Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Pepe (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias | 122′

Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias’ Pepe which unspools in the Berlinale Competition and has been described by artistic director Carlo Chatrian as its  least “classifiable” entry, which is high praise indeed when you look at the distinctive films that surround it in this year’s competition. Following on from this luminous film Cocote, which won the Signs Of Life Award at the 2017 Locarno film festival.

Very much a hybrid text that encompasses humanism, epic, essay and mythic folk tale; all told through the prism of a hippopotamus the humans call ‘Pepe’ and is adrift from the clutches of his owner: Pablo Escobar. We have been here before, of course, with numerous documentaries that have looked at the Columbian drug lord and his menagerie of wild animals that lived on his armed compound. This is a very different beast from those spurious basic works.

A voice that claims to belong to a hippopotamus. The Latin word hippopotamus is derived from the Ancient Greek hippopótamos, from híppos ‘horse’ and potamós‘river’, together meaning ‘horse of the river’. Sometimes what is represented is not supposed to be taken as what it appears; the horse of the river is here to do some heavy lifting. In what some would call zoomorphism, what we are looking at is the climate crisis, the migrant crisis, imperialism, post colonialism and of the destruction of late capitalism and its toll on the global South.

The voice is droll and of the kind that has seen too much, but is comes post death following it’s escape and journey down the Magdalena River where he will come to a brutal end that is the narrative that fits many that are othered by a populace terrified of what they cannot understand. Pepe remains in death the quintessential romantic, condemned to the corporeal.

The film enjoys itself and takes its time, it glides through many philosophical concepts within a hermetically sealed universe. The journey through the Magdelena seems like an exercise through South American literature particularly ‘The Apprentice Tourist’ by the queer mixed-race “pope” of Brazilian modernism: Mário de Andrade, even though he focused on the Amazon, but the reference makes poetic sense if not empirical sense.

At various points the film wanders off from the kinesis of the river and partakes in various human life, from beauty pageants and the emotional violence of destructive relationships that very obliquely connect to our eponymous hero. But far from a dying and deadened milieu, the Magdalena and its environs  is in fact brimming with life. This is emphasised with a dominant binary and linear ontology around life and death. The living and the dead are not fixed in a binary but bound together in an intimate, dynamic, circling dance. Decay and regeneration are two sides of the same coin.

The long, widening rivers of South America are very much horizontal and rhizomatic. As per Caribbean writer Edouard Glissant rhizomatic identity is unlike a root which grows vertically from one place, it grows horizontally, stretching out to meet other roots.

As the oral testament continues one thinks of the acclaimed Canadian author LM Montgomery who said, “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it”. To speak is to make sense of our reality but it also shows the impulses and the limitations of existence.

It is so invigorating to see a young filmmaker who has ambition to spare: Where a lot of his contemporaries settle for shooting rabbits, he is only interested in hunting big game and the Socratic questions that come with that territory. One can only be excited for the journey where he’ll journey to next. @d_w_mault

IN COMPETITION | BERLINALE 2024

Sleeping with a Tiger (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir/Wri: Anja Salomonowitz | Austria, 2024 106′

A new docudrama raises the profile of Austrian avant-garde painter Maria Lassnig (1919-2014) considered one of the most important artists of the 20th/early 21st century.

Radical in its approach, Lassnig’s “body awareness paintings” focused on her own life as a woman. It celebrates the female body not from the traditional male gaze of beauty, but from the female experience of  being a sexual and biological force, exploring gender conflicts, pain, and even the fear of cancer. Lassnig had a special way of dealing with colour she termed “colour vision”. Unlike the often tortured images of her fellow Austrian expressionist Egon Shiele, Lassnig’s impressionistic art is on the whole rather easy on the eye with a gorgeous pastel allure despite the trauma it often depicts, highlighted with the use of red.

Modern artists are invariably depicted as tormented: van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Edvard Munch. Lassnig was no different according to Austrian filmmaker Anja Salomonowitz who comes to Berlinale’s Forum sidebar with her fourth film, a decade after her debut Spanien (2012). This is an impressionistic take rather than a straightforward biopic. So, although it unfolds in chronological form, interweaving acted scenes and documentary, Birgit Minichmayr (The White Rabbit) plays the central role throughout the artist’s life from a young woman until the age of 94. Lassnig emerges as a prickly, intractable but intuitive character who often feels at odds with the art world but stands by her art to the very end. Throughout Salomonowitz attempts to probe Lassnig’s core being and is keen to stress her mental state and her struggle in the male-dominated art world, which culminates in critical acclaim, the artist often seemingly rejecting her success.

From childhood, Lassnig is seen in conflict with her mother, and this troubled maternal relationship bleeds into Lassnig’s future in Vienna when she is drawn, via the capital’s Art Academy, into the local post-war art scene. Morose and strong-willed, her own body and biological state becomes a focus for her work making it highly original. Intuitively, she judges the value of her painting long before the art world makes its verdict.

Later, as an accomplished artist with her own exhibition, she is seen complaining about the hanging of her paintings (‘they are too low’)- an art in itself – and demands a rehanging, threatening to withdraw her work. The gallery assistant, claims this is the best way of to sell the paintings. But Lassnig remains faithful to her vision.

Anja Salomonowitz’s homage to the artist certainly ‘fleshes out’ the “body awareness” of Lassnig’s art but I can’t help wondering whether the film would have worked better as a straightforward documentary. Visiting Vienna for last year’s Viennale Film Festival I was captivated by Lassnig’s paintings but I left this film feeling unsettled (although not surprised) by Salomonowitz’s take on the woman herself, and her cinematic interpretation of a brave and pioneering artist whose real life was sadly tortured. Sometimes art is better left to speak for itself @MeredithTaylor

BERLINALE FORUM 2024 | 15 -25 February 2024

A Taste for Women (1964)

Dir: Jean Leon | Cast: Sophie Daumier, Guy Bedos, Grégoire Aslan | Drama 100’

The title suggests a saucy Parisian sex comedy but the knowledge that Roman Polanski collaborated on the screenplay immediately puts us on notice to expect something far darker; and since Sacha Vierny had recently made ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ look so sumptuous his ugly black & white photography for this film was presumably by design.

Guy Bedos looks understandably bewildered as he’s assailed from all sides by assorted ghouls, gangsters and members of a weird cannabalistic sect employing machine guns, blow pipes and samurai swords. Edwige Feuillere brings her usual dignity and grace to the proceedings (although even she reveals a more perverse side savouring a sadomasochistic cabaret); while Ward Swingle’s score is sometimes stridently awful but is just as likely to work beautifully. @RichardChatten

NOW ON YOUTUBE

Arcadia (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Yorgos Zois | Cast: Vangelis Mourikis, Angeliki Papoulia, Eleną Topalidou | Greece/Bulgaria/USA, 99′

One of the first changes to the Berlnale that artistic director Carlo Chatrian made when he unveiled his first edition of the festival in 2019 was a new section entitled Encounters which was very much in the vein of the programming choices at his previous job: the head of Locarno. It is in Encounters that Arcadia premieres during the 2024 edition of the Berlinale.

Arcadia is the sophomore title from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Zois whose debut Interruption premiered at Venice in 2015. Following on from that film he is continuing to look at existence through the prism of the heritage of Greek myth and Odyssian Circular journey of love, loss, sex and death.

Formally more experimental and with a tone harbouring discombobulation that feels akin to slowly sinking through quicksand, it brings to mind Churchill’s maxim of the Soviet Union: “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

We open on an educated middle class couple driving through the Greek countryside in the evening and discover they are married doctors, and that the husband Yannis (Vangelis Mourikis) is en route to identify a woman’s body in the aftermath to a car crash. His wife Katerina (Angeliki Papoulia), is along for the ride – it seems.

After doing their duty at the hospital they head to a holiday home to sleep. At this point when Yannis falls asleep the film starts to slowly uncover its true self. Katerina can’t sleep and discovers a youth in one of the bedrooms in a sequence that cryptically tries to explain the couple’s reality and why they can’t take their shoes off (which becomes a motif with a delightful payoff at the close). From here we are surrounded by the essence of sex in all its disguises. Sex, in fact, will become both an aid to memory, remembering and the subject of which most people tell lies.

The youth, acting like Beatrice guiding Dante through the forest in canto 2 of ‘The Inferno’, takes Katerina to the Arcadia: a bar come garage full of naked Rubenesque bodies fucking à la Carlos Reygadas. It becomes clear we are in some sort of limbo for the dead, or what in Greek myth was the in-between state called the ‘Fields of Asphodel’ before the journey to either Elysium/Heaven or Tartarus/Hell. The denizens of Arcadia have nothing to do but strive to remember, fuck, sing and drink.

When in a place of unreality, whether that be dream space or somewhere metaphysical, there is the danger of becoming nothing more than a series of non-sequiturs. But to seek explanation in a film like this defeats the object of what it is and how it exists and creates its world. There is of course a temporal vacuum that shows how a film is joined to reality: it reaches all the way out to it, but delimits the thinkable and thereby the unthinkable.

Through Katerina’s journey we encounter guilt, dead children, relationships destroyed by selfishness and carnal greed/erotic vagrancy. She is the one that needs to be released by the living: Yannis. As Emily Dickinson put it: Parting is all we know of heaven/And all we need of hell. We are then left with the perpetual contemplation of an elusive being that teaches us the art of loving the intangible. @d_w_mault

ENCOUNTERS 2024 | BERLINALE 2024 | 15 – 25 FEBRUARY 2024

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwar (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Birgitte Stærmose | with Gëzim Kelmendi, Xhevahire Abdullahu, Shpresim Azemi, Besnik Hyseni, Luan Jaha Denmark / Kosovo / Sweden / Finland 2024 Albanian, Subtitles: English 85′ Colour World premiere | Documentary form

This feature debut from Birgitte Stærmose takes us back to Bosnia for a raw reverie of an Eastern European conflict that still reverberates in the memories of those affected back in 1999. Fifteen years in the making and created in a close artistic collaboration with the cast who stare directly at the camera their faces still childlike, even though adulthood has now hardened them. They share bitter experiences of selling ‘phone cards and cigarettes in a struggle that still goes on decades later.

Pristina, war-torn Kosovo, is a grim city emerging slowly out of the festering fog of its slushy snowbound setting. In the dingy dawn of another day, car headlights glow, a red-eyed testament to the poverty and squalor that still dogs the capital. The documentary alternates between social realism, staged performance and an existential meditation on the long-term repercussions of war. Snapshots of shattered lives show that war may be over but a different war has now begun: that of survival. @MeredithTaylor

PANORAMA | BERLINALE 2024 | 15 – 25 FEBRUARY 2024

 

My New Friends (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: André Téchiné | with Isabelle Huppert, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Hafsia Herzi, Romane Meunier
| France 2024 | French, Subtitles: English | 85′ | Colour | World premiere

Andre Techine was last in Berlnale eight years ago with Being 17. At that time gay sexual-awakening stories were still quite thin on the ground and his film, co-written Regis de Martin-Donos and Celine Sciamma, felt fresh and innovative.

His latest, screening in Berlinale’s Panorama sidebar, although decent  rather unremarkable as it goes over old ground although the subject matter – political activism – is still big thing in France (think ‘Gilets Jaunes’ etc). This politically-charged drama is carried by Isabelle Huppert, as Lucie, a widowed forensics detective who finds herself on the horns of a moral and ethical dilemma when a new family moves in next door.

The dramatic backdrop of the Eastern Pyrenees is once again the setting for a lowkey, human story that shows how political leanings weigh more heavily than ever before on our day-to-day relationships, threatening to disrupt even the closest of friendships. And this personal strife lies at the heart of the film.

This time around the veteran director is with his regular co-writer de Martin-Donos in a story that unfolds in the small village of Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines, near Perpignan, where Lucie’s growing friendship with the woman next door (Hafsia Herzi) is put under pressure when it emerges her troubled husband Yann (Pérez Biscayart) has a hefty criminal record in police anti-activism with an ongoing involvement in violent ant-capitalist demonstrations in Toulouse and Montpellier. Naturally Lucie finds herself at odds with Yann exposing potential divided loyalties with his wife.

Huppert once again channels all the angst of a rather lonely soul who is forced to be even-handed towards her neighbours while at the same time standing by her private beliefs and professional credentials. Political activism is now becoming more widespread all over Europe and this makes the film thematically relevant despite its rather underwhelming presentation. @MeredithTaylor

PANORAMA AUDIENCE AWARD COMPETITION  | BERLINALE 2024

 

 

Cu li Never Cries (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Pham Ngoc Lan | Cast: Minh Châu, Hà Phương, Xuân An, Hoàng Hà, Cao Sang Vietnam / Singapore / France / Philippines / Norway 2024 Vietnamese, Subtitles: English

This lyrical black & white drama from Vietnam explores the nation’s past and present from the intergenerational perspective of a young woman and her widowed aunt who has just returned home after living in Germany. In her luggage Auntie Cu li carries a Pygmy Slow Loris, an indigenous primate from the Vietnamese rainforest, inherited from her dead husband. One strangely touching scene sees Cu Li dancing in a bar with a waiter and the Pygmy loris, the tiny animal seems to embody the essence of this proud nation, fiercely defending itself while remaining graceful to the end. 

Cu Li’s young niece, who lives with her, is preparing for her wedding. The two argue bitterly about the usual intergenerational conflicts. Meanwhile her kids and the monkey look on, a picture of guileless vulnerability. Another contrast between the strength and vulnerability of an oriental nation that has born the brunt of many conflicts. 

“The present keeps bringing us back to the past” opines Cu li.  She quotes the 1960s communist president Ho Chi Min (1945-69) known as ‘uncle’ who said of the Black River (that runs from China to North Western Vietnam): “We must transform the water from foe into ally – our final purpose is to tame the river”. At this point Cu li is pictured scattering her husband’s ashes into the raging waters.

While the young couple anxiously ponders their uncertain future together (Cu Li’s niece is already pregnant with another child), Cu li invites the waiter to be her partner at the wedding, offering him money. The waiter is concerned about being seen as her toy boy, and the Pygmy Loris once again appears to echo all this anxiety – a tiny but potent little animal capable of killing with the toxin that spurts from its elbows when in danger, while outwardly exuding grace and innocence.

A brief running time plays to the film’s advantage along with a simple soundscape of exotic birdsong and imaginative outdoor locations captured in DoP magical monochrome camerawork. In his enchanting feature debut Pham Ngoc Lan expresses the hopes, fears and regrets of his homeland in an often surreal, understated and tender gem. @MeredithTaylor

PANORAMA COMPETITION | BERLINALE 2024

Every You Every Me (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Michael Fetter Nathansky | Cast: Aenne Schwarz, Carlo Ljubek, Youness Aabbaz, Sara Fazilat, Naila Schuberth | Germany / Spain 2024 | German, Subtitles: English | 108′ | Colour | World premiere

An industrial coal mining zone of Cologne provides a heavy-duty backcloth to this thematically ambitious, atmospheric slice of social realism from German filmmaker Michael Fetter Nathansky who follows the gradual implosion of a relationship through the eyes of a woman called Nadine (Schwarz).

Relationship breakdown is a heart-sinking subject but it also makes for quizzical viewing in Alle die Du Bist that sees Nadine’s partner in different guises. The opening scenes, set in some sort of institution, are confusing at first as Nadine’s partner is revealed as a bull, a small child (played by Schrein); and an adolescent (Aabbaz)?. It subsequently emerges that Paul embodies all these identities by turns, – at least in Nadine’s gaze – and we gradually learn to accommodate this unique idea. The single mother has left her home in Brandenburg at the age of 24 and met the mercurial Paul while working in an open-cast mining installation. A proud father, he is also undoubtedly a man of many faces whose male charisma has clearly set her heart on fire.

But life moves on and Nadine falls on harder times largely due to structural changes in the industry. Nathansky’s idea of casting several actors to embody one character is a brave and fanciful one, and certainly pays tribute to one woman’s efforts to make do and mend and reinvigorate her long-term emotional relationship. At the same time Nathansky’s follow up to his director debut You Tell Me (2019) requires a large leap of faith on the part of the audience. Committed performances all round.  @MeredithTaylor

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2024 | PANORAMA AUDIENCE COMPETITION | 15 – 25 FEBRUARY 2024

 

Eureka (2023)

Dir: Lisandro Alonso | Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Viggo Mortensen, Rafi Pitts, Viilbjork Malling Agger | Fantasy drama, Argentina147′

Viggo Mortensen and Chiara Mastroianni star in this striking  that sees a man in search of his daughter journeying into the unknown.

Everyone loves a good story but storytelling is not like it used to be in the Golden Era of Hollywood and or European arthouse traditions. That said, Argentinian auteur Lisandro Alonso always manages to intoxicate us with his mesmerising fantasy drama such as Jauja that seem to hark back to a strange and exotic past celebrating the weird and wonderful. Eureka opens as a striking classically styled western.

More an art-installation than a straightforward narrative film Eureka is an off-beat, slow-burning addition to his oeuvre that starts off in gleaming back and white. Mortensen fetches up in a silent backwater in the Old West – no hint of Sergio Leone – but his gunslinging skills are a match for Clint Eastwood when told by a local innkeeper to ‘f*** off’.

Shifting to the present, in full colour, the focus is then a Native American police officer who is working through a gruelling casebook of local petty criminal offences. This sequence morphs in turn to a surreal scenario as the officer drinks a potion that transforms into a bird that flies back to the Brazilian jungle where another bizarre occurrence unfolds. Alonso quails aware from form or narrative in a seductive sensory concoction that beguiles and mesmerises, possibly getting its name from the place where gold was first discovered. A transformative experience on the big screen. Give it a go. @MeredithTaylor

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 16 FEBRUARY 2024

Sex (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir/Wri: Dag Johan Haugerud | Comedy Drama, Norway 125′

“Once a thing is known, it can never be unknown. It can only be forgotten”. Anita Brookner, Look at Me

Compelling, absurd and offbeat this chilled-out Norwegian dark comedy reveals the complex dynamics of human desire in a simple parable that centres on the lives of two happily married chimney-sweeps, who just happen to be dyslexic.

Best known for his award-winning 2019 drama Barn – Dag Johan Haugerud’s latest – the first film in a trilogy to be followed by Dreams and Love – unfolds in a summery suburb of Oslo where the two heterosexual men are casually chatting over their canteen lunch. Their conversation is banal enough at first but what is soon revealed in this casual tete a tete between Feier (Jan Gunnar Roise) and Avdelingsleder (Thorbjorn Harr) will have far-reaching implications on their family relationships.

Feier admits to having had casual sex with a male stranger but Avdelingsleder’s response is revealing in its insight into modern attitudes in Norway: “Admitting you’ve had sex with a man is easier than admitting you’re Christian”.

Avdelingsleder – who reads Hannah Arendt in bed – then describes a dream where he is a woman who has sex with David Bowie. This leaves him confused and questioning how much his personality is shaped by how he appears to others. His wife (Brigitte Larsen) later points out: “homosexuality is not just an identity it’s an activity“.

Predictably, Feir’s wife (Siri Forberg) is not impressed when her partner shares his one-off sexual encounter, and his revelation will reverberate the fallout intruding into their daily lives. She wants a full and frank discussion about what exactly happened and this opens up a thorny debate between the two about physical and emotional experiences and how we all define marriage, relationships and coupledom in general. These conversations are surprisingly affecting and go to show just how fuzzy the borders are in desire and sexual attraction in a film that probes and challenges pre-conceived views on sexuality and gender roles, both for the characters and us, the audience.

Writer/Director Dag Johan Haugerud offers up an upbeat and enjoyable look at how as humans we pride ourselves on our unique ability to love and communicate verbally, although our enhanced brains also make our structured lives more complex: at the end of the day we are basically all animals, albeit human ones, but once we start to analyse our feelings that’s where our lives become complicated forcing open that universal ‘can of worms’ about infidelity and the purported differences between the male and female brains in a debate that ripples out into religious and moral norms in modern Norway.

Although the pace slackens as the film unfolds Sex is an upbeat and often moving affair that comes to a satisfying conclusion despite the couples’ differences and recriminations. At the end of day this is a candid film full of hope that offers a relaxed and positive view of coupledom: “Think of love as a choice. I’ve chosen you and you’ve chosen me”. @MeredithTaylor

BERLINALE | ENCOUNTERS – BEST FIRST FEATURE AWARD 2024

Paramount on Parade (1930)

Dir: Dorothy Arzner, Otto Brower, Edmund Goulding || Cast: Jean Arthur, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Fredric March, Maurice Chevalier | US Musical 102’

Paramount on Parade displays little of the imagination of Universal’s The King of Jazz and certainly lacks the star quality of Metro’s The Show of Shows and is amateurishly staged as if on a proscenium and played to the camera throughout; but the masters of ceremonies Jack Oakie and Skeets Gallagher sauntering through the proceedings cheerfully breeching the fourth wall seem to be having as much fun as the audience.

The sets are pretty basic with the idiosyncratic exception of the tinted spoof murder mystery and the various Technicolor sequences which ironically lack a soundtrack (although perhaps that’s a blessing in the case of Harry Green as a Jewish matador). Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper are rather wasted – particularly as the points when they get to sing are both now silent – and you have to look hard to spot Frederic March.

With the fleeting exception of Kay Francis in Technicolor as Carmen Maurice Chevalier is easily seen to the best effect (in sequences evidently the work of Ernst Lubitsch), especially performing an Apache Dance with Evelyn Brent; but Mitzi Green, Nancy Carroll and Clara Bow also get to make their mark.

Apart from the scenes with Chevalier it’s hard to know who actually directed what, but the presence of Ludwig Berger – addressed as ‘Dr. Berger’ – in the Technicolor episode The Gallows Song identifies him as the man responsible for the colour composition that so impressed Alexander Korda that he later invited him to work for him at Denham on The Thief of Baghdad. @RichardChatten

Rei (2024) IFFR 2024

Dir/scr: Toshihiko Tanaka. Japan, drama 189′

Rei is a kanji character that can represent a variety of meanings. The genderless name is therefore a really good title for this complex but rather overlong (at over three hours) feature debut from Toshihiko Tanaka which won the Tiger prize at this year’s 53rd Rotterdam Film Festival.

Rei is about Matsushita Hikari, a self-contained thirty-something woman whose comparatively uncomplicated life in the corporate world contrasts with the trials and tribulations of her friends in a series of interconnecting dramas that highlight – albeit reductively – Japanese attitudes towards disability and, in particular, those with special needs and heightened sensibility. On a deeper level Tanaka also explores human connectedness along the lines of that well-worn phrase: “No man is an island”: It’s only through knowing each other that we really come to understand ourselves.

We first meet Hikari (Takara Suzuki) and her deaf landscape photographer friend Masato (played by Tanaka himself) in the wintery countryside surrounding Tokyo. Hikari’s life lacks a certain excitement and she seeks this out in creative scenarios. Hikari is also drawn to an actor called Mitsuru (Keita Katsumata) who she meets through her love of theatre and through a flyer where she has discovered Masato’s work. Finding his artistry compelling she asks him to take her portrait in the snowy setting. Another friend of hers Asami (Maeko Oyama) has a three-year-old daughter with special needs. Asami is dealing with the additional pressures of a husband who is having an affair with a nurse (who also cared for Masato’s mother).

Hikari is fascinated by Masato and the two share exchanges on SMS and email to get over the communication barrier. Asami is so impressed by Masato’s portraits of Hikari she commissions him to photograph her own family and these extraordinary pictures capture something that words can never do about the state of her relationship with her husband. But despite his unique and arcane talents Masato is sadly seen as a flawed character due to his hearing issues in this dense narrative in a drama that marks Toshihiko Tanaka out as a rising star in the film firmament. @MeredithTaylor

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2024 | TIGER PRIZE 2024

 

Le Bonheur est pour Demain (2024)

Dir: Brigitte Sy | Cast: Damien Bonnard, Laetitia Casta, Beatrice Dalle | France, Drama 97′

Another example of how good actors don’t make a decent film is this  limp effort to infuse a dreary sink estate drama with romance – French style. 

A warmed-up version of Henri Fabiano’s 1961 classic it stars Damien Bonnard and Laëtitia Casta who certainly create a moody head of steam as the doomed lovers Claude and Sophie at the film’s core. Both losers, he soon ends up in prison leaving her, an abused single mum, with another bun in the oven. Quelle surprise!

There are artful touches in Daniel Bevan’s production design and Frederic Serve has fun with his lenses but the narrative – which may have been shocking back in the day – is now as tired as a Sixties council block, and not even veteran actress Beatrice Dalle, as Claude’s gutsy mother, can tart it up to be anything memorable.@MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE AND BELGIUM

All of Us Strangers (2023)

Dir: Andrew Haigh | Cast: Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy, Jamie Bell | UK Drama 105′

Andrew Haigh’s new film All of Us Strangers may well be this British director’s most personal and accomplished film so far. Based on a Japanese novel The Discarnates by Taichi Yamada (1934-2023) which has been filmed in 1988 by Nobuhiko Obayashi (1938 -2020) the adaptations reveal how a remarkable literary source material can provide two fertile parallel viewpoints.

The Haigh adaptation is focused on Adam, a script writer, played by Andrew Scott, suffering from not only writers’ block but the crushing weight of a lonely unhappy life as a gay man. What has caused this is gradually revealed through subconscious thoughts about the loss of his parents. These are sublimely visualised by Haigh as Adam tentatively embarks on what is his first adult real-life relationship with Harry, another lonely gay man.

Haigh reveals care and sensitivity with actors, bringing out the best in Paul Mescal (as Harry) and Jaime Bell and Claire Foy (as parents) while the core of the film rests on a remarkable central performance by Andrew Scott. He plays a loner and is in tune with Haigh’s theatrical sense of interior mise en scene that sensitively uses framing of space to capture Adam’s viewpoint. Credit here is due to the tight flawless framing of Jaimie Ramsay’s beautifully lit and textured camerawork along with the original linked-in music and sound of Emilie Levenaise-Farrouch.

Scott and Mescal are completely at ease with each other and this is deeply felt in a sequence where the two men stroke each other’s naked thigh and knees which is erotic without being any more explicit. Likewise, the way Haigh surrounds and closely follows Scott during an eventful night in a night club, as his head swims to the sound of The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, reveals a filmmaker drawing from personal experience. The handling of a mother’s suppressed homophobia and the hint of gay cruising when first encountering his father are remarkable scenes capturing nuanced undercurrents. There is only one bedtime sequence involving the parents and son that feels uneasy.

Profound connections involving the providence of love and the need for redemption are at the heart of the film, separating time zones with the idea that there is a time to love, but also a time to die. The Obayashi drama has sensitive family relationship sequences involving a man and his deceased parents and a moody relationship with a female neighbour, although the film changes course by introducing a supernatural element involving zombie horrors feeding off a life force. This is finely tuned into Japanese culture and might explain why Obayashi’s version of The Discarnates is less well known in the west. The Haigh adaptation is more romantic and there is an uncanny feeling of spirituality also found in the work of Frank Borzage, another great romantic. Haigh appears to reflect that for his two damaged men it is only through love and adversity that souls are made great

All of Us Strangers builds on Haigh’s previous films Greek Pete, Lean on Pete, Looking, 45 Years and The North Water with a similar feeling for the interior spaces of homes, rooms, a ranch and the confined space of a boat stranded in ice. London at night in All of Us Strangers feels both alienating and melancholy, with the magical lights of cranes and high-rise buildings on the horizon becoming confined and darkened spaces for Haigh’s s lost souls. The daytime scenes when Adam wanders through the suburbia of his youth in search of his deceased parents have different film grain and light aiding the director’s ability to use space to explore complex emotional relationships.

The film’s final sequence brings to a full circle how ownership of our past can be grasped, although this ethereal finale has drawn criticism and may well be divisive. The audaciousness of both the finale and the fluid anti-realist thread flowing through the film suggests a gentle reminder of the daring of Powell and Pressburger as there are Matters Of Life and Death to be discovered at the heart of All of Us Strangers.

This is a triumphantly beautiful film that after more than one viewing suggests British film culture may have the heir apparent to the late great lamented Terence Davies. Haigh has the earlier filmmaker’s interest and ability with providing literary adaptations and resonance drawn from personal experience. We may well be witnessing a new chapter in the growth of gay related British cinema to be rightly proud of. Peter Herbert

PETER HERBERT is curator manager at THE ARTS PROJECT

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS

 

 

Get Your Man (1927)

Dir: Dorothy Arzner | US Drama 63’

Interesting to compare this rather demure affair with the one pictured nearly a hundred years later in HOW TO HAVE SEX (2023).

Far from being a manual advising young ladies how to succeed with the opposite sex as the title suggests, this early directorial outing for Dorothy Arzner – the only woman director during Hollywood’s Golden Age – whose assignment to the project led Clara Bow to take umbrage as her presence on the set meant one less man around – subscribed to the then prevalent twenties convention of a racy title but a plot of ultimately high propriety, ending (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) as it does with the two young leads retiring to separate rooms rather than spending the night together.

Typically for a film by Ms Arzner the men are all gormless and pliable, while the observation that “My uncle’s eighty, and he’s still a public menace to private secretaries” shows that she had their measure a full ninety years before the Harvey Weinstein scandal lifted the lid on workplace sexual harassment. @RichardChatten

Now on YouTube

How to Have Sex (2023)

Dir/Wri: Molly Manning Walker | Cast: Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake, Enva Lewis, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, Finlay Vane Last, Guy Lewis | UK Drama 91′

What sounds like a cinematic instruction manual soon turns out to be predictable revelation about how little has changed since we were all teenagers. Giggling, dancing, getting drunk (and even throwing up) is still par for the course for the kids in Molly Manning Walker’s dynamic feature debut set on a Butlin’s-style holiday camp in the sun-drenched Greek island of Crete.

The London-born writer-director, who cut her own teeth as a cinematographer of Charlotte Regan’s film Scrapper, shows there is still the same vulnerability and uncertainty in this story about girls grasping the nettle of supreme social confidence while everything around them is still weird and unpredictable.

Tara, Skye and Em You are the teen trio at the heart of How to Have Sex. Don’t expect to see anything naughty as Nicolas Canniccioni’s rolling camera drifts more over faces and tender expressions than actual nude bodies, although these girls are certainly attractive with their bronzed limbs and complexions in the bloom of youth. Tara (a brilliant McKenna-Bruce) does form a bond with a guy called Badger (Shaun Thomas) and then she gets close to Paddy (Bottomley), but theirs is a muddled encounter that leads to disillusion rather than jubilation leaving her off kilter and bemused by that thing called love. And the same goes for her relationship with Skye (Lara Peake), Manning Walker makes the sage observation that while girls can be best buddies they can also be bitter rivals.

Tara’s needling desire to put her first sexual experience to bed drives the drama forward as she negotiates the subtle art of flirting and seducing on the day-glo dance floor, to a thrumming soundscape. Script-wise, Manning Walker opts for an intuitive aperçu of adolescent life rather than anything gripping but this acutely observed and poignant generational expose really nails the innocence, cockiness and sheer abandon of youth. @MeredithTaylor

MUBI BLU-RAY and DVD release on 12 February 2024

Argylle (2024)

Dir: Matthew Vaughn | UK Thriller 139′

Pirandello meets Philip K. Dick in this disarming piece of escapism that starts out seeming to be an ultra-glossy piece of escapist hokum but swiftly changes tack when it transfers its attention to charmingly buxom Bryce Dallas Howard as an author caught up a plot so outlandish you keep wondering if the Vaughn and his scripter Jason Fuchs are going to make it all a dream to bring it to a resolution.

The film is full of surprises (such the identity of the actor briefly seen playing her boss which early on drew from the audience the first of many doubtless intentional laughs). Vaughn displays the style and aptitude for pacing already amply evident in Layer Cake, Kingman: The Secret Service, Rocketman and Kick-Ass and creates vivid colour effects all the more effective for being sparingly employed.

Sam Rockwell makes a personable hero, but the most memorable cast member is probably Vaughan’s own cat; a strange-looking moggy seemingly unfazed by the bizarre events going on around him. @RichardChatten

IN CINEMAS IN FRANCE and the UK

Pet Shop Boys Dreamworld (2023)

David Barnard | Musical Concert film 120′

Who’d have thought a couple of English lads from Tyneside would make it to multi-millionaire status. Not only coining it, but also giving pleasure to their international fanbase for the past four decades.

David Barnard’s concert film sets the summery scene in  Copenhagen’s Royal arena last July where a jubilant Danish crowd  cheer the opening number In Suburbia kicking off the Pet Shop Boys’ latest musical extravaganza.

Enveloped in white trenches and black polos ‘The Boys’ – aka Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe – soon emerge from behind their silver sci-fi masks beaming on the audience against a background of monochrome moving images – Tennant – now 69 – on vocals and Lowe on keyboards rol seamlessly through a series of singable classics – each one memorable and unique: The Streets have No Name, I love you, you pay the Rent  Why Don’t We Try. A backing band joins them for I Could Leave You. Rocking a white fez and tuxedo Tennent turns up the tempo for a bilingual single That’s the Way Life is.

Things get more jovial when Tennant shares a personal memory about a trip to the Caribbean with his long term partner Lowe. This segues into Domino Dancing, Monkey Business, New York City Boy and the tortuously poignant Jealousy.

Another change of tone and a saturnine makeover ushers in the ironically titled Love Comes Quickly, Neil moving stealthily across a moody mood-board of scarlet, indigo and vermilion.

The tone morphs again with Lowe, mysterious in a baseball cap and shades, finally takes to the vocals with his flattened-out North Eastern vowels for Maybe I didn’t Treat You. Tennant, suave in silver, steps forward for a solo sparkler Dreamland with female backing transforming the syncopated vibes into Heartbeat. How Am I gonna Get through This, Go West and It’s A Sin making the most of the rhythm.

Barnard – best known for his concert films featuring Gorillaz, Nick Cave and Eric Clapton, adds an artful touch with some impressive aerial photography, ushering in the ultimate showpiece with my personal fave West End Girls suitably sung by Tennent in a dark grey suit amid street lamps.

A finale of We Were Never Being Boring brings this heady trip down memory lane to a jubilant showdown as Tennant and Lowe continue to give delight to millions. Guaranteed to light up your January Pet Shop Boys Dreamworld is a real shot in the arm for those Winter blues. @MeredithTaylor

PET SHOP BOYS DREAMWORLD: THE GREATEST HITS LIVE AT THE ROYAL ARENA COPENHAGEN is showing in cinemas worldwide on Wednesday, January 31 & Sunday, February 4, 2024 only
SYNOPSIS:

The Green Cockatoo (1937)

Dir: William Cameron Menzies | Cast: John Mills, Rene Ray, Robert Newton, Charles Oliver | UK Crime Drama 70′

Although John Mills is technically the star, The Green Cockatoo is principally told through the big blue eyes of Miss Rene Ray as a country mouse who gets a crash course in what “a vile and wicked city London is”; while, as directed by visionary production designer William Cameron Menzies, it anticipates the feel of a forties film noir (complete with a score by Miklos Rozsa).

Old movies often provide incidental details of interest to later social historians: in this case that the phrase “a bit of a goer” was in use back in the 1930s. The film further charmingly shows its age by depicting John Mills as a song & dance man – first seen singing in a night club before briefly launching into an incredible swivel-hipped tap dance. We’re expected to believe he and Robert Newton are brothers (presumably only their mother could tell them apart) further showing just how long it was made when Mills describes him as “a good kid”. @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Bolero (2024) IFFR 2024

Dir: Anne Fontaine | France, Biopic drama, 122′

Anne Fontaine’s ravishing musical biopic of Joseph Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) opens with various modern musical versions of the legendary French composer’s 1928 masterpiece – the Bolero – from China, India, Africa and Mexico that have kept his spirit alive for modern audiences and whose composition is at the heart of the drama.

Ralph Personnaz plays the leading role of Ravel, an accomplished pianist in his own right, who is pictured being turned down for a place at the Paris conservatory after a dizzying display of his keyboard talents at audition.

Feted as one of France’s most loved composers, Fontaine chronicles Ravel’s life and loves in the interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s with this sumptuous romantic drama that gathers together a talented cast: Jeanne Balibar, Vincent Perez, and Emmanuelle Devos, and benefits from the lavish musical interludes as Ravel takes to the piano during his touring concerts: Like Rachmaninov, amongst others, he earned his living from playing as well as composing.

The first of these transports us to Boston and New York where he convenes with the turn of the century ‘beau monde’ and indulges his penchant for gloves (asking a local prostitute simply to put them on gracefully, rather than indulge his sexual fantasies in a more palpable way). The past fuses with his present in a dreamy reverie of flashbacks that flesh out his talents and skills and cement his reputation as one of the greatest French composers of the 20th century along with his contemporary Debussy, all set against a highly creative period in French history that aligned him with the Impressionists and famous writers and poets such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Cocteau amongst others.

Here in the US he also cements his friendship with the unhappily married Misia Sert (Doria Tillier) one of three female influences in the film: the other being the Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein (Jeanne Balibar), who inspired the Bolero, and his fellow pianist and friend Marguerite Long (Emmanuelle Devos). An elegant and informative biopic from Fontaine who delighted us with Coco before Chanel in 2009. @MeredithTaylor

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2024 | 25 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2024

 

 

The Ballad of Suzanne Césaire (2024) IFFR 2024

Wri/Dir: Madeleine Hunt Ehrlich | US Doc 74′

The French West Indies’ island of Martinique really comes alive in this evocative portrait of Suzanne Césaire (1915-66) with its sultry soundtrack from Sabine McCalla.

Writer, teacher, devotee of Afro-Surrealism and leading proponent of the Négritude movement, Césaire was also a mother of six who considered writing to be of utmost importance in her life. Typically she never promoted herself as such, and consequently seems to have slipped through the cracks of history.

American filmmaker Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich has alighted on her subject in this immersive new documentary that includes a treasure trove of interviews with Césaire’s living children and family.

The Ballad is a bid to explore the writer’s career and legacy as it drifts elegantly through the past and present in an episodic and often enigmatic reverie based on the truth, and brought to life by the award-winning actor Zita Hanrot, herself a new mother, as she prepares to flesh out the character of Césaire .

Sadly – as is often the case – more is known of Suzanne’s husband Aimé, a political figure. But nonetheless Hunt-Ehlich succeeds in raising the profile of this astonishing anti-colonial activist who blazed a trail for feminism during the early part of the twentieth century. An enlightening and worthwhile documentary feature debut in this year’s Tiger Competition at Rotterdam International Film Festival. @MeredithTaylor

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2024 | TIGER COMPETITION 2024

 

Un coup de dès | Breaking Point (2023)

Dir: Yvan Attal | Cast: Guillaume Cannet, Yvan Attal, Victor Belmondo, Maiwenn, Alma Jodorowsky, Marie-France Crozes | France, Thriller 85′

This thrilling little romantic melodrama set in Brazil, Paris and the Cote d’Azur sees two Frenchmen committed to lifelong friendship after one saves the other’s life.

Guillaume Cannet is Vincent an intrepid businessman who steps into the brink when his chum Mathieu, falls victim to a break-in at the home he shares with Juliette (Crozes) in a chic part of Paris.

Happily married to Delphine (Maiwenn) Vincent loves playing the field and Mathieu (who real life partner is Charlotte Gainsburg) is only too ready to cover for him given his past loyalty until he too falls prey to the charms of Elsa (Jodorowsky), one of Vincent’s lovers. Dark clouds soon gather over their gilded lifestyle when Elsa is found dead in a perfect storm of coincidences.

Yvan Attal, who writes, directs and stars as Mathieu, certainly knows how to create atmosphere and tension with all the classic noirish elements at his disposal including a clever plot, a solid French cast and a sweeping romantic score that spells danger. Attal has a rare gift of exuding sexiness, decency and stability, so we’re on his side all the way through.

Soigne and elegantly styled, Un coup de dès is the perfect B film to curl up with, and even better on the big screen with its lavish imagery and gorgeous settings. Wish there were more of these sophisticated yet effective modern thrillers aimed at middle-aged people who still fall in love and probably shop at Waitrose (French equivalent E.Leclerc). @MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Padre Pio (2023)

Dir/Wri: Abel Ferrara | Cast: Shia LeBeouf | Asia Argento, Marco Leonardi | Drama, 104′

Abel Ferrara’s latest is a morose and brooding affair that sees the veteran director absorbed in contemplation on religion and socialism and channelling his angst through the figure of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968) a Capuchin friar and mystic who was venerated in 2002, and is played here by Shia LaBoeuf.

Pio was clearly not a happy man and the bearded and be-chausabled LaBeouf conveys this spiritual turbulence in various sequences that play out alongside the main narrative set in a small coastal town in Apulia in 1918 where soldiers are limping home from the First World War (Italy had joined Allied forces in 1915 after initially declaring neutrality).

There is much moaning and gnashing of teeth as the villagers commiserate over the death of their loved ones. Ferrara and his co-writer Maurizio Braucci reflect on the exploitation of farm workers by a glib local landowner, running for office in the elections, as the men return to their gruelling agricultural work on his land.

But change is afoot in Italy, and the socialists prevail amid threats and violence from local right-wingers. Meanwhile the stigmatised Pio is seen in vignette swearing at a young female confessor. Asia Argento gets a cameo role as ‘a man’ seeking a strange request. It’s an odd view of the Church – rather than the usual consoling, supportive religious presence, Pio is seen as an abusive figure, basking in guilt and shame, largely because he had apparently previously forged links with the fascists. So another strange and intractable film then from the accomplished director of Bad Lieutenant and Driller Killer whose Berlinale title Siberia was panned by the critics. Ferrara clearly has an axe to grind and he continues to wield it in his own artful way. @MeredithTaylor

ON DIGITAL courtesy of Dazzler Media in UK and Ireland FROM 26 JANUARY 2024 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE 2023

 

 

 

Head South (2024) IFFR 2024

Dir: Jonathan Ogilvie | Cast: Ed Oxenbould, Marton Csokas Roxie Mohebbi | New Zealand, Drama 98′ 2024

The Rotterdam Film Festival is traditionally a place where discoveries are made from unexpected places and this year’s opening film Head South is no exception. It manages to bypass what some have called a fool’s errand, that is ‘the opening film curse’. It does this with a meandering ode to post punk in a provincial town filled with beautiful losers with excess energy who search for belonging inside the cocoon of a lived experience.

New Zealand writer/director Jonathan Ogilvie certainly knows of what he speaks, before cinema he directed numerous music videos for legendary New Zealand record label Flying Nun, combined with that he has mined his teenage years for a cathartic and very strange gem.

Angus (Ed Oxenbould)is a teenager who it can be said is having ‘a moment’, his mother has left the family home for two weeks to ‘discover’ herself and he and his laconic father are left to have lonely dinners and some time together. His two friends are annoyed after he sells them oregano in place of marijuana, and to break his enforced solitude he receives a package from his brother who is studying in London.

Alongside a pithy postcard is a copy of Public Image’s single Public Image. Alas the vinyl is warped so heads to local record store: Middle Earth Records (No, really) where the droll proprietor Fraser reigns supreme and is the font of all musical knowledge. This is the point in a classic bildungsroman where the journey can be said to truly begin. In a matter of time he has been dared to start a band, only he is adrift, emotionally, spiritually and most importantly empirically.

At this point Ogilvie does a classic bait and switch. When we were expecting a classical quirky teenage wasters on the ‘l am in search of sex, drugs and rock n roll’ theme we start to see that the director is working on a completely different register that cleverly leaves small visual clues (a cinematic clip of Lawrence Oates often quoted line: ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’) to what will become tragic and life changing.

What tends to happen a lot of time in films of this ilk is the filmmakers relying on tired and trusted tropes that verge on cliche, here though Ogilvie subverts these ideas, whether it is the longed for older woman against the obvious potential partner that the protagonist can’t see, or the first gig triumph and the deconstruction of the myth of the aspired to be cool kids. In fact it goes further in its attempt to destroy the idea of coolness being something to grasp, it instead points out it is in fact a false economy.

The film succeeds in many ways, it has a beautiful desperation that hangs around the characters and its recreation of the late 70s is perfect. It looks like the 70s, whether in the set decoration, the film stock or the sense of boredom in a small town with nothing to do (especially on a Sunday). It feels like the 70s and it probably smells like the 70s too! @d_w_mault

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2024 | 25 January – 3 February 2024 |

Shoshana (2023)

Dir/Wri: MIchael Winterbottom | Cast: Irina Starshenbaum, Harry Melling, Douglas Booth, Gal Mizrav, Ian Hart, Aury Alby, Ofer Seker, Liudmyla Vasylieva | Wris: Michael Winterbottom, Laurence Coriat, Paul Viragh | 119 mins

Prolific English filmmaker Michael Winterbottom goes into thriller mode for his latest outing, 15 years years in the making, and set amidst the political movers and shakers in the run-up to Israel’s founding as a state. Palestine is still under the colonial rule of the British and that status provided a favourable climate for Jews escaping from the Nazi clutches of Hitler.  

Inspired by real invents, the focus is journalist Shoshana Borochov (a feisty Irina Starshenbaum) the daughter of a Russian Socialist Zionist who held sway back in the day. Shoshana is a member of a paramilitary Zionist force and has inherited her father’s spirit as she deftly navigates social milieu of the great and the good while working for a Hebrew-language paper, She also gives us a historical context in voiceover.

Naturally this influx of Jews gives rise to tensions amongst the existing Arab community.  There are two Zionist organisations in particular – the Haganah, the paramilitary Zionist force to which Shoshana belongs, and the Irgun, a hard-core Zionist organisation focused on flushing out Arabs from the territory.

Soshana soon falls for English police officer Tom Wilkin (Douglas Booth), who is working alongside his colleague Geoffrey Morton (Melling) to capture the leader of the Irgun, Avraham Stern (Aury Alby), in order to shut it down. Morton also has a frisson with Shoshana. Tel Aviv, is a modern city complete with its new (at the time) Bauhaus buildings (although filming took place in southern Italy). Anyone who knows Tel Aviv will also appreciate what a closely-knit society is it with its social and business connections, and so Stern and Shoshana soon finds themselves connected through their many contacts.

This is an elegantly kitted-out political thriller with plenty of action between the sheets. There’s nothing like a man in a uniform – or a woman for that matter – in a uniform and silk negligee. And Shoshana is also testament to the fact that nothing has really changed in the Middle East or in Europe for that matter, apart from the ‘elephant in the room’ Brexit. An enjoyable classically style romp that explores the way extremism and violence can drive a wedge between people, forcing them to choose sides. @MeredithTaylor

IN UK CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY

Stella. A Life. (2024)

Dir: Killian Riedhof | Cast: Paula Beer, Bekim Latifi, Damian Hardung, Joel Basman | Germany Drama 121′

This horrifying wartime tragedy kicks off in good spirits. In a Berlin nightclub to dazzling strains of Benny Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing’ the harried main character Stella is an aspiring jazz singer only just facing up to the unspeakable terrors of her hometown under Nazi rule.

The daytime sees her slaving away in a garment factory where the Jewish workers are one day rounded up and shot. But Stella, based on the real life of Stella Goldschlag, is determined not to end her life in Auschwitz. In fact, so determined, that she would go on to betray her fellow Jews, some of them close friends, to the Gestapo, just to salvage her own dreams.  

Looking wan and washed out for her gruelling role, Paula Beer turns in another dynamite performance as a highly suggestible woman on the brink whose life is turned upside down when she refuses to submit to the constraints of being a Jew in Nazi Germany just when her musical career is starting to take off.

Hounded, questioned and subjected to continuous scrutiny, Stella and her parents are forced into hiding where she realises the only way to survive is to play a double game. But that will have consequences for the brittle blue-eyed anti-heroine – who is both victim and perpetrator – as she tries desperately to juggle her life with various powerful protagonists in a bid to avoid deportation to Auschwitz. Sadly her story turns into a nightmarish maelstrom of torture, duplicity – and ultimately guilt.

With its febrile tone and intense pacing Stella. A Life conjures up the palpable fear and very real trauma Nazi Germany instils in its Jewish population in 1944 and shows how ordinary people are capable of evil, in certain circumstances. Some of the set pieces are truly harrowing. particularly a scene where Stella is picked up by her hair, and brutally kicked in the head during an interrogation. Riedhof certainly knows how to create atmosphere but his script suffers from an under-developed storyline, and Stella’s descent into evil is never convincingly realised in a thriller that gradually gives way to sensationalism with a series of traumatic interludes, rather than a cohesive narrative.

Stella. A Life is an effective exploration of the horrors of war and the devastating emotional and physical effects on the victims in their desperate will to survive – until guilt rears its ugly head. @MeredithTaylor 

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | ZURICH FILM FESTIVAL WORLD PREMIERE 2023

Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer (2022)

Wri/Dir: Thomas von Steinaecker | With: Werner Herzog, Chloe Zhao, Joshua Oppenheimer, Patti Smith, Robert Pattinson, Carl Weathers, Wim Wenders, Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman | Volker Schlondorff | Klaus Kinski, Lotte Eisner | Doc Germany 102′:

Sometimes a question has to be asked that brings to mind what Bernard MacLaverty called the ‘elephant in the room.’ That is – who is a documentary like this for?

If you know Werner Herzog as a writer/director you will most likely find this film a slight trifle that only skims the surface of one of the most mythologised filmmakers, who is still with us. If, on the other hand, you know Herzog from his appearances on animated series and roles in such examples of America’s Movie Industrial Complex like The Mandalorian or Jack Reacher (as fun as they are) then this documentary will be an introduction to what Socrates meant when he claimed ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ in the sense that, in the last fifteen years, Herzog has turned from an unique filmmaker who gave us visions of the imagined to a Pop Culture behemoth that at times touches on self parody; most definitely examined and lived in.

Radical Dreamer follows the 81-year-young filmmaker in LA and on a pilgrimage to the family home where he grew up. With a short running time the origin story is merely glimpsed as we focus on the stories that it seems everyone knows: the walk across Europe to save the life of Lotte Eisner (which Herzog detailed in his book Of Walking In Ice) and the lunacy of Klaus Kinski (which is better detailed in Herzog’s own 1999 documentary My Best Fiend).

One of the usual choices the director Thomas von Steinaecker makes is the selection of talking heads, half with German speakers and half with Anglo-Saxons. It is perhaps no surprise that the English speakers don’t really impart anything of interest and some of the choices are damn right bizarre, Carl Weathers, for example, who shared a scene with Herzog in The Mandalorian and the filmmaker Chloé Zhao. The German speakers have far more insight, and for that we could have stayed with them longer. They include Wim Wenders; two of Herzog’s brothers; his first wife and Volker Schlöndorff.

I think we need to look at this film as a primer, a ‘greatest hits’ package; if you will. It is certainly part of a media blitz that includes the release of his autobiography, a retrospective at the BFI Southbank and the re-issue at the cinema of some of his great films from the 70s. I do feel though that the films Herzog made in the 70s had a sense of mystery, and that he too seems an enigma: half holy fool and half the foremost example of his acclaimed ecstatic truth concept.

Back in the 70s, making those ethnographic hybrids (are they fiction, documentary or myth?) was a much younger man’s game and eventually, like all great artists, Herzog pivoted away from them and reimagined himself as a documentarian. His fiction films go to places that are undiscovered until he returns in documentary form to explore his claim that nature is uncaring and a devil’s fortress. @D_W_Mault

WERNER HERZOG: RADICAL DREAMER is in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on 19 January and on BFI Player and Blu-ray on 19 February. BFI Southbank’s retrospective season, JOURNEYS INTO THE UNKNOWN – FILMS BY WERNER HERZOG, runs throughout January.

The New Look (2024) Apple TV+

Dir: Todd A Kessler | Cast Juliette Binoche, Ben Mendelssohn, John Malkovich | Drama series 2024

A slick new series on Apple sashays back to fashionable post war Paris emerging from German occupation and in need of a fashion boost

In an all star International cast Juliette Binoche is the biggest surprise. She is English speaking Coco Chanel alongside Ben Mendelssohn as Christian Dior. John Malkovich is Lelong Balmain

Bristling with intrigue the series cleverly combines wartime thriller elements with a more lightweight look at the birth of haute couture in a shocking story of how fashion icon Christian Dior and his contemporaries including Coco Chanel, Pierre Balmain, and Cristobal Balenciaga navigated the horrors of World War II and launched modern fashion.

The New Look is filmed exclusively in Paris by Todd A Kessler and will make its global debut on Apple TV+ with the first three episodes onWednesday 14th February 2024, followed by new episodes weekly

On Apple TV+, followed by one episode every Wednesday through April 2024

 

Steppenwolf (2024) IFFR 2024

Dir: Adilkhan Yerzhanov | | Kazakhstan/Russia,102′

A hyper violent civil war rages across an apocalyptic landscape where gender conventions prevail in classic Western style: the men are the killers. One traumatised woman seeks to preserve life, that of her child, predictably kidnapped by organ traffickers (a ‘nice’ modern twist).

After his exquisite 2018 feature The Gentle Indifference of Life and 2022 thriller Assault, Yerzhanov returns to a vast wilderness for another Steppe legend love story: that of a mother for her child. The intrepid Tamara is determined to sacrifice her own life and safety to safeguard that of her son. In this endeavour hires an investigator, a reformed ex-convict who goes by the name of Steppenwolf and bears a canny resemblance to the mythological character, literally the ‘wolf of the Steppes’. Complete with shaggy hair, clear blue eyes and a swaggering gait he’s not a man to be underestmated as his victims soon discover to their chagrin.

Threatening and pacifying his female companion by turns, Steppenwolf is certainly menacing but also faintly ridiculous. Committed to these endless brutal murders, tersely executed with an axe or rotary cutting device, Steppenwolf goes about his business while Tamara remains meek and submissive, reduced to a mumbling, monosyllabic communication. At one point she seems to have died, lips turning purplish, but no, this woman is the heroine of the piece, an indomitable martyr empowered to withstand endless pain and emotional suffering to achieve her aims. Stylish and formally striking, the hostile landscape mirrors the film’s bloody violence – but a little more dark humour would have been welcome. Hard-going for the faint of heart. @MeredithTaylor

PREMIERING AT ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 31  JANUARY 2024

 

The Worst Man in London (2024) IFFR 2024

Dir: Rodrigo Areias | Cast: Albano Jeronimo, Edward Ashley, Victoria Guerra, Edgar Morais, Carmen Chaplin | Portugal, Drama 122′

Charles Augustus Howell, the main character in this suggestive slow-burn drama from Portuguese director from Rodrigo Areias, was certainly a mercurial character: for some he distilled the vibrant qualities of the pre-Raphaelite era, others found him a rather a machiavellian rogue, suspecting him of blackmail and even forgery.

This is not a film about art as such, but an intriguing look at 19th century high society through a group of Victorian creatives whose aim was to see the world in a more realistic and natural light, inspired by the Italian painters of the 14th and 15th century. And while they look very Victorian through our modern day gaze, behind their often inscrutable personas, Arieas and his writer paint them as arcane, subversive and mired in intrigue in their tightly-knit, incestuous coteries, preferring to focus their attention on the allure of renaissance Italy with vibrant colours that romanticised the era, rather than on the harsh realities of industrial revolution, that was gearing up in London at the time.

Pacing-wise and with its leisurely, episodic structure The Worst Man in London recalls Eugene Green’s The Portuguese Nun. We meet the characters as if introduced to them at a cocktail party, in a series of charming vignettes and graceful set pieces, the drama glows like a jewel-box in Jorge Quintela’s imaginative camerawork.

The international cast includes Carmen Chaplin who is particularly good as Lady Posselthwaite. Edward Ashley plays Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Victoria Guerra, Lizzie Siddal and Christian Vadim (son of Catherine Deneuve) La Rothiere.

Howell, born in Portugal, was not just Ruskin and Rosetti’s agent, he also served as a model for Dante Gabriel Rossetti although he seems to have been air-brushed out of history largely due to his purported skulduggery and is brought back to life as the focus of this sumptuous period piece that unfolds as a lush and finely detailed society chronicle of the day, with Howell working his way through the ranks acquiring works and establishing relationships with the great and good. One of his celebrated coups is to persuade Rossetti to dig up and sell the works of poetry buried with his wife Lizzie Siddal. Albano Jeronimo is certainly convincing in the main role of Howell, with his elegant stature and saturnine looks. @MeredithTaylor

IFFR | WORLD PREMIERE Monday 29 January 2024

https://youtu.be/n9Ce8SucC7s?feature=shared

My French Film Festival 2024

Now in its 14th year, MyFrenchFilmFestival shines a spotlight on a new generation of French-language filmmakers and gives audiences around the world the chance to share their love of French cinema

 

JANE B. FOR AGNÈS V. (1987) directed by Agnès Varda 

In this kaleidoscopic film made of various fragments of fictions, over various seasons, Jane Birkin plays various roles, including her own, with humour. 

Watch Here 

  

JUNKYARD DOG (2023) directed by Jean-Baptiste Durand 

Childhood friends Dog and Mirales’ relationship is upended when Elsa arrives in their small village in the South of France, but as romance blossoms for Dog, jealousy eats away at Mirales. 

Watch Here 

 

POLARIS (2022) directed by Ainara Vera 

Two sisters, one an expert sailor navigating the Arctic, are compelled to overcome fate and join forces; their journey guided by the polar star. 

Watch Here 

MY SOLE DESIRE (2022) directed by Lucie Borleteau 

Have you ever been to a strip club? But you’ve already wanted to – at least once – you didn’t dare, that’s all. This film tells the story of someone who dared. 

Watch Here 

 

NO DOGS OR ITALIANS ALLOWED (2022) directed by Alain Ughetto 

Alain Ughetto’s stop-motion animation tells the autobiographical story of his family’s exile from Northern Italy at the start of the 20th century. 

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SPARE KEYS (2022) directed by Jeanne Aslan and Paul Saintillan 

Sophie, 15, jumps at the chance to get the spare keys to her wealthy friend Jade’s house. A poetic, funny, and memorable first feature. 

Watch Here 

 

STAMPEDE (2022) directed by Joelle Desjardins Paquette 

When 9-year-old Lily is taken by her father on a surprise road trip to a truck-racing rodeo in far west of Canada, she soon realises she’s on a bigger adventure than she first thought. 

Watch Here 

 

SUPER DRUNK (2023) directed by Bastien Milheau 

While rummaging through her father’s wine cellar for bottles, Janus and Sam discover a strange machine. 

Watch Here 

 

THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE (2023) directed by Patric Chiha 

From 1979 to 2004 – from disco to techno – a man and woman frequent a huge nightclub in anticipation of a mysterious event. 

Watch Here 

 

THE GREEN PERFUME (2022) directed by Nicolas Pariser 

An actor finds himself embroiled in a shadowy conspiracy in Nicolas Pariser’s stunning combination of espionage, theatre, and the graphic novel. 

Watch Here 

MY FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL | ON BFI PLAYER | January 19th – February 19th 2024

Reinas (2024) Sundance Film Festival 2024

Wri/Dir: Klaudia Reynicke-Candeloro | Chile, Drama 104’

It’s summertime 1992 in crisis-ridden Chile and actor turned cab driver Carlos Molina is really fed up. His clients don’t share his love of film and even his daughters fail to recognise him when he turns up at his ex-wife’s house to deliver a birthday present to his eldest daughter Lucia

America beckons and Elena and teenagers Lucia and Aurora are off to pastures new. But a dispondent farewell with their estranged dad only adds to the girls’ feelings of regret and instability at their upcoming departure especially as Aurora (Luana Vega) not as keen on leaving Lima as her rather morose mother for reasons that soon become apparent.

This is a well-paced and endearing coming of age domestic drama from Chile’s Klaudia Reynicke-Candeloro and one which refreshingly puts the focus on a father-daughter relationship with Gonzalo Molina particularly likeable as a down-on-his-luck dad trying to put a brave face on his challenging life and catch up on some quality time with his kids who are not as naive as he thinks. The titular ‘reinas’ have cottoned on to his efforts have them believe he is a ‘secret agent’. His youngest Lucia is asking him probing questions about his work, and Aurora already has a boyfriend Rony and is hiding a burning secret.

But Carlos’ relationship with ex Elena and her mother (veteran Chilean actor Susi Sanchez) is strained and he feels reticent to sign the girls’ release form – both parents must give their consent for their children to leave Chile and this quandary provides the film with its dramatic twist. Impressive visuals and retro production design add to the film’s allure. @MeredithTaylor

Grand Jury Prize | World Cinema Dramatic SUNDANCE 2024

World premiere 22 January 2024

The Disappearance of Shere Hite (2023)

Dir: Nicole Newnham | With: Dakota Johnson, Shere Hite | US Doc 118′

What is in a name? Or more to the point, what is in the named title of a work of documentation. The acclaimed documentary about the academic Shere Hite comes after acclaim at numerous film festivals including Sundance where it premiered over a year ago. The Disappearance of Shere Hite is a misnomer; another example of American Exceptionalism that declares one doesn’t exist if one escapes from the hermetic puritanism that holds sway in the laughable declared “Land Of The Free”.

Documentaries of this sort exist in a state of pedagogy for the unaware, at times this can be limiting but here documentarian Nicole Newnham (director of the transgressive documentary Crip Camp) uses several devices to create a narrative that impresses and creates the possibility of a series of ‘what ifs’ and ‘could bes’, these include Dakota Johnson reading from Hite’s dairies and writings and, more movingly, a collection of oral histories comprised of the letters she received from women who had filled out her questionnaire: this became her groundbreaking and incendiary ‘The Hite Report’, which was published in 1976.

The film glides through the chronology of her life in a nonlinear fashion which adds to the sense of mystery if you approach the film without much prior knowledge of Shere Hite. She was at Grad School where she discovered the first feminist women’s groups that were starting to spring to life in New York. Paying her way through school as a model, the variety of modelling that many in the industry look down their noses at: adverts for white goods and Robert McGinnis’ famous James Bond illustrations including on the shoulder of Sean Connery for Diamonds Are Forever.

It was Socrates who claimed that “Beauty is a short lived tyranny”. Right from the start of her modelling career Hite discovered the self-evident truth in that aphorism, and started to look for an ‘out’ before the industry would crush her like so many women before her. The final straw appears to be when she was cast in an advert for Olivetti, with the tagline: “The typewriter is so smart she doesn’t have to be.” From there she started writing questionnaires to hand out to women in the hope they would fill them in and post them back to her. She felt this was more likely to get a honest response than phone or in person interviews.

When the book was released it was an instant publishing phenomenon and she was invited to do lots of media appearances. This is a time we can now look back at and see the beginning of the Culture Wars that have continued in furiosity, and where we find now ourselves adrift from an empirical reality. As so many intelligent women have discovered, holding truth to power – especially 1970s patriarchy – means you will be attacked and demeaned in numerous ways. Her detractors cast doubt on her Scientific methods and flagged-up photographs she had posed for in ‘Playboy’ while a student.

The attacks only intensified when Shere started working on a male version of ‘The Hite Report’. This provided another opportunity for male critics and academics to refuse to believe the men questioned in the report, particularly in regards to their personal feelings and claims that toxic masculinity had affected relationships with their fathers, at home, and in workplace. It has taken decades for certain men to break through these negative attitudes. Robert Gottlieb (who died recently and was featured in the documentary made by his daughter, Turn Every Page) was one of the book’s only male supporters at the time. He claimed to have been devastated by the opinions shared that those men who took part.

In the end Shere Hite did what so many US Iconoclasts are forced to do, go into exile to avoid facing public humiliation or defamation. Her escape led to a second life in England and Germany. She died after a long illness in 2020. At that point the original Hite Report was the 30th best-selling book of all time. Ironically, most contemporary American feminists are unaware who she was and how important she was, standing alongside the legendary Sexologists: Alfred Kinsey and Masters & Johnson. @D_W_Mault

IN CINEMAS FROM 12 JANUARY 2024

Bonnard: Pierre et Marthe (2023)

Dir: Martin Provost | Cast: Cécile de France, Vincent Macaigne, Stacy Martin, Anouk Grinberg, André Marcon France. 2023. 122 mins.

Seduction follows a chance meeting in the street between impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard and Marthe Boursin (aka de Meligny) who becomes his model, muse and lover in 1893 Paris.

The coup de coeur and subsequent romantic relationship is sumptuously depicted in this lyrical latest outing from Breton writer/director Martin Provost and stars Vincent Macaigne and Cecile de France as the central couple whose turbulent mutual devotion endured until their deaths in the 1940s as Bonnard’s career flourished and Marthe became a noted artist of the day.

Captivated by her beauty Bonnard immediately puts brush to canvas painting the stunned Marthe in the nude. These avant-garde canvasses would go on to cause much chuntering in the salons. But Bonnard flatly refused to make Marthe a mother thinking it too bourgeois for his artistic lifestyle. Instead he encouraged her to paint.

The couple set up home in a rambling country villa on the banks of the Seine where Marthe swims everyday until her doctor prescribes hot baths for her asthma. Close friends Monet (Andre Marcon) and Vuillard (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) visit frequently. There’s a great deal of nude frolicking, the agile camera chasing after the passionate characters who live a life of artistic abandon in the sumptuous rural setting where summer never seems to cease in Guillaume Schiffman’s gorgeous camerawork. An incessant violin score is occasionally overbearing.

Despite her poor health, not helped by Bonnard’s infidelity with various women (played gamely by Stacy Martin as the unstable Renee Monchaty) and Anouk Grinberg as Misia Sert, his hard-edged and condescending patron), Marthe emerges the stronger more fleshed-out chactacter of the two, her fébrile intensity contrasting with Bonnard’s phlegmatic reticence to be drawn into any kind of debate that takes him away from his easel. By his own admission he apparently lacked the courage of his convictions: a creative with feet of clay.

As you might expect from the subject matter the film often ramps up the melodrama but Provost manages the tonal shifts with style in one of the most enjoyable films of his career so far. A dab hand at portraying maverick women, his 2008 film about an edgy artist Seraphine was lauded at the Césars, and Violette (2013) takes on the complex character of Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain) seen through the eyes of her close friend and mentee Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devon).

Provost somehow avoids the trap of making this biopic preachy: de France and Macaigne play a credible couple whose deep love for each other feels real despite his philandering during which he maintains a low profile while everyone affected is in complete disarray. Captivating and compulsive this is a two-hour biopic worth watching. @MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2023

Hana-Bi | Fireworks (1997)

Dir: Takeshi Kitano | Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima, Tetsu Watanabe | Japan 98′

There’s a serene stillness that takes all the horror away from the unexpected outbursts of brutal violence that are almost funny – quite apart from the deadpan humour that Takeshi Kitano fully intended in his thoughtful thriller. This makes Fireworks extremely enjoyable as we watch him play an ex-cop whose marriage slowly gets back on its feet after his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) comes out of hospital. Hana-Bi means fireworks but the words individually mean ‘flowers’ and ‘fire’

Fireworks is an extremely likeable film. Kitano directs and also stars without a shred of sentimentality, just business as usual as he tends to his wife and dispatches the odd criminal who gets in his way in an artfully composed arthouse thriller. His character’s minimal dialogue and terse exchanges also make this a joy to watch for those who hate scrolling through dialogue in an unfamiliar language. Clocking in a just over a hour and a half it also leaves you wanting more rather than less – often the case with lengthy Japanese and South Korean fare.

Inspector Nishi (Kitano) may be a dab hand with a flick knife – which he makes liberal use of – but his sense of honour is second to none. And he feels deeply responsible when his colleague Horibe (Ren Osugi) stands in for him getting life-changing injuries after attempting to arrest a criminal.  Nishi encourages him to paint to fill the lonely hours when his wife subsequently leaves him. There’s an amusing vignette with Tetsu Watanabe as a scrap metal dealer.

The paintings are infact Kitano’s own work but provide a delicate leitmotif to the crime caper that went on to win the Golden Lion at Venice in 1997. The finale will leave you with much food for thought. @MeredithTaylor

AVAILABLE ON MUBI and PRIME VIDEO channels

Panic in Year Zero (1962)

Dir: Ray Milland Cast: Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Mary Mitchel, Frank Avalon US thriller

A remarkably unflattering depiction of the ruthlessness that Americans prided themselves on being capable of during the Cold War (described by Denis Gifford as “Ray Milland’s illustrated handbook on What to Do When the Bomb Falls”) which makes ‘The Turner Diaries’ look like a Fabian Society publication.

In this tale of survival against the odds, a family leaves Los Angeles for a camping trip in the nick of time before a bomb destroys the city. Ray Milland, inspired by a short story from Ward Moore and directing a script from John Morton and Jay Simms, vouchsafes the inconvenient truth that, in the event of an attack by The Enemy, the first people patriotic Americans would turn the guns they’ve been hoarding so lovingly on would be other Americans – and ammunition would be of greater value than money.

The film one again proves the ‘holocaust theory’ in saluting an average working stiff who when his back’s to the wall gets his way by showing a total disregard for no one but himself and his wife and kids, which earns the final admiring tribute of a pair of state troopers as “five more good ones”. @RichardChatten.

NOW ON AMAZON

Nuovo Olimpo (2023) Netflix

Dir: Ferzan Ozpetek | Cast: Luisa Ranieri, Greta Scarano, Damiano Gavino, Aurora Giovinazzo, Andrea Di Luigi, Alvise Rigo | Italy, drama, 113’

Nuovo Olimpo is the 9th feature film during three decades for the Italian/Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek. The film has been quietly slipped into the Netflix schedules and the surprise is that it brings the director full circle to his striking debut Haman. Largely set in a Turkish steam house which becomes a place for two men to secretly meet, this 1999 film is remembered for its gentle and profound feeling for humanity and the coded mysterious ways we navigate questions relating to family, relationships and gender.

There is a strong hint the true story that inspired Nuovo Olimpo provides Ozpetek with what may be his most personal film since Haman. Many of the preceding films including Fati Ignoranti! (2022), Cuore Sacro (2005) and Mine Viganti (2010) are generally romantic generic family dramas possibly aimed more at the local rather than world film market. Nuovo Olimpo may seem slight and unassuming. Looked at more closely, it reveals a confident director with an understanding of how astute and careful narrative, sensitive performances and skilful layered editing can result in a nuanced film more effortlessly complex than first appears.

The story itself is of an eternal nature in which two young bisexual men meet but are unable to build the attraction into a complete gay relationship. Enea (Damiano Gavino) is a film crew set worker and Pietro (Andrea di Luigi) a trainee medical student who first lock eyes on each other in an opening sequence that is a homage to Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes’ Gloria. This is one of Ozpetek’s many love letters to the cinema with Nuovo Olimpo both the title of the film and the name of the cinema in the film that will be a space which becomes as safe to meet for the men much as the steam room does in Hamam.

The film has four acts, set in 1988,1998 and 2015 and begins in 1978 with a chance follow-up encounter between two men in a classic arthouse repertory cinema that will be familiar to those who remember The Biograph Cinema in London’s Victoria. Ozpetek captures details of cruising in a cinema to make this comparable to sequences in Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, Clements This Angry Age and Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye Dragon Inn. The cinema is presided over by a matronly box office fag hag woman with an astute knowledge of her male customers and Ozpetek includes clips on the cinema screen from Renato Castellani’s Nella Citta l’Inferno (1959) aka And We The Wild Women, with Magnani and Masina exuding fiery Italian passions while men in the audience cruise in auditoriums and toilets.

Ozpetek adds into the romantic tragic narrative hints of the cinema’s own ‘amour fou’ with subtle references to McCarey’s An Affair to Remember, Almodóvar’s Talk to Her and Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession. The film may also contain a fleeting reference to Ophul’s Letter from an Unknown Women with a street map containing the words: “so time and space won’t get in the way” which becomes a form of letter that returns to the men over the decades. One of the film’s most moving sequences involves the wife of one of the men who provides her husband with the key to follow his heart, much as Ang Lee centres on the women in Brokeback Mountain as the real creators of the destiny of men unable to realise a love unspoken in.

Ozpetek is aided by the delicate movement of beautiful wide screen camerawork by Gian Filippo Corticelli, both lush and restrained music, uniformly good acting including relaxed and very natural explicit nudity and sex scenes, while the cast undergo ageing over three decades.

Ultimately it is with his choice of theme that Ozpetek makes Nuovo Olimpo most satisfying. He explores how love can both envelope as well as separate, create doubt and distance between what is real as well as imagined. As if impossible loves live on longer, the film contains an exquisite sequence in which the two men are separated in space but united in time as they watch Nella Citta l’Inferno on Television screens as a reminder of time lost, but not forgotten.

The final sequence is masterly and may well be one of the most beautiful in recent cinema. As the two men face each other in an empty street and make a decision that changes both lives, Ozpetek   contemplates that if stinginess is all that heaven allows, there is also the choice to live on in the dream of an impossible love. The sequence concludes with an unbroken camera movement combining reality and a moment in time that was never to be. The film anticipates that there may be much more to come from this remarkable filmmaker. @PeterHerbert

Peter Herbert is Curator Manager at The Arts Project, 215 Weedington Road! London NW5 4PQ

https://youtu.be/NatMTfOZsl8?si=pGqSptdDGCL2nsJ9

The Coughing Horror (1924)

Dir: Fred Paul | Cast: H Agar Lyons, Fred Paul, Humberston Wright, Fred Morgan | Silent Horror 31′

I first became aware of this intriguing title as a teenager when I came across it in the chapter on British silent horror films in Denis Gifford’s ‘A Pictorial History of Horror Movies’.

Now nearly a hundred years old, it seems a good time to review The Coughing Horror, which made its first appearance in August 1924 as an episode in the series ‘Further Mysteries of Dr. Fu Manchu’.

It sees Nayland Smith coming up against the “Coughing Horror”, Dr Fu-Manchu’s servant, when commissioned by the British Government to investigate a series of murders,

The ordinary settings and lack of style – with nighttime exteriors obviously shot in daylight – give the film an almost documentary feel in our contemporary gaze. Nayland Smith takes it all rather in his stride and, in the long tradition of white actors playing Chinamen, little attempt has been made to make the doctor appear authentically oriental apart from his satanic eyebrows and affecting a kimono, while presiding over a rum collection of roughnecks including a hunchbacked dwarf.

Horror-wise, I can safely say that in half a century of watching weird films, I have never seen such a bizarre sight as what Gifford described as a “hirsute henchman” and the film itself terms “A monstrous Cynocephalyte, Half Man……Half Ape”.

At the film’s conclusion (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) the good doctor simply makes off in a cab. Doubtless the world shall hear from him again. @RichardChatten

NOW AVAILABLE TO WATCH FREE IN THE UK ON BFiPLAYER.

 

Scala!!! (2024)

Dirs: Ali Catterall, Jane Giles | UK Doc with Barry Adamson, John Akomfrah, Rick Baker, Ralph Brown, Paul Burston, Adam Buxton, Caroline Catz | 96′

Cinemas are edenic places, some would describe them as palaces which to be fair they were at some point in the 20th century. But between that time of art deco grandeur and the mostly soulless multiplexes and faux art houses that blight our horizons something else existed. Something magical. 

Of all the places, the Scala is the most storied in the UK and we now have a myth-making introduction for all those that missed out. There should be a warning for those cinephiles currently hiding out in cinemas across the UK, this is what was taken from you. 

The danger with a documentary like Scala!!! is that it must skirt the chasm of describing experiences that have passed and will never be repeated and the cynical idea of nostalgia as false consciousness… Happily I can report that it never falls into that trap.

When we look and listen to the numerous talking heads, from filmmakers: John Waters, Mary Harron, Caroline Catz and John Akomfrah; musicians: Jah Wobble, Barry Adamson, Douglas Hart and Thurston Moore; critics: Kim Newman and Alan Jones, we can perhaps understand what François Truffaut meant when he claimed that ‘film lovers are sick, sick people’.

The sense of the outsider reigns supreme here, as an existential answer to an unanswered question that searches for finding a like-minded peer group. When this happens hubs are important, and the Scala was one of these. Located for the longest time in Kings Cross a good decade before it became the homogeneous gentrified experience that it now is. Difficult to explain what urban areas in the UK were like in the 80s. King Cross could be described as the relative to New York’s Time Square of legendary grindhouses before that was Disneyfied by Rudy Giuliani.

Alongside everything else that the 80s gave us we had to deal with rampant homophobia, the Scala was a safe space before the term started to have various connotations. It was very definitely a ‘Queer” space, queer in the sense that celebrates transgression in the form of visible difference from normie culture.

It has been a long process for Scala!!! to come to light, a crowd funded budget, a book and a yearly national film festival, but through it all the directors Jane Giles (former programmer at the Scala and author of the book) and Ali Catterall (film critic and author) have kept the faith and battled to bring into existence a wonderful documentary that has been acclaimed at various film festivals and will now be going on a nationwide tour to cinemas across perfidious Albion.

What we are left to ponder, after luxuriating in the text, is where we are now that everything has become homogeneous and nondescript. It is true that grubby cinemas of faded glamour very rarely exist anymore, but what have we sacrificed for the boutique cinemas and multiplexes? Comfort, security, safety and a lack of cinema cats. I certainly know where I would rather experience the 7th art. It is yet another example of the mainstream swallowing everything like an out-of-control whale. Outside of London the notion of the Rep cinema simply doesn’t exist, which is a form of cultural vandalism. One thinks of one of the defining lines in John le Carré’s ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, when Bill Hayden says, ‘it has all become so ugly.’ @DWMault

In UK and Irish cinemas from 5 January 2024. Scala!!! will be available digitally on BFI Player and released on BFI Blu-ray on 22 January 2024 | A season of the Scala’s greatest hits, Scala: Sex, drugs and rock and roll cinema, runs at BFI Southbank throughout January with selected films on BFI Player.

https://youtu.be/Oc85T_TGuxE?si=4xAO9hcFhPtyQhA1

Night Swim (2023)

Dir: Bryce McGuire | Cast: Kerry Condon, Wyatt Russell, Amelie Hoeferle, Gavin Warren, Jodi Long | US Horror 98′

An awarding-wing short film is sometimes worthy of the feature treatment, especially when the producers Jason Blum and James Wan were responsible for the Halloween series, M3GAN and Malignant.

Not the case in this horror outing directed by Bryce McGuire who puts endless jumps scares ahead of an emotionally affecting storyline when an average American family move into a spacious home in Minnesota that boasts, in estate agents’ parlance, a luxury swimming pool.

Unfortunately the wily agent (Nancy Lenehan) has omitted to mention a series of tragedies at the property – one involving the disappearance of a young girl called Rebecca – hence the attractive price.

An opening sequence warns us that something nasty other than dead leaves is lurking in the murky depths, and that things are not going to go swimmingly for Kerry Condon and her husband Wyatt Russell. He is Ray Waller, a baseball pro diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She is Eve, a stay-at-home mother of teenagers Izzy (Amelie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren).

And sure enough, the kids are soon frightened by a series of poolside scares largely involving a ghoul who surfaces as the waters mysteriously muddy. Strangely, Ray’s illness seems to improve, but there’s no explanation as to why. And all these events are too repetitive and drawn out, there not being enough material to really make a substantial impact to engage us for the 98 minute running time. Don’t bother to come in, the water’s not lovely. @MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS

The Big Country (1958)

Dir: William Wyler | Cast: Charles Bickford, Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons, Burl Ives | US Western

Having earned his spurs as a director of ‘B’ westerns during the silent era, William Wyler strode back into town thirty years later to supercharge the genre with the help of Technicolor and Technicolor to embellish the petty squabbling that passed for a plot in ‘The Big Country’.

A New England sea captain in the 1880s arrives at his fiancée’s sprawling Texas ranch, where he becomes embroiled in a feud between two families over a valuable patch of land.

Wyler’s co.producer Gregory Peck created something of an anomaly being about as vertical an actor as you could possibly find, which probably necessitated the frequent use of longshots in the staging.

Charles Bickford and Charlton Heston bring considerable authority to relatively small supporting roles; while after the scenery the most impressive feature is probably Chuck Connors’ teeth, his provenance as Burl Ives’ proving rather hard to swallow, but his interest in the radiant Jean Simmons being only too plausible. @RichardChatten

Mr Sardonicus (1961)

Dir: William Castle | Cast: Oscar Homolka, Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton | US Horror 90’

William Castle usually located his films in a very contemporary America but this time he transferred his activities to a mythical nineteenth century European country called Gorslava.

The template this time was the Hammer horrors and Roger Corman’s adaptations of Poe, with a nod towards ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, “The Man Who Laughs’ and ‘Eyes Without a Face’.

It’s full of the usual staircases, torture chambers, dungeons and graveyards but despite a much larger budget Castle was still far too stingy for colour. For fans of old movies there’s the presence of Vladimir Sokoloff as Sardonicus’s father and Oscar Homolka as a wall-eyed retainer with a penchant for leeches.

Without divulging the famous trick ending, Castle probably also pinched that too, since it bears a suspicious resemblance to the finale of ‘Casanova’s Big Night’. @MeredithTaylor

Dream Scenario (2023)

Wri/Dir: Kristoffer Borgli | Cast: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Lily Bird, Jessica Clement, Dylan Baker, Michael Cera | US Psychological Horror 101′

A million miles away from his crazed roles of the recent past such as Renfield and Mandy Nicolas Cage is terrific here as an introverted professor caught up in a celebrity scandal set in Ottawa, of all places.

Written and directed by Norwegian Kristopher Brogli Dream Scenario is more of a nightmare really and not for the feint-hearted. Some may leave the cinema with a feeling of overwhelming sadness and even despair at the situation Cage finds himself in as Paul Mathews, a mild-mannered – even boring – family man.

From his humdrum existence in a leafy suburbs of some provincial university, Paul, a bearded and bedraggled biology professor married with two girls, becomes an over-night sensation – in the worst possible way – when the otherwise unremarkable man – who probably wears crocs on his days off – enters the dream lives of random individuals as their ‘bete noire’.

Desperate to gain recognition with his academic work on animal camouflage, Paul sadly only finds notoriety when his students report strange dreams where he appears, first as an innocent bystander, then as an ardent lover, and finally as belligerent presence intent on wreaking havoc in their collective subconscious. Soon, his colleagues and even ex girlfriends start to surface claiming to have been affected by these bizarre nocturnal occurrences.

With his ordinary man Borgli’s horrific surrealist fantasy leads us through a ghastly real experience of modern day America embroiled in fame, celebrity, cancel culture and even AI. This is undoubtedly Cage’s best performance in years and we really feel for Paul as he desperately tries to justify his position as a decent, hard-working human being just trying to make his way through life when he is catapulted into being both the hero and then antihero of the piece. Brilliant idea that’s a little overwrought in the final stretch. @MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE

The Edge of the Blade (2023)

Dir: Vincent Perez | Cast: Vincent Perez, Doria Tillier, Damien Bonnard, Guillaume Galiléenne, Roschdy Zem | France, Historical drama 101′.

Vincent Perez has chosen a bold theme for his capable fourth feature, a historical drama set in 1887 about the honour of duelling. The Edge of the Blade is interesting more than gripping with its horseback sabre fighting, use of epees, firearms and other 19th century weapons.

Duelling was banned in France although armed duels still took place as a way of solving disputes and to preserve the honour of those seeking prompt justice in the higher echelons of society. The practise continued in France until the Second World War.

Best known for roles in Cyrano de Bergerac and Le Bossu, Perez also stars here as the agile but utterly charmless one dimensional antihero of the piece, Louis Berchere, who seems hellbent on dying in the name of honour – and to be honest perhaps that’s better than ending up in a care home. A ferocious combatant in the battle to preserve his honour we see him demanding a duel to the death in the film’s early part. 

Despite the masculine nature of the subject the Swiss actor turned director manages to weave in a timely side-plot about a real life suffragette style feminist called Marie-Rose Astie de Valsayre (Doris Tillier) whose left hook causes some serious damage not least to the honour of the solid French cast of Damien Bonnard, Guillaume Galiléenne – and Roschdy Zem, a swashbuckling instructor at a fencing school, who she later seduces although there’s no bodice-ripping to speak of here.

Perez and his co-writer (and wife) Karine Silla have certainly done their research; the rolling titles at the end of the film explain that Marie-Rose was a significant figure during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and is remembered for her campaign to get women the vote, and attempting to overturn legislation prohibiting women from wearing trousers.  

The men all brush up against Marie-Rose’s brazen assertiveness – it was unknown at that time for women to be other than feminine and pliant. In a surprising twist, she challenges Bonnard to a duel but he manages to delay proceedings claiming her rig-out is unsuitable, whereupon the police are seen arriving on the brow of a nearby hill.

Mostly unfolding in interior scenes there are several impressive outdoor duel sequences – one in the woods and another in an open barn in remote fields. And while there’s no real dramatic arc or complexity in the characters, Perez and his DoP Lucie Badinaud manage the fighting set pieces with verve, and the finale is spectacular both for the duellists and the horses involved. @MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE and BELGIUM | AUDIENCE AWARD KARLOVY VARY 2023

 

Winter Break | The Holdovers (2023)

Dir: Alexander Payne | Cast: Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph | US Comedy 133′

Paul Giamatti is the reason to watch this bittersweet comedy satire from Alexander Payne – his best since Nebraska in 2013. This time written by David Hemingson the film is already set to be a critics’ favourite for its witty acerbic observations of school life, along the lines of the Dead Poets Society back in 1989.

Giamatti is Paul, a disenchanted history professor in a private boarding school in 1970s snowbound New England where he is one of three characters forced to stay over for the holidays with nowhere else to go.

The boys are a privileged and self-entitled lot but Paul digs his heals in academically and discipline-wise in a darkly humorous drama that morphs into the ultimate buddy movie about a man who makes a sacrifice for the good of another. Hemingson’s pithy script is strewn with Latin and Greek truisms and mottos and Paul is constantly quoting them with a twinkle in his eye (“it’s the left one you have to look at”): the most appropriate here is from Cicero “Non obis solum” which apparently means: “not for ourselves alone are we born”.

Paul Giamatti | Best Male Actor in a Musical/Comedy 81st Golden Globes | Credit: Virisa Yong

Giamatti is at his best when playing these kind of philosophical roles: a disappointed disciplinarian determined to make the best of things while maintaining his strict code of conduct. And we feel for him in his attempts to remain in control and at a distance while fully aware of the potential glumness of the situation for Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a bright but awkward teenager whose mother has last-minute romantic plans for the Christmas break that don’t involve her son. Making up the motley threesome in the echoing boarding school corridors is bereaved cafeteria manager Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) who son has recently been killed in Vietnam.

Paul – who suffers various ailments – wants nothing more than to be left alone to enjoy his break buried mystery novels and nice things to eat. Instead he is forced to contend with a complex emotional triangle which will play out in fraught but surprising ways: Not unlike the average Christmas for most families then.

Payne imbues this all with a bittersweet understanding of the issues involved. Mary is sensitively played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, as she bitterly reflects on her son’s death, but always with warmth and never overdoing the sentimentality. All three interact convincingly without a shred of self-pity or rancour given the situation they find themselves in, and the warmth that Giamatti gradually brings to bear on his ‘odd couple’ dynamic with his pupil Angus – who has his own tragic secret – is well-judged and subtle. Sessa manages to be cynical and vulnerable in his thoughtful feature debut. The best thing about Winter Break is that Payne never opts for trite solutions or one-dimensional characters with Paul, Angus or Mary.

With its far-reaching themes Winter Break (aka The Holdovers) is possibly the most apposite Christmas film of this season with its simple Christian message. It’s a film that works for any season, for that matter, with its wry humour and melancholy nostalgia – and not too much tinsel to make it watchable well into the New Year. @MeredithTaylor

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN ANY MOTION PICTURE | DA’VINE JOY RANDOLPH | BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL/COMEDY PAUL GIAMATTI | 81st GOLDEN GLOBES 2024

BEST MALE ACTOR IN A MUSICAL/COMEDY 81st GOLDEN GLOBES – PAUL GIAMATTI

Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Richard Widmark, Donna Corcoran | UK Drama

Based on a novel by Charlotte Armstrong called ‘Mischief’. If you were ever curious to see Marilyn Monroe as Blanche DuBois this stark Fox quickie cheaply entirely shot in the studio – which few people have even heard of, let alone seen – gives some idea of what her interpretation would have been like.

Ironically she’d only recently supported Bette Davis in All About Eve, who herself later starred in what director Roy Baker called “the one about the baby-sitter who just happens to be a psychopath”. Richard Widmark however jumped at the then rare opportunity to play a character who wasn’t a giggling psychopath, while it’s also notable as Anne Bancroft’s film debut. Already constantly late and unable to hit her cues; being Elisha Cook Jr.’s neice was probably already an inauspicious start in life. And like her last completed film, The Misfits, Don’t Bother to Knock is highly uncomfortable to watch since Monroe’s precarious mental state playing a girl just out of an institution is only too evident from the end result.@RichardChatten

NOW ON AMAZON

 

Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got (1985)

Dir/Wri: Brigitte Berman | Canada | 1985 | 115m | English

An Oscar-winning music documentary about the mercurial clarinetist Artie Shaw returns to the screen after many years in a pristine new restoration.

Shaw (1920-2004) was no ordinary musician: his restless intellectual curiosity and uncompromising nature took him from postwar poverty to stardom in Hollywood where he would tirelessly reinvent himself as a pioneering saxophonist and bandleader, flouting the colour barrier of the time by hiring African Americans like Billie Holiday, Hot Lips Page and Roy Eldridge to play alongside him. Shunning celebrity in the 1940s Shaw would go on to write four bestsellers. His charisma and matinee idol good looks saw him marrying eight times, his wives included Lana Turner, Ava Garner and Evelyn Keyes. He even dated Rita Hayworth.

In Brigitte Berman’s Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got (1985) we join Artie in the privacy of his own home as he talks us through his five-decade career, enlivened by interviews and a treasure trove of photos and archival film footage. Berman refuses to try anything tricksy or complicated with her storyline,  adopting a straightforward chronological structure – and this is one of the plus points of this engrossing Oscar-winning documentary.

She sets the scene with a brief prologue. Artie Shaw (1910-2004) was born Arthur Arshawsky on the Lower East Side, to immigrant parents. An only child, he was teased for being Jewish when his family later moved to Connecticut. Retreating into books and music he taught himself the clarinet, practising eight hours a day, to escape his loneliness: “I just wanted to get up there on the stage in the bright lights with those pretty girls…and get out of where I was living”.

After ‘expelling himself’ from school to focus on music he soon found work as a jobbing clarinetist and saxophonist and headed to New York which was the capital of jazz in 1929. There the best work was to be found on the radio stations and Shaw was well paid. By the end the of the 1930s he would be earning USD 60k a week. From time to time during his career he became disenchanted by the music scene, taking time out to reflect on his second love, writing. In one of these ‘sabatacle’ breaks he bought a farm in Bucks County and hoping to spend the rest of his life there coming to the conclusion eventually that his recalcitrant personality and inability to compromise was better suited to writing than show business which required constant collaboration.

All that said, Shaw would go on to become one of the most popular stars of the 1930s and 40s Swing era – and a friendly rival to “King of Swing” Benny Goodman with his own compositions like “Nightmare”. His big break came in 1938 with a recording of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”. After that he never looked back as a leading light on the big-band circuit.

But it wasn’t always plain sailing – heading for the West Coast in 1939 to support soldiers during the war effort he fell ill with leukaemia, but was soon back on his feet after a ground-breaking treatment. Here his fame often got in the way of his solidarity with the others in his desire to entertain troops, and be assisted in his efforts to do so. When asked on one occasion: “Who do think you are?” He answered: I know who I am: but who do YOU think I am?”

Tiring of fame during the ‘jitterbug’ era when he literally walked offstage after being hit by a dancer’s heel during a stint as the house bandleader at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel. The public was offended when Shaw angrily branded the jitterbugger as ‘morons’, for not taking music more seriously. Undeterred, he refused to come back, but of course he would return.

Although he never professed to be an actor, Shaw appeared alongside Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard in H C Potter’s 1940 outing Second Chorus that sees Artie taking on two competitive college students (Burgess Meredith and Fred Astaire) after hiring their band manager Ellen Miller (Godard). The pair then compete to win Ellen’s heart. 

Berman is an award-winning Canadian film director best known for her 1981 documentary debut BIX: Ain’t none of them play like him yet, which focused on another jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. Berman shows how Shaw’s restlessness and intellectual curiosity drove him forward to explore his creativity and collaborate with a number of well known stars of the time including vocalist Mel Tormé, drummer Buddy Rich – who give interviews – and actress/ex-wife Evelyn Keyes (Gone With The Wind), whose other ex-husbands included director John Huston. @MeredithTaylor

A tribute to my father Gordon Taylor who was inspired to learn the clarinet by Artie Shaw | Screening at Film Forum from Friday, January 5 to Thursday, January 11 – the New York premiere of a new 4K restoration, supervised by the director.

Häxan (1922)

Dir/Wri: Benjamin Christensen | Doc, Silent, Denmark 97′

An amusing horror curio made in Denmark in 1922 that aims, in an episodic style, to tell the story of witchcraft through the ages. In conclusion director Benjamin Christensen attributes the black arts to female hysteria, as diagnosed by Freud. Some may find the lewd nude sequences a sinister representation of the occult others merely view them as the slightly crude behaviour of a bygone era. But the evocative score in some versions certainly adds to the film’s creepy allure along with the sonorous narration provided by Willian S Burroughs delivered in an offbeat style that somehow dumbs down the film’s more outlandish pretensions. @MeredithTaylor

NOW ON JANUS FILMS AND YouTube or Amazon.

Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948)

Dir: John Paddy Corsairs | Cast: Jean Kent, Albert Lieven, Derrick De Marney, Paul Dupuis | UK Crime drama 95′

A reminder of the days when travelling by rail actually seemed incredibly glamorous especially on the Orient Express that provides the exotic setting for this 1948 thriller that sees spies pursuing a stolen diary.

Director John Paddy Carstairs is no Walter Forde but this serviceable remake of Forde’s 1932 film based on Clifford Grey’s story looks good through the lens of cameraman Jack Hildyard.

Albert Lieven is likewise no Conrad Veidt but looks good in black tie. On the distaff side Rona Anderson receives an introducing credit while Jean Kent shows poise as his partner in crime. The only member of the original cast is Finlay Currie who originally played an American but is now an irascible Englishman; while Bonar Colleano and Michael Balfour supply the real thing. @RichardChatten

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE

The Three Musketeers: Milady (2023)

Dir: Martin Bourboulon | France, Adventure drama 115′

The second part of this spectacular sortie with our four French Musketeers opens in 1627 and this time puts Milady at the centre of the swashbuckling, bodice-ripping epic originally penned by Alexandre Dumas.

Once again Martin Bourboulon directs a script by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière. There is a brief catch-up with Part I in the opening scenes and the emphasis here is on mood and manoeuvres rather than an involving and memorable storyline – not helped by the break between films. Refer to the novel if you want a more involving experience, although the our hot heroes certainly make for this enjoyable to watch.

Eva Green is mistressful as Milady de Winter, a fictional character who features in the later part of Alexandre Dumas’ original novel. But there’s nothing timid about this tumultuous temptress who is the hired assassin of Cardinal Richelieu. In the first part we saw her throw herself from a clifftop but she survived to tell the tale and is not going to give up without a fight in seducing the sultry and tousled hair D’Artagnan – and who could blame her – but he is desperate to defend a pouty paramour of his own in the shape of Constance Bonacieux (Lyna Khoudri).

Once again England is the enemy and Milady is plotting to engage France in a complex war aimed at ridding the country of King Louis XIII (Louis Garrel really looks the part with his wig and moustache). This is cloak and dagger stuff and involves plenty of sword fights with D’Artagnan (François Civil), Athos (Vincent Cassel), Porthos (Pio Marmaï) and Aramis (Romain Duris complete with eyeliner) all pulling out all the stops. There is a surprise in store for Athos who has his own romantic issues to tackle but he’s keeping his powder dry in this eventful capitulation to Part I.

Eva Green makes for a mysterious Milady. Smirking and smouldering seductively she joins a long list of actresses who have played the character on screen. Most notable are Barbara La Marr alongside Douglas Fairbanks in Fred Niblo’s 1921 production. Lana Turner vyed with Gene Kelly in George Sidney’s 1948 drama; Faye Dunaway had two goes at the role in the early seventies with a starry cast of Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Christopher Lee. French actress Emmanuelle Beart featured in a TV mini series in 2005, and Mila Jovovitch played her in Paul W S Anderson’s  2011 epic which was not deemed as success. @MeredithTaylor

From 15 December in French K and Irish cinemas.

The Portrait (2023)

Dir: Simon Ross | Cast: Natalia Córdova-Buckley, Ryan Kwanten, Virginia Madsen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar | US Thriller 

There’s an unnerving power behind Simon Ross’s feature debut – a Dorian Gray style psychodrama involving a damaged man and his wife who seems to be suffering from a syndrome called pathological grief. The Portrait is shrouded in secrets and unreliable memories but the characters feel cliched and bogus and never really make us care enough to uncover the truth. And that’s possibly the point: It appears that reality is a moveable feast in this saturnine mood piece, written and produced by David Griffiths (of Collateral Damage fame). 

After Alex (Ryan Kwanten) suffers life-changing injuries in a devastating accident his capable wife Sofia (Natalia Córdova-Buckley) becomes full time carer to her vicious catatonic husband. In the attic of their palatial Californian villa she uncovers a disarming painting, purportedly a self-portrait, of Alex’s great-grandfather Calvin – a dead ringer for her objectionable hubby. The sinister painting certainly spooks Sofia out and comes alive in nifty jumps scares. Maybe Sofia is just imagining all this – or is buried guilt surfacing from her subconscious?.

Two morose blond women then enter the fray attempting to flesh out the family backstory. They are Basic Instinct style lovers Esther and Mags (Virginia Madsen), a distant cousin of Alex. Virginia Madsen is a good actress but Mags is not her finest hour. And this is where The Portrait starts to feel less plausible and more flimsy as is edges into the realms of kitsch fantasy. 

With her impenetrable screen magnetism (and back muscles Mike Tyson would be proud of) Sofia holds it all together against the odds. But our credibility of her doting acceptance of the violent catatonic beast she has to put up with is stretched to breaking point, and that’s probably why she reaches out to the troubled gardener Brookes (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), a strong silent type who is also harbouring a weird secret under his overalls. The two have a brief liaison after Sofia invites him into the house for emotional support: “I’ve got vodka”. 

As a sinister soundtrack weighs down on us we gradually realise that Sofia is also hiding a secret that explains Alex’s attitude, and why his love and gentleness for his wife has somehow morphed into brutality. This enigma gives the film a driving force and an undeniable allure, powering it forward to a fierce finale. The Portrait is an interesting study in the timely  ‘war of narratives’. @MeredithTaylor

The Portrait is available on digital platforms from 11 December.

 

Along Came Love (2022)

Director: Katell Quillévéré | Cast: Anaïs Demoustier, Vincent Lacoste, Hélios Karyo, Morgan Bailey, Josse Capet, Paul Beaurepaire, Margot Ringard Oldra | France, Drama 125′

Katell Quillévére, best known for her heart-rending 2013 drama Heal the Living, really knows how to bring beauty and intense emotion to the screen without shying away from difficult themes. The opening titles of her latest film Along Came Love (Le Temps d’aimer) show archive footage of the public humiliation of French women or ‘collabos’ who engaged with German soldiers during the Second World War. Rather like the ‘tarring and feathering’ carried out by the IRA on women suspected of involvement with British forces during the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland these reflect  the unspeakable face of misogyny. What follows, by contrast, is a poignant and ravishingly depicted love story starring Anaïs Demoustier and Vincent Lacoste and set in Brittany in 1947. Despite its unevenness in chronicling four decades of their life, Along Came Love will win your heart.

Demoustier is Madeleine, a collabo whose young son Daniel (Hélios Karyo) is the result of a brief affair with a German soldier. Disgraced and desperate to escape the past she is working as a waitress in a seaside restaurant where she meets François (Vincent Lacoste) a wealthy intellectual, bashful in his beret and dapper navy suit. Madeleine is decked out in Breton national costume with a starched white headdress that certainly adds to her allure. Love is in the air and Francois orders two glasses of champagne, one he offers to her.

The director and her co-writer Gilles Taurand don’t quite manage to keep us convinced of their fraught story during the film’s two hour running time. There are certainly bursts of intensity to the fractious wartime marriage but also times where melodrama takes over and leaves us confused: intellectually and sexually, the two appear to misfire – Francois is an old school academic, Madeleine a somewhat lightweight character given to a flirtatiousness that seems inconsistent with the couple’s supposed romantic bliss which sends them down the aisle and then to his spacious apartment in Paris.

Life in the capital is often turbulent and this conflict plays out during the time the couple have fled Paris and are living in Châteauroux during the 1950s, where they run a bar frequented by American GI’s from a nearby military base. Here they meet and become involved in a ‘menage a trois’ with a Black soldier named Jimmy (Morgan Bailey) who fires up their sexual fantasies with his lusty corpulence. But the affair between them feels gauche and unconvincing. In contrast Madeleine’s relationship with her son (played as a young man by Paul Beaurepaire) seems much more authentic. All in all, Demoustier and Lacoste manage to carry the film through these awkward moments and into the 1960s and 1970s where her stylish rigouts accurately reflect the times as the story builds to its devastating conclusion.

During his studies François had apparently had an illicit affair with a male student who comes back to haunt him in a dramatic turns of events involving arson and the authorities. Nobody wants to be in trouble with the French police but soon the inevitable occurs and Francois is taken away.

All this feels less authentic than Madeleine’s more reasonable backstory, based, apparently, on the life of Quillévéré’s own grandmother. With its echoes of Douglas Sirk’s 1958 outing A Time to Love and a Time to Die this arthouse melodrama from the Ivorian director is certainly a welcome addition but not one of her best. @MeredithTaylor

Perfect Days (2023)

Dir: Wim Wenders | Cast: Koji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Arisa Nakano, Yumi Aso | Drama 123′

Wim Wenders’ latest cinematic sortie celebrates the simple pleasures in life seen through the day to day existence of a lavatory attendant in Tokyo, where these facilities are a genuine art form kept immaculately clean by this elegant janitor.

Perfect Days has the same gentle rhythms and sympathetic quirkiness as Paris Texas but this time the main character is at peace with his modest lifestyle. Late middle age finds Hirayama satisfied with the status quo and able to embrace change when it makes a welcome appearance, and not disappointed when it goes away again. Recognise this person in yourself? Then Perfect Days is your film.

Koji Yakusho is a joy to behold and his captivating presence (as Hirayama) radiates throughout the film drawing us into a delightful fable where life just bobs along contentedly in a state of grace often called ‘flow’. Hirayama finds his happiness in music, books, food and photography.

Wim Wenders has long been fascinated by cities: and Tokyo has frequently come under his radar: his stylish1980s documentary Notebook On Cities And Clothes also ponders creative potential. And here the focus of his protagonist’s days is the lavatory: form and function. And Tokyo’s water closets are the most inventively designed, and arguably the most pristine known to mankind, largely thanks to Hirayama and the locals whose sense of awareness and civilisation is second to none, public ablutions-wise.

More a philosophical meditation than a drama Perfect Days is nonetheless mesmerising. It brings the veteran German director’s technique and lightness of touch together with a vital ingredient that makes him one of film’s geniuses. Effortless and minimalism, this is a magical concoction, a meaning-of-life feature that gets to the very heart of human existence with its sheer simplicity. It could also bore the pants off mainstream audiences with its ‘nothing-really-happens’ banality.

A typical day for Hirayama sees him waking at dawn in his spartan apartment where he shaves and sips tea before slipping into his ‘Tokyo Toilets’ overalls for the drive to work. Despite a menial job he cuts a dapper figure in his blue cotton jumpsuit and seems cheerful in his endeavour: to keep the capital’s lavatories spotless. A goofy young colleague Takashi (Tokio Emoto) frets and moans about his love life and lack of money, but that ship has long sailed for Hirayama, these issues no longer concern him.

Music is his companion and we enjoy a score of iconic ’60s tunes, most significantly Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Days’, which gives the film its title, along with Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones. Lunch and dinner are enjoyed with his regular bartenders, and here Wenders conjures up a culinary essence of contemporary Tokyo. Hirayama also enjoys photography; trees are of particular interest, and he takes cuttings from root stock potting the perfect little shoots, complete with soil, with the help of a paper container kept conveniently in his wallet. After a wash in the communal baths he beds down on his futon where he reads to the light of Tokyo’s neon illuminations. His dream-life is delicately etched in black and white montages evoking the Japanese concept of ‘komorebi’ and created by the director’s wife Donata Wenders.

Alone but not lonely and totally at ease with himself, Hirayama barely utters a word throughout but engages volubly when the need arises, as with Mama (Sayuri Ishikawa), a middle-aged woman who runs a noodle bar he often visits. His niece Niko (Arisa Nakano) makes a brief appearance, providing a welcome female presence in Hirayama’s life and fleshing out a backstory that speaks volumes. He looks on with a philosophical, knowing shrug of the shoulders when her mother arrives.

Tokyo is very much a character here beautifully captured by Franz Lustig’s perfect camerawork. The final sequence of Hirayama’s facial expressions as he drives through the night provides a charismatic valediction to a memorable but slender snapshot of a satisfying life. @MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

East of Elephant Rock (1978)

Dir/Wri: Don Boyd John Hurt, Christopher Cazenove, Judy Bowker, Jeremy Kemp, Anton Rogers | UK Drama

Don Boyd produced some of the most ambitious but foolhardy British films of the seventies and eighties. Leonard Maltin gave this typically eccentric attempt by him at direction shot in Sri Lanka (in which he displays a bizarre penchant for slow zooms and fisheye lenses) a ‘BOMB’ rating; but it can be enjoyed in a similar spirit to a ‘Ripping Yarns’ parody of ‘The Letter’ (naturally set in a rubber plantation) full of sybaritic Brits like gruff zenophobe Jeremy Kemp, clipped Christopher Casenove as a fellow called Proudfoot and an ethereal Judi Bowker who inflames the passion of a youthful John Hurt.

The biggest surprise is the music credit for Peter Skellern, although surprise turns to horror when he actually contributes a couple of songs. @RichardChatten

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE

Wonka (2023)

Dir: Paul King | Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant, Paterson Joseph, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, Matt Lucas, Jim Carter | Musical 112’

Wonka is a charming sugar-coated candy-coloured confection fizzing with fun that reminds us that Christmastide should be a time of goodwill and joie de vivre rather than stress and family contretemps. Charming and hummable it may be but Wonka is an instantly forgettable Christmas crowdpleaser that will blow away with the tinsel once the Christmas decs are back in their boxes.

Timothee Chalamet at the 81st Golden Globes | photo credit Benny Askinas

 

Graced by a delightful cast: Timothee Chalemet is the standout with his androgynous charm and delicatesse in a surreal turn as the legendary Willy Wonka of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who, according to its creator Roald Dahl, purportedly invented the best chocolate. Of course we all know that’s Cadbury’s – but no one likes to admit it.

Johnny Depp was a big hit in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005, after Mel Stuart delivered the first cinematic sensation with Gene Wilder in the main role in 1971. But rather than opting for another version of Dahl’s 1964 classic book, Warner Bros offers up a prequel original story taking us back to Wonka’s genesis with themes of class warfare and the glass ceiling.

Wonka‘s focus is that dreams can come true and offers inspiration for today’s young entrepreneurs. It goes behind the original story to picture a youngster from modest means whose dreams, ideas and determination will make him an international superstar – aided by his best friend Noodle (Calah Lane). Every bit a story of modern times, it sees Wonka come up against the establishment of chocolatiers whose delicious fare is reserved for the rich.

Nathan Crowley’s set design is magical and Joby Talbot, the composer behind the catchy title music for the BBC’s League of Gentleman, has created a memorable original score. Listen with your eyes shut and there’s nothing captivating about Simon Farnaby and Paul King’s script, despite expectations. So just enjoy the fabulous camerawork and the entertaining cast who bring it all to life despite the messy storyline: Olivia Colman (as Mrs Scrubbit), Hugh Grant (as Oompa Loompa), Rowan Atkinson (as Father Julius) and Peterson Joseph (as Arthur Slugworth) . Wonka is certainly eye-catching but if you’re looking for a more amusing Christmas movie this yuletide, I’d go for Your Christmas or Mine 2. @MeredithTaylor

FROM 8 DECEMBER 2023

Sexy Beast (2000)

Dir: Jonathan Glazer | Cast: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Amanda Redman, James Fox, Ian MacShane  | UK Thriller 89’

The story of professional crook called back for one last job is one of the perennial themes of the gangster film. A long way from the terseness and glamour of the classics of the thirties, the opening scene with the boulder rolling into the swimming pool establishes from the get-go that the events depicted in ‘Sexy Beast’ are as much a dream as a nightmare.

Unlike the fast-talking sharply-dressed Hollywood prototype, Ray Winstone’s gangster is an uncouth oaf who discovers the hard way he has more to fear from his associates – represented by bullet-headed troll Ben Kingsley – than the long arm of the law.

A startlingly brunette Amanda Redman makes an all-too-rare appearance on the big screen; while ‘Performance’ and ‘Villain’ are evoked by the presence of James Fox and a very saturnine Ian MacShane.

Along with Get Carter and Long Good Friday, Jonathan Glazer’s feature debut, written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, represents the best in British crime thrillers. But unlike Mike Hodges and John MacKenzie, who have sadly now left us, Glazer’s star is still in the ascendent. @RichardChatten

ON PRIME VIDEO

The Red Shoes (1948)

Dir: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger | Cast: Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann | Musical Drama 135′

A huge event both at the box office and in the development of Technicolour (all the better to showcase Moira Shearer’s ravishing red hair), but –  like the impresario himself – played by Anton Walbrook elegant but sorely lacking the soul of Powell & Pressburger’s earlier productions.

There’s long been a school of thought that Pressburger was the brain behind the two, but he should also take the blame for the pretension that increasingly overwhelmed their films, while Powell’s skill at organising the various elements and his smooth use of trick photography, like Busby Berkeley, creates a sumptuous experience which supposedly takes place in the world of theatre but is truly a work of cinema @RichardChatten

ON RE-RELEASE AT THE BFI LONDON SOUTHBANK | GARDEN CINEMA WI | LUMIERE CINEMAS SW7

Anselm (2023)

Dir.: Wim Wenders; Documentary with Anslem Kiefer, Daniel Kiefer, Anton Wenders; Germany 2023, 93 min.

To call Wim Wenders’ portrait of German artist Anselm Kiefer a documentary would be selling the work of both artists short. Anselm is a potted history of post war Germany, rooted in the society where both men were born, in 1945. Neither of them escaped unhurt even though Kiefer, a more confrontational character than Wenders, took the brunt of criticism.

But “Das Rauschen der Zeit” is first and foremost a chronicle of a country still not ready to face its racist past. Their output is shrouded in enigma and ambivalence. There is always confusion and reverie: Wenders’ American set films and Kiefer’s French based creations are flights of imagination. But the shadow of the Third Reich looms large, and cannot be negotiated with art or gestures.

Anselm Kiefer, represented as a young man by Daniel Kiefer and as a school boy by Anton Wenders, gained prominence in 1971 as Joseph Beuys’ master student in Dusseldorf. This was followed by a scandal in Venice, at the Biennale in 1980, when Kiefer was accused of being a neo-Nazi, with him insisting he just wanted to refer to the victims of the Holocaust, wearing his father’s Wehrmacht’s Uniform and greeting the public with the Nazi salute. In 2022 Kiefer would make a triumphant return to the city.

But by now his work output was colossal – both in yield and form: He created topographic landscapes in an old brick factory in Germany, and landscapes in the South of France. And he continues to this day with mega installations in his new studio in Croissy near Paris. There are architectural constructions, numerous pavilions, underground crypts and a gigantic, roofed amphitheatre. Everything is larger than life, and Kiefer is still at it, in a big way, always moving forward to the next project. Flame throwers are his favourite “weapons” of art, giant lift constructions lead him to the top of the world. Literally.

Then we return to the beginning with Paul Celan (1920 – 1970), holocaust survivor, poet and translator, who drowned himself in the Seine. The author Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1976) a member of the circle of artists striving for a new beginning, not another cover-up. She died in an “accidental” fire in her own bed. But they were outnumbered by the ex-Nazi supporters who went into “inner exile” while still supporting the regime, like the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), who never apologised or even tried to explain. There is a moving snapshot of Celan trying to meet Heidegger – but like Richard Strauss, leader of the NSDAP “ReichsmusikKammer” (Musicians had to be Aryans to take part), Heidegger could not even be bothered to say sorry, keeping his international reputation intact.

There is brilliance on both sides of the camera, thanks to DoP Franz Lustig, and it is a credit to both artists to return to the failed new beginning, because the huge majority of Germans preferred to feel sorry for themselves and were busy with collective denial. Wenders and Kiefer are still attempting to evade the past. But try as they may, it still outruns them. @AndreSimonoveisz

IN CINEMAS FROM 8 DECEMBER 2023

Freud’s Last Session (2023)

Dir/Wri: Matthew Brown | Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Matthew Goode | US Drama

Sigmund Freud and C S Lewis debate the existence of God in this provocative imagined drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Goode, and based on a play by Mark St Germain that became a hit off Broadway.

When Hopkins played the English theologian and writer in Shadowlands he reduced audiences to tears with his earnest attempt to court Debra Winger’s dying writer Joy Gresham. In Matt Brown’s two-gander Matthew Goode is dapper and indulgent as C S Lewis and Hopkins, his sparring partner, is spiky and reticent in his final years as the legendary shrink.

The American director and writer collaborates with the play’s writer decide to spice things up by incorporating flash back episodes of Lewis’ life in the trenches and this often derails the already engaging exchange of informed views, detracting from the film’s natural dramatic thrust. Sometimes linear narratives work best, and that is arguably the case here. On the other hand, the writers’ decision to probe Freud’s backstory with his daughter Anna adds an informative touch in an intelligent foray into the young woman’s Electra complex: Interestingly the theory belonged to his Swiss colleague Carl Jung. @MeredithTaylor

COMING TO UK CINEMAS IN 2024

Lost in the Night (2023)

Dir: Amat Escalante | Cast: Juan Daniel Garcia, Ester Expósito, Barbara Mori, Fernando Bonilla, Hero Medina, Vicky Araico | Thriller 120′

The rich and the poor have a Mexican standoff in this Neo western – and no prizes for guessing who wins the day. Amat Escalante first arrived on the scene with his shocking feature debut Heli. Lost in the Night is a muddled murder mystery that looks spectacular but leaves us in the dark for most its running time. A pervasive sense of uneasiness gradually gains momentum in the final stages but some questions are left unanswered in a quietly savage tale of revenge that simmers in Adrian Durazo’s widescreen landscapes of the craggy Guanajuato setting.

Juan Daniel Garcia is Emiliano, the hero of the piece. This morose Mexican macho is motivated by a keen sense of justice. He is a serious man with a mission: to shed light on the fate of his pioneering mother (Araico) who disappeared after campaigning against the sale of the local mine to foreign investors and the contingent job losses. And he soon tracks down his suspect, an effete conceptual artist called Rigoberto (Bonilla), who hangs out in this stark backwater, postering around a curious concrete lakeside villa with his steely wife Carmen (Barbara Mori) and her influencer daughter Mónica (Ester Expósito), whose speciality is fake suicide videos. The local police, headed by Jero Medina, are not fit for purpose so Emiliano makes his own investigations by offering to work undercover as the family caretaker.

Emiliano represents solid values, Rigoberto all that is spurious in this world: his most famous work conceptualises dead Mexican bodies. But Escalante’s narrative often gets bogged down in these modernising themes derailing the story from its central focus and stretching the film rather too thinly over its two hour running time. Emiliano’s female equivalent Jasmin (Mafer Osio) is a traditional Mexican ‘madonna’ who offers him tenderness but never really gets a look in. Monica throws herself at him, turned on by his strong silent earnestness. At one point he dives in and rescues her from the lake after one of her more petulant displays of narcissism. So an interesting addition to the Escalante archive but not one of his most memorable. MT

NOW IN UK Cinemas

https://youtu.be/S38sRUvJjYs

 

Sweet Sue (2023)

Dir/Wri: Leo Leigh | Cast: Maggie O’Neill, Tony Pitts, Harry Trevaldwyn, Anthony Adjekum, Anna Calder-Marshall, James Dryden | UK Comedy Drama 99′

After a shaky start with Loony in the Woods and his short documentary Fact of Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler, Leo Leigh, Alison Steadman and Mike Leigh, finally finds his feet with this confident comedy drama.

Sweet Sue makes for an amusing feature debut capturing the sardonic resentment of a bereaved English family with the same signature brand of snarky deadpan humour of his parents.

Of course Sue, a sparky Maggie O’Neill, is anything but sweet: and we soon realise why, but that’s all part of the irony. The film opens with another dating disappointment for Sue, a fifty-something singleton, whose has just been stood up in the local pub. Meanwhile, in the now familiar setting of a care home her younger brother, Pete, is in the final stages of an undignified death, comforted by his wife, (Hannah Walters) who clearly resents Sue’s continued lack of input in the matter. The two of them bicker bedside while Pete gobs uncontrollably into a tissue. The next scene sees his funeral cortege pulling out of a driveway with a ghastly floral tribute of pastel chrysanthemums bearing the name ‘Pete’ adorning the hearse. The petty bickering flares up later in the pub – this ‘close family’ is clearly far from close, Sue’s mum chunters away under her breath, and Pete’s widow once again bemoans Sue’s lack of support. Breaking away from the morose duo Sue strikes up a conversion at the bar with a tight-lipped, leather-clad biker who introduces himself as Ron. The two promptly leave, Sue preparing to ride pillion with her potential paramour, Pete’s widow objecting loudly as the two make off

The story proceeds along similar lines as we get to know them all better, Sue is assertively bubbly while Ron remains locked in his monosyllabic old-school masculinity. Anthony, his rather narcissistic son, is a thoroughly modern character, and Trevaldwyn certainly plays up his personality traits to perfection. Ron, by his very nature, remains the most enigmatic character here, and we are left wondering whether Sue will make a go of things this time: there’s clearly a sexual frisson despite their chalk and cheese differences. Sweet Sue maybe not be groundbreaking narrative wise but it certainly has a ring of truth for those familiar with the dysfunctional family territory. @MeredithTaylor

IN UK AND IRISH CINEMAS from 22 December 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Napoleon (2023)

Dir: Ridley Scott | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Tahar Rahim, Rupert Everett, Paul Rees, Ben Miles, Ludivine Sagnier, Edouard Philipponnat | UK Drama 158′

Napoleon is a rather gloomy epic that mourns its French hero in misty landscapes, robust parliamentary debates, bloody battle scenes and sorrowful domestic settings where a doomed love story plays out amid gilded trophies and treasures.

Ridley Scott creates a sprawling two and a half hour feature that is more impressive than involving although Phoenix is compelling throughout as a flawed hero and likeable rogue, despite his American delivery: a soulful and mercurial figure whose private life never quite attains the glorious success of his strategic prowess as French military leader and emperor in various campaigns. Most notable is the Siege of Toulon, where he captures the port city from the English in the film’s opening stages, to his most significant triumph at the battle of Austerlitz with its atmospheric widescreen images of soldiers and horses plunging silently into the depths of a frozen lake where their blood mingles evocatively with the icy water. Scott lists Napoleon’s less admirable achievement in the film’s final title sequence that makes for grim reading with its tragic loss of life running into thousands; and this is probably one of the reasons why French critics have condemned the film.

Josephine, an imperious Vanessa Kirby, has managed to reinvent herself as Napoleon’s witty new wife. But despite her considerable talents as a patron of the arts and their torrid sex life and genuine love for each other, Napoleon choses to divorce her in favour of his country because, Josephine, six years older than him and in her second marriage, is unable to provide him with an heir. She is banished to the murky palace of Malmaison, Rueil, where she dies of diphtheria, Napoleon arriving too late to say a final farewell. The emperor, in turn, is deemed a threat to the security of Europe, and ends his days in the remote outpost of Saint Helena after a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, having previously returned from Elba.

Ambitious and informative, David Scarpa’s well-paced script straddles three decades, from the final stages of the French Revolution in 1793 until Napoleon’s death in May 1821. The guillotining of Marie Antoinette makes for a captivating opening sequence. We watch her being clamped onto the base of the guillotine before the blade is unleashed from its moorings slicing cleanly through her neck, the executioner dangling her bleeding head by the hair as the baying crowd roars.

Next comes Robespierre’s fate in parliament bringing an end to the Reign of Terror. This political instability offers Napoleon the ideal opportunity to surge up as a masterful strategist and architect of the Republic, crowning himself Emperor in 1804. At continuous loggerheads with England he tries to forge a pact with Prussia and Austria, which proves unsuccessful, and leads to heavy losses in Russia. Abdicating, he then heads for the Island of Elba, returning to France where he suffers a debilitating defeat against the Duke of Wellington’s army in alliance with Prussian Forces at Waterloo. And here Rupert Everett shines as a drole, rather foppish caricature of English aristocracy.

Stanley Kubrick would be proud of the film’s immaculate battle set pieces particularly at Waterloo, and there are some enjoyable support performances from Paul Rhys at Talleyrand, Edouard Philipponnat as Tsar Alexander, who is seen to enjoy a brief dalliance with Josephine, John Hollingworth as Marshal Ney and Richard McCabe as Lord Whitworth. But Napoleon belongs to its star Joaquin Phoenix who exudes strength and humanity despite his human flaws. @MeredithTaylor

NOW IN CINEMAS

 

The Peasants (2023)

Dirs/scr: DK Welchman, Hugh Welchman. Poland/Serbia/Lithuania |  114′

Poland’s Academy Award 2024 hopeful is another animated portrait from directing duo DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman who won an Oscar nomination for their painterly drama about Vincent Van Gogh Loving Vincent.

Based on novel from Nobel prize winner Wladyslaw Reymont this is a tale of love and revenge set in a 19th century Polish village of peasant farmers. The narrative reworks themes of male dominance in that are still relevant today, a century later: women, especially good-looking ones, are expected to submit to the subconscious will of men, and are punished, psychologically or materially, if they refuse to toe the line.

The focus here is beautiful young Jagna (Kamila Urzedowska) who refuses to conform to traditional village life and finds herself increasingly at odds with women who are envious of her power and beauty, and men who are desperate to bed her. Jagna tolerates a loveless marriage to a controlling much older husband Boryna (Miroslaw Baka) by having an affair with his estranged married son Antek (Robert Gulaczyk) and escaping into a creative world of her own, representated by bird motifs.

Capturing the seasons of the year in a pre-revolutionary Poland, the directors combine pencil sketches, expressionist brush work and photographic realism, blending oil paintings from Polish 19th artists: Michal Gorstkin-Wywiorski, Ferdynand Ruszczyc and Jozef Chelmonski over live-action footage of actors to create another fluid animated drama that feels contemporary while rooted firmly in the past. @MeredithTaylor

IN UK CINEMAS from 8 December from Vertigo Releasing | The Peasants is Poland’s Academy submission 2024

Castaway (1986)

Dir: Nicolas Roeg | Cast: Oliver Reed, Amanda Donohoe, Georgina Hale, Frances Barber | UK drama 117’

The most striking scenes in ‘Castaway’ are the first twenty minutes depicting a drab eighties London. What follows is a pale shadow of ‘Michael Powell’s Age of Consent, which was set in Australia; although Powell’s earlier film doesn’t boast a pair of nuns in the comely form of Georgina Hale and Frances Barber (looking far tastier fully-clothed than Amanda Donohoe in the all-together).

Miss Donohoe is supposed to be a lover of old movies (she’s seen watching Peter Finch on the telly), which makes it rather surprising that she doesn’t turn tail and flee the moment she sees that her prospective companion is Olly Reed (who progressively looks more and more like a ginger Jabba the Hutt as the film develops), whose idea of a smooth come-on is “A screw and a cold beer is at the moment the summit of my ambition!”; so its hardly surprising they make such an argumentative pair (especially as she gets more turned on when he talks about food rather than sex).

Naturally as shot by Nicolas Roeg it all looks very impressive but their constant squabbling rapidly gets very monotonous. @RichardChatten 

The Taste of Things (2023)

Dir Anh Hung Tran | cast: Juliette Binoche, Benoit Magimel, Pierre Gagnaire | Drama | France, 135′

One time lovers Juliette Binoche and Benoit Magimel re-unite for a sumptuous feast of the senses that sees gastronomy as a conduit for a long lasting celebration. The French Vietnamese filmmaker first came to Cannes twenty years ago with his ravishing feature debut Scent of Green Papaya that won the Camera d’Or.

The Taste of Things, his seventh feature, adapted from Marcel Rouff’s 1924 novel The Life And Passion of Dodin-Bouffant is set in France in the late 19th century, the film follows the life of Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel) as a renownd chef living with his personal cook and lover Eugénie (Juliette Binoche). Eugénie and Dodin share a long history of gastronomy and love. While emotions remain restrained, their culinary discoveries are lavish and exquisite. The only sadness for Dodin is that Eugénie refuses to marry him. So, the food lover decides to do something he has never done before: cook for her.

This delicious romantic drama also serves as a discursive entrée into French culinary history as post prandial conversion drifts into the domaine of gastronomic greats Marie-Antoine Carême and Georges Auguste Escoffier both respected as ‘king of chefs and chef of kings’ of French haute cuisine. And their dishes are sensuously prepared by Binoche and her assistants: a mouth-watering vol au vent  – you can almost taste the cream oozing out of it – followed by tenderly poached quails and an omelette Norvégienne otherwise known more prosaically as Baked Alaska and, of course wines accompany these dishes.

We first meet Eugenie (Binoche) in her kitchen garden on a blissful summer’s morning chosing a fresh lettuce for a mouth-watering meal of lavish proportions. Dodin (Magimel) and his guests will savour at their leisure later on at lunch. Every dish is a work of art created from a basis of fresh local ingredients in season. But the film also symbolises a wider appreciation of the simple pleasures in life we often take for granted such as the intense anticipation of a tempting  dinner or the satisfying sensuality of long-lasting desire.

Eugenie luxuriates in the quiet pleasure of cooking and enjoying time spent with Dodin over the twenty years of their life together. Their epicurean partnership has gradually led to the bedroom where occasionally the two indulge in the realm of the senses that extends beyond the purely culinary.

But Dodin wants to formalise the arrangement with marriage. And is also concerned for Eugenie’s well-being and her failing health. Slowly he takes over in the kitchen preparing the food as an act of affection and appreciation he feels for her in their relationship of mutual respect and dedication. And the act of successful courtship, like the preparation of a luscious dish, requires patience and meticulous timing, a heavy-handed approach may ruin the chemistry, but he must keep the pot simmering in this delicate dance of love that is typically French. @MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL Winner Best Director | France’s Academy Award Entry 2024 | IN COMPETITION 2023

 

Bandido (1956)

Dir: Richard Fleischer | Cast: Robert Mitchum, Ursula Thiess, Gilbert Roland, Zachary Scott | US Action Drama 92’

In his memoirs director Richard Fleischer gave a harrowing account of the horrors of filming in Mexico beset with insect stings and upset stomachs. The film itself takes its lead from leading actor Robert Mitchum by being much more light-hearted than Fleischer’s account would have lead you to expect.

In its rollicking picture of Mexico as a place in which lead is constantly flying (none of it naturally hitting our Bob) it rather recalls the Harold Lloyd comedy ‘Why Worry?’; a piece of advice that Mitchum obviously took to heart.

Apart from Mitchum himself the most interesting member of the cast is probably veteran Mexican heavy Miguel Inclain, who was deeply touching in ‘Salon Mexico’ and briefly appears late in the film as a priest. @RichardChatten

May December (2023)

Dir: Todd Haynes | Cast: Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, Chris Tenzis, Charles Melton | US Drama 117′

May December could well be one of the masterworks about the way paedophilia impacts on relationships and family life. It is the confident latest film from Todd Haynes who began as a key figure of the 1990’s New Queer Canadian Cinema with films such as Poison, The Karen Carpenter Story, Safe and Velvet Goldmine. Working with a talented cast and crew, actor Julianne Moore and producer Christine Vachon showcase the power of a mature director in full command of his filmmaking craft.

The film is not an easy watch for those who find difficult subjects uncomfortable in an entertainment context although there is a duty for fearless artists to interrogate challenging subject matter. May December certainly does this and provides a deeply moving and affecting study of the secrets, lies and deceptions that exist even within close relationships.

The title is a play on the seasons of the year reflecting the romantic relationship between two people of different ages, and linking spring – that comes with youth – through to the eventual winter of old age. This connection with the seasons echoes Alexander Singer’s criminally undervalued 1961 film A Cold Wind in August about the relationship between an ageing stripper and a much younger man; as well as Catherine Breillet’s latest feature Last Summer (2023) that sees a married woman toy with her young stepson without serious emotional intentions.

There is a difference here. Once Haynes lifts the lid off the various themes nothing will be the same again for his wide range of players and characters. The plot is straightforward and based in reality, echoing the true 1990s story of 36-year-old Mary Kay Letourneau who left her husband and family after being convicted and jailed due to her relationship with a 13-year-old boy. On release from prison, she married the young man and formed a new family and a cosy, respectable and conventional middle-class life.

At this point in the narrative Haynes introduces melodrama. The mother (Moore) commissions an indie film that will tell her story and, hopefully, reveal honest truths about what had happened years previously. The film begins with a visit from Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) the actor chosen to play Julianne Moore’s dysfunctional character Gracie, in an attempt to understand everyone involved in this extended family life. The coming together of the first family and the children from the second marriage, during a graduation ceremony weekend, is beautifully handled with sly humour while revealing a feature of complex resonances.

The film offers a powerhouse challenge for Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman as the women involved, and recalls the work of George Cukor,  another gay filmmaker at ease working with female actors and handling themes involving women. Julianne Moore has the more grounded role as the mother/wife, enabling her to invest her character with more backstory involving childhood abuse trauma that in later life could have manifested in an arrested state of childhood as the source of her original transgressive relationship with the 13-year-old boy. Haynes heightens this with her, now adult, younger husband who is beginning to realise he has missed out on a full experience of life, and revealing that May/December relationships can bring problems later on involving missed and lost opportunities.

Natalie Portman may have the more difficult but also revealing role as Elizabeth. She has a less defined past suggestive of being mildly lonely and only moderately successful. This is all left open but heightens the contrast between both characters: Elizabeth appears to be shadowing Gracie with a form of imitation that reveals how a mix of identity issues and role-playing can be very dangerous. One sequence is particularly revealing and offers a  masterclass in skilful technique and razor-edge emotional precision: The two women face each other, seemingly stripped bare of their respective personas.

Another aspect of the film’s power involves Haynes’ well-documented understanding of the 1950s Hollywood cinema of Douglas Sirk. The visual style is mostly melancholy with muted greys and browns and none of Sirk’s expressionistic colour lighting, although there is a similar sense of framing and space involving settings and characters. Also relevant here are Sirk’s themes involving theatrical illusion, patriarchal values and forbidden love – which threaten familiar and social conventions – in a ‘let’s pretend we are all nice’ middle-class setting bringing to mind All that Heaven Allows (1955).

There are many other intriguing and poignant scenes that are best left for viewers to experience. If you are wondering why the beautiful score by Marcelo Zarvos includes sonorous chords of music in a French style, this is because the music incorporates Michel Legrand’s score for Joseph Losey’s film The Go Between. The reference may be intentional as May December is another insight into the myriad ways a child’s life can provide complex links into adult lives. @PeterHerbert

NOVEMBER 17 in cinemas and on SKY CINEMA DEC 8

PETER HERBERT is Curator Manager at THE ARTS PROJECT

Twice upon a Time (1953) Powell + Pressburger Season

Dir: Emeric Pressburger | Cast: Hugh Williams, Elizabeth Allan, Jack Hawkins, Yolande Larthe | Drama 85′

After filming wrapped in 1953 Emeric Pressburger never wanted to think about Twice Upon A Time again, so onerous was the task of making it. The same fate had befallen such cinematic Cinderellas as Hitchcock’s Waltzes from Vienna and Bergman’s It Can’t Happen Here.

Based on the novel by Erich Kastner – originally filmed in 1950 and remade by Disney eight years later as The Parent Trap – it’s a far more succinct drama that avoids the initial enmity that wasted so much time in the later film.

Michael Powell never bothered to watch Twice Upon a Time, Pressburger never mentioned it again, and it was not included in the National Film Theatre’s Powell & Pressburger retrospective of 1978. Kevin Macdonald (in his 1994 biography) declared that “Today no print of Twice Upon a Time is available” and there isn’t a single review on the IMDb. This means that the  screening at BFI Southbank on 6th November 2023 was the first in seventy years.

As for the film itself it comes as a charming surprise: Beautifully shot on location by Christopher Challis with characteristically whimsical narration by Jack Hawkins who also stars as Dr Mathews. @RichardChattten

BFI’S POWELL + PRESSBURGER SEASON | NOVEMBER 2023

Seaside Special (2022)

Dir: Jens Meurer | Germany Doc

A warm and well-balanced view of Brexit Britain is expressed by the people of Cromer, Norfolk in this delightful documentary made by a German, no less!

Famous for its seafood, especially crabs – and wonderful sandy beaches Cromer is also home to a summer end-of-the-pier show that runs for three months – to packed audiences – twice a day! And this gives Jens Meurer – whose in-laws are English – the perfect setting for a sunny expose of the most divisive political and social event in our recent island history. Meurer offers a very human story seen by the people, and for the people. Politicians or local councillors are thankfully nowhere to be seen.

Shot on 16mm and intended for big screen viewing in a collective atmosphere Seaside Special turns out to be nostalgic and surprisingly entertaining in showing English life at its best through a variety of idiosyncratic Brits who are putting their best foot forward to make both the show (and Brexit) a success in spite of their conflicting views: ‘Hoping for the best but planning for the worst’, as Boris Johnson famously once said.

It may be modest in its provincial setting but the summer variety show is no amateur dramatic affair; it certainly punches above its weight and the quality acts look and feel really professional. And what also makes this and the show so endearing is the human angle. Real people with honest, unpredictable and often refreshing views imaginatively captured in Meurer’s lens. @MeredithTaylor

Seaside Special is in UK and Irish cinemas on 10 November 2023

Fingernails (2023)

Dir; Christos Nikou | Cast: Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, James Allen White | Drama

Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed are the stars of this ponderous futuristic drama from Greek director Christos Nikou who tries to nail down that ephemeral thing called love.

Chemistry-wise Anna (Buckley) and Amir (Ahmed) hit the jackpot with 100% when taking a test to prove their viability as a love match. There’s only one problem – Buckley already has a positive score with her long term partner Ryan (James Allen White), although their relationship has now lost its spark.

Fingernails is certainly intriguing premise-wise but suffers the same airless inertia that dogged Nikou’s first feature Apples – although that film swept the board on the international film festival circuit with its inventive and whimsical look at amnesia.

Nikou, who co-wrote the screenplay, at least succeeds in demonstrating that AI and computer testing are not infallible and that human chemistry and its wonders still rest in the ether. And that’s the positive takeaway, along with two more enjoyable performances from Buckley and Ahmed. @MeredithTaylor

In select cinemas, and streaming globally on Apple TV+, from November 3rd

Macbeth (1948)

Dir: Orson Welles | Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy, Roddy McDowall | US Drama 107′

Unlike Orson Welles’s later unorthodox adaptations of Shakespeare shot in far flung locations abroad ‘Macbeth’ was dashed off in Hollywood in 23 days on a budget of less than $900,000 the unapologetically commercial outfit Republic (whose logo it comes as quite a shock to see at the conclusion).

The end result was murky even by Welles’s standards, full of incongruously varied accents (as you would expect from a cast that includes both Dan O’Herlihy and Roddy McDowall), not least Welles’s own. (Poor Jeanette Nolan’s Lady Macbeth has taken a lot of flack over the years, but personally I think she’s pretty effective.)

Jacques Ibert’s score is quite impressive, and appropriately manages to include bagpipes. Welles plainly knew his Eisenstein and while the sets looks if they were left over from an episode of ‘Star Trek’ John Russell lights them for maximum effect’; and in Welles himself – still quite light on his feet in those days – it of course possesses a truly formidable protagonist.@RichardChatten

 

Fanny: the other Mendelssohn (2023)

Wri/Dir: Sheila Hayman | Doc 97′

Raising the profile of yet another uncelebrated musical genius, a new documentary unveils the little known story of Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847). This could have been just another worthy study of female endeavour but BAFTA-winning filmmaker Sheila Hayman brings her great-great-great-grandmother Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel to life in an absorbing biopic that delves into the archives and crafts a juicy tale of celebrity, sibling rivalry, and hitherto undiscovered treasure.

Fanny Mendlessohn was born in Hamburg, Germany where she always took a backseat to her more famous younger brother Felix. Despite the male-dominated classical music scene of the era she still managed to compose 450 works in a life that was cut short at 42. Fanny’s masterpiece ‘The Easter Sonata’, is performed by Decca-winning pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason who enlightens us with her own challenges in the field of classical music: and it seems little has changed since the 19th century.

This lively documentary is set on location in Berlin, New York, London, Oxford and Buckingham Palace, Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn follows in the tracks of other creative female pioneers of the 19th Century: The Bronte sisters, George Sand and Berthe Morisot. All very modern women – who just happened to live several hundred years ago.@MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS

The Royal Hotel (2023)

Dir: Kitty Green | Cast: Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick, Herbert Nordrum, Dylan River | Australia, Drama 91

Set in the rugged wilderness of the Australian outback The Royal Hotel provides a twisty new turn on a genre of cinema involving forms of exorcism. This handsome-looking thriller moves on from earlier male-dominated features in the OZ exploitation genre that are generally laced with misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia, such as Ted Kotcheff’s masterly 1971 outing Wake In Fright.

There are similar themes to be found here as two young Canadian women on an Overseas Experience in Australia start to run low on funds and secure work in a remote drinking hole hotel, having travelled to the outback to replace a couple of English girls. Both find themselves having to confront a hostile environment.

Unlike the earlier films in the genre the two women and a range of other female characters, including an indigenous aborigine, are seen to find ways of elbowing out the worst traits of male behaviour. One of the men is played by Hugo Weaving in a standout performance well beyond his Priscilla Queen of the Desert days.

The film opens in a booming underground disco with a tracking shot following a young woman who has unsuccessfully chatted up a male bartender. As she leaves this pulsating darkened room the camera follows her into the bright quiet daylight of Sydney harbour. It all feels like a curious premonition that she will also become a bartender and experience both welcome and unwelcome male attention.

Melbourne-based film director Kitty Green follows up her previous film The Assistant with many beautiful visual touches. These include the contrast of an empty swimming pool with deck chairs and a sequence of jumping into outdoor water streams that serve to refresh the claustrophobia that dry arid landscapes induce in her characters. There are striking edits involving doors that open up possibilities but also shut out the unexpected. The natural beauty of a snake contrasts with what will happen to the contents of a bottled-up glass jar.

Apparently the film is based on a documentary about the real life experiences of two Canadian backpackers travelling in the Australian outback. Although the director’s observation of the women is possibly too understated or underplayed by Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick, The Royal Hotel is more likely to be viewed as a film of measured gradual chills.

The last sequence is clearly indebted to Tony Williams’ 1982 film Next Of Kin which was co-scripted by Michael Heath and voted by Tarantino as his choice for the best OZ exploitation chiller. The film earlier involved a woman battling interior demons in a gothic house and may have had more off-the-kilter chills and zany humour, but Green draws from her film a similar sense of brooding menace.

As its female protagonists look to find a way to escape from an inferno of impending hell, The Royal Hotel also employs a striking use of fire during the finale. This is a very clear homage to the earlier film while providing within the narrative a more contemporary female focused angle.@PeterHerbert

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS

A Taste of Anatolia | Turkish Film Festival 2023

Turkish cinema comes to England this November courtesy of TASTE OF ANATOLIA – the only film festival in the UK dedicated to cinema of Turkey.

Celebrating its 5th edition, the full programme is available online on the film platform Balik Arts Tv and at live ‘in person’ screenings at the Rio Cinema, London, Old Divinity School, St John’s College, Cambridge University, North London Community House in London, Refugee Workers Cultural Association in London, University of East Anglia in Norwich and Aylesbury Youth Action in Buckinghamshire, the festival stretching to four towns for the first time.

Expect to see the latest releases from the festival circuit including Black Night (2022) and Snow and the Bear (2022) that premiered at the prestigious Golden Orange Festival in Antalya on Turkey’s Mediterranean riviera.

A TASTE OF ANATOLIA

Klimt & The Kiss (2023)

Dir: Ali Ray | UK Doc

“To every age its art, to every art its freedom” Vienna Secession.

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) is one of the most recognised paintings in the world and its reproduction posters adorn student bedroom walls from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

Yet this new documentary urges us to look beyond Klimt’s often decorative style at the extraordinary motivations of the celebrated Austro-Hungarian genius whose sensual Art Nouveau creations blend ancient myths with modern eclecticism, and are more valuable today than ever before fetching top prices at international auctions. Klimt’s final painting Lady with a Fan (1918) was sold in June 2023 for £85.3 million, the highest price artwork ever sold at auction in Europe, (according to BBC News).

Klimt was one of the pioneers the ‘Jugendstil’ movement known in Vienna as the ‘secessionists’ who joined a pan-European trend of breaking away and rejecting the old school along with the British Arts and Crafts and Impressionism movements in France.

Gustav Klimt’s 19th century Vienna was a time of conflicted sexuality: in society women were corseted and buttoned up but Klimt’s louche feminine depictions are bursting with a feral sensuality that conveys women’s true nature focusing on love, desire and the cycle of life from birth to death. In his private life, Klimt clearly loved and appreciated women and often slept with his models who hung around his studio, often naked, waiting for a chance to be depicted in his iconic images, reflecting an era that was deeply misogynist.

Meanwhile his elegant portraits of wealthy society hostesses such as Adele Bloch-Bauer and Sonia Knips provided the bread and butter for his lush artistic endeavours that include prints, murals and objets d’art, often elaborated with gold leaf, silver, gilt stucco and mother of pearl. There were also symbolist paintings: Judith and the Head of Holofernes, Pallas Athene, nymphs, water serpents and mermaids. His work also included landscapes and murals such as the famous Beethoven Frieze that adorns Vienna’s Secession Building.

Women also featured heavily in his private life. The artist lived with his mother and sisters and although he never married, his long term partner, the Austrian fashion couturier and businesswoman Emilie Louise Floge, whom he also painted in 1902, shared his artistic vision and dressed in her own loosely-designed feminine creations.

Klimt developed an ornate often dreamlike style and made use of different mediums to express human truths rooted in nature, flowers and the surreal, but his sketching technique was also superb and rivals that of Picasso in its simple yet sensual marks. The impact of grief, madness, love and death on the female body provided a rich source material and formed the basis of his avantgarde work.

Filmmaker Ali Ray makes liberal use of interviews with specialists and art curators to flesh out her latest biopic for Exhibition on Film that follows on from her previous documentaries on Frida Kahlo and Mary Cassatt, the American impressionist painter (2023).

ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS from 30 OCTOBER 2023

Saltburn (2023)

Dir/Wri: Emerald Fennell | Cast: Barry Keoghan, Rosamund Pike, Jacob Elordi, Richard E. Grant, Archie Madekwe | UK Thriller 122′

Emerald Fennell follows her Oscar-winner Promising Young Woman with a wicked tale that spins on two English maxims: ‘Never Complain, Never Explain’ and ‘To Thine Own Self be True’.

Struggling to find his place at Oxford University, student Oliver Quick (Keoghan) finds himself drawn into the world of Felix Catton (Elordi), who invites him to Saltburn, his family’s Oxfordshire estate, for a summer never to be forgotten.

Once again Fennell clearly knows the territory and Saltburn is an amusingly accurate account of life for an Oxford university ‘fresher’ (first termer) seen though the eyes of Oliver who is on a (state-funded) ‘full grant’. Gifted, gauche and perceptive he may be, but the star turn here is the privileged Felix who brings a refreshingly charismatic angle to the party. Felix is not only dashingly handsome, he is also empathetic and kind, extending the hand of friendship to Felix in the light of his father’s sudden death. Not so the rest of the Catton family who are the epitome of what English upper class eccentrics are supposed to be: arrogant, supercilious and hilarious. Urbaine and feigning ennui they lounge around in their magnificent pile in the country where Sir James (Grant) and self-confessed bisexual Lady Elspeth (Pike) hold sway (“I was a lesbian for a while but it was all too wet. Men are so lovely and dry”).

Richard E Grant and Rosamund Pike take to the milieu like ducks to water, along with Paul Rhys’ tight-lipped butler Duncan. The token black bohemian guest Farleigh (Madekwe) provides eclectic grist to the mix but Carey Mulligan, the star of Promising Young Woman, only makes a guest appearance as Pamela. Anthony Willis gives this all a funky twist with his original score and there’s a subversive scene where Oliver secretly watches Felix tossing himself off in the bath, ushering in his gay credentials which are never fully explored. Is he yet to come out or just a voyeur?.  

So Keoghan has a difficult, unlikable role that doesn’t convince as the middle class misfit who comes to stay fostering malign intent and latent bisexual undertones. He certainly manages a briefly sinister moment as a belligerent bisexual with feet of clay but when it turns out that Oliver is not what he seems, the proverbial shit hits the fan.

Fennell is certainly ‘a talent to amuse’, in the words of the great Noel Coward, but her plot resolution goes haywire in the final stages with a misjudged finale that feels unconvincingly shoed-in. Dreamily captured by Linus Sandgren’s inventive camerawork this cleverly observed satire is certainly worth seeing for its superb performances. MT

AMAZON MGM from 17 November 2023

The Killer (2023)

Dir: David Fincher | Cast: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Arliss Howard | US Thriller 118′

David Fincher is back with another noir crime thriller that sees a philosophising hitman reflect on the meticulous precision and emotional detachment required for his day to day existence. But life is what happens when we’re making plans – as the saying goes – and this ‘gun for hire’ is quietly going round the bend.

Fresh from its world premiere at Venice Film Festival, The Killer, adapted from the French graphic novel by Alexis ‘Matz’ Nolent, stars Michael Fassbender as the hired assassin whose diurnal activities are voiced over by drole observations (“weakness is vulnerability”, “avoid empathy”) making this all the more intelligent and captivating, even when it descends into brutal violence. Even these scenes are sleekly choreographed in Fincher’s crisp direction and Andrew Kevin Walker’s lean script.

In the rooftops of Paris the unnamed killer is staking his target out, Day of the Jackal style. But too much time spent in preparation can often impact on performance. And this is one of the twists in a tale that sees the hitman running to keep still, as we soon discover: The Killer is an intellectual performance rather than a plot-driven one.

Sadly, a woman – his girlfriend (Monique Ganderton) – gets in the way of his day job after a home invasion goes wrong, and this blows our hero off course leading him on a peripatetic journey to the Caribbean, New York, Chicago, Florida and New Orleans Caribbean to unpick the mess. A gripping and highly enjoyable foray that keeps us on our toes with plenty of eye candy, thanks to DoP of the moment Erik Messerschmidt. MT

OUT TODAY IN CINEMAS | 10 November on NETFLIX

The Old Oak (2023)

Dir: Ken Loach | Wri: Paul Laverty | Cast: Dave Turner, Ebla Mari, Claire Rodgerson, Trevor Fox, Chris McGlade, Jordan Louis, Chrissie Robinson | UK Drama 117′

A far cry from his early hits Kes and Poor Cow, The Old Oak is another disingenuous sob story from Ken Loach and his pal Paul Laverty who joins him, on script duties, in eschewing a traditional narrative and rolling out the cliched pros and cons when a group of Syrian refugees are plonked into a village in County Durham. 

Naturally the locals aren’t best pleased when the busload arrives in the former mining town. Ressources are already stretched as it is and things can only get worse (which is presumably why most of the disgruntled locals voted Brexit).

That all said, Brits and Syrians gradually settle down into a modus vivendi as they get to know one another and realise everyone’s the same at the end of the day and just wants a simple life.

But what plays out is far from simplistic, and Laverty makes pleasing use of the vernacular with some seasoned old chestnuts peppered with expletives aplenty in telling the tale. And to be fair on old Ken, his latest is far and away a better film than his 2016 agitprop I, Daniel Blake. much loved and lorded by our friends abroad. This at least feels real and genuine with well-formed characters, and there’s a lovely scene set in Durham Cathedral. 

Robbie Ryan’s careful camerawork, a few laugh-out-loud gags and some naturalistic performances from a cast of newcomers – especially the two leads: Dave Turner and Ebla Mari, make The Old Oak unexpectedly moving and amusing despite the mawkish, over- protracted ending. Not a patch on Kes or Poor Cow though. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK and FRANCE

Animal Farm (1954)

Dir: Joy Bachelor, John Halas | Animation 72’’

Animal Farm suffered a fate similar to Gulliver’s Travels‘ fifteen years earlier in reaching the screen as a Technicolor treat for kiddies in a fashion that would surely have shocked their creators.

Poor George Orwell went his grave being patted on the back by Tories congratulating him for his demolition of socialism in ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ despite it being obvious to anyone with half a brain that the subject of his ire was Stalinism rather than socialism.

Viewed purely as a film it succeeds extremely well with its attractive and fluid photography and, until the final couple of minutes, is remarkably faithful to the original with capitalism getting pretty short shrift in the portrayal of the hateful Mr Jones and his cronies. @RichardChatten

 

Abschied (1930) Powell + Pressburger Season at the Bfi

Dir: Robert Siodmak | Cast: Brigitte Horney, Aribert Mog, Emilie Unda | Drama

Made in Neubabelsberg Studios in Berlin in just ten days on a budget of DM80,000, Abschied (Farewell) gained Emeric Pressburger his first screen credit during his brief sojourn in Weimar Germany before settling in Britain in 1936.

The action never leaves the shabby boarding house presided over by Emilia Unda, who some viewers might recall as the headmistress in Madchen in Uniform. Unlike Robert Siodmak’s previous outing of outdoor Neue Sachlicheit (Menschen am Sontag (1929) this anticipates the later garrulous romantic realism of Pressburger’s own Miracle in Soho minus the baroque touches one came to associate with those of his longtime collaborator Michael Powell. @RichardChatten

POWELL + PRESSBURGER SEASON AT THE BFI AUTUMN 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

Dir: Martin Scorsese | Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemmons, John Lithgow | US Drama 200’

Martin Scorsese’s 26th film is a love story, a crime thriller and an epic of cultural significance. Because it’s essentially about immigrants –  the white man taking over the natives in their own country evoked by film’s lyrical title – Killers of the Flower Moon is also bound to be universal and newsworthy in its appeal. But Scorsese also makes his first Western smoulderingly beautiful with each frame a glowing masterpiece capturing the ravishing splendour of the Oklahoma countryside during the prohibition years of the 1920s when most of the western world was caught up in the first world war.

Best female actor in a motion picture – drama – 81st Golden Globes @Benny Askinas

Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro are masterful as the two villains of the piece with Jesse Plemmons offering integrity as the calm and straightforward man of the Law. DiCaprio acts his socks off but newcomer Lily Gladstone steals the show as the Native American woman he falls for and marries, mostly for love but also because his uncle (De Niro) is keen to ensure her fortune passes into the family, a common practice that spread through the region like wildfire, attracting all kinds of negative elements to this peaceful community and giving the film its spiritual element so loved by Scorsese: the serpent in the  Garden of Eden 

Three and a half hours steal by engrossingly as Scorsese and his co-writer Roth craft a treacherous tale of subplots and intrigue fleshing out each character to build a rich cinematic tapestry of the times but, in contrast to his New York fare, the violence here is nuanced and restrained but the film really needs to be seen on the big screen. If this true epic doesn’t win an Oscar I’ll eat my Stetson. MT

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – LILY GLADSTONE | 81st GOLDEN GLOBES 2024

 

Jules (2023)

Dir: Marc Turtletaub | Cast: Ben Kingsley, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jade Quon and Jane Curtin | US 87′

Best described as a soft sci-fi dramady Jules follows a modest man living out his days in small town Pennsylvania. Marc Turtletaub combines topical and traditional themes in his darkly amusing tongue in cheek third feature starring Ben Kingsley.

Plagued by a daughter convinced he has dementia and a couple of deeply irritating neighbours (Harris and Curtin), Milton (Kingsley) keeps himself sane by attending local council meetings where his memory loss soon becomes cause for mildly amusing alarm.

But when a spaceship lands in the back garden, crushing his prized azaleas, a whole new world opens up and Milton finds out he is no longer living alone but with a gentle soul whom he names Jules.

Jules is a breath of fresh air, extra-terrestrial-wise. Mute and kindly, he provides comfort and a listening ear in this appealing and inventive caper that sees the three neighbours find meaning and connection later in life – thanks to an unlikely stranger. MT

JULES won the Audience Award at Sonoma International Film Festival | In cinemas 23 December 2023

 

Made in Prague Festival 2023

The Made in Prague Festival, one of the oldest national festivals in Britain, showcases the rich tapestry of arts, cinema, music, and culture – in the broadest sense – bringing cult classics and the latest Czech releases to the UK.

The festival this year celebrates its 27th edition with a gala opening and private view of Ultra Super-Natural by Barbora Šlapetová and Lukáš Rittstein, an unique testimony to the fusion of various cultures and civilizations that span the globe.

The backbone of the festival will be Czech film screenings featuring many British premieres. Highlights include Il Boemo, a biopic about the little known composer Josef Mysliveček, starring Vojtěch Dyk, who will join for a Q&A

A second Gala Special will present fresh from this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Restore Point, a sci-fi neo-noir thriller about the future of humanity. The screening at IMAX of this Hollywood-style production will be joined by female lead Andrea Mohylová along with the director and producer.

The Festival will conclude with the Gala pre-release screening of One Life, a biographical drama about British humanitarian Sir Nicholas Winton, starring among others Anthony Hopkins, capturing his efforts to save Jewish children from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia.

Other films to look out for:

NIGHTSIREN

+ Q&A WITH DIRECTOR TEREZA NVOTOVÁ
Saturday 11 November, 5.30 pm / The Gate

A harrowing, yet beautiful take on patriarchy and internalised misogyny awarded by Golden Leopard at the 2022 Locarno Film Festival.

THE CRUCIFIED | Ukrizovana Dir: Boris Orlicky (1921) 

Sunday 19 November, 3.30 pm / JW3

Filmed in 1921, this classic silent Czech film offers a fascinating, if troubling, representation of Jews and antisemitism in 19th Century Europe.

VICTIM | Obet | Dir: Michal Blasko (2022)

Monday 27 November 2023 / Genesis

A universal tale about two-class societies, repressed xenophobia and racism, as well as broken hopes and dreams. The Slovak Republic’s national submission for 2023 Academy Awards. More info

ARVÉD | Dir: Vojtech Masek (2022) 

Tuesday 28 November, 6.45 pm / Czech Centre at the Czech Embassy Cinema

A fascinating insight into the life and mind of Jiří Arvéd Smíchovský, a charismatic hermeticist and occultist, who in his quest for knowledge became first a Nazi collaborator, than informer and witness in communist showtrials.

MADE IN PRAGUE FESTIVAL 2023 | 14-24 NOVEMBER 2023

Blind Date (1959)

Dir: Joseph Losey | Cast: Hardy Krüger, Stanley Baker, Micheline Presle and directed by Joseph Losey.

Joseph Losey and fellow blacklistee Ben Barzman joined Stanley Baker for the first time in this stylish if talky crime film.

The scenes between Hardy Kruger and Micheline Presle as Jaqueline Cousteau who plays Losey’s habitual glacial continental actress – greeting Kruger with the come-on line “I always wondered what Holland exported apart from tulips, now I know!” – have an erotic tension Losey never achieved again; while Baker’s friction with his superiors continues his perennial obsession with Britain’s class system which came to full fruition in ‘The Servant’.

Availing himself of Britain’s best technicians Losey as usual avails himself of a classy British cameraman in the form of Christopher Challis and a snazzy jazz score. @RichardChatten

Beyond Utopia (2023)

Dir/Wri: Madeleine Gavin | US Doc 115′

This electrifying new documentary about North Korea focuses on those trying to escape the brutal regime, and won this year’s Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival. 

Filmmaker Madeleine Gavin shows how South Korean pastor Kim Seungeun has dedicated much of his life to assisting the perilous flight of many from North Korea and onwards to safety through China, often with the help of fixers. And we witness frenzied footage of one family’s courageous escape through the voyeuristic camerawork of Taylor Krauss and Lisa Rinzler.

North Korea is certainly a weird and wicked totalitarian regime that represses its citizens with torture, a spartan lifestyle and the bizarre practice of forcing them to commit their personal solid waste to government centres to be used as fertiliser.

Beyond Utopia is not an easy film to watch but it’s certainly worthwhile. Crucially, these are real situations involving real people who risk the indignities of capture, torture and even execution if they are caught defecting. And that mere fact alone certainly concentrates the tension.

Fortunately there is a positive outcome for one family but Beyond Utopia often feels terrifyingly intense as it flips between fraught interviews with those concerned, and actual footage of their flight and the aftermath. The lucky escapees soon reflect on how wrong they were to believe that North Korea could ever be a paradise. MT

BEYOND UTOPIA is out in UK cinemas 24 October 2023

 

Pulp (1972)

Dir: Mike Hodges | Cast: Michael Caine · Mickey King ; Mickey Rooney · Preston Gilbert • Lionel Stander · Ben Dinuccio ; Lizabeth Scott | UK Drama

Having used the north of England as an incongruous setting for a tale of gangland violence in ‘Get Carter’, Mike Hodges and Michael Caine – who has announced his retirement at the age of 90 – journeyed to Malta for this disarmingly inconsequential shaggy dog story with echoes of the Montessi scandal.

The film abounds in cute visual conceits like the ubiquitous election posters of Frank Cippolata, a police lineup of hitmen dressed as priests; while Caine is at his most laconic passing judgements like “two crossed coffins on the Michelin guide” on a small town.

Along the way he encounters various eccentrics, including Dennis Price in a wide-brimmed hat that earns him the nickname “the Mad Hatter”, Lionel Stander (who actually tells his driver to “take him for a ride”), Mickey Rooney as an abrasive gangster star who boats of being “killed in eighty movies” (I wonder what happened to that portrait of him in his heyday on the wall of his mansion) and most surprising of all – one for the teenagers – Miss Lizabeth Scott. @RichardChatten

Snow Leopard (2023)

Dir/scr. Pema Tseden. China. 2023. 109mins

The snow leopard is a first-class protected animal in its native Tibet but it represents different things to the local people. 

Pema Tseden, the pioneering founder of Tibetan cinema who died in May at the age of 53, rose to the international stage with his 2019 feature Balloon. With a unique cinematic vision Tseden shows how someTibetans see this legendary leopard as a vicious threat, others a mythical being.

The sharp contrasts between tradition and the present day come to life in a striking story that centres on a family disagreement in the frosty wastelands where the rare beast roams as an increasingly endangered species.

Sheep herder Jinpa and his father are caught in a bitter conflict. Jinpa wants to kill a leopard that has run riot through his sheep enclosure killing nine of his frightened herd, but his father (Losang Choepel) feels this sacred animal should to be set free. 

All this is recorded by a film crew who arrives from Qinghai province in northwest China keen on collecting newsworthy local stories. Lead reporter Dradul (Genden Phuntsok) has been tipped off by the herder’s brother, Nyima (Tseten Tashi), a monk, and the TV journalist is delighted when the situation takes on a ludicrous angle as the conflict deepens

The enraged Jinpa will only back down if he gets compensation from the government. But this entails the endorsement of a government inspector who will have to travel all the way from the administrative capital. So the crew and family hunker down in the cosy yurt for a raucous night of high altitude hospitality. When the inspector finally arrives the conflict takes on a kafkaesque quality that often crackles with caustic comedy.  Spectacular landscapes and mesmerising naturalistic performances, particularly from the leopard itself, makie this particularly memorable. MT.

SNOW LEOPARD IS SCREENING AT VIENNALE 2023

 

Doctor Jekyll (2023)

Dir: Joe Stephenson | Cast: Eddie Izzard, Scott Chambers, Lindsay Duncan, Robyn Cara | UK Horror 90′

Following on from last week’s The Exorcist: Believer comes yet another version of a classic that bears no relation to any of its predecessors; although at least Doctor Jekyll retains its original author’s name in the credits.

This modern interpretation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, Doctor Jekyll centres on one Dr. Nina Jekyll, a recluse who finds friendship with her newly hired help, Rob, played by emerging actor Scott Chambers. They must work together to prevent Hyde from destroying her life. 

As the titular Nina Jekyll Eddie Izzard never looks like other than Eddie Izzard in drag (and serves to remind one of what a fine female impersonator Dick Emery was). What little narrative the horror outing has falls on the charmingly slender shoulders of Scott Chambers. But as a whole there’s far too much talk – punctuated by the frequent use of sledgehammer music cues – and it actually gets wordier as it gets gorier.

According to the publicity blurb, the release of Doctor Jekyll heralds a new era for Hammer, founded in 1934 and now owned by British theatre producer John Gore. As well as significant investment, Gore’s new vision for the company, fuelled by a lifelong love of all things Hammer, will lead to a string of new films bearing the iconic Hammer name, and Doctor Jekyll is, apparently, only the beginning. @RichardChatten

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyPUuM4COMU

Victoria the Great (1937)

Dir: Herbert Wilcox | Cast: Anna Neagle, Anton Walbrook, H B Warner, Walter Rilla | Uk Drama 1937

Dufaycolor sold a lot of film in 1937 with the attraction of filming the Coronation in colour. In ‘Victoria the Great’ Herbert Wilcox was able to lavish Technicolor on recreating Victoria’s diamond jubilee forty years earlier.

Anthony Collins’ score is often inclined to be rather twee, but Wilcox directs with a lighter touch than usual although historical figures are throughout unsubtly addressed by name – such as ‘Lord Melbourne’, ‘Sir Robert’ and ‘Lord Palmerston – as a very obvious means of identifying them.

The film makes no secret of the German roots of the Royal Family (to the extent that Wilcox got a letter from the Kaiser himself congratulating him on the portrayal of her grandmother).

Anna Neagle invests the young Victoria with spunk, but it’s greatest distinction is probably bringing Anton Walbrook to British films, although as David Shipman later dryly observed Walbrook’s performance as Albert “suggested that Albert married beneath him”.) @RichardChatten

Bernadette (2023)

Dir/Wri: Lea Domenach | Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Denis Podalydes, Sara Girardeau | France Comedy drama 90′

Behind every great man there’s an even greater woman. And Catherine Deneuve gives a laconic comedy turn in this political biopic based on Bernadette Chirac (1933-) and the final years of popular French president Jacques Chirac, who held two terms of office from the mid nineties until 2007.

Bernadette (1933-) is clearly not a woman to be trifled with and Deneuve fits the role perfectly as the deceptively savvy second fiddle to her successful spouse (played by Michel Vuillermoz).

Feeling sidelined at the Elysee Palace when her daughter (Sara Girardeau) lands a plumb job, this indomitable sixty something showstopper steps out of the sidelines and reinvents herself as a media personality playing the press – and her husband with sparky savoir faire to become a political icon in her own right.

In the semi-fictionalised drama director Lea Domenach shares script duties with Clemence Dargent. A star-studded cast is bolstered by a drole and deadpan Denis Podalydes as the First Lady’s right hand man. Lovers of Deneuve will lap up this snappy satire with its retro costumes and settings in Reims, Epernay and the Palais of Versailles itself. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE and BELGIUM

 

 

The Exorcist: Believer (2023)

Dir: David Gordon Green | Cast: Leslie Odom, Jr., Ann Dowd, Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz, Lidya Jewett, Olivia O’Neill and Ellen Burstyn | US Horror 111′

Exactly 50 years ago this autumn, the most terrifying horror film in history landed on screens, shocking audiences around the world. Sadly The Exorcist: Believer is not a patch on the original just an attempt to attract a ‘younger audience’ by garnering traction from William Friedkin’s far superior outing.

In this often ludicrous ‘sequel’ Angela (Lidya Jewett) plays the girl, and the single parent is Victor (Leslie Odom Jr), a photographer who refuses to allow his daughter to play with her friend Katherine (O’Neill) during downtime. And he’s not stupid, because after school the two girls secretly sneak off to the nearby woods to stage a seance in the hope of contacting Angela’s late mother. Days later they reappear having no memory of their ill-judged escapade.

David Gordon Green certainly succeeds visually, character and mood wise: his horror film is subtly sinister and supernatural in its autumn settings and all goes well until midday through when the project nosedives: it’s as if Gordon Green has taken leave of his own senses possessed by the producers to churn out yet another franchise.

Victor decides to track down the only person he knows with any experience of the previous affair, and – back for another turn – it’s Ellen Burstyn, as splendid as she was in the 1973 original. Thence the film loses its way and its new plot lines in a melodramatic maelstrom of jump scares, speeches and sentimentality. The master Friedkin will be turning in his grave.

OUT IN UK CINEMAS FROM 6 OCTOBER 2023

 

 

The Goldman Case (2023)

Dir: Cédric Kahn | Cast: Arieh Worthalter, Arthur Harari, Stéphan Guérin-Tillié, Nicolas Briançon, Aurélien Chaussade | France, Drama 118’

Courtroom dramas have always been popular on the big screen and the latest crop has provided solid entertainment and done well award-wise on the festival circuit. Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall, won the Palme D’or at Cannes’, and Alice Diop’s Saint Omer, garnered the main prize at Venice last summer, with Santiago Mitre’s Argentina 1985 scooping the FIPRESCI prize.

Based on real events, Cédric Kahn’s The Goldman Case is a caustic affair redolent of the politically charged 1970s (the time of the Red Brigades and Badder-Meinhof group) and bristling with the anger and self-righteousness of its central character, the militant leftwing radical Pierre Goldman accused of murder and robbery.

As we are constantly reminded in these legal battles, the truth is irrelevant, the outcome always depends on the clever application of the law and the jury’s verdict. But as the trial gets underway, it soon emerges that this man has been falsely accused, and vehemently denies both the murder of two pharmacists and four counts of robbery. The plot turns on whether the all important jury with find him guilty as charged, or innocent.

Kahn, who wrote the script with Nathalie Hertzberg, sets the scene well, opening with a meeting in the offices of the defendant’s lawyer, Maître Kiejman (Arthur Harari). From then on we are closeted in the claustrophobic confines of the courtroom for the pithy procedural, all and sundry sweating it out in their closely tailored woollen suits as the fiery rhetoric flies backwards and forwards. And no one is more belligerent than the defendant himself – Worthalter is screen dynamite, remaining a figure of outright indignation to the very last as the falsely accused Goldman. The resentment he exudes is palpable, but whether you can stand the heat for two hours in this smouldering battle of wits inspired by his prison penned autobiography, ‘Obscure Memories of a Polish Jew Born in France’, is arguable.

Patrick Ghiringhelli does his best to make it all cinematic but this is rather a dry drama that serves to showcase the antisemitism and racism of the era, not least on the part of the police, and will certainly go down well with left wing intellectuals. It does seem extraordinary than a man could be accused and stand trial in such a high profile way without substantial proof of guilt, or indeed, any tangible witnesses. An off-duty policeman (Jeanson) – who purportedly saw the defendant at the scene of the crime – is wheeled into the witness box, and a friend of Goldman’s (Tshibangu) claims he was coerced by the police into giving evidence. Polish actor Jerzy Radziwilowicz (from Man of Marble) plays Goldman’s father, a war veteran who bolsters his son’s case from the outset, inculcating him with a strong sense of self belief from childhood that eventually led to a stint as a guerrilla in Venezuela. A strong cast also includes Nicolas Briancon as the judge Maitre Garaud. MT

IN CINEMAS IN FRANCE/BELGIUM | CANNES 2023 PREMIERE

 

D.O.A. (1949)

Dir: Rudolph Mate. | Cast: Edmond O’Brian, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland | US Drama 83’

With a title like that I think I’m safe in discussing this film’s plot without issuing a spoiler alert since most viewers are already well appraised of the plot in advance. A man, Frank Bigelow, has told he’s been poisoned and has only a few days to live, so he tries to find out who killed him and why. 

At the outset of Kind Hearts and Coronets Denis Price laconically observes “when a man is to be hanged in the morning it concentrates his mind wonderfully”. Edmond O’Brien undergoes a similar transformation since the knowledge he only has hours to live has completely removed the fear of death which enables him to ride roughshod through a collection of ghouls; a situation bookended by the opening when he strides into a police station to report a murder and when the sergeant asks who, replies “I was!” and in a later flashback a scientist informs him “You’ve been murdered!” (only in a noir would you you hear a line like that!).

What makes the cinema such a rich experience is that it exists in a permanent present, so even though O’Brien dies at the end he remains marvellously alive each time the film is repeated. @RichardChatten 

STREAMING ON PLEX TV

8 of the Best Musical Biopics

Amy (2015) Rent/Buy

Best known for Senna, his acclaimed 2010 on about late Formula One driver, Asif Kapadia garnered an Oscar for this bittersweet biopic introducing the Southgate-born jazz singer as a “North London Jewish girl with a lot of attitude”, who loved to write poetry and lyrics. Unearthing a treasure trove of photos, home movie footage and demos shared from over 100 interviews from those closest to her, he shows Winehouse as a witty, down to earth and “gobby” girl with a rich and velvety voice, who never wanted to be famous but whose inadvertent stardom let to her tragic death, aged 27.

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (2021) – Apple TV/Prime Video

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.

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.”

Miles Davis : Birth of the Cool (2019) Netflix/Apple TV

Documentarian Stanley Nelson tells it all in the usual talking heads style – Frances Taylor, Greg Tate, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and his final manager Mark Rothbaum all appear and a straightforward narrative structure enlivened by many photos and clips from the archives. The film luxuriates in its musical interludes which are enjoyable and plentiful making this possibly the definitive biopic of one of the most inventive jazz musicians of the 20th century. Stanley Nelson’s expansive documentary takes an entertaining breeze through the musical career of Miles Davis eclipsing Don Cheadle’s movie 2015 drama Miles Ahead

“All I ever wanted to do was communicate through music”. The iconic jazz trumpeter and composer developed smooth romantic vibes and invented a cool, sophisticated masculinity that came to be known as the ‘Miles Davis Mystique’. For over five decades Miles developed various jazz styles from bebop, cool jazz and jazz fusion working with Prestige, Columbia, and Warner Brothers despite a rocky personal life that was full of love but fraught by ill health and emotional instability.

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017)

As fabulous now as when she was in 1979 when I first experienced her at a concert in Italy’s famous Covo di Nord Est – Grace Jones still rocks. Now at 75 her voice has mellowed, wavering occasionally, but her glamour and star power are just as potent and her aura and outrageous antics as just spectacular, if not more.

After an overture of Slave to the Rhythm where Grace performs in purple regalia and a golden sunburst mask, Fiennes cuts to an autograph session with fans fawning: “I’ve been waiting to see you for 25 years” – Grace responds “so has my mother”. Suddenly we are following her through Jamaica airport for an exuberant reunion with her mother (who looks like Aretha Franklin), son Paolo and niece Chantel, and as night falls, the camera pictures a sultry moonlight gig in the torridly tropical island, drenched in lush emerald forests.

Fiennes’ punctuates the gutsy real time footage shot in her kitchen, car and dressing room – with Grace’s mesmerising Dublin stage show, but both are beguiling and cinematic. Fiennes’ shirks the traditional documentary format – there are no photos or archive footage, making Bloodlight And Bami fresh, feisty and intriguing for longtime fans who have never really experienced the woman ‘behind the scenes’. It’s also longer than most docs at nearly 2 hours. In concert footage, Grace mesmerises with performances of Pull Up To The Bumper and more personal tracks including Williams’ Blood, This Is and Hurricane. She is s force of nature, and certainly a force to be reckoned with. MT

Stop Making Sense (David Byrne and Talking Heads (1985 re-released in 2023) AppleTV/Prime Video

Maybe not the latest look at but certainly the most iconic, this is a musical biopic in the best sense of the word. In Hollywood December 1983, French director Jonathan Demme films three concerts from Scottish maverick music maker David Byrne, rolling them out without explanation or talking heads – although Talking Heads are very much part of the scene. The bands speaks for itself and we get the best seats – on stage, up close and personal and from the back of the auditorium, even loitering in the wings. Demme’s film is an energising experience made at the climax of what would be the band’s final major tour. The show starts with the beat-driven Pyscho Killer and works its way through a classic repertoire with hits such as, Take Me to the Water to This Must be the Place that scored Paolo Sorrentino’s film of the same name in 2011 and of course, Once in a Lifetime. Byrne gradually relaxes from taut jutting-faced uncertainty to a more smiling and febrile intensity, a style icon in white plimsolls and oversized concrete-coloured suits. Hypnotic to look at, his moves are as funky, smooth and syncopated as Bing Crosby or even Elvis without the sexual magnetism: Byrne is a performer more artfully ambivalent in his erotic appeal, but none the less legendary. And he feels very much at home on his own or surrounded by his family of Talking Heads. A nostalgic, diverting, happy film. MT

Rachmaninov:The Harvest of Sorrow (1998) Rent/Buy

Tony Palmer’s extensive documentary about one of the world’s most loved composers (1873-1943) is a vibrant memoire, enlivened by musical interludes and ample archive footage of his life and times in Russia, Sweden and the United States where he finally died in 1943, unable to return to his beloved homeland: “a ghost wandering forever in the world”.

Playing out as a long autobiographical letter to his daughters Tatiana and Irina, voiced by Gielgud in slightly sardonic but wistful tone, the film covers the composer’s life until his final months in New York. But it starts at a low point, with the Rachmaninoff family leaving Russia in 1917, escaping from the Bolshevik devastation of Petrograd (soon to be Leningrad) set for musical adventures in Stockholm, and thence to America. Desperate about leaving his homeland, the composer also felt at a low ebb creatively: “Nowadays I am never satisfied with myself, I am burdened with a harvest of sorrow: I almost never feel that what I do is successful”.

Little Richard: I Am Everything (2023) Netflix

Rock legend Little Richard comes alive in this new biopic from Lisa Cortes. It sees the musical icon trying to come to terms with his complex personality and explores the lack of public recognition during his lifetime. John Waters, Mick Jagger and Tom Jones – among others – help to shed light on a life so full of promise, but blighted by social reality. Sometimes verging on the hagiographic, Cortes manages a wealth of information with aplomb, a more non-linear approach might have been an alternative.

Richard Wayne Penniman (1932-2020) was born in Macon (GA) in the deep South of he USA. Black, queer and disabled he was most certainly abused in childhood. But his deep religious faith eventually led to him renouncing his gayness: “God wanted Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.

The man who would create “Tutti Frutti”, ”Long Tall Sally”. “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Rip it Up” single-handedly invented Rock’N’ Roll – but the glory and the awards went to Elvis and Pat Boone: No wonder, he felt cheated. He was the architect of an art form and a social identity that became progressively clearer only later in his life.

ENNIO (2021) Prime Video

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. MT

 

 

 

 

 

Club Zero (2023)

Wri/Dir: Jessica Hausner | Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Sam Hoare, Camilla Rutherford, Elsa Zylberstein | UK

Jessica Hausner is back with another cold-eyed psychological drama that unfolds in an elite school where a teacher forms a sinister bond with a group of students.

A dereliction of parental duty is behind the faddish behaviour of so many kids today. Or so Jessica Hausner would have us believe in her primary-coloured feature that also highlights eating disorders through the online ‘pro-ana movement’, climate change and self control.

Mia Wasikowska heads the eclectic cast of singularly unlikeable characters as Miss Novak a nutritionist specialising in ‘zero eating’ in a modernist school billed as one of the best in Austria. The parents are rich and mostly neglectful of their kids who channel this latent disappointment and lack of real guidance by voicing a series of contemporary convictions which sound entirely laudable in the opening scenes: their love of sport, their need to impact less on to the environment. No one actually mentions a desire to be slim. Gradually Miss Novak indoctrinates her students into a cult of disfunctional eating, promoting the miraculous health and environmental benefits.

Hausner and her regular screenwriting partner Geraldine Bajard certainly make some really valid points but the stark, non-naturalistic interiors and characters are so intractable, performed by a cast of inexperienced newcomers, we do not care a jot for any of them as they fade into pasty-faced insignificance, and this, along with an irritating percussive soundscape and the relentlessly unforgiving depiction of Gen Z, makes for an arduous watch.

The exception here is school principal Sidse Babett Knudsen who lights up every scene with her amusing charisma, as Ms Dorset. Fellow auteur Ulrich Seidl is behind the production team but the film has none of his dry wit or deadpan appeal. Instead we are forced to endure a scene involving a teenage girl (Ksenia Devriendt) who eats her own vomit, echoing the ‘yuk’ factor of last year’s Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness. Bodily functions are a natural part of life but sound effects would have been far more effective. Sometimes what we don’t see is far more powerfu than what we do. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS IN FRANCE and BELGIUM

The Killers (1964) BFI

Dir: Don Siegel | Cast: Angie Dickerson, Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Clu Galager | US Thriller 93’

The credits of the second version of Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 short story – in which the target is only fleetingly seen – actually reads ‘Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers’.

Don Siegel’s version actually achieves the extraordinary achievement of improving on Robert Siodmak’s 1946 classic and focuses on the two hit men rather than their mark.

Originally made for TV but deemed too violent, the  film finally made a star of Lee Marvin after a decade playing ugly heavies (Siegel begins the film with Marvin beating up a blind woman to save time establishing from the outset just what he was capable of).

The film contains the screen swan song of Ronald Reagan, a move Reagan bitterly regretted since it was the only time he played a villain; but he’s really rather good (witness his final close up at the film’s conclusion).” @RichardChatten

NOW AT BFI SOUTHBANK LONDON

King and Country (1964)

In 1963 Joseph Losey’s huge success with The Servant gave him carte blanche with his next project.

Since the following year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the First World War – an occasion celebrated by a landmark TV series of interviews with survivors – Losey took the opportunity to interrogate his perennial fascination with the British class system which resulted in one of the most raw and powerful anti-war films since ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’.

To that end he enlisted Dirk Bogarde to represent the officers and Tom Courtney the common man who plays a sacrificial lamb akin to those in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.

 During World War I, Courtenay is Hamp, a young soldier who deserts his post, attempting to escape the relentless guns and mud and walk home. Captain Hargreaves (Bogarde), an aristocratic British Army lawyer, must defend Hamp before the army tribunal, for whom the crime of desertion carries the threat of execution. Initially, Hargreaves approaches Hamp’s case with disdain; however, upon learning that Hamp volunteered for duty on a dare, that he is the sole survivor of his unit and that his wife has been unfaithful in his absence, his efforts on Hamp’s behalf become more impassioned and earnest. In the face of cold army bureaucracy, Hargreaves’s arguments fall on deaf ears as Hamp becomes a victim of morale-boosting on the eve of the troop’s deployment into an impending bloody battle.

Even by Losey’s standards King and Country is a relentless and harrowing experience. It proved to be his final black & white film and lost its entire tiny production costs. Losey career never completely recovered and in retrospect it can now be seen as the beginning of his decline. @RichardChatten

KING AND COUNTRY on Blu-Ray or DVD now.

LaRoy (2023) Viennale Film Festival 2023

Dir/Wri: Shane Atkinson | Cast: John Magaro, Steve Zahn, Dylan Baker, Galadriel Stineman, Matthew Del Negro, Brad Leland, Bob Clendenin, Megan Stevenson, Darcy Shean | US Comedy thriller, 110′

LaRoy is a quietly triumphant Coen-esque comedy thriller centring on a case of mistaken identity in small-town Texas. 

John Magaro plays Ray, a biddable good-looking guy living out a humdrum existence in the Texas town of LaRoy where he would do anything to make his beauty queen wife Stacy-Lynn happy. But his thoughts turn to suicide on discovering she is cheating on him with his brother Junior (Matthew Del Negro), who helps him run the family hardware business.

A chance meeting with Skip (Steve Zahn) makes Ray reconsider his options. Skip, a dangerous fantasist, takes himself far too seriously and has a random recall of reality. Posing as a private eye he acts and dresses ‘more like Howdy Doody’. But the well-meaning Ray falls in with Skip’s plan to investigate a series of small time crooks in the hope that he can raise money for Stacy-Lyn’s dream of owning a beauty salon.

Together the two men vaguely foster unrealised dreams of validating their empty lives and even making themselves local heroes. And this leads to a doomed partnership in crime with their awkward social interactions giving the film its most drole moments, after Ray is mistaken for a hit-man.

A series of showcase support characters are well-formed and believable: Dylan Baker is the sinister standout, the real hit-man Harry (and he’s not ‘here to help’); Galadriel Stineman is Angie, Skip’s feisty ex; Adam Leland (from Friday Night Lights) is a misogynist used-car salesman called LeDoux but his wife Midge (Darcy Sheen) gets the best line: in fact women certainly have the upper hand in this Texas town. 

So an understated gem of a debut from Shane Atkinson, the deadpan humour is subtle and incidental but vital to the film’s success, with memorable lines and characters that feel real and resonate long after the tragic ending. You may want to see it again for this reason, I certainly did, and will. There are certainly echoes of the Coen brothers, but Atkinson has forged his own path and seems like a filmmaker who has set out on a worthwhile journey. Let’s hope we see more of him. MT

NOW SCREENING AT VIENNALE 2023

 

 

 

 

La Petite (2023)

Dir: Guillaume Nicloux | Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Ann Corsini, Maria Taquine | France/Belgium drama 97’| 

The medieval city of Ghent and the Belgian coastline make a handsome setting for this otherwise fraught family drama from Guillaume Nicloux (The Nun).

Based on Fanny Chesnel’s novel The Crib it stars Fabrice Lucchini as a lonely and fractious furniture restorer called Joseph whose estranged son and partner are killed in a car accident, making the old boy even more morose.

Joseph then discovers that the couple were expecting a child from a surrogate mother, so a moral responsibility rests on his shoulders, as the grandfather, to track down and befriend the surrogate, a fearsome Flemish virago called Rita Vandewaele. (Maria Taquine)

Being anti-social and uncomfortable out of his comfort zone, this is a difficult task for Joseph and the awkwardness of the situation gives rise to some mawkish humour that falls rather flat as Luchini tries his best to build a rapport with another unlikeable character. Ann Corsini is underused as the only ray of sunshine – apart from the baby – in this rather bland affair that leaves us as cold as its subject-matter. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE AND BELGIUM

Visions (2023)

Dir: Yann Gozlan, Diane Kruger, Mathieu Kassovitz, Marta Nieto | France, Erotic Thriller 120′

Mediterranean seascapes, modernist villas and a mysterious ménage à trois with a mile-high club pilot. A Perfect Man director Yann Gozlan delivers it all in this glossy erotic thriller that echoes Basic Instinct without its juicy plotline. Visions is fun until it gets stuck on the runway, with Philippe Rombi’s classy score a dead ringer for Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic BI original.

Diane Kruger is perfectly cast as glacial airline pilot Estelle. Living the dream with her medic lover Guillaume (Kassovitz) in their Bandol beachside villa; she drives a Porsche, he a black BMW motorcycle. The opening scene pictures her powering her way through the waves on a morning swim in Côte d’Azur waters: but there’s a sting in the tail to this idyll: a smack of deadly jellyfish hovers nearby setting a sinister tone for this unsettling study in sexual obsession and paranoia.

Estelle’s meticulous routine soon goes awry thanks to the reappearance of former flame Ana (Marta Nieto). The two set eyes on each other in an airport lounge and the rest is history. But their lesbian lust is threatened by someone peering through the keyhole, and it looks suspiciously like Guillaume in his snazzy helmet, or maybe it’s the stray dog that roams around the beach.

When Ana goes missing Estelle’s imagination works overtime imagining her with another lover, as baleful glances and salacious stares are shared with the putative paramour, a gallery-owner called Johana (Amira Casar). Estelle is reduced to a nervous wreck: She must kick her benzo habit and return to those microbiome-friendly smoothies and stick to the original plan – a baby with the long-suffering Guillaume (a criminally underused Kassovitz). 

Coasting on its captivating camerawork and atmosphere this is a moody, erotic thriller to be enjoyed on the big screen. But no amount of visual wizardry can make up for a vehicle that cannot seem to land. Gozlan, collaborating with various other writers, has certainly hammed up on his knowledge of piloting, and that give us something to chew on in a portrait of obsession that goes badly wrong. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE AND BELGIUM.

A Journey in Spring (2023) San Sebastián Film Festival 2023

Dirs: Ping-Wen Wang, Tzu-Hui Peng | Taiwan, Drama, 90′ 

Lovers of slow-burning Asian Arthouse cinema in the masters Jia Zhangke, Tsai Ming-liang or Kim Ki-Duk will warm to this drole and dystopian look at a marriage in decline and its aftermath.

A languorous opening sequence by a waterfall gives way to a bustling street scene that shows, without the need for words, that Khim-Hok and his wife Tua are no longer happy together. And who can I blame a bickering middle-aged couple forced into close proximity enduring the dregs of winter in a rain-soaked rural backwater, dreary despite its magnificent temples and lively food market.

Small domestic altercations in the couple’s cramped living conditions collide with serene moments in the lush Taiwanese countryside when Khim-Hok remembers their promising past and his estranged son’s happy wedding, seen in flashback, as he waits endlessly for a bus. Back at home matters come to a head after an incident with a jar of plums, and the following day when Tua quietly passes away he decides to relegate her body to the chest freezer.

But their son and his partner suddenly appear on the scene, unannounced, after years of absence. Khim-hok clearly has some explaining to do and this clarity focuses his mind and brings the past flooding back into the present leading him on a cathartic and often poignant journey of reflection and self-discovery.

Seasoned filmmakers Ping-Wen Wang and Tzu-Hui Peng direct this assured and resplendent Taiwanese tale that unfolds in evocative tableaux giving minor moments of everyday life a resonance without resorting to fanfare or fussy dialogue. Journey into Spring is a watchable joy – particularly for an international audience outside Taiwan – with its minimal dialogue. The sleek script speaks volumes leaving nothing spare in a muted and memorable 21st century parable. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2023 | GOLDEN SHELL 2023

San Sebastián Film Festival | Competition selection 2023

The San Sebastian Film Festival is Spain’s only A-list event running from 22 September until 30th in the North West Spanish town on the shores of the Atlantic, and often known by its Basque name of Donostia. This year celebrating its 71st edition, a selection of Spanish titles and international fare competes for the Golden Shell Award in venues such as the Kursaal and the Victoria Eugenia theatre. This year’s edition, honouring Victor Erice, and headed by Claire Denis as president of the Golden Shell jury, kicks off withThe Boy and The Heron and closes with James Marsh’s Dance First starring Gabriel Byrne.

THE BOY AND THE HERON – Hayao Miyazaki

A young boy named Mahito yearning for his mother ventures into a world shared by the living and the dead. There, death comes to an end, and life finds a new beginning. A semi-autobiographical fantasy about life, death and creation, in tribute to friendship, from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki. Out of competition

DANCE FIRST – James Marsh

Literary genius Samuel Beckett lived a life of many parts: Parisian bon vivant, WWII Resistance fighter, Nobel Prize-winning playwright, philandering husband, recluse. But despite all the adulation that came his, way he was a man acutely aware of his own failings. Titled after Beckett’s famous ethos “Dance first, think later,” the film is a sweeping account of the life of this 20th-century icon. Out of Competition

Competition films

ALL DIRT ROADS TASTE OF SALT – Raven Jackson

A lyrical decades spanning exploration across a woman’s life in Mississippi, this feature debut from award-winning poet, photographer and filmmaker Raven Jackson is a haunting and richly layered ode to the generations of people that hail from the region.

A JOURNEY IN SPRING – Tzu-Hui Peng, Ping-Wen Wang

An old man with a limp, Khim-Hok, has depended on his wife over the years. They live in an old house on the urban fringe of Taipei. After his wife suddenly passes away, the man puts her into an old freezer and carries on as normal. But his long lost son and partner suddenly appears leaving Kim-Hok to face his demons.

SULTANA’S DREAM – Isabel Herguera

Taking her inspiration from a feminist sci-fi short story written in Bengal in 1905, Ines sets out on a voyage of discovery around India in search of Ladyland, the Utopian land of women.

EX-HUSBANDS – Noah Pritzker

Peter’s parents divorced after 65 years, his wife left him after 35, and his sons, Nick and Mickey, are off leading their own lives. When Peter flies to Tulum, crashing Nick’s bachelor party hosted by Mickey, he realizes he’s not the only one in crisis.

FINGERNAILS – Christos Nikos

Anna and Ryan have found true love. It’s been proven by a controversial new technology. There’s just one problem: Anna still isn’t sure. Then she takes a position at a love testing institute, and meets Amir.

GREAT ABSENCE – Key Chika-Ura 

Anna and Ryan have found true love. It’s been proven by a controversial new technology. There’s just one problem: Anna still isn’t sure. Then she takes a position at a love testing institute, and meets Amir.

KALAK – Isabella Eklof 

Jan is on the run from himself after being sexually abused by his father. Living in Greenland with his little family, he yearns to be a part of the open, collectivist culture and become a Kalak, a “dirty Greenlander”.

RED ISLAND – Robin Campillo

L’île rouge / Red Island is set in Madagascar in the early 1970s, on one of the last air bases of the French army, where military families live the last throes of colonialism. Influenced by his reading of the intrepid comic book heroine Fantômette, ten-year-old Thomas sweeps with a curious glance what surrounds him, while the world gradually opens up to a different reality.

THE PRACTICE – Martin Rejtman

Gustavo and Vanessa separate and have to redraft their projects together. Both are yoga teachers. Gustavo is Argentinian, Vanessa is Chilean. The trip to India is cancelled. Vanessa keeps the apartment and leaves the studio they shared, making Gustavo homeless. As a result of the accumulated stress, Gustavo injures his knee and replaces yoga: first with quadriceps exercises and then with the gym. But gradually he gets his life back on track and starts practising again.​

THE GREAT TEMPTATION – Xavier Legrand

Ellias Barnès, 30, is the newly-announced artistic director of a famous Parisian fashion house. But as expectations are high, he starts experiencing chest pain. Out of the blue he is called back to Montreal to organise his estranged father’s funeral and discovers that he may have inherited much worse than his father’s weak heart.

THE SUCCESSOR – Xavier LeGrand

Ellias Barnès, 30, is the newly-announced artistic director of a famous Parisian fashion house. But as expectations are high, he starts experiencing chest pain. Out of the blue he is called back to Montreal to organise his estranged father’s funeral and discovers that he may have inherited much worse than his father’s weak heart.

MMXX – Christi Pui

Oana Pfifer, a young therapist, gradually slips into the net of the questionnaire she submits to her patient. Mihai, Oana’s brother, worrying about his birthday, is stuck in a story far bigger than he can handle. Septimiu, Oana’s husband, concerned about his health, vaguely listens to a strange story his colleague was caught up in a while ago. Narcis Patranescu, an organized crime detective, deals with an unsettling dark story while interrogating a young woman at a funeral.

THE RYE HORN – Jaione Camborda

Illa de Arousa, 1971. Maria is a woman who earns a living harvesting shellfish. She is also known on the island for helping other women in childbirth with special dedication and care. After an unexpected event, she is forced to flee and sets out on a dangerous journey that will make her fight for her survival. Seeking her freedom, Maria decides to cross the border by one of the smugglers’ routes between Galicia and Portugal.

PUAN – Benjamin Naishtat, Maria Alche

Illa de Arousa, 1971. Maria is a woman who earns a living harvesting shellfish. She is also known on the island for helping other women in childbirth with special dedication and care. After an unexpected event, she is forced to flee and sets out on a dangerous journey that will make her fight for her survival. Seeking her freedom, Maria decides to cross the border by one of the smugglers’ routes between Galicia and Portugal.

THE ROYAL HOTEL – Kitty Green

Illa de Arousa, 1971. Maria is a woman who earns a living harvesting shellfish. She is also known on the island for helping other women in childbirth with special dedication and care. After an unexpected event, she is forced to flee and sets out on a dangerous journey that will make her fight for her survival. Seeking her freedom, Maria decides to cross the border by one of the smugglers’ routes between Galicia and Portugal.

UN AMOR – Isabel Coixet

Having escaped from her stressful life in the city, 30-year-old Nat holes up in the small village of La Escapa, in deepest rural Spain. In a rundown country house, with a crochety stray dog, the young girl will try to put her life back on track. Having dealt with her landlord’s hostility and the mistrust of the village locals, Nat finds herself accepting a disturbing sexual proposal made by her neighbour Andreas. This strange and confusing encounter will give rise to an all-consuming and obsessive passion that will completely engulf Nat and make her question the kind of woman she thinks she is.

A SILENCE – JOACHIM LAFOSSE

Astrid is the wife of an acclaimed lawyer. Silenced for 25 years, her family balance suddenly collapses when her children initiate their search for justice.

Special Screenings 

THEY SHOT THE PIANO PLAYER – Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal

A music journalist from New York sets out on a frantic investigation into the mysterious disappearance of Brazilian pianist Tenorio Jr, regular accompanist of Vinicius de Moraes, among others. This animated thriller moving to the beat of jazz and bossa nova portrays the days immediately before the Latin American continent was enshrouded by totalitarian regimes.

A PROPER JOB – Thomas Lilti

It’s a new school year. Benjamin is a PhD student without a grant. Given his lack of future prospects, he accepts a position as a contract teacher in a Parisian middle school. Without training or experience, he soon realises just how tough the teaching profession can be in an education system crippled by a chronic lack of resources. With the support and commitment of the other teachers, and a bit of luck, he will reconsider his vocation.

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL | 2023

The Killer is Loose (1956)

Dir: Bud Boetticher | Cast: Joseph Cotton, Rhonda Fleming, Wendell Corey | US noir thriller

After a decade spent making programmers Bud Boetticher was on the verge of finding his vocation as a director of westerns.

The series of oaters Boetticher made with Randolph Scott on which his reputation rests were bookended by two very twentieth century crime dramas shot in black & white by veteran Lucien Ballard.

It’s ironic that Wendell Corey’s grievance at his wife’s death makes him the villain, since that’s often what motivates Scott. The title’s a bit of a misnomer as Corey is far from your usual psychopath and remains inscrutable to the end.

The subject would have been right up Andrew Stone’s street but displays far more ruthlessness and has a higher casualty rate (there’s a particular nasty moment with a hoe).

I was rather disappointed that far more screen time was devoted to Joseph Cotten than Corey but the conclusion proved satisfyingly tense, @RichardChatten

Carlos (2023)

Dir: Rudy Valdez | US biopic with Carlos Santana | 87′

This is a comprehensive and personal chronicle recounted by the Mexican born guitarist Carlos Santana, now 76, who rose to fame in the late 1960s where he pioneered a fusion of rock&roll and American jazz with his eponymous band.

Directed by Rudy Valdez and featuring Carlos himself – interweaved with archive footage, family photos and films of the band performing – we hear how he grew up in 1950s Tijuana Mexico, where his parents were his main influence – and not always in a positive light – along with Tito Puentes, Little Richard and B B King. His father Jose was a violin player in a classic Mariachi band, a national instrumental style that involved the players dressed in matching outfits, led by a conductor. Close to his mother, Carlos states, in a rather cheesy note, how buying her a home with a refrigerator meant much more to him than personal fame.

Carlos’ first recorded performance was in 1966 when the family had moved to San Francisco where he would cross paths with producer Bill Graham who began booking the band as a support act to the likes of The Who.

For diehard fans of Santana’s iconic style, the film misses a trick in its focus on family details as recorded in his 2014 memoir, “The Universal Tone,” more than his fabulous career as lead of the world famous band. The thrust here is on his early struggles which involved sexual abuse, addition and racism, and his fight for success and recognition through spirituality.

The band toured internationally, and I was lucky enough to see them at a gig at university on their rise to fame with the 1999 ‘Supernatural’ Album, and they made for a spectacular live act and are equally powerful in the recording studio.

But Carlos ultimately attributed his success to Columbia’s Clive Davis, who is now a senior at Sony Music Entertainment, the production company behind this documentary. There is a distinct lack of commentary from friends and collaborators making this seem rather a one-sided and even self-congratulatory affair despite some enjoyable musical interludes that stand testament to the band’s iconic status and worthy of its international fan base. MT

CARLOS: THE SANTANA JOURNEY GLOBAL PREMIERE | IN SELECT UK Cinemas ON SEPTEMBER 23 & 27. 

Typist Artist Pirate King (2023)

Dir.: Carol Morley; Cast: Monica Dolan, Kelly McDonald, Gina McKee; UK 2023. 108 min.

Carol Morley is best known for her debut Dream of a Life, a docudrama about a woman who suffered a lonely death in North London. The British filmmaker is now on rescue mission for UK artist Audrey Amiss (1933-2013) whose posthumous output was made over to the Welcome Trust.

Morley unearths of prodigious output that included 47 books. A passport states that the bearer is the titular ‘Typist, Artist, Pirate King’. Indeed, Amiss was born in Sunderland in the early 1933s before drifting down south where she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia that put paid to her studies at London’s Royal Academy. What followed was a life of “revolving doors”, in and out of institutions.

Morley has decided to stage this as a garrulous road movie Amiss (Dolan) literally trapping her psychiatric nurse Sandra (Macdonald) in a trip from South London to Sunderland- claiming the north east as her spiritual home. The reason for the trip is an exhibition of her paintings in Sunderland – which feels much stuck in a time-warp. But Audrey enjoys the ride via car and bus much more than her long-suffering companion (“Sandra Panza”). Aubrey is shrill and aggressive, harping on about the past and those, now long gone,  who have either done her harm or abetted her against countless enemies. She finally admits her fall in a ravine was due to poor eyesight, rather than the fault of her sister Dorothy (McKee), as she had claimed all along.

Monica Dolan gives a feisty, over-the-top performance as Amiss, but it somehow works against the film’s cause: the rehabilitation of an artist who called out the advent of the UK’s consumer society, and media domination. Morley frames her protagonist as a martyr, but also an unpalatable one, largely due to the farcical comedy treatment which not only mocks Amiss but also, sadly, her affliction. Thus she emerges very much more as a pirate than a creative worthy of her cause.

Imaginatively shot by French DoP Agnes Godard, Typist triumphs despite Morley’s direction and script. Somewhere along the road, this talented filmmaker loses the reins, leaving Amiss as her worst enemy rather than a figure to be celebrated. A forthcoming biography should shed more light on the life of this worthwhile British artist. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 27 OCTOBER 2023

A Proper Job | Un métier Sérieux (2023) | San Sebastian Film Festival 2023

Dir/Wri: Thomas Lilti | Cast: Vincent Lacoste, Francois Cluzet, Louise Bourgoin, Adele Exarchopoulos, Mustapha Abourachid | France Comedy Drama 101′

Real life pals Adèle Exarchopoulos and Vincent Lacoste star in this amusing schoolroom drama – they were last seen giggling together on the Red Carpet at Cannes for the premiere of Elemental. 

A Proper Job is the latest from French writer/director Thomas Lilti whose sobering sophomore feature Hippocrates saw Lacoste as a junior doctor thrown into the deep end at the Hospital Rothschild in Paris. This time he’s Benjamin Barrois, a junior tutor with no experience – and it shows – trying to finance his PhD at a Normandy secondary school with few resources. And his first day teaching rowdy adolescents certainly gets off to a bad start when a more senior colleague mistakes him for an intern, in front of the class. This doesn’t help his cause.

True to say that many otherwise decent kids can be monsters in the classroom and that’s certainly the case here. Benjamin lurches from crisis to crisis as Lilti demonstrates in semi-documentary style the many pitfalls of being a schoolteacher nowadays. And we’ve already seen these situations in films like The Hunt (2012), Mr Backmann and His Class (2021) and most recently in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses (2023).

So when one of his pupils, an unruly kid with a troubled home-life, refuses to respect the simple code of class conduct Benjamin has a problem on his hands, then the boy files a complaint with the school head (Abourachid) that leads to a disciplinary process.

Lacoste is such a versatile actor you can’t help liking his portrayal of Benjamin: he can be serious but there’s always a cheeky glint in his eye. And when he joins a surfing break in Biarritz with other members of the staff there are moments of high tension and the camaraderie between the colleagues is really put to the test. They support each other unfailingly when the chips are down.

Lilti fleshes out the backstories of the other teachers: Pierre (Cluzet) is having marital difficulties, and single parent Meriem (Exarchopoulos) is struggling to teach her own kid while juggling her career. Another teacher Sandrine (Bourgoin) is pushed to the limit in a livid classroom confrontation.

Lilti never looks for simple solutions in his well-paced script, and the finale is spectacular. A really good cast and a sympathetic treatment of the issues involved make this another convincing feature from a much deserving director who has so far received 14 nominations but never won a prize. Let’s hope he will soon. MT

IN CINEMAS IN FRANCE | SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2023

Calvaire (2004)

Dir: Fabrice du Welz | Belgium, Thriller 88′

Calvaire kicks off Fabrice du Welz’s ‘Ardennes’ Trilogy, a series of tortured psychological thrillers with a religious ring to them (Alleluia, Adoration) set in the remote forested region of Belgium known as Wallonia. There are clear echoes of Philippe Haim’s Barracuda 1997 and Roman Polanski’s Cul de Sac (1966) to this potent possession piece that sees a stranger veering off the beaten track to find himself in trouble.

Although Belgian, Calvaire forms part of the New French Extremity Movement, a series of intensely sensorial and violently exploitative psychodramas that featured rape, mental torture and graphic sex. Notable protagonists of the sub-genre are Philippe Grandrieux, Catherine Breillat, Gaspar Noe, Lars von Trier, and Bruno Dumont. Here Du Welz and his co-writer from Alleluia craft another warped cult classic for the archives.

A travelling troubadour (Laurent Lucas) finds himself at the mercy of some bizarrre Bruegelesque characters when his van breaks down on a rainy night on the way home from a gig. After enduring an eerie encounter with a whimpering wayfarer called Boris (Jean-Luc Couchard) who appears to have lost his dog Bella, a cosy fireside welcome from inkeeper M. Bartel (Jackie Berroyer) seems like a reprieve, but soon turns into a nightmare when his perverse host, who warns him not to go near the village, has other ideas about making his guest feel at home, although this does rather outstay its welcome despite a modest running time. MT

CALVAIRE on digital platforms from 19 September 2023

A Haunting in Venice (2023)

Dir: Kenneth Branagh | UK Fantasy thriller 100′

Venice, All Hallows Eve 1947, and the privations of the war are still haunting the lugubrious rain-soaked city in this morose horror-tinged thriller from Kenneth Branagh. Adapted from the Agatha Christie treasure trove: ‘Hallowe’en Party’, from 1969, this latest outing follows on from Death in the Nile. In a bid to attract a younger generation, rather than the usual ‘Archers’ demographic, the ghosts are all children. 

The po-faced Belgian sleuth (Branagh himself) has been dragged out of self-imposed retirement by an American crime writer friend Ariadne Oliver, a sparky Tina Fey who considerably lightens the mood). She wants him to come with her to a halloween seance at a penumbral palazzo haunted by dead children. The idea is to rumble a ‘fake’ physic (Michelle Yeoh) hired by the chatelaine Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly) to shed light on the mysterious drowning of her daughter Alicia (Rowan Robinson). True to form, Poirot has no truck with things spiritual until his scepticism is piqued when things turn nasty. Could evil forces really be at work in this sinister setting with its Tourneuresque shadow-play? Or is this merely a bid to disguise skulduggery.

The underused cast of suspects make their excuses: Rowena’s ex fiancé Maxime (Kyle Allen), the housekeeper Olga Seminoff (Camille Cottin); Dr Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan) and his little son Leopold (a superb Jude Hill); a Hungarian couple (Ali Khan, Desdemona Holland). Even Piorot’s bodyguard (Richard Scammarcio) is questioned.

A Haunting is certainly a bit of fun to start with, and there are some witty one-liners largely from Tina Fey. DoP Haris Zambarloukos makes it all look spectacular, but no amount of jump scares, echoing voices, screeching parrots  – or even a projectile vomiting skeleton – can save the narrative torpor that eventually sets in as this latest outing sinks slowly into the lagoon. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS

Alphaville (1965) Prime video

Dir: Jean-Luc Godard | Cast: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina | France drama 99’

In 1924 a quantum leap occurred in speculation about the future when Fritz Lang saw the Manhattan skyline at night and realised it had already arrived. Jean-Luc Godard took that idea still further by using contemporary Paris as the setting for ‘Alphaville’, the result probably being the only film by Godard to be quoted by both Monty Python and Benny Hill.

Although set in the future ‘Alphaville’ is now a film to be watched with a powerful sense of nostalgia and is a profoundly melancholy experience since we now know that Godard was on the cusp of a precipitous decline into mediocrity.

Near the conclusion of ‘Vivre sa Vie’ Anna Karina was shown writing a letter anticipating a job in a film starring Eddie Constantine. Did Godard suspect that such a film would see fruition in less that three years in the form of ‘Alphaville’? @RichardChatten

NOW ON ORIME VIDEO

Fremont (2023)

Dir: Babak Jalali | Cast: Anaita Wali Zara, Jeremy Allen White, Gregg Tarkington, Siddique Ahmed | US Drama 91′

An Afghan translator from war-torn Kabul reinvents herself as a fortune cookie writer in this succinct but memorable immigration story directed and written by award-winning filmmaker Babak Jalali and his co-writer Carolina Cavalli (Amanda) and starring Anaita Wali Zara in a stunning screen debut.

Unfolding in glowing monochrome tableaux like a neorealist drama of the 1940s this ravishing arthouse feature, lensed by Laura Valladao, takes place in present day Fremont, a suburb of San Francisco.

Simply told yet complex, captivating and thematically rich Jalali draws us into the everyday life of world-weary Donya, a young woman who finds the petty trivialities of western society completely out of sync with her fraught past in Afghanistan.

Jalali uses a clever narrative device – an impromptu consultation with psychiatrist, Dr Anthony (Turkington) – to flesh out Donya’s backstory. She went to him requesting sleeping tablets but ends up revealing how, working as a translator for the army, she financed her passage to America, and how she would have happily gone anywhere to escape her past. And so these amusing sessions get underway providing the connective tissue for Donya’s days at the handmade fortune cookie company where she endures a humdrum existence until Daniel (Robert Mitchum/ Dustin Hoffmann lookalike Jeremy Allen White) pops into the equation, and sparks fly.

Jalali exposes San Francisco’s lively immigrant population in amusing vignettes: A Chinese co-worker takes advantage of Donya selling her expensive coffee when the office machine breaks down, a Chinese lute player entertains us briefly with his soulful vibes, and various diners read aloud their fortune cookie massages giving the film context and textural richness. Fremont benefits from its sleek running time; there is nothing spare or redundant in this quirky gem. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 15 SEPTEMBER 2023

Bill Douglas – My Best Friend (2023)

Dir: Jack Archer | UK Doc 78′

Bill Douglas (1934-91) was one of Scotland’s greatest filmmakers. And no one knew him better than his companion and collaborator Peter Jewell who captures the essence of an auteur in the mould of Chris Marker or even Terence Davies in this affectionate portrait.

Directed and written by Jack Archer, Bill Dougles – My Best Friend is a documentary about a distinctive creative talent and a lifelong platonic relationship. Jewell serves as the narrator and the affable on-screen presence reminiscing over Douglas’ long career, and their life together. It was a friendship that could almost be described as love, although Jewell never actually declares it as such. And although girlfriends intervened over the years they never prized the two men apart.

Douglas was born in 1934 in the run-down mining village of Newcraighall, Scotland, where he lived with his grandmother having been abandoned by his father. Peter Jewell came on the scene in the early 1950s and the two struck up a lively friendship – Douglas always immaculately turned out in contrast to the scruffy middle class Peter, but they bonded over their love of film, a medium that allowed Douglas to escape his traumatic childhood. Soon Bill had moved in with the Jewell family in their large house in Barnstable, on the Jurassic Coast, at a time where there were still German prisoners of war stationed there, waiting to be repatriated.

The two men then gradually drifted to London, ample black and white footage showing the war-torn city of the era. Renting a small place in Soho they remained oblivious to the fleshpots so engrossed were they in making home movies which they claimed ‘were all rubbish’. It was a friendly creative neighbourhood and this is how their filmmaking started. Fever was a first film, a drama with its allusion to mental illness at a time of much social unrest, and a prescient fear of a nuclear Holocaust. Globe and Striptease were other short films the two cut their teeth on. Come Dancing followed in 1971. Rather like Terence Davies, Bill also made a trilogy about his tragic life entitled, My Childhood (1972). It was a film that showcased the poverty of his growing up, and went on to win the Best Debut film at Venice Film Festival. 

The number three would continue to feature prominently in the Douglas oeuvre, and locks were also a ‘thing’: Bill was obsessed by locks and entrances. Determined to control every aspect of the filmmaking process, Douglas gradually emerges a Chekovian figure who knew each of his scripts word by word, line by line. A favourite drama of the era was Michel Audy’s film La  Maree, that invoked a knife as a symbol of sexual fear, and the two of them watched it over and over again. For Douglas filmmaking was a constant attempt to understand his life, and montage became more and more important enabling him to visualise his feelings and ideas because he found verbal expression difficult. 

Bill Douglas was certainly a “filmmakers’ filmmaker”, and  an inspiration for many who follow in his wake including Lenny Abrahamson and Lynne Ramsay who share their thoughts to the camera. But Douglas was criminally overlooked commercially.

Director Jack Archer deliberately chose to put Peter at the centre of his film due to his influence on Douglas. Today Bill remains a huge part of his life even thirty years after his death. As Peter himself says, “Art is the only immortality”. MT

PREMIERED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2023

 

 

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed (2023)

Dir.: Stephen Kijak; Documentary; With Joe Carberry, Tim Turner, Les Garlington; UK 2023, 104 min.

US director Stephen Kijak (We are X) delves into the complex life and times of Rock Hudson (1925-1985), one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic legends, in a documentary largely seen through the eyes of his friends and collaborators.

There are too many contradictions to really call this factual but it stands as a valiant attempt to distill the essence of a charismatic screen idol into 104 minutes. A mini series could have been another way of telling his fascinating story.

Kijak first tackles Hudson’s relationship with his agent Henry Eilson, the man who made (and perhaps helped to destroy) the leading man’s career. His intervention, making Hudson marry Wilson’s secretary Phyllis Gates, misfired as a publicity coup and harmed both Gates and Hudson in the long term.

But binding the Hollywood star of the 1950s to the modern version proves a less successful task for Kijak and Hudson. Even after the Stonewell riots in 1969, Hudson remains in the closet while leading a successful life as a heterosexual star in his three features with Doris Day (Pillow Talk 1959, Lover Come Back 1961 and Send Me No Flowers (1964).

Hudson made the perfect male role model during the 1950s. His casting in Giant (56) was clearly a rebuke for the”lack of male ego” and featured his enemy James Dean. The titular Douglas Sirk title All That Heaven Allows (1955) falls into the same category – but the 1960s saw Hudson miscast in all the macho features such as Tobruk and Ice station Zebra. But Hudson soon tired on the big screen as his star rose on the TV. One of his last contributions was a guest role in the popular series Dynasty.

Kijak ends on a rather solemn note, “Hudson saved nobody, because they all died”. This morose comment reflects the epoch of the Reagan administration that ordered cut-backs in Aids support, research and individual help. In his final interview, Hudson is stoical and prepared to meet his maker: “I am not afraid of anything”.

Rock Hudson, who was forced to be a heterosexual male seducer of the 1950s, despite his true nature, never felt at home during this era. But his life long friendships with co-stars Doris Day and Elizabeth Taylor bear testament to his enduring connection with the female sex. Kijak may have failed structurally in this engaging expose, but the rich archive of first-hand accounts fleshing out the actor’s life in the shadows more than makes up for it, and leaves us awestruck: Hudson was a great loss on a personal and professional level. AS

ROCK HUDSON: ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWED will be available on Digital platforms on 23 October 2023.

 

Oh…Rosalinda (1955)

Drs: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger | UK Drama 101’

Anton Walbrook and Dennis Price had both done distinguished work for Powell & Pressburger, but they sure took a bath on this one; although connoisseurs of the bizarre will relish seeing a musical with John Schlesinger and Arthur Mullard as Russian chorus boys (not to mention a delectable young Jill Ireland and the sinuous Ludmilla Tcherina in the title role).

The Archers’ first film in CinemaScope was this operatic version of ‘The Third Man’ which probably reflected the input of Pressburger more than it did Powell, although fanciful details like Walbrook’s opening breach of the third wall in the fashion of the Master of the Ceremonies in ‘Le Ronde’, the black & white newsreel and the scene where Price returns from a bender seeing double show the Powell touch.

A troubled production flawed by serious undercasting that resulted in Mel Ferrer, Anthony Quayle and Michael Redgrave playing roles originally intended for Bing Crosby, Orson Welles and Maurice Chevalier it promptly crashed and burned both critically and commercially and failed to even get a release in the States; but when over thirty years later Powell was finally persuaded by Martin Scorsese to watch it agin he actually rather enjoyed it. @RicharfChatten

The Black Pirate (1926) BFI London Film Festival 2023

Dir: Albert Parker | Douglas Fairbanks, Billie Dove, Tempe Pigott, Donald Crisp | US Action drama 88′

The Technicolor Corporation’s most ambitious undertaking to date was the only production made in what was officially known as ‘Technicolor Process #2”.

Fairbanks Sr had considered making a pirate film as early as 1923, a project he envisaged all along as the perfect subject to be tackled in colour; he’d been favourably impressed with the results Technicolor had so far achieved so he thought he would give the process a shot.

It certainly raised Technicolor’s profile, and the results (as the archive screening coming up at the London Film Festival attests) on it’s own terms survives as a most satisfying entertainment with memorable stunts (the most famous being a slide by Fairbanks down the sails of a ship and vivid uses of colour; but the victory proved Pyrrhic since making the film proved a big enough challenge, and the real headache began when they tried to repeat the effect in mass-produced prints.

So it was back to the drawing board for Technicolor while Fairbanks never tried the process again. @RichardChatten

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2023 | 4 -15 OCTOBER 2023

Priscilla (2023) Coppa Volpi | Venice Film Festival 2023

Dir/Wri: Sofia Coppola | US Drama 110′

Picturing the early days of Elvis Presley’s career from the perspective of Priscilla, his first love, wife and mother of Lisa-Marie, Sofia Coppola plumps for a tender teenage imagining doused in pervasive melancholy. And Priscilla may not go down well with Elvis fans.

Priscilla Presley, née Beaulieu, is 14 when she falls for the 24-year-old nascent hip-swivler, who emerges a manipulative, narcissist given to angry outbursts. Coppola also portrays him as a bed-dodger, prone to spiritual fads and introspective navel-gazing, and clearly only in love with himself.

Jacob Elordi really captures this morose side of Elvis, and certainly looks the part with his rangy physicality and matinee idol sultriness. He also conveys an emotional hollowness in the singer that eventually renders him a gothic vampire-like character. With his controlling ways and sinister subterfuge, he appears to groom her, but not as a sexual Svengali, contrary to appearances. What he wants is a trophy wife to stay in the background while he enjoys the romantic attentions of his film co-stars Ann-Margret and Nancy Sinatra.

The young Elvis clings to the cutesy, doll-like, reassuring figure of Priscilla as a mother substitute. They are both Texans far from home (he is stationed in Germany doing military service, she the daughter of an army commander), and Elvis desperately misses his ‘mom’. But this is a first love affair that never matures into adulthood, and Priscilla remains physically and emotionally unfulfilled. Despite Elvis’s simmering sexuality he fails to meet her seemingly modest needs in the bedroom. And this is the film’s enlightening secret. The film is endorsed by Presley herself and adapted from her book ‘Elvis and Me’ which she co-wrote with Sandra Harmon.

The emphasis here is also Priscilla’s strict upbringing, as a schoolgirl still studying for her ‘A’ levels. Elvis invites her to Memphis where she disappears into his mansion to live out a lonely existence despite an initial welcome from his grandma ‘Dodger’. His father Vernon is a mean old man, and Elvis spends most of his time with the boys, a set of male acolytes known as the “Memphis Mafia”.

Spaeny is perfectly cast in the role of Priscilla exuding a soft sensuous charm, she is vulnerable yet canny until her joy is eventually smothered. Priscilla is a romantic drama founded on its hazy romantic atmosphere, but the adult Priscilla is never really fleshed out, the second half sadly fragments as Priscilla gradually drifts away, dissatisfied and disillusioned, which is a pity because this is a gorgeously crafted love story sumptuously detailing a young girl’s heartthrob in early sixties America. And, growing up in that era, to me it all feels so real. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | COPPA VOLPI – BEST ACTRESS | GOLDEN LION COMPETITION 2023

 

The Killer (2023) Venice Film Festival 2023

Dir: David Fincher | Cast: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Arliss Howard | US Thriller 118′

David Fincher is back with another noir crime thriller that sees a philosophising hitman reflect on the meticulous precision and emotional detachment required for his day to day existence. But life is what happens when we’re making plans – as the saying goes – and  this ‘gun for hire’ is slowly going round the bend.

Premiering in competition at Venice Film Festival, The Killer, adapted from the French graphic novel by Alexis ‘Matz’ Nolent, stars Michael Fassbender as the hired assassin whose diurnal activities are voiced over by drole observations (“weakness is vulnerability”, “avoid empathy”) making this all the more intelligent and captivating, even when it descends into brutal violence. Even these scenes are sleekly choreographed in Fincher’s crisp direction and Andrew Kevin Walker’s lean script.

In the rooftops of Paris the unnamed killer is staking his target out, Day of the Jackal style. But too much time spent in preparation can often impact on performance. And this is one of the twists in a tale that sees the hitman running to keep still, as we soon discover: The Killer is an intellectual performance rather than a plot-driven one.

Sadly a woman, his girlfriend (Monique Ganderton), gets in the way of his day job after a home invasion goes wrong, And this blows him off a course leading him on a peripatetic journey to the Caribbean, New York, Chicago, Florida and New Orleans Caribbean and to unpick the mess. A gripping and highly enjoyable foray that keeps us on our toes with plenty of eye candy thanks to DoP of the moment Erik Messerschmidt. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 | IN COMPETITION 2023

 

Ferrari (2023)

Dir: Michael Mann | Cast: Adam Driver, Shailene Woodley, Penelope Cruz, Jack O’Connell, Sarah Gadon | US Action drama 127′

Motor-racing is a dangerous business. And this slick production from Michael Mann highlights the dangers, not just for the drivers but also the general public, paying tribute to the citizens of Guidizzolo where ten spectators were mown down in a crash that also killed Spanish Ferrari driver Alfonso de Portago, and brought to a close the Mille Milia competition. The film opens with the loss of his favourite driver in a time trial, when playboy de Portago (Gabriel Leone) stepped into the breach. But his star is a doomed one.

Ferrari is not the first feature about motor-racing but it’s certainly one of the most glossy and expensive-looking. The thrill of the track was brought to life in Le Mans 66 (2019) with the focus on the famous partnership between Ford and Ferrari and their respective drivers; Mosley: It’s Complicated looked at the lawyer’s efforts to improve safety in the sport, and Darryl Goodrich’s 2017 documentary Ferrari: Race to Immortality honours the daredevil 1950s Ferrari team-mates Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn. And Collins also makes an appearance here played by Jack O’Connell.

But the spotlight here is firmly on the life of Enzo Ferrari and his entrepreneurial spirit during the perilous early days of Formula One in the Summer of 1957. Adam Driver certainly looks the part in his elegant hand-made suits and dark glasses, and is very much the driving force of this enjoyable action drama. Penelope Cruz gives a shouty, one-note performance as his embittered wife and business partner Laura. The death of their only son has destroyed the marriage and Ferrari has taken up with Linda (Woodley) the mother of his heir. Whether the boy will inherit the Ferrari name and keep the brand alive is one of the film’s main preoccupations. And the frumpy Laura is determined to put a spanner in the works with her permanent frown and maudlin disposition.

The cars often take a back seat to the family drama but there’s plenty of fun and fireworks on the track to keep fans entertained: Enzo is keen to keep speed and quality in pole position where his cars are concerned. Sadly, a great deal of backstory, including de Portago’s love story with Linda Christian (Gadon) – who famously gave him the “kiss of death’ before his final race – is glossed over to cut the running time down to just over two hours, and this in some way affects the film’s emotional ballast. We don’t really feel for any of these people, least of all Laura in her justifiable grief.

Mann incorporates plenty of original footage, early clips cleverly manipulated to show Driver at the wheel. And although some of his dialogue is decidedly creaky not so Erik Messerschmidt’s magnificent set pieces which capture the races on impressive wide screen sequences. This is solid entertainment adapted for the screen by Troy Kennedy Martin and based on the book ‘Enzo Ferrari: The Man, The Cars, The Races, The Machine’. MT

IN UK CINEMAS from 26 DECEMBER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 |

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Promised Land (2023)

Dir: Nicolaj Arcel | Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Amanda Collin, Simon Bennebjerg, Melina Hagberg, Kristine Kujath Thorp, Gustav Lindh, Søren Malling, Morten Hee Andersen, Magnus Krepper, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Laura Bilgrau Eskild-Jensen

Bastarden or The Promised Land is a handsome if doom-laden frontier drama that transports us back to 18th century Jutland, Denmark. Mads Mikkelsen is Ludvig Kahlen, a dogged but decorated military man who has risen through the ranks and now wishes to dignify his existence by transforming the ragged heathland into a lucrative farming concern, garnering the respect of the King, who owns it, and hopefully a title into the bargain.

A gruelling endeavour this farming caper may be, and many have failed before him, including the King, but if anyone can succeed it’s Mikkelsen’s Kahlen, a hard-headed, indomitable stoic with a soulful glint in his eye.

Directed by Arcel Nicolaj Arcel and co-written by Oscar-winning Anders Thomas-Jensen we are also in safe hands story-wise with a script based on Ide Jessen’s 2020 historical work The Captain and Ann Barbara.

Barstarden bristles with rock solid themes of class, race, exploitation and misogyny, and there’s even a menage-a-trois, or even ‘a-quattre’ to lighten things up. All in the best possible taste: This is hardly bodice-ripping territory given the grim nature of the Northern climes.

And Mikkelsen is a mesmerising presence with his graceful economy of movement and tight-lipped charisma. Here, he is Denmark’s answer to Clint Eastward. And he also cuts an admirable figure at court in Copenhagen, asking to be granted a spit of land so he can transform the terrain, financed with his soldier’s pension, into a worthwhile concern. And he gets the go-ahead.

But 18th century Jutland is a barren hostile territory fraught with bandits and gypsies. And Kahlen only has a meagre set-up at his disposal: a tent, a pistol, a horse and a pick – to start work with. His chosen crop is potatoes. A hardy choice but not immune to frost damage. And there’s another drawback: A violent and villainous enemy in the shape of judge and wealthy landowner Frederik De Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), who claims ownership of this area of the King’s land, and has sought to enoble himself by insisting on adding the “De”, even when others don’t, and this provides the film with a flinty vein of humour.

An invitation to dinner chez “De” Schinkel unfortunately ends in tears when the two disagree over the ownership of the land. But the soldier’s unflinching stance against the caddish would-be aristocrat wins the heart of De Schinkel’s intended, who is also his cousin, the pulchritudinous but penniless Edel (Kristine Kujath Thorp), whose father is forcing her into a loveless marriage of convenience.

And so the battle of wills begins with De Schinkel disrupting Kahlen’s efforts to cultivate the land. A local parson then offers Kahlen the support of two runaway servants who have escaped De Schinkel’s household due to his violent temperament. Johannes (Morten Hee Andersen) and Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin) agree to work for free, along with some local outlaws and an orphaned Roma girl called Anmai Mus (Melina Hagberg), a ‘darkling’ whom the Danes consider bad luck.

Bastarden soon develops into a rich character drama as the battle of wills plays. And Kahlen fights on doggedly despite the many challenges and amid much physical duress, violence and torture all round. DoP Rasmus Videbaek showcases the magnificent countryside of Northern Denmark and the splendour of its architectural heritage (actually the shooting takes place in Germany and Czechia!). Bastarden is a gripping Nordic Western that once again proves that true love is often stronger than the ultimate desire to succeed. MT

IN UK CINEMAS from 2 FEBRUARY 2024 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL premiere

El Conde (2023) Best Screenplay | Venice Film Festival 2023

Dir: Pablo Larraín | Cast: Alfredo Castro, Jaime Vadell, Antonia Zegers, Paula Luchsinger, Amparo Noguera, Gloria Munchmeyer | Chile, 115′

A vampire, all suited, booted and cloaked, flies over the rooftops of Santiago in Pablo Larrrain’s thrilling latest drama that has us believe  that the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is Margaret Thatcher’s firstborn (weird as he was born before herr). It’s an outlandish idea, one many of many, in this surreal doom-laden satire that reflects, with a baleful glare, on international fascism (wokeism et al) in the 20th century.

But although Larrain his co-writer Guillermo Calderon get rather bogged down in their phantasmagorical version of Chile’s modern political history El Conde is a witty and highly inventive feast for the eyes and certainly worthy of its slot in the competition line-up at Venice Film Festival‘s 80th celebration.

Macabre, gothic and hilarious by turns – you certainly won’t go home disappointed – but the visual side far out-trumps (!) the political version of events, its lugubrious black and white set pieces are some of the most alluring and inspired committed to celluloid in recent years. An El Conde is certainly unlike anything the director has done before.

Pinochet is forced to endure a miserable existence, past his retirement in 1990 and subsequent demise in 2006, as the undead dictator grimming it out in a chilly cattle-shearing outpost in the freezing South of the country (reminiscent of Theo Court’s White on White). Here he will face his own family demons, the main concern being the financing of his brood of layabout adult offspring, dealing with his ghastly wife (Gloria Münchmeyer) who is having an affair with  his butler (the brilliant Alfredo Castro), a White Russian who will oversee the investigation into where Pinchochet has hidden his millions. For this purpose he has (bizarrely) hired a nun (Paula Luchsinger) who wears white robes, when not doing accounts in her bedroom, and in these scenes she’s a dead ringer for Maria Falconetti in Dreyer’s 1928 drama La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

But before all this Larrain briskly takes us through the dictator’s previous existence as blood-thirsty rebel ‘Pinoche’ during the French Revolution. Valiantly in allegiance to Marie Antoinette, he takes her head with him as a trophy after her execution (guillotines feature heavily throughout). He then glides Dracula-like southwards towards Chile where he signs up to the ranks in the 1973 coup. After faking his own death, the 250 year-old continues to drift around over the Chilean capital – and these airborne sequences are the most exciting  in the film. Too old to hunt for blood, his daily diet then consists of human heart ‘smoothies’ which he whisks up in the trusty blender.

El Conde is a fascinating foray then, and mostly narrated in English by the aforementioned Iron Maiden ‘Madame Pinochet’ who certainly gets it in the neck, above all the other vampiric political leaders, supposedly just for being a woman ‘Twas ever thus!. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | BEST SCREENPLAY | GOLDEN LION 2023 | COMING TO NETFLIX ON 15 SEPTEMBER

 

 

 

Passages (2023)

Dir.: Ira Sachs; Cast: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adele Exarchopoulos, Erwan Kepoa Fale; France/Germany 2023, 91 min.

A  menage-a-trois goes wrong in a big way in this cruel love story from award-winning filmmaker Ira Sachs (Love is Strange).

In Paris two Germans and a Brit finds themselves in a Douglas Sirk style melodrama with feint echoes of Eric Rohmer. Sachs puts his personal slant on the many faces of sexuality in an absorbing and often upsetting gender war.

Lovers Tomas (Rogowski) and Martin (Whishaw) have a longstanding relationship although the aggressive and manipulative Tomas, a film director, has the upper hand with Martin reluctantly putting up with the endless humiliation just to keep it all running smoothly.

We first meet Tomas on set, as unpleasant and immature upstart. But after the film’s wrap party, Tomas takes a shine to Agathe (Exarchopoulos), a primary school teacher who drops her own boyfriend like a stone, as does Tomas, moving in with Adele shortly afterwards. This is not the first time Tomas has played the field with a woman, and pretty soon the cracks appear – and when Agathe falls pregnant her parents’ arrival only makes matters worse.

The switcheroo continues with Martin now in a relationship with writer Ahmad (Fale). But this is by now means the end because Tomas wants to show his omnipotence, and is still powerfully drawn to the dependable Martin, and soon the tables change again.

Tomas is a savage, and not a noble one. His hunger for emotional support, a real neediness born out of insecurity, collides with his brash manner and outlandish lies. He is not lovable at all, but his animalistic sex drive makes both Adele and Martin believe they are his chosen one. Sachs is very open in showing the couples’ intercourse, to the point of being graphic to the extreme. But all this has a place in a bitter struggle for love, with both Adele and Martin mistaking lust for the latter. For Tomas everything has to be an exciting thrill ride, no questions asked. He is a vicious child, a sociopath in the making, a time bomb ready to implode, and Rogowski is the actor to play him with his passionate intensity.

DoP Josee Deshaies has fun with her camerawork, keeping the wild sex and bitter tantrums under control: her images are never voyeuristic, she always finds a way back to show the humanity in facial expressions. Her portrait of Paris, the city of love, is sober: an ideal  backcloth for a modern love story, even though it never feels like one. Sachs, the observer, delivers this minimalist feature with as much love as possible, taking sides only at the very end. AS

ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS FROM 1 SEPTEMBER 2023

Yurt (2023) Venice Film Festival 2023

Wri/Dir: Nehir Tuna | Doğa Karakaş, Can Bartu Arslan, Ozan Çelik, Tansu Biçer, Didem Ellialtı, Orhan Güner, Işıltı Su Alyanak | Turkey, Drama 116′

In the 1990s the social divide between religious and secular Turks is creating tensions in this artful feature debut from Nehir Tuna .

It centres on fourteen-year-old Ahmet a truculent teenager from a privileged background who finds himself holed up in a repressive Islamic institution at the behest of his recently-converted father keen to instil traditional Turkish values in his rather spoilt son.

But the atmosphere in the hostel is decidedly hostile. Ahmet’s smart clothes and urbane manners set him apart from the less fortunate pupils he is forced to mix with in the dormitory and one of them reacts by spitting at the young scholar who is far from happy with his new home.

Meeting Hakan, a street-smart kid who knows how to work the Yurt system, is the turning point for Ahmet and together the two get a sense of empowerment and confidence and they start to stand up to the draconian masculine environment of the dormitory amid scenes of quite brutal violence. Tuna gives a real sense of the spiritual but also oppressive religious strictures that shape the boys’ education. But once the two have found their sense of freedom colour floods into the picture in some appealing pastoral settings beside a lake. Together the two of them start to imagine the kind of world they want to live in.

Yurt could be any coming of age buddy movie, but what sets it apart is Florent Hery’s stylish camerawork in glowing black and white and a well-chosen occasional score of classical and folkloric songs. Tuna’s confident direction elevates this to a more resonant and memorable arthouse drama that champions a free-spirited modern Turkey, a world away from the past. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 |  HORIZONS & QUEER LION COMP

Hesitation Wound (2023) Venice Film Festival | Horizons 2023

Dir: Selman Nacar | Tulin Ozen, Ogulcan Arman Uslu, Gülçin Kultur Sahin, Vedat Erincin,Erdem Senocak | Turkey, Drama 84′

There’s nothing like a courtroom drama to keep you on the edge of your seat and there have been some really gripping legal-themed dramas of late: St Omer, Red Rooms, and Anatomy of a Fall  this. This one, from Turkish director Salman Nacar, is more moody than tense in depicting the everyday life of a young female defence barrister in Istanbul.

The director Selman Nacar won multiple awards for his feature debut Between Two Dawns, and his latest runs along similar lines: a morality tale that centres on a professional woman forced to make an impossible choice: Canan (Tulin Ozen) finds herself in a no-win situation, personally and professionally, caught between looking after her dying mother and forging ahead with her career. No wonder she’s a chain-smoker with ulcer trouble.

In the snowbound capital the camera pans in on the dour hospital confines where Canan is at odds with her sister Hopi on whether to offer her mother’s organs up for donation. Both women are pushed to the limit from all sides. Their mother, although still alive, is lying in a vegetative state on a ventilator. And it only needs one person to sign the consent form, but Canan’s sister, herself a mother, can’t put pen to paper.

Back in her offices, Canan watches out of the window as her client Musa arrives in a police van, ready to stand trial for killing his boss. She berates him for not shaving off his heavy beard, but also puts his jittery mind at rest. Musa is in the dock charged with voluntary premeditated murder. It’s a thorny case built around his threats to kill the owner of the garment factory. But Canan mounts a spirited defence, with a few tricks up her sleeve. And the murder was never witnessed.  

Cemal – a vital witness in the trial – must be there to provide an alibi for Musa’s defence. But he’s disappeared. And when Canan tracks him down he refuses to comply for complex reasons. 

So two peoples lives hang in the balance. And Canan stands between them. Then other evidence starts to emerge. Apparently the victim was having an affair with Muse’s mother and started to make threats. 

Although the ending feels rather underwhelming after such a strong build up this snapshot of modern Turkey makes for compulsive and intelligent viewing with its plausible characters, convincing performances and memorable widescreen camerawork. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | HORIZONS 2023

Manga D’Terra (2023) Locarno Film Festival 2023

Wri/Dir: Basil da Cunha | Cast: Lucinda Brito, Nunha Gomes, Evandro Pereira | Swiss/Portuguese | Musical drama 96′

Portuguese Swiss director Basil da Cunha is back in the streets of his beloved Reboleira this time celebrating the women of this home close-knit Creole community in a lyrical musical courtesy of Eliana Rosa, Henrique Silva and Luis Firmino) who flesh out this spirited portrait of a place often down on its luck but oozing with heart and soul.

A follow-up to his award-winning second feature The End of the World, O Fim do Mundo that screened at the 2019 edition of Locarno, Manga d’Terra centres on Rosa (Eliana Rosa), 20, who has returned to the Portuguese capital from her native Cape Verde leaving her kids with her mother.

But after Cape Verde, life in the Lisbon suburb is no picnic in the park. Street violence and male aggression now make her life a daily struggle. And when she loses her job in a small restaurant (run by Nunha Gomes) reality bites for the single mother who only has her female friends for support and her strong singing voice as a way of grafting to survive. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2023 | GOLDEN LEOPARD COMPETITION

 

 

 

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Directors Irving Pichel, Ernest B Schoedsack US Horror | Cast: Fay Wray, Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks

Based on: “The Most Dangerous Game”; 1924 story in Collier’s; by Richard Connell

Talking Pictures’ screening was prefaced with the usual disclaimer about outdated dialogue and offensive racial stereotypes, but the British should take umbrage at seeing yet again an English accent and a vocabulary equated with evil (although Count Zaroff actually describes his kinfolk as “we Cossacks”, and he has a henchman called Ivan who provides the film’s scariest moment when he smiles in greeting).

The visceral contents of Zaroff’s trophy room were cut from postCode reissues while he lascivious designs on comely brunette Fay Wray (“Kill then love. When you have known that you have known ecstasy” he gloats) is another sure sign that the film hails from the preCode era. @RichardChatten

Animal (2023) Locarno Film Festival 2023

Dir: Sofia Exarchou | Greece, Drama 116′

Greek director Sofia Exarchou’s second film takes place in a family hotel in an unknown Greek Island where dancer Kalia ((Dimitra Vlagopoulou)) is doing her best to inject some fun in the rather joyless atmosphere in her capacity as an “animateur” choreographing stage shows to enthuse holiday-makers.

Looking after a young family and satisfying her partner is an exhausting business but Kalia always switches on the charm and an electric smile for the tourists and encourages her new recruits to do the same to cover versions of ‘Yes Sir I can Bougie’ and other soulless hits. But when Eva (Flomaria Papadaki) arrives Kalia sees a reflection of her younger self in the young girl’s enthusiasm and willingness to shine in a gruelling diurnal activity that feels like hard work, the muscular stresses and strains reflected in Monika Lenczewska’s close-up camerawork.

Exarchou takes a documentary approach to reflect the sheer physical grind of Kalia’s daily existence but there is dark humour too in a similar vein to Ulrich Seidl’s seaside satire Rimini .Although the Austrian filmmaker goes further down the route of lampooning his hero.

The need to be upbeat and bubbly is no mean feat when dealing with a public that is often sluggish: they’ve come on holiday for a relaxing break but also want some fun while getting fit and healthy before they return to their home environment. But Kalia too needs to get away from the forced bonhomie of her paid employment and needs to have a break of her own. And that’s when the going gets challenging in this perceptive look behind the scenes of the holiday entertainment industry. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | GOLDEN LEOPARD COMPETITION.

 

 

Explanation for Everything (2023) Viennale Film Festival 2023

Dir: Gabor Reisz | Cast: Gáspár Adonyi-Walsh, István Znamenák, András Rusznák, Rebeka Hatházi, Eliza Sodró, Lilla Kizlinger & Krisztina Urbanovits | Hungary, Drama

The tensions of Hungary’s polarised society come unexpectedly to the surface when a student’s exam results become the focus of a national scandal, in this slow burn sophomore feature from Hungarian filmmaker Gabor Reisz (For Some Inexplicable Reason). 

In a summery Budapest cramming for his final exams is the last thing on Abel’s mind having fallen for his studious school friend Janka who only has eyes for their happily married history teacher Jacob.

Playing in this year’s Horizons sidebar at Venice Film Festival’s 80th edition Explanation for Everything certainly takes its time in establishing the heady milieu of end of term nerves and fraught family life in the build up to the annual summer holidays. But the thrust here is the flight between tradition and the modern world in a film that contrasts the staunch, nationalistic devotion to duty, expressed by Abel’s conservative father, and Jacob’s liberal-minded take on the future with its woke overtones. Gabor Reisz creates another thematically rich and worthwhile modern classic. MT 

VIENNALE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 19-30 OCTOBER 2023 | HORIZONS | BEST FILM – HORIZONS 2023 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2023

Paris Memories (2023)

Dir: Alice Winocour | Cast: Virginie Efira, Benoit Magimel, Gregoire Colin, Maya Sansa | France, Drama 105′

Belgian actor Virginia Efira is the star of this survival drama that thoughtfully explores the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a Paris bistro.

Belgian filmmaker Alice Winocour has already touched on the affects of trauma on the human condition, particularly for women, in her previous features Augustine, Disorder and Mustang. Paris Memories is possibly the most relatable so far in its exploration of life-changing events. The threat of terrorism surrounds us all every day.

Russian translator and journalist Mia (Efira) sees her life ripped apart while enjoying a glass of wine in a busy cafe when a terrorist strikes. Haunted by the tragedy, Mia bonds with the other survivors and soon forms a romantic attachment to Thomas (Magimel) who was badly injured in the attack, although ultimately their relationship doesn’t quite ring true. Mia also makes it her business to track down a man who helped her to safety and here the storyline widens into the scuzzy demimonde of disenfranchised workers and illegal migration.

Winocour calmly unpacks the emotional toll of the attack of Mia’s private life as she retreats from her partner Vincent (Colin) leading him to suspect an affair. But this is by no means just about Mia and touches on the broader effects of the incident and the fallout it has on everyone affected, and not always in a negative way. Paris Memories is a tribute to those lost in Bataclan in November 2015, the Louvre Museum attack in 2017, and the Charlie Head incident in 2020. A deeply affecting drama that looks for a positive message of hope.

ON RELEASE FROM 4 AUGUST 2023

Kokomo City (2023)

Dir: D Smith | US Doc 73′

If your idea of entertainment is watching a series of Black trans sex workers loudly lamenting their life, then Kokomo City is for you. More  impressive than anything though is the hyper-stylised way D Smith captures his subject. The glossy black and white images splash onto the screen at refreshingly odd angles: It all feels rather like flicking through a slick fashion magazine – maybe a trans version of Men’s Vogue or even that French erotic title NewLook (now out of publication).

Here we are in Atlanta and these women are seriously disgruntled behind their Barbie-style rigouts and fluttering black false eye lashes. Gesticulating at the camera with super sharp white painted talons and jutting chins, they offer advice about how to avoid that 5’clock shadow. But most of all they harp on about the trials and tribulations of satisfying the males that come to them for satisfaction – and how they do it better than cisgender females. There’s a raw, competitive edge to their narratives. And sometimes we feel for them. But after thirty minutes or so enough is enough. And while they rightly point out that no man wants to listen to women’s problems at the end of the day – that’s what is mostly dished up in this unique, cinematic and occasionally insightful kaleidoscope of American trans views. MT

KOKOMO CITY – IN UK & IRISH CINEMAS 4 AUGUST 2023

 

Lars Von Trier Season

The films of one of world cinema’s most renowned and daring provocateurs, Lars von Trier, will be making a comeback to the big screen this summer with a new retrospective entitled Enduring Provocations 

The retrospective looks back on von Trier’s controversial career, having courted ardent fans and enemies in equal measure during his nearly four decades as a director.

Known for his restless technical innovation and rebellious approach to the genre, von Trier has confronted the taboo subjects of the day and the eternal existential problems of the human condition with the same thorny, troubled intelligence and puckish humour.

Enduring Provocations revisits some of the director’s most incendiary works on the big screen headlined by remastered versions of Breaking the Waves, Idiots and Melancholia. The season asks whether his cinema of narcissism and self-abasement still has the power to get under our skin. Is it the on-screen violence that is hard to stomach, or those troubling questions his films ask about human suffering, morality and the disorders of society?

The retrospective will launch on the 4th of August with the newly remastered Breaking the Waves. The power of faith, love and friendship lies at the heart of this devastating drama from Danish wild-child Breaking the Waves won the 1996 Grand Jury Price in Cannes and created two stars: Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson in her raw screen debut that saw her nominated for an Oscar. Watson would never again reach these heady heights in a performance, and this was arguably Von Trier’s heartrending masterpiece, although he would go on to become the agent provocateur per excellence with a string of outrageous hits has never since reduced audiences to such a collective blithering emotional wreck.

In seven chapters and an epilogue, von Trier sets out to prove faith is stronger than any dogma. Set in the early 1970s Emily Watson is Beth McNeill (Watson) is a naïve and emotionally vulnerable young woman living in a devout Calvinist village where the residents cower in fear of being excommunicated by a coral of draconian religious ministers. Beth soon falls foul of them, marrying an ‘outsider’ in the shape of Jan Nyman (Skarsgard), an oil platform worker. Intoxicated by sexual passion she swears undying love for Jan and vows to keep him alive whatever the consequences when an accident on the rig renders him paralysed and bedridden.

Beth believes that God (whom she prays to out loud in the church) has punished her for asking Jan to return early from a contract on the rigs. Disturbed by a brain injury, Jan demands that Beth stimulate his libido by having sex with other men and recounting the details to give him hope of recovery. Beth blindly follows Jan’s wishes, sinking to the depths of sexual depravity by prostituting herself with locals and strangers, jeopardising her own well-being by visiting the occupants of a trawler (headed by a sadistic Udo Kier) declined custom by even the local prostitutes . Her blind faith in the power of divine healing is in conflict with conventional medical advice, and Beth soon turns against her stalwart friend Dorothy (the wonderful Katrin Cartlidge who won Best Supporting Actress) and Doctor Richardson (a memorable Adrian Rawlings).

Breaking is very much Jeanne D’ Arc in reverse: Virtue is replaced by sex as a way to redemption. And like for Jeanne, there is only one way for Beth: all or nothing. It is perhaps von Trier’s greatest achievement to not lose the audience at this point.

Back in 1996, there were long and heated discussions after the Cannes Palme d’Or ceremony (as in the decision to award this year’s Palme d’Or to Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall instead of the radical Zone of Interest from Jonathan Glazer). Breaking the Waves is a more daring feature than Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies (1996), with Leigh’s hyper-realistic stage approach running into difficulties. Apart from the fantastic performances and gut punch of von Trier’s mise en scene, Robbie Mueller’s handheld camera alone makes the film a winner in this tragic celebration of life and the wonderment of human love, carnal and otherwise.

ENDURING PROVOCATIONS | CURZON | AUGUST 4TH 2023

 

Brighton Rock (1948)

Dir: John Boulting | Cast: Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell, Harcourt Williams

You know you’re in Greeneland when Harcourt Williams appears as a down-at-heel lawyer who quotes ‘Macbeth’.

Directing duo The Boultings were fast ascending in critical status when they turned their attention to Greene’s novel and their facility with locations is demonstrated from the outset by the first twenty minutes following Alan Whitely as the il-fated Kolley Kibber through the streets of Brighton.

Despite the disclaimer blaming the activities of Pinky and his gang on the thirties it perfectly captures the shabby feel of the postwar austerity era, complete with Nigel Stock in a zoot suit and a spivvy moustache.

The ending caused controversary at the time but it seemed me a pretty neat trick because although it concentrates on Carol Marsh’s rapturous smile somebody would have promptly (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) given that record player a good swift kick.

One final thought: was it just by coincidence that Pinky’s previous victim was called Fred Kite? @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Barbie (2023) Cinematic and Box Office Achievement | 81st Golden Globes 2024

Dir: Greta Gerwig | US Fantasy drama | 116′

Before an explosion of psychedelic plastic heralds the long-awaited advent of Barbie we are transported back to a prehistoric playground where Helen Mirren describes a ludic past when little girls played ‘mummy’ with their pliable baby dolls. Then Mattel entrepreneur Ruth Handler came along and decided to up the game. She gave her own daughter something more adult-like to play with – the result was Barbie.

Margot Robbie, all toned limbs and blonde, hair plays this glamour toy like the real thing. In her candy-coloured kingdom “Artificial Barbie” enjoys a sexless teenage dream of girlie get-togethers where wimpish, whingeing himbos only exist to serve to serve their female counterparts. We start to wonder how long we can put up with this prissy pastel charade. Then along comes the storyline.

Artificial Barbie encounters ‘an issue’ and has to visit the ‘real world’ where women are still being diminished by the male of the species. And, unsurprisingly, she immediately suffers an existential crisis.

In her fourth feature, Greta Gerwig shares script honours with consort Noah Baumbach. crossing into the 145 M$ super league. Co-produced by the Barbie franchise m-holders Mattel, the feature suffers a toxic overload with its multiple subplots: the gender war between Barbie (Robbie) and Ken (Gosling) is just an excuse for a tiff in the trenches of old and new feminism. The boy brigade, led by Ken (a perfectly cast Gosling), is rather less imaginative in the tussle to regain control not only of old-fashioned Barbie-land but also of reality (in this case the Hollywood suburb of Santa Monica). Gerwig/Baumbach create endless quotes to exploit their subject matter, starting with Kubrick’s 2001 styled set where sullen little girls throw their toys out of the pram, rejecting dreams and motherhood at the same time.

Barbie Team | 81st Golden Globes | photo credit Benny Askinas

Barbie is a resentful feature even when indulging in self-critique: Artificial Barbie complains about “Sexualised Capitalism” and her lack of beauty, the Helen Mirren cuts in with “Margret Robbie is the wrong actress to cast”. Well, Robbie might not be a miniature doll, but she is certainly not a push-over when it comes to Ken and his low level aggressiveness which often looks over-mannered.

But as long as Barbie channels its Busby Berkeley spectacle of song and dance routines all is well. Somewhere after the 90 minute mark Gerwig remembers she is supposed to be staging an epic masterpiece, and things go down downhill. “Irresponsible thoughts of death” and “Proustian flashbacks” have nothing to do with ‘gen Barbie Doll’, past or present.

Virtue-signalling demands the hiring of America Ferrera and Issa Rae, a Latino mother/daughter duo, who help Barbie to save and conquer the real world. Will Ferrell is brilliant as the dancing/singing/running CEO of Mattel, reprising his sublime nasty role in Elf.

But whatever Gerwig/Baumbach had in mind the profit will go to franchise holders Mattel and Ruth Handler ((cuttingly described as “a five foot Jewish woman with a double mastectomy and tax issues”) who have once again reinvented their brand. Barbie will go on living in the minds of those who – like me – just thought of her as a ‘fun doll to dress up in different outfits’: and even gave her an androgynous crop (her hair never grew back!.) The film is original, high-performing but soulless. MT

CINEMATIC and BOX OFFICE ACHIEVEMENT | 81st GOLDEN GLOBES 2024

 

 

 

 

Essential Truths of the Lake (2023) Locarno Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Lav Diaz; Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Shaima Magdayao, Hazel Orencio, Agot Isidra, Bart Guingona, Susan Africa, Reyhan Abcede; Philippines, Portugal, France, Singapore, Italy, Switzerland, UK 2023, 215 min.

Police inspector Hermes Papauran (Cruz), one of the country’s foremost investigators, is again the focus of this latest epos from Philippine auteur Lav Diaz. Essential Truths of the Lake serves as a prequel to his 2022 outing When the Waves are Gone that saw him haunted by a dark past and ready to meet his maker in a quest for the truth.

Investigating a murder case from 2005, in the last days of the bloody regime of President Duarte in 2020, Hermes is a troubled and rather destructive character who suffers occasional bouts of psoriasis and contingent physical afflictions brought on by his negative take on life.

On the banks of the titular Taal Lake, an atmospheric setting, Hermes is having a meeting with his female superior The Colonel about re-open the cold case of Esmeralda Stuart (Magdayao), a mythical beauty queen/cabaret star, who disappeared without trace in 2005. The Colonel agrees to re-open the investigation but warns Hermes about his family obligations in the face of the potentially perilous mission: “They want you back” states The Colonel, making clear that she is in control of proceedings.

Hermes interrogates the drug lord Jack Barquero (Guingona), one of the main suspects in the Stewart case, who then has him followed by his son Nick and three of his henchmen but a nearby volcano erupts, the ash destroying more clues in the case. We then return aesthetically and contents-wise to the Diaz matrix of old, and The Colonel sacks Hermes from the case, making him the prey rather than the pursuer. Meanwhile the beleaguered detective befriends Melchora (Africa) and loses a potential collaborator in his search for the truth; an old man dies of a sudden and suspicious heart attack. A cake seller – who might, or might not be connected to the original murder – is then killed by Melchora’s dog after trying to steal some of her papers, and the self-destructive Hermes is once again in the wilderness. Then Diaz comes up with a brilliant solution.

In contrast to his previous outings Diaz opts for a nuanced contemporary arthouse style, particularly in the cabaret scenes. Gone (at least for the time being) are the wild landscapes and isolated fighters that categorised his earlier works. Here we are merely spectators rather than protagonists drawn under the Diaz spell. At just 215 minutes The Lake is two films in one, the conventional opening giving way to a compelling detective thriller.

But Hermes no ordinary policeman, he soon emerges as the lonely fugitive in a self-inflicted exile, the Stuart case serving merely as a red herring in this existentialist landscape. The lake becomes a labyrinth and the detective is gradually swallowed up in a timeless vacuum created by Co-Dop Larry Manda. Diaz again captures the loneliness of his hero, circling the lake and finding nothing but volcano ashes. Hermes is clearly in need of help, and here we are invited to experience the savage jungle of his anguish – detective story or not – in this shortish feature (by Diaz standards!).

Lengthwise, there’s good news for diehard Diaz fans desperate to disappear into his lengthy epics: a twelve hour feature is now in the pipeline. AS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2023

 

Oppenheimer (2023) Best Motion Picture: 81st Golden Globes

Dir/Wri: Christopher Nolan | Cast: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Benny Safdie, Jason Clarke | 180′

A haunting vision of the future hangs over this fraught epic about the man who invented the iconic bomb that ended World War II.

English director Christopher Nolan frames his feature through a stimulating Washington based court investigation as Oppenheimer’s florid life and times flash back urgently forward to a needling score – from Cambridge to Leiden and then California and finally Los Alamos in New Mexico – providing thrilling social and political insight into the final stages of the Second World War. 

Christopher Nolan wins #GoldenGlobe Best Director 2023 photo credit: Virisa Young

Cillian Murphy is screen dynamite as Robert Oppenheimer, a Jewish scientist from New York, who was seen as a hero to many but later vilified as a threat to his country for questioning America’s arms race bravado with his learned opinions in those turbulent times. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of Robert Oppenheimer, Murphy leads a cast who each pull their weight in this mighty masterpiece that mesmerises for over three hours, the final segment is the most riveting and allows the stern but softly spoken Murphy to expose the soulful side of this conflicted but brilliant man.

Hoyte van Hotel’s coruscating cinematography is impeccable in vivid colour and pristine black and white, the 15/70mm print showcasing Nolan’s most impressive film to date. 

Oppenheimer serves both as a densely-plotted character study and a simmering slice of history that also delves into the brutal tactics of the McCarthy era, but never at the expense of some dry humour and a wise perceptive overview from Tom Conti’s ageing Albert Einstein as the father of scientific breakthroughs. Meanwhile in the Los Alamos labs a selection of top flight theoreticians cut through the science by simply dropping marbles into jars to illustrate the difference between uranium and plutonium as fusion bomb components.

Performance-wise Downey is outstanding as Strauss, a major player in the Atomic Energy Commission and a monstrous ego; Matt Damon is masterful as Major Leslie Groves, in charge of security at the Manhattan Project; Emily Blunt (a steely Kitty) and Florence Pugh (a sensuous Tetlock) play the feisty women in Oppenheimer’s life and Jason Clarke’s Roger Robb (Special council to the AEC) could put any cross-examiner in the shade. Gary Oldman gets a surprisingly powerful cameo as President Truman “people will remember who dropped the bomb, not who built it”.

IN CINEMAS FROM 21 JULY 2023 | Best Motion Picture – Drama | Best Director – Christopher Nolan | Best Original Score – Motion Picture | Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture – Robert Downey Jr. | 81st Golden Globes 2024 

Family Portrait (2023) Locarno Film Festival 2023

Dir/Wri: Lucy Kerr | US Drama

In these unusual times of fake news and false memories, can a photo still be trusted to reflect the truth in capturing a moment in time? This is the question writer director Lucy Kerr ponders in her slim but intriguing feature debut premiering in the Filmmakers of the Present strand at this year’s Locarno International Film Festival

A relaxed day in the countryside unfolds as an extended family finds themselves gathered together at the start of Covid. The idea to capture the moment in a family portrait gets relaid to the back burner when a mother goes missing  and her daughter decides to investigate. 

Driven forward by a busy ambient soundscape the bosky opening scene soon gives way to the spacious wooden clad interiors of the Shaker dwelling where a salad lunch is being prepared. The conversation returns to the proposed photo but then a sudden death in the family gives rise to more endless speculation and the portrait is once again forgotten.

Is this family really as contented as they would have us believe. A needling score seems to indicate otherwise as the film moves into more unsettling territory as time and space become one big enigma turning the family portrait into a solemn rite of passage. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023

Jour de Fête (1949)

Dir: Jacques Tati | France Comedy

Although the films of Jacques Tati continue to enjoy great esteem and obviously inspired Benny Hill and The Two Ronnies, I must confess to something of a blind spot, admiring the meticulous care that goes into staging his sight gags but not actually finding them terribly funny. (His use of sound is also good, witness the scenes with the wasp.)

Two things in particular set Tati apart from other great screen comics: firstly his great height, since a lot of the humour comes from the contrast of his huge frame straddling his tiny bike.

The other is conceiving his films in colour years ahead of it’s time. In a spirit of national fervour Tati daringly tried to make ‘Jour de Fete’ in a native process; sadly the process promptly went bust and the film had to be released in monochrome (a format which continues be attributed to it in reference books and is how was shown on Talking Pictures) although even then he added details in colour throughout the film on a later reissue. Only after Tati was long death was the colour version restored and the film can finally be seen as it’s creator envisaged it thanks to the miracle of the DVD.

The Oscar (1966) Tribute to Tony Bennett

Dir: Russell Rouse | Cast Stephen Boyd, Tony Bennett, Elke Sommer, Eleanor Parker, Ernest Borgnine | US Drama

On paper this film sounds like the camp classic plenty of reviewers have already described it as; but it outstays it’s welcome, feels like a TV production (although it might have worked better in black & white) and even it’s dialogue worthy of Edward D. Wood Jr. is desperately short on the genuine wit that might have forestalled some of the flack it’s taken over the years.

The surprises start with the mouth-watering title sequence: beginning with the incredible array of guest stars listed, and proceeds through the revelation that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences actually gave special permission for Oscar statuettes to be used in this freak, to the screenplay credit for Harlan Ellison. (It’s based on a novel by Richard Sale, who I’d love to know exactly who he was settling scores with, while plenty of the gems from the dialogue could have been published separately as a book in their own right.) But we never once see Frank Fane on a film set; and it could just as easily be about a politician or a businessmen, and the dialogue does rather labour what a skunk he is.

Many of the supporting performances are as good as you would expect from the excellent cast of character actors, some of them rather strangely cast in often very minor roles, some of which make more sense when you realise how many of them are former Oscar winners themselves (Ed Begley, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan – who won three! -, Broderick Crawford and James Dunn), while Edith Head was actually nominated for her work on this. Milton Berle gives an excellent straight performance, and among the femmes Jill St.John, Eleanor Parker, Edie Adams and the girl in the green dress shaking her chassis in the opening shot of the Tijuana party sequence all make the most of the little screen time they get.

Aside from James Dunn (an Academy Award winner for ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ whose drinking wrecked his career), the most poignant piece of casting is Peter Lawford, who in 1962 had been brutally cast out of the Rat Pat by Frank Sinatra after Old Blue Eyes suffered a snub by Lawford’s brother-in-law JFK. Sinatra never spoke to him again; which makes this film’s final scene even more sardonically ironic than it already seems. (One of the film’s ‘fictitious’ nominees, Richard Burton, nominated for a Paramount Production called ‘Grapes in Winter’, later suffered a similar disappointment in reality at the 1978 Academy Awards when the Oscar for Best Actor went to “Richard… Dreyfus”.

TONY BENNETT (1926-2023)

Beat the Devil (1953)

Dir: John Huston | Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre | US Adventure Drama 89′

This light-hearted rehash of The Maltese Falcon crossed with the Road films was one of two outings (along with The Night of the Iguana) John Huston later thought he should have made in colour.

It affords the not inconsiderable pleasure of seeing a high-powered star and an important director having a little lark (it’s a good ten years in advance of the sort of thing made by the nouvelle vague).

Robert Morley plays the Fat Man, Peter Lorre returns from the earlier film looking very eccentric with his hair bleached white, Jennifer Jones is an absolute revelation as an habitual liar (Bogart just shrugs and says “let’s just say she relies upon her imagination rather that her memory”) while veteran jobbing actor Ivor Barnard has the role of his career as a vicious killer Bogart derisively nicknames ‘The Galloping Major’.

STREAMING ON PLEX and BFI online was

Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis (2023)

Dir.: Anton Corbijn; Documentary with Aubrey Powell, Noel Gallagher, Roger Waters, Nick Mason; UK 2022, 101 min.

Cambridge in the early 1960s: four young men set out to make history: Syd Barnett and Roger Waters would found “Pink Floyd”, meanwhile Storm Thorgeson and Aubrey Powell were re-inventing the art of record cover design with Hipgnosis’; an English design duo who created memorable cult classic album sleeves. The images would sear into our collective unconscious as a visual record of the times. Hipgnosis would go on to devise iconic covers for the likes of T. Rex, Black Sabbath, Wishbone Ash, the Alan Parsons Project, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Yes,  AC/D and many more.

First time full-length documentary filmmaker Anton Corbijn has adapted Trish D Chetty’s script chronicling the often wild and chaotic relationship between Storm Thorgeson (nomen est omen) and Aubrey Powell (*1946), the latter contributing much of the film’s material, since “Stormzy” died in 2013. Noel Gallagher, David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Roger Waters and Nick Mason give their testimony of a ground-breaking relationship.

Back in the day the HQ of “Hipgnosis” in Denmark Street (WC2) had no loo facilities – everyone used the sink, and nobody thought much of it. Then a water pipe burst in the Greek Bookshop on the ground floor below and valuable antiques were severely damaged – luckily Storm and Aubrey had insurance cover. These were just some examples of a time when art got away with blue murder.

Hipgnosis’ first cover work was for “Pink Floyd’s” 1968 album “A Saucerful of Secrets”. From then on the band would headline the Hipgnosis catalogue – together with “Led Zeppelin” . Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother” soon followed in 1970, that famous cover with “the Cow”, that resisted any attempt to be replaced by its given title. Pink Floyd’s 1973 outing “Dark Side of the Moon”, with the famous triangle glowing in a dark SF world, was so far the most ambitious attempt to elevate cover design into an artform in its own right – but it often succeeded in doing much more. Pink Floyd’s “Wish you were Here” (1975) took things a step further, avant-garde, even for those days: Few knew the stuntman risked his life in being set on fire – most people thought it was just a collage.

Hipgnosis’ 1973 cover for Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” – featuring naked children climbing on Ulster’s Giant Causeway – would never have got past the censors today. On a more playful note “Look Here (‘10cc’ 1980), pictured a lightly tranquiliised sheep on a psychiatrist’s couch – (under strict medical conditions!).

And talking of our furry friends, Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album cover (1977) featured a pink plastic pig floating over Battersea Power Station. Roger Waters considers pigs to be at the top of the social pecking order, and -in fitting tribute – the porker later broke free and ended up drifting over countryside meadows.

Perhaps much more frightening was Peter Gabriel’s cover for “Scratch” (1978), which showed the artist itching himself out of his cover cage, foreshadowing horror films to come.

When asked about Storm, all interviewed were unanimous “but he was a genius”, although Thorgeson was invariably a procrastinator – always in a bad mood and uncompromising. In 1983 things came to an end even though Peter Christopherson, also from Cambridge, had joined the duo. “Stormzy” never cared much about money, and soon the group turned their talents to producing music videos, Storm thought he was “a Hollywood director with all the money in the world to spend”. But the bank had other ideas after Powell had left. The two didn’t speak to each other for twelve years, much in the same vein as Syd Barnett and his Pink Floyd band members.

DoPs Martyn Breekhulzen and Stuart Luck give life to this tour-de-force of images. And for once, the music takes a back seat. Opening a new Vinyl and reading the lyrics printed inside the cover was a ritual for us back then. Corbijn’s overdose of nostalgia will go down a storm with fans of that magical era. Enlightening, passionate and rather sad. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 14 JULY 2023

And Then Come the Nightjars (2023)

Dir: Paul Robinson | Cast: David Fielder, Nigel Hastings | UK Drama 80′

Farm animals are having a tough time at the moment and especially dairy cows, blamed for raising the levels of methane and killing random walkers straying onto their territory when all they want to do is moo and chew in peace. But this is nothing compared to twenty years ago when the bovine population was decimated by foot and mouth disease and millions of livestock were systematically and often brutally slaughtered to control the outbreak.

This film version of Bea Roberts’ award-winning play takes place on a south Devon farm during that fateful epizootic of 2001. And although the narrative is rather slim, the summery English countryside sees the story soar above its stage origins in a colourful and genuinely moving look at male friendship with the original cast of Nigel Hastings and David Fielder terrific as the unlikely couple thrown together in crisis.

The last episode of foot and mouth disease occurred over twenty years ago but those TV images of livestock being incinerated in vast fires all over the countryside are still haunting with the farming community bearing the brunt of the crisis, psychologically and in their pockets.

Seasoned farmer Michael (Fielder) really brings all this home to us as a recent widower who had become fiercely attached to his small herd of dairy cows, naming them after members of the royal family. And we really feel for him and his animals with the demise of dairy farming threatening to be a frightening possibility: “there have cows on this farm for over 200 years and now there’s nothing” he complains bitterly.

Vet and close friend Jeffrey (Hastings) offers to help with the government enforced slaughter, ensuring humane methods, but Micheal is inconsolable and furious at this intrusion into his personal property, threatening to blow the men from the ministry away with a two-barrelled shot gun in scenes that are both pitiful and tragic (we see the flames, but not the cows in John Craine’s clever cinematography). Jeffrey’s life is not without its marital complications bringing these two lonely men closer in the absence of women. And Then Comes the Nightjars serves both as a touching tribute to that terrible time and to male friendship.

25 & 26 August | Chichester Film Festival | IN CINEMAS FROM 1 SEPTEMBER 2023  

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)

Dir: Christopher McQuarrie | Cast: Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Pom Klementieff, Vanessa Kirby, Simon Pegg, Esai Morales, Indira Varma, Mark Gatiss | US Actioner 163′

If you dreaded the phrase ‘to be continued’ at the end of an episode of the ‘X Files’, the words ‘Part One’ on the seventh and newest instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise may have an ominous ring but this only adds to the anticipation in this latest outing. And you certainly get your money’s worth on this peripatetic romp through Europe in search of a jewelled key to open who knows what: Tom Cruise (at 61 – occasionally raddled but reassuringly on form) pits his wits against a venal antihero Gabriel (Esai Morales), and scenery to die for – not to mention the spectacular stunts (Rebecca Ferguson performed her own after months of training).

The latest adventure sees Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his IMF team embarking on their most dangerous mission yet: To track down a terrifying new entity that could signal the end of the world should it fall into the wrong hands. At the same time dark forces from Ethan’s past threaten to close in unleashing this deadly race around the globe. In the face of this mysterious, omnipotent enemy Ethan is forced to accept that nothing is more important than his mission, not even the lives of those he cares for most (yes there’s romance too!).

And this latest Mission certainly delivers the goods, there are plenty of laughs (most of them I hope intentional, courtesy of Simon Pegg), the enormous budget is well-used with spectacular set pieces and an ingenious script from McQuarrie and his co-writer Erik Jendresen (based on the Bruce Geller TV series). There two terrific scenes employing Venice as a back drop, there’s an incredible climax involving a locomotive plunging off a bridge, and amidst all that testosterone boasts a fearsome foursome of femmes fatales. @Richard Chatten

Afire (2023)

Dir.: Christian Petzold; Cast: Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel, Enno Trebs, Paula Beer. Matthias Brandt; Germany 2023, 103 min.

German writer/director Christian Petzold (*1960) won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival 2023 in for Afire, his tenth feature film. This award is well earned: Petzold can be called the chronicler of recent German history, illuminating past and not so present transgressions. Hot on the heels of Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog he is the only German director regularly featuring at international festivals. His minimalist style always cuts to the chase with a lean but substantial body of film.

Petzold’s first feature Innere Sicherheite/The State I’m In (2000) set the standard for what would follow: Petzold tells the story of a teenager whose desperate need for freedom jeopardises the security of her terrorist parents who have so far successfully avoided capture. In the 2001 he began what was to be an enduring collaboration with Nina Hoss and continued with FIPRESCI prize winner Wolfsburg (2003) and this continued with Yella (2007) and Jerichow (2008). In Barbara (2012) Petzold investigates Germany’s immediate 1945 past, and Transit (2018), an adaption of the Anna Seeghers’ novel of the same name, featuring the life of German immigrants during the first years of the Nazi regime, saw him replacing Hoss with Paul Baer who won the Best Actor prize in Berlin for Undine (2020).

Afire is the second part of a trilogy about the artist in society in Germany. Set in an imagined time span after the fall of the wall in the advent of the computer age, this is a feature nonetheless dominated by human emotions with a dose of dark humour .

On the way to a summer getaway on the Baltic Coast friends Leon (Schubert) and Felix (Uibel) are waylaid when their car breaks down. Then Felix’s mother, the owner, has also promised Nadja (Beer), a post graduate student, one of the rooms. Nadja has a boyfriend, coastguard Devid (Trebs), and Felix and Leon have to listen to the couple’s lovemaking. This is quickly reversed, with Nadja and Leon having to listen to Devid and Felix getting it on.

Leon, meanwhile has just finished writing a second-rate novel and is behaving like a stroppy teenager, secretly in love with Nadja. Leon’s editor Helmut (Brandt) turns up and tempers flare, with catastrophic results.

All this fits into Petzold’s general overview of German men who still seem better at living than dying. Helmut discusses the director’s pet theme with Heinrich Heine’s poem “The Asra”.

DoP Hans Fromm puts a documentary spin on his images, catching the protagonists like fish in a deadly net. Schubert simmers quietly but effectively as the spoilt child would be author, and Beer does her best with a tricky role. But true to Heine himself, Petzold stays the course, and no one’s prepared for what’s in store.

Afire might not be Petzold’s greatest achievement, but he once again proves to be head and shoulders above his German peers. This is another sad tract on Germany’s guilt complex – played out by a new generation of males. AS

IN CINEMAS and ON CURZON HOME CINEMA from 25 AUGUST 2023

The Damned Don’t Cry (2023)

Dir.: Fyzal Boulifa; Cast: Aicha Tebbae, Abdullah El Hajjouji, Antoine Reinartz; France/Belgium/Morocco 2022, 110 min.

A mother and son embark on an eventful odyssey across Morocco in this daring and strikingly beautiful sophomore feature from award-winning British-Moroccan writer/director Fyzal Boulifa (Lynn + Lucy).

Fatima-Zahra (Tebbae) is a 43-year-old widow and extremely alluring, although rather naive: dressing provocatively she tries to seduce a much younger man in a secluded spot near Tangier beach and is robbed off her jewellery. Her relationship with her 16-year-old son Selim (Hajjouji) swings between over-protectiveness and harsh criticism: the two are interdependent and neither of them has really grown up.

From a squalid studio accommodation in town the odd couple hitchhike a lift to relatives in the country. But they are not welcome in the midst of preparations for a wedding. We also learn that Fatima has a few skeletons in the cupboard: ostracised by local society after being raped in her twenties –  Selim was the offspring – she was forced into sex work to support her son.

Selim is eager to get back to Tangier and break free from his mother’s influence. Abdoul, a shady character, offers him a job on a building site, but really lines him up for sex with Sebastien (Reinartz), a wealthy Frenchman. The two hit it off to Salim’s surprise, and he quite takes to Sebastien who later apologises to him. The Frenchman then employs Selim on a regular basis, and Fatima tells her son she is working for a well-known brand in the fashion industry – in reality she is working for a minimum wage in a sweatshop.

Fatima meets a bus driver who wants to take her on as his second wife, his existing spouse suffering from mental problems. But Selim sabotages the planned marriage, telling the husband-to be the truth about his mother. When Sebastien’s partner from Paris arrives, Selim reacts with extreme jealousy and channelling his anger into criminal behaviour that will inadvertently separate him from his mother for the first time.

DoP Caroline Champetier follows the mother and son across the Moroccan landscape and the imposing urban backdrop of Tangier: her handheld shots scope out narrow alleys, and sordid domestic interiors that contrast with Fatima’s imaginative embellishment of reality. Tebbae and Hajjouji are brilliant as the destructive couple, driving each other further and further into the quicksand of social deprivation. A tight script helps, and Boulifa uses all his running time to push the narrative forward. An award-winning first film is always a difficult act to follow but this talented filmmaker triumphs with an even more impressive second feature. AS

IN CINEMAS AND ON CURZON HOME CINEMA | 7 JULY 2023

 

Il Boemo (2022)

Dir: Petr Vaclav. Czech Republic/Italy/Slovakia. 2022. 140 mins | Cast: Vojtěch Dyk, Barbara Ronchi, Elena Radonicich, Lana Vlady

Baroque music is at the core of this sweepingly romantic classically styled costume drama that reimagines the life and loves of a little known Czech composer who even tutored Mozart in 18th century Italy. 

Il Boemo, the Czech entry for the Academy Awards, makes fabulous use of the magical allure of its sumptuous Italian settings to tell a tale of doomed love affairs and the determination to overcome disappointment and succeed in the highly competitive arena of classical music. But behind this gilded cage lurks a squalid world of decadence and debauchery and Czech writer director Petr Vaclav reveals both sides of the palcoscenico in a drama smouldering with illicit sexual intrigue but bolstered by a bold story and prodigious musical interludes.     

The film opens in 1781 as Josef Myslivecek (b,1737) is on his death bed, poverty stricken and ravaged by syphilis, his deformity hidden by a Venetian mask. Years earlier, in 1765, he has arrived in Venice from a native Prague to seek his fortune as a musician and composer. But romance soon intervenes as Josef makes his way amongst the ‘beau monde’ and the urbane musician finds himself drawn into a love triangle with his young pupil, a well-born cellist who loses her virginity to him with disastrous consequences, and an aristocratic woman (Radonicich) whose libidinous charms capture Josef’s imagination as his reputation blossoms in all directions, and not just musically.

An exciting opportunity then takes Josef to Naples where his operas, written but hitherto unperformed, get a welcome airing. Here, as opera maestro, he enjoys a brief affair with real life diva Caterina Gabrielli (Barbara Ronchi) who agrees to sing in his debut opera but then loses her cool in a tense first night showdown in front of the fish-obsessed King of Naples (Ciccariello) who has a few unexpected habits up his sleeve. Invitations to lead illustrious orchestras soon flow including one sojourn that sees him fall for a married pianist in an affair that will prove his undoing.

Moving peripatetically around Europe, Josef finds himself back in Prague in 1768 meeting the child prodigy Mozart and instructing the precocious pianist in the rudiments of music with some new compositions which the boy picks up and embellishes like a pro in the film’s most amusing scene.

Tall, elegant and extremely graceful, Czech actor Vojtěch Dyko makes for a convincing maestro and he gives a sympathetic performance in the title role, although his pop star credentials often feel larger than life in the context of the film’s theme of struggling artist desperate for success. The divas are refreshingly idiosyncratic, and it works to the film’s advantage that Vaclav has cast delicately beguiling actors voiced by real opera singers including the famous Simona Saturova (La Gabrielli). 

Sadly, Josef falls victim to his carnal desires that often take precedence to his musical career, and this lack of perseverance and single-minded commitment is ultimately the key to his lack of endurance. Il Boemo is visually sumptuous glowing in candlelit interiors and lush landscapes, Vaclav does not stint on the music side of things with some rousing operatic episodes courtesy of contemporary Czech conductor and harpsichordist Vaclav Luks who has revived interest in his fellow countryman. This makes Il Boemo all the more enjoyable adding ballast and authenticity to the tragic story of a talented composer who somehow fell by the wayside in the chronicles of musical history. MT

PREMIERED AT SAN SEBASTIAN | NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

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Asteroid City (2023)

Dir: Wes Anderson. Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, Tony Revolori, Jake Ryan, Jeff Goldblum | US Comedy drama

Wes Anderson has a dedicated following but even diehard fans were put off by his 2021 film The French Dispatch, with its over-talky, complicated structure. In contrast Asteroid City is so exuberant, nostalgic and lovely to look at the sheer dynamism is sure to endear it to even Anderson sceptics although some complained, at the Cannes press screening, it lacked an ‘involving storyline’. This is a movie that is constantly on the move with Anderson’s regular A-list cast and candy-coloured eye-popping visuals that just make you gawp in amazement for two hours in a film about a play within a TV show .

Once again the narrative unfolds through multiple framing devices with Bryan Cranston introducing the show in a black and white opening scene where we meet Conrad Earp. (Norton) He is the playwright of the 1950s story we are about to watch which then bursts on the screen in a dazzling blast of technicolour transporting us to the mythical desert location of Asteroid City famous for its massive meteor crater and observatory for stargazers eager to see the Milky Way. It’s also a military testing ground for atomic weapons, pioneered by the serene scientist Tilda Swinton. There is a textbook style alien (Jeff Goldblum) whose appearance causes Jeffrey Wright’s army commander to launch an investigation. But Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe get left on the sidelines in nondescript cameos.

But the film’s focus is Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), a melancholy, pipe-smoking photographer and recent widower who arrives with his children, and his wife’s ashes, in a retro shooting-break that promptly blows a gasket. Butch mechanic Matt Dillon scratches his head unable to mend the vehicle so Augie asks his father in law Stanley (Tom Hanks) for help, meanwhile falling for Scarlett Johansson’s luminescent but lonely Hollywood star Midge, in scenes that plays out like a psychedelic version of Psycho. The nostalgia comes from the music – Rupert Friend is the crooning cowboy – the all round aesthetic and the upbeat gaiety that recalls a time when America was great and led the way in all things cutting edge, including scientific breakthroughs and space travel, but still had decency and family values at its heart. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Forever and a Day (1943)

Dirs: Victor Saville, Herbert Wilcox, Cedric Hardwick, Edmund Goulding | UK Drama

A chronicle by RKO of Britain at war from the days of Napoleon to the nights of the Blitz, this super-patriotic compendium production was made at the behest of Sir Cedric Hardwicke to raise funds for his compatriots in the depths of the war who described it as a “patriotic piece to which a multiple of people gave their talents”, Forever and a Day corralled an extraordinary array of expatriate Brits, some long established in Hollywood, ranging from Sir C. Aubrey Smith to Victor McLaglen as a doorkeeper named Archibald and others like Anna Neagle and Jesse Matthews who were just passing through.

Not exactly an entertainment but of definite curiosity value; with a tone that darkens considerably in the scenes with Claude Rains. @RichardChatten

ON TALKING PICTURES TV

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

Dir: James Mangold | Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller Bridge, Karen Allen, Mads Mikkelsen, Antonio Banderas, Toby Jones | US Action drama 154’

Admirers of Indiana Jones won’t be disappointed while those who don’t care won’t be surprised at the film franchise’s latest and probably final instalment. Jez Butterworth’s script sees the veteran archaeologist racing against time to retrieve said ‘dial of destiny’ that can purportedly change the course of history.

Harrison Ford turned 79 during production but wears it very well and much better than Karen Allen and Jonathan Rhys-Davies (whose appearance drew loud applause at tonight’s screening at Leicester Square) and the fact that he’s a wrinkled old codger (visibly rattled when his lecture on archeology is upstaged by the moonshot) makes the stunts all the more impressive; while Phoebe Waller-Bridge looks feisty in jodhpurs astride a motor-byke. She’s a modern heroine with retro appeal.

The conclusion when it finally comes would been quite satisfying if hadn’t taken such a long to get there. @RichardChatten

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Carmen (2023)

Dir: Benjamin Millepied | Cast: Paul Mescal, Rossy de Palma, Melissa Barrera | Musical Drama 116′

Spectacular to watch with its neon-enfused aesthetic, Benjamin Milllepied’s reimagining of Prosper Merimee’s Andalusian-set romance gets a Mexican makeover, but suffers an emotional bypass in the process. 

The enigmatic and strangely un-involving storyline poses more questions than it answers – to those uninitiated with the original – and the gutsy musical interludes scored by breakout composer Nicholas Britell (Succession) feel disconnected from the plot but provide much needed entertainment to carry us through the two hour running time. 

Paul Mescal is the star turn and, as ever, a magnetic presence as Aidan, tearing up a treat with his macho vulnerability but seemingly in a different film from the one starring his titular lover (Melissa Barrera) and Rossi de Palma’s Masilda. The opening sequence is one of the strongest and sees Carmen’s fiesty flamenco dancer mother gunned down by a drug gangster while strutting her stuff on a wooden platform in the dazzling deserts of Chihuahua (actually it’s New South Wales). The film returns to this tragedy in repeated flashbacks. Barrera is stunning as Carmen but can’t sing to save her life.   

After the shooting Carmen sets fire to her family home and escapes across the border to Texas where she meets ex-marine Mescal who finds himself working with the baddies to pick up illegal migrants. After a brush-up with one of the other patrolman Aidan goes on the run taking the reluctant Carmen with him. And apart from the intoxicating settings he’s the only reason to watch this. MT

NOW NATIONWIDE IN THE UK AND FRANCE

Twilight Women (1952)

Dir: Gordon Parry | Cast: Freda Jackson, Rene Ray, Lois Maxwell, Laurence Harvey | UK Crime Drama 89’

Unmarried nightclub singer, Vivanne Bruce, is suddenly along when her lover, Jerry Nolan, is arrested for murder. Searching for a place to live she eventually finds a room in a boarding-house run by the ruthless “Nellie” Alistair, who has an ulterior motive for offering unmarried mothers bed and board.

Britain’s first ‘X’ feature was this unrelenting slice of life with photography and production design that makes it resemble a silent German kammerspiele in which the unwed mothers of the title are first introduced in a series of close ups that resemble a series of mugshots.

The men are hardly seen (where was Maxwell Reed on the day they shot it?) with the egregious exception of Laurence Harvey, first seen as a crooner (obviously dubbed) in a nightclub.

Freda Jackson reprises her baby-farmer from No Room at the Inn, again answering to the appellation ‘Mrs’ although we never actually see her husband. @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Rather (2023) Tribeca Film Festival 2023

Dir: Frank Marshall | US Doc 96′

A new documentary offers a straightforward snapshot of Texan journalist, news anchor and commentator Dan Rather (1931-) who became a revered household name with his spirited and engaging presence on American TV networks during the turbulent years of the 1960s and beyond.

Daniel Irvin Rather has covered virtually every major event in the world for the past 60 years but is also known for ushering in the era of fake news that led to his downfall at the respected CBS network. Rather is also credited at being the first journalist to announce the news of John F Kennedy’s death in 1963 by running with the rumour, ‘based on his instincts’ before it was fully confirmed.

Amongst many other achievements Rather stood out with his impactful style of reporting that bridged the gap between what was really happening on the ground during the Vietnam war, and the sentiment presented back home. The film outlines his fall from grace for airing documents, during a CBS broadcast in the run up to the 2004 presidential election, suggesting that George W Bush had a sketchy military record during the 1970s. The issue is still mired in controversy to this day.

Coming across as a serious man of integrity as he faces the camera as an engaging raconteur, at 91, without guile or glibness, the film pictures him from all perspectives: dutiful son, dogged marine recruit, devoted husband, deeply religious Texan. And this rounded impression is echoed by his daughter Robin who offers her admiration for a loving father who also was deeply committed to his cause. Talking heads-wise we also hear from Susan Zirinsky, his longtime colleague at CBS News, who sees him from a career angle, and not always in glowing terms.

Brimming with spectacular archive footage, news bulletins and interviews, the film darts around chronologically charting a career that began on Texas radio and graduated to TV News slots, where Rather made a name for himself covering Hurricane Carla, the Civil Rights Movement, the J F Kennedy Assassination, Watergate and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wars in Vietnam, the Gulf and Afghanistan saw him on the battlefield dodging the bullets, and sending serial postcards back home to his family with the simple, repetitive message: “War is Hell”. At CBS and on 60 Minutes he was a revered anchor and is now prolific on Twitter appealing to a younger generation with his recalcitrant outbursts and on his own website News and Guts.

“Can you still make a difference as a journalist” Rather said at the Texas-based Moody College of Communication in 2009. “Yes, if you don’t quit”. This is a clear-eyed, informative film that refuses to dig the dirt on Dan. That’s for another documentary. MT

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL | NEW YORK 7-18 JUNE 2023

 

 

Hondo (1953) Bfi Film on Film 2023

Dir: John Farrow | Cast: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness | US 83′

Despite the obligatory shots of arrows heading straight for the camera climaxing in a rousing encirclement by injuns, Hondo, based on Louis L’Amour’s best-seller, is more a character study than a straight western and stands up perfectly well played flat.

John Wayne plays army dispatch rider Hondo Lane who finds his true place in the world when he comes across a woman and her son living in a remote homestead amongst warring Apaches.

Katherine Hepburn was reputedly intended for the role eventually played by Geraldine Page (who gets an introducing credit) reputedly selected for her homely looks, so as not to outshine Duke Wayne.

Wayne doesn’t actually get to tell her she’s beautiful when she’s mad but she frequently curls her lip in the face of his swaggering machismo. @RichardChatten

BFI Film on Film Festival (8-11 June) is the UK’s first film festival dedicated to screening works solely on celluloid with films showing on rare Nitrate, 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, dual-strip 3D and Super 8.

Barbie Nation: An Unauthorised Tour (1998)

Dir: Susan Stern | US Doc, 1998

Tall, lithe and perfectly formed with a swish of long blonde hair: the Barbie doll was the pinnacle of perfection for young girls in the 1960s. Hours were spent dressing her up in a variety of outfits with shoes that never stayed on, tiny handbags and even gloves. Barbie was a fully formed adult of 19, and later even had a boyfriend called Ken.

Susan Stern’s brief but informative documentary Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour dives deep into the story of this iconic plaything that was sexy and yet resolutely asexual in an era where women were still content to be mothers and wives. Back in the early 1960s there was never a mention of Barbie working or having career aspirations beyond being a secretary or a nurse.

Ruth Handler was an ordinary Denver wife and mother when she spotted a gap in the market that would make her one of the richest enterpreneurs of the 20th century. Her little daughter played with dolls made out of paper and Ruth, ran a small furniture business called Mattel with her husband Elliot, and his partner Matt Matson (Matt+El).

In a brilliant marketing stroke, the entrepreneurial Jewish housewife then had the idea to extend their range of furniture and picture frames to include dollhouses, and then came across the German’ Bild Lill Doll’, created by Reinhard Beuthein years earlier. The doll was based on a gold-digging comic strip sex symbol but Handler refashioned the mannequin transforming it into Barbie in 1959.

Barbie was the first adult doll on the market in the 1950s. In archive footage, Handler explains her reasons for creating an adult doll that could help girls deal with the physical changes as they went through puberty. The adult doll had breasts (but no nipples!) and was not popular with parents, but the went down a storm with their kids after Mattel devised a clever TV marketing campaign. Girls had great fun dressing the Barbie dolls, and buying different outfits each week with their pocket money. Back in the day, I remember the sheer excitement of discovering, while staying with my cousin, that Brierley’s in Peterborough were selling Barbie outfits at discount prices. We bought the whole range. Even nowadays two Barbies are sold every second somewhere in the world.

The film then explores Barbie’s evolvement as the doll was produced in a variety of different guises: there was a black Barbie, named Christie that could say: “Hello I’m Christie, let’s go shopping with Barbie” – simple words perpetuating the safe but stock idea that Sixties women were pliant emptied-headed females happy to stay in the background. Nowadays things have become more avantgarde: there is even a blood-soaked ‘Carrie Barbie’ and a ‘Frida Kahlo’ wheel-chair user. The Barbie ‘Fashionistas line’ is now available in seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles.

Naturally Barbie couldn’t stay ‘innocent’ forever. A more sinister undertone comes from two women who gave their dolls a dominatrix spin with appropriate leather accoutrements. Stern interweaves her doc with footage from original Barbie ads; a Philadelphia TV news story with the startling headline, “Is deep frying a Barbie part of a Satanic ritual?”. And this negative aspect is echoed in Handler’s own life: She was later convicted of false accounting that saw her and Elliot forced out of running the business they had started. Breast cancer followed but her indomitable entrepreneurial sprit survived when she came up with a new business called Nearly Me, the first to produce customised breast prostheses on the general market. There’s no keeping a good woman down!. MT

25th ANNIVERSARY DIRECTOR’S CUT | Available on demand from 27 June 2023

Des Mains en Or | Healing Hands (2023)

Dir: Isabelle Mergault | Cast: Lambert Wilson, Josiane Balasko, Sylvie Testud | France Comedy 91′

Lambert Wilson is the star of this light-hearted comedy drama that sees his austere arrogance melt in the face of straightforward kindness as a distinguished writer with a bad back. Wilson plays almost the same character as in his recent film Simple Things. This time he is Pierre, a debonnair  professional living in a Belle Epoque mansion in the enchanting coastal region of Calvados where he is surrounded by the trappings of success, but somehow isn’t feeling it. Clearly something is missing in his life.

An invitation to join the Academy Francaise is flattering, but chronic back pain leaves him unable to cope with the stress of this high profile existence, and the fear of not being able to meet his commitments only makes matters worse. And then along comes earth mother Martha (Balasko) with her healing hands. Whether you buy into their formulaic romance is the key to the film’s success. If not the luscious Normandy landscapes provide the eye candy in this mildly amusing crowd-pleaser. MT

NOW OUT IN FRANCE AND BELGIUM

Daliland (2022)

Dir: Mary Harron | Wri: John C Walsh | Cast: Sir Ben Kingsley, Christopher Briney, Barbara Sukowa, Suki Waterhouse, Rupert Graves, Andreja Pejic, and Ezra Miller | Canada Drama 97′

Ben Kingsley is sensational as Salvador Dalí, pictured in his later years in this enjoyable classically-styled biopic from Canadian filmmaker Mary Harron and her writer John C Walsh.

Set in New York and Spain in 1974, the thrust is not so much the artist’s work but his fascinating obsession with his wife and muse Gala (Sukowa) whom he describes as: “the secret within my secret”. Seen through the inexperienced eyes of the bland and pasty-faced James (Briney), the focus then shifts to this young assistant keen to make his name in the art world, who is helping the eccentric and mercurial Dalí prepare for a big gallery show, although his credentials for the post are never explained. Ultimately, the naive James feels disillusioned by the experience – but we wouldn’t expect anything else; such is the ephemeral nature of artistic genius.

The legendary surrealist often takes a backseat in favour of this far less intriguing cypher who somehow finds himself on the receiving end of all the female attention – even from Gala – who is styled as a sexually voracious virago whose profligate nature puts her marriage under strain, although the quixotic Dali remains in denial of her faults til the end.

Kingsley is perfect for the role with his dark, exotic features (he would also make a great Louis XIV). Not unexpectedly, his Dali comes across as mercurial, quaintly timid and vulnerable, but always dignified, a rather curious classical stringed score accompanying his painting interludes rather than something more avant-garde and zany. But Marcel Zyskind certainly captures the strange and whimsical quality of the artist’s nature with his deft camerawork and some magical lighting effects in a nighttime sequence on the beach in Cadaques, Catalonia.  

Dali’s other acolytes in this engaging shag-fest include Ginesta, a sinuous Suki Waterhouse, Amanda Lear (Pejic) and Rupert Graves’ Captain Moore, a financier and the voice of reason who frets over the Dalis’ extravagant lifestyle. MT

The Red Island | L’île Rouge (2023)


Dir/Wri: Robin Campillo | Cast: Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Quim Gutierrez, Charlie Vauselle | France, Drama 115′

Robin Campillo follows his frenetic activist film 120bpm with this mystical, evocative childhood recollection of growing up on the Island of Madagascar during in one of the last French military bases of the French empire. The story is seen through the eyes of his character Thomas (Vauselle) whose caped comic book hero Fantomette adds an exotic air of surreality to this dreamy island reverie with his nighttime sorties transforming the place into a secret world of exotic and illicit liaisons.

Life in the former French protectorate of Madagascar seems like any other colonial existence for the French people living there and awaiting repatriation in 1971. For Thomas this East African outpost, where he lives with his mother, father and two brothers in a simple bungalow, is an adventure playground full of wild and exciting possibilities courtesy of his caped adventurer Fantomette.

With its sense of adventure underpinned by reality this often feels like a Tintin adventure, but the cartoon character Fantomette – created in 1961 by the French graphic artist Georges Chaulet – is the whimsical Batman-like shadow. With his black mask and red-lined cape he provides the film with a layer of fun and intrigue in ingenious animation sequences that perfectly express Thomas’ boyhood imagination and lend a mischievous air of danger, a counterpoint the everyday life on the military base where the spirit of native insurrection is still reverberating outside the walls of the encampment.

These daily demonstrations exulting in liberation inject an air of harsh reality into the ordered but rather hedonistic vibe of expat life. In the daily round of barbecues, swimming in the sea and boozy lunches  Thomas’ parents Colette (Nadia Tereszkiewicz) and Roberto (Quim Gutierrez) are fully-rounded characters enjoying a vibrant sexual chemistry their sensuality always threatening to incandesce into an explosive episode that only adds to their allure.

Campillo records all this in the three strand narrative, but always retains his sense of boyhood wonder and playfulness through the amusing vignettes featuring the masked adventurer. Colette, a warm and tender mother, runs him up a cape and mask on her sewing machine, and once lights are out, the night becomes a thrilling time to explore. The island and its wildlife, vegetation and ordinary buildings, like the church, are transformed into a strange paradise in the light of the moon. After dark, Thomas’ imagination is set free as he discovers the mysterious goings in a world beyond everything he has known before, transported by his guise as Fantomette. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE AND BELGIUM

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Dir: PeterWeir | Cast: Rachel Roberts, Anne-Louise Lambert, Helen Morse, Vivean Gray, Kirsty Child, Tony Llewellyn Jones | Fantasy Drama, Australia 115’

The last time I saw this adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel – a film that triumphantly realises Hitchcock’s oft-expressed desire (a desire that also informed Claude Chabrol’s ‘Le Boucher’) to locate a spine-chilling mystery against a rural backdrop in brilliant sunlight – I found the experience so unnerving that when it was over it took a major effort simply to venture out into the dark to put the bins out.

Cliff Green bases his script on a novel by Joan Lindsay that sees a group of Australian schoolgirls vanish mysteriously during an idyllic summer picnic, haunting and frustrating the people left behind. That the sole girl to return is unable to explain exactly what happened during the time of her absence is characteristic of the film’s ambiguity which strongly implies that somehow the supernatural were involved without spelling it out.

When the film came out a reporter noticed that in 1900 Valentine’s Day fell on a Wednesday not a Saturday and the tragedy wasn’t in any of the papers at the time. So he asked Joan Lindsay if it actually happened and only then did she reveal that the novel was entirely fictitious. @RichardChatten

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS

Daughter of Darkness (1948)

Dir: Lance Comfort | UK Horror

Ironically – considering her best remembered film role was as the Virgin Mary in ‘King of Kings’ – Siobhan McKenna made her film debut in Victor Hanbury’s answer to ‘Nightmare Alley’, as a wide-eyed Colleen reviled by the women of the village as the Devil incarnate and lusted after by the men; which seems a little harsh as she wears a crucifix and on several occasions seeks sanctuary in a church.

Her first victim is Maxwell Reed as Battlin’ Dan, a gypsy pugilist with eyebrows like Vampira whose looks Miss McKenna soon improves by scarring his cheek.

This heady brew is done proud by Lance Comfort enhanced some lovely use of night-for-night by Stanley Pavey, taking in along the way a conflagration in a barn and a fearsome finale in a churchyard. @RichardChatten

AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE

Kidnapped (2023) Cannes Film Festival 2023

Dir: Marco Bellocchio | Cast: Enea Sala, Leonardo Maltese, Paolo Pierobon, Fausto Russo Alesi, Barbara Ronchi | Italy, Drama 125′

At 83 years-old, Italian auteur Marco Bellocchio is still knocking them out. His latest, a classically styled melodrama, tells the little known story of the kidnapping of a Jewish boy taken away from his family in Bologna to live in the Vatican in 1858, once again exposing an ugly episode of the history of the Catholic Church.

Kidnapped is a hardcore arthouse affair full of impassioned speeches, religious symbolism and magnificent set pieces. It also boasts a tour de force from Italian actor Paolo Pierobon as a malevolent Pope Pius IX who orders a series of forced religious conversions as his power diminishes in the wake of the newly-founded Kingdom of Italy.

A series of mostly cardboard characters are there to serve the narrative in a film whose primary focus is the outright humiliation of a Jewish family whose little boy, 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara (played by Enea Sala, then Leonardo Maltese), is seen living happily with his upmarket parents Solomone “Momola” Mortara (Fausto Russo Alesi) and Marianna (Barbara Ronchi).

One night Edgardo is taken away from his family’s palatial home on the premise of his having been secretly baptised by the family maid. The only way for the couple to get him back is to convert to Catholicism, which is naturally a non-starter.

Inspired by a work from Daniele Scalise, Bellocchio and his co-writer Susanna Nicchiarelli chronicle Edgardo’s turbulent time in the Vatican where he undergoes intense religious instruction along with other Jewish boys. Meanwhile, back in Bologna, Momola works with the international press to raise the profile of his son’s plight through a vigorous campaign demonising the pontiff, who is even circumcised against his wishes in one rather weird scene, where Jewish elders break into his inner sanctum. Another sees Edgardo freeing a statue of Christ, who then comes down from the cross and walks calmly away.

Fire and brimstone and much ringing of hands follows with Ronchi channelling a typical Jewish mother, and you feel for her and her cute offspring. If this was a painting Valesquez, Goya or even Caravaggio would do it proud. But Rapito certainly reflects a blood-soaked era when the Papal States – and Pius himself – were eventually vanquished by the Italian army in 1870. Needless to say the Catholic Church fails to redeem itself in the film’s ending, and still holds sway over its believers to this day. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2023

A Night in Casablanca (1946)

Dir: Archie Mayo | with Groucho, Harpo, Chico Marx, Charles Drake, Lois Collier | uS Comedy 85’

Although nothing else in A Night in Casablanca begins to measure up to the opening gag with Harpo holding up the building, it remains the last truly vintage film the Marx Brothers ever made; and became something of a cause celebre when Jack Warner protested at the use of ‘Casablanca’ in the title. (It even has Dan Seymour from the original.)

It follows the familiar pattern, right down to the usual bland male lead (this time it’s the turn of Charles Drake). The boys must have got a lot of satisfaction to get laughs at the expense of Nazis, especially Sig Ruman who declares that “it will sooth me to see someone in pain”, while the level of the humour can guessed from the amount of time the film devotes to him losing his toupee.@RichardChatten

NOW ON MUBI

The Other (1972)

Dir: Robert Mulligan | US Fantasy drama

Fifteen years after Tom Tryon had played the title monster in I Married a Monster from Outer Space, although the ordeal it depicted must have paled by comparison with the subsequent experience of working for Otto Preminger. He returned to films in style as executive producer on his own adaptation of his best-selling novel.

Having just created a splash with ‘Summer of ’42’ director Robert Mulligan returns to the summer of 1935 – a date driven home by an appearance of the National Review Association logo and when John Ritter is seen reading a newspaper headlining the trial of the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby – for this Hitchcockian exercise in psychological horror shot in brilliant colour by veteran cameraman Robert Surtees (there’s an eye-watering scene depicting a kid falling on to a pitchfork) which imbues Connecticut with the same inscrutable beauty as Grant Wood and Andrew Wyeth.

Just as Mulligan’s earlier study of childhood during the thirties in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ had enlisted the services as narrator of Kim Stanley (a stage actress rarely seen in films), so ‘The Other’ provides an extremely rare screen record of legendary Broadway star and acting coach Uta Hagen. @RichardChatten

Reality (2023)

Dir: Tina Satter | Cast  Sydney Sweeney, Josh Hamilton, Marchant Davies | US Drama 83′

A whistleblowing psychological drama that traps us for most of its running time within the confines of a small room and other drab locations to tell the true story of Reality Winner, an American NSA contractor who in 2017 divulged confidential top secret intelligence that revealed her country’s knowledge of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.

Satter’s impressive feature debut is based on her own stage play ‘Is This a Room’ and revolves around an interrogation between two male FBI agents and Reality, an ambitious and highly intelligent linguist multi-linguist, sensitively played Sydney Sweeney. The dialogue is actually taken from the FBI’s transcripts of what was actually said, and demonstrates just how persuasive the men become in gradually breaking down a suspect until they achieve their aims.

It all starts in 2017 when Reality (Sweeney) is doorstepped at her home by FBI agents Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Taylor (Marchant Davis), who present a search warrant and then start a menacing interrogation. Reality readily engages with their line of questioning as her house is searched and her telephone confiscated until it gradually emerges that she is a suspect in the disclosure of highly sensitive information. At times stranger than fiction, Reality is an absorbing film that blends political thriller with fantasy drama with striking lighting effects and sound design. Sydney Sweeney is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the title role. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE from 2 June 2023 | BERLINALE PANORAMA 2023

 

The Leather Boys (1964)

Dir: Sidney Furie | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Colin Campbell | Drama

‘The Leather Boys’ can still raise eyebrows for it’s pioneering depiction of a nice young lad who finds that he prefers the company of Dudley Sutton to his shrewish little wife played by Rita Tushingham..

Well before he hit the big time with ‘The Ipcress File’ Sydney J. Furie, the new boy from Canada, had already demonstrated himself a director of bewildering versatility with his work ranging from ‘X’-rated shockers like this to Cliff Richard musicals.

In the former category ‘The Leather Boys’ attracted particular notoriety when as a casualty of the industry crisis of 1963-64 it took over a year to obtain a circuit release, which earned it a place on Terence Kelly’s list of ‘martyred’ films on page 35 of his book ‘A Competitive Cinema’. All in all a perfect candidate for Talking Pictures. @RichardChatten

ALSO ON BFI PLAYER

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power (2022)

Dir.: Nina Menkes; Documentary with Laura Mulvay, Julie Dash, Joey Soloway, Catherine Hardwicke, Rosanna Arquette; USA 2022, 107 min.

It is no an accident that British film critic Laura Mulvay leads an all-female cast of academics and filmmakers in this new documentary. Brainwashed takes a long cold look at the different ways women and men are treated, both on the screen and by the film industry. Naturally, their male counterparts were invited to contribute but declined. It proves inconclusively that patriarchy has no gender, and that Mulvay’s theory of the ‘Male Gaze’ is very much alive even in the most high-brow fare.

Accordingly, we are forced to take our most admired films and throw them under the bus of sexism: from Last Year at Marienbad to Vertigo, Raging Bull and Le Mepris. Even cult classics such as Blade Runner and Metropolis get the red card.

In the full frontal assault few get away unscathed. Hollywood’s early women directors Ida Lupino and Dorothy Azner are just as guilty as their contemporary counterparts, despite representing just eight percent of the filmmaking community, they have all somehow committed the ‘male gaze’ faux pas’. Even “Palme d’Or” winner Julia Ducournau, only the second female to win the award, takes the rap – for Titane, in which a young woman has sex with a car.

But what exactly is the “male gaze” and what does it consist of? It starts with the definition of the Subject/Object relationship, followed by the specific framing of female and male characters, executed in the camera movement and the lighting: Easy to see how this happens if female filmmakers and camera operators are in the minority. Women often appear naked in films whereas their male counterparts rarely so. The effect is subliminal. Yes, of course, we are all inured and conditioned to it, it’s par for the course – but how often do we actually object?

In the golden era of the studio film women’s faces were captured in 2D sheen, making them look dewy and perfect, whilst men were shot in craggy 3D, implying they had other qualities. Women were reduced to the one-dimensional stereotype of beautiful inertness. As an interesting observation: have you ever watched Raging Bull and noticed that Cathy Moriarty’s image at the swimming pool is detached from the male speakers?

Finally, let’s move on to Mandingo, a trash product directed by Richard Fleischer in 1975. The female plantation owner (Susan George) forces the black slave to have sex with her (otherwise she would accuse him of rape and he would die). His pectoral muscles are very visible, and in all other ways the table is turned too: the male body is, for once, waiting to be conquered by the powerful female.

Brainwashed is rigorous and bracing in its approach, stringent in its execution; and an eyeopener for all who thought they knew the full extent of the phenomenon known as ‘the Male Gaze’. AS

BFI Blu-ray, BFI Player Subscription, iTunes and Amazon Prime release on 17 July 2023

 

 

Book Club: the next Chapter (2023)

Dir.: Bill Holderman; Cast: Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Greg T. Nelson; USA 2023, 107 min.

Bill Holderman thought he was on to a good thing when Book Club, his feature debut, hit the big screen back in 2018. This follow-up is not as funny or well-written but takes up where he left off, and with the same team of Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and their love interests Don Johnson, Andy Garcia and Greg T. Nelson. Their star power carries Book Club: the next Chapter from cover to cover.

First time around “50 Shades of Grey” was the book up for discussion. This time around “The Alchemist” provides the reading matter. But rather than reading the focus is on a trip to Italy for a last ‘hurrah’ before Vivian (Fonda) settles down with Arthur (Johnson). What could be more romantic than an Italian wedding? Well, what starts as a joyride in Rome soon turns into a catalogue of disasters.

On the plus side, Book Club: the next Chapter looks ravishing, DoP Andrew Dunn pulling all the stops out with his camerawork and plenty of frothy dialogue. But something is lacking: a spark to set it all on fire. Fonda is regal; Steenburgen mischievous; Candice Bergen sarcastic and self-deprecating and Diane Keaton hoping for a better version of Woody Allen to spar with. But the script lets these ladies down badly. Which is a shame, because so much talent deserves something brave and daring. Certainly not this orderly retreat behind bland in-jokes and telegraphed plot changes. So not much of a page-turner, just a reliable comedy blighted by the fate of all sequels. . AS

ON RELEASE FROM 12 MAY 2023

Silent Dust (1949)

Dir: Lance Comfort | UK Drama

Based on the play by both himself and his father Roland, Michael Pertwee already displays the caustic take on human nature that would characterise his later work for Mario Zampi.

During the titles, as the unmistakable strains of Georges Auric swells up, top billing goes to Sally Gray, but the film really belongs to Stephen Murray who gives a towering performance as the patriarch dismayed to discover that his son (a perfectly cast Nigel Patrick) far from being the dead hero he was mourning was actually a very much alive bouncer.

Another little gem from the still unsung Lance Comfort. Two clever scenes are one depicting a lying flashback and a subjective sequence (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) in which he visualises a scar-faced intruder with the scar – which being blind – is on the man’s wrong cheek. @RichardChatten

Little Richard: I Am Everything (2023)

Dir.: Lisa Cortes; Documentary with Little Richard, Mick Jagger, John Waters, Billy Porter, Tom Jones, ; USA 2023, 98 min.

Rock legend Little Richard comes alive in this new biopic from Lisa Cortes. It sees the musical icon trying to come to terms with his complex personality and explores the lack of public recognition during his lifetime. John Waters, Mick Jagger and Tom Jones – among others – help to shed light on a life so full of promise, but blighted by social reality. Sometimes verging on the hagiographic, Cortes manages a wealth of information with aplomb, a more non-linear approach might have been an alternative.

Richard Wayne Penniman (1932-2020) was born in Macon (GA) in the deep South of he USA. Black, queer and disabled he was most certainly abused in childhood. But his deep religious faith eventually led to him renouncing his gayness: “God wanted Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.

The man who would create “Tutti Frutti”, ”Long Tall Sally”. “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Rip it Up” single-handedly invented Rock’N’ Roll – but the glory and the awards went to Elvis and Pat Boone: No wonder, he felt cheated. He was the architect of an art form and a social identity that became progressively clearer only later in his life.  

Michael Jackson, Prince and later David Bowie (who idolised Little Richard) profited from Richard’s fight for an identity that overcome segregation, at least for part of a younger generation, after the events of 1968. But the music industry “ignored and cheated him”. ‘It was unfair’ says historian John Branca.

Academics may try to come to terms with it, citing the ‘then’ and ‘today’ comparisons, but Little Richard needs no defenders in our contemporary world, he lived through a time which was soul-crushing, and no film can gloss over this. Little Richard was overly optimistic when he claimed “My music broke down the walls of segregation”. And later he is quoted as saying “I want to change my image. I want to come out loud and gaudy as ‘the Living Fame”.

The feature makes no connection to “Flame”; it is a nod to the Pentecostal origins of the gay disco singer Sylvester. Little Richard was really re-inventing himself, even though it was not a always a linear process. But the singer’s religious ambivalence was the kicker in later years.

There are TV interviews and concert footage galore, and alone for this selection Cortes deserves credit. She may have strayed into an intellectual wilderness of a hindsight interpretation, but she keeps his music alive. The true King of Rock’N’Roll will always have the last word when he sings, breaking down our defences like no one else. AS

NOW IN CINEMAS COURTESY OF DOGWOOF

A Brighter Tomorrow (2023) Cannes Film Festival 2023

Dir: Nanni Moretti | Drama Italy/France, 95′

Since winning the Palme d’Or over two decades ago with The Son’s Room  Nanni Moretti, now nearly seventy, has been turning out self-reflective dramas about life for the Italian left-wing middle classes, and this circuitous comedy is another predictable sortie into that Roman territory and not without his signature moments of dry humour.

Like many directors of his era, Moretti keeps making the same film over and over again and this is the least involving to date. But then life tends to repeat itself so this is not such a bad thing, although you start to wonder why he is still in the main competition with so many talented filmmakers languishing in the sidebars. His last visit to Cannes with Three Stories, in 2021, was another middling drama in his repertoire where the women are usually peacemakers, the men the troublemakers, apart from Moretti himself who always good as the self-questioning man of integrity. Naturally – he’s the director.

A Brighter Future is essentially another of his films within a film, Moretti is Giovanni a neurotic novelist struggling to finish his own feature. As usual the politics are left-wing and the pace plods along placidly about the Italian Communist party objecting to the Soviets during the Hungarian invasion of 1956.

Margherita Buy – always a luminous prescence – plays his wife Paola, the film’s producer. But the is marriage going downhill and she has decided to leave him. Meanwhile Matthieu Amalric makes another febrile appearance as the film’s producer desperately trying to rustle up finance. To beef up the production Giovanni he has cast a group of Koreans who provide the funniest scene during a script meeting where their interpreter gets a ticking off for translating an intimate aside he has with Paola.

There are references to his ‘friends’: architect Renzo Piano and Martin Scorsese in a debate about violence in film. Scorsese has surely more experience and greater validity in commenting where this is concerned. The story gradually grinds to a rather pessimistic conclusion in chewing over and digesting the decadence of politics. So this is not one of his best outings but maybe a brighter future will bring a better Moretti film with it. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION 2023

 

Human Desire (1954)

Dir: Fritz Lang | Cast: Gloria Grahame, Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford | US Noir 91’

Jerry Wald had so been intoxicated by those shots of trains going into tunnels he’d long wanted to do a remake of ‘La Bete Humaine’. By far the lesser of two films by Jean Renoir by Fritz Lang ‘Human Desire’ relocates a very gallic tale by Emile Zola of amour fou to the American heartland (evocatively shot in the bleakness of winter by Oscar-winning cameraman Burnett Guffey) with decidedly mixed results.

Instead of archetypical Frenchman Jean Gabin and provocative young Simone Simon we get all-American boy Glenn Ford (not exactly convincing as a sexual psychopath), while Gloria Grahame alone earns the film another as Broderick Crawford’s lawful wedded nightmare. @RichardChatten

The Conference (2022)

Dir: Matti Geschonneck | Germany, Drama, 90′

This chilling chamber piece chronicles the 1942 conference that saw a group of Nazi officials quietly enjoying brandy and cigars while signing the death warrants of eleven million European Jews. The meeting was over in ninety minutes.

The Conference is a compelling piece of filmmaking in spite of its cloistered one-room setting in a dour villa on the banks of a icebound lake in Berlin where fifteen stony-faced German attendees led by the chief of the Reich Security SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (a smirking Philip Hochmair) dispassionately perpetrated mass genocide.

Hitler and his fellow Nazis has reached the opinion that Germany’s Jewish population had become ‘too big for its boots’. The Wansee Conference took place on 24th January 1942 to discuss the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” or, in more mundane words, to discuss the total annihilation of Jews in countries under the control of the German Reich, in the quickest and most efficient way possible.

Best known for his 2017 outing In Times of Fading Light German filmmaker Matti Geschonneck directs with flair and precision a script based on the actual minutes recorded by the deadly SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann (of which only one copy remains). The meeting is unobtrusively recorded by the only female member there, Ingeburg Werlemann (Lilli Fichtner who made her debut in The White Ribbon).

All present are totally committed to the macabre plan of action. There is never a scintilla of thought given to pain and suffering involved, only the inconvenience and potential side effects on the German soldiers responsible for putting the genocide into action. Once again bringing to mind those famous words: the ‘banality of evil’, Geschonneck has made a powerful and important film that examines one of world’s darkest eras and showing how easy it is for a few misguided men to change the course of history. MT

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Harriet Craig (1950)

Dir: Vincent Sherman | US Drama

The title suggests just another Joan Crawford weepie in which she suffers in mink, but that’s only half the story.

It’s ironic that Crawford found popularity in roles in she which was noble and self-sacrificing (in reality in ‘Mildred Pierce’ she would almost certainly have had Ann Blyth for breakfast).

As one who holds the heretical view that Crawford wrecks nearly every film in which she appears, I nominate ‘Harriet Craig’ as the one glorious exception to that rule; she’s certainly a hundred times more frightening than Rosalind Russell in the 1936 version.

It’s only too believable that Mrs Craig’s staff live in terror of her; and she ain’t kidding when she comes home to find the place a mess, and her companion opines that the servants left that way, lowers her voice and snarls “they wouldn’t dare!” @RichardChatten

Lakelands (2023)

Dir.: Robert Higgins, Patrick McGivney; Cast: Eanna Hardwicke, Danielle Galligan, Lorcan Cranitch, Dafhyd Flynn, Gary Lydon; ROI 2022 100 min.

Irish films have been recently in the (Oscar) news, with The Banshees of Inisherin and The Quiet Girl featuring prominently. Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney also hail from the Emerald Isle. Their first film clearly has Lindsay Anderson’s 1983 classic This Sporting Life in mind but fails to overcome the emotional limits of its two main characters it ends up in a cul de sac of Neo realism.

Farmer Cian (Hardwicke) is the captain of the local Gaelic Football team in Granard Longford a rather drab town in the Irish countryside. In order to find the ‘bright lights’, Cian and his mates have to take a long bus ride to Cavan, where nightclubs promise girls and drugs. In a senseless brawl outside a pub Cian suffers a life-changing concussion. Unable to cope with the long-term after effects due to CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) he and his coach Bernie (Lydon) are forced to re-think his promising future.

The macho culture surrounding Irish football is partly to blame for the lack of understanding surrounding Cian’s condition, and the club’s supporters are not sympathetic: the captain of the local Minor League is not supposed to submit to such an outlandish illness. The reactions mirror Cian’s own assessment: it will go away, he has to be patient. But Cian has to face up to that fact that his career and his social standing in the community are ruined, and Cian becomes increasingly morose and downcast, not helped by his father Diarmud (Cranitch). Then hope comes along in the shape of Grace (Galligan), a nurse who will soon return to the UK. This relationship is left open, one of the flaws in the script, along with the failure to properly address the toxic male culture,  difficulties to find an ending, Higgins and McGivney flounder even more with a half-hearted compromise.

Whilst the rural background is anything but romantic as the title suggests, DoP Simon Crowe overloads the images with utter dreariness to the point of boredom. To show the landscape of having an input in the behaivior of Cian and his mates is one thing, but dragging the audience for 100 minutes of senseless repetitive images is asking simply too much. Cian and Gabrielle’s relationship, the centre of the feature, is so opaque, that it asks more question than answers.

It is very clear what LAKELANDS was aiming for, but the execution is simply too lame and uninspiring. A missing dramatic arc leaves the audience dangling in an emotionally undercooked art-house fair. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 5 MAY 2023

How to Blow up a Pipeline (2023)

Dir.: Daniel Goldhaber; Cast: Ariela Barer, Kristine Forseth, Lukas Gage, Forest Goldluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Luje Weary, Irene Bedard; US 2022, 104 min.

With its eye-catching title How to Blow up a Pipeline is a provocative film specially given Putin’s punitive action in Russia. But this is nothing to do with the recent invasion of Ukraine, In fact Daniel Goldhaber’s film, a fascinating political thriller, takes place in Texas where a group of eco-warriors severely damage a pipeline, in two places.

Basing their film on the 2020 non-fiction book by the Swedish author Andreas Malm, who argues against climate in-activism, the American director and his co-writers Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol locate their narrative in the US. And like all good Heist movies the characters are introduced one by one, with their stories shown in flashbacks, cleverly arranged by editor Daniel Garber.

The native American bomb expert Michael (Goodluck) is fed up with the oil corporations’ misuse of the land that belongs to him and his people. The military veteran Dwayne has lost the land which was in the hands of his family for a century: the government took the land forcibly, citing corporate need. Rowan (Forseth) and Logan (Gage) are a hippy couple, much more interested in sex and drugs than ecology.

Then there are lesbians Alisha (Lawson and Theo (Lane), whose death with leukaemia was cited as the result of living near an oil refinery. Alisha, a seasoned community worker is very skeptical about the whole enterprise, but at least she can be near Theo. Shawn (Scribner) is an idealistic college student who might “have read too many books, and decided to change the world”. And there is Xochite (co-author Barer) who opens the feature which a message to the owner of the SUV she is vandalising, calling for attacks on ‘things which kill us’.

The film avoids preaching or sermonising, and the warrior are never glamorised, Goldhaber leaving the audience to make up their own minds. It goes without saying that all participants face long prison sentences or even the death penalty for their actions. And like in all good heist movies, the audience is often misdirected: with one scene showing a development that upends long-held assumptions.

DoP Tehillah de Castro shoots on 16 mm film to achieve a grainy quality to compliment the storyline which sees a crew of misfits avoiding romanticism at all costs always aiming for pragmatism however desperate their plight.

One of the most symbolic scenes pictures a warrior shooting down a drone with a single sling shot: David meeting Goliath head-on, the outcome dictated by the power structure. Courage may not prevail in this uneven battle, but the time for story-telling is over, as one documentary filmmaker has to admit in his interview with Dwayne. How to Blow up a Pipeline is unique: for once this is a documentary that really lives up to its vital message. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 21 APRIL 2023

 

Semaine de la Critique (2023)

La Semaine de la Critique will present seven feature films in the competition for its 62nd edition which runs from 17 to 26 May 2023

TIGER STRIPES

Malay director Amanda Nell Eu’s first feature film, offers a new, witty, and extravagant take on teenage metamorphosis and rebellion. A surprising and delightful fantasy film that celebrates young women’s desire to let loose in a society that aims to firmly discipline them.

SOFIA

Sofia is an athlete who dreams of reaching the top, but her dream turns into a nightmare when she finds out she is pregnant. An unwanted pregnancy that she cannot legally terminate since abortion is still illegal in Brazil. The countdown has started, and Sofia’s mind is made up. With Levante, her first feature, Brazilian director Lillah Halla stands up to conservatism that is eating away at her country with a unifying, queer outlook. One for all, and all for Sofia.

SLEEP

There’s no dozing off when watching Sleep, Korean director Jason Yu’s first feature film. Bong Joon-Ho’s former assistant director signs a sensational film as he tells the story of a struggling young couple before and after their first child is born. A closed setting: three chapters, two protagonists, one crying baby, a barking dog, and a roaming ghost: the perfect ingredients for a horrific, devilishly effective comedy.

LE RAVISSEMENT

In her film Le ravissement, French director Iris Kaltenbäck skillfully tackles the issues of a very close, intimate friendship between two women, and delivers a riveting psychological thriller. A breathtaking first film with very fine, delicately crafted writing, and a stunning cast: Hafsia Herzi, Nina Meurisse, Alexis Manenti and Younes Boucif.

LOST COUNTRY

Serbian director Vladimir Perišić’s second feature film, is an intimate and political saga set in 1996 Belgrade during the students’ demonstrations against Milosevic’s regime. A teenager is torn between his own convictions and his love for his mother, a corrupt politician. A powerful film that overhauls the canons of classical drama.

INSHALLAH, A BOY

The very first film from Jordan to be presented at La Semaine de la Critique. Amjad Al Rasheed’s first film is the deeply moving portrait of Nawal – a care worker, a widow and mother of a young girl – who is fighting like hell for her independence, played by Palestinian actress Mouna Hawa. She imbues this radiant, determined warrior with the gravitas of the greatest female heroes in the history of cinema.

IL PLEUT DANS LA MAISON

A bittersweet summer tale, Il pleut dans la maison is Belgian director Paloma Sermon-Daï’s first fiction feature. Staying clear of pathos, she tells us the unadorned story of the relationship between siblings who try to stay together with their dignity intact as their home is flooded and their bank account emptied. Two wonderful characters, beautifully written and interpreted by the young Purdey and Makenzy Lombet.

NO LOVE LOST – Closing Film

To finish with a bang, La Semaine de la Critique will present No Love Lost Erwan Le Duc’s delectable second feature. A French tragicomedy with a quirky, poetic take on relationships between parents and children. Father and daughter – Nahuel Perez Biscayart and Céleste Brunnquell – are inseparable. An irresistible duo that will make you laugh at the drop of a hat.

La Semaine de la Critique will take place in Cannes between the 17th and 25th of May.

Directors’ Fortnight | Cannes Film Festival (2023)

Discover the 55th selection of Directors’ Fortnight

Find the complete programme here

Following the Cannes Film Festival, you can watch the 2023 Selection between June 7 and 18 in about 30 arthouse cinemas in France.

Here is this year’s selection:

VALE ABRAÃO (Val Abraham / Abraham’s Valley)

de Manoel de Oliveira

Séance spéciale

 

LE PROCÈS GOLDMAN (The Goldman Case)

Cédric Kahn

Closing Film

 

AGRA

Kanu Behl

 

L’AUTRE LAURENS (The Other Laurens)

Claude Schmitz

 

BÊN TRONG VỎ KÉN VÀNG (Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell)

Thien An Pham

First Film

 

BLACKBIRD BLACKBIRD BLACKBERRY (Merle merle mûre)

Elene Naveriani

 

BLAZH (Grace / La Grâce)

Ilya Povolotsky

First film

 

CONANN

Bertrand Mandico

 

CREATURA

Elena Martín Gimeno

 

DÉSERTS

Faouzi Bensaïdi

 

IN FLAMES

de Zarrar Kahn

Premier long métrage

 

LÉGUA

Filipa Reis & João Miller Guerra

 

LE LIVRE DES SOLUTIONS (The Book of Solutions)

Michel Gondry

 

MAMBAR PIERRETTE

de Rosine Mbakam

 

RIDDLE OF FIRE (Conte de feu)

de Weston Razooli

First Film

 

THE FEELING THAT THE TIME FOR DOING SOMETHING HAS PASSED

de Joanna Arnow

First Film

 

THE SWEET EAST

de Sean Price Williams

 

UN PRINCE (A Prince)

de Pierre Creton

 

XIAO BAI CHUAN (A Song Sung Blue)

de Zihan Geng

Premier long métrage

 

WOO-RI-UI-HA-RU (In Our Day)

de Hong Sang-soo

Closing Film

 

QUINZAINE DES REALISATEURS | 17-27 May 2023

A Day at the Beach (1970)

Dir: Simon Hesera | Cast: Peter Sellers, Mark Burns, Beatie Edney, Fiona Lewis, Maurice Reeves | Comedy Drama 93′

This far less glamorous version of La Feu Follet remains the joker in the pack of the careers of both producer Roman Polanski (who wrote the script and cast two veterans of Dance of the Vampires, and Peter Sellers.

Shelved for over twenty years before it finally emerged, the film is set in an incredibly bleak out of season seaside resort and filmed in Denmark. It remains to this day the most mysterious title in Peter Sellers’ filmography.

Sellers’ role (listed in the end credits as played by someone called ‘A. Queen’) is confined to a malevolent cameo alongside regular foil Graham Stark as one of a sinister pair who preside over a gift shop. The lead is actually played by a young actor called Mark Burns as a crapulent boor who spends the entire film rubbing people up the wrong way, notably Bergman veteran Eva Dahlbeck as a cafe proprietress. A young Beatie Edney steals the film in her debut billed as ‘Beatrice’. @RichardChatten

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE

 

 

Beau is Afraid (2023)

Dir: Ari Aster | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires, Denis Menochet, Kylie Rogers, Parker Posey, Patti LuPone | US Thriller

America has always led the world into the future, and that future has now become a present day dystopia. Or so Ari Aster would have us believe in his third feature that plays out like a cinematic version of The Scream on replay.

Joaquin Phoenix is utterly compelling as the connective tissue holding the wreckage together. Beau is Afraid is at times tragic, unwatchable and hilarious in its depiction of a wounded soul caught in the car crash of modern life. 

Petty criminals, noisy neighbours, druggies, weirdos and psychopaths inhabit this thriller that scratches at the edges of horror in showing how truly ghastly the modern world has become, and those within it. At least through the eyes of Beau Wassermann (Phoenix) a long-suffering and likeable middle-aged man traumatised and suffocated from birth by his domineering mother, and living out a hellish and lonely existence in a squalid urban dive. This often feels like Aster’s most personal film to date, and despite glints of dark humour he takes his main character’s trauma seriously: a man whose earnest attempts to please his mother are simply misinterpreted by her unassuageable need for a different kind of filial love. 

Beau, on medication and totally reliant on his therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson), has planned to visit his mother Mona (LuPone) but misses his flight, incurring further maternal disapproval. When he finally gets his act together she has died in a tragic accident the enigmatic circumstances of which push Beau into emotional meltdown, unleashing an epic chain of bizarre misadventures that are both beautiful and brutal by turns. And the brief moments of relief inexorably lead to more heartache or pain.

Being Jewish, Mona’s funeral has to take place promptly, and Beau has to be there as her treasured only son. But getting there proves a herculean task fraught with setbacks and ambivalent people, amongst them Grace and Roger (Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane), who save Beau from a terrible accident only to cause him further turmoil, along with their nasty teenage daughter, and Denis Menochet in a sadly underwritten part as a psychotic war veteran. An episode involving Hayley Squires as a wood nymph feels utterly redundant. Throughout, the world-weary Beau is back-footed and endlessly apologetic, even when the fault lies elsewhere.

Although overlong – at three hours – Aster handles the tonal shifts of Beau’s tortuous mental journey with precision assisted by his production designer Fiona Crombie and DoP Pawel Pogozelski who captures the shifting emotional landscape from Beau’s shabby urban apartment to the rosy pink glow of his recovery bedroom chez Grace and Roger; the Frank Lloyd Wright style bosky backwater Beau finally calls home and the momentous finale. Beau is the epic hero of today: his hopes constantly dashed after a potentially positive breakthrough in Phoenix’s intense yet subtle study of bewildered vulnerability. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS

 

Vermeer: The Greatest Exhibition (2023)

Dir: David Bickerstaff | UK Doc, 90′

David Bickerstaff has captured the market by successfully bringing the world’s most anticipated art exhibitions to the screen, and this latest doesn’t disappoint. Vermeer is a fabulous look at the largest Johannes Vermeer Exhibition in history that opened at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum in Spring 2023. This effectively means that anyone anywhere can enjoy these treasures, or relive the occasion afterwards at home.

 

 

Vermeer brings 28 of the artist’s 35 known works together in all their clarity and mastery, both from the Rijksmuseum and the Mauritshuis in the Hague, and showcasing the Dutchman’s artistry, his artistic choices and motivations for his compositions, as well as the creative process behind his paintings, and his talent for storytelling through his nuanced brushwork, his technique of using blurring and light to create subtle depth, capturing the artist’s voyeuristic gaze that often gives his subject matter an enigmatic feel. Curators enrich the film and offer enlightening commentary on his most storied paintings: Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Milkmaid The Little Street, Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid and Woman Holding a Balance, and many others from the Dutch Golden Age. A cinematic outing to enjoy on the big screen and view again and again. MT

IN CINEMAS IN THE UK and France from 18 April 2023

My Everest (2023)

Dir.: Carl Woods; Documentary with Max Stainton-Parfitt, Candy Stainton-Parfitt, Martha Stainton, Oscar Stainton, Andrea Shipley; UK 2922, 86 min

There’s nothing extraordinary these days about trekking to Mount Everest’s base camp, everyone seems to be doing it. But Max Stainton-Parfitt is extraordinary. He undertook the endeavour – 5364 above sea level, by foot and on horseback, the first person ever to reach base camp suffering from cerebral palsy.

His valiant trek is the focus of this debut feature documentary from British director/DoP Carl Woods who combines interviews with Max’s mother Martha and his brother Oscar who reveal how little help the family got in supporting Max’s efforts.

Max is captured on his family’s home movies, a little boy who wanted to be a fireman when he grew up. In 1993 he was diagnosed and went for treatment in Hungary and Miami. After studying at Queen Marys in London, he became an investment banker in the City and is now a father, marrying his PA Candy in 2019.

Most of the feature is dedicated to the week long trek up the mountain in 2018, with Max (and Candy) twice at the point of giving up. Sherpas were very helpful although Rocky, his horse, did throw him off on one occasion, battling snow and ice and rickety bridges on the journey towards base camp where Max and Candy were whisked off by helicopter.

Max’s arrival is a real triumph given the tortuous climb in adverse weather conditions. Nothing could have prepared him for the ordeal given his physical limitations. In an interview afterwards Candy explains how the macho adventure was really a way for Max to prove himself to his City colleagues: “as a man who could be relied on in an emergency”.

My Everest doesn’t quite match up to expectations or Max’s indomitable prowess. Flashbacks are often clumsily inserted and too much time is spent on needless repetitions during the climb. Still, this a unique and worthwhile document of a struggle against the odds. AS

IN CINEMAS 27 APRIL 2023

A Love Story (2023)

Dir/Wri: Alexis Michelik | Cast: Juliette Delacroix, Marie-Camille Soyer, Pauline Bresson, Leontine d’Onceiu | France, Drama 88′

Alex Michelik takes no time in cracking on with this formulaic lesbian love story that gradually spools out as a less convincing version of Ghost, Summertime and The Spectacular Now. So you get three films for the price of one – albeit with more plotholes than London’s Finchley Road.

The same sex affair at its core is a nice idea and, as suggested, this coup de coeur catches fire in the early scenes of A Love Story leading us to believe that Michelik, – who also stars – has something else up his sleeve for the reminding sixty odd minutes of his sophomore feature that makes the female orgasm its recurring motif.

Within twenty minutes of meeting lesbian journalist Katia Markowitz (Delacroix) and Justine (Soyer) are enjoying carnal pleasures, even though the latter has been heterosexual so far in her life. The two arrange to see each other again and are soon bosom buddies discussing Justine’s burning desire to have child. Their whirlwind romance sees them ‘getting married’ in a outdoor social gathering that allows her brother William (Michelik), a successful author, to promote his recent book before the assembled crowd.

A Spanish fertility clinic offers the women two bites of the cherry from a sperm donor but it’s Justine who falls pregnant and soon comes all broody and temperamental. And that’s when the problems start and the orgasms – thankfully- stop. Justine packs her bags without explanation, cue – a flashback to all the happy times they’ve shared together – as Katia goes into emotional meltdown. Amid footage of street riots (totally unexplained) Katia is pictured giving birth to a girl called Jeanne (d’Oncieu) feeling justifiably disgruntled that it was Justine who wanted a child in the first place. 

Fast forward a decade or so and mother Katia finds out the cancer she suffered earlier (?) has come back with a vengeance leaving her with only weeks to live, and desperate for someone to look after the pre-teen Jeanne. Well the obvious choice is her brother William who has now become an alcoholic not capable of looking after himself let alone a child: In the intervening years, a car accident has left him a widower with a severe brain injury. 

Cut a long story short (although this is a fairly short film as features go nowadays)  Jeanne moves in with William – who has an advance to write another book – and becomes his mother figure. This coupling feels way more entertaining and real than the lesbian twosome, Jeanne now posing all the relevant questions we’ve been wondering about from the film’s beginning. Meanwhile, the ghost of William’s wife (?) is following them about everywhere, dancing to the strains of Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Every Time I Say Goodbye’. The most poignant scene sees William admitting to Jeanne she’s a far better writer than he is, having read her private diary, much to her consternation. She is then left to make a decision about whether she is taken into care or stays with her ‘adopted’ father who could die any moment from a subdural hematoma. 

At this point, the lesbians surface again on a motorway service station, Justine having agreed to take a week’s holiday to their beloved Mont St Michel. This time the relationship also feels far more authentic than the fake fairytale they were living before their break up (with the obligatory shot of her on the loo, just to make it all seem real), Justine confessing she was never a lesbian anyway, but to round off it all off, we have to endure another or her orgasms with Katia very much alive and kicking. MT

A LOVE STORY IS NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2023)

Dir.: Hettie Macdonald; Cast: Jim Broadbent, Penelope Wilton, UK Drama, 108′.

Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton star in this sentimental tearjerker from first time film director Hettie MacDonald, 

Broadbent is Harold Fry, in his early sixties, living in a seaside backwater in Devon with his chipper wife Maureen (Wilton). The marriage has been blighted by the death of their only son David (Cave) whose drug addiction led to suicide, and they are no longer on speaking terms. Then out of the blue comes a letter from Queenie, a former colleague  and friend. She is signing off from a hospice in Berwick-on Tweed, suffering from terminal cancer.

A chance encounter with a woman at a petrol station – called simply ‘Garage Girl’ (Singh) sends Harold off on a walking trek to the Scottish border – inspired by her bid to keep her friend Queenie spiritually alive. Needless to say the story is made up, but Harold is already on his way, gathering with him a crowd of followers, when his story captures the imagination of the press, and a stray dog. Harold befriends one time drug addict Mick (Thiara) who is soon phased out due to his relapse. When Harold arrives at the hospice he gets cold feet, and it’s Maureen’s turn to support him.

Hettie MacDonald’s first stab at a feature film is influenced by her TV work (Dr Who), this lending an episodic nature to proceedings. Some of the scenes feel contrived, particularly those with the younger Harold and Maureen (Cullinale/Jackson Smith) playing perfect family, but mature Maureen’s encounters with neighbour Rex (Mydell), who has given up on live after the death of his wife, seem much more genuine in a dramatic arc often marred by false endings, and an overgenerous running time. DoP Kate McCullogh strives for meaningful images beyond the usual road-movie fare, but it all feels visually rather bland. 

The Pilgrimage wants to be about redemption and loss, and Penelope Wilton certainly captures these emotional nuances as a woman left alone in her grief – Harold even stays outside the crematorium chapel at his son’s funeral – Maureen taking her revenge by not giving him a message from Queenie. She had taken the sack for Harold after he partly destroyed their brewery workplace.  Wilton is the perfect foil for Broadbent’s “hang dog” character, he believes that a single deed could make up for his lifelong denial of emotion. Overall, the powerful acting helps to compensate for the sometimes unfocused direction. AS

NOW ON RELEASE from 28 April in UK Cinemas

A Thousand and One (2023)

Dir: AV Rockwell | Cast: Teyana Taylor, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, Josiah Cross, William Catlett | US Drama 117′

AV Rockwell has a strong premise for her feature debut that chronicles ten years in the life of a struggling black family set against the burgeoning gentrification of Brooklyn during the 1990s. And it looks fabulous with its inspired aesthetic sense and an evocative soundtrack. Sadly A Thousand and One is slight, overlong and underwhelming despite a confident central performance from Teyana Taylor who plays Inez, a bitter and difficult underdog whose only desire is to forge a stable family.

We first meet 22-year-old hairdresser Inez at Riker’s Island detention centre before she struts out into the big wide world in search of Terry, a six-year old child she left behind. Unfolding in a series of brief episodes the film soon establishes her difficult circumstances: grinding poverty and homelessness, Inez not exactly ingratiating herself with the foster family who have looked after Terry in the intervening years. The two are soon out on the streets of Harlem, Inez keen to start out again alone, before settling down with Lucky (Catlett), who appears to be a lover from the past. And the tale continues in this enigmatic vein, leaving us to fill in the gaps in a tonally uneven moody melodrama that aspires to be more momentous than it actually is, despite its justifiable pretensions.

Inez remains the same character over the decade while young Terry develops, played by three different actors (Atedola at 6, Courtney at 14 and Cross at 17). He is the most nuanced character growing from a hurt little boy – the film’s most meaningful scene sees him left all alone to amuse himself for the day – into a  thoughtful and intelligent adolescent, and eventually a disillusioned teenager.

Catlett’s Lucky eventually finds some soul after a prickly start in his new family, although he never really bonds with Inez (apart from in sex scenes) and the three of them somehow remain disconnected despite their fraught journey together. Taylor holds the film together with her vehemence and indomitable emotional power although her performance sometimes feels contrived: a little less attitude and a touch more vulnerability would have been welcome to make her character more relatable.

Oddly enough, One Thousand and One is at its most resonant in picturing the changing backcloth of New York’s gradual urban generation seen through a series of shifting aerial views of the city, brilliantly captured by DoP Eric Yue, along with carefully chosen archive clips from various speeches given by mayors Rudy Giuliani to Michael Bloomberg amongst others. This gives the film the ballast and integrity lacking in the story of Inez and her family. A worthwhile story then, in need of more depth script wise. MT

IN CINEMAS IN APRIL 2023.

Strange Way of Life (2023) Cannes Film Festival

Pedro Almodóvar’s short, a gay Western, STRANGE WAY OF LIFE starring Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal, will receive its World Premiere out of competition at the festival, followed by a theatrical release in the UK later this year.

STRANGE WAY OF LIFE is Almodóvar’s second work in the English language, his first being THE HUMAN VOICE starring Tilda Swinton which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2020. The film is produced by El Deseo and presented by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, with all characters costumed by the company.

A man rides a horse across the desert that separates him from Bitter Creek. He comes to visit Sheriff Jake. Twenty-five years earlier, both the sheriff and Silva, the rancher who rides out to meet him, worked together as hired gunmen. Silva visits him with the excuse of reuniting with his friend from his youth, and they do indeed celebrate their meeting, but the next morning Sheriff Jake tells him that the reason for his trip is not to go down the memory lane of their old friendship….
The strange way of life referred in the title alludes to the famous fado by Amalia Rodrigues, whose lyrics suggest that there is no stranger existence than the one that is lived by turning your back on your own desires.

Although he has never won the coveted Palme d’Or Writer/Director Pedro Almodóvar is one of Spain’s most celebrated filmmakers with numerous accolades to his name including an Academy Award®, four BAFTAs, numerous Goyas and over 100 further wins and nominations. His credits include WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, VOLVER, PAIN AND GLORY and PARALLEL MOTHERS.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2023 | 17-27 May 2023

Free Money (2023)

Dir.: Lauren DeFilippo, Sam Soko; Documentary with Michael Faye, John Omondi, Isaac Nyamori, Mary Anyango Songa, Jael Rael Axhieng Songa, Larry Madowo; Kenya/USA 2022, 78 min.

Kenyan director Sam Soko (Softie) and her US counterpart Lauren DeFilippo (Red Heaven) have researched the impact of fast growing Non-Profit agency GiVE DIRECTLY (GD), founded by Michael Faye and three of his fellow students from Harvard and MIT.

GD has come up with a revolutionary idea to fight poverty in eleven countries, giving participants in the scheme $22 a month for twelve years. The pilot scheme will run until 2031.

Caroline Teti, who works for GD, is aware she does not represent the emissary from the First World, promising much and delivering nothing. Near the Kenyan village of Koogutu, where GD’s recipients of UBI (Universal Basic Income) live, there are houses without roofs, financed by Kenyans who were told they could sell them for a profit after purchase, when the real estate company had installed the roofs – something that never happened.  

The men of the village are particularly sceptical, they fear that their women will grow horns and leave them – part of a satanic cult which promises money but instead takes the souls of the recipients.

Larry Madowa, a journalist with the BBC, who grew up in the area, keeps an eye on the GD activities. He is sceptical – and so is the audience, when we find out that Google is one of the the main investors in GD. Anyone in the village who is over 18 will receive the money monthly via a smart-phone transfer, itself a novelty. The directors chose to follow two participants in the scheme, John Omondi (18) and Jael Rael Achieng Songa (16). Whilst John receives the 2280 Kenyan Sterling monthly payments, Jael is the victim of a bureaucratic bungle, and is left penniless. Meanwhile her girlfriends go to school and gain an education, which will set them free. John later encounters difficulties in Nairobi, where he wants to study, but the capital is an expensive place. The villagers runs a lottery, and one day Jael is the winner, and together with help of her family she can now also start school.

At a visit at the local call centre we can see the progress the young people have made thanks to technology, after the initial shock of having to use a mobile.

There is no easy answer here. No one knows what will happen when the scheme runs out in 2031. Yes, maybe the recipients of UBI serve as guinea pigs, but GD is trying to break the charity mould, and it’s well worth a try, in spite of early pitfalls. After all, in the First World the workforce was paid to stay home during the pandemic.

Four different DoPs follow the participants in this trial and error exercise. It seems that the improvements to their homes have alone made it all worthwhile. And on the local market, UBI recipients get preferential  treatment because the traders know they will not ask for credit. AS

FREE MONEY, in cinemas and on demand, on 21st April.

Suzume (2023)

Dir.: Makoto Shinkai, Anime with the voices of Nanoka Hara, Eri Fukastu, Hokuto Matsumura, Ann Yamane; Japan 2022, 122 min.

The turbulent history of Japan comes alive in this delicately drawn and magical adventure that will resonate with a generation of young people still traumatised by the Tohoko earthquake and Tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster.

Suzume (voiced by Nanoka Hara) is a clever 17-year-old orphan who lives with her aunt in Kyushu, on Japan’s southern Island, after losing her mother. On the way to school one day she meets Souta (Hokuto Matsumura) a mysterious young man with a special ability for ‘closing out’, by way of a door, an ancient demon called the Worm who can bring havoc on Earth. Together, they set out in search of the door, tramping through ruins in the countryside, and Suzume is the first to find it, accidentally unleashing the Worm that then morphs into a kitten called Daijin, and leads them on to surreal adventure across Japan during which Souta miraculously transforms into a shape-shifting stool – of the wooden variety (!) – causing hilarious scenes – with Suzume and Souta having to wait a long time, before Daijin decides to turn Souta back into his human form.

The animation is spectacular, a mixture of 2 and 3D hand drawn animation and the use of CGI, which in the case of the red super worm is rather overdone: the worm looks tame in comparison with the rest of the Anime. Loss and decay are the main subjects of Anime director Makoto Shinkai (Your Name). The past is a dangerous place to return to, particularly for Suzume, who is able to close doors to keep the beastly worm underground, while also being afraid of what she will find behind the door leading to the house she grew up in during the first few of her life. Two scenes in particular stand out, one takes place in an ancient bath house, desolated and abandoned, and another in an old-fashioned fairground which comes eerily to life.

Suzume is a potent mixture of melancholy and hilarious fun, as the girl gradually grows up during her adventures. Suzume has an impressive confrontational scene with her aunt, accusing the woman of only adopting her to avoid an adult relationship. At a later stage, Suzume takes back her accusations, but this is as a result of her falling for Souta, as her Tom-Boy identity gradually recedes. Overall, this is a mature Anime, with Shinkai using lots of kawaii cuteness, but also referentially quoting Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service with the talking cat in the shape of Daijin. A magic round-about-movie. AS

SUZUME IN UK and IRISH CINEMAS on 14 April 2023

Jeanne du Barry to open Cannes Film Festival 2023

Jeanne du Barry, directed by Maïwenn, and starring Johnny Depp, will open the 76th Festival de Cannes and will be screened in world premiere at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, on Tuesday 16th May.

French director Maïwenn directs and stars in her sixth feature Jeanne du Barry, playing the eponymous main character alongside Johnny Depp, Benjamin Lavernhe, Melvil Poupaud, Pierre Richard, Pascal Greggory and India Hair. Recounting the life, rise and fall of the king Louis XV‘s favourite, the film will be released in French cinemas at the same time as the official world premiere.

The historical drama follows Jeanne Vaubernier, a young working-class woman hungry for culture and pleasure, who uses her nouse and allure to slither into the corridors of power where she becomes a firm favourite with King Louis XV restoring his joie de vivre. Desperately smitten, and unaware of her status as a courtesan, the King moves her into his palace of Versailles, where her arrival scandalises the court.

Director, screenwriter, actress and producer, Maïwenn directed her first feature film, Pardonnez-moi in 2006. In 2011, she won the Jury Prize at the Festival de Cannes for her first selection in Competition for Polisse. Four years later, she was back with Mon Roi,  Emmanuelle Bercot winning the Best actress award.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 16 – 27 MAY 2023

 

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan (2023)

Dir: Martin Bourboulon | Wris: Matthieu Delaporte, Alexandre de La Patelliére | Cast: Francois Civil, Vincent Cassel, Louis Garrel, Vicki Krieps, Romain Duris, Pio Marmai, Eva Green, Lyna Khoudri | France, 121′

When it comes to swashbuckling the three musketeers are certainly the men for the job. And with a smile as broad and beaming as a silver cutlass, Francois Civil leads the glittering international cast in this spritely and splendidly mounted seventeenth century French epic based on the mid nineteenth century novels of Alexandre Dumas, whose own father served as a valued general under Napoleon. 

On a rain-soaked night in 1627 a lone rider arrives at a fortress in Paris. He is Charles D’Artagnan of Gascony and he hopes to join the court of King Louis XIII as a faithful musketeer alongside the trusty Athos (Vincent Cassel), Portos (Pio Marmai) and Aramis  (Roman Duris). Martin Bourboulon is a director well used to delivering on the big screen as we saw in Eiffel, and he doesn’t disappoint here in Part I of this historical action drama with its sparkling script and elegant costumes (Part II – Milady, follows later this year).

During this era of religious turbulence France has been enjoying a stable time under Louis XIII. But the storm clouds are gathering and the Protestants are a force to be reckoned with and ever close to the King of England with their stronghold of La Rochelle. More than ever, the King needs the protection of his household guard – a triumvirate force of three main musketeers with their fire power and chivalrous swordsmanship.

There’s plenty of intrigue and some magnificent fighting scenes to keep the most exacting cineastes entertained. Louis Garrel makes for a convincing King whose brother is soon to be married. But Cardinal Richelieu (Ruf) is sceptical about celebrating when the throne should be focusing on more serious internecine matters. Not to mention court intrigue involving the French Queen, Anne of Austria (Krieps) and her romantic liaison with the Duke of Buckingham (Fortune-Lloyd). The final act turns on a secret love token she offers the Duke, and her life will depend on getting it back. This race against time provides the film with its thrilling denouement and puts D’Artagnan on his mettle in the cliffhanger finale that sets us up for part two where Eva Green’s venomous Milady will sashay into action.

So nothing extraordinary about this latest Dumas drama – just another reliably enjoyable bodice-buster that never takes itself too seriously unfolding in soft candlelight and stirring sword-fighting scenes in the lush French countryside. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

 

 

The Conquest of Everest (1953)

Dir: George Lowe | UK Doc


Marking the 70th anniversary of the historic expedition, this dazzling new restoration of the classic British documentary tells the awe-inspiring story of the first successful attempt on the peak of Mount Everest. Narrated by Meredith Edwards (A Run For Your Money) and featuring the mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary, Wilfred Noyce and Tenzing Norgay, the documentary details the history, preparation and description of the route as well as fascinating footage of previous attempts and the social context of the achievement.

It’s a good thing the expedition was a success or all the beautiful colour footage shot before the final assault on the summit would have gone to waste! Simply bringing all that unexposed stock along with them as they climbed up Everest (and then getting it back down again afterwards) must have been quite a logistical feat in its own right, although not on a scale of that achieved by the Captain J.B.L. Noel in the 1920’s; some of whose footage is included here.

The main title carries the credit ‘Print by Technicolor’, which means the makers thankfully didn’t actually lug a three-strip Technicolor camera up Mount Everest. Fortunately they wouldn’t have been short of light surrounded by snow at that altitude (although they were lucky Technicolor didn’t insist on them going back to redo the shot where a hair was visible in the gate).

Dramatic licence is occasionally apparent in cases such as an insert of an ice-pick going into snow, but the cameramen would have had to cut most of the footage in the camera since discarding footage in the editing room would seldom have been an option; the first take usually being the one they used. @RichardChatten

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL on 20 May 2023

Leonor will Never Die (2023)

Dir.: Martika Ramirez Escobar; Cast: Sheila Francisco, Bong Cabreara, Rocky Satumbides,c Anthony Falcon, Rea Molina, Dido De La Paz; Philippines 2022, 101 min.

This tongue in cheek love letter to the TV films of the 1980s comes from first time Philippine writer/director Martika Ramirez Escobar. It follows one time filmmaker Leonor (Francisco) who hasn’t worked in the industry since her heyday in late twentieth century.

A well known figure in her neighbourhood Leonor lives with her son Rudy (Cabrera) who one day finds out from the ‘ghost’ of her other son Ronwaldo (Falcon) that a competition for new screenplays is due to be launched on national TV.  Keen to get back in the saddle, Leonor dusts down an old script entitled “The Return of the Kwago”. But the re-write is curtailed when a freak accident puts Leonor in a coma. Even then, the catatonic Leonor refuses to give up. Aided and abetted by various corrupt politicians like the local mayor (De La Paz), and the helpless Isabella (Molina), and yet another son – who lost his life in one of her previous endeavours, giving the piece a macabre twist – Leonor trail-blazes her return to glory.

Escobar runs riot with her curio, switching ratios in the style of the 1980s in a series of wacky episodes set in different time frames, DoP Carlos Mauricio working miracles with the complexity of it all. Leonor will Never Die may be not be for everyone, but will go down a treat for fans of bad taste. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 7 APRIL 2023

 

The Passionate Stranger (1957) Cinema Rediscovered

Dir: Muriel Box | Cast: Margaret Leighton, Ralph Richardson, Carlo Justino | UK Drama

The Passionate Stranger (1957) centres around happily married house-wife Judith Wynter (Margaret Leighton) who keeps the fact she is a best-selling author of steamy romance novels a closely guarded secret. As her husband Roger (Ralph Richardson), recovers from a serious illness, the couple’s new driver Carlo (Carlo Justini) discovers the manuscript of Judith’s latest novel and jumps to a rather unfortunate conclusion, making life in the Wynter household very complicated indeed!

Similar in conception – and, alas, execution – to Preston Sturges’ ‘Unfaithfully Yours’. I guess it was an early attempt by future ‘Carry On’ producer Peter Rogers at a saucy comedy, but what – or who? – exactly are we supposed to be laughing at?

The middle section in pretty fifties Eastmancolor – in which Margaret Leighton, inauspiciously reunited with ‘Holly and the Ivy’ patriarch Ralph Richardson, plays Chopin in Norman Hartnell – goes on for far too long and is too broadly played, and none of it is remotely as witty as it evidently thinks it is. While Humphrey Searle’s score sledgehammers home situations that cry out for a more tongue-in-cheek treatment.

The most remarkable transformation is Patricia Dainton’s from mouse to hussy (with painted red lips to complement her emerald green dress), and is probably the single most enjoyably daft component in the film. @RichardChatten

On CINEMA REDISCOVERED BRISTOL until 30 July 2023 | BLURAY & DIGITAL for the first time in August 2023 along with RATTLE OF A SIMPLE MAN (1964) and THE TRUTH ABOUT WOMEN (1957) directed by Muriel Box 

The Cairo Conspiracy (2022)

Dir.: Tarik Saleh; Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares, Mohammad Bakri, MakramKhoury, Mehdi Dehbi, Ramzi Choukair, Sherwan Haji; Sweden/Finland/France 2022, 126 min.

The Cairo Conspiracy is an ambitious thriller with strong affinities to John Le Carre’s novels, telling story of an innocent “Angel”, who falls prey to unholy machinations in the Al Azhar University in Cairo, the heart of Sunni Islam, in this increasingly damning but overlong portrait of corruption in the Egyptian capital.

Adam (Barhom) is a naïve fisherman whose life changes when he is selected to join the prestigious Al Azhar University in Cairo. Here he crosses paths with Zico (Dehbi), who delivers an enimatic message: “Your soul is pure, but every second in this place will corrupt it”. Zico should know, he is working for State Security agent Ibrahim (the reliable Fares Fares) and dies mysteriously before he can tell Adam more.

Adam then finds himself promoted as Zico’s successor in the grand conspiracy scheme, with the secret service trying to find an appropriate replacement when the Grand Iman dies. The most popular choice is “Blind” Sheikh Negm (Khoury), who is supports the Brotherhood, in the eyes of Ibrahim and his superior General Al Sakran (Bakri) a “terrorist”. Adam is then told to infiltrate the Jihadist cell, led by Solomon (Haji). But his bid to navigate the system could be tricky and precarious if he makes the wrong move. 

The placid setting of the mosque contrasts with the mayhem of the conspiracy. Fares is an ambivalent person: he seems to genuine, almost caring towards Adam. His superior General Al Sakran is made of sterner stuff: violence for him is simply a way of life. Adam is caught in the spider web of deceit as the plot closes in on him, well aware that running away will bring shame on his family.

Visually this is a rewarding experience, even the violent scenes are shot with a degree of poetic sensitivity. Apart from the length, the only point of criticism is Saleh’s failure to take sides: and this objectivity collides with the byzantine brutality engulfing the two sides of this power struggle.

The Swedish TV director has had a run of decent big screen features of late and this follow-up to the The Nile Hilton Incident and The Contractor won him Best Screenplay at Cannes Film Festival 2022. AS

IN PICTUREHOUSES FROM 14 APRIL 2023

 

Kindling (2023)

Dir.: Connor O’Hara; Cast: George Somner, Conrad Khan, Wilson Radjou Pujalte, Mia McKenna-Bruce, Rory J. Saper, Geoff Bell, Tara Fitzgerald; UK 2022, 94 min.

The first feature film of English writer/director Connor O’Hara is based on his short film Infinate, dealing with premature death. O’Hara tries to strike a balance between grief and optimism, but it is up to the audience to decide if he manages to avoid a rather sentimental tearjerker.

Sid (Somner) is about to die from testicular cancer, having been given two years to live, he has managed three, but this summer will be his last, and he invites his best friends to a special celebration of his leaving the planet: Diggs (Pujalte), Dribble (Khan), Plod (Saper) and Wolfie (Zajaz) to celebrate his leaving this planet.

Sid’s parents (Bell/Fitzgerald) are long-suffering, trying not to transfer their trauma on to their son. Sid then meets Lily (McKenna-Bruce), a girl of his own age who has had her own share of trauma and is unsure what to study at university – Sid makes her promise to chose English literature. The two have an ambivalent relationship, with Sid guided by his keen interest in Astrology which inspires him to ask each of his four friends to find tokens relating to Love, Home, Family, Friends and Location. They must all come up with a symbol for these objects, which will be burned at a bonfire at the end of the summer, with Sid hoping to be granted immortality.

It seems churlish to criticise such a worthwhile undertaking as this but Kindling really lacks the sufficient narrative ballast to keep us engaged for over 90 minutes in what largely amounts to a series of episodes with the main message buried in bickering and tantrums. All Sid’s friends want to make his passing a special occasion, but they are not always mature enough to find a way to express their emotions. It is no surprise that Geoff Bell and Tara Fitzgerald are outstanding as the parents, having had the opportunity to work through their loss and survivors’ guilt. In the end, Sid’s wish to be immortal may not be fulfilled, but he has made a lasting impression on his social circle.

DoP David Wright makes evocative use of the surrounding countryside to lighten the clouds of dread hanging over proceedings. Kindling is a labour of love, a way for the writer/director to work through his own experiences, and is admirable as such. AS

KINDLING IS IN UK CINEMAS AND DIGITAL PLATFORMS from 21 APRIL 2023

Grand Expectations (2023)

Dir: Sylvain Desclous | Cast: Rebecca Marder, Benjamin Levernhe, Emmanuelle Bercot, Marc Barbe | France, Drama 105′

Benjamin Lavernhe and Rebecca Murder star as hypocritical left-wing lawyers in this ambitious but flawed film that starts in a glorious modern villa in Corsica and winds up in a prison in Lyon. 

Madeleine (Marder) is on holiday with her lover Antoine at his father’s swanky beach villa near Porto Vecchio. One morning, driving along a small deserted road, their career prospects are dashed forever when they make a fatal decision with irreversible consequences.

High hopes of this turning into a sultry seaside thriller sink without trace in Sylvain Desclous’ follow-up to his 2016 feature debut Vendeur. What starts as a pithy psychological drama with an intelligent premise and a brief tension-fuelled police procedural, soon gets bogged down in a far less promising slice of social realism  weighed down by tedious political pretensions in the style of Ken Loach. 

Ultimately Grand Expectations doesn’t know whether it wants to be a thriller or a drama centring on workers’ rights. And it ends up failing on both counts. The characters of Antoine and Madeleine are badly thought out and totally un-likeable. And they’re implausible into the bargain, showing no real warmth or compassion in relation to their aims in life: No humanist individual would behave the way Madeleine or Benjamin do, so we really don’t care what happens to either of them. Bercot is cast in another hard-faced unsympathetic role – this time as a lawyer and union representative. Isabelle Huppert made a much more sympathetic job of it in her recent film Le Syndicaliste. Madeleine’s father (Barbe) is convincing as her estranged parent who walked out on the family and gets a chance to redeem himself, providing the vital link in the film’s denouement. 

The accident and its aftermath – the most fascinating part of the feature – takes a backseat for most of the film, Madeleine hardly giving it a second thought while focusing of her career prospects, and only thinking of her own glory while pretending to champion workers’ rights. The original plot-line is then shoed in again in the final act with an unfeasible outcome for all concerned. MT

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

The Last Seagull (2023) CPH:DOX

Dir: Tonislav Hristov | Finland, Doc with Ivan | 79′

Writer director Tonislav Hristov offers more insight into his native Bulgaria with this melancholic look at last chances and dwindling communities seen through the eyes of an ageing ‘Seagull’, a man who makes a living from escorting female tourists.

Ever since 1979 Ivan has been charming the birds on Sunny Beach on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. Now, at 58, his days as a low level lothario are numbered and he is looking in the last chance saloon for a way out.

Sunny Beach is not exactly the Côte d’Azur but it’s cheerful and family-orientated with a fabulous stretch of silky white sand. For a long time the resort has offered rich pickings for Ivan in the shape of wealthy female tourists from nearby Russia or Ukraine. But the tousled-haired simian-featured chain smoker is now growing tired of the sun and endlessly parading up and down plying his trade. 

Love is simply a business deal for Ivan, a way to finance the rest of his life. And since his divorce he claims ‘to feel nothing for women’, despite his need to please them. Back in the good old days, hanging out with a ‘wealthy’ Russian or Ukrainian earned him €50 a day including board and lodging. His last relationship, with a Ukrainian, lasted three years. Now Ivan is forced to make his way working in a car wash and doing odd jobs around the local farms. The future certainly looks grim as he cuddles a kitten and a puppy back in his ramshackle house in the small rural backwater of Dervent – a place he now claims to hate.

But this social malaise is not just about Ivan. Everyone in the community is suffering the effects of transmigration. And with the young moving to the cities, the local population has dwindled in recent years. The pandemic also signalled a sea change in fortunes for the elderly ‘Don Juan’, now a grandfather, he yearns to reconnect with family and his estranged son who lives with his wife and toddler in Ukraine. 

Hard times have also made wealthy women selective: more than just ‘looks and a lay’, they want a responsible man who can hold down a ‘proper’ job. One trump card up Ivan’s sleeve is his EU status as a Bulgarian: despite being poor, he can offer Ukrainian or Russian women a passport to Europe. And a small flat of 50 square metres can be bought in the region for a mere 20,000 euros. Marriage to Ivan will give her Carte Blanche to move around Europe and ‘to much nicer countries such as Germany’. And that’s worth its weight in gold with the recent war in Ukraine, and the increasingly fraught situation in Russia.

Filmed during the pandemic and making the best of its coastal and rural settings captured in all their glory by Hristov’s regular DoP Orlin Ruevski, who filmed The Good Postman and January, this is a good-looking documentary and all the better for its tight edit and concise running time. The Last Seagull also connects with the narratives of Ulrich Seidl’s 2012 outing: Paradise: Love and Laurent Cantet’s Vers Le Sud (2005) that reflect on marriages of convenience, increasingly popular in this day and age. 

SCREENED DURING CPH:DOX 2023

One Fine Morning (2022) Un Beau Matin

Dir.: Mia Hansen-Love; Cast: Lea Seydoux, Melvil Poupaud, Pascal Greggory, Camille Leban Martins, Nicola Garcia, Fejria Deliba, Sarah Lepricard, Pierre Meunier, Sarah La Picard; France 2022, 112 min.

French writer/director Mia Hansen-Love always tries to show the extraordinary in simple terms: and One Fine Morning is another story about love and loss that unfolds without sentimentality. There is poetry, but always of the melancholy kind and small details turn out to be the harbinger of change. Nothing comes easily to her main characters who feel real and relatable, and full of human flaws. To put it all into context, Hanson Love interweaves pithy insights  into her narrative as the large picture gradually emerges in the final act in this uplifting, profound and deeply affecting story of love in all its forms.

Sandra Kingsler (Seydoux) is a widow living with her young daughter Linn (Martins) in Paris where she is coming to terms with the slow demise of her father Georg, a former professor, who is suffering from a neuro-degenerative disease. Life is literally slipping away from him: “I wait for the thing to come and it doesn’t”. A care home is the only option, and Sandra and her sister, mother of two Elodie (Picard), and their divorced mother Francoise (Garcia) are searching for a suitable place.

In the middle of this family crisis, Sandra falls for a friend of her ex-husband. Clement (Poupaud) is a cosmo-chemist caught up in his own marriage and father of one. Finally, Sandra has enough of “being his mistress” and leaves Clement to make a decision. And as other characters join the story it grows ever more complex like a richly woven tapestry, each thread dependent on the other.

Going through her father’s diaries Sandra finds out that he wanted to write his autobiography, giving the film its title. There are certainly autobiographical passages from the director’s life, but they are part of a storyline explored the ongoing collision between Sandra’s attempts for happiness, and the reality. Her father’s illness sends her also back into her ambivalent childhood: even though she now idolises her father. In some ways, One Fine Morning is the reverse telling of the Hansen-Love’s earlier feature Good-Bye First Love in which the female central figure says goodbye to her past, having stepped into an identity more suitable for the rest of her life.

Sandra reflects on her past, her husband and a father who will soon will be memories. After all these years of emotional turbulence and physical abstinence she wants a passionate relationship, and she collides with Clement who does not want to spend all day in bed making love. As a translator/interpreter, she is well aware of the importance of words, and she wants to live life to the full, not content to take a back seat like her sister or mother. But Sandra is also as dependent on Clement’s return as her father is of outside help. One Fine Morning is all about hope after all – a story about the moments that make up a life. AS

IN CINEMAS IN UK & IRELAND FROM 14 APRIL | EXCLUSIVELY ON MUBI from 16 June 2023

Air (2023)

Dir.: Ben Affleck; Cast Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Matthew Maher, Damien Young; USA 2023, 112 min.

Director Ben Affleck teams up again with Matt Damon – this time to sell shoes. But this is no ordinary footwear, but the titular basket ball trainers that would kick Michael Jordan and ‘Nike’ to the top of their respective games.

It pays off that Affleck never reveals the actor who plays MJ – just a shot of the back of his head. AIR works hard to make us root for ‘Nike’, the sports shoe company that ranks third after ‘Adidas’ and ‘Converse’ in the sneaker hall of fame, the former being the favourite to sign MJ to the most lucrative deal ever – despite his rookie status.

Damon plays Sonny Vaccaro whose brief is to save Nike’s basketball division when the founder and his boss, Phil Knight (Affleck) tries to pull the plug on the whole division. Vaccaro is no sportsman and hates physical exercise, but when it comes to negotiation he is in the premier league and, in the pre-internet days of 1984 personality mattered much more than today and scriptwriter Alex Convery reflects this in some showcase scenarios for Sonny, not least with David Falk (Messina), Jordan’s agent, the villain of the piece.

One of the highlights is Sonny’s encounter with MJs mother Deloris (Davis), the only woman in this male-only talk show. There are fine performance from Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser, one of the company’s leading execs, and Matthew Maher as Peter Moore, the designer behind the famous shoes. DoP Robert Richardson does a marvellous job in the confined environment of the sports arenas, and the film gets out and about to the Jordan’s home for some fresh air. William Goldenberg’s editing is brisk, reminiscent of Argo. But there is a drawback: it’s one thing seeing American hostages escaping from post-revolutionary Iran in Argo – but watching a major company trying to outwit their competitors is hard work. And anyone familiar with the story knows how it all pans out. The good old boys of ‘Nike’ made profit-sharing for athletes possible, so it became obligatory for colleges all over the country to share the gains they made on selling sweaters with their students. But ultimately, watching shoes being sold by people with six or seven digit salaries is hard work, particularly when visual power is in short supply. AS

IN CINEMAS ACROSS THE UK FROM 5 APRIL 2023

Come and See (1985)

Dir: Elem Klimov | Cast: Alexei Kravchenko, Olga Mironova | USSR War epic, 149′

Once described by J G Ballard as the greatest war movie ever made, this 1943-set World War II epic, from Soviet director Elem Klimov, is certainly the most devastating serving as a metaphor for the ongoing and needless destruction wreaked by one human being on another. In this case Nazi Germany is the aggressor invading Belarus, then part of the Soviet Union.

Both poetic and realist, Klimov’s chronicle sees a fresh-faced young peasant boy reduced to an emotional wreck after he unearths a rifle on the beach and prepares, gleefully, to join the Soviet resistance movement against the occupying troops. Flyora, played by Alexei Kravchenko, is just another example of a soldier who starts out with glorious intentions and ends up broken and disillusioned in what poet Wilfred Owen described as ‘the pity of war’.

Early scenes capture a rural idyll where Flyora is pictured mucking about with his friend and then returning home to his mother and sisters before being conscripted into the resistance effort. A luminous Tarkovskian interlude in a pine forest introduces him to love in the shape Glasha (Olga Miranova) but their brief paradise turns to inferno after a rocket bombardment from a Nazi war plane bombards the couple and the crane that befriends them, deafening Flyora in the process. The two return home to find their village has been routed and the family killed, but Flyora is unable to engage with the reality of the images before him, captured on the wide-screen and in static close-ups of the boy’s increasingly incredulous expression by Sally Potter’s regular DoP Aleksey Rodionov (who would go on the photograph Orlando, The Party and Yes).

The remainder of the film follows Flyora as he struggles to survive against the odds, and depicts some of the most horrifying – and saddening – scenes ever recorded where the German soldiers inflict terrible pain on innocent farming communities and their animals. By now the boy has lost his mind in the mayhem, and is then thrust into a surreal sequence intercut with original Hitler-related footage contextualising the episode into stark reality and picturing Flyora re-united with his rifle and shooting maniacally at the German troops’ photographic trophy of the Nazi leader seen abandoned in the mud. MT

628 Belorussian villages were burnt down during the Nazi invasion 1941-44.

ON BLU-RAY | AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

Raised up West Side (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS FROM 28 MARCH 2023

 

The Brothers (1947)

Dir: David MacDonald | Uk Drama

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

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

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

The Master Gardener (2023)

Dir.: Paul Schrader; Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Quintessa Swindell; USA 2022, 107 min.

Paul Schrader follows First Reformed with another lean film noir about redemption. Starring Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton The Master Gardener is as perfect a B-Movie as you can get, this one in the Southern Gothic tradition spiced up with a contemporary twist. Full of surprises and much soul-searching it centres on a rather eclectic menage-a-trois. Schrader is still the last men standing in a Hollywood renaissance that never really happened.

Rich, arrogant and spoilt, dowager Norma Haverhill (Weaver at her most acerbic) is on the wrong side of middle age, and rules her garden empire like a plantation owner before the Civil War. She is the Law, or better still, she makes and breaks it. Her “Boy Friday”, or more of a man servant, is Marvel Roth (Edgerton) the titular horticulturalist.

Schrader gives a running VoiceOver that tools through all the fine gardens in history. Norma is not very keen on under-achievers, she even refers to her dog as  “just a veranda dog”; not fit for blood sport. And we can well imagine Norma in her younger days, riding mercilessly to hounds. Roth panders to her obediently during the preparations for the forthcoming garden show (which may be the last, as Norma is not what she was), but when Norma invites him to bed, a ritual that clearly dates back along way, we are quietly taken aback to witness his florid tattoos particularly the swastikas.

Into this idyll of tranquility and natural beauty Norma then places a time-bomb, very well aware of its explosive powers: Maya, her nineteen-year old grand-niece will help Roth and his staff to create the perfect garden. Norma did not care much for Maya’s mother – or any other relatives, for that matter – but prides herself in doing a good deed just this once. Roth, who is no spring chicken himself, immediately falls for Maya who is also has a drug problem. Her boyfriend/pimp/dealer regularly beats her up, and faces the wrath of Roth. But there a consequences, and Roth must retaliate, revealing a tawdry past – all redeemed courtesy of Miss Norma. But now he must make a choice.

DoP Alexander Dynan, who worked with Schrader on First Reformed, conjures up a rather staid and sterile picture of the gardens, historic and contemporary, and may be this is intentional. The only time they really enchant is in a surreal sequence towards the end, But his images of a broken America caught between white supremists and the immigrant underbelly feel authentic. The dying gang lords are being replaced by small time drug dealers and their scene. Schrader again quails away from judgement or sentimentality: his style is laconic and the assault is always full frontal. Master Gardener is like one of the best pulp-novels: the great Jim Thompson would have been proud. AS

ON RELEASE FROM May 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE AND BELGIUM

Motherland (2023) CPH:DOX Winner Dox Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW AT CPH:DOX 2023 | DOX AWARD WINNER | ONE WORLD INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS competition.

Main image: A riot policeman is standing next to the House of Government in Minsk amid mass protests in 2020. Credit: Siarhiej Kanaplianik

 

   

Life After Death (2022) Vilnius Film Festival 2023

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

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

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

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

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

VILNIUS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023

 

Houria (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | PREMIERED AT CAIRO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

Outsiders and Exiles: Jerzy Skolimowski | Bfi

OUTSIDERS AND EXILES: THE FILMS OF JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI

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

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

NOW AT BFI SOUTHBANK | LONDON 2023

 

Remember to Blink (2023) Vilnius Film Festival 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

VILNIUS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 16-26 MARCH 2023

 

Never Forget Tibet: the untold story of the Dalai Lama (2023)

Dir.: Jean-Paul Mertinez; Documentary with Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama, Har Mander Singh, Rani Singh, Nithin Coca, Leslie Dirusso, Dr Lobsang Sangay, Rinchen Khandro Choegyal narrated by Hugh Bonneville; UK 2022, 94 min.

This fulsome portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama, narrated by Hugh Bonneville, is anything but untold and brings nothing new to the table. And what’s more the editing is sloppy, jumping from one interviewee to the next in a scattergun approach that will nonetheless provide cinematic catnip for the luminary’s devoted followers.

The film opens with an introduction of sorts to the Dalai Lama (*1935), Leslie Dirusso. This includes a “Limited Edition of the Heinrich Harrar Collecton” of photos of the young Dalai Lama in Lhasa, shot in the late 1930, and developed decades later. The spiritual leader’s brother and sister-in-law talk about their admiration for the spiritual leader, and journalist Nithin Coca reiterates the regional threat from the current Chinese government inherent in their water dam policy of which has led to droughts in India, Thailand and Bangladesh. Dr. Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Administration of Tibet, talk at length about China’s current discrimination towards the nation. To prevent Tibetans from emigrating to India, the Chinese government tries to control the population in a digital way, using drones and tracking devices.

Rinchen Khandro Choegyal, founding director of the Tibetan Nuns project, explains how those subjected to rape and torture in Chinese prisons have been offered a brighter future. Today women have the same access to education as men, and equal opportunities in the professions. Before women were restricted to cooking and cleaning.

The highlight is the meeting between His Holiness and Har Mander Singh, an Indian officer who helped to save the Dalai Lama’s life, guiding him in his 1959 escape from the Chinese soldiers who were guarding him. Singh led a small team, over snowy mountains and glaciers to South India. He died in 2020.

Singh’s daughter Rani, a journalist, is given the privilege of an one-to-one interview with the Dalai Lama who surprisingly admits to mulling over the idea of joining the Chinese Communist Party when he befriended chairman Mao. He was talked out of it by a friend, who told him to wait. In 1950, China invaded Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is today a near-mythical personality, an ‘influencer’ who focuses his attention on the younger generation encouraging them to fight for a more equal world, and save the planet from extinction. Compassion is his watch word. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 30 MARCH 2023

Fantastic Machine (2023) CPH:DOX

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

‘An image tells a thousand words’ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCREENING AT CPH:DOX 2023

 

The Wayward Bus (1957)

Dir: Victor Vicas | US Drama 87’

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

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

NOW ON YOUTUBE

Sage Homme (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale celebrates 70 years

2023 marks the seventieth anniversary of the publication by Jonathan Cape of the first of what became a long-running series of novels by Ian Fleming detailing the adventures of a latter-day Bulldog Drummond called James Bond. Fleming redefined spy fiction forever with his creation that would go on to spawn numerous film adaptions spanning six decades, from Terence Young’s Dr No (1962) to No Time to Die (2021) with another outing in the pipeline for 2025/26.

I actually this book over forty years ago. I remember silently groaning when it became apparent that the climax involved following a card game. It’s testament to Fleming’s that I actually found utterly engrossing.

This earlier adaptation explains the failure of Saltzman & Broccoli to make there own version. The rights instead fell into the hands of Charles Feldman who threw in everything but the kitchen sink to distract viewers from the fact of the absence of Sea Connery. The result (which had several directors, including John Huston, who also played ‘M”) who inevitably a shambles.

Quentin Tarantino frequently expressed a desire to get back to basics with a version set in period, but when it finally reached the screen in 2006 it marked the dawn of a new era with the emergence of Daniel Craig.

Infinity Pool (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 24 MARCH 2023

Q Planes (1939)

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

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

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

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

The Other Profile (2023) CHP:DOX 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREMIERING AT CPH:DOX 2023

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

Dir: Juha Suonpaa | Doc, Finland 80′

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL MENTION – NORDIC:DOX AWARD  AT CPH:DOX | COPENHAGEN 2023

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

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

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

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

DELIKADO directed by Karl Malakunus

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

THEATRE OF VIOLENCE  (UK Premiere)

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

NO U-TURN (London Premiere)

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

CATEGORY: WOMAN (European Premiere)

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

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

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

KOROMOUSSO, BIG SISTER (European Premiere)

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

SEVEN WINTERS IN TEHRAN (UK Premiere)

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

IF THE STREETS WERE ON FIRE (London Premiere)

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

SILENT LOVE (UK Premiere)

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

WHEN SPRING CAME TO BUCHA (UK Premiere)

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

Details about the screenings and discussions can be found HERE

 

The Pilgrim (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPwrXj8BBvI

The Blaze | En Plein Fer (2023)

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE + BELGIUM

 

 

The Fox | Der Fuchs (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Damned (1961)

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

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

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

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

The Fabelmans (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN THE UK and France.

Damn the Defiant (1962)

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

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

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

 

Creed III (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS FROM 3 March 2023

Mary Cassatt: Painting the Modern Woman (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Revolutions (2023) Berlinale 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE 2023

 

The Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pearl (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 17th March 2023

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

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

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

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

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

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Simple Things | Les Choses Simples (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Creature (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY

A Happy Man | Un Homme heureux (2023)

Dir: Tristan Seguela | France, Comedy 97′

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Berserk (1967)

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

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

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

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

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

Marlowe (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | US and other territories.

 

High Noon (1952)

Dir: Fred Zimmerman | US Western

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE SPECIAL GALA | BERLINALE 2023

God’s Creatures (2023)

Dir.: Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holmer; Cast: Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi, Declan Conlon, Toni O’Rourke, Lalor Roddy, O’Dwyer); USA/UK/ROI, 100 min.

An ambitious murder story unfolds in the style of a fishy Greek tragedy in this Ireland-set thriller from Brooklyn-based filmmakers Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer.

In a dour and windswept fishing village a mother called Mary (O’Dwyer) is crying over the body of her drowned son, while another, Aileen O’Hara (Watson) is celebrating the return from Australia of her own offspring, Bryan (the ubiquitous Paul Mescal). Aileen’s husband Con (Conlon) and daughter Erin (O’Rourke) are less keen to see Bryan who was a tear-away in his youth. Grandfather Pat (Roddy), who spends his days napping, gets on best with Bryan, the two singing old seafarer songs.

Bryan has come back in the hope of reviving his father’s defunct oyster farm, but that’s not his only mission in life. With an eye for the girls he sees every female in the village as a potential paramour but soon comes a cropper with a less pescatarian catch in the shape of Sarah (Franciosi), whose delicate features belie a stern personality when challenged. But Bryan’s ‘way with woman’ fails to make the oysters thrive and soon the plant has to stop working full time due to fungal contamination. Meanwhile Emily Watson, as mesmerising as ever as Aisleen, has more fish to fry that normal grafting in a fish processing plan and dealing with her son’s slimy reputation. She will soon be forced her to make a decision that will destroy everything she has worked for. As that’s not all, the local fishermen soon start complaining about missing catches.

The scope of the production is very much like a TV play, with action scenes covering up for the sparse emotional content: there is no slow dramatic build up, just sudden outbursts of violence, and the motivations are only too obvious. Most members of the O’Hara clan seem rather one-dimensional making this a rather predictable story held together by solid performances, Mescal playing against his usual cuddly casting in Normal People and Aftersun. DoP Chayse Irvin does a great job with his panorama shots of this coastal backwater, and his images in the food procession plant show the terrible working conditions in this seething study of mother love gone wrong. AS

NOW IN CINEMAS FROM 31 MARCH 2023

 

After the Fox (1966) Tribute to Burt Bacharach

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

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

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

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

La Montagne (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE 2023| 15 -26 February 2023

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 10 FEBRUARY 2023

Knock at the Cabin (2023)

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Amanda (2023)

Dir: Carolina Cavalli; Cast: Benedetta Percaroli, Galatea Bellugi, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Margherita Maccapani Missoni, Monica Nappo, Michele Bravi; Italy/France 2022, 93 min.

Amanda is the anti-social but wickedly amusing daughter of one of Italy’s rich industrialist families in this impressive first feature from Carolina Cavalli who celebrates female friendship.

The sardonic 24-year-old (Benedetta Percaroli) is back in her home town of Turin after spending some time in Paris. In a bid to put distance between her and her family, who have no time for her whims and capricious behaviour, she opts to stay in a hotel but makes a regular appearance at the family dinner table and seems to have hit it off with her niece, much to the consternation of Amanda’s older sister Marina (Missoni).

Amanda’s first object of desire is a regular visitor to the Cinematheque – a place of magic for Amanda – but neither of them makes any contact. The “Dude” (Bravi) is next in line, but after it transpires he only wants to distribute free condoms – instead of drugs – he bites the dust as potential bestie number two.

Then a blast from the past arrives in the shape of Rebecca (Bellugi), her best friend from primary school. After a long stand-off – Rebecca suffers from claustrophobia – the two manage to connect, but a horse will be the vital link in cementing the women’s friendship.

Although Amanda is not very lovable Cavalli’s clever writing skills make her an irresistible force of nature: she can be witty, but her comments often cut to the quick. All this scathing comedy and a string of amusing plot lines make the film whizz by leaving us wanting more. Cavalli – unlike her feminine creation – adopts a restrained approach to the storyline that – at just over 90 minutes – is well worth watching. AS

NOW ON CURZON From 2 June 2023

Battle of the Sexes (1960)

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

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

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

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

 

The Whale (2022)

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

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

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE IN UK + FRANCE

 

The Apartment (1960)

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

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

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

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

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO MGM

Women Talking (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS FROM 17 FEBRUARY 2023

 

Empire (2023) Gothenburg Film Festival 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOTHENBURG FILM FESTIVAL 2023

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | 2023 | LIMELIGHT STRAND

 

 

 

 

A Canterbury Tale (1944)

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

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

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

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

Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953)

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

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

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

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

The Flying Scotsman (1929)

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

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

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

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

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968)

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

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

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

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

Kavur (2023) Rotterdam Film Festival 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCREENING AT ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | CINEMA REGAINED |

Plane (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

PLANE IS IN UK CINEMAS from 27 JANUARY 2023

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Munch (2023)

Dir/Wri: Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken | Cast: Alfred Ekker Strande, Mattis Herman Nyquist, Ola G. Furuseth, Anne Krigsvoll, Arthur Berning, Lisa Carlehed, Thea Lambrechts Vaulen | Drama, 104′

Munch is a brave and ambitious biopic evocatively reflecting the many faces of Norway’s most internationally famous expressionist artist whose tortured painting ‘The Scream’ has come to represent humanity’s collective cry of pain and isolation.

Seasoned Norwegian auteur Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken clearly understands his confused countryman whom we first meet in his final months, at 80 (played by Anne Krigvoll, in an inspired casting), a reclusive and cantankerous creative worn down by years of being misinterpreted, and emotionally abused by his friends and associates.

Seen from the artist’s own perspective this sumptuously impressionistic drama then plays out in concurrent strands that picture his troubled life – at 21 (played by Ekker Strande), 30 (Herman Nyquist) and 45 (Faruseth) – to explore the confusion and loneliness that inspired the tortured sketches and canvasses that came to represent an outpouring of grief.

‘The Scream’ could be attributed to the time his entire Berlin exhibition was deemed ‘unfinished’ or ‘too moody’ for the German style at the time, and was abruptly cancelled on the night of the vernissage. We see Munch crying out in pain at the sheer perplexity of it all, although he would later become a figure of great notoriety for breaking his avant-garde style. During this time he meets August Strindberg (another female casting – Lisa Carlehed). 

Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken is not the first to attempt a film about the artist (1863-1944) – 1974 TV outing Edvard Munch was a grim affair – but he is certainly the most successful in showing Munch as a highly sensitive soul who gradually became disillusioned by a life overshadowed by illness and bereavement (of both his mother and sister, and his own near death), his father’s overbearing nature, and a series of unsatisfactory encounters, most notably in an romantic episode in Vesthold, eastern Norway where, at 21, his father takes him to spend the summer in the lush countryside to encourage his talent. Plagued by mosquitoes, he falls for married society girl Milly Thaulow (Lambrechts Vaulen) who then rejects him cruelly, adding to his emotional confusion. Later in his forties he is admitted to a private Copenhagen clinic for a psychiatric disturbance. And so begins his retreat into a world of isolation.

This is not a film flooded in abject negativity and Dahlsbakken does his best not to dwell on the dour nature of Munch’s life, and this is what makes the drama enjoyable. Despite the tragedies in Munch’s personal life, the overwhelming impression Dahlsbakken creates is one of melancholy beauty and poignance for man misunderstood.

Munch experimented wildly and eventually chose to reject the outside world, but his backstory is imaginatively fleshed out here, Dahlsbakken cleverly reflecting the descent with four different actors – all convincingly played. Acting as his own production designer in variety of styles, the well chosen episodes are captured in pristine black & white and a painterly colour palette by DoPs Pal Ulvik Rokseth and Oskar Dalhsbakken. An accomplished and impressive arthouse drama despite its often confusing narrative structure. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS IN FRANCE and UK | MUNCH OPENED THE ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023

Phaedra (1962)

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/JQVbuCbpZ_c

Mon Crime – The Crime is Mine (2023)

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

The Nothingness Club (2023) Rotterdam Film Festival 2023

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

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

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

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2023 | BIG SCREEN AWARD

Five Fingers (1952)

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

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

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

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

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

Endless Borders (2023) IFFR 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | BIG SCREEN COMPETITION 2023 | VPRO Big Screen Award 2023.

La Guerre des Lulus (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE.

The Juniper Tree (1990)

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

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

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

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

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

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

BFI BLU-RAY RELEASE 23 JANUARY 2023

 

Girl (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Spider (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iron Butterflies (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

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

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

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

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

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

SCREENING DURING SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 19-29 JANUARY 2023 | WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION.

When it Melts (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL JURY AWARD, WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC : BEST PERFORMANCE ROSA MARCHANT | SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023

 

 

Babylon (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 20 JANUARY 2023

Two Tickets to Greece | Les Cyclades (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW IN FRENCH CINEMAS

 

 

Goodbye Happiness | Au revoir le bonheur (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

Beat Girl (1960)

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

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

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

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

The Old Way (2023)

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

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

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

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

Copenhagen Cowboy (2023)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW on NETFLIX

 

Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 20 JANUARY 2023

ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS FROM 20 JANUARY 2023

The Cat and the Canary (1978)

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

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

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

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

Tár (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Empire of Light (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piggy (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY

 

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Dir: Robert Wise | US Sci-fi 92′

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

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

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

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

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES

The Minute you Wake Up Dead (2022)

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

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

ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS from 9 JANUARY 2023.

 

A Man Called Otto (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 6 JANUARY 2023

The Wicked Lady (1946)

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

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

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

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

Rimini (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE in the UK early in 2023

 

Caravaggio’s Shadow (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE and in the UK later in 2023 | ROME FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE

 

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972)

Dir: Bob Clark | US Horror

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

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

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

NOW ON YOUTUBE AND PLEX

Paris Blues (1961)

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

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

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

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

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

Speed (1994) Prime video

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

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

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

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

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

You Resemble Me (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS 3 February 2023

The Grand Bolero (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON AMAZON PRIME

The Big Freeze

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Nightmare

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

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

THE BIG FREEZE | DECEMBER 2022

 

 

 

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broker (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 2023

 

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

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

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

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

 

Anonymous Club (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Mr Bachmann and His Class (2021)

Dir: Maria Speth | Doc, Germany 217′

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM 9 DECEMBER 2022

 

January (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AS
***1/2

White Noise (2022) Netflix

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

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

ON RELEASE on NETFLIX FROM 9 DECEMBER 2022

Tori and Lokita (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released exclusively in cinemas on 2 December 2022 | Picturehouse Entertainment

   

More than Ever (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Dir: Lina Wertmüller | Doc, TV 120′

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lina Wertmuller courtesy of Torino International Film Festival

 

 

She Said (2022)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW IN CINEMAS

 

Enys Men (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS FROM 23 JANUARY 2023

My Neighbour Adolf (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

IN UK CINEMAS from 4 NOVEMBER and DIGITAL PLATFORMS from 14 NOVEMBER 2022

Bones and All (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Westerns are Back in Town | Turin International Film Festival 2022

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

 

Terror in a Texas Town

 

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

The Terror of Tiny Town

 

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

Four Faces West

 

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

The Romance of Rosy Ridge

 

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

TURIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 25 NOVEMBER – 2 DECEMBER 2022

The Punishment (2022) Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL | IN COMPETITION 2022

A Letter from Helga (2022) Tallinn Film Festival 2022

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

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

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

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

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

WORLD PREMIERE | TALLINN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | BALTIC COMPETITION 2022

 

Nostalgia (2022)

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

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

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

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

NOW IN CURZON HOME CINEMA

Emily the Criminal (2022) Prime Video

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON AMAZON PRIME

Silent House (2022) IDFA 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

IDFA | INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 2022

Armageddon Time (2022)

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 18/11 |  CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

Million Dollar Pigeons (2022)

Dir: Gavin Fitzgerald | US Doc 98′

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

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM 26 NOVEMBER

 

Turin International Film Festival headlines with The Beatles

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

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

‘Help’ courtesy of Torino Film Festival

 

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

Malcolm McDowell courtesy of Torino Film Festival

 

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

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

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

TURIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 25 NOVEMBER-3 DECEMBER 2022

 

Paradise (2022) IDFA 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN COMPETITION | INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 2022 | 9 – 20 November 2022

 

Hopper (2022)

Dir: Phil Grabsky | UK Doc, 90′

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

Edward Hopper (1903) Self-portrait

 

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

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

Early Sunday Morning (1930) Edward Hopper

 

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

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

Compartment C, Car 293 (1938) Edward Hopper

 

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

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

Mansard Roof (1923) Edward Hopper

 

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

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

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

Frames of Mind | Peter Greenaway Retrospective 2022

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

THE BFI CELEBRATES PETER GREENAWAY IN HIS 80TH YEAR. 

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE EARLY IN 2023 | VENICE GOLDEN LION AWARD |  VENICE 2022

Incubus (1966)

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

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

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

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

Living (2022)

Dir: Oliver Hermanus | Cast: Bill Nighy, Tom Burke, Ale