they can be found. To date, 206 Yazidi women and girls have been rescued, 52 had children born after a rape. When Mahmud takes five of the liberated women to Sinjar, he brings back the same number of female infiltrators.

Like his ‘hosts’, Hirori certainly put his life at stake during the nightly raids. Sabaya is a chronicle of courage, it is filmed like a diary, avoiding dramatic arcs – the continuous action speaks for itself. It could be considered a thriller – but that would sensationalise its sad subject matter. The reality can be found in the faces of the ‘liberated’ women – to call hem the lucky ones would be a sad euphemism. Brutal and unforgiving, Sabaya is a unique tale, told under the most hazardous circumstances. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 20 AUGUST 2021

 

The Fan (1949)

Dir: Otto Preminger | US Drama

Towards the end of his journeyman years at Fox, having recently completed Ernst Lubitsch’s final film, ‘That Lady in Ermine’ (1948); Otto Preminger next remade one his illustrious predecessor’s silent hits with strange results.

Although fluidly photographed by his collaborator on ‘Laura’, Joseph LaShelle, he later admitted that it was “one of the few pictures I already disliked while making it” and rather than a droll comedy of manners it bizarrely resembles a Victorian film noir in which characters occasionally come out with familiar Wildean epigrams (a sense compounded by the postwar framing story, from which it flashes back in the style of the forties).

Martita Hunt is menacing rather than comical during her fleeting appearances as the Duchess of Berwick; while Madeleine Carroll in what proved her final screen appearance as Mrs Erlynne is far from the glacial blonde we remember from her thirties films. @RichardChatten

The Worst Person in the World (2021)

Dir: Joachim Trier | Wris Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier | Norway, Romantic comedy 121′

Renate Reinsve won the Best Actress award at Cannes for being ‘the worst person in the world’ in Joachim Trier’s latest film. But her only crime is indecision in this morally complex character drama about freedom of choice for beautiful young things in the 21st century.

Julie is 30. A perfect age to be alive in Oslo where she lives with her boyfriend Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, who also stars in Bergman’s Island), a successful cartoonist who adds a thoughtful stability to Julie’s spirited self-focus. The choppily edited early scenes see Julie reinventing herself in various career choices: medicine then psychoanalysis, then photography. Her mother is supportive then exasperated in an upbeat narrative that regularly spins off in various directions but never loses its central focus in a script co-written by Eskil Vogt.

Aksel’s career is going from strength to strength and he wants to start a family. But Julie is conflicted and even more so after the two spend a fraught weekend with his family where other smug couples make her feel uncomfortable with her lack of decision. What follows is series of episodes where Julie toys with her career choices and the men in her life, Aksel becoming more and more disenchanted with her constant forays into pastures new.

Divided into twelve chapters, a prologue and epilogue, the film fizzes with light-hearted fun never making Julie out to be callous – she is sensitive and likeable – but feels a genuine uncertainty about her emotional status in a society that seems to funnel us into a lemming like direction of commitment. There is melancholy too, especially in the final chapter where Julie is made aware of the impact of her choices, or lack of them. Sometimes splashy but always entertaining this is a watchable chronicle of modern millennial life. MT

The Single Standard (1929)

Dir: John S Robertson | Cast: Greta Garbo, Nils Asther, Johnny Mack Brown, Dorothy Sebastian | US Drama 89′ Silent

The second of three silent features featuring Garbo released in 1929 while MGM scratched its head pondering how they were to promote her as an attraction in talkies; The Single Standard was also her second feature in a row pairing her with fellow Swede Nils Asther.

Garbo is improbably introduced as All-American party girl Arden Stuart, presumably loaded, but of whose life and means prior to the wild party in an enormous Art Deco mansion with which the film begins we learn nothing. Despite the provocative title – vaguely advanced at one point as some sort of feminist statement about the social constraints placed upon women – The Single Standard swiftly turns into a standard Garbo vehicle in which after flirting with modernity in the form of motor rides at seventy m.p.h. and a dalliance with pugilist turned artist Asther she ultimately embraces respectability and parenthood with John Mack Brown for the sake of her cute little curly-haired moppet of a son.

The name of director John S. Robertson isn’t much recalled today, even by connoisseurs of silent cinema (unless they’re also connoisseurs of horror cinema, since he directed the John Barrymore version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in 1920), but he does a good job here with the assistance of high-priced Metro talent like cameraman Oliver Marsh, art director Cedric Gibbons, costume designer Adrian and whoever was responsible for Garbo’s various hairstyles which subtly changed as the film ran its course to reflect her developing emotional state. @Richard Chatten

 

All Things Bakelite (2018)

Dir.: John E. Maher; Documentary about Leo Hendrik Baekeland, narrated by Adam Behr; USA 2018, 59 min.

Everything you needed to know about the origins of plastic is here in John E Maher’s watchable docu-drama that sheds a light Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863-1944), the Belgian born inventor of Bakelite, which under its common name, Plastic, has dominated our lives since 1907.

Plastic is a dirty word nowadays, but it was hailed as a miracle back in the day when Baekeland first invented the substance. His biographer, Carl Kaufmann, and even a flamenco dancer sing his praises, Mark Ferreira, re-creating dramatised insight into the genius who was not keen on other people.

Born in Ghent, Baekeland married Celine Swarts, the daughter of his professor at the town’s university. But instead of following in the footsteps of his father-in-law, he emigrated with his wife to the USA in 1889. The couple would have three children, two of which survived their childhood. An inventor at heart, Baekeland struck gold first by coming up with a new photographic paper in 1893, the rights of which were bought up by the Eastman company making Baekeland independent and ready for the big step forward in 1907.

Bakelite was a mixture of phenol and formaldehyde, but Baekeland “hit a wall, like his competitors, but he found a door”. The original mixture was too sticky to be formatted, and it took Baekeland 680 attempts to find a solution for its adaption in all forms possible. Radio, telephone, cars – all mass-produced articles soon relied on the new invention. Others copied Baekeland, and only in 1923 did a judge gave him he sole right for the production of the new formulary.

Baekeland was in love with cars, he even got a speeding ticket for driving at 30 in a 20 mph zone. But behind the scenes, he was an anxious, lonely and nervous man, just the opposite his wife, a socialite who loved to give parties. Her husband felt safest on his yacht, where he spent hours on his own: “He was not a people person”.

But Bakelite would soon find its way into Hollywood: art-deco design dominated the features of Busby Berkeley, and, on the other end of the spectrum, the invention of the first Baby Monitor in 1937. In 1940 Bakelite was the foundation for the first Hawaiian guitar, which was played later on SNL. But crucially the film points to the inevitable downside: plastic is not bio-degradable and will be with us forever – even if, in the future new components make it more eco friendly.

That hydrogen bombs also have a use for Bakelite, is another irony and makes a quote by Kaufmann particularly poignant: “Plastic is the finest and worst expression of mankind”. Baekeland, who was nocturnal in his habits, often feeling like a ‘wandering ghost’, leaves us with pithy food for thought, a Professor of the History of Design at Pratt Institute exclaiming “the heart of Bakelite is the American soul”.

Short and to the point, Maher uses archive material to make his points, his re-staging of Baekeland life is not always successful, and his admiration for chemistry as a whole is obviously questionable. Still, we get to know the man who left us with a major long-term problem, by solving all our daily needs. AS

ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS WORLDWIDE

Joy Womack: The White Swan (2020)

Dir.: Dina Burlis, Sergey Gawrilov; Documentary with Joy Annabelle Womack, Nikita Ivanov-Goncharov, Masha Beck, Elizabeth Shockman; USA 2021, 91 min.

A culture of bribery and corruption in Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet provides the cut and thrust of this new documentary, seen through eyes of Prima ballerina Joy Womack.

Born in 1994, Womack grew up in California and Texas, even though she is ethnically Russian. At the age of 15 she left her family and went to train at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 2009, later becomeing a member of the Bolshoi Ballet proper – quite an achievement and a ‘first’ for an American. But she would resign in 2013 when the scandal became public, later joining the Kremlin Ballet Theatre Moscow where she performed the leading role in ‘Swan Lake’ and other iconic parts in the repertoire.

Told in a series of flashbacks that culminate in her performance in ‘Swan Lake’ at the Kremlin Ballet Theatre – the film is a hotchpotch of episodes  in Womack’s life: there are highlights of her training and rehearsals, and her close relationship with ex-partner Nikita Ivanov-Goncharov. Two biographers, Masha Beck and Elizabeth Shockman are the main commentators, often rather too gushing in style giving the undertaking a hagiographic flavour. Training to be a dancer is gruelling and psychologically stressful: at one point Womack needed complex and expensive surgery after dancing with a fractured foot, just because no understudy was available. Fortunately her church provided the financing for her operation, because her family had gone bankrupt.

Most dancers suffer from weight problems, and Joy is no different. Weighing at one point only 38 kg, she developed an eating disorder, along with many of her colleagues. One point of contention between Joy and Nikita, also a dancer, was her total commitment to work. Womack is clear about her goals in life: “More work is good, no compromises. I train at the gym, practice my yoga, run a bible group and attend church. I could not do all this if I was still with Nikita. Many things make me into a better dancer and a better person. For me, works comes first, and I consider it impossible to combine work and personal life”.

Sadly, Nikita, now a choreographer, has to accept she’s married to her work with almost religious devotion. But it wasn’t a happy decision and she misses him: “He does not understand it, he is heartbroken. My heart aches for him.” When she left the Kremlin Ballet Theatre for a position in Seoul, she was adamant to burn no bridges: “Moscow will be always my home, I think of it as a base”.

Structurally flawed due to its confusing non-linear timeline – makes this a confusing to watch, but Womack herself is very much a documentary filmmaker’s dream: outspoken and always willing to take centre stage, she is a force of nature to be reckoned with, even if her underlying need for entitlement is sometimes grating.

Lively and action-packed throughout its running time, this portrait of a woman bulldozing herself through life, taking no prisoners is impressive. AS

OUT ON 19 JULY 2021

Handsome (2021)

Dir.: Luke White; Documentary with Nick and Alex Bourne, Molly and Charles Somers, Amber and Armand Maillard, Krich and Sachit Matrega, Thanh Nam and Tranh Viet; UK 2021, 98 min.

This adventurous new documentary from writer/filmmaker Luke White (Blood Money) who embarks on a international search for care-givers for those suffering from Down’s Syndrome. The idea was inspired by his friend Nick Bourne who also looks after an affected sibling, and has come to the stage where he wants to develop his own life. So he takes his brother Alex on a journey round the world, to explore others are coping in his position.

First stop is Cornwall, where Molly Somers looks after her brother Charles (Charlie). Their home is in an idyllic country setting, and Molly is fiercely protective of her brother who clearly brings out her motherly instincts. Compared with Alex, Charlie’s Down’s is quite mild, and he gets on well with his sister, Nick feeling rather envious of their closeness. Obviously it helps if you can through money at the situation, but despite family wealth Molly is determined not to hide reality from Charlie: “He knows he is different.”

Next stop is New York, where Nick and Alex visit City worker Amber who in naturally concerned that caring for her brother Armand will have a negative impact of her own career.  Again, it looks like Nick is over-estimating his brother’s mental capacity and lack of verbal dexterity – which he blames on his parents for sending the boy for speech therapy. Alex can also be overbearing and this is another area Nick must confront as his brother matures into a manhood. There is a tendency for both Amber and Nick to refer to their siblings in the third party, even when they’re actually in the same room, they also need to keep them in the loop, so this in part understandable.

Government help is non-existent, but funding would their lives so much easier. At its the same in Mumbai, where Nick and Alex meet Krich and Sachit Matrega. To start with, Sachit is not badly affected by his Down’s: an accomplished cook, he can also organise his domestic life. Krich shows Nick some self-help organisations in the slums.

On their final stop, in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nick and Alex meet brothers Than Nam and Tranh Viet. The situation here is dire, religious fortune-tellers spin their lies for profit, and even worse, unqualified doctors perform brain-surgery offering false hope to all involved. The two also come across victims of “Agent Orange”, the toxic nerve gas sprayed from planes by American troops from their planes during the war. At the end of the fact-finding mission Nick has reached a decision.

Handsome is often hard to watch, the emotions are so raw. Somehow it feels like we’re intruding into the intimate lives of those affected, and that often feels wrong. Handsome is simply overloaded with human suffering. There are complex issues at stake but White does his best in the  cannot be worked out in a mere 98 minutes. AS

ON DEMAND FROM 30 AUGUST

 

Nitram (2021)

Dir: Justin Kurzel | Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis, Anthony LaPaglia, Sean Keenan, Conrad Brandt | Australia: Drama 118′

Justin Kurzel blows us away with this scorching arthouse psychodrama commemorating the Port Arthur tragedy, exploring the milieu that created a murderer (Martin Bryant) who would kill 35 people on that fateful day in 1996.

Not since Snowtown has a film engendered such utter terror through its central character – the titular Nitram – played by a coruscating Caleb Landry Jones – as a fully formed enfant terrible who lives with his long-suffering parents (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia) in the sleepy seaside town.

Snowtown writer Shaun Grant again shows how long-term parental abuse and a casually toxic environment turns Nitram ((Martin backwards his hated school nickname) into a vulnerable, isolated loner who wreaks havoc wherever he goes. A display of his anti-social behaviour opens a story driven forward by an unpredictable behaviour even more frightening than his brutal strength: like a firecracker he goes off without warning, but is also capable of loving affection for his mother who diminishes him with constant putdowns.

But his unpredictability is nerve-shredder here. And the film open with a typical episode of antisocial behaviour when Nitram sets off firecrackers  from the rooftop of his parent’s house in a bid to dispel his sense of ennui and hopelessness – there’s nothing else to do here but surf, and we watch him floundering in the waves, driven to tears by another failed attempt to stay onboard.

Port Arthur feels more like an English seaside town in the 1960s, charmingly down-at-heel and raffling. Redolent of its faded but questionable glory as a colonial outpost, basking in the lush green landscapes leading down to the sea. But when Nitram meets ditzy local heiress and Gilbert & Sullivan fan Helen (Essie Davis) things are set to change. An offer to mow the extensive lawns of her rambling mansion with its menagerie of dogs leads to a touching friendship, Nitram finding acceptance and a contentment of sorts as the misunderstood misfits rub along together in a ‘folie a deux’ before thunder clouds once again gather and his fate is finally sealed.

Kurzel and Grant show how Nitram is unable to empathise as a result of his dysfunctional family dynamic. Davis and LaPaglia are charismatic as his callous mother and depressive father, Nitram’s flawed emotional touchstones as the story seethes towards a devastating finale. All this contrasts with the serene shambolic beauty of the painterly settings – particularly of Helen’s home. This is a mesmerising look at mental illness made all the more pitiful by the tragedy that could have been avoided. As a master of quirky psychological dramas Kurzel is back at the top of his game. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 1 JULY 2022

Shorta (2020)

Dir.: Frederik Louis Hviid, Anders Olholm; Cast: Jacob Lohmann. Simon Sears, Tarek Zayat, Al Jabouri, Issa Khattab; Denmark 2020, 108 min.

Shorta is an intelligent a police thriller tucking a range of weighty social issues firmly under its belt for an adrenaline-powered ride.

Danish first time directors/writers Frederik Hviid and Anders Olholm unpack the role of the today’s police in a crime caper that never lets up in dealing with racism, immigration and misogyny. The violence is hard-hitting but never gratuitous.

We start with the familiar good cop/bad cop routine: a day after a teenage immigrant is gravely injured by police, the squad boss asks officer Jens Hoyer (Sears) to keep an eye on fellow officer Jacob Lohmann (Andersen) who has a track records of open racism and misogyny, and enjoys provoking immigrants – something to be avoided on a day of high tension, even so when their patrol covers the infamous Svalegarden estate where the young victim lived.

At first the cops’ behaviour is true to form: Hoyer the voice of reason, Lohmann a brutal bully. Their relationship is made even more fraught by Jens having been a witness when the teenager was put in an arm lock by the police. Lohmann more or less threatens Hoyer to lie to the internal investigators maintaining that no excess force was used during the incident – appealing to his esprit de corps. Enter Amos (Zayat), a teenager from the same estate, deliberately throwing a milkshake at the two officers in the squad car. Amos is arrested and it soon emerges that  the victim of police brutality has died in hospital and more violence follows for all concerned.

Although the director keeps his distance, his message is clear as day: the police cannot be expected to deal with issues caused by politics and parents who are no longer responsible or even interested in their kids. There are two scenes which really are heart-breaking: Lohmann fighting a German Shepherd in a lift: no prizes for guessing who survives. When are filmmakers going to stop kill off their dog characters? Still, Shorta makes its point and is entertaining – if you disconnect from reality. AS

ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS FROM 30 AUGUST 2021

Bergman Island (2021)

Wri/Dir: Mia Hansen-Løve | MCast: Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie | Drama 112′

In the Swedish island of Faro two filmmakers explore their work and their love for each other in Mia Hansen-Løve’s dreamy sun-kissed drama that combines a documentary stye to explore the island’s cinema legacy.

The ghost of Ingmar Bergman fills this sensuous summer story through the emotional encounters of a group of friends there to celebrate a wedding and a writers’ workshop. Filmmakers Chris (Krieps) and Tony (Roth) will stay at the famous house where Bergman shot Scenes from a Marriage. Krieps is the same diffident, restless woman she was in Phantom Thread, finding the peace and tranquility of the island oppressive and missing her daughter June. Tony is laid-back, supportive and secure in his skin as the two discuss their various projects, Chris keen to probe his ideas on her outline film script which forms the core of this film within a film that sees Mia Wasikowska as Amy, the slated central character and also a guest at the wedding where she is reunited with her ex-lover Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie) their affair rekindled, although both are now spoken for back home. Chris also makes friends with a Swedish film student (Hampus Nordenson), whose role is to instruct us on the Bergman background.

Mia Hansen-Løve directs with confidence and a lightness of touch deftly integrating the various strands of her story with seamless ease in a drama that explores the ups and down of love and the complexities of modern relationships exposing both the pleasure and the pain in a breezy beachside reverie. Faro is very much a character here DP Denis Lenoir’s luminous landscapes providing the backcloth for this enjoyable and affecting drama. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 3 JUNE 2022

 

The Innocents (2021)

Dir/Wri” Eskil Vogt | Cast: Rakel Lenora Flottum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Sam Ashraf, Ellen Dorrit Pedersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, Lise Tonne | Norway, 117′

The Omen meets Jack Clayton’s 1961 titular original in this haunting arthouse horror trip from Eskil Vogt who explores the parallel world of children in his chilling second feature.

The Innocents follows his eerie experimental drama Blind with this textured thematic look at casual violence and subversive behaviour in a group of young friends growing up in small-town rural Norway.

Seen entirely from the children’s point of view this is a deeply sinister and often violent film, at times frighteningly so, but subtle as a whisper. A sense of terrible dread seethes as the plot unfolds, Vogt spending rather too much time establishing the milieu of a modest domestic set-up before hitting the jugular in full blown psychological horror that dives deep below the surface of ordinary young lives.

Freed from the mundanity of running their lives kids are free to let their imaginations wander. And wander they certainly do in a serene suburban idyll surrounded by pine forests and sparkling blue skies that create an oppressive sense of isolation for the blonde-haired angel-faced Ida, played by Rakel Lenora Flottum, her autistic and mute older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) and their kindly but ineffectual parents (Ellen Dorrit Pedersen and Morten Svartveit).

The kids are free to roam far and wide and soon become firm friends with tousled-haired Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) and the levantine Ben (Sam Ashraf impressive in debut) whose background is more troubled, in one violent scene he throws Ida’s pet kitten from the top of the stairs and crushes the crippled animal’s skull – without any remorse. Ben also develops telekinetic powers not unlike Danny in The Shining but Ben’s are put to nefarious use in sending a boiling pan of water over his single mother (Lise Tonne) while he carries on oblivious.

An eerie soundscape from Gustaf Berger and Gisle Tveito ramps up the tension as Ben’s powers come into conflict with Anna’s benign psychic sense as a turbulent battle of wills plays out completely beyond the radar of the adult world.

As the film edges towards its startling finale Vogt creates a distinctive and highly-tuned alter universe in a lushly cinematic supernatural horror that remains tethered in reality while sending out shockwaves of terror with lowkey but chilling affect. MT

Now ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

 

Souad (2021)

Dir.: Ayten Amin; Cast: Bassant Ahmed, Basmala Elghaiesh, Hager Mahmoud, Hussain Ghanem, Carol Ackad, Sarah Shedid, Islam Shalaby, Mona Elnamoury; Egypt/Germany/ Tunisia, 96 min.

Egyptian director/co-writer Ayten Anin (Villa 69) offers a snapshot of the younger female generation symbolising all the contradictions of Muslim countries like Egypt, where their modern world is on collusion course with the more traditional background of their families. Amin has her narrative structured in chapters, the headings go with the main protagonists.

Chapter one, named after the titular heroine, nineteen-year old Souad (Bassant), begins in a commuter bus where Souad tells a woman seated next to her all about her fiancé Ahmed who is serving in the army, a fact that frightens her – but she can’t wait to get married and loves his family.  Next, she is in another bus with another woman, and this time Souad’s fiancé is still Ahmed, but this time he’s a surgeon in Cairo, and Souad herself is studying medicine, coming from a family of doctors.

The reality is very different, when we watch Souad in the small flat she shares with her younger sister Rabab (Elgaiesh) and her traditional parents (Shalaby/Elnamoury). They live in Zagazig, a fraught industrial town. Souad and her girfriends Yara (Ackad), Amira (Shedid) and Rabab are addicted to their mobiles – to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

Souad likes to flirt, particularly with the rather wild Wessam (Mahmoud), but her true love is Ahmed (Ghanem) although he lives 300 miles away in an upmarket part of Alexandria. Ahmed is a budding influencer on the insta, and the two share photos and poems, even engaging in phone sex. They will never meet, because Souad, anxious about her exam results, throws herself from the balcony of the flat.

For her parents it’s enough that she died a virgin, the rest is “God’s will”. Basically, the feature starts again when Rabab, who has inherited Souad’s mobile, travels to Alexandria to meet Ahmed, to “give him a present from Souad”. Rabab falls for Ahmed’s charm, just like her sister, but at only sixteen she is more realistic, far too young to have a fiancé. Ahmed is now betrothed to an upper-class girl from a leading family but he’s decent enough to admit to Rabab that he did love Souad although she well aware of the situation. Ironically, she passed all her exams.

Souad’s confabulations are not uncommon for a young woman of her age, but is also clear, that she – and her friends – are used to living in a parallel universe, where shopping with her mother for a new hijab, collides with her activities on the mobile. What is also pivotal is the lack of understand about her depression. The friends’ rivalry is certainly part of it – they argued about the use of cosmetics to make them look whiter, among other issues. But rather than explore her psyche Amin is more interested in the impact her death made on her family and friends. What is crucial here the affects of societal repression on a whole generation of young Muslim women in countries dominated by a male-orientated religion.

The ensemble acting is brilliant; Ahmed and Elghaiesh won joint “Best Actress” at Tribeca this year. DoP Maged Nader excels both in close-ups and a roaming camera in the cities of Zagazig and Alexandria, underscoring the social divide that impacted on Souad’s wellbeing. Ayten Amin directs with great sensibility in this moving expose of Arab society. AS

ON RELEASE IN AUGUST 2021

Everything Went Fine | Tout est bien passe (2021)

Dir: François Ozon | Cast: Sophie Marceau, André Dussollier, Géraldine Pailhas, Charlotte Rampling, Éric Caravaca, Hanna Schygulla, Grégory Gadebois, Jacques Nolot, Judith Magre, Daniel Mesguich, Nathalie Richard | France 98′

Francois Ozon always has a cheeky grin in his films. And Everything Went Fine is no exception. This candid end of life drama is a delightful follow-up to the darkly drole Summer of 85, a funny version of The Father with the same piquancy and sharp attention to detail. It could be anyone’s family story once parents get to ‘un certain age’. It could even be yours.

Charlotte Rampling is back, along with his regular collaborator the late novelist Emmanuèle Bernheim who wrote Under The Sand, Swimming Pool and 5X2 and on whose book this new story is based. Refreshingly honest and laced with Ozon’s classic subversiveness, André Dussollier plays the classic stroke-ridden 84 year old with an arch naughtiness and poignancy. The relationship with his long-suffering middle-aged daughters Emmanuelle and Pascale is spiky, to say the least. There’s even a cameo role for veteran Hanna Schygulla who advises on euthanasia.

What elevates this from trite comedy territory is the cast who really capture the essence of fraught family life with an honesty that tonally transcends sentimentality. Some may call it a ‘love hate relationship’ but this is exactly what happens with life and death, and Ozon craftily navigates these prickly relationships making us believe that he’s really been there himself.

Emmanuèle’s father André Bernheim is a cultured man with an ego not unlike Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Meyerowitz Stories that premiered at the festival in 2017. A rather selfish gay art collector who rediscovered his sexuality after marrying the girls’ sculptress mother – a cool-handed Charlotte Rampling – he keeps on the ball despite his stroke leaving him physically challenged.

Many may baulk at the humour Ozon playfully uses to convey a desperate family tragedy but this is really how it is – as those affected can frankly testify. And it’s this complete authenticity that keeps you glued to the screen and nodding in agreement, rather than the cardboard worthy scenario many may envisage.

Euthanasia is also thoughtfully handled, offering the film a morally meaty maze with plenty to chew on. This is a satisfyling mouthful that will make you laugh to self rather than out loud. A light-hearted comedy that unflinchingly faces reality with heart and humanity. MT

ON RELEASE from 17 June COURTESY OF CURZON | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

Goodbye Morons | Adieu les cons (2021)

Dir.: Albert Dupontel; Cast: Virginie Efira, Albert Dupontel, Nicholas Marie, Jackie Berroyer, Bsstian Ughetto, Marilou Aussilloux, Josephine Helin; France 2020, 87 min.

Winning no fewer than six César’s at this March’s ceremony, Goodbye Morons is populist and playfully anarchic hitting just the right tone despite the odd cliché.

Comedy meets tragedy in the lives of three people: a dying woman and a suicidal software programmer in charge of national security who team up with a blind archivist to locate the woman’s long lost child.

Forty-three year-old hairdresser Suze Trappet (Efira) has fallen victim to the longterm hazard of aerosol hairsprays used in her saloon. But making contact with her son, given up for adoption, is her main priority before she goes. What follows is a fraught and hilarious struggle to see the teenage Alter Ego (Helin), assisted by soft-ware developer Jean-Baptiste Cuchas (Dupontel) whose attempts to end it all, after being sacked, only end up injuring a colleague in the next room.

Blind archivist Monsieur Blin, already a victim of police brutality, comes to Suze and JB’s rescue and their research leads them to Dr. Lint (Berroyer), the obstetrician who delivered young Suze’s baby boy. But Dr. Lint is suffering from Alzheimer’s and lives in a care home. To make matters worse his handwritten diaries are illegible, only his wife can decipher them. Eventually the trio finds success of sorts but this happy-end is overshadowed by a showcase showdown in true ‘Thelma and Louise’ fashion.

DoP Alexis Kavyrchine uses all the tricks in the book with his avant-garde electronic surveillance methods. Nobody is safe from the government, thanks to JB, but turning the tables on them proves counterproductive. Once again the comedy lies in the ridiculous red-tape. Dupontel melding machines with the mindless men in charge. A comedy enforcing a barbed message: our technicians are even less humane than the systems themselves. AS

NOW ON RELEASE AT CURZON CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Don’t Take it to Heart (1944)

Dir: Jeffrey Dell | Cast: Richard Bird, Edward Rigby, Esma Cannon, Ivor Barnard | UK Drama 90′

Jeffrey Dell’s best remembered credit as a director is probably Carlton-Browne of the F. O., which he co-directed fifteen years later with Roy Boulting; and which looks like Ken Loach compared to this frenzied exercise in garrulous lunacy set in Chaunduyt (pronounced ‘Condit’), a fictitious rural community with an inbred population whose surnames tend to be either ‘Bucket’ or ‘Pail’.

Richard Greene is just a hole in the screen as the supposed ‘hero’ (compensated for by a very young Patricia Medina as a button-eyed socialist in jodhpurs). However, it looks good and has a typically wondrous supporting cast of the period. But it’s never actually as funny as it should be (despite the exclamation mark in the title and the soundtrack’s strenuous efforts to convince us how hilarious this all is), and the interminable courtroom section that takes up much of the second half of the film is a pale (or should that be ‘Pail’?) echo of the equivalent sequence in Passport to Pimlico.@Richard Chatten

 

The Surrogate (2020)

Dir.: Jeremy Hersh; Cast: Jasmine Batchelor, Chris Perfetti, Sullivan Jones, Brook Bloom, Tonya Pinkins; USA 2020, 93 min.

Made on a (crowd funded) mini-budget, The Surrogate is one of those worthy films you really want to like: Take a pregnancy, a Down’s Syndrome baby, a surrogate mother and two gay ‘fathers’ and you have the recipe for a success. But no, Hersh’s script lets him down, and the actors can’t help.

The titular surrogate mother is Jess Harris (Batchelor), who, in spite of an MA, is having difficulties as a web designer for a Non-Profit outfit which does nothing to value to her efforts. Jess throws all her energies into becoming a surrogate mother for best friends Josh (Perfetti) and Aaron  Jones (a lawyer for a prestigious law firm, who has drawn up a contract between Jess and the gay couple).

Since surrogacy is illegal in the State of New York, money cannot change hands. But after the first euphoria, it turns out the baby’s genetic make-up points to Down’s Syndrome. At first, Jess intends to leave the abortion option to the men, but after they voice support for a termination, Jess becomes a saint-like fighter for the unborn baby, taking the couple to a Help Centre for those affected and a visit to family with a Special Needs child. Eventually she literally rail-roads a mother of an afflicted child into answering all her questions about why she, Jess, should not terminate the pregnancy. The bemused mother just can’t give an affirmative answer. From selfless helper, Jess becomes increasingly judgemental when the men decide, once and for all, to opt for a termination.

Hersh’s characters are rather one dimensional, the gay couple only defined by their sexuality. Jess’ family members come and go, so does a sudden love interest. We are left with a hectoring main character who pushes forward ideological points of view, rather that a real person full of contradictions and doubts.

DoP Mia Cioffi Henry tries her best with the mundane environment, but the narrative only really offers her talking-head shots, All the performances suffer from Jess’s central position – the feature being determined by a morality-play insincerity. Many valid questions are raised, but are left hanging in the air. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 9 JULY

Anaïs in Love (2021)

Dir: Charlene Bourgeois-Tacquet | Cast: Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi, Anais Demoustier, Denis Podalydes, Jean-Charles Clichet,

Anaïs in Love is light, fluffy but real in its depiction of a young girl enjoying her Parisian life, flirting and indulging in a varied sex life while trying to pay the rent – and who better to play her than a gorgeously flip and froufrou Anais Demoustier who strikes just the right chord between frivolousness and concern for her mother, recently diagnosed with cancer, as the titular Anaïs, who can shed a tear although a smile is never far from her pouting red lips.

This is French filmmaker Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s feature debut and she writes and directs with confidence and a lightness of touch in a freewheeling narrative that sashays gaily around Paris in the summer. Of course, it always helps to have Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi in this sort of upbeat sweet-hearted drama, and she adds a touch of class in her usual slightly ‘distraite’ style as Emilie, a vaguely blue-stocking woman who lectures on creative writing at a summer school that piques Anais’ attention. The two bond immediately, drawn together  by the stylish allure they both exude, and a strong sexual attraction.

Of course, Anaïs is short of cash and has to blag herself onto the class where upfront payment is de rigueur. Here she meets Yoann whose father has just died of cancer, reminding Anaïs to write to her mother (cue John Ireland’s mournful score of “When I am dead”). But it’s Emilie who holds the strongest interest for the young Anaïs, until it turns out that they also share the same man, in the shape of much older Daniel (Denis Podalydes) who turns up unexpectedly to join the fun in this enjoyable literary-themed romantic drama with its scarlet aesthetic and vibrant lesbian twist. MT

COMING TO CINEMAS ON 19 August 2022

Where is Anne Frank? (2021)

Dir: Ari Folman | With voices of Emily Carey, Ruby Stokes, Neil Barlow, Skye Bennett, Sebastian Croft, Stewart Scudamore | US Animation 109′

On a dark stormy night in Amsterdam a red-haired beauty breaks into the city’s Holocaust Museum and steals a diary from a crystal showcase. The woman is Kitty and the daybook belonged to the famous woman who created it, Annelies Marie Frank (1929-45).

Ari Folman’s latest animation is a playfully evocative take on the tragedy of Anne Frank (Emily Carey) whose final months are reflected through the eyes of her gadabout muse and confidante Kitty, vividly brought to life here by Ruby Stokes. Bristling with ideas that buzz around like fireflies in the vibrantly rendered animations, this clever imagined drama offers a slice of European social and political history pulsing to an upbeat syncopated score, but doom is never far away.

Ink spots on the diary implode to expose episodes of Anne’s daily life before and after her Jewish family’s confinement in the Amsterdam attic, Folman reveals a tense and introspective young daddy’s girl (her father Otto was the sole survivor) escaping into her imagination, pushed away by an unloving mother, an envious elder sister (Margot) and a collection of unsuitable boyfriends in the shape of Herman Kupman and Rob Cohen, growing up in wartime Amsterdam. Finally she settles for the gentle unassuming hypochondriac Peter van Daan, thoughtfully voiced by Sebastian Croft.

In the present day, Kitty comes alive as an inquiring young ‘girl about town’ desperate to find out what happened to her creator, who disappeared nearly eighty years ago. Gradually the past and present collide through a kaleidoscope of comic and tragic touchstones: flashbacks to Anne’s final birthday with a cake and bottle of ‘4711’ cologne; Nazi troops marching into the city as supersized Darth Vader monsters shrouded in black; the ‘Occupy Europe’ era. The current immigration crisis shoehorned in as a pivotal plot twist is inspired, but somehow a step too far.

More convincing is the film’s ‘cancel culture’ theme that sees the wan and prickly teenage Anne confessing to missing the cinema as she huddles with her family in their attic hideout while the Nazis set fire to the city, banning Jews from everywhere in the ensuing mayhem. Her dream that Clark Gable will scoop her up on a white charger and save her from the macabre encroaching enemy feels real and poignant with its nod to the pandemic.<