Archive for the ‘WOMAN DIRECTOR’ Category

Dying to Divorce (2021)

Dir: Chloe Fairweather | UK Doc, 84′

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution (2015) **** MUBI

Dir.: Lucile Hadzihalilovic | Cast: Max Brebant, Roxanne Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier France/Belgium 2015, 81 min.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s memorable debut feature Innocence dealt with a teenage girl in a boarding school. EVOLUTION centres this time on a group of boys on the crest of adolescence. Living a frigid existence by an eerie seashore with their mothers, there are no adult males to be seen. Hadzihalilovic presents a joyless antiseptic world where even the meals of strained seaweed broth appear medicinal rather than satisfying. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosses’s spare and pristine interior visuals give the impression of a wide-scale marine laboratory where a sci-fi experiment is underway and the boys are the victims.

Young Nicolas (Brebant) and his mother (Parmentier) live in this dreary community: their spartan lifestyle is marked by robotic rituals: dinner is always followed by the intake of an inky medicine, which appears to be therapeutic. Somehow Nicolas suspects that something is going on beyond the surface of enforced rigour: he follows his mother to the beach at night, where he observes her writhe in ecstacy with other women. Before he can unravel the mysterious plan, he is sent to a dilapidated early 20th century hospital where some of his friends are also patients. Weird experiments are carried out and one boy disappears completely. Nicolas is befriended by one of the nurses, Stella (Duran), who supplies him with material for his drawings. When the dreadful secret emerges, Stella tries to help Nicolas to escape.

The boys in EVOLUTION have no rights over their bodies, but what emerges is that they are the unwitting victims of some kind of freaky, gender-reversal surgery. The dreamlike atmosphere evokes a past we can not see, but the boys’ dreams  suggest they have been taken away from their real families to take part in a medical experiment destined to help mankind’s survival. But dreams and reality are indistinguishable, the underwater scenes suggest more sinister plans are underway: perhaps mankind has to become amphibious to survive. The ghastly hospitals are horror institutions located underground and under the control of the sullen – all female – doctors and nurses. Syringes and scalpels take on a sadistic undertone creating a frightening parallel with medical experiments in Nazi concentration camps.

EVOLUTION haunts and beguiles for just over an hour. Hadzihalilovic and her co-scripter Alante Kavaite (Summer of Sangaile) cleverly keep the tension taught requiring the audience to invest a great deal in the narrative before any salient clues emerge – but even then much remains unexplained and enigmatic; not that EVOLUTION wants to be understood. Part of its allure is this inaccessibility, unsettlingly evoking a world far beyond any genre, it is esoteric and anguished in its unique otherworldliness. Too many films feature repetitive images and schematic self-indulgent narratives: how refreshing to find a true original revealing a totally new world in just 81 minutes. MT

NOW ON MUBI

Shirley (2019) ****

Dir.: Josephine Decker; Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Odessa Young, Michael Stuhlbarg, Logan Lerman; USA 2020, 107 min.

Making a name for herself with a stylish array of imagined dramas US auteur Josephine Decker moves into the arena of real life with this febrile portrait of horror writer Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) whose most popular novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ has been filmed on numerous occasions, the last being as a ten-episode long production on Netflix. 

Based on ‘Shirley: A Novel’ by Susan Scarf the film takes place in 1964 in North Bennington, Vermont – which seems a strange a strange choice, since Scarf actually wrote her novel ‘Hangasman’, whose writing process is the central part of the feature, in 1951. The narrative centres on two couples, the middle-aged Shirley (Moss) and her English professor husband Stanley (Stuhlbarg), and their much younger house guests Rose (Young) who is pregnant with her first child, and her academic husband Fred (Lerman), who tries to get a tenure at Bennington College, as Stanley’s assistant. There are shades of Albee’s Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but, more importantly, Rose and Fred are actually invented characters. But in staying away from a strictly biographical narrative, Decker and her writer Sarah Gubbin enhance the richness of the storytelling – even though the ‘deletion’ of the couple’s four kids, who would have been around in 1951, is another puzzling decision. Shirley is portrayed as a erratic and waspish intellectual who takes no prisoners especially of the female kind.

We meet Rose and Fred on the train on their way to Bennington, where they have rampant sex in the train’s bathroom after Rose has finished Jackson’s Kafkaesque novella ‘The Lottery” from 1949. Bennington also turns out to be a hotbed of sex, eager female students hoping to boost their grades by obliging the academic staff. What was planned as a short stay with Shirley and Stanley, turns into a much longer tenancy, when Fred literally pimps out his wife to look after the bibulous agoraphobic writer who is struggling to focus on her new novel. Meanwhile Rose is in awe of the professor barely fending off his  unwelcome advances. Soon Fred follows in Stanley’s footsteps, and sleeps with an undergraduate student leaving the women to look for intimacy among themselves.

A major topic is Jackson’s obsession with death, not uncommon for a writer of her genre. ‘Hangsaman’ is the story of a young student called Natalie, who becomes mentally unbalanced and takes her own life. She is renamed Paula in the feature and played by Young in a part-staging of the novel. But death is never far away – in one scene Shirley spooks Rose by pretending to eat a poisonous mushroom in the woods. And near the end there is a brilliant dream-sequence with Rose standing at the edge of a precipitous cliff with her baby.

Norwegian-born DoP Sturla Brandth Groven underlines the horror-film atmosphere with a subtle array of light movements: even though the feature is told more from Rose’s perspective, awkward handheld camera angles and woozy focusing turn the domestic backdrop into a decadent often delirious chamber of horrors for Rose as she gradually unravels increasingly unsettling by Shirley’s quixotic stabs at familiarity. Shirley’s outings into the campus are also fraught with disaster: at a academic gathering she enjoys vindictively spoiling a new sofa with red wine because she suspects the hostess of philandering with her husband. Shirley and Stanley enjoy a prickly relationship of mutual admiration spiced up by intellectual sparring and power play, this is largely what makes the feature so enjoyable as a piece of entertainment. Somehow, Shirley’s protests against the mediocre, male-dominated society rub off on Rose: when Fred tells her his affair is over, and “soon everything will be back to normal”, she lets him know that this is not the case. 

Shirley is a very ambitious feature, even though a great deal takes place away from the camera, Moss and Young are mesmerising enough to keep the audience occupied but Elisabeth Moss and the (once again) much underrated Michael Stuhlbarg steal the show. Shirley Gubbins and Decker have created a valuable contribution to the feminist horror genre, Decker sealing her reputation in a her fourth drama as a director. AS

SUNDANCE 2020 GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | In competition NEON AWARDS

                                

Quo Vadis Aida? **** Curzon

Dir.: Jasmila Zbanic; Cast: Jasna Buricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Boris Leer, Dino Bajrovic, Johann Heidenbergh, Raymond Thiry, Boris Isakovic | Drama, 2020, 101 min.

Jasmila Zbanic follows her 2006 Berlinale Golden Bear winner (Grbavica: Land of my Dreams) with another intense look at the  civil war in Srebrenica when over eight thousand people were butchered by Serbian General Ratko Mladic on the 11th of July 1995.

The action follows Aida Selmanagic (a fierce Jasna Buricic) an interpreter for the UN in the small town of Srebrenica. When the Bosnian Serb army moves in, her family is one of the thousands desperate for sanctuary in the vast UN camp.

The UN commander Colonel Franken (Heidenbergh) has been promised by his superiors that the UN air force will bomb Mladic’s troops, if they have a go at the city. But the planes never appear, and Franken tries in vain to reach somebody at UN HQ. In vain. The UN Secretary General is on holiday. Meanwhile, Aida manages to get her husband Nihad (I. Bajrovic) and two sons Hamidija (Leer) and Sejo (D. Bajrovic) into the safe UN compound (women are the bosses in this part of the world). But when the bombardment does not materialise, ‘saviour’ General Ratko Mladic (Isakovic) his soldiers start “evacuating” the compound to a nearby place of safety. Everybody is aware of Mladic’s real intentions, and Aida fights a hapless battle to get her family on the UN list for safe conduct. The three men are herded with others into a make-shift cinema nearby, before being gunned down from the projection room. In a maudlin epilogue, Aida visits their old flat years later, which is now occupied by strangers: she has to decide if she will take up the offer of returning to her former teaching job.

All very melodramatic in spirit, and carried by the irrepressible  Jasna Buricic, Zbanic keeping everything understated, the focus is the personal conflicts at the heart of this human tragedy. Aida has a certain amount of protection due to her UN status, but gradually loses control when Mladic’s troops appear at the UN compound gates. her family reduces to pawns in the fight between Mladic and the UN forces.

Everything is going in her favour at first but as the nerve-racking plot plays out it is touch and go whether their names will appear on the final list, and some of the final scenes are emotionally charged. Major Franken (Thiry) is only technically in charge and when his superiors fail to back him up with the bombardment, he is in the hands of Mladic – having no real power to put a stop to the eventual slaughter. DoP Christine A. Maier uses close-ups to chart the emotional dynamics of Aida and her family. The images of Mladic and his thugs loading women and men into separate buses, brings to mind history’s genocides. Zbanic directs with great sensibility, never letting any of the male protagonists off the hook in this coruscating chronicle of modern war. AS

OUT ON CURZON WORLD | 22 JANUARY 2021 |

Toni Erdmann (2016) **** Mubi

Director: Maren Ade| Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter | 142min | Comedy | Germany

This quirky and hilarious satire from German  filmmaker Maren Ade is a European arthouse  classic that celebrates the intergenerational gap with humour rather than strife.

Maren Ade explores whether comedy is the right way to fix family issues – or whether we should just try to be more sympathetic and understanding. In a film that runs just short of three hours, she achieves a blend of situational comedy, embarrassing incidents, pervy sex scenes and even a good old German nudist party in the style of Ulrich Seidl or even Aki Kaurismaki .

TONI ERDMANN‘s hero is Austrian: Peter Simonichek plays Winifried, a divorced music teacher who loves playing inappropriate practical jokes on his friends but his latest pranks involve his adult daughter Ines  (Sandra Hüller). We first meet Winifried in the throes of arranging a surprise musical tribute to an old colleague’s retirement. But not everyone likes surprises or to be part of this harmless fun, least of all his serious-minded daughter who has to be at the top of her game as management consultant in the competitive macho world of Romania. When she realises her father has been up to his tricks in a bid to poke fun at her childless state and perceived loneliness, it’s already too late to block his impromptu visit in Bucharest, after the death of his dog Willi leaves him footloose and a bit down in the dumps.

As a little girl she loved his tomfoolery, but his casual arrival at her offices in fancy dress, makes her extremely irritated. Rejecting his bid to offer fatherly appreciation, Winifried then starts to behave like a stalker, popping up at Ines’ dinner dates pretending to be his alter ego ‘Toni Erdmann’ complete with wig and grotesque false teeth which he claims are from cosmetic dentistry “I wanted something different – fiercer”.

Only a woman can appreciate the intricacies of life in the competitive corporate world where women are supposed to “go on shopping trips” when they travel with their CEO husbands. Rather than hanging with the guys after work, poor Ines is forced to show the women round the shops while the men ‘kick back’ over drinks. Extremely galling. At one point she tells her boss “if I was a feminist, I wouldn’t tolerate guys like you”. Ade’s script is really spot on, brilliantly manipulating this father daughter relationship and drawing some subtle and intricately-played performances from Simonischek and Huller, who start as polar opposites in their frosty stand-off but gradually grow more sympathetic and human during the course of the film. Beneath Winifried’s silliness lies a heart of gold, he appreciates the real world but has withdrawn from it to reflect  and his daughter emerges to be far more caring and worldly than he gives her credit for.

Winifried’s old dog Willi sets the furry leitmotive for rest of the film, and he pops up in various shaggy wigs and even a full blown Bulgarian scarecrow outfit. The irony comes from the way Ines intuitively manages her difficult colleagues and local friends; her secretary Anca is the only sympathetic female character and there are some really poignant scenes at the end where Ines and her father finally let their guards down to acknowledge that blood really is thicker than water. MT

NOW ON MUBI  | WINNER OF THE FIPRESCI AWARD CANNES 2016

Cocoon (2020) *** VOD, Bluray

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

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

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

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

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

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

DVD, BLURAY and VOD release from 25 JANUARY 2021

Overseas (2019) Locarno 2019

Dir: Yoon Sung-a | Doc, 90′

It you are bored with the daily grind of working from home in these tedious Covid times then spare a thought for Filipino domestic workers in the Far and Middle East. In this startling expose of modern slavery that brings us up to speed on the acceptable ways of serving lunch to a Singaporean lady, or cleaning a lavatory in a Dubai household, there are some shocking revelations, tears and sadness for these young women who are often 0ver-worked and badly treated by their employers. But their training instructors urge them: “Never cry in front of your boss, it’s a sign of weakness and Filipinos are not weak”.

Overseas is the sophomore documentary of South Korea’s Yoon Sung-a, and makes for compelling viewing although it often lingers too long on each repetitive scene. There has been a long tradition of employing Filipino workers and these women are often treated as members of the family throughout Europe. But Yoon concentrates on those destined for the Middle and Far East where the working conditions are considerably more harsh, and employment laws less kind. Clearly the financial incentives to work abroad are worthwhile and makes sense, despite the hardships. Working mothers in the Far East are fully accustomed to leaving their kids with members of their own family while they pursue the financial incentives available overseas in order to provide a home of their own when they finally return retire.

Some of the workers are lucky, but many are made to work long hours in poor conditions: one girl talks of sleeping on the kitchen floor and being woken at 5am to start her day; another was constantly given orders even while eating her meals. There is also talk of sexual abuse in a household in the Middle East.

Overseas resonates with Davide Maldi’s recent feature The Apprentice that examines the service industry in Italy and the ongoing attitudes of those employed in the sector, while Lila Aviles has explored the life of a hotel worker in Mexico City in her darkly amusing, award-winning film The Chambermaid (2018). Throughout the Europe domestic workers are more in demand than ever with middle class families paying to having help at home – both parents are often out working and their adult (working) offspring are still in residence. In the Far and Middle East the class system is more rigidly in place but times are changing and these domestic workers are justifiably become more dissatisfied with their lot. These girls are caught in the crosswinds of change.

Yoon adopts a quietly observational approach to demonstrate how the collective experience of these women is broadly negative – yet is at pains to show that they are individuals rather than just a collective mass known for their placid and obedient nature. MT

NOW ON VOD PLATFORMS

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

All For My Mother (2019) **** Kinoteka 2020

Dir: Małgorzata Imielska | Cast: Zofia Domalik, Maria Sobocińska, Malwina Laska, Adam Cywka, Dobromir Dymecki; Poland 2019, 104 min.

After repeatedly escaping from her orphanage, 17-year-old Olka (Zofia Domalik) is moved to a youth detention centre. With bitten fingernails and scarred arms, the teenager has no desire to ingratiate herself with the guards, like the other girls. She just wants to trace her mother.

All For My Mother – a probing exploration of our most visceral bond – won awards at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival and Warsaw Film Festival and will be screening at this year’s online Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, re-scheduled from March.

In her first feature him Imielska depicts a staggering brutal picture of Polish institutional life in hyper-realism that spares the audience nothing. Confined to a prison-like reform centre Olka’s only desire is to escape. She has been looking for her mother for years, and the endless search has become an obsession. Bullied by the other girls – particularly Agnes (Sobocinska), who calls Olka’s mother a whore – she also meets Mania (Laska), whose mother has killed her abusive father and is serving time. 

After another attempt at escape Olka is sent away to foster parents in the countryside. Irena (Budnik) and Andrzej (Budnik) are a dysfunctional couple constantly at war with each other. When Olka is in the barn feeding the rabbits, Andrzej attacks and rapes her brutally. She runs away, but Andrzej catches up with her promising to help her find her mother. But this is just a ploy, and the girl is subjecting to further abuse when the police arrive. 

Ola is completely disempowered by a system set up to help her and women like her. Eventually one of the therapists supports her case but Olka has given up hope and runs away again after the principal finally divulges her mother’s address in Szczecin. The search will be a grim and disheartening one, sending Olka to the depths of despair.   

This is a heart-breaking film to watch and viewers will be staggered by the seemingly lawless vacuum in Poland, where women are treated as fair game by men and institutions alike. DoP Tomasz Naumiuk pictures a bleak and post-industrial wasteland where the material poverty is on a par with the soulless behaviour of the authorities. An utterly compelling feature, which asks fundamental questions. AS

Showing as part of KINOTEKA – The Polish Film Festival in London, Kinoteka.org.uk

Dede (2017) **** Georgian Retrospective DOCLISBOA 2020

Dir.: Mariam Khatchvani; Cast: George Babluani, Nukri Khatchvani, Natia Vibliani, Girshel Chelidze; Georgia/Croatia/UK/Ireland/Netherlands/Qatar 2017, 97 min.

This first feature from Georgian documentarian Mariam Khatchvani is based on true events that took place at the outset of the Georgian Civil War in the remote mountainous community of Svaneti, far removed from the modern world. It pictures a patriarchal society where forced marriages, pride and tradition dictate the code of daily life. Dina is a young woman promised by her draconian grandfather to David, one of the soldiers returning from the war. Once a marriage arrangement is brokered by two families, failure to follow through on the commitment is unthinkable.

Khatchvani uses an evocative visual approach with minimal dialogue to tell the story of this woman essentially trapped by men. Gegi (Babluani) has just saved his best friend’s David’s life. Ironically this leaves David (N. Khtachvani) free to marry Dina (Vibliani). But in reality Gegi is in love with her – the two fell for each other, though their original meeting was so brief they never even exchanged names. When Dina reveals her true feelings to David, he simply replies: “you will marry me, even if you are unhappy for the rest of your life”. David then suggests Gegi join him for a hunting trip which ends in tragedy leaving this intelligent woman thwarted by the controlling men in her life.

DoP Mindia Esadze impresses with towering panoramas of the mountains, and the more domestic-based clashes between progress and tradition. Babluani is really convincing in her passionate fight for happiness, even though she hardly raises her voice. 

Khatchvani shows the backward life for Georgian women in a country where traditional Spiritualism and the Muslim faith both conspire against them, and men end arguments by simply stating: “a woman has no say in this matter”. The director is living proof that women can succeed – with this atmospheric arthouse indie made on a restricted budge. The feature leaves only one question: since both fatal accidents were shown off-camera, we are left wondering whether Girshel might have been the perpetrator in both cases. AS

SCREENING AT DOCLISBOA, GEORGIAN RETROSPECTIVE 2020 | AVAILABLE ON AMAZON VIDEO & PRIME, DVD (AMAZON) VIMEO ON DEMAND AND INDIEFLIX

 

Herself (2020)

Dir: Phyllida Loyd | UK Drama, 97′

It certainly helps to have friends in high places according to this utopian crowdpleaser that sees an abused wife and mother making a new start with her two girls in Dublin.

Playing out like an uplifting female-centric companion-piece to I, Daniel Blake this is a film along similar lines and is certainly better crafted than Ken Loach’s flung together social realist agitprop, that bizarrely went on to win a Palme d’Or.

Herself is the latest from English director Phyllida Lloyd who is best known for her blockbusters Mamma Mia and Iron Lady. Newcomer Clare Dunne co-wrote the script based on her own life experience, she is also impressive as an idealistic but enterprising home-help called Sandra who finally comes to end of her tether marriage-wise after a violent set-to with her troubled husband (Ian Lloyd Anderson). From the safety of an upmarket hotel room (courtesy of social services) she decides to make a new home for herself and her daughters after seeing a self-build model on the internet.

One good idea leads to another and the project gains momentum when her wealthy boss Dr O]Toole (Harriet Walker) offers to lend her the £35k – the good doctor became close to Sandra’s mother, her longterm domestic and support. Soon a motley crew of friends and tradesmen band together to help Sandra realise her dream, enjoying the camaraderie of this self-help exercise and the buzz it generates all round. Naturally the project doesn’t run smoothly and febrile flashbacks to the grimness of Sandra’s former life with her nasty husband counterbalance the saccharine scenario of the present.

Predictable in its cheesy outcome and off-the-peg characterisation this is a cheerful life-affirming film that also manages to combine a feisty courtroom segment with the false bonhomie of the home-building effort just for good measure. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Shirley (2019) **** Bfi London Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Josephine Decker; Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Odessa Young, Michael Stuhlbarg, Logan Lerman; USA 2020, 107 min.

Making a name for herself with a stylish array of imagined dramas Josephine Decker moves into the arena of real life with this febrile portrait of horror writer Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) whose most popular novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ has been filmed on numerous occasions, the last being as a ten-episode long production on Netflix. 

Based on ‘Shirley: A Novel’ by Susan Scarf  the film takes place in 1964 in North Bennington, Vermont – which seems a strange a strange choice, since Scarf actually wrote her novel ‘Hangasman’, whose writing process is the central part of the feature, in 1951. The narrative centres on two couples, the middle-aged Shirley (Moss) and her English professor husband Stanley (Stuhlbarg), and their much younger house guests Rose (Young) who is pregnant with their first child, and her academic husband Fred (Lerman), who tries to get a tenure at Bennington College, being Stanley’s assistant. There are shades of Albee’s Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but, more importantly, Rose and Fred are invented characters. But in staying away from a strictly biographical narrative, Decker and her writer Sarah Gubbin enhance the richness of the storytelling – even though the ‘deletion’ of four kids, who would have been around in 1951, is another puzzling decision.

We meet Rose and Fred on the train on their way to Bennington, where they have rampant sex in the train’s bathroo after Rose has finished Jackson’s Kafkaesque novella ‘The Lottery” from 1949. What was planned as a short stay, turns into a much longer tenancy, when Fred literally pimps out his wife to look after the alcoholic and and agro phobic writer, with the philandering husband making unwanted advances. Soon Fred follows in Stanley’s footsteps, and sleeps with an undergraduate student leaving the women to look for intimacy among them selves.

A major topic is Jackson’s obsession with death, not uncommon for a writer of her genre. ‘Hangsaman’ is the story of a young student called Natalie, who becomes mentally unbalanced and takes her own life. She is renamed Paula in the feature and played by Young in a part-staging of the novel. But death is never far away – in one scene Shirley frightens Rose by pretending to eat a poisonous mushroom in the woods. And near the end there is a brilliant dream-sequence with Rose standing at the edge of the cliff with her baby.

Norwegian-born DoP Sturla Brandth Groven underlines the horror-film atmosphere with a great array of light movements: even though the feature is told more from Rose’s per perspective, the flurry, wandering light seems to make the house into a prison for Jackson. Her outings into the world are also fraught with disaster: she enjoys vindictively spoiling a new sofa with red wine because she dislikes the hostess of the academic gathering. Somehow, Shirley’s protests against the mediocre, male-dominated society rubs off on Rose: when Fred tells her his affair is over, and “soon everything will be back to normal”, she lets him know that this is not the case. 

Shirley is a very ambitious feature, even though a great deal takes place away from the camera, Moss and Young are mesmerising enough to keep the audience occupied. With Shirley Gubbins and Decker have created a valuable contribution to the feminist horror genre. AS

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2020

                                

I Am Woman (2020) ****

Dir: Unjoo Moon | Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Evan Peters, Danielle Macdonald | Biopic Drama 116′

There are two iconic feminist anthems that stand out in the memory: one is Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, the other is I Am Woman.

Written and sung by the not quite so famous Seventies singer Helen Reddy, her theme tune nonetheless comes from a place of calm confidence. Is not strident, desperate or defiant but sure of its positive message. Yes, I am a woman but I’m also warm, approachable and secure.
Of course Reddy – played here by a fabulously feline Tilda Cobham-Hervey – was an accomplished artist who made a number of hit records during the late 1960s and 1970s. And Unjoo Moon’s fond but enjoyable rags to riches debut biopic shows how she made it from nowhere to become one of the most popular singers of her generation.
Her story starts in 1966. The mother of a 3 year girl Tracey, she arrives in New York from Sydney hoping for a recording contract from a major music producer who immediately patronises her in a film fraught with the ingrained prejudice of the era: “you really flew over from Australia all by yourself?” He denies her a contract claiming the trend is for male bands  “the Beatles are all the rage”. Trying to make her way, she is later denied equal pay as a nightclub singer on the grounds of her status as an illegal alien. But she is not deterred. And with Emma Jensens’ script painting her as a purring lowkey diva, Cobham-Hervey’s Reddy has to figure out how she can keep her canny charisma and move on from being just another talented female vocalist to an assertive, no-bullshit ballbreaker – just like a man – to get to the top. But the Seventies is the era of the singer-songwriter (with a selection of gracefully performed numbers featuring here, dubbed by Chelsea Cullen) so Helen has come to America at just the right time.
Based on Reddy’s own memoirs The Woman I Am, Moon and Jensen do their best to tether the feature to the current upswell of gender parity issues. But it’s not only fame and success as a female Reddy has to conquer but also several tricky relationships, not least her budding romance with potential agent Jeff Wald (Evan Peters), who becomes Helen’s second husband, putting his own life first along with the other high level clients in his portfolio, mostly notable being the rock band Deep Purple. The two form a feisty partnership Jeff spurred on by his wife’s calm determination to pioneer her gently feministic easy listening style. The couple are now living in California where Reddy has bought a poolside mansion with cash.
Meanwhile, the ego-driven Jeff is proving a handful and needs to be managed with an iron fist. Reddy’s other key relationship is with her compatriot Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald), who is making her way in music journalism and is known for the first rock encyclopedia in 1969. But both these relationships will falter: Jeff turns into a belligerent, megalomaniac coke head running through all the couple’s money, and Lillian dies of an asthma attack.
The film’s focus is very much Reddy’s invidious relationship with Jeff but fails to examine why the singer stuck to easy listening style in a career that was successful (Angie Baby, I don’t know How to Love Him and Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady) but never really had a narrative arc of its own or a progression beyond her female-centric ballads. We do see her attempting to break into the Jazz style she had always been keen on, but this desire is stymied by Jeff and her advisors who control her activities to secure their own profits. And the sheer will and perseverance of making it anyway must have taken up most of her emotional energy, with two children to rear and a mercurial misogynist husband and manager to deal with.
Dubbed “the queen of housewife rock” by Alice Cooper, Reddy is clearly a symbol of female empowerment but more in the style of Phyllis Schlafly than her fellow chanteuses of the era Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon or Carol King. Cleverly the film never comes across as women’s lib story – and in a one certainly doesn’t get the impression Reddy was a ‘bra-burner’, more as a tribute to a woman whose talents as a singer is showcased in Cobham-Hervey’s sinuously stylish performances that make her really appealing to watch and listen in the film. Yet looking back on her music as a teen of that era Reddy was never on the radar as being remotely ‘cool’ or ground-breaking in the style Mitchell and Simon.
Superbly lensed by Oscar winning DoP Dion Beebe, the film’s final scenes therefore come across as an afterthought and tonally out of kilter with what has gone before. That said, this minor flaw does nothing to detract our enjoyment of Cobham-Hervey’s performance that carries the film through with an astonishing tour de force of grace, poise and fervent femininity. MT
IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 9 OCTOBER 2020

 

 

 

 

 

The 180 Degree Rule (2020) **** Bfi London Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Farnoosh Samadi; Cast: Sahar Dolatshaki, Pejman Jamshidi, Azita Hajian, Hassan Pourshirazi; Iran 2020, 83 min.

Best known for her award-winning screenplays, Iran’s Farnoosh Samadi gets behind the camera single-handedly for this tightly-wound domestic drama set in Tehran. Told in a detached, brisk style, it shows how a repressive, dogmatic society leads to the breakdown of a family and the wider implications that ensue.  

Teacher Sara (Dolatshaki) lives with her aloof and controlling husband Hamed (Jamshidi) and their five-year-old daughter Raha. He is a work-obsessed bureaucrat whose obsequious telephone calls to his superiors, contrast sharply with his dismissive attitude to his wife. For weeks, she has asked him to take a few days off for her younger sister’s wedding in the north of the country – but Hamed’s priority is always work, and he’s relieved to be let off the hook when his boss needs him to go on a business trip. Having refused to support Sara, he also forbids her Sara to travel to the wedding with Raha, even though the little girl is looking forward to it, having been chosen as bridesmaid and rehearsed her song to perfection.

But the two will go and the trip will end in tragedy with Sara relying on her family to get her through the aftermath. Samadi packs her storyline with the knock-on affects of the trip showing how difficult it is to conceal things, not only from her difficult husband but also his family – without revealing the entire plot line, suffice to say that Sara eventually ends up involved with the Police.

School life is no easier with Sara having to deal with a pupil’s overdose due to an unwanted pregnancy. Samadi shows how women live in daily fear of their perceived authority figures in a society that is determined to control and undermine them, and even reduces them to pawns in the hands of their husbands. But what makes 180 Degree Rule so impressive is the casual emotional aggression Hamed uses to punish his wife: treating her like a child, but without the love he has for his daughter.

The feature is complimented by its dour interiors – in contrast, the tonal relief of the wedding scene is a little master-piece of imagination, a fairy-world much removed from the dreary reality of everyday life. Avoiding melodrama at all times, Samadi gives this restrained and quietly assured debut a hopeful conclusion with the news that Sara’s sister has married a more progressive husband who at last holds Hamed in contempt. AS

BFI FILM FESTIVAL | 2020

       

Saint Maud (2019) **** Bfi player

Dir/Wri: Rose Glass | Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Frazer, Lily Knight, Marcus Hutton, Turlough Convery, Rosie Sansom, Carl Prekopp, Jonathan Milshaw, Noa Bodner, Rosie Sansom | UK, Fantasy Drama 84′

Rose Glass has been making films since she was 13. Her accomplished first feature is a restrained brew of horror and psychological thriller built round intoxicating performances from Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle as nurse and patient.

The real St Maud lived in 10th century Germany, the daughter of a Saxon nobleman known for her healing hands, but this Maud has a distinctly Welsh sensibilities. Clark is clearly cast for her angelic face, although we see her with fresh blood on her hands in the opening scene which suggests that she is not as pious as she would have us believe when she arrives at the Arts&Crafts villa of a surprisingly vivacious diva who is dying of cancer.

Amanda (Ehle) is clearly not going to “go gentle into that good night” in the words of Dylan Thomas. Fond of Art Deco prints, mid-Sixties furniture and the music of Al Bowlly, Ehle dusts down her purring North Carolina accent and often dons a wig and false eyelashes to create a ravishing portrait of faded glamour which echoes Dorothy Parker or even Cyd Charisse. Bored rigid by her own mortality, and relying on her lover Carol (Frazer) to entertain her, Maud responds by stroking her ego, as a tender nurse whose new found religious fervour reaches orgasmic levels, inspiring both patient and carer to hope for better things in the next life – saved by the power of God. But Maud is jealous of Carol, and her tenure ends in tears. This elegantly crafted first act is bewitched by the squally winter skies of Scarborough, Adam Janota Bzowski’s booming sensaround soundscape and lush lensing from Ben Fordesman.

Once Ehle has left the stage (she does return for a brief blast) the film turns into a rather more disturbing study of untreated mental illness, Glass directing with inventive  flourishes clearly influenced by The Devils and Repulsion. Maud is a disturbed and delusional character suffering from loneliness and a desperate need to control, and clinging to her Christian faith and its emblems for succour. And we really feel for her in this astonishing turn from Clark.

It soon emerges from a chance encounter in the street that she was previously known as Kate, and worked in a hospital where something bad happened. Now offering palliative care through a private agency, Maud has poetically re-styled herself as a contemporary version of Florence Nightingale, and Glass has given clever thought to this imaginative re-branding: Maud is also dogged by dangerous moods and these sequences are accompanied by magic realism and glowing special effects – in one Maud sprouts luminous wings, another sees her incandesce in a really shocking finale.

Maud’s delusional episodes grow increasingly florid as she finds herself alone and unemployable in a dingy basement flat. By the end the reality and fantasy become indistinguishable although this ambiguity never entirely satisfies. But Glass clearly enjoys honing her beast and adding further layers of texture to a characterisation that has haunting implications. Ehle is sadly underused but makes the best of her tortured diva in this really frightening first foray for the British director. MT

IN CINEMAS 9 OCTOBER 2020

Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint (2020) ****

Dir.: Halina Dyrschka, Documentary with Iris Müller-Westermann, Julia Voss, Josiah McElheny, Johan af Klint, Ulla af Klint; Germany 2019, 93 min. 

The life of abstract artist and mystic Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) – who purportedly created the first abstract work in 1906 – is the subject of this impressive first feature from German director Halina Dyrschka.

Painted out of art history by male supremacists, it shows how the pioneering Swede was creating colourful visionary works – inspired by her interest in Theosophy – five years before Kandinsky, who is supposed the first in this field – the dubious circumstances of which add a controversial twist to this informative arthouse documentary.

They tens mainstay IV (1907)

When Hilma af Klint died at the age of nearly eighty-two, she left 1200 paintings and 26 000 pages of diary to her nephew Erik, with the clear proviso that nothing should be sold from a body of work that would only be exhibited twenty years after death, because she felt the world was not ready for her groundbreaking ideas. She was dead right – the first major exhibition had to wait until 2013, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm having refused to take her paintings as a gift from the Hilma af Klint Foundation during the 1970s. 

In 1882, at the age of twenty af Klint was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, where she set about successfully creating traditional portraits and landscapes earning substantial sums. At the Academy she met Anna Cassel, the first of four women who would join her in the collective The Five (De Fem), the others being Cornelia Cederberg, Sigrid Hedman and Matilda Nilsson. But there was another more spiritual side to her life and she was actively involved in Theosophy, participating in séances, a normal pastime for middle class Avantgarde intellectuals at the turn of the century.

Theosophy was the only spiritual movement which allowed women to be ordained as priests, teaching the oneness of all human beings. Af Klint’s interest in the theories of fellow Theosophist Madame Blavatsky led her to geometrical paintings where: “the pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings and with great force. I had no idea what the the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless, I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.”  

In 1908 Af Klint met up with her longterm friend Rudolf Steiner, but her abstract work made little impact on the Swiss anthropologist. He would later show her paintings to a fellow Theosophist Kandinsky who claimed his 1910 “Untitled” to be the first ever abstract work ever produced. Nobody will ever know if af Klint’s paintings had influenced  Kandinsky.

The Ten Largest: Adulthood No 7 (1907)

Steiner’s rejection of her work led to a four-year-long creative block for af Klint, lasting until 1912. Her confidence had been battered, but her work on the Temple series carried on and was prodigious, counting 193 paintings divided into sub-series. One theme gave rise to massive canvasses in a series entitled, ‘The Ten Largest” (1907) describing the various stages of life (childhood, youth, adulthood, old age etc).

Clearly af Klint’s work is still an influential creative force over a hundred years after her first foray into the art world. Looking at Warhol’s quartet of Monroe paintings, we find an exact duplicate in af Klints’s oeuvre, showing four identical portraits of an elderly woman. The experts and the film’s Talking Heads agree: Art History has to be re-written to find a place for Hilma af Klint, a courageous woman who only unveiled her abstract talent once during her lifetime: at ‘Friends House’ in London, 1928. AS

IN CINEMAS from 9 OCTOBER 2020

 

 

Beginning (2020) MUBI

Dir: Dea Kulumbegashvili | Cast: Ia Sukhitashvili, Rati Oneli, Kakha Kintsurashvili, Saba Gogichaishvili | Drama, Georgia/France 125′

Dea Kulumbegashvili won the top prize at San Sebastian 2020 for her serenely self-assured yet sorrowful portrait of dispossession that ripples out into wider concerns for her native Georgia and the world in general.

Seen through the eyes of a disenchanted woman living in provincial Georgia this debut feature is a sensual and stunningly cinematic exploration of all that is wrong with society from religious intolerance to misogyny and the erosion of rural life pictured in the film’s devastating scorched earth finale.

On the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Georgia is an independent country and of the most ancient Christian nations dating back to the 4th century. The film opens in a small town in the Caucasus Mountains bordering on Azerbaijan where, as the wife of a Jehovah’s Witness leader, Jana (Sukhitashvili) must play a rather subservient role to her husband David (Oneli). This film opens during a chapel service which is firebombed by an explosion, causing the frightened congregation to flee into nearby countryside. The incandescent blaze glows on silently for a while afterwards igniting Yaha’s own inner turmoil that will smoulder through this slow-burn Tarkovskian drama, delicately touching on its thematic concerns in a way that nevertheless speaks volumes for the audience.

 

Light plays a vital role in Beginning. Playing out as a series of vivid tableaux vivants, the jewel-like frames are often glow with a viridescent pool of light, Arseni Khachaturan’s fixed camera scrutinises the main character in each frame who is often bathed in a shaft of light, or closely observed while the speaking character is out of sight. One sublime take sees Yana lying in a bed of autumn leaves, the ambient bird song slowly dying out as she is transformed into a bliss-like state. Captivating for some viewers (it lasts for around 7 minutes), it may however test other’s powers of endurance. What Dea achieves here is a meditative intimacy with her character. And as we are drawn more closely into Yana’s orbit, we feel a deep affinity with her state of mind; the affect is quite astonishing and deeply calming.

Yana emerges tolerant and forbearing, inspiring our sympathy despite her inner discontent; she is never angry or histrionic even when the children she is preparing for their first religious communion collapse in a fit of giggles. She exudes an almost saint-like endurance except when talking to her self-absorbed husband who professes his deep neediness of her despite his inattentiveness. Shutting down her feelings of futility, he responds patronisingly during a conversation early on in the film: “Let’s find you a job”. Yet as she toils away in the kitchen, Sukhitashvili’s Yana is a luminously compelling heroine, resembling a latter day Jeanne Dielman, a woman who carries on calmly amidst gruelling domestic trivia, a loving mother bewildered by the lurid sexual abuse meted out on her by a visiting police detective come to investigate the chapel fire.

There is one scene where David and Yana appear to be on the same page in their tender pillow talk although David’s chief concern is rebuilding the chapel so his career path is not derailed despite his wife’s calmly-voiced inertia, her own work as an actor having been on the back-burner since their son’s birth.

The film’s painterly views of nature evoke Dea’s appreciation of her homeland and concerns for a rural existence threatened by the future. In a scene towards the end of the film a uniformed hunter looks menacingly into the camera possibly hinting at Georgia’s ongoing tricky relationship with Russia. One more puzzling scene contrasts a violent rape attack (Yana and the detective?) with the wild beauty of its rocky riverside setting where two figures tussle violently at the extreme right of the frame where they are almost indistinguishable from the flow-strewn purple and white undergrowth.

A visit to her mother reinforces Yana’s feelings of subjugation and disempowerment as a woman. Recalling her own difficult marriage, her mother warns Yana not to mention the incident for fear of rocking the boat. Yana is clearly alone in the world with two males who depend on her but never consider her own emotional well-being.

Finally, on a drive home one night David discusses their future in small-town Georgia. A move to Tbilisi is on the cards but David sees it from his own perspective as the camera looks out onto a dark and rainy road ahead. Yana remains locked in silence, a receptacle for everyone’s needs but her own. MT

NOW ON MUBI | San Sebastian | WINNER OF THE GOLDEN SHELL AWARD 2020

 

A Good Man (2020) *** Toronto Film Festival

Dir.: Marie-Castielle Mention-Schaar; Cast: Noémie Merlant, Soko, Vincent Dedienne, Anne Loiret; France 2020, 108 min.

This trans fertility threesome is not as good as it could have been despite an impressive second performance from Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant who here plays a cis woman in the throes of becoming a trans man .  

Marie-Castielle Mention-Schaar produces, writes and directs her follow up to Le ciel attendra (Heaven Will Wait) reuniting her with Merlant who as  Benjamin agrees to interrupt his sex reassignment surgery in order to carry and birth the child his partner Aude wants so badly but cannot carry to full term.

Aude (Soko) lives with the community nurse in the village of Groix on an island off the Brittany coast. They have moved here from Aix-en-Provence, where Aude was a successful ballet dancer. One of the many flashback scenes pictures the couple on their first date when Benjamin was still Sarah. They have now been together for six years and want to cement their relationship with a child. In other flashbacks, Benjamin’s mother Eve (Loiret) complains about not having a real daughter “I could not even talk to her”. His brother Antoine (Dedienne) is married with a child and also has a poor relationship with Benjamin.

Ben is not secure in his changing physical status, and does not allow Aude to see him in the bath. He claims his old self, Sarah, could never had a child due to body dysmorphia. And while Benjamin gradually adjusts to his status as a pregnant mother, Aude feels, rightfully, left out: she has given up a great career, and now the mother role she craved so much is also taken away from her – albeit by a caring Benjamin.

This creates a double-bind, but instead of evaluating her misery the director simply writes her out of the script only to bring her back at the very end of the feature as an afterthought. She is not the only under-explored character: many of Benjamin’s patients find his pregnancy rather odd, but in the end they all come around to it – as if by magic. Benjamin himself always occupies the centre stage but is only fragmentarily explored: we see more reaction from the outside than from his own point of view; apart from one outburst against Aude when he gets his revised birth certificate. This makes A Good Man difficult to engage with – surprising for a feature stuffed with such explosive emotions.

DoP Myriam Vinocour’s claustrophobic camerawork fails to reflect the wild beauty of the island setting that added so much allure to Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Life for the couple seems so restrictive, even though Benjamin gets around a lot visiting his patients. But the main downside to this complex drama is its fractured narrative: few features succeed in integrating so many flashbacks – and A Good Man is no exception. This is still a worthwhile experience that makes a brave effort to explore complex gender roles in today’s every-changing world.  AS

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2020                                                  

 

Babyteeth (2019) *** 2019

Dir,: Shannon Murphy, Cast: Eliza Scanien, Ben Mendelsohn, Essie Davis, Toby Wallace, Emily Barklay, Australia 2019, 120 min. 

Australian filmmaker Shannon Murphy directs her debut with sentiment and a sort of obnoxious humour, the clash of styles is something only Australian filmmakers can muster.

Adapted for the screen by Rita Kainejais, based on her own play, it sees sixteen year old Milla (Scanien) dying of cancer. Her psychiatrist father Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) and psychotherapist mother Anna (Davis) are finding it hard to cope despite their professional training but they also have their own demons to deal with. Henry neglects his clients, seeking  diversion by helping pregnant neighbour Toby (Emily Barklay) with the household tasks. Enter Moses, a small-time crook in his mid-twenties, who nearly pushes Milla under a train. She falls for him all the same, and her bewildered parents put up with the relationship to make her final months bearable. Moses finally moves in and Henry supplies morphine to his daughter and her boyfriend. Anna is the most interesting character and Davis plays her with subtlety: a talented middle-aged musician whose sexual urges are not always satisfied by her husband, despite their fondness for one another and the impending crisis.  

Babyteeth is a beautifully performed four-hander – but Murphy never really finds the right blend of calmness and flippancy to make the drama work as a convincing piece of cinema. But these faults are the faults of inexperience and Andrew Commis’ images are a striking firework of colours, underlining the chaotic storyline. Scanien is a tour de force, bringing both vulnerability and power to her role. Comparisons with Jane Champion’s early films are wide of the mark – but there is always hope for this promising new filmmaker. AS

IN CINEMAS from 21 August 2020 | premiered at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2019

The Portuguese Woman | A Portuguesa (2019) **** Mubi

Dir.: Rita Azevedo Gomes; Cast: Clara Riedenstein, Marcello Urgeghe, Ingrid Caven, Joao Vicente, Alexandre Alves Costa; Portugal 2018, 136 min.

A languid and painterly reflection on art, feminism and beauty and the latest drama from award-winning filmmaker Rita Azevedo Gomes whose debut A Coleccaio Invisivel was based on a 1924 novella by Robert Musil, a contemporary of Stephen Zweig.

Although the timeframe is ambiguous, the setting is Europe – possibly Sintra – somewhere between the 17th/18th century. The film opens with “Unter den Linden”, sung by Ingrid Caven, who accompanies the narrative like a Brechtian chorus as we meet the recently married Lord Von Hutten (Urgeghe) and his wife, the titular Portuguese woman (Riedenstein) whose year-long honeymoon has been brought to an abrupt end when Von Hutten is called to battle by the rather combative Bishop of Trento (Costa): “War is made of debt, and peace is the conduit of corruption and vice”.

When Von Hutten finally returns to his wife and child, who are living in his decrepit castle, she has been enjoying a lengthy visit from her cousin Dom Pero Loboto (Vicente), whose stay has given rise to local gossip, and murderous jealousy on the part of the conquering soldier.

Lavishly mounted and sumptuously captured by DoP Acacio de Almeida whose intense images bring to mind the paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Gomes cleverly transforms Musil’s mysticism, his metaphors for humankind’s failure to retain traditional values, above all love, into landscapes shrouded in mist where the derelict castle represents a refuge from the outside world of strife. Manoel de Oliveira regular Agustina Bessa-Luis comes up with some brilliant dialogue pieces performed with languorous resonance by a superb ensemble cast. In the style of Oliveira, Gomes draws from literature and the world of art to create intentionally static scenes enriched by transcendental poetic realism in this enchanting and magical drama. MT

NOW ON MUBI | VIENNALE 2019 | 24 October – 26 November 2019

 

       

Villa Empain (2019) **** MUBI

Dir: Katharina Kastner | Doc, Belg/France/Ger/ 25′

Katerina Kastner’s impressionistic documentary debut captures the essence of the Villa Empain, one of the most beautiful architectural masterpieces of Art Deco in Brussels. In 1930, at the age of 21, Baron Louis Empain commissioned the building of a private mansion in 55 acres on the prestigious Avenue de la Nation which was later on renamed as Franklin Roosevelt Avenue.

Using the finest materials available in those interwar years (marble, bronze and precious wood), the luxurious house consisted of four polished granite facades, surrounded by a large garden with a pergola and swimming pool. A collector and curator, Louis Empain eventually decided that the property was better served as a museum of decorative and contemporary art, and it was donated to the Belgian Nation in 1937. But the Second World War changed everything and the villa languished until 1943, when it was requisitioned by the German army, eventually becoming an embassy for the USSR in peacetime when Empain recovered his property in the beginning of the sixties, before reselling it in 1973. For nearly ten years it was rented to the TV channel RTL then falling to semi-rack and ruin during the 1990s. It was eventually saved by a wealthy family who set up the Boghossian Foundation in 2007, transforming the building into an East West cultural centre and guaranteeing the revival of its fortunes.

Shot in 16mm this is a sensual creation that resonates with the passage of time, showcasing the the house’s former glory through its trials and tribulations to its present reincarnation. The clever editing brings an eerie and fleeting sense of human presence drifting through the empty rooms and light-filled gardens where leaves swirl and valuable materials shimmer in shafts of sunlight. This short but ravishing documentary takes us on a dreamy distant journey to the coast where the family once enjoyed beach holidays in a space reflected by evocative fantasies and haunted by the war years. A century of memories recorded in a treasured place in time. MT

COMES TO MUBI ON 15 JULY 2020 |

Love Sarah (2020) *** Live release

Dir.: Eliza Schroeder; Writer: Jake Bringer| Cast: Celia Imre, Rupert Penry-Jones, Shelley Conn, Shannon Tarbet, Grace Calder, Bill Paterson; UK 2020, 97min.

This contemporary fairy-tale about love, loss and redemption is the syrupy concoction of debut filmmakers Eliza Schroeder and Jake Brunger. Set in trendy Notting Hill and bathed in a perpetual pastel aesthetic, Love Sarah creates an illusory world brimming with an indomitable feel-good factor.

It sees three generations of women brought together by their own differing conflicts following the death of talented patissier Sarah Curachi, tragically killed in a cycling accident on the eve of opening her first solo bakery in Notting Hill. Determined to keep her mother’s dream alive, teenage daughter Clarissa, an aspiring dancer, enlists the help of her mother’s best friend Isabella (Conn) and her slightly dotty grandmother Mimi (Imrie).

The unique selling point of the bakery is its international fare, inspired by the multicultural inhabitants of  this popular part of town that rose to fame thanks to Roger Michell’s 1999 classic of the same name. The bakery metaphor is a clever one, after all, everyone needs comfort food in these testing times. But there are just too many phoenixes rising out of the ashes of loss and guilt to make the story totally convincing. And Reid’s glossy images underline this tendency to create an urban idyl after the trauma has died down. Performances are solid across the board, each character has something to contribute – but the overall message is too trite. Fairy tales often have a sting in the tail, not to mention predatory wolves. AS

SCREENING LIVE from 10 JULY 2020. 

 

            

Good Manners (2017) **** MUBI

Dir: Juliana Rojas/Marco Dutra | Brazil, France | Fantasy Drama | 135′

Good Manners is a lyrical werewolf fantasy fable that explores class, sexuality and unconditional love in contemporary São Paulo.

Handling its tonal shifts with a deftness as light-hearted as its female-centric cast Good Manners is another example of the fresh and inventive filmmaking coming out of South America at the moment. It follows a young Black woman (Clara/Isabél Zuaa) who takes a job as a home help for an expectant single mother (Ana/Majorie Estiano) who is a member of Brazil’s privileged ‘nouveau riche’.

Ana spends her time shopping and exercising in her high rise luxury condo that soon becomes Clara’s home. After a sensuous pregnancy massage, Ana starts to trust Clara implicitly giving the woman all her bank details even though Clara fails to produce satisfactory references from her landlady Dona Amélia (an amusing Cida Moreira). Alarm bells ring, but it soon emerges that Clara is not the one to be wary of. Ana has some pretty strange secrets and bizarre habits which are gradually revealed in this rather slow-burning drama enriched by clever use of hand-painted scenery for the backdrop of Sao Paulo, and pleasant musical interludes to tell its beguiling story.

Clara and Ana soon enjoy a tender relationship that is refreshingly free from jealousy or resentment. One night they kiss so passionately that Clara’s lips bleed. This signals a growing intimacy between the two that is not so much a  a lesbian awakening, as a growing closeness and dependency due to Ana’s vulnerability that feels entirely natural in her current state. This is another clever way of signalling sexual fluidity, but something more unsettling then starts to take place when Ana scratches her companion’s shoulder, again drawing blood.

Ana’s backstory is clearly a troubled one and she is saddened by the recent break with her family who continue to finance her life, despite “a mistake” on her part which remains a mystery but appears – in delicately rendered pastel drawings – to involve a one-night-stand with a rather hirsute cowboy lover. Clara is enchanted by a musical box containing a tiny dancing horse that plays a tune that will haunt the rest of the film. Then Clara discovers large hunks of meat in the ‘fridge and, during the Full Moon, Ana sleep-walks into the street, her eyes turning a ghastly yellow. When Clara follows her one night she is terrorised to find Ana killing a cat and drinking the blood.

All this seems to unfold without sensationalism, the directors handle the blend of genres with graceful aplomb making this feel more like a fairy story rather than full on horror fare. Ana’s horrific gory birth scene takes on Alien proportions but the alien here is a rather sorrowful baby werewolf – and we feel for him, rather than fear him. With Ana’s death, Clara moves back to the poverty of her favela – cue musical interlude – again, more like a scene from Les Miserables than true Brazilian favela squalor. The little boy Joel is adorable, even when he transforms to a tot werewolf during the full moon when he is taken to ‘the little bedroom’, a secure place with chains and fluffy toys.

All in all, GOOD MANNERS is graceful, softly crafted horror movie that has more in common with ‘Jackanory’, with its brightly coloured ‘beanstalk’ garden, than the terror inspired by Lon Chaney’s werewolf outings, but it nonetheless exerts a thrilling tension. Rui Pocas’ cinematography evokes vibrant images in the interiors and the CGI used for the transformations is just about convincing. Ultimately a story about the power of a mother’s transformative and unconditional love rather than a tale of destruction and woe. If there’s one criticism, GOOD MANNERS rather outstays its welcome at 135 minutes, but certainly hooks us into its spell until the grand finale. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 10 JULY 2020 | LOCARNO 2017 REVIEW

 

 

 

Let it Burn | Dis a era due me via Chorar (2019) *** Mubi

Dir.: Maira Bühler; Documentary; Brazil 2019, 81 min.

In her remarkable documentary Brazilian filmmaker Maira Bühler follows the residents of a hotel turned hostel for crack addicts trying to put their lives together again.

The original title Tell Her That She Saw Me Cry is actually much more suitable. What we are really dealing with here is a domestic drama about lost souls whose emotions are so raw that they can only be released in forceful, often self harming, ways often counterproductive to their recovery. In 28 rooms on 7 floors, 107 residents live out their grim existence in the centre of Sao Paulo. Not that we see very much of Brazil’s capital – only the noise of passing trains reminds us of the vast metropolis outside and the brutal streets where hope was decimated long ago for these hapless inhabitants in their lost ark of social abandonment. But at least a den of iniquity is preferable to the jungle outside.

A trade mark of today’s Brazilian documentary style is the obsession with detail combined with an objectivity that captures an out-pouring of emotions often frightening to witness. A man shouts into his phone, desperately declaring his love for a woman who might not even be listening – but his cri de coeur is at the same time proof of him being alive. A lonely woman in a deserted dormitory waits for a lover who might never return. The longing for company is what keeps the majority of the tenants alive. The camera searches out the human links and reveals little groups clinging on to each other for survival. An aching love song reminds us what this is all about: love, however fleeting, is vital for survival.

The social gulf between film crew and their subjects is enormous. But when the crew has installed a tripod in the lift and starts filming, one woman reveals to the director that she is completed uneducated. But even though there is an uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism, the woman never prevents the camera from intruding into her misery. The strength of the film is that it allows ambiguity to develop without letting fragility and vulnerability mask the gradual humanisation. Sadly, this last chance saloon of salvation has now been shut down as part of the cutbacks in psychiatric support instigated by President Bolsonaro’s far right government. AS

SCREENING DURING SHEFFIELD DOC FESTIVAL 2019

 

Gagarine (2020)

Dir.: Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh; Cast: Alseni Bathily, Lyna Khoudri, Jamil McCraven, Farida Rahouadj, Finnegan Oldfield; France 2020, 97 min.

The world’s first Space traveller Yuri Gagarin gives his name to this impressive debut from Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh. Cité Gagarine, a housing estate in the Parisian suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, had a less illustrious time of things than its namesake, and has now been almost totally demolished along with other buildings of the HLM (habitation à Loyer Modéré), once home to many thousands.

This long version of the directors’ 2015 short starts with a newsreel showing Mr Gagarin (1934-1968), when he visited the site in 1963, enjoying a rapturous welcome from the tenants. Fast forward to 2019, and our new hero teenager Youri (effervescent newcomer Bathily) has not quite come to terms with losing his longterm home. His parents have long left the nest: his mother is now living with a new partner and baby. So his only close tie is with friend of the family Fari (Rahouadj) who will soon leave for pastures new in the South of France. That leaves Youri’s friend and sidekick Houssam (McCraven) and of course Diana (Khoudri), a teenager from a nearby Roma settlement, who shares Youri’s passion for Space travel.

When engineers from the council declare the block of flats unfit for habitation, Youri is determined to save his home, constructing an elaborate space shuttle within its walls. A solar eclipse is the ‘last hurrah’ before the old block is to be detonated. After a valedictory night of passion, Diana goes on her way, Youri agreeing to take care of the dog, renaming it Laika. Everything is now set for the great detonation, and the former residents assemble outside for the final time. Suddenly, a coordinated light show flashes from their former home. Diana and Houssam realise Youri must still be hiding inside in some outlandish act of denial.   

This French film is a revitalising tonic after so much drab British sink estate realism: Yes, bad things happen, but there is always love, and dreams. Even the drug dealer (Oldfield) is not the “bad guy” sent by central casting, but a rather disturbed young man with suicidal tendencies.

Youri’s escapist new ‘home’ is a marvel of imagination and gives DoP Victor Seguin the basis for imaginative ‘space travel’ in Youri’s parallel world. And there’s astringent humour here too: Diana having to help her acrophobic lover up the ladder to the command unit. Ever the optimist, Youri sums it all up with his starry-eyed observation “we are neighbours with the moon”.

Gagarine gives us hope at the end of the rainbow that stretches beyond our day-to-day tunnel of trauma, to infinity and beyond. Youri shows we all have the power to re-create another universe, however parlous our life may be. Far from idealising poverty, Gagarine is proof that escapism offers redemption – we just need to explore our own imagination for salvation in these unworldly times.

NOW IM CINEMAS NATIONWIDE | CANNES COMPETITION SELECTION |  2020     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On MUBI THIS WEEKEND | 19 JUNE 2020

The Bigamist (1953) *** MUBI

Director: Ida Lupino. Screenplay: Collier Young. Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, Edmund Gwenn, Kenneth Tobey, Jane Darwell. Drama / United States / 80′.

Ida Lupino directs and stars in  this final feature for her production company The Filmakers before moving into television.

The blunt title serves as a massive spoiler from the word Go. There’s no doubt as to where the plot is going, but strange as it may seem today, bigamy was surprisingly common at the time, as this film is at pains to point out.

A British film called The Bigamist had been made as early as 1916; but during the 195os the subject was usually treated light-heartedly as a subject of comedy (as in the same year’s The Captain’s Paradise, with Alec Guinness, Celia Johnson and Yvonne de Carlo). But when children are involved – as is the case here – it really becomes significant; and bigamy is just one of a whole raft of issues – including unplanned pregnancy and adoption (where do most adopted children come from in the first place?) – the film explores in just eighty minutes.

With so many people raising kids these days without bothering to get married, the mores of this era seem rather quaint and as remote as the silent era. The earnest tone of the film rather recalls the silent ‘social problem’ films of pioneer women directors Lois Weber and Mrs Wallace Reid in whose footsteps Lupino was following.

The Bigamist is rather like a silent film in the way Lupino’s pregnancy is implied to be the result of the sole occasion she had slept with her lover (O’Brien) as a “birthday treat” for him. And she becomes pregnant the very first time she had slept with a man since she got a ‘Dear Phyllis’ letter from a previous boyfriend several years earlier. O’Brien never squares with her that he’s married; but the thought must have crossed her mind.

It was brave of Edmond O’Brien to take on such an unheroic role, and interesting that Lupino chose to cast herself as the Other Woman rather than the wife. Under any other circumstances it would have been refreshing to see Joan Fontaine as the wife so confidently holding forth on technical matters at the dinner table were she not shown immediately afterwards to be neglecting O’Brien’s need for physical intimacy by immediately turning her back on him in bed (they sleep in separate beds and have been unable to have children).

Could there have been some way of engineering a happy resolution by having O’Brien present Lupino’s child to Fontaine to raise as their own? Perhaps. But Lupino probably wasn’t seeking a tidy resolution, and instead it all ends messily in court with O’Brien getting his knuckles sternly but regretfully rapped by a judge. Richard Chatten.

THE BIGAMIST IS now SCREENING ON MUBI

The Uncertain Kingdom (2019) ****

Ernie, directed by Ray Panthaki; Camelot, directed by Allison Hargreaves; Left Coast, directed by Carol Salter; The Life Tree, directed by Paul Frankl; Stronger is Better than Angry, directed by Hope Dickson Leach; Verisimilitude, directed by David Proud; Swan, directed by Sophie King; Motherland, directed by Ellen Evans; The Converstion, directed by Lanre Malaolu

Uncertainty is the watchword of our troubled times here in the United Kingdom. Covid 19 has wreaked havoc on every aspect of life, changing the future forever. And Brexit still casts a long shadow, nobody knows what will happen – or when. Shot on a shoestring budget, and none the worse for it, this string of short films reflect an era of ecological meltdown and social unrest, and division underpinned by the breakdown of family values.  Jobs for life are a distant memory, and the new gig economy culture produces more losers than winners. Apart from the long on-going geographical North-South split, a new chasm has opened up between the great urban metropolises and the rest of the country. There are no apparent solutions in a modern society fraught with doubt, disbelief and discouragement.

Bringing together artists working across film, TV, theatre, animation, dance and radio, The Uncertain Kingdom directors include IWC Schaffhausen Award winner Hope Dickson Leach (The Levelling), BIFA winner Carol Salter (Almost Heaven), BAFTA and International Emmy winner Guy Jenkin (Drop the Dead Donkey, Outnumbered) Iggy LDN (Black Boys Don’t Cry). Actors David Proud (Marcella), BAFTA Breakthrough Brit Ray Panthaki (Official Secrets, Collette) and Antonia Campbell-Hughes (Bright Star, Cordelia) have also directed films for the project.

ERNIE by Ray Panthaki is symptomatic of the current political climate. A meek caretaker falls under the spell of his right-wing father, leading to tragedy. Carol Salter’s LEFT COAST is a Blackpool-set documentary, the Big Dipper still the only symbol for much better times. Travelling further afield, Paul Frankl’s magic realist drama THE LIFE TREE sees a mother discovering a tree whose magic supernatural powers could cure her son’s illness. Equally unexpected is Sophie King’s SWAN, channelling the spirit of Monty Python, in a curious tale about a man’s transformation into a swan. If one had to select one of these, it wold be VERISIMILITUDE by David Proud. It is the story of wheel-chair user Bella (Ruth Madeley), an actress with motor skill issues who lands a job teaching young actor Josh (Laurie Davidson) how to act with her afflictions for his latest role, only to find her owns hopes and dreams realised. AS

VOD release 1 June 2020

 

MS Slavic 7 (2019) ***

Dir.: Sofia Bohdanowiez; Cast: Deragh Campbell/co-dir, Aaron Danby, Elizabeth Rucker; Canada 2019, 64 min.

MS Slavic 7 is an intriguing title for a film. It refers to the catalogue number of a collection of 25 letters archived in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, and written by the director’s great-grandmother, the Polish poet Zofia Bohdanowieczowa, to her fellow poet Jozef Wittlin during their exile after the Second World War.

This melancholic essay film is a paean to poetry and displacement, and the filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowiez and co-director/lead actor Deragh Campbell do their best to bring the correspondence  to life. Wittlin (who lived in NY City) wrote between 1957 and 1964, first from Penrhos in Wales, then later from Toronto, Canada. Sofia is the literary executor of her great-grandmother’s output, and in this function she visits Houghton Library, meets a Polish scholar (Danby) and has a few contretemps with a Polish lady (Rucker), whom she has meets at a get-together of elderly Polish exiles. 

The trauma of permanent exile is documented in Zofia’s letter to Wittlin after she arrives in Toronto: “I still don’t write, I am still exhausted by the change, and feel like a fish out of water. I have always been terribly provincial and sedentary. Even in Poland, each trip to Warsaw terrified me, and only when coming back to Grodno where the crew changed and a train inspector had asked me melodiously: ‘tickets, please’, it felt like home”. In another letter she thanks him for sending her a photo comparing his gesture “with Polish bees”. Late she sends him “a hastily and confused letter” after the sudden death of her husband; with hopes that Wittlin “would be spared from parting and loneliness”. Later, she still complains about alienation in Toronto: “I sense a hostility in the grey city. The movement of the people and the traffic feels at once absent and menacing. Still, I hope that my stupid and sterile period is going to end soon”. When they meet for the first time “it is like an apocalypse”. 

Sofia is rather less expressive when it comes dealing with her great-great grandmother’s letters, her discussions with the scholar (who ends up in her bed – both of them reading the letters) show her difficulty in grasping the poet’s personality – Sofia can only imagine what exile meant for ‘Zofia’.

One of Zofia’s last letters to Wittlin is very much like a testament: “Still, you are right indeed. There was a veil of sadness over our meeting. That might have been because Toronto (in my opinion) is a sad city. Or even because everyone has sadness in themselves – how could it be otherwise for people without their homeland nor families?. And then came this meeting along with the uncertainty if we would ever see each other again”.  

Although the director’s own input is somehow hit-and-miss, Zofia’s letters provide compulsive reading with their thoughts from one permanently displaced person to another, piecing together their musings on a new place that is alien to both of them. Their homeland becomes a distant and poignant fading memory as they waste away slowly in the cold climate of exile. A valuable and worthwhile film that will offer comfort and context to all those living forced to live away from their families or in exile.AS

NOW ON MUBI 4 JUNE 2020 | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | FORUM 7 -17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

 

Take Me Somewhere Nice (2019) *** MUBI

Dir: Ewa Sendijarevic | Drama | 91′

In her impressive debut feature, Ewa Sendijarevic takes a fresh and playfully cinematic approach to this semi-autobiographical expression of ‘positive experience of loneliness’ for the average multi-cultural person. To put it more simply, her central character Alma has grown up in Holland from Bosnian parentage and returns there to visit her father for the first time, with the gaze of an alien. Although this theme has been done before, most recently in a radical way by Jonathan Glazer in his mystery thriller Under The Skin, Take Me Somewhere Nice is a much more down to earth affair, enriched by its stunning visual approach and minimal dialogue. Alma is an Alice in Wonderland like character who goes on a Kafkaesque journey to visit her origins. She is accompanied by her cousin and his best friend, both from Bosnia, both unemployed and just as “care free” as Alma herself.

This triangle of characters represents a West-East European power balance between the privileged, and those left behind; the bitter and the opportunistic, the ones who would like to join the West and the ones who actively turn their back to it. This tension between the three bright young things occasionally becomes recklessly sexual, at other times gently attempts to forge a meaningful connection. Each frame completes the brightly coloured jigsaw of Alma’s eventful story, and even when it ventures into darker themes – a road kill incident and beach attack – still feels hopeful and energetic, in contrast to the clichéd portrayals of migrant misery and put-upon womanhood in the beleaguered Balkans.

Sometimes Sendijarevic inverts expectations, making us uncomfortable in a Brechtian way, and more acutely aware of traditional approaches the buzzy subject matter. TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE is also a film about using our contact with nature and the animal kingdom to celebrate being alive and being present in our world, wherever we lay our hats. Spirited performances and a lively colour palette make this journey fun and highly watchable. Sendijarevic believes in the Romantic – and laudable – idea that in “the moments we spend alone, preferably in nature, we can connect to our true selves in a spectacular way”. a sentiment that holds true now more that ever. A delightedly inventive and lively first feature. MT

NOW ON MUBI from 21 MAY 2020 | THE SPECIAL JURY AWARD WINNER | ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019 |

 

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall (2020) *** Visions du Reel 2020

Dir: Sascha Schöberl | Germany, Doc 84′ 

The cult of beauty and celebrity coalesce in this deeply unsettling documentary that looks at Beijing-based plastic surgeon Dr Han and his permanent quest for perfection, not only for himself but for his clients. The film once again connects to the narrative of live-streaming, a big business in China, as we saw in Present, Perfect (2019) the Tiger Award winner at Rotterdam last year.

In her sophomore feature, German filmmaker Sascha Schoberl makes no judgement on Han’s own self-focus. This is not a case of a little nip and tuck here and there, done discretely for women of a certainly age. Dr Han’s patients are young slim, and business orientated, and their surgery is plain for all to see.

Live fashion photos of the Dr Han in various natty outfits decorate the walls of his practice. In the firmament of China’s burgeoning plastic surgery industry, he is a star. Nor does the director question his unusual professional approach, allowing a roomful of spectators to attend the and record the live surgery on their mobile phones. The patient, a young Chinese model who undergoes the procedure without general anaesthetic, has given permission because this is all part of the process of monetising live-streaming, And it cuts both ways. The participants all garner something from the process, although why the camera looks at the patient’s face rather than the operation itself, is unclear. Clearly her stoicism – and tacit endurance – adds to the compelling nature of the footage. 

But beyond achieving beauty, girls in China are really looking to make money from the process of improvement surgery. And this is made possible and achievable thanks to Chinese massive social media platforms WeChat and Weibo who attract millions of followers to experience the surgery – live-streamed from the operating theatre to art fairs via fashion shows, and the private homes of this vast nation – they will use their mobiles not only as a form of contact and entertainment, but also to finance their lives. 

Drone footage hovers over Beijing’s vast tower blocks in the opening scenes as the camera descends on Dr Han’s substantial headquarters in the centre of the Chinese capital. Dr Han goes through his spiel encouraging and mentoring as the women congregate to attend the breast enlargement operation for a young flat-chested model whose sole aim, apart from achieving her desired breast size, is to create a platform where she can showcase her assets and make money from garnering followers on social media. The only slight criticism here is a lack of backstory: who are these girls, what are their personal stories, and how about some more clarity on Dr Han?

The procedure completed, the good doctor is not relieved that things have gone well, and that the patient has emerged fit and fulsome; he is clearly dismayed not to have attracted more followers, just click bait. Meanwhile, the enhanced model is pouting happily in her white bed holding a bunch of flowers for her followers delights, having been forced to look chipper throughout the procedure, her face having being filmed continuously by another woman encouraging her to smile, despite her nervousness.

Being a woman is highly competitive business all over the World, as increasingly so. Intelligence and personality are clearly not enough, and surgeons like Dr Han have cottoned on these women’s susceptibility and panders to their vanity and insecurity. A compelling film that questions beauty as a simultaneously essential yet vain element of society in the era of selfies. MT

Visions du Reel 2020 Online | April – May 2020, Nyon, Switzerland 

 

Deux Fois (1969) *** Centre Pompidou Streaming

Dir: Jackie Raynal | Doc, France 64’

A member of the Zanzibar group, formed in 1968 around Sylvina Boissonas, Olivier Mosset, Philippe Garrel, and Serge Bard, Jackie Raynal (1940-) made her first film Deux Fois Twice during a nine-day trip to Barcelona in 1968. Having worked with Éric Rohmer and Jean-Daniel Pollet), this sophomore experimental documentary expresses an inescapable disenchantment in the aftermath to the cataclysmic events of May 68.

The film would go on to garner the Grand Prize of the Young Cinema Festival of Hyères (that focused on independent cinema founded in 1965), Twice was shot in a few days in velvetyblack and white by DoP Andre Weinfeld.  Sylvina Boissonnas financed the project, along with many of the the Zanzibar group’s activities.

In Deux Fois actressJackie Raynal takes on her new role as filmmaker to produce a “film almanac”, or a “notebook of wanted or organized haikus”, in the words of the historian of experimental cinema Dominique Noguez.

Essentially its lack of dialogue speaks volumes, although Raynal narrates the first sequence, focusing our gaze on the atmosphere and intensity of the protagonists’ feelings conveyed by body language. “Spectators are offered a series of actions reduced to their registration in the space of the shot and the duration of the projection, a set of time blocks, juxtaposed in a deceptive simplicity”.

Film critic Louis Skorecki called it “one of the strongest and most enigmatic films” ever made. It is while trying to interpret this enigma that we can also find, in the film, “a feminist manifesto and the unfinished diary of a love story”, to use Jackie Raynal’s words.

 

https://youtu.be/yxid5anKOOg

A Perfect Candidate (2019) ***

Dir.: Haifaa Al-Mansour; Cast: Mila al Zahrani, Nora al Awadh-Sara, Dae Al Hilali, Khalid Abdulraheem; Germany/SaudiArabia 2019, 101 min.

Haifaa Al-Mansour’s latest drama returns to small town Saudi Arabia where a stong-willed woman fights for political power. With its strong elements of a fable, and full of  ironic humour A Perfect Candidate feels very much like a grown up version of the Saudi director’s stunning debut Wadjda.

Maryam is played by a brilliant Mila Al Zahrani in her debut. A leading hospital doctor in a Saudi town, we see her driving through mud and dust to reach the clinic. There she is challenged almost immediately by an old man, who has suffered injuries in a car crash. He is adamant not to be treated by her and Maryam leaves him to the male nurses – who diagnose his spine injury incorrectly – the result being that Maryam has to perform surgery on the still unwilling patient. At home, Maryam lives with her two sisters Selma (Hilali) and Sara (Awad). Their mother, a famous singer, has recently died, and father Abdulaziz (Abdulraheem), an oud player, is on tour with his band. Maryam had planned to fly to Dubai to attend a conference and further her career, but at the airport she is banned from boarding as her father’s travel permit has run out – no Saudi woman can travel without male consent.

Abdelaziz and his fellow musicians come under attack from fundamentalists against music being performed publicly, Maryam tries in vain to reach him, but finds herself presented with the opportunity to be a candidate for the local council where she deals with a condescending, ignorant clerk. With the help of sister Selma, a photographer, Maryam starts her campaign with the onerous but vital task of  rebuilding the mud road leading to the hospital, which has caused massive disruption. Miraculously, the sitting councillor starts the road work immediately.

It is the little details that makes this a winner – the scene where Maryam manages to connect a cable during an otherwise rather disastrous video shoot for her campaign; she puts the men to shame as a woman being able to solve a technical problem that eluded the male professionals. Sure, the outcome may not have added votes, but the message hits home. By the end, Maryam gains a staunch supporter in the old man whose life she saved with her surgery.

Let down by its rather second-rate visuals – DoP Patrick Orth’s images are rather basic, but Volker Bertelmann’s score makes up for it. The ensemble acting and Al-Mansour’s sensitive direction makes this another success for the Saudi filmmaker  AS

AVAILABLE ON CURZON HOME CINEMA
  

Sea Without Shore (2015) ****

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

 

Orlando (1992) **** re-release

Orlando - Tilda SwintonDirector/Writer: Sally Potter | Cast: Tilda Swinton, Bill Zane, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville, Toby Jones, Simon Russell Beale | 94min   Fantasy Drama  UK

Sally Potter’s inventive, vibrant and visually sumptuous adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel is the ideal vehicle for Tilda Swinton’s versatility as the metrosexual maverick poet and nobleman Orlando, who is commanded by Elizabeth I to stay eternally young. If you could only have one auteu film in your timecapsule or desert island retreat, make it this one.

The story is endlessly fascinating and enduring, engaging modern audiences with its androgynous allure and sexual enigma. The characters are exotic and compelling. The costumes and set pieces are magnificent.  In short it is a love-letter to England’s rich language and literature. MT

NOW ON RERELEASE at THE BFI WITH AN INTRO BY POTTER AND SWINTON ON 8 MARCH 2020 and BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Joe (2019) ****

Dir. Jessica Hausner | Sci-fi Drama | Austria, UK, Germany | 105′

Austrian auteuse Jessica Hausner creates films that are intelligent and refreshing. And none more so than her recent Cannes competition entry Little Joe. A challenging, coldly humorous hyper-realist Sci-fi that explores the unique human condition known as happiness.

Sometime in the future Emily Beecham plays Alice, an emotionally buttoned up ‘plant designer’ who develops a scarlet thistle-like flower whose scent makes people happy, and is sure to catch on  commercially. But there’s a snag: the plant also makes subtle changes in the personalities of those who inhale its pollen. It also causes seems to destroy neighbouring plants in the laboratory.

Little Joe is a mesmerising film to look at: its brightly synthetic colour schemes, geometric framing and slightly off-kilter performances are undeniably eye-catching and entirely appropriate given the subject matter: genetic modification. This is not a film to love but a film to admire, the strange storyline keeping us agog in fascination until the surprising finale.

Once her pioneering plant is in full flower Alice names it Little Joe, and brings a sample home for her teenage son Joe (Kit Connor) to tend – she’s a rotten workaholic mother hooked on Deliveroo dinners, but hopes the plant will bring out her son’s nurturing side.

Meanwhile, in their slick laboratories and mint green uniforms, Alice and her colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) are certainly more commercial scientists than traditional plants people, but Chris is the more appealing and emotionally intelligent of the two. Their chief designer Bella is an earth mother and soon notices that her beloved shaggy dog Bello has undergone a complete change of personality since sniffing pollen from the odd-looking thistles. The staff put this down to Bella’s mental health issues and move swiftly back to their microscopes. But these weird changes cannot be ignored for long.

Sound plays an important role throughout this unsettling story and Japanese composer Teiji has devised a spooky electronic soundscape for each phase of plant development. Hausner has seemingly gone out of her way to assemble an eclectic multi-racial cast and this certainly adds flavour to this exotic con concoction but Beecham, Wishaw, Kit Connor and his dad (Goran Costic) are particularly affective in striking the right mood. And if you think Little Joe bears a strange visual resemblance to another recent Austrian chiller you’d be right: DoP Martin Gschlacht also filmed Goodnight Mommie (2014). MT

ON RELEASE FROM 21 FEBRUARY 2020

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Best Actress Emily Beecham
https://youtu.be/eKy7Iaco_rU

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache (2018) Prime

Dir: Pamela B. Green | Writers: Pamela B. Green, Joan Simon| with Jodie Foster, Evan Rachel Wood, Ava Duvernay, Julie Delpy, Agnes Varda, Ben Kingsley, Michel Hazanavicius, Catherine Hardwicke, Julie Taymor, Gale Anne Hurd, Andy Sandberg, John Bailey, Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Marjane Satrapi, Anne Fontaine, Peter Farrelly, Jonathan Glickman, Mark Romanek, Kevin Brownlow, Kevin Macdonald, Geena Davis, Pierre William Glenn, Jan-Christopher Horak, Glenn Myrent, Serge Bromberg, Howard Cohen, Valerie Steele, Jean-Michel Frodon, Diablo Cody, Patty Jenkins, Janeane Garofalo, Jon M. Chu, Mark Stetson, Anastasia Masaro, Dino Everett, Stephanie Allain, Claire Clouzot, Anthony Slide, Cecile Starr | US Doc 103′

Pamela B. Green’s fast-moving and fascinating first film chronicles the life of one of cinema’s early pioneers and female filmmakers, Alice Guy-Blaché

Green started her own career as a title sequence director and that very much comes to the fore in this well-crafted and informative documentary that uses a wide variety of visual effects to enliven a collection of old photographs and drawings, including Guy-Blaché’s own film archives (The Cabbage Fairy (1896) is a particular delight), and even interview footage taken just before she died in her early 90s. There are a few too many random talking heads making this often feel bitty. Some don’t have anything to say beyond admitting they had never heard of the French director, but it could well have been condition of funding that each contributor had their ‘say’.

Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) was born in Paris and would go on to make over a 1,000 films, including silents and those with sound (which she pre-recorded), although many of these were attributed to men. Clearly luck played a big part in her success: women in the late 19th century were – on the whole – housewives and mothers. But Guy-Blaché had dogged perseverance along with her talent, working as a secretary for inventor Leon Gaumont – considered a plum job at the time – she was there when the Lumiere Brothers first set their apparatus running on everyday life in their local town of Lyon.

Narrated by Jodie Foster, the film (funded through Kickstarter) charts the early days of cinema from Paris to New Jersey and California before going back to Europe, tracing an art form where women seem to be very involved, much more so than nowadays, possibly because commercialisation hadn’t quite taken hold of the cottage industry: films were still considered the domain of the female chattering classes and kids. Something to keep women amused while men were doing more important things.

But the film’s co-writer Joan Simon and curators and historians such as Kevin Brownlow and Claire Clouzot offer the most salient contribution to the film, outlining the cultural significance of Gay-Blaché’s contribution, including the invention of synchronised sound. Above all, she was a highly inventive pioneer who just happened to be a woman, and whose talent and perseverance is celebrated in this valuable feature debut. MT

NOW ON AMAZON PRIME

Lullaby (Chanson Douce) ****

Lucie Borleteau; Cast: Karin Viard, Leïla Bekhti, Antoine Reinartz, Assya Da Silva, Rehad Mehal; France 2019, 120 min.

Lucie Borleteau follows her accomplished 2014 drama Fidelio:Alice’s Odyssey with another journey into troubled waters, this time adapting Leïla Slimani’s Goncourt winning novel Chanson Douce in an arthouse style nanny thriller.

Borleteau sets herself a tall order. Chanson Douce was one of the best novels of the last decade – but her film certainly passes muster, staying faithful to the page and keeping the keys ideas intact. Slimani uses Brecht’s trick of revealing the story’s tragic outcome in a few lines at the beginning of her novel allowing us to reflect on the detail leading up to tragic ending. Borleteau opts for a more conventional linear structure but there no is chance of this having a happy ending as doubt soon begins to cloud over the upbeat sunny beginning.

In Paris lawyer Myriam (Bekhti) and her husband Paul are delighted when they find the perfect nanny for their two kids. Much older Louise (Viard) has an old-fashioned, subservient attitude to her employers. She is more than happy to play the role of cleaner and cook, as well as taking care of the children: five-year old Mila (Da Silva) and toddler Adam. But it never dawns on Myriam and Paul why Louise is so dedicated, working all hours so the couple can re-kindle their social and even sex life – even taking the kids out in the evenings. The reason for the inter-dependency is perfectly clear as far as Louise is concerned: she is a lonely widow living in social housing, and has a troubled history of drug abuse. She sees this as a job for life. But things start to fall apart after a holiday on Formentera, where Paul and Myriam are forced to look after their kids on the beach because Louise is unable to swim. Back in Paris, Paul and Myriam get a letter from the authorities about the nanny’s delayed tax payments, and it soon becomes clear that Louise’s life fell apart after the death of her husband. Paul then returns home one day to find his daughter covered in make-up and threatens to dismiss the nanny, who is also wearing face paint

The resonance with previous nanny-themed psychodramas such as The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Saawan Kumar’s Khal-Naaikaa are clear. A woman invests emotionally in a family, hoping to reap the rewards of becoming part of the fold. And Louise cannot imagine a life without them – at least not without the children. There is something deeply strange about her behaviour (and there are some awkward scenes here). Her borderline personality disorder sees her stepping into Myriam’s life and even her bed at one point. Suddenly her life becomes unconscionable without Mila and Adam.

DoP Alexis Kavyrchine’s muted images are suggestive of the psychological meltdown that slowly unfolds, night merging into day. Karin Viard’s Louise is convincing as the quirky but homely nanny, her casting was Slimani’s idea. Lullaby is a nightmarish journey through a labyrinth of emotions – weird and worrying and without an Ariadne thread. AS
NOW ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS NATIONWIDE 

 

Anna Karina (1940-2019) Obituary

Danish born actor Anna Karina (Hanne Karin Bayer), face of the Nouvelle Vague, has died in Paris. Her eventful life reads like a film script: She was seventeen, when she came arrived in Paris to find herself living on the streets and speaking very little French. She became a supermodel a few years later helped, among others, by Coco Chanel, who invented her screen name. Karina’s face was plastered on advertising boards on both sides of the Champs Elysee. She met Jean-Luc Godard when he was casting for his first film in 1960, A bout de Souffle. He offered her a small part, but Karina rejected it, because of the nudity involved. Godard accused her of double standards, claiming she was naked in a Palmolive advert. Karina called him naïve: she actually wore a Bikini hidden by the bubbles for the shoot. But the following year they were married.

Karina went on to star in seven of his films, the first was Le Petit Soldat that same year. She won Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival in 1961 for Une Femme est une Femme. While marriage to Godard was stormy to say the least – he neglected her emotionally – “he was the sort of man who would go for a packet of cigarettes and return three weeks later” – their artistic relationship blossomed with a string of New Wave hits: Vivre sa Vie (1962); Bande a Part (1964); Pierrot Le Fou (1965); Alphaville (1965) and Made in USA (1966). When Godard cast her in his episode ‘Anticipation’ for The Oldest Profession (1966), they were already divorced and not on speaking terms. But Karina stayed loyal to Godard and a few years ago at the BFI she talked about him in glowing terms.

Karina would go on working for other directors from the Nouvelle Vague: Jacques Rivette (La Religeuse, Haut, Bas, Fragile) and also starring in Lucino Visconti’s L’Etranger, 1967, George Cukor’s Justine, Tony Richardson’s Nabokov adaption Laughter in the Dark (1969); and Fassbinder’s Chinese Roulette (1967).  She also directed Vivre Ensemble (1973) and Victoria (2008).

Anna Karina will especially be remembered for the dance number in Bande a Part, her heart- breaking Nana in Vivre sa Vie, when Godard made her ugly on purpose by cutting off her long hair. And as Natascha von Braun in Alphaville, a woman desperate to reconnect with her feelings.

The French Minister of Culture Franck Riester said today: “French Film has become an orphan” with Karina’s death – but we have all been orphaned worldwide. AS

QT8: The First 21 Years (2019) ***

Dir.: Tara Wood, Documentary with Zoë Bell, Bruce Dern, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Lee, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Christoph Waltz; USA 2019, 120 min.

It has been said that 21 years defines the career of an artist. And Tara Wood, who co-directed 21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014), has used this premise to define a new documentary about Quentin Tarantino’s first eight films.

Her idolatrous approach echoes that of the legends who have ranked around Tarantino’s meteoric rise from video archives clerk to multi-million dollar director whose features are a cultural event – no less. This film is full of the love Tarantino’s collaborators feel for the maverick director, put simply by James Wood : “it’s just fun to work with him”.

Directors are well known to be strict taskmasters  but QT8 also gives a palpable sense of the ebullient passion the Tennessee born filmmaker brings to his work. His natural charisma inspires his actors to enter into the spirit of their characters with extraordinary freedom and verve, while managing to maintain a strict ‘no nonsense’ approach on set.

Tarantino fills his scripts with multiple ways for his actors to interpret their roles. A case in point was the opening monologue for Inglourious Basterds recalled by Christoph Waltz who played the nefarious Nazi Colonel Landa with great gusto, very much defining Tarantino’s approach: “If you just love movies enough, you can make a good one”. Or eight.

Adulation or controversy are never far away. When a new Tarantino masterpiece hits the cinema screens, the box office figures usually prove him right: QT is a genius, and Wood will have us all repeating it. Strangely enough, the only missing person in this phalanx of admirers is the director himself – he is his own toughest critic. Wood also explores how ideas get off the ground particularly with reference to the script/story origins for True Romance and Natural Born Killers. We hear how Harvey Keitel arrived to pick up the script for Reservoir Dogs, which led to Cannes – and then straight to Pulp Fiction and Cannes again. A neat transition indeed. But to compare this boyish blood and guts artist with the combined talents of French Nouvelle Vague legends, Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, and Rivette, is really stretching it a bit. 

Wood goes on as if Tarantino’s career was only ever plain sailing. No mention of the mega bust-up with Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary or Natural Born Killer producers Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy, which led to a brawl in a restaurant. Or the serious car accident on set which damaged Una Thurman’s neck for life – an event which only gets  a three second mention in QT8 – wonder why she didn’t show up?. Then there is Tarantino’s over-fondness for the N-word, to which black director Spike Lee took offence. Wood ordered a character assassination by Jamie Foxx, obliterating Lee – without Lee having the right to respond. The extensive but entertaining eulogy is mostly centred around the sets, with clever animation flicks by Brad Greber and Shane Minshew keeping the tone light.

Apart from his love for people of colour, Tarantino is equally fond of women and should be celebrated for creating strong, feisty female roles. When the Weinstein scandal broke, Tarantino cut all ties with the producer, even though he was a major shareholder in the production company (‘The house that Quentin built’). Wood tries her best in the last six minutes to avoid any serious questions. Wood and QT8 were, at one point, in a legal battle over the Weinstein Company right’s to distribute the documentary – the battle itself and how it was solved is never mentioned. This latest development has to be factored in to the whole tableau. Wood’s accusation of Harvey Weinstein’s criminal acts sound righteous but unconvincing – and somehow feel tacked on as a crowd-pleaser in this otherwise rip-roaring romp through the Tarantino canon. AS

IN CINEMAS, ON DVD, BLURAY and DIGITAL HD from 13 DECEMBER 2019

 

 

Mickey and the Bear (2019) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Annabelle Attanasio Cast: Camila Morrone, James Badge Dale, Calvin Demba, Ben Rosenfield, Rebecca Henderson, Donna Davis, Ralph Villa | US Drama

Camila Morrone is impressive as a conflicted girl forced kicking and screaming into womanhood in this tender and richly textured first feature from actor turned director Annabelle Attanasio

Father and daughter relationships can be challenging especially when the dad has a checkered past of drug abuse and drinking. Mickey is an 18 year old in a fraught relationship with her father Hank an Iraqi war veteran who is still on the bottle, Mickey keeping him on the straight and narrow and dealing with his occasional lapses. The two live in a trailer big country Montana where Mickey works part-time in a taxidermists and widowed Hank is now retired and mooches around in a semi-permanent fog, sometimes confusing Mickey with his late wife.

Attanasio’s nuanced characters have unpredictable edges and make this drama the success that it is. Father and daughter have a joint bereavement that binds them together and somehow they rub along although sparks occasionally fly. And Hank has a habit of hiding from reality.

Mickey’s boyfriend, Aron (Ben Rosenfield), is the weak link character-wise. A controlling whinger hooked on his ability to win Mickey back whenever she tries to leave him, while. she’s applied to college in San Diego in a bid to make something of the future, Aron only sees them settling down with kids. But then she meets aspiring musician Wyatt and suddenly Mickey’s head is filled with new ideas in a story that doesn’t go where you think it might. And Mickey soon finds herself struggling with two unstable males and a disastrous bear-hunting episode, not to mention an anaconda. DP Conor Murphy captures the lyrical journey with some imaginative camerawork and Brian McOmber and Angel Deradoorian’s soundscape echoing the highs and lows of the characters’ emotional journey along with a well-chosen musical selection, and some quiet moments too. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

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The Nightingale (2018) ****

Dir. Jennifer Kent. Australia. 2018. 136′

Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent is best known for her chiller The Babadook. Here she turns her camera to focus on Australia’s colonial history with the premise: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.

Nightingale is a sprawling and furious foray into the wilds Tasmania fuelled by a passion of a woman driven to defend her honour to the utmost. Aisling Franciosi brings vehemence and a surreal luminance as the central character Clare. And while Nightingale is certainly impassioned, lushly mounted and ambitious, it often gets waylaid by plotwists on the narrative front: from the outset the outcome is more or less predictable, although its odyssey into the heart of Australia’s colonial darkness certainly has us gasping for breath.

Anyone would be enraged if not extremely distraught to be subjected to gang rape and the killing of their baby and partner. And this is exactly what happens to Clare, forcing her to embark on a perilous and highly-charged quest for revenge taking as her guide a single-minded young aboriginal man. Their journey into the dark heart of Tasmania will be a perilous and eventful experience – and an extremely gruelling one for the audience. But what is undoubtedly a great premise for an epic saga, gets far too excited and over-heated plot-wise for its own good under Kent’s direction. And that’s a shame. Ultimately though, The Nightingale is a respectable auteurist enterprise.

Back in 1825, Tasmania was known as Van Diemen’s Land and that is where the young Irish woman fetches up after a career of what is now euphemistically known as stealing ‘to survive’. As a servant to the British occupying forces she is married to another ex-convict Aidan (Michael Sheasby), and has a tiny baby. But the man who has saved her – commanding officer Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) – also fancies his chances with her and after she perform the titular Irish folk song to entertain the troops one night, he calls her to his quarters where he brutally rapes her. But it doesn’t end there, and by the end of the evening her entire family is dead, and Clare is determined to get her own back on the feckless man and his vicious collaborators Sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman) and Ensign Jago (Harry Greenwood), following them to a their new posting in the town of Launceston, where Hawkins hopes to get a promotion.

Aboriginal Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) is not keen on the idea of accompanying a young white woman, but the oddly-matched couple eventually set off through the dense forest, their spirited exchanges fuelling what is otherwise a predicable journey. Their accompanying animals will invariably come off worst, along with their English overlords, who are invariably depicted as the same one-dimentional arch villains we will soon meet in Black 47 (2018). 

Nightingale triumphs as a robust cocktail of female oppression interwoven with anti-colonial overtones and laced with a folkloric twist (not to mention the Gaelic and the Palawi kani banter). Clare’s rendition of the ballad ‘Nightingale’ and other melodies is tunefully mellow in stark contrast to the ultra-brutal violence that eventually becomes as tedious as the repetitive plot reversals, and have the same affect as commercial breaks in subtracting dramatic heft from what could have been a succinct and infinitely more immersive historical drama, despite the rather trite denouement.

Along with terrific performances from the lead duo, Radek Ladczuk’s camerawork does Nightingale proud – all those vigorously verdant forests and burgeoning bushes giving way to the vibrant lushness of the Tasmanian widescreen landscapes. The Nightingale is a worthwhile exploration of a lesser known, but horrific episode in Antipodean colonial history. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 29 NOVEMBER 2019

Advocate (2018) **** UK Jewish Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche; Documentary with Lea Tsemel; Canada, Switzerland, Israel 2019, 110 min.

Advocate explores the work of Israeli defence lawyer Lea Tsemel, who defends Palestinians – suicide bombers as well as innocent clients – earning her the name “Devil’s Advocate” in her home country where the Law often stands alone in the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinians.

Born in 1945 in Haifa, Tsemel volunteered for the 1967 Six Day War and was one of the first Israeli women to visit the Western Wall. Somehow the conflict politicised her – she could not believe in the Government slogan ”War for Peace”. After studying law, she served as an apprentice to Human Right’s Lawyer Felicia Langer.

One of Tsemel’s first trials was the defence of Ahmed, a 13 year-old Palestinian boy in 1972.  Ahmed and his cousin Hassan were captured with knives and accused of an attempted suicide bombing, even though video evidence was to the contrary. Under Israeli Law, nobody under the age of fourteen can be prosecuted for a crime. But a sensationalist media called for the death penalty for Ahmed. As it is often the case when innocent Palestinians are involved, the Israeli prosecution went for a plea bargaining, and reached a guilty verdict in spite of the lack of evidence.

Tsemel’s next got her teeth into the case of Israa Jabis, a young Palestinian mother who was also accused of an attempted suicide bombing after her propane gas tank in the back of her car exploded. Although Israa was the only one injured, the case made legal history, making it illegal to use evidence from admissions gained under torture and duress at court. 

The directors use “Fly-on-the wall” techniques to show Tsemel working on two concurrent cases, one professional, the other personal – and it soon becomes clear that she is not an easy person to work for. The directors made fluent use of historical footage and TV appearances of Tsemel,  juxtaposing them with the here and now. But the application of Rotoscope and split-screens (to hide the identities of many involved), as well as the sparse use of music by Marcel Lepage, create a very unsettling atmosphere. Tsemel’s husband, Michel Warschawsky, a director of a Palestinian project, also becomes one of her clients after being arrested for his activities. Interviews with him and the couple’s son and daughter are illuminating. But Advocate would have been more convincing as a document had the filmmakers questioned Tsemel more insistently about her motives to defend violent perpetrators. Calling herself a “very angry, optimistic woman” and a “losing lawyer” she has the last word with her life’s motto “All I want is Palestinians to find justice in Israeli courts”. Tsemel has gone on to win  international Law awards in France and Germany, Tsemel’s is not as powerful in her homeland and is possibly should be. Advocate is certainly proof that truth is often the first victim during wartime. AS

WINNER BEST DOCUMETNARY | UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

KRAKOW FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | WINNER DOCUMENTARY AWARD.

 

 

Harriet (2019) **

Dir/Wri: Kasi Lemmons | Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Jennifer Nettles, Mike Marunde, Joe Alwyn | Historical Drama | US 125′

Cynthia Erivo plays gutsy slavery heroine Harriet Tubman is this uninspiring biopic drama that feels lofty and pedantic rather than rousing and radically original. 

Harriet is the latest drama from Eve’s Bayou director Kasi Lemmons who squanders her big budget on flashy settings rather on script development and a cast to match Erivo’s nuanced appeal. Growing in stature from a lowly slave girl in the Deep South of 1849 to a commanding presence who leads 70 other workers to freedom – inspired by the past – (seen in vivid flashback), Erivo makes for a quietly convincing visionary, eventually gaining the nickname “Moses” from the plantation owners who are brought to their knees by her extraordinary will to free her fellow men and women.

Playing out as a heavy-handed historical potboiler against the glowering skies of the Deep South, Harriet occasionally hints at Porgy and Bess (1959) but never really achieves Preminger’s spirituality and dramatic heft, or that of 12 Years a Slave that conveyed the desperation of the down trodden and traumatised sub-class. Lemmons ticks off the boxes, cueing us all the time as to how we should feel; making her white men objectionable and ultra violent and her ‘people of colour’ benign and put-upon victims  – with only one exception.

Starting off in the household of the draconian plantation owners (Jennifer Nettles and Mike Marunde): this is a drama that gradually grows in proportions and ambitions finally rolling out its heroine’s achievements in the rather cramped third act that resorts to didacticism in pathing the way to Civil War, and further danger for the enslaved protagonists.

Lemmons, writing with Gregory Allan Howard, makes Erivo the uncontested standout in a morass of middling support performances, namely Joe Alwyn’s slave owner Gideon who is both her boss but also has unrequited passions fostered since their childhood growing up together on the plantation. Her husband (C J McBath) is an insignificant cypher who ends up marrying someone else, thinking she has run away, and disappeared forever. There is a muddled attempt to finesse the lines between black slaves and those who have never lived in bondage but are still not free, despite owning property. There are also black slave catchers, and the American equivalent of South African’s Cape Coloureds – those who have mixed parentage. All said and done, Harriet feels like it should be shown in classrooms rather than in movie theatres. Get the point? MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 22 NOVEMBER 2019

 

 

Femmes Fatales of Fashion | London Fashion Week 2021

The sinister crime-laden dramas that came out of post war Hollywood were the visual expressions of anxiety. Film Noir featured venal antiheroes, mysterious femme fatales, and rain-soaked urban settings where shadows and intrigue played upon the inner consciousness. The tightly scripted stories were also richly thematic, compellingly seductive and wonderful to look at. And that iconic look was often created by women designers. 

Based on hard-edged detective stories from the likes of Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich, ‘Crime Noir’ was spiced up by the wartime influx of sophisticated European craftsman such as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Jacques Tourneur and Robert Siodmak whose edgy expressionism and Avantgarde lighting techniques added zest to the predominantly black & white post war genre. 

By the mid 1940s Film Noir reigned supreme. Nightly screenings – and each night was different – saw the stars of the day strutting their stuff but also looking amazing into the bargain: Barbara Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogarde, Gene Tierney and June Vincent all had their particular allure. And some Noir actors also directed the genre such as The Big Combo‘s Cornel Wilde with Storm Fear (1955). But while the narratives were unsavoury the costumes were quite the opposite: the elegant couture, hairstyles and even jewellery made style icons of these scheming antiheroes, adding charisma to their public profiles in stark contrast to the characters they played. By association, film noir became arguably the most strikingly seductive genre in the film firmament.   

But while the filmmakers arrived from Europe, the costume designers were often American woman with noirish backstories of their own to the bring to the party. Universal’s head of costume design for twenty years VERA WEST (1898-1947), met a tragic death drowning in her own swimming pool, dressed in one of her signature silk dressing gowns (ironically her designs for Virginia Grey had the been the star turn in Charles Barton’s film-noir Smooth as Silk the previous year ). Although the evidence pointed towards suicide as a result of a troubled past, there have since been rumours that her husband was to blame.

West had trained in Philadelphia and worked as apprentice to the pioneering British catwalk designer Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile) before being hired by Stanley Kubrick to create Ava Gardner’s look in The Killers (1946). She also designed for June Vincent in Roy William Neill’s Black Angel (1946); for Teresa Wright in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and the outfits for Lewis D Collins’ Danger Woman (1946). Despite these high-profile commissions, she never received an award until finally winning the Costume Designers Guild Hall of Fame in 2005. 

Another female Hollywood designer shrouded in intrigue was IRENE LENZ GIBBONS – known simply as Irene (1900-1962), whose private life was as colourful as her gowns. A shrewd business woman she ran a series of boutiques and was also appointed head of costume design at MGM, replacing the well-known legend Adrian. Her Noir credentials included couture for Katherine Hepburn, Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum in Vincente Minnelli’s Undercurrent (1946) based on a story by Thelma Shrabel.

She also was credited for the couture creations in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) where a married Lana Turner and her lover plan to kill her husband (Cecil Kellaway). Other Noir and thriller projects included Roy Rowland’s Scene of the Crime (1949) and Gaslight (1944). Reports of her long-standing love affair with Gary Cooper were never confirmed but she committed suicide after slashing her wrists and jumping out of Los Angeles’ Knickerbocker Hotel a year after his death. 

One of the most successful female designers of film noir was undoubtedly BONNIE CASHIN (1915-2000). Cashin was already making dresses from the age of 8. By 16 her talent was making her a living as designer for the chorus line based in Los Angeles which led her into theatre work in New York. Returning West in the early 1940s she signed with 20th Century Fox where she made a name for herself with the gowns in Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) and Fallen Angel (1945); Robert Siodmak’s Cry of the City (1948) – Shelley Winter’s leopard skin coat would have the activists up in arms, but back then it certainly made her stand out in the sleazy night scenes.

Cashin’s style worked wonders for Signe Hasso in Hathaway’s Oscar-winning The House on 92nd Street (1944) and for Gene Tierney in Laura. Nightmare Alley (1947) gave her the opportunity to work with a leading cast of Tyrone Power (as antihero Stan Carlyle), Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray and Helen Walker. Power’s untimely death of a heart attack aged 44, saw the film gain wider circulation over the years due to his popularity, and Cashin’s costumes lived on into the late 1950s and beyond. MT

London Fashion Week 2021

LAURA is now on Bluray courtesy of EUREKA (MASTERS OF CINEMA) 

The Invitation (2016) Bluray release ***

Dir: Karyn Kusama | Wri: Phil Hay  | US Thriller 100′

In this hypnotic psychological thriller Karyn Kusama creates a cocoon of tension that slowly implodes during a friends’ evening get together in the Hollywood Hills.

Grieving father Will (Marshall-Green) turns up to visit his ex-wife Eden (Blanchard) who has clearly put their tragic past behind her. But an unsettling vibe seems to haunt this shadowy get-together where everyone is behaving in a bizarre fashion while secrets and desires slowly muddy the familiar water. Will gradually becomes convinced there is a hidden agenda at play behind the invitation to join the people he thought he knew and loved. The tension mounts amid an increasingly unsettling atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion as the evenings turns decidedly hostile – and friends soon become enemies. Kusama’s taut pacing, spooky sound design and suggestively ambiguous narrative combine to make this impressively tense thriller well worth a watch. MT

ON BLURAY FROM SECOND SIGHT FILMS | 4 NOVEMBER 2019

 

The Dove on the Roof | Die Taube auf dem Dach (1973/2010)

Dir/Wri: Iris Gusner | Cast: Heidemarie Wenzel, Gunter Naumann, Katrin Martin, Heimat Guass | Director of Photography: Roland Gräf | GDR 1973/2010, b/w, DCP, digitally restored version 2010, (35mm), 85 mins. Drama 90’

Iris Gusner’s light and episodic story of a young contruction site manager who has to juggle shortages of building material and her relationships with two very different men was made in a moment of artistic freedom only to be condemned to decades of oblivion when the political climate changed again.

Linda Hinrichs is the manager of a building site in Thuringia in the south of the GDR. New “Plattenbau” (prefabricated) flats are to be erected, and Linda has to move things forward in spite of building material shortages and other problems. As if this was not enough of a challenge, Linda also has to juggle her relationships with two male colleagues she feels attracted to. Daniel is an idealistic and a little crazy student who is seeking some work experience during his summer holidays, while the much older brigade leader Böwe is a restless, sometimes alcohol infused soul who has moved from construction site to site for years. Gusner surrounds this trio with an ensemble of original characters and spins a loose and episodic, sometimes amusing, sometimes melancholic narrative around them. Lightness and a touch of anarchy, the change of location between the construction site and the narrow streets of the medieval town of Arnstadt, references to Palestinian refugees and Angela Davis, as well as a daring opening “cosmic” montage, make this film stand out within the DEFA film production of the time.

Making such a film seemed possible in 1972, when Gusner’s script for this film, her directorial debut, passed the DEFA studio’s assessment.  But by the time the final film was judged by the studio officials in 1973, the mood had changed. Not only was the film criticised as an ‘artistic error’, it was also denounced for its supposedly disrespectful representation of the GDR worker. Though defended by renowned directors such as Konrad Wolf and Kurt Maetzig, the film was never licensed for distribution. It only resurfaced after the film’s camera man Roland Gräf (who also shot Born in ’45 by Jürgen Böttcher) while searching for banned DEFA films. As the print was no longer screenable, a black and white dup-negative was made from which a black and white screening print was struck.The film we are screening is a digital version of a reconstruction made by the DEFA foundation in 2009 on the basis of the mentioned dub-negative. That is why colour film stills of the film circulate, but the film can only be screened in black and white. Review courtesy of Goethe Institute

The Dove on The Roof –  Review courtesy of the Goethe Institute | 30 October 2019

The Goethe Institute will also be screening a Böttcher season this October 2019

 

The Deathless Woman (2019)

Dir/Wri: Roz Mortimer | With Iveta Kokyva, Loren O’Dair, Oliver Malik | UK Doc 89′

British filmmaker Roz Mortimer has poured her heart and soul into an important new documentary that uncovers another grim episode of persecution, this time of the Roma people in Poland and Hungary. Crucially, it highlights the continuing hatred of the Roma, who are still being victimised in scandalous acts of violence across the region.  

Mortimer’s documentary explores the myth behind the story of The Deathless Woman, a Roma matriarch who was buried alive in the forest by German soldiers in 1942. This leads to the discovery of widespread genocide in other sites of Roma persecution such as Birkenau and Várpalota in Lake Grábler.

Here just before the end of the Second World War on 4th April 1945, 118 women and children were massacred by Nazi occupying forces, deep in the forest. Back then there was no lake, just a clearing where the dead were thrown into unmarked graves. Some time later the area was flooded and became Lake Garbler.

Mortimer clearly feels so strongly about her efforts to uncover the truth behind the genocide that she has decided to take part in her own documentary, talking us through the process of her findings, and occasionally presenting her case to a voiceless interrogator, as she tries to make sense of the lack of evidence despite sensing a strong ‘residue of emotion’ left by these unfortunate victims. “What do you do when there is nothing visible left?” she asks.

Eventually her archive research leads her to the scene of the crime in Lake Grabler where things start to come together. She meets a number of locals – amongst them is Josef, who describes how he was forced to dig a mass grave on that dreadful Spring day 75 years ago – a tough undertaking due to masses of tree roots clogging the ground.

She talks to locals Christina and Anna who in 1943 lost most of their family there. Mortimer stresses the aura inhabiting the windswept, rural area and describes being filled with a haunting sense of dread. Later, a woman called Zofia takes her to the scene of the atrocities, and shows her the indentation in the soil where there lies the skeleton a tiny bird. This serves as a tangible reminder and comes to  symbolise the souls of the ‘gypsy’ women and children who perished there.

One of these was the mythical “Deathless Woman”. Zophia describes how the Germans killed the gypsies because they had apparently stolen a pig from the village, so desperate was their hunger. According to a Roma woman who describes herself as a second generation Holocaust survivor, the mythical ‘Deathless Woman’ refused to die with the rest despite being shot at several times, until eventually she gave in only to leave a curse on the village. The Deathless Woman apparently scrambled out from under the other bodies and lived to tell her tale. As a tribute, the locals hung the clothes of the dead on the surrounding trees. 

But the hatred continues today. In Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary, it emerges that neo-Nazis murdered a Roma family in 2009. Mortimer’s internet research uncovers hate speech and video games where players are invited to gun down unarmed Roma as they run through the streets.

Enriched by archive footage, macabre dramatised re-inactions and gruesome reconstructions of the bodies in the lake – that actually look rather ghastly and only serves to cheapen the experience – the filmmaker also suffuses this grim and slightly overworked ethnographic tribute with a ghostly atmospheric soundscape that suggests The Deathless Woman woman is going to be haunting the village for some time to come. MT

The Deathless Woman – the first film about the Roma holocaust in the Romani language – on UK tour 21 May-3 July

 

The Lodge (2019) *** LFF 2019

Dir: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala | Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Danny Keough | Horror 100′

After their maternal-themed horror story Goodnight Mummy, Austrian auteurs Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala spread their wings for pastures new, namely Colorado, where mothers are once again the theme in this English-language debut. The Lodge, sees another pair of siblings ensconced in a remote cabin in the mountains after the tragic death of their mother. This time there is a Daddy, a rather insensitive one who forces them to get to know their new stepmother at close quarters in the run up to the Christmas holidays in this unsettling but ultimately rather repetitive repentance thriller.

Riley Keough and Alicia Silverstone are convincing as the mothers in question, and the kids, particularly young Jaeden Martell is outstanding as the traumatised adolescent son. The Lodge gets off to a chilling start in its pristine post-modernist setting but the directors then drift into difficulties in the final segment of this stunning-looking genre thriller when they simply don’t know how to bring the saga to a close.

It all starts with the camera panning through the sleek timber-lined interiors of a chalet which turns out to be the kids’ dolls house in their chic clinical family home in DC, We saw this forbidding ploy recently in Hereditary, but it still works a treat. Alicia Silverstone plays a very smilier role to that of Susanne Wuest in Goodnight Mommy – a fastidious woman scorned by her husband and left to contemplate the future with dread. While Wuest takes control of the situation with some cosmetic surgery, Silverstone here takes more drastic measures.

The shocking scene that follows is pivotal to the plot. Teenage Aiden (Martell) and his younger sister Mia (Lia McHugh) then refuse to cooperate with their father’s (Armitage) attempts to play happy families by taking them off to the mountains with his new girlfriend Grace (Keough) who was once one of his patients. As Aiden puts it simply “Dad, you left Mum for a psychopath”. The die is cast. It soon emerges he met Grace while writing a book about evangelical religious cults and she was very much a victim. But in the end they all set off to their showy holiday home, Richard then retuning to work, leaving them to get to know each other in the days up to Christmas, but not before a dreadful accident sets our nerves jangling for what is to follow.

The family holiday home is particularly dark and uninviting with grim interiors, creaking doors and chilly views over the frozen lake. But the temperature inside is even frostier than the snowbound wilderness that surrounds the miserable threesome. Grace attempts to thaw relations with some positive suggestions but the kids are not convinced and gradually the mood deteriorates both inside and out as winter closes in on this hostile holiday where predictably the dog becomes the first victim.

The directors have finessed their finely-tuned horror tropes to perfection. Beautifully crafted religious icons, chiselled artefacts and handmade toys make this an elegantly haunting horror outing. Co-written with Sergio Casci the script leaves plenty to the imagination and keeps us guessing with a suggestive, uncertain plot line that gradually loses the plot and becomes more and more aimless. Despite this The Lodge is enjoyable and full of interesting ideas. MT

THE LODGE | LFF 2 – 13 OCTOBER 2019

 

 

 

The Farewell (2019) ***

Dir: Lulu Wang | Comedy Drama | 98′

Korean Chinese actress Awkwafina is best known for the standout comedy Crazy Rich Asians (2018). She gets another chance to flex her undeniable talents in this slim but enjoyable farce that explores the theory of “mind over matter” with a rather satisfying takeaway.

She plays Billi, an easygoing Chinese woman who originally moved to New York as a child and returns home for a family wedding, and to say goodbye to her beloved grandmother Nai Nai who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Well, her granny’s unaware of her imminent demise, the family have decided to keep shtum: they simply haven’t the heart to tell her. And strangely, Nai Nai never cottons on to why they all seem so miserable, instead of relieved at her clean bill of health, after the scan.

Despite its cultural specificity, this is a convincing family tale like any other, and Wang spices her drama with plenty of light-hearted humour, tinged with understandable melancholy. Each family member expresses their sadness in different ways and degrees, and Wang keeps sentimentality at bay instead opting for something more nuanced and appealing. Awkwafina’s Billi is a triumph of independence and vulnerability and her dying grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) manages to be calm and philosophical. The lightweight narrative builds towards in a satisfying conclusion, offering plenty of food for thought in the final reveal. MT

NOWON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 20 SEPTEMBER

Venice Film Festival 2019 | Round-up

Celebrating its 76th Anniversary VENICE FILM FESTIVAL was another exciting occasion with the competition line-up featuring the latest from established directors with newcomers also presenting their work.

One of the standouts of this year’s mostra was a pre-festival showing of Gustav Machaty’s 1933 masterpiece ECSTASY which won him Best Director in the year following production,

The fun got going with The Truth by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Then amongst the Golden Lion hopefuls was maverick Roman Polanski who finally brings his biopic about another controversial figure Louis Dreyfus to the competition which ran from 28 August until 7 September on the Lido.

Adapted from Robert Harris novel J’Acuse stars Louis Garrel, Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner (aka Mme Polanski). Other high profile features were Todd Phillips’ The Joker – which won the Golden Lion and starsJoaquin Phoenix. And once again the lack of women directors in competition was flagged up, although there were plenty of female stars to be seen in the elegant hotspot on the Venetian coast. 

In the 21-strong competition line-up there was one trail-blazing female director in the shape of Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda) who attended to present her fourth feature The Perfect Candidate. Set in Riyadh it tells the story of a woman doctor who navigates her way through the male-dominated scenery to run for the council elections. 

Other auteurs include Czech Vaclav Marhoul with a wartime drama three hours long and ten years in the making: The Painted Bird (CZE/UKR/SLO) follows the plight of a Jewish boy on the run through Nazi Germany. The film stars Stellan Skarsgard. Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain was last in Venice with The Club, his latest sees a couple dealing with the aftermath of adoption, and Mexico stars Gael Garcia Bernal heads the cast. From Colombia Embrace of the Serpent director Ciro Guerra ups his game considerably with a starry cast of Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson and Greta Scacchi in a period drama dealing with themes of loyalty and trust in a distant outpost of the Spanish Empire. Waiting for the Barbarians is based on a novel by South African writer J M Coetzee.

In the Italian corner, there is more about the Mafia from Sicilian director Franco Moresco, who won the Orizzonti Jury prize at Venice with Belluscone. Una Storia Siciliana back in 2014. La mafia non e piu quella di una Volta is a documentary exploring the history and origins of the organisation. From China comes Ye Lou’s historical drama Saturday Fiction and Hong Kong based director Yonfan breaks his 6 year silence with No. 7 Cherry Lane that centres on a English literature tutor caught up in a love triangle with a woman pupil and her mother. And Sweden’s Roy Andersson was in attendance with About Endlessness.

Steven Soderbergh also featured in competition with Panama papers themed The Laundromat that stars Meryl Streep and David Schwimmer as journalists uncovering political tax avoidance sculduggery in the US. Noah Baumbach makes his first appearance at Venice with another domestic satire, this timed entitled Marriage Story: an insightful drama tempered with his usual brand of dark humour and a impressive cast of Laura Dern, Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver and Ray Liotta. Both these US outings are now on Netflix.

Veteran French filmmaker Robert Guedeguian presents a Marseilles-set family drama, and Olivier Assayas continues to surprises us with his versatility, this time with Wasp Network a story of intrigue involving Cuban political prisoners. Canadian director Atom Egoyan has selected an interested cast of David Thewlis, Luke Wilson and Rossif Sutherland (son of Donald) to flesh out a morally thorny story surrounding pupils in a high school. A slightly underwhelming feature that divided the critics.

Venice 76 ‘out of competition’ selection included documentaries and features –  from Alex Gibney, Costa Gavras, who tackles the Greek financial crisis in Adults in the Room; and Andrea Segre with ecological documentary Il Pianeta in Mare. Pink Floyd’s Roger Walters directs and appeared in a concert film going back over the last few years of his musical career. There was also a chance to see some remastered classics in the shape of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut; screened alongside a new doc about one of the greatest directors of all time Never Just a Dream: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut by Matt Wells. Gaspar Noé  Paolo Sorrentino and Sergei Loznitsa also featured in the out of competition competition section.

Meanwhile in the Horizons sidebar, German filmmaker Katrin Gebbe makes her feature debut with Pelican Blood starring Nina Hoss. And Alfredo Castro (from Golden Lion winner 2015 From Afar) is back to star in a psychological drama White on White from Chilean director Theo Court. MT

MAIN COMPETITION

No. 7 Cherry Lane (HONG KONG) – Dir. Yonfan

The Laundromat (USA) – Dir. Steven Soderbergh

J’Accuse (FRA/ITA) – Dir. Roman Polanski

Joker (USA) – Dir. Todd Phillips

Babyteeth (AUS) – Dir. Shannon Murphy

Marriage Story (USA) – Dir. Noah Baumbach

Il Sindaco Del Rione Sanità (ITA) – Dir. Mario Martone

The Painted Bird (CZE/UKR/SLO) – Dir. Václav Marhoul

La Mafia Non È Più Quella Di Una Volta (ITA) – Dir. Franco Maresco

Martin Eden (ITA/FRA) – Dir. Pietro Marcello

Saturday Fiction (CHI) – Dir. Lou Ye

Ema (CHILE) – Dir. Pablo Larraín

Waiting For The Barbarians (ITA) – Dir. Ciro Guerra

Gloria Mundi (FRA/ITA) – Dir. Robert Guéndiguian

Ad Astra (USA) – Dir. James Gray

Guest Of Honour (CAN) – Dir. Atom Egoyan

Wasp Network (FRA/BEL) – Dir. Olivier Assayas

About Endlessness (SWE/GER/NOR) – Dir. Roy Andersson

The Perfect Candidate (SAU/GER) – Dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour

A Herdade (POR/FRA) – Dir. Tiago Guedes

The Truth (JAP/FRA) – OPENING FILM – Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Out Of Competition (fiction)

The King (UK/HUN) – Dir. David Michod

Seberg (USA) – Dir. Benedict Andrews

Vivere (ITA) – Dir. Francesca Archibugi

The Burnt Orange Heresy (USA/ITA) – CLOSING FILM – Dir. Giuseppe Capotondi

Mosul (USA) – Dir. Matthew Michael Carnahan

Adults In The Room (FRA/GRE) – Dir. Costa-Gavras

Tutto Il Mio Folle Amore (ITA) – Dir. Gabriele Salvatores

Out of Competition (non-fiction)

Il Pianeta In Mare (ITA) – Dir. Andrea Segre

Citizen K (UK/USA) – Dir. Alex Gibney

Woman (FRA) – Dir. Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Anastasia Mikova

Roger Waters Us + Them (UK) – Dir. Sean Evans, Roger Waters

I Diari Di Angela – Noi Due Cineasti. Secondo Capitolo. (ITA) – Dir. Yervant Gianikian, Angela Ricci Lucchi

Citizen Rosi (ITA) – Dir. Didi Gnocchi, Carolina Rosi

The Kingmaker (USA) – Dir. Lauren Greenfield

State Funeral (NET/LIT) – Dir. Sergei Loznitsa

Collective (ROM/LUX) – Dir. Alexander Nanau

45 Seconds Of Laughter (USA) – Dir. Tim Robbins

Out of competition (special screenings)

No-One Left Behind (MEX) – Dir. Guillermo Arriaga

Zerozerozero – Episodes 1 & 2 (ITA) – Dir. Stefano Sollima

Electric Swan (FRA/GRE/ARG) – Dir. Konstantina Kotzamani

Irréversible – Inversion Intégrale (FRA) – Dir. Gaspar Noé

The New Pope – Episodes 2 & 7 (ITA/FRA/SPA) – Dir. Paolo Sorrentino

Never Just A Dream: Stanley Kubrick And Eyes Wide Shut (UK) – Dir. Matt Wells

Eyes Wide Shut (USA/UK) – Dir. Stanley Kubrick

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 28 AUGUST – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

Hustlers (2019) **

Dir: Lorene Scafaria; Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Lilli Reinhart, Carli B, Julia Stiles; USA 2019, 109 min.

Hustlers sees a group New York strippers having to change their modus operandi after the big financial crash of 2008.

Director/writer Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler) bases her female centric drama on a magazine article by Jessica Pressler. We first meet Ramona (Lopez) in the ‘good’ days before everything went bust, helping new girl Destiny (Wu) to adjust to life in an upmarket strip club. The two bond and are later joined by Mercedes (Palme); Annabelle (Reinhart, and Cardi B. Wu has been a particular victim of the meltdown, saddled with an ailing grandmother and a daughter.

Years after the crash, Ramona comes up with the idea of spiking the drinks her now thrifty Wall Street clients, then stealing their credit cards in the hope their guilt will prevent a visit to the police. This wishful thinking ploy holds for a long time, before the law finally arrives on the women’s doorsteps.

Billed as another Wall Street feature in the shape of The Big Shot or Margin Call, see from the other end of the food chain, Hustlers has too many clichés and a flawed narrative to make it a real winner. Scafaria’s clincher was to sell us the strippers as ordinary working class women, fallen on hard times but this does not work at all, as the strippers are fallen women through and through, spending their illegal profits on cars, fur coats and luxury bags. Their characters are underdeveloped to the point of parody. And the sisterhood is finally dismantled when Scafaria introduces a journalist (Stiles) to interview Destiny for a newspaper. This is a feature that roots for nobody, and that’s why ultimately it fails big time. Todd Banhazl’s images underline the crass caricature of it all, and the more than generous running time does not help either. AS

ON RELEASE from Friday 13 September 2019

Antigone (2019) *** TIFF 2019

Wri/Dir: Sophie Deraspe | Drama Canada 109′
Sophie Deraspe’s provocative social realist re-imagining of the Sophocles’ Greek tragedy of the same name explores universal themes of sacrifice and responsibility through the story an immigrant woman and her desperate bid for justice in contemporary Montreal.

Nahema Ricci plays Antigone, the highly intelligent woman in question, with a powerful sense of her own identity but also a vulnerability that is touching and deeply affecting in this compassionate family drama that offers another snapshot of the refugee crisis, this time in Canada. Following the murder of their parents, Antigone, her sister Ismène (Nour Belkiria), and her brothers Étéocle and Polynice, find themselves taking refuge in a cramped apartment in the working class area,  joined by their grandmother Ménécée.

But another tragedy soon follows when Étéocle gets involved in the arrest of a petty criminal and drug dealer and takes a police bullet and ends up in prison. This sense of family responsibility is also one that lies at the heart of Martin Scorsese’s New York thrillers. Made on a considerably tighter budget this less ambitious film is also set on a smaller scale, although the ideas are just as relevant: the responsible family member feeling duty bound to rescue a relative in order to secure the future for everyone else. As a woman, Antigone is also forced to deal with a male-dominated judicial and penal system which she must appose with her own set of values.

Acting as her own cinematographer and ably assisted by a female led crew, Deraspe conjures up a palpable sense of Montreal and its immigrant community in this moving piece of indie cinema. MT

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL | 5-15 SEPTEMBER 2019 

Honeyland (2019) ****

Dir: Tamara Kotevska/Ljubomir Stefanov | Doc/drama, 87′

Bees are one of the most vital elements in our delicate ecosystem. But rather than tell another preachy tale about disappearing ways of life, these two Macedonian filmmakers have spent three years making their revealing debut documentary exploring the art of wild beekeeping and a Turkish woman who is keeping the tradition alive against all odds in a remote corner of the Balkans.

In her mid fifties and caring for an half-blind bed-ridden mother, Hatidze is a cheerful and enterprising soul. She struggles on alone in this inhospitable terrain sharing her life with a menage of dogs and cats, and the vituperative insects who provide her with a living, her father having put paid to any chance of a husband or children. It’s a story that will ring true with those still working hard and looking after ageing parents as they approach the lonely coalface of their own mortality.

“Half for you, half for me” she says generously, sharing the honeycomb with the bees to assure their continued survival. and often climbing to hazardous rock-faces to locate and nurture the crucial queen bee that brings the swarm with her. After nurturing the swarm and culling the precious nectar, Hatidze then makes a perilous journey on foot to Skopje  where she barters with local market holders to sell the honey for as little as 10 euros a kilo.

 Honeyland is a remarkable  vérité study of loneliness and endangered tradition. As Hatidze soldiers on in harmony with nature but without power or mod cons, a jet plane soaring into the blue is the only reminder of the 21st century.  Bee-keeping is not just a quaint outdated pastime but vital to our survival and the pollination of plant life that feeds the world.  Hatidze is said to be the only woman in Europe still carrying on the practice in the traditional way.

Neighbours are often an intrusive nuisance – and particularly here when a large group of rowdy herders arrive to graze on the land with their cattle and noisy kids. Hatidze does her best to get on with them but their own swarm of bees poisons the ones she has carefully cultivated; the chief herder is only interested in instant results and it clear to see the filmmakers’ analogy with mass globalisation,

Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma capture this extraordinary place with its rocky terrain, sweltering summers and snow-swept winters when the wolves howl all night. Hatidze is at one with nature a harsh but rewarding life which she accepts with grace and fortitude    as she walks out alone into the wilderness – both metaphorically and physically – determined to continue alone and at peace with her dog and her bees. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 13 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

 

Lingua Franca (2019) *** Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Isabel Sandoval; Cast: Isabel Sandoval, Lynn Cohen, Eamon Farren; USA/Philippines 2019, 94′ 

Philippines born US-based Isabel Sandoval is the director, writer, actor, editor and co-producer of this semi-autobiographical labour of love. Her portrait of Olivia, a New York trans woman living in permanent fear of deportation by the ICE, tackles a worthwhile subject with boring results.

Olivia (Sandoval) is a post-op trans Filipina working as a live-in home help for Jewish matriarch Olga (Cohen) in Brighton Beach, New York. Olga is scrambling on the foothills of Alzheimers, but when her big family clan meets, she dominates the proceedings just like in the olden days. With no Green Card Olivia is haunted by her fear of deportation, and has pinned all her hopes on marriage to her boyfriend who she pays in instalments. But her man has found a better offer, and the money has been spent in vain. Then along comes 29-year old Alex (Farren), Olga’s grandson, fresh out of rehab, but still an alcoholic drifter. He works, on and off in his uncle’s grim slaughterhouse, but is not ready to adjust to adult life. He moves in with Olivia and Olga, even though his caring efforts are not particularlyj successful. In spite of their very different psychological make-up, Olivia and Alex fall in love. Alex, an out-and-out macho, is at first unaware of Olivia’s sexual identity, and when the truth finally emerges he reacts with verbal and emotional violence. Sandoval leaves an ambiguous ending, somehow between hope and realism. Lingua Franca feels rather flaccid both plot wise and in its bland aesthetics, which are more suited to a documentary feature. Alex and Olivia make unconvincing bed-fellows: more experienced actors may have been able to ride over their stilted dialogue and lack of chemistry but this is another flaw in the film. Lingua Franca is an admirable undertaking, but sadly a wasted opportunity. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 2019

    

The Souvenir (2018) *****

Dir/Wri: Joanna Hogg | Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke, Honour Swinton Byrne | Drama UK | 100′

Joanna Hogg is the only living female filmmaker who portrays a particular English contemporary milieu. Usually creative, invariably white and well-educated, these characters are liberal in outlook and mostly live in London. With such unique sensibilities and vision she is able to understand and convey as certain type of middle class angst (borne out of having to do the right thing, irrespective of personal choice). She did it gracefully in Unrelated (2007), Archipelago (2010) and Exhibition (2013), And she does it peerlessly again here with The Souvenir, a nuanced and delicately drawn story of addiction and strained relationships that very much echoes its time and place: the late 1980s – although it was inspired and takes its name from  Fragonard’s painting, a motif that runs through the film.

This all revolves around Julie, a dark horse and an English rose (earnestly played by Tilda Swinton’s daughter Honour Swinton Byrne) who is tentatively making a career for herself in film school while awkwardly becoming involved with her first proper boyfriend. Clearly she is talented but lacks real confidence – both in love and in life – largely due to a repressed English background. Although her mother is loving and wonderful there are clear hints that certain things were simply not discussed at home, but still waters nevertheless run deep on the feelings front. Hogg relies on an improvisational approach, stripping away clichés to distill the emotional content of each scene, often with minimal dialogue and relying on body language and atmosphere. 

Women of that era will remember the silent voids during a date where the silence spoke volumes, often marking the beginning or the end of another tortuous romance with a man who could not express himself, and chose merely to back away and then reappear with pleadings and desperate often incoherent bids to meet again. Often covering this with bluster and demeaning put-downs, Tom Burke gives a priceless performance as Anthony, a man whose emotional range does Attila the Hun a disservice when it comes to affairs of the heart. “You’re a freak. You’ll always be last,” he tells Julie. And Hogg is clearly mining these fraught memories too with this doomed romantic pairing.

Julie presses on undeterred, internalising her feelings, and clearly drawn to public school Anthony through some atavistic genetic link. Because he purports to be ‘from the right background’ – he is clearly approved of by her parents – the very mild-mannered Tilda and her on screen husband.William. One of of the best scenes sees Richard Ayoade playing a ‘cutting edge’ filmmaker and deftly spilling the beans that Anthony is a heroin addict. “I find doing heroin to be mainstream behaviour,” he jokes to a rather bewildered Julie. And we discover she’s funding his habit with donations gleaned from her mother, who does seem alarmed at Julie’s rising expenditure for film-school supplies. In a caddish moment Anthony even roughs up Julie’s Notting Hill flat, faking a burglary to raise funds for his addiction. Drugs make psychopaths and monsters of addicts. And Julie is a victim too, of love. But she keeps a stiff upper lip. Endearing scenes with her parents are a triumph in their candid intimacy, and make us reflect on the placid generosity of the British. 

Julie and Anthony share a deceptively satisfying sex life behind closed doors, shown in 16mm-styled footage that follows them on an impromptu romantic break to Venice, funded unflinchingly by Julie. She epitomises the female lack of confidence of that era, back-footed by her desire to appear cool and inclusive when pitching for a film school project, and desperate to fit in with the others. She emerges lonely and rather misunderstood, though keen to do the right thing. And the comforting presence of her concerned on screen mother resonates throughout, you stifle a snigger when she utters the words: “Anthony was taken ill in the Wallace Collection”. 

Joanna Hogg will soon embark on the second part of this semi-biopic affair with Robert Pattinson joining the cast. The story of a young filmmaker finally making her way is something to look forward to. MT

OUT ON 30 AUGUST 2019 AT CURZON CINEMAS

Maternal | Hogar (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019 | Special Mention

Dir: Maura Delpero | With Lidya Liberman, Agustina Malale, Isabella Cilia, Alan Rivas, Livia Fernan, Marta Lubos, Renata Palminiello | Italy, Argentina | 91′

There are so many worthwhile features coming out of South America at the moment, particularly by women filmmakers, and Maternal is just one of them making its debut here at Locarno. With a cast of newcomers and a predominantely female crew, Delpero delicately explores the importance of secure start in life, and shows how this need not necessarily come from the birth mother.

Elegantly framed and quietly moving, Maura Delpero’s female centric story revolves around a group of frustrated teenage mums Lu and Fati who live in the calm confines of a religious shelter in Buenos Aires where novice Sister Paola has recently arrived from Rome to take her final vows.

Delpero quickly establishes the contrast between the lives of the nuns and their unruly counterparts who live upstairs. While the ‘morally loose’ girls have clearly fallen on hard times, and are unable to support their kids on their own, the nuns avoid judging them but are by now means easygoing, spending their time quietly in prayer, providing a stable environment where the kids can be looked after and given a Christian start in life. Pregnant Fati tries to keep herself to herself in the room she shares with the promiscuous tattooed Lu who has clearly gone off the rails and shows little interest in her adorable little daughter Nina. The other girls are vulgar, rowdy and competitive and although they are allowed to let off steam at ‘party nights’, they often come to blows which each other, to the exasperation of the nuns.

A bond soon develops between Nina and Paola who steps into to fill the maternal vacuum left by Lu’s absence – she is more interested in sexual exploits outside the Convent and leaves one night. Nina is very much in need of love and attention and a unsettling atmosphere gradually develops as she grows more attached to Sister Paola – now ordained – who has a moral obligation to stay neutral, particularly as Lu resents the growing closeness between the nun and her daughter when she returns.

As the story reaches its stunning denouement Delpero relies less and less on dialogue eliciting convincing naturalistic performances from her largely inexperienced cast. And the final scenes play out with extraordinary serenity given the brooding tension, as once again Sister Paola is put to the test. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019  | SPECIAL MENTION AWARD

Blinded by the Light (2018) ***

Dir.: Gurinder Chadha; Cast: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Hayley Atwell, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagmara, Dean-Charles Chapman, Bob Brydon; UK 2019, 117 min.

Based on the memoirs of co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor “Greetings from Bury Park” set in ’80s Luton, Gurinder Chadha repeats the formula from life Bend it like Beckham but this time the focus is music for a teenage Asian boy.

This coming of age story sees Javed (Kalra) in the full throes of adolescent angst, dominated by his dad and desperate for a girlfriend. But it all changes in Sixth Form when his glamorous and understanding English teacher Ms Clay (Atwell) helps him to develop his poetry, and punkish Eliza (Williams) falls for him. But most important of all, he discovers  Bruce “the Boss” Springsteen, thanks to his new best friend Roops (Phagmara). “Springsteen is what your father listens to”, says another friend Matt (Chapman), which may not true in Javed’s case, but Matt’s father (Brydon), an avid Springsteen fan, is a good example of how Javed and Roops have somehow jumped a generation. 

When Javed’s father Malik (Ghir) loses his job at ‘the Vauxhall’, the family dynamics take a turn for the worse. Malik can’t find a new job, leaving his wife is chained to the sewing machine to crank up their income. They can’t even afford to pay for the older daughter’s wedding – and when Malik finds out Javed has bought tickets for a Springsteen concert at Wembley, blowing £40  (of his own money) in the process, he rips up the tickets and starts a war with his son. But all is not lost: at the graduation ceremony Javed makes a long speech, weaving together the Springsteen and Asian family traditions, and setting the young man free to go to university in Manchester and enjoy Springsteen to the full.

Boundless enthusiasm is the main asset of Blinded: no less than seventeen Springsteen songs provide the background for Javed’s liberation saga, together with everything from kitchen sink drama to magic realism. But its infectious good-will is also peppered by too many clumsy, corny, clichéd scenes. Trying to be critical of traditional Pakistani ideology, Javed confronts his father, after he has been told “to follow the Jews and stay off the girls”. Javed tells his father this is a racist remark, but the scene is so ham-fisted, the effect is lost. When it comes to everyday racism, Chadha fares better: Javed’s family is not the only one which had plastic sheeting on the front door to prevent white hoodlums urinating through the letterbox.

DoP Ben Smithard (Downton Abbey) has hit the right tone: his images are a fairyland of colours and lights; a wild celebration of being young. The cast, particularly Viveik Kalra in his debut, is pitch perfect. Overall, the mix of aesthetics and the need to be over the top all the time, somehow reduces the impact. A little bit of coherence and structure would have made this much more than just a crowd-pleaser. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM Friday 9 August 2019

      

Holiday (2018) ****

Dir/Writer: Isabella Eklöf, Wri: Johanne Algren| Cast: Thijs Romer, Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lai Yde | Thriller | Danish | 112′

If you’re worried about the current state of male empowerment this film from Denmark will adjust the skewered perception, in this year’s BFI London Film Festival showing, that women are somehow pulling rank in the pecking order and getting too big for their boots.

HOLIDAY certainly makes for uncomfortable viewing and there are some shockingly sadistic pornorgraphic scenes that are by no means gratuitous, and are actually pivotal to the plot. It’s the debut feature of writer and director Isabella Eklöf who co-wrote Cannes winner Border and also worked on Tomas Alfredson’s lugubrious vampire standout, Let the Right One In. Her third outing at the LFF is a stunning looking but savage satire that explores sexual abuse and domination.

Some may say HOLIDAY overplays its hand in its overlong preamble, making us wait nearly a hour before the feisty finale kicks in. But this torpid first hour allows Eklof and her co-writer Johanne Algren to set the scene for a devastating denouement by slathering her thriller with rich layers of texture, establishing the lowlife criminal ethos of the humans to just how boring and beastly they have become. The venal antihero Michael (Lai Yde) plays a Danish drug baron who has taken call-girl Sascha (a well-cast ectomorph Victoria Carmen Sonne) for a break in a Villa in Bodrum. While he does ‘a bit of business’, she suns herself by the pool with a motley crew of family members and hoodlums. Crude is very much the watchword in HOLIDAY. These mindless meatheads are be-decked in timepieces the size of telephones, garish trainers and vulgar designer labels such as Philip Pleinn.

In the opening scenes Sascha rocks up at the Turkish airport wearing a platinum hairpiece showing more black roots than Kunta Kinte. Her personality could be best described as vacant, she is an symbol of female submission, and for most of the film she is as naive as Bambi. But something is clearly ticking away in her reptilian brain that makes her strike out like a cobra when we’re least expecting it. Once ensconsed in the villa, Sascha has her work cut out dealing with the macho Michael who flexes his muscles with regular psychotic outbursts that end in abusive sex. This is the school of hard-knocks and not even Michael’s henchman escape a bloody good hiding when they overstep the mark. The only sights Sascha sees in the ancient Turkish port are expensive jewellery shops and lap-dancing clubs. She is there as an extension of Michael’s ego: when he’s feeling good she gets a hug or some emerald earrings (“they’re more expensive than diamonds”); when he’s feeling bad she gets a punch in the nose or even worse. But never is there meaningful sex.

On the contrary, the two have no emotional bond, but control freak that he is, Michael soon asserts his authority when Sascha strikes out on her own, and is drawn to an attractive Dutchman, Thomas (Thijs Romer), whose yacht is moored in the marina. At first it feels like she’s looking for a life raft, and escape route from Michael – but not a bit of it. Sasha flirts with Thomas, but her goal is to garner the emotional strokes she craves, feeding her latent narcissism.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Michael takes another bad mood out on Sascha, roughing her up and then abusing her sexually on the cold marble floor. The violent release gives Michael a psychopathic high and he falls asleep feeling totally fulfilled in her annihilation. Sascha soaks up the intended rejection that enforces her own lack of self esteem: the two are one. Victorious, Michael now has to lift his leg, metaphorically speaking, on Thomas. Arranging a quiet tête à trois, with the subtext of discussing yachts, Michael invites the unsuspecting Dutchman to join him and Sascha for dinner. In an act of vicois bravado, he then flagrantly humiliates both of them, and Thomas rapidly gets his coat.

The material in this uncomfortable but brilliant film could to be developed into others of the genre, if Eklöf so desires, and let’s hope she does. As female writers go, she is certainly on a par with Patricia Highsmith in her ability to create psychological complexity and conjure up tightly-plotted thrillers in glamorous surroundings, as demonstrated in this dynamite debut. MT

ON RELEASE from FRIDAY 2 August 2019

 

 

 

Animals (2019) ****

Dir.: Sophie Hyde; Cast: Holiday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermont Murphy, Amy Molloy, Dermont Murphy; UK/Australia/ROI 2019, 109 min.

In her sophomore feature Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) directs Emma-Jane Unsworth’ script of her own novel. It centres on two close friends Laura (Grainger) and Tyler (Shawcat) in Dublin who spend most of their time in being drunk and high on drugs. Well at least that’s the way it’s seemed for the past ten years. But now in their thirties, things are about to change.

Their story unfolds from the perspective of Laura, a struggling writer whose novel progresses a line a week – meanwhile she works as a barista in a coffee shop, to make ends meet. Her sister Jean (Molloy), once a wild child herself, announces that she has now chosen adult life and motherhood. Laura reacts with panic: suddenly casual boyfriend Jim (Fee), a very serious pianist, becomes a plausible alternative to her living the life of Riley with Tyler. But then along comes uber-pretentious author Marthy (Murphy) and Laura soon sees the error of her ways. And somehow the never fully explained cloud over Tyler’s life (some trauma in the past) becomes more important – or is it just the realisation, that their friendship is much more of a love story then they want to admit. Most features are built on the rock of a happy-ending with friendship being replaced by the great love conquering all – but Hyde raises doubts: is it really inevitable that all women should spend their life with the opposite gender just because mother nature and a concept called adulthood dictate it – or can Goethe’s Elective Affinities overcome the norm – at least sometimes?

Grainger and Shawkat carry the feature – their relationship is anything but ideal – but at least it is honest, and we are never allowed to forget it. Hyde directs with great sensibility, athough there are more than enough emotional episodes to go round. DoP Bryan Mason has a fine feel for the Dublin scene, even though the film actually takes place in Manchester. Animals is full of surprises and never resorts to the banal. It is a brave attempt at trying to align the impossible, but it manages to remain sincere: when Jim calls Laura Tyler’s wife, he is not too far off. AS

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 2 AUGUST

       

The Chambermaid (2018) ****

Dir: Lila Alviles | Cartol | Drama | Mexico | 90′

The Chambermaid plays the same thematic tune as two other festival winners this Summer: Golden Lion winner Roma and In A Distant Land which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. They highlight the isolated and lonely lives of ordinary working people, often migrants – in this case, a Mexican national whose job in the capital detaches her from her loved ones. There is a distinct chilly humour to this acutely observed feature debut from Mexican actress, filmmaker and opera director Lila Alviles. It follows the daily grind of a hotel worker in one of the Mexico City’s 5 star hotels. Cartol (La Tirisia) plays Eve with infinite grace and good humour – in one astonishing scene she stands for seemingly ages outside a lift during one of those awkward silences – catching a hotel guest’s eye several times with an expression that speaks volumes.

Pristinely executed in the zen-like interiors of this palace of interior design, the film pictures an upmarket public as they often are behind the closed door of their luxury suites: ill-mannered, demanding and crude. Bereft of their clothes they also take leave of their humanity – never mind their courtesy. This is social politics laid bare. The Chambermaid also examines the crafty interactions between the low-level workers themselves: the cunning soft sales techniques of her colleague in the laundry who is trying to supplement her low-paid job by selling hand cream and Tupperware. Or just trying to con her into sharing the latest fad – in this case, a gadget that delivers a shock to stimulate a feel-good rush of endorphin. Like a some ghastly face to face equivalent of FarmVille.

The Chambermaid is set in Mexico City’s Presidente Intercontinental. Eve is hard-working and diligent, but if she tries harder she’ll be allocated the stratospheric, newly refurbished 42nd floor with views to die for and even infinity pools. Pinning her hopes on the promotion, she improves her efficiency but to no avail. The only bonus here is in the lost property cupboard. In one of her rooms Eve has found a red dress and hopes to take it home, if the owner doesn’t claim it. But her gruelling schedule leaves no time to be with her child, let alone meet a partner. Outwardly timid, Eve shows her true colours in one scene involving a window cleaner who has taken a shine to her – along with his windows. Eve acknowledges him at a distance. Her reaction is plausible – a little light relief in a sea of sameness. But Alviles restrains herself and keeps this convincing.

Stunningly captured by Carlos Rossini’s creative camerawork, this sealed and sanitised world has a strange beauty. Loosely based on the book Hotel, by Sophie Calle, The Chambermaid is a contemplative but well-paced cinema verité piece that resonates with a powerful message from both sides of the equation. Eve’s humdrum existence is piqued by moments of insight that show her in a different light as she endure the indignities of her role with calm forbearance and subdued silence. The magnificent skyscapes are hers to see but never to enjoy in her closeted existence, locked in an eternal bubble with no respite, until the final scene where the ambient sounds of exotic birdsong replace the refrigerated buzz of musak and air-conditioning.  MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Of Fish and Foe (2018) ****

Dirs: Andy Heathcote, Heike Bachelier | UK Doc 90′

Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier follow up their delightful documentary  The Moo Man with a more confrontational film that explores the traditional methods of wild Atlantic salmon fishing that falls foul of animal rights activists.

In Northern Scotland near Thurso, the Pullar family make their living from the sea. Stretching long nets across the bay where wild Atlantic salmon are crossing the tidal waters, brothers Kevin and John then sail out to collect the catch. Most of the salmon on the market comes from commercial salmon farms making their share of the consumer market all the more difficult, although their fish are far superior in quality. They are joined by a series of helpers and often a young boy who is clearly invested in his unpaid work.

This is a competitive market: and Anglers still take the lions share of the dwindling salmon trade but the Pullars’ business seems to have made a bad name for itself due to their habit of shooting seals which they believe are further depleting stocks.  This is a practice that has attracted protesters in the shape of Sea Shepherd, who naively think they are protecting the local fauna. There are big commercial interests involved and the Pullars’ give them no quarter – often taunting them with ill-advised insults, despite their annoying habit of disrupting daily business, posing a danger to  themselves and the fisherman. The protesters seem to have no real understanding of the cultural implications of their actions or the ways of the sea, and stick out like a sore thumb as they clamber about taking photos and make snide comments on the treacherous rocks. By the same token, the Pullars are not the most diplomatic or sympathetic of folk, often queering their own pitch for their lack of charm and tact.

Their rivals consider the Pullars to be getting in the way in an industry that has moved forward, yet they are simply fisherman going about their business, and respectful of the ways of nature and fishing husbandry, humanely killing seabirds stuck in their nets, or even salmon who have been fatally injured by pecking seals. By Law they are required to cease operations during certain times, weather permitting. But the protesters are like terriers, constantly yapping at the their feet. Between their rivals and the Sea Shepherds it seems the Pullars’ business is doomed to fail.

The directors keep their distance presenting the parties’ pros and cons without judgement, leaving the audience to make up their own minds about this thorny dilemma in a story that very much resonates with the narrative of surviving communities and disappearing lifestyles. Fishing was one of the mainstays of Britain’s rural existence until the EU came along. MT

NOW ON RELEASE

Locarno International Film Festival 2019

New artistic director Lili Hinstin unveils her eclectic mix of films for the 72nd Locarno Film Festival which runs from 7 until 17 August in its luxurious lakeside location. Locarno is known for its edgy profile and this year will be no different: Films by established auteurs Koji Fukada, Asif Kapadia, Kiyoshi Kurosawa will screen alongside an inventive array of undiscovered newcomers and sophomore cinema in a selection that embraces traditional stories and more experimental and avantgarde fare.

Hinstin takes over from Carlo Chatrian, who served as artistic director of Locarno since 2013 and now returns to the Berlinale. Hinstin is the 13th artistic director of the Locarno Festival since it was founded in 1946 and is only the event’s second female artistic director following on from Irene Bignardi (2000-5).

The largest open air cinema space in Europe, the Piazza Grande, will welcome up to 8,000 viewers for 19 full-length, 2 short films, and 6 Crazy Midnight, a total 11 world premieres. The magnificent state of the art Grand Rex cinema will pay host to this year’s Retrospective BLACK LIGHT conceived by Greg de Cuir Jr. showcasing international 20th century black cinema with stars such as Pam Grier, Ousmane Sembene, Spike Lee and Euzhan Palcy who will introduce his restored print of Rue Cases-Negres.

There will be another chance to see Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Luebbe DeBoer’s Sundance breakout Greener Grass and Kapadia’s Cannes documentary Maradona, along with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starring hijack thriller-drama 7500, Carice Van Houten-starring Instinct, and British comedian Simon Bird’s directorial debut Days Of The Bagnold Summer. Making its world premiere is also the  intriguing Italian horror feature The Nest from Roberto de Feo whose 2010 short film Ice Scream was one of the most awarded worldwide during the year of its launch.

Films in the main competition vying for the Golden Leopard include the latest crop of South American stories: The Fever from Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin sees a disillusioned man hovering between reality and a dreamlike existence; from Argentina Maura Delpero’s Hogar (Home) is set in present day Buenos Aires where two homeless teenagers are bringing up their kids in a religious institution run by Italian nuns. Icelandic director Runar Runarsson (Sparrows) will be there with his latest Echo. The first ever Locarno competition film in Gallego entitled Longa Noite (Endless Night) is a second surreal feature from Spanish director Eloy Enciso; and previous Golden Leopard winner Pedro Costa (Horse Money) is back with a Cape Verdean set drama Vitalina Varela. Activist and award-winning animator Mina Mileva and her Bulgarian co-director Vesela Kazakova have filmed their realist drama Cat in the Wall in Peckham, London. It follows the trials and tribulations of a mother and her daughter.

This year’s Cineasti del Presenti, a sidebar dedicated to original and Avantgarde cinema, includes works from acclaimed actress Jeanne Balibar – Merveilles à Montfermeil, and Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter’s Space Dogs explores the work of Laika, the first canine astronaut. Matjaz Ivanisin’s debut drama Oroslan shows how traditional mourning rituals help to heal the community’s grief in a village in Slovenia. From the magical midsummers of American teenagers in Tyler Taormina’s Ham on Rye to Klaudia Reynicke’s surreal female-centric drama Love me Tender– these are just some of the films in a programme full of daring inventiveness.

The President of the main competition jury will be Catherine Breillat, and she is joined by this year’s guests: Mathieu Amalric, Bi Gan, Bong Joon-ho, Denis Cote, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Maren Ade, Jake Perlin, Bi Gan, Aline Schmid, Alba Rohrwacher, Hilary Swank and Bela Tarr and John Waters whose will receive a Leopard of Honour for his daring, outrageous, often hilarious work: “Somehow I became respectable…What the hell has happened!”

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019

 

Tell It To The Bees (2018) ***

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

    

  

My Friend the Polish Girl (2018) ***

Dir.: Ewa Banasziewicz, Mateusz Dymek; Cast: Aneta Piotrowska, Emma Feldman-Cohen, Daniel Barry, Max Davies; UK 2018, 87 min.

Ewa Banasziewicz and Mateusz Dymek have directed written and produced this sometimes uneven cinema verite style mockumentary that explores whether the documentary form can ever be objective: or does the filmmaker always influence the outcome with their own subjectivity? Shot mostly in black-and-white by Dymek, with enchanting animation by Mathieu Rok, My Friend is aesthetically much more convincing than its sometimes questionable narrative.

New York filmmaker Katie (Friedman-Cohen) lives in London where she picks the Polish actor, thirty-something Alicja (Piotrowska), as the central focus for her Brexit-themed documentary. But nothing goes to plan: first of all Alicja, (who is living with her boyfriend (Barry) in the Edgware Road), tells Katie that he is suffering from terminal cancer. Michael then denies the gravity of his illness and moves out, not wanting to be filmed by a very intrusive Katie. The two women have not always got on together so Katie decides “to change” Alicja’s life, by introducing her to a group of filmmakers at the Groucho Club. Alicja is going to play a Russian prostitute (her seventh casting in this role), and shooting is due to commence, but when it does, Michael’s condition worsens with Alicja trying in vain to stop the cancer by buying expensive alternative medicines from a Harley Street doctor. To no avail, he dies and at the rather embarrassing wake for Michael, she meets his friend Max (Davies), who stays the night. By now, Katie has moved in with her girlfriend, both declaring they are misfits. But when Alicja is suddenly fired from the film set, she also runs away from Katie who is forced to use a false ending (Alicja’s suicide) to finish her film. 

Despite their best intentions the portrayal of the complicated relationship between documentary filmmakers and their subjects sometimes falls victim to rather bad taste, such as in the faux-sex scene between the two women in Alicja’s bedroom. But the female leads are so convincing in portraying their obsessive relationship they somehow manage to overcome this setback. Overall, My Friend is a brave attempt to discuss the essence of documentary filmmaking, and, in spite of everything, it is a very worthwhile watch. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE

The Brink (2019) ***

DIR: Alison Klayman | US Doc 98′

Alison Klayman shadows political operative Steve Bannon from the time he leaves the White House to the 2018 midterms.

Political strategist Steve Bannon (1953-) is best known for being the co-founder of Breitbart, and is also a former investment banker, educated at Georgetown and Harvard. He served in the United States Navy for seven years and then went on to exec produce 18 Hollywood films, between 1991 and 2016. Thereafter he was the White House chief strategist from January to August 2017, and founder of nonprofit organisation The Movement designed to promote economic nationalism in Europe. Eventually he was ejected from the White House after the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Not as informative and intriguing as Errol Morris’ American Dharma that screened at Venice  last year, this fly on the wall affair manages at least to avoid glorification, hardly bringing anything new to the table – although Bannon clearly had his knees firmly under the metaphorical one in the Whitehouse during the early stages of the Trump administration.

Klayman’s (Ai Wei: Never Sorry) cinema vérité style treatment is the result of her following Bannon as part of his elite during the course of a year’s media tour intended to rebrand his image as the leader of a global populist movement. A strong and engaging orator (in the style of Ken Livingstone, Gladstone and Nigel Farage) he is clearly clubbable, and we see him taking his movement on the road, talking to various advisors on how best to support congressional candidates, and showing his support to European populist parties – including Farage’s – in preparation for the European Parliament elections in 2019.

In Europe there’s obviously the high birth rate among Muslims to consider (in Belgium), and these far-righters all agree that “immigration is a bad thing”. Bannon then sets off on a US tour, promoting Republican candidates such as Roy Moore, and those running in the 2018 midterms. This involves attending fundraiser dinners and rallies. A heckler interrupts him during a speech and he smirks, “Who invited my ex-wife?” Klayman intercuts all this with news clips from the Brett Kavanaugh hearing to the Tree of Life shooting. He keeps on keeping on. He also talks to journalists, who seem to have a low opinion of him. Meanwhile, his film TRUMP @WAR (the media) is released, about the President’s victory in the face of the violent left.

The Brink is another documentary about the general mayhem that exists in US politics, focusing on one extreme figure to another (Weiner and Get Me Roger Stone). Klayman avoids talking head interviews but there’s no mistaking her take on her subject matter.

Very much like Brexit for the UK, the Trump era is a thorn in America’s side. And The Brink tries to analyse how it all came about, but without much success. Basically politicians see themselves as in the game for the love of humanity, despite the majority of them being self-seeking, bottom-feeding forms of life. In Dante’s journey to Hell, Klayman is simply trying to explore some of the characters on the way. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Romance (1999) | Blu-ray release | Bfi player

4767 copy Dir.: Catherine Breillat | Cast: Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin, Francois Berleand, Rocco Siffredi | France 1999, 84/99 min.

Catherine Breillat, novelist and filmmaker, has been a victim of censorship (and misinterpretation) from the beginning of her career as a cinematographer: her debut film Une Vraie Jeune Fille (1975), based on her own novel Le “Sopirail” was banned after its premiere until 1999. Influenced very much by George Bataille (whose 1928 novel “Histoire de l’oeil” was wrongly indicted for pornography), Breillat, too, had to fight off the same accusations.

Her heroines do not fit into the mainstream categories of either victim or aggressor: they like their sex in whatever form, but at the same time they want to determine their lives; fighting their male partners successfully for domination in their relationships. And they are no goody-two-shoes: Barbara in Sale Comme Un Ange (1991), is married to the young detective Didier Theron, and willingly seduced by his much older superior George Deblache, who might be a drunkard, but satisfies her carnal needs much better than her bland husband. Deblache gets Theron killed on a job, and slaps Barbara at the end of the film: he is only now aware of her manipulating, whilst she smiles like the cat that got the cream.

Marie (Ducey) in ROMANCE (1999) chooses a not so different way to punish her narcissistic boyfriend Paul (Stevenin) for his refusal to sleep with her, simply because he wants to control her. First Marie, a primary teacher, has a casual affair with Paolo (Siffredi, a well known porn star), then she plays S&S games with her headmaster Robert (Berleand). Somehow, she gets Paul to sleep with her after all, and the resulting pregnancy makes him even more removed from her, neglecting her in favour of friends and relatives. But he ends up paying the price: after the birth of Paul junior, only one male with this name ends up being part of Marie’s life.

Breillat’s films show an understanding of women’s sex life from their own perspective – just the opposite of the male view that is usually trotted out. Whilst male sexual transgressions (in films and books) are usually tolerated, Breillat’s female counterparts are censured, her films condemned as pornographic. Like Simon de Beauvoir and Bataille; Breillat in her novels and films, often adds an essayistic character, strong symbolism and abstract images, best described by Linda Williams as “elitist, avant-garde, intellectual and philosophical pornography of imagination, [as opposed] to the mundane, crass materialism of a dominant mass culture”. Whilst one can describe male sexuality (including nearly all phantasies) as strictly one to one, meaning that there is no ambivalence left, actions and desire are one, female sexuality thrives on ambiguity and imagination. Whilst sex from a male perspective (and its mostly male descriptions in all forms) is treated as an object. For Breillat and her heroines, sex is the subject of their emancipation. There is no pleasure in Breillat’s sexual images, the best example being Marie’s encounter with a man on the staircase. The man offers her money for performing cunnilingus on her, but she does not take the money. Instead she turns over, having rough sex doggy-style. The scene ends highly ambiguously: Marie cries, but when the man calls her names, she retaliates: “I am not ashamed”. Further more, the whole scene begins as voice-over, Marie informing us that this particularly way of being taken, is her phantasy. In blurring the boarder between phantasy and reality, Breillat leaves the audience to judge what they have seen, and how to categorise it. This is just the opposite of conventional pornography, where a mostly male audience is never left in any doubt what is going on, taking their pleasure from the submission of the female.

In A Ma Soeuri! (2001) Breillat went a step further, trying to redefine rape: Anais (12) and Elena (15) are sisters; the latter attractive and sexual active, the former overweight and insecure. On a parking lot, an attacker kills Elena and her mother, afterwards raping Anais. When questioned by the police, the young girl stoical denies having being raped, in her experience, she has at long last caught up with the experience of her sister: for the first time in their rivalry she has come out on top. Breillat’s interpretation gives room for misunderstanding, as does the use of un-simulated sex in her films – but she is a major figure of modernist filmmaking; her films are dominated by reflectiveness and a desire to reinvent class consciousness; not via an out-dated model but by describing women as a class via their experience of sex: Breillat is an innovative heir to the ideas of de Beauvoir’s “Le Deuxieme Sexe”. AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS and BFI Player 

 

The Last Autumn | Sidasta Haustio (2019) Bergamo Film Meeting

Dir.: Yrsa Roca Fannberg; Documentary with Ulfare Eyjolfsson, Oddny Snjolang Bordardottir; Iceland 2019, 78 min.

Icelandic writer/director Yrsa Roca Fannberg follows Salome with this thematically related story set in the Icelandic arctic ocean village of Norourfjordur where a couple are getting ready to sell their sheep. This is their last autumn on the farmland they have occupied all their lives, and their daughter and grandchildren, who live in Reykjavik, come and pay their final farewells.

The black and white footage of the opening sequences reflects their contented past, the rough landscape and the sea, making an imposing background where humans are dwarfed by mother nature. Soon we switch to colour and intimate domestic interiors where Ulfar and Oddny are listening to a radio broadcast about the ecological tragedy that led to the entire population of Iceland being evacuated to Denmark after a volcano eruption during the18th century.

The old sheep dog Loppa watches Ulfar bottle-feed two lambs. Later, he drives out to sea in his fishing boat coming back with a decent catch, then cutting wood to repair the barn wall – even though he knows very well that there will be no more sheep to shelter there. His daughter arrives on a small plane and they reminisce about the barn repairs: “It is beautiful to sustain life, even if it is not for yourself”.

This honest existence has been the mainstay of their lives together, but eventually the day arrives for them to round up the sheep. Loppa, his master and some other farmers go into the mountains to collect the animals, about 75 of them, herd them into the barn, and then huge travel containers. Ulfar seems to live in the past, his only contact with the outside world is the radio which brings news of those who have recently passed away. Afterwards Ulfar gives his granddaughter a ride on the tractor regaling her with an old fairy tale about Vera, a woman who fell down the cliffs.

Focusing on long panoramic panning shots, and connecting with the narrative of surviving communities and rural existence this is a melancholic journey. Carlos Vasquez’ images focus on the close interaction of humans and nature, showing that animals are far more intelligent than we often give them credit for. The relationship between Ulfare and his dog is particularly close. Dialogue is sparing reflecting the importance of action and reflection rather than ideas. Fannberg handles this slow-burner with care and patience, every shot has a function – an enchanting portrait of another disappearing world. AS

BERGAMO FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | KARLOVY VARY 2019 PREMIERE

Summer 1993 (2017) Bfi player

Dir/Writer: Carla Simón | Drama | Spain, 2017 | 96′

Tears will well up within the first few minutes of this tender tale about a little orphaned Catalan girl coping with grief and uncertainty after her parents’ death. Cast your mind back to the panic and fear of losing sight of your own mother in the supermarket when you were six. And that coupled with the realisation that she’s never coming back is the feeling Simón inspires in debut that won Best First Feature award at Berlinale 2017.

Shooting at waist level the director manages to convey life from Frida’s perspective, and Laia Artigas gives a determined performance, mature for one so young. She views her new family set-up with a certain feral mistrust tempered with the anger of abandonment brought on by insecurity and steely pragmatism. Frida is not sure how to respond to her changed circumstances as she goes about her daily routine in the limpid naturalistic light of the family’s home in rural Girona. It’s only in quiet moments that she allows herself to dissolve in tears.

Life couldn’t be better with her uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer, 10,000km), aunt Marga (Bruna Cusi), and toddler cousin Anna (Paula Robles), and Simón’s quietly observant treatment takes a ‘less is more’ approach as she tells her story, for the most part without dialogue, allowing us to contemplate and revisit our own childhood through Frida’s innocent eyes.

Marga is clearly on her best behaviour, often chiding Anna as she strains to protect Frida with kid gloves. Clearly, Frida’s bereavement is not going to be as simple as we thought. Simón brings her own experiences to bear in a story that has an certain unsettling feel throughout its well-paced running time making SUMMER 1993 – although not entirely surprising – engaging and quietly memorable. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER SCREENING AS PART OF THE FOCUS ON SPAIN STRAND | EIFF 19-29 JUNE 2109

 

Women Filmmakers (1911-1940)

More women worked in film during the early years of the 20th century than at any time since. In the silent era, these women made films for a female audience. And although the focus was traditional: love, marriage and family, the narratives were playfully critical of these themes in a clever and humorous way, pushing the boundaries aesthetically and offering amusement at a time when society was much more restrictive for women than it is nowadays.

Filmmakers such as Lois Weber, Marie-Louise Iribe, Alice Guy Blaché, Germain Dulac, Dorothy Davenport, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Dorothy Arzner, Mary Helen Bute and Mabel Normand were working together with female screenwriters and producers for the female-dominated audience of the time. For some reason these innovative, pioneering talents have been relegated to the back burner or written out of cinematic history all together, and that is why people talk of their rarity value.  

Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) started her career as a secretary at Gaumont, Paris and would go on to be its only female film director there between 1896 and 1906, making her debut with the first ever feature with a narrative: LA FÉE AUX CHOUX (The Cabbage Fairy). Alice became the production head for Gaumont France and although her directing credits were never really established in France alone they numbered over 500, and  specialised in working with children. Marrying her English Gaumont colleague Herbert Blaché in 1907, the couple soon moved to the United States where they set up the trading arm of Gaumont. In New Jersey Alice set up her own studio, Solax Films, in 1910. For three years, it produced 95 very successful short films, before switching to medium length productions: she directed twenty-two between 1915 and 1920. Two years later, after the collapse of Solax she went back to France where she novelised film scripts, eventually returning to the US to spend her final years with her daughter Simone in New Jersey, not far from the former Solax studio.

FALLING LEAVES (1912) was a melodrama starring a child actor Magda Foy in the role Little Trixie (Magda Foy) whose sister Winifred (Marian Swayne), is dying from TB. The family doctor announces gravely to Winifred’s mother “your daughter will die when the last leaves fall”. Little Trixie not only stitches some leaves to the tree branches, but also gets help in form Dr. Headley (Mace Greenleaf), who has developed a cure that saves Winifred and needless to say, opens the way for a romantic happy-end. That same year Alice filmed THE GIRL IN THE ARMCHAIR (1912) that sees Blanche Cornwall playing heiress Peggy Wilson who becomes the romantic interest and intended wife of her guardian’s son Frank Watson (Mace Greenleaf). But Frank is more interested in gambling, and comes a cropper after he losing USD 500 at Poker, a sizeable amount in those days. The film delivers a happy-ending and a clever scene where Frank sees the cards moving around him in a circle, during a nightmare. THE OCEAN WAIF (1916) is an intricate riff of the ‘damsel in distress’ theme. Doris Kenyon plays Millie the waif in question, discovered on a beach by her brutal stepfather Hy. After regular beatings she runs away and hides in a supposedly abandoned villa, which is then let the writer Ronald Roberts (Carlyle Blackwell) as the location for his ‘haunted house’ novel. Mistaking her for the much talked off local “ghost” he falls in love, leaving his fiancée who is immediately picked up by a rich count. Unaware of this development, Millie returns home to her step father, who tries to rape her. Another villager comes to the rescue and all’s well that ends well. The film proves that although women where directing, the narratives still saw men very much in control.

Lois Weber (1879-1939) started life as a Street Evangelist but was cast, ironically, by Alice Guy in HYPOCRATES (1908), her first film. Weber’s own prodigious career as a director kicked off with A HEROINE (1911) and continued with 27 movies between 1914 and 1927. After founding her own production company in 1917, she joined Universal Film Manufacturing (the forerunner of Universal) a decade later, but never made the transition into sound, directing just one talkie, WHITE HEAT, in 1934. Weber died lonely and destitute at the age of only sixty, being wrongly remembered as a “star maker”. Film historians have not been kind to her, seeing her diminishing output as the result of her divorce from her husband (and co-producer) Phillips Smalley who never directed or produced a film after they divorced – very much in contrast to Weber.

SUSPENSE (1913) highlighted her invention of the triple screen that added an ingenious twist to the story of a race to the rescue – once again of a ‘damsel in distress’. It sees a city-worker husband (Val Paul) desperate to reach his wife (Weber) threatened by a tramp (Sam Kaufman) trying to break into their house in a remote location. The husband jumps into an idling car (filling the middle part of the screen) and races towards his wife and tramp (who occupy the edges). The police are in hot pursuit while the tramp skulks into the bedroom before being over-powered by the arriving posse. THE BLOT (1921) is a full length feature (91′) and a true auteur’s effort: Weber directed, co-wrote and co-produced this strangely modern tale of poverty in academia that contrasts with the rise of a ‘nouveau riche’ of all kinds. Lecturer Theodore Griggs (Philip Hubbard) and his family are living hand-to-mouth: when he invites the Reverend for tea, his wife (Margaret McWade) frets about the housekeeping budget. Griggs is then belittled by a trio of students whose fathers’ income and political connections will guarantee them top marks. One of them, Phil West (Louis Calhorn), is secretly in love with Griggs’ daughter Amelia (Claire Windsor), the Reverend also fancies his chances with her. Luckily for all concerned, it all works out in the end with one of the inter-titles reading: “men are only boys grown up tall”. 

Mabel Normand (1892-1930) had a short but eventful life: both behind and in front of the camera. A pioneer of silent movies, she appeared in several hundred short films and directed ten between 1910 and 1927. Credited with saving Charlie Chaplin’s career she also developed Chaplin’s ‘tramp’ screen personality. Her accidental involvement in the murder of William Desmond Taylor and the shooting of Courtland S. Dines marred her career, as well as her association with ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, whose life was fraught with scandal. Suffering from TB she died at the tender age of only 37. MABEL’S BLUNDER (1914) is a witty comedy of errors and cross-dressing where Mabel (Normand) unhappily finds herself involved with the father of her husband to be. Things get worse when her fiancé’s sister (Nelson) also enters the fray. Mabel dresses up in male drag and teaches both men a lesson. The film went on to be recognised over 100 years winning the National Film Preservation award in 2009.

GERMAINE DU LAC grew up in Paris where she enjoyed an artistic education that led to journalism on her marriage to Marie-Louis Albert-Dulac. One of the leading radical feminists of her day, she became editor of La Française, the organ of the French suffragette movement, also serving as its theatre and cinema critic. In 1915 she teamed up with her husband to direct inventive often experimental shorts produced by their company Delia Film. During the 1920s she emerged a leader figure in the impressionist film movement with titles such as Coquille and the Clergyman. During the Second World War she used her diplomatic skills on behalf of the Cinemateque Francaise to secure the return of valuable films seized by the Nazis. Her ambition was to make ‘pure cinema’ untrammelled by influences from other art forms. She also pioneered French cinema clubs throughout France before the advent of talkies saw her turning her talents towards newsreel production at Pathé and Gaumont.

LA CIGARETTE  (1919) an exquisite but badly damaged restoration of this 51 minute playfully plotted love story sees a flirtatious young wife (Andrée Brabant/Denise) frolicking around Paris while her ageing Eygptologist husband (Gabriel Signoret) frets that she no longer loves him. Despondent, he puts a poisoned cigarette into his box, in the hope that chance will decide his fate, and adding a soupçon of suspense to the delightful post-war snapshot. LA SOURIANTE MADAME BEUDET (1923) Madame Beudet is distinctly more miserable about the state of her marriage than Andrée Brabant’s Denise in this ironically titled silent chamber piece. So much so that she decides to do away with her gurning idiot of a husband (Alexandre Arqullière) who paws her incessantly as she quails away in disgust.  The tone is morose, and Germaine Dermoz makes a cast iron case for women married to men they simply can’t stand the sight of, but are trapped with for reasons beyond their control.

MARIE-LOUISE IRIBE Parisian actress and filmmaker, Marie Louise Iribe (1894-1934) had a short but dazzling career and is best known for her 1928 debut Hara-Kiri (co-directed with Henri Debain). Her follow-up Le Roi de Aulnes (1931) is based on a poem by Goethe. This enchanting filigree fairy tale has the same magical touch and look as Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête which followed 15 years later and during wartime. The simple but moving storyline sees a man riding through hill and dale to carry his injured son home. As he slips in an out of consciousness the boy imagines death as a mythical king surrounded by wood nymphs. Emile Pierre delicately overlays the forest journey with ethereal images of the king in iridescent armour, transformed from a humble toad realised by DoP Emilie Pierre’s ethereal double exposures. Max D’Ollone’s atmospheric score brings the magic to life.

Film and theatre actress, director and founded of the acting school VGIK, Olga Preobrazhenskaya (1881-1971) studied at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1905, making her debut as a filmmaker in 1916 with a silent black and white drama Miss Peasant (Baryshnya-krestyanka) scripted by Alexander Pushkin. Her themes are the lofty historical ones of Empire and Soviet Russia seen through the experience of ordinary people. Preobrazhenskaya also had a penchant for folklore and her love of the countryside is clearly conveyed in The Peasant women of Ryazan (1927/aka Baby ryazanskie) a jubilant Soviet ethnographical silent film set in pre-war 1914 and is probably the most far-reaching of the BFI collection with its themes of war, revolution and collectivisation. It compares and contrasts the fates of two siblings before and after the First World War: Ivan and his sister Vassilia come from a wealthy farming family. Ivan marries a less fortunate Anna, Vassilia rejects tradition with her lover Niccolai. This powerful drama is richly bucolic, stylistically elegant and thematically controversial making use of Soviet Montage editing techniques to drive the action forward.

BFI has restored ome unseen films from nine influential women directors have been transferred to Blu-ray restoring their valuable contribution to the narrative of film history. 4-disc Blu-ray set released 24 June 2019 | The set includes three short documentaries, exclusive scores on selected films and a 44-page booklet.

Mari (2018) **

Dir.: Georgia Parris; Cast: Bobbi Jene Smith, Phoebe Nicholas, Madeleine Worrall, Peter Singh, Paddy Glynn; UK 2018, 94 min.

In her fraught and morose debut drama, writer and director Georgia Parris explores a woman’s identity crisis through the medium of modern dance.

We first meet Charlotte (Smith) in rehearsals for a new dance production with the rest of the troupe. She then sets off to Dorset to join her family which consists of mother Margot (Nicholas); her sister Lauren (Worrall) and husband Rohan (Singh). While Charlotte is coming to terms with an unplanned pregnancy, Margot had just had a miscarriage. But while Rohan tries to be the peacemaker between the two women, Lauren criticises Charlotte’s obsession with her dancing career: “When does Granny have to die, to fit in with your plans?” Clearly he has sympathy for Charlotte to the chagrin of his grieving wife. Meanwhile Mari (Glynn) is seen gradually slipping away in the local hospital.

Parris relies too heavily on the overbearing sullen atmosphere in this drama devoid of any drama. It is all well and good to do away with a narrative, but it has to be replaced by something – not just a brooding silence and darkened, sombre rooms. The dancing sequences are delightful – but Mari has no dramatic arc or any significant character development  – even Charlotte’s pregnancy is couched in a moody cocktail of indifference. 

DoP Adam Scarth echoes the general feeling of misery in the semi-darkness with medium shots, his images are more or less unremarkable. Maxine Doyle’s choreography  instills a much needed passion and originality highlighted by the atmospheric original score. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 21 JUNE 2019    

Karlovy Vary Film Festival | 28 June – 6 July 2019

Set in the peaceful charm of the former Bohemia, Karlovy Vary was once known as Marienbad. The annual Film Festival is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the World dating back to 1946. It is backed by the Ministry of Culture and hosted by the Grand Hotel Pupp. But most of the screenings take place in the Brutalist concrete Hotel Thermal which has now become somewhat of an iconic tribute to the country’s years under Communism. 

The 54th edition has unveiled the first competition titles in the Official Selection, East of the West and Documentary sections. Twelve films with compete for coveted Crystal Globe – 10 world premieres and two international premieres.

Cambodian-born, UK director Hong Khaou will be there to present his follow-up to the rather delicate LGBTQ drama  debut Lilting, (2014). Monsoon stars Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) whose return to Vietnam is a stressful homecoming. Chinese director Zhai Yixiange’s Mosaic Portrait also joins the line-up along with a psychological drama Lara from German director Jan Ole Gerster and Martha Stephens’ black and white coming of age 1960s-set drama To the Stars. Slovenia’s Damjan Kozole, who won Best Director 2016 for Nightlife, returns with Half-Sister; and the competition also features a Chilean comedy Sci-fi from Felipe Ríos The Man From The Future and a Spanish drama from Jonas Trueba’s August Virgin. Patrick is the first film from Belgium’s Tim Mielants in a comedy drama starring Jan Bijvoet (Embrace of the Serpent). Turkey’s Kivanc Sezer’s La Belle Indifference adds more fun to the competition line-up.

OFFICIAL SELECTION – COMPETITION

The Father (Bul-Gre) – World premiere
Director: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov

Patrick / Patrick (Bel) – World premiere
Director: Tim Mielants

The Man from the Future (Chi) – World premiere
Director: Felipe Ríos

La Belle Indifference (Tur) – World premiere
Director: Kıvanç Sezer

Lara (Ger) – World premiere
Director: Jan Ole Gerster

Mosaic Portrait (Chi) – World premiere
Director: Yixiang Zhai

Monsoon (UK) – World premiere
Director: Hong Khaou

Let There Be Light (Slo-Cze) – World premiere
Director: Marko Škop

Ode to Nothing (Phi) – International premiere
Director: Dwein Baltazar

Half-Sister (Slo-Mac-Ser-Cro) – World premiere
Director: Damjan Kozole

To the Stars (USA) – International premiere
Director: Martha Stephens

The August Virgin (Spa) – World premiere
Director: Jonás Trueba

EAST OF THE WEST

The East of the West brings the creme de la creme of East European films to the wooded Czech town and its usually very strong with some promising debut. This year opens with a Kosovan feature debut from Lendita Zeqiraj. Highlights this year include Ukrainian director Antonio Lukich’s  My Thoughts Are Silent, Kosovo director Lendita Zeqiraj’s female centric drama, Aga’s House, and Serhat Karassian’s Turkish prison drama, Passed by Censor.

Last Visit (Sau) – World premiere
Director: Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan

Arrest (Rom) – International premiere
Director: Andrei Cohn

The Bull (Rus) – International premiere
Director: Boris Akopov

Passed by Censor (Tur) – International premiere
Director: Serhat Karaaslan

Silent Days (Slo-Cze) – World premiere
Director: Pavol Pekarčík

Mamonga (Ser-Bos-Mon) – World premiere
Director: Stefan Malešević

My Thoughts Are Silent (Ukr) – World premiere
Director: Antonio Lukich

Nova Lituania (Lit) – World premiere
Director: Karolis Kaupinis

Aga’s House (Kos-Cro-Fra-Alb) – World premiere
Director: Lendita Zeqiraj

Scandinavian Silence (Est-Fra-Bel) – European premiere
Director: Martti Helde

A Certain Kind of Silence (Cze-Net-Lat) – World premiere
Director: Michal Hogenauer

Zizotek (Gre) – World premiere
Director: Vardis Marinakis

DOCUMENTARY FILMS – COMPETITION

The 11-strong documentary strand features eight world premieres. Highlights will include Spoon (of the plastic variety) from Latvian filmmaker Laila Pakalnina; Over The Hills from award-winning Czech documentarian Martin Mareček (Solar Eclipse). and Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 with archive footage from Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

17 Blocks (USA) – European premiere
Director: Davy Rothbart

Apollo 11 (USA) – Czech premiere
Director: Todd Douglas Miller

The Fading Village (China) – World premiere
Director: Liu Feifang

Over the Hills (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Martin Mareček

Up to Down (Ita) – World premiere
Director: Nazareno Manuel Nicoletti

In the Arms of Morpheus (Net) – World premiere
Director: Marc Schmidt

Spoon (Lat, Nor, Lit) – World premiere
Director: Laila Pakalniņa

Confucian Dream (Chi) – European premiere
Director: Mijie Li

Projectionist (Ukr-Pol) – World premiere
Director: Yuriy Shylov

The Last Autumn (Ice) – World premiere
Director: Yrsa Roca Fannberg

Immortal (Est-Lat) – World premiere
Director: Ksenia Okhapkina

Official Selection – Out of Competition

Mystify: Michael Hutchence (Aus) – European premiere
Director: Richard Lowenstein

Old-Timers (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Martin Dušek, Ondřej Provazník

The True Adventures of Wolfboy (USA) – World premiere
Director: Martin Krejčí

Special Events

The Sleepers (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Ivan Zachariáš

Forman vs. Forman (Cze-Fra)
Director: Helena Třeštíková, Jakub Hejna

Jiří Suchý – Tackling Life with Ease (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Olga Sommerová

The Downfall of the Secluded Berhof (Cze)
Director: Jiří Svoboda

Karlovy Vary INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 28 JUNE – 7 JULY 2019 

Edinburgh Film Festival 2019 – New Films

Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) is taking place between 19th and 30th June. This year the Festival will screen around 121 new features, including 18 feature film World Premieres from across the globe.

This year the focus is Spain and there will be a particular emphasis on genre films from women directors from around the world, ranging from gothic romance and Western chills through to science fiction and old-fashioned horror. All this set alongside a tribute to French filmmaker Agnès Varda, a woman who has inspired generations of directors.

There will be guests including one of Britain’s most successful directors, Danny Boyle, award-winning actor and producer Jack Lowden, British documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield and Scottish writer, director and actor Pollyanna McIntosh who also brings her latest film, Darlin’ to this year’s EIFF, and director, actor, writer and producer Icíar Bollaín. 

The festival will screen the world premiere of Adrian Noble’s Mrs Lowry & Son, starring Timothy Spall as the iconic painter L S Lowry, and Vanessa Redgrave. The Black Forest described as a ‘love letter to Europe’ from writer-director Ruth Platt; and coming-of-age supernatural love story Carmilla from director Emily Harris.

The EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES strand features: Elfar Adalsteins’ End of Sentence where a bickering father and son from America take a road trip in Ireland; The Emperor of Paris starring Vincent Cassel will receive its UK Premiere at the Festival alongside Rudolph Herzog’s amusing How to Fake a War starring Katherine Parkinson and Aniara, an epic science-fiction drama about a passenger spaceship lost in the void, as well as titles including Barbara Vekarić’s Aleksi from Croatia; Susanne Heinrich’s Aren’t You Happy? from Germany and Swiss psychological drama Cronofobia. Audiences can also look forward to the return of France’s favourite Gaul in Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion.

This year’s WORLD PERSPECTIVES strand offers audiences an exciting and challenging array of new works by talented filmmakers from around the world. Highlights include: the World Premieres of Astronaut, starring Richard Dreyfuss as a lonely widower who dreams of a trip to space and Rodrigo Guerrero’s Venezia. Australian cinema features prominently this year with the acclaimed Acute Misfortune, a striking, brilliant and unconventional portrait of one of Australia’s most acclaimed and idiosyncratic painters, Adam Cullen; Other highlights include two South Korean action-adventure masterclasses in the form of Unstoppable and box office smash Extreme Job.

This year’s DOCUMENTARIES programme reflects the ability of documentary film to amaze, inspire, challenge, provoke and fascinate audiences, offering them the unique chance to travel the world and see strange and unusual sights. Strand highlights include:Memory: The Origins of Alien, a fascinating documentary about the making of Alien from the very beginning; This Changes Everything which examines the problems faced by women filmmakers and features interviews with Hollywood greats including Geena Davis, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Taraji P. Henson, Reese Witherspoon and Cate Blanchett; Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk narrated by former caddie Bill Murray and Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, from Nick Broomfield, giving audiences an insight into Leonard Cohen’s love affair with Marianne Ihlen. 

This year’s retrospective strand entitled ONCE UPON A TIME IN SPAIN, will explore Spain’s rich cinematic history through three strands: A Retrospective Celebration of Modern Spanish Cinema; A Retrospective Selection of Cult Spanish Cinema and an in-depth celebration of the work of legendary Spanish writer, actor and filmmaker, Icíar Bollaín. Designed to begin where the retrospective ends, FOCUS ON SPAIN features a selection of brand new Spanish cinema by some of the country’s most promising directors. Highlights include: Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles from Salvador Simó, an accomplished and fitting homage to the great master of surrealist cinema; the directorial debut from Nicolás Pacheco Cages and gripping sci-fi thriller h0us3 from Manolo Munguía, inspired by the mysterious ‘insurance files’ famously employed by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. 

The Festival will screen a number of films by the late great Agnès Varda across a retrospective strand entitled THE FEATURES OF AGNÈS and Varda by Agnès, her final film which will be introduced by Honorary Patron Mark Cousins.

Audiences can look forward to a whistle-stop tour of the latest ideas and techniques being explored in the world of animated film in the International Animation selection, as part of the Festival’s annual dedicated ANIMATION strand, as well as a screening of an anthology of anime shorts from the Japanese Studio Ponoc – the anticipated successor to Studio Ghibli – in association with Scotland Loves Anime.

If the weather holds there will be a free open-air cinema event, Film Fest in the City with Edinburgh Live, at St Andrew Square Garden, running from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th June 2019.

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 19-30 JUNE 2019 

 

Dirty God (2019) **

Dir: Sacha Polak | Wri: Susie Farrell | Cast: Vicky Knights, Eliza Brady-Girard, Rebecca Stone, Dana Marineci | Drama, 114′

Random acid attacks reflect the expression of generalised angst and have been recorded since the late 19th century throughout European cities. DIRTY GOD, the first English language feature by Dutch director/co-writer Sacha Polak (Hemer), is daring and questionable in equal parts.

Told uncompromisingly in a style that somehow blurs the boundaries between openness and voyeurism, it incorporates the looks-obsessed instagram polemic that sees a London based woman disfigured by chemicals. Fiesty first timer Vicky Knight plays Jade, the woman in question. Her looks prior to the attack are the main currency for her existence as a young young mother with limited education and opportunities. So predictably Jade (Knight) seeks solace in the precarious world of online liaisons where she soon finds the passion and connection she’s craved for so long. But there is a downside to these internet meetings and her personal life soon starts its downhill progression, as family life and friendships start to be affected by her change of circumstances.

We first see parts of Jade on the day she is released from the hospital in London. Her face and upper body scarred, the camera does not leave any doubts as to the extent of her injuries, and she returns to the East London council estate where her mother Lisa (Kelly) awaits her with her little daughter Rea (Brady- Girard), the latter screaming in fear when her mother tries to cuddle her. Jade’s best friend Shami (Stone) is now with Jade’s ex, Naz (Robinson), yet the relationship between the Jade and Naz stays unresolved. Jade takes to chat rooms, leaving her face in the dark. To get money for a ‘miracle’ operation in Morocco, she works as a telemarketer, having to put up with some nasty comments about her appearance. As we all knew, the Morocco ad was a con, and we follow every step of Jade’s trip to Africa – used by Polak to get to a constructed ending.

DoP Ruben Impens is unsparing, relentlessly sharing every detail.  And alhough some of the dream sequences are clumsy, we have to admire newcomer Vicky Knight who suffered scars from burning when she was a child, and acts with great passion. But overall this an uncomfortable film to watch: when does honesty becomes an embarrassment? After all, Knight is a real victim, but a feature film is still a work of fiction. It is not easy to decide where to come down in this argument. At best, the ambiguity is open to interpretation, with the audience making up their minds. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 7 JUNE 2019 NATIONWIDE.

Mountain films during the Weimar years: Beyond your Wildest Dreams

In spite of a new revisionist film history, which tries to exonerate the BERGFILM sub-genre from its close connection with Fascist ideology, the filmmakers of the Weimar years and their chosen subjects were close allies of German Fascism – and Leni Riefenstahl was arguably its leading film propagandist. Attempting to link the Bergfilm with what Kracauer called “Streetfilms”, is aesthetically and content wise a dishonest bid to rewrite (film)history. Streetfilms were set in big cities where the male protagonist falls for a sexually alluring woman from a lower social class, only to be roped back to roost in his middle-class milieu by figures of authority. The Bergfilm might feature alluring women (Riefenstahl certainly qualified), but the narrative comes to very different solutions, and this is amply demonstrated in Luis Trenker’s The Prodigal Son (Der verlorene Sohn, 1932), which sees the hero falling for an alluring ‘foreign’ woman, who embroils his in the traumas of big city life before he escapes triumphantly back to his home in the mountains to become an upright citizen and family man. You don’t have to take my word for it – Dr. Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary during a visit to the mountains: “That was my yearning; for all the divine solitude and calm of the mountains, for white, virginal (sic!) snow, I was weary of the big city. I am at home again in the mountains. I spent many hours in their white unspoiltness and find myself again”.

There is a strong link between Anti-Urbanism, unspoilt elements of nature, destiny (in German ‘Vorsehung’, Hitler’s favourite phrase) and a surrender to irrational values: exactly the cinema which Kracauer describes in his ground breaking text. Yes, there was modern technology: telescopes and microscopes – and airplanes. But one look at Riefenstahl’s films of the Nazi Party get togethers in Nuremberg (Sieg des Glaubens, Triumph des Willens) shows the underlying irrationality: after we have seen the city full of “believers”, Hitler comes down from the sky in a plane. A demi-God, winged like in Greek mythology, he flies into the world to make it sane (heil) again. In German the phrase of ‘heile Welt’ is still used to define a system without any contradiction, perfect by definition. In comparing the Nazi regime with eternal nature, all clean and sane, its opponents are immediately categorised as unclean. In the case of Jews, they were vermin, to be eradicated. 

Director Arnold Fanck (1889-1974) can be called the father of the Bergfilm. His features with Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003), a former ballerina, are the bedrock of the sub-genre: Der Heilige Berg (main picture) in 1926), Der grosse Sprung (1927), Die weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü (and its sound remake in 1938); Stürme über dem Montblanc  (1930) and Der grosse Rausch (1931). In 1932 Riefenstahl became star, producer, director with Das Blaue Licht, written by Bela Balasz. Balasz, often called a progressive, was anything but. He might have been, perhaps, politically on the opposite end of the spectrum from Riefenstahl, but his aesthetics were very much influenced by Stalin’s realism which censored and destroyed the directors of the early post-revolutionary era. And it’s no coincidence that in Fall of Berlin (Mikheil Chiaureli, 1950), Stalin (all in white) would also come down from the sky in a plane to greet his followers like a Messiah.

As far as the Die weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü is concerned, it was described by a contemporary critic from ‘The Frankfurter Zeitung’ as having a “seductive force, the mysterious power of the mountains, forcing people into inescapable dependency. The mountain rages, and demands sacrifices”. What it does fails to mention is that Riefenstahl’s Hella comes between two men, ending their friendship and forcing the aforementioned sacrifice. Here the mountain is shown as a noble monster, very much like the dragon in Siegfried. 

Das Blaue Licht won an award in Venice and convinced Hitler that Riefenstahl should direct the Nuremberg rally documentaries. A post war critic in the ‘Cine-Club de Toulouse’ wrote in 1949, picking up on the Siegfried theme: “It is the always eternal topic of Siegfried, as the young hero. Because always the young men are ready to sacrifice their lives, and only have contempt for everything, which does not omply with their ideas. This is a feature seen entirely from the viewpoint of Nazi ideology. We find the same sort of youth enthusiasm seen in Riefenstahl’s Nuremberg documentaries. Young people joined in with the hope that the regime would reward them because of their racial purity”.

A German critic in 1932 had a very different impression: “A slow journey of images like in the fables of old, like paintings, composed in magical light. Leni Riefenstahl looks magical and almost surreal, a creature not from this planet, but a Mountain Fairy. She alone is enough to give this this feature an otherworldly, touching charm.”

And then the Mountain Fairy came down from her world, and staged the Party Congress. AS

BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS | MOUNTAIN FILMS FROM THE WEIMAR ERA 

      

             

   

Once in Trubchevsk (2019) ** Un Certain Regard | Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Larisa Sadilova | Comedy Drama | Russia 80′

In her chronicle of life in a Russian village Larisa Sadilova has tried to integrate ethnographical elements with a predictable story of marital discontent. The result is rather a lightweight comedy drama that sits uncomfortably in its wonderful rural setting, trivialising the community’s more interesting past.

Feint echoes of Andrey Konchalovsky’s impressive village drama Postman’s White Nights (2014) rapidly fade away within the opening scenes – this is a beast of a different colour, and not nearly as resonant or memorable.

The story unfolds during a year in Trubchevsk on Russia’s Western border with Europe, known for its Jewish craftsmen who fled or were massacred in 1941, along with the old and mentally ill. Buxom blond knitwear designer Anna (Kristina Schneider) is unhappily married to Yura (Yury Kisilyov) with a young daughter. She relies on hitchhiking in passing vehicles to ply her trade in the nearby towns. One day she jumps aboard her neighbour’s lorry and one thing leads to another.

This a place full of gossip and bored housewives. But Anna (Kristina Schneider) manages to keep her affair undercover for a time. Her long distance truck driver lover (Egor Barinov) keeps promising to leave his wife Tamara (Maria Semyonova) and their son, but hopes he can have his cake and eat it (“everything will work out”), so they find somewhere to conduct the affair, renting an idyllic wooden house from an old lady who shares stories of how she dealt with her own difficult marriage and this provides a source of humour in the otherwise facile story: (“keep your mouth full of water, then you won’t say too much”).

Anna’s unsuspecting husband believes that away on work trip to Moscow, but when her lover’s truck breaks down, events come to a head. Sadilova exposes the sad nativity of some marital affairs. Consumed with their lust for each other, the two haven’t really thought things through. The only wise women are the village elders who at least have the upper hand in the family, the younger ones are spirited but lack the independence to really follow their dreams, and they still pander to the males, making them rather sad and unfulfilled.

All this plays out against a far more important story, Trubchevsk’s preparations to mark the 75th anniversary of the town’s liberation from the Nazis. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2019

 

 

 

 

 

Heroes Don’t Die (2019) **** Semaine de la Critique 2019

Dir.: Aude Léa Rapin; Cast: Couzinè Haenel, Antonia Buresi, Jonathan Couzinè, Hasija Boric, Vesna Stilinovic; France, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina 2019, 85 min.

Aude Léa Rapin’s feature debut drama is certainly a unique undertaking. Led by a terrific performance from Adele Haenel (The Unknown Girl) it explores re-incarnation, hope and forgiveness to deliver a passionate conclusion amid the emotional ruins of war.

The films opens with Joachim (Jo) (Couzinè) bursting into the Parisian apartment of his filmmaker friend Alice (Haenel), to report that he might be the reincarnation of a solider who died in Bosnia in August 1983 –  Joachim’s own birthday. Or at least that’s what he has just been told by a man on the street corner. It soon emerges that Alice has spent a long time looking into the aftermath of the Balkan crisis which led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. But she’s not convinced about Joachim’s claims, or his ‘nightmares’ about his military past. Jo is adamant that these are no ordinary bad dreams. So Alice packs her filmmaking equipment and sets off with her sound designer Antonia (Buresi) to Sarajevo, hoping to find a basis for Jo’s former identity as Zoran Tadic, only to discover that the tragedy is by no means over.

On entering the suburbs, they find the mass graves of the victims, with new bodies buried in small coffins – the identifications of victims still going on – often more than 8000 civilians were killed per day. Alice accuses Jo of having made it all up, but then she remembers that a cardiologist did say that Jo could die at any moment after his 35th birthday due to a chronic heart condition. They meet one of Alice’s former sources who takes them to the – now – dilapidated bob sleigh track, used at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. They learn, that the track was once the frontline between the two war factions. Later they meet Hajra (Boric), another of Alice’s acquaintances from her war time reporting. And soon she discovers that a beekeeper living on the outskirts of the town of Brutonac, had a husband called Zoran Tadic, who was a soldier in the war. Here the finale is both devastating and breath-taking.

This is a moody, enigmatic drama touched by eternal sadness and Haenel keeps it all together as the deus ex machina of this experiment in poetry, essay and history lesson all rolled in to one. In the end, the audience has to decide if re-incarnation is simple a device for escaping from our sins.AS

SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019      

Atlantique (2019) ** Cannes Film Festival

Dir: Mati Diop | Wri: Olivier Demangel | Cast: Traore, Mame Sane, Aminata Kane | Drama 104′

Mati Diop, now 36, is one of the four women, and the only black female director in this year’s Cannes competition line-up. With a French mother and Senegalese father, she grew up in Paris and rose to fame with Simon Killer going on to film, direct and write several short films. Her Dakar-set debut feature Atlantics sees a young girl trapped by her love for an unpaid construction worker and her arranged marriage to a glib entrepreneur.

This Palme d’Or hopeful is similar in many ways to Diop’s short film Atlantiques (2009) and also echoes Alain Gomis’ Aujourd’hui (2012) in its glorious setting by Dakar’s Atlantic coast, atmospherically shot by Claire Mathon. Mame Sane makes for an impressive lead as the feisty but vulnerable central character Ada, but there are tonal inconsistencies and Diop’s attempt to fuse the social realism of the early scenes with the magic realist elements of the final half feel unconvincing and may leave many viewers bewildered.

A confident beginning sees construction workers on the rampage. They have been building the tall skyscraper that gives the city the skyline of a smaller version of Dubai, but are owed  three months’ pay. Assurances from the foreman that the boss, Mr. N’Diaye (Diankou Sembene) will pay up, fall on deaf ears. One of the worker, Souleiman (Traore), meets up with with 17-year-old Ada and the two share passionate embraces on the beach. But this doomed romance is bound to fail: Ada has been betrothed to Omar, a rich man who shuttles between Dakar and Italy, and the wedding is in a few days Meanwhile Souleiman has decided to take off in a pirogue with his mates hoping to find better luck in Spain.

Ada finds out about all this when she meets him later in a bar on the beach run by her friend Dior (Nicole Sougou). Her other friends Fanta (Amina Kane) and Mariama (Mariama Gassama) will be bereft now that the men are leaving town. They have all used their feminine wiles to get ahead financially and this is described by Diop as “Afro capitalist neo-feminism.” And when they see Ada’s new home they are deeply envious, she is utterly unimpressed and actively rebels against the wedding .

Luckily for Ada, someone deeply objects to the horrendous white polyester Louis XV bedroom and set fire to the whole property, although no-one is harmed. The police officer assigned to investigate, Issa (Amadou Mbow), proves unworthy of his job and seems to be suffering unexplained blackouts as proceedings take on a surreal twist with some of the characters developing white, zombie like eyes.

The supernatural soon invades the story as the film morphs into horror mode and the pacing slurs to Al Qadiri’s eerie scores that mixes electronics with African instruments. This tonal shift feels odd and take us by surprise as the action moves predominantly into the night with Diop making great use of the raging Atlantic sea that provides a malevolent background. Her inventive visual ideas mingle well with the film’s undertones of Islamist misogynism, post-imperialism and witch doctors; although these are not developed sufficiently, along with the enigmatic love story, despite the ample running time of nearly two hours. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 MAY 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bull (2019) *** Un Certain Regard

Dir: Annie Silverstein | Drama | 104′

Annie Silverstein’s feature debut is muscular filmmaking at its best: high on atmosphere the enigmatic narrative ebbs and flows but there’s no major dramatic heft just plenty of pulsating moments of tension.

The story centres on 14-year-old protagonist, Kris (Amber Havard), who has no father to speak of and a mother (Sara Albright) in prison; without anyone to guide her she hangs out with lowlifes in a downtrodden community — directionless and full of doubt. There are shades of The Rider and Bullhead here but none of that strong storytelling.

Guided by her grandmother (Keeli Wheeler) while her mother’s behind bars, she also takes care of her little sister. Her pit bull terrier menaces and kills the chickens belonging to her African-American neighbour, almost getting her a criminal record.  Abe (a towering Rob Morgan) decides not to press charges, on the proviso that Kris agrees to help out around the house. Abe was once a Bull Rider pro, but now works as a rodeo protection advisor, bating the bulls so they chase the cowboys. Naturally, he’s a hardbitten but appealing character and there’s a terrific scene where he stares down a bull as it cowers visibly in its pen. The focus gradually moves towards Abe and he carries the film along with Kris, who exudes vulnerability but also teenage nous.

BULL is certainly a powerful first film, so perhaps Silverstein will emerge with a stronger narrative next time, building on this impressive start with its appealing cinema vérité style. MT

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Too Late to Die Young (2018) ****

Dir/Writer: Demian Hernandez, Antar Machado, Magdalena Totoro, Antonia Zegers, Martias Oviedo | Chile | Drama | 110′

Chilean auteur Dominga Sotomayor follows her debut Thursday ’til Sunday with a freewheeling, semi-autobiographical cinema vérité story that soft-peddles through the winds of change expressed during a family New Year holiday on the cusp of Chile’s transition to democracy in 1990.

Themes of love, loss, belonging and owning are teased out through a lithe and loose-limbed interlude that takes place in the hills above Santiago where the outbreak of forest fires on the tinder dry landscape signal the death of the old and the ushering in of new forces for freedom that marked the nation’s break with Pinochet’s dictatorship.

But nothing could be less political than this woozy woodland reverie for teenagers Sofia and Lucas (16) and little Clara who now face fears of a more organic kind when their dog Frida suddenly disappears and their parents decide to part in the wake of the environmental tragedy.

Pictured in Inti Briones’ bleached out images the desiccated Summer landscape seem ready for some kind of regeneration and this gently embodied in Sotomayor clever writing and a select choice of musical hits that hark back to the era. Demian Hernandes makes her thoughtful debut as the musically-gifted and lovelorn Sofia leading a cast of mostly non-professional actors of all ages selected by the filmmaker and her casting director mother. Antonia Zegers (Elena) is the only well-known actress outside Chile.

If you’re looking for punchy plot lines, this female centric drama can at times feel a tad too enigmatic, and most of the characters, particulars the males, are suggested rather than fully developed. This sketchiness can be part of the film’s charm, providing you’re in the mood to surrender to the dreamy, bemusing complexities of young love and complicated relationships. The disappearance of the dog Frida/Cindy gives the film some direction and drama and also some of its wry humour as the outcome of this strand actually ends up being rather amusing. Delicately drawn, thoughtful and always perceptive, Sotomayor

Dominga Sotomayor made history by winning the Leopard for Best Director at the 71st Locarno Festival, making her the first female director to receive this award. She has that rare gift of lightness of touch, letting her drama take shape naturally marking her out as a real talent to watch out for. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 24 MAY 2019 

Go Where You Look! Falling off Snow Mountain (2019) Directors’ Fortnight 2019

Dirs: Laurie Anderson, Hsin-Chien Huang Virtual Reality Creation | US/China

Anderson and Hsin-Chien collaborate in three virtual reality installations presented together for the very first time at this year’s  Quinzaine.

If you’ve not experienced virtual reality it really is a transformative experience: Rather like diving you enter a whole new world, but with VR you can’t actually see your body during the process.

Laurie Anderson is a musician, filmmaker, writer, digital arts creative pioneer and, ultimately, a storyteller in the broadest sense. She discovered VR only recently and her new way of exploring narrative territories is a good way to start. New media artist Hsin-Chien Huang, who has a background in in art, design, and digital entertainment. His VR collaboration with Laurie Anderson was awarded the Best VR Experience in at Venice Film Festival in 2017. But they first worked together in 1995 on the CD-ROM Puppet Motel. 

AloftChalkroom and To the Moon, are three poetically linked and complementary pieces presented together, and each lasting around fifteen minutes. The sensory, poetic and technological dimensions of these three pieces are tightly intertwined and and considerably amplify our cinematic experience, and this one takes place in Le Suquet morgue, just to add a  surreal twist to the proceedings.

Rocking a very soigné Issy Miyake rigout, Anderson explains that there are no cameras or lenses involved in Go Where You Look and it all feels very physical and interactive, as the audience very much influence the outcome of each tour. You sit on a stool, pop on a headset and the show takes off. 

ALOFT is the nearest thing to experiencing a place crash – in the most serene way possible. As the sole passenger in the airline you begin to notice some shafts of light appearing in the ceiling and floor near the cockpit. Gradually the plane starts to fall apart, in a gentle way. Suddenly you’re floating in your seat towards what looks like a town with to connected rivers. The black box floats by, and soon other objects come into view and float by as you head towards a luminous vortex. If you grab them with your gloves paws, Laurie’s voice then tells a story. There’s a lily, a mobile ‘phone and a lump of coal. If you snatch the coal it turns out to be Mars and soon you’re hovering above the Martian landscape. A typewriter appears and you can write your name as the letters floats high up into the black stratosphere. Other experiences include a placid lake. Your hands soon turn into horses legs. 

TO THE MOON uses images and tropes from Greek mythology, literature, science, sci fi space mo- vies and politics to create an imaginary and dark new moon, and a more formal narrative structure. During the 15-minute VR experience, you take off from Earth and soar up towards the blackness which then becomes the surface of the Moon. The eeriest thing is being able to see Earth revolving with Europe stretching before you. You can then climb a lunar mountain before returning – eventually – to Earth, your two handsets guiding you forward, or even speeding you up. You see the Constellations, the Great Bear etc evaporating before your eyes. In Snow Mountain you actually climb the mountain before your virtual body dramatically tumbles away into deep space, Laurie Anderson’s voice chanting about not knowing where we all came from. In the Donkey Ride you the viewer trot along on the back of a donkey through the lunar landscape. Eventually you float up and away into a universe of stars that begins to explode like fireworks.

Certainly different and worth experiencing. Maybe one day virtual reality will be able to re-create experiences that are more personalised. For example you could embark on a world tour, or even be united with a long lost lover or a a friend of family member who has passed on. MT

QUINZAINE | 15 -24 May 2019 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019  

 

Float like a Butterfly (2018) ***

Dir: Carmel Winters | Drama | Ireland | 104′

Carmel Winters second feature is a poetic and gorgeously redolent coming of age drama set in the Emerald Isle of the 1960s where a young Irish Traveller has to contend with the death of her mother and an abusive father as she follows her dream of becoming a boxer like her idol Muhammad Ali.

Hazel Doupe gives a stunning performance as tomboy Hazel whose daily life in a wooden caravan with her younger brother and wayfarer father Michael (Dara Devaney) is fraught with altercations not only with the local Garda but also members of this feisty family and their old-fashioned attitudes towards gender roles that hamper her own natural pugilist talents.

With its universal themes Float Like A Butterfly has the rare quality of being utterly relevant today and yet quaintly traditional, its placid pacing capturing the slow-burning essence of a bygone era. Auteuse Carmel Winters’ writing and directing has a distinct lightness of touch which brings both gentleness and integrity to her storytelling. This is a drama that glows with the lush beauty of its verdant Irish setting untrammelled by time and enlivened by stirring folk music, suddenly catching fire in its final denouement. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 10 May 2019 | FIPRESCI PRIZE Winner | TIFF 2019

Madeline’s Madeline **** (2018)

Dir: Josephine Decker | US | 90′ | Drama | Cast: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Josephine Decker’s inventive, impressionistic dramas – Butter on the Latch (2013) /Though Wast Mild and Lovely (2014) are an acquired taste but one that marks her out as a distinctive female voice on the American indie circuit. And here she is at Berlinale again with a multi-layered mother and daughter tale that is probably her best feature so far. With a stunning central performance from newcomer Helena Howard and a dash of cinematic chutzpah that sends this soaring, Madeline’s Madeline is a thing of beauty, intoxicating to watch, compellingly chaotic and with a potently emotional storyline. It’s probably best described as a experimental drama set in an experimental theatre run by Evangeline (Molly Parker), who, at one point says to protege Madeline: “In all chaos there is a cosmos. In all disorder a secret order.” In other words, “there’s a method in the madness; a predictability to every unpredictability”. And this seemingly obtuse truism really sums up this most original of features.

Howard’s Madeline is an often precocious but highly gifted performer teenager and who is clearly on the spectrum but we are never quite sure of what mental condition or how much it affects her. Hospital visits are mentioned and medication is involved, and mother Regina (Miranda July) and daughter clearly have issues with each other. Evangeline has spotted the 16 year old’s talent to entertain, and is also nurturing and exploiting it, and the trio’s relationship becomes increasingly complex and unpredictable. Ashley Connor’s roving camera is all over the place creating a fluid feeling that is enjoyable, but also disorientating as Madeline becomes more and more powerful in this ingenious female ménage à trois. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 10 May 2019

 

High Life (2018) ****

Dir Claire Denis. Germany/France/US/UK/Poland. 2018. 110 mins

Women filmmakers are fascinated by Sci-Fi. Back in 1995 there was Kathryn Bigelow with Strange Days, Mimi Leder followed with Deep Impact, and Karyn Kusama with Aeon Flux (2005. Meanwhile in Europe, Lucile Hadzihalilovic brought us Evolution (2015) and Jessica Hausner has made this year’s Cannes Competition line-up with her thriller Little Joe (2019).

Claire Denis’s first foray into science-fiction is a cold, violent, enigmatic affair. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey springs to mind and so does Solaris but this is more brutal and provocative despite its lush colour spectrum and virtuoso visuals that come courtesy of Yorick Le Saux. Human desire and pent up sexual energy is expressed with a baleful malevolence that occasionally erupts into livid outbursts. But many will struggle to comprehend its fractured narrative, arcane motives and curious timeframe, despite it being Denis’ first English language feature, you come away none the wiser but bemused and enriched and by its visual allure.

Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche anchor an eclectic cast which includes Agata Buzek (The Innocents). He plays the most sympathetic, accessible character – Monte – who is stranded in a spaceship after a gruelling mission that has left him with a gurgling baby daughter who needs to be cared for. And this he does well. The spaceship has a lush vegetable garden, the only natural environment to speak of, with juicy courgettes and cabbages kept alive by an ambient mist.

There is a strange sense of danger brought on by the feeling that something tragic has happened leaving the rest of the crew to stifle and repress their bitter resentment and lightly veiled hostility towards one another, made worse by their claustrophobic surroundings. Flashbacks vaguely allude to this sense of unsettlement but no explanation is offered.

The space ship is bound on a journey to reach the nearest black hole to planet Earth. Binoche plays Dibs and has clearly asked Denis to give her a complex and foxy role and she excels with her black glossy tresses and zip-up uniform that reveals plenty of cleavage. There’s an odd scene where she mounts a steel phallus, having careful slipped a Durex over it, her muscular body girating in feral pleasure. She seems to be conducting some sort of sexual reproduction experiment on the crew, and is called “the shaman of semen” as she’s tasked with injecting the women with semen produced by the men in a cubicle. None of them seems very keen on the idea or why it’s being done in the confines of the spaceship. She even forces the slumbering Monte to capitulate by mounting him and then extracting the fluid with a large pipette and injecting it into another sleeping inmate.

As Monte gets rid of a growing mound of corpses, we realise that the crew’s mutual hostility has actually ended in tears. As he pushes the bodies out of the craft the sound of silence is one of the gratifying high points, courtesy of Stuart Staples (Minute Bodies). The scenes in Space are straight out of 2001, or even Gravity (2013). Robert Pattinson and his child who eventually reaches puberty during  are the only sympathetic characters in a film which is clever and daring but ultimately leaves you empty. Such is Space. MT

HIGH LIFE IS ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 17 MAY 2019

 

Sundance London 2019 | 30 May – 2 June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more at picturehouses.com/sundance

 

Dead Good (2018) ***

Dir: Rehana Rose | UK Doc

Death has lightened up according to a new documentary that aims to deal with the dark taboo surrounding our final exit. Dead Good visits a series of Brighton women who are now offering practical ways to process the aftermath of death in a surprisingly serene and filmic ‘made for TV’ style. Rose also helps lift the lid on the funeral director’s job showing how nowadays families and loved ones can be in charge, rather than feeling like captive mourners, left to flounder in a well of emotion.

Bamboozled and grieving after the death of a family member, the obvious thing is to rush to the nearest funeral parlour who will invariably offer an expensive and often exploitative procedure for dispatching your loved one. Then there’s the religious ceremony and all that involves. Not to mention the legal and civic requirements. But it’s’ not always been this way. In the past the corpse was often kept at home prior to the funeral, so loved ones had a chance to their come to terms with their grief and spend time with the physical body, often actually preparing it for burial, while coming to t terms with their emotional bereavement.

One of the ‘funeral specialists’ we meet is Cara who set up her practice 20 years ago after experiencing the traditional funeral sector and then training to be a freelance embalmer (the process is shown on a mock-up comic video). Not surprisingly, she found embalming invasive and unnecessary, and only vital if the body is being transported great distances. But her intention to empower, rather than take over in this most private of affairs, is what gave her to idea to start her business. And ‘empowerment is the watchword of the other specialists who appear.  On the religious side, we also meet quirky parish priest Peter, who may have been the inspiration for the Sophie Waller Bridge’s vicar in the TV comedy Fleabag – although Andrew Scott is infinitely more relatable.

There is no narrative structure as such, the film is here to inform and enlighten with statements such as “everyone can have a meaningful funeral that is affordable and personal”. Musical choices mostly feel intrusive and counterintuitive. Dead Good works best when it focuses on the practicalities of dealing with the post mortem process and the funeral options rather than on the personal stories which feel too personal, although thankfully Rose maintains an unsentimental and candid approach throughout. Dead Good also shows how nowadays individuals can fulfil the dead person’s preferences as to their ceremony, coffin etc. And here Cara points out that in most cultures death preparations have traditionally been, and still are women’s work – wouldn’t you know it!. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 10 May 2019.

 

Cannes 2019 – Final additions…

COMPETITION SCREENINGS 

Thierry Fremaux hinted that there may be final additions to the official line-up and here they are – with his comments.

Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino (2 hrs 45)

“We were afraid the film would not be ready, as it wouldn’t be ready until late July, but Quentin Tarantino, who has not left the editing room in four months, is a real, loyal and punctual child of Cannes! He’ll definitely be at Cannes this year, as he was  Inglourious Basterds,  – 25 years after the Palme d’or for Pulp Fiction – with a finished film screened in 35mm and his cast in tow (Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt). His film is a love letter to the Hollywood of his childhood, a rock music tour of 1969, and an ode to cinema as a whole.

He added: “In addition to thanking Quentin and his crew for spending days and nights in the editing room, the Festival wants to give special thanks to the teams at Sony Pictures, who made all of this possible.”

Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo by Abdellatif Kechiche (4 hrs)

French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche returns to Cannes with the Intermezzo of Mektoub, my Love six years after his Palme d’or with La Vie d’Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Color). The groundwork for this saga storytelling and extraordinary portrait of French youth in the 90s was laid in his Canto Uno, and it will be a pleasure to see its cast again.”

MIDNIGHT SCREENING

Lux Æterna by Gaspar Noé (50 min)

“Two actresses, Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg, are on a film set telling stories about witches – but that’s not all. Lux Æterna is also an essay on cinema, the love of film, and on-set hysterics. It’s a brilliant fast-paced medium-length film for Gaspar Noé’s return – an unexpected one until recently – to the Official Selection, for a film that the Selection Committee watched at the last minute and which will be shown in a Midnight Screening as hyped as it is mysterious.”

UN CERTAIN REGARD

La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia by Lorenzo Mattotti (1 hr 22)

“Adapted from Dino Buzzati’s children’s book, this animated film by illustrator and comic book author Lorenzo Mattotti is a visual extravaganza, whose graphic ingenuity and colour work will delight much wider audiences than the fans of the Italian master. With Italian voices by Toni Servillo, Antonio Albanese, and Andrea Camilleri, and French voices by Leïla Bekthi, Arthur Dupont, and Jean-Claude Carrière. Like the other Un Certain Regard film in animation Les Hirondelles de Kaboul (The Swallows of Kabul) by Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobbé-Mevellec, La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia will also be competing next June at the acclaimed Annecy International Animated Film Festival.”

Odnazhdy v Trubchevske by Larissa Sadilova (1h30)

“Russian filmmaker Larissa Sadilova, who already directed six features, hadn’t shot a film in several years. She is back with this “chronicle from the village of Troubtchevsk”, evoking the feelings of love in the contemporary Russian countryside, shooting characters played by her formidable actors with refined direction and a gentle eye. Women aspirations, their patience, the courage that has to be displayed towards an always illusory emancipation, desire, frustration, and a certain sense of immemorial fatalism are all examined, acutely and without weight. It will be the first time the Festival de Cannes welcomes Larissa Sadilova.”

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Chicuarotes by Gael García Bernal (1 hr 35)

“A full-fledged member of Mexico’s exceptionally talented generation, a first-rate actor in films by Iñárritu and Cuarón, Gael García Bernal, along with Diego Luna, is a devotee of Cannes, where he was on the Jury in 2014. Chicuarotes is the actor’s second feature film where he takes a deep dive into Mexican society with a story about teenagers that is an affectionate portrayal, continuing in Mexican cinema’s tradition to pay homage to its eternal country, film after film.”

La Cordillera de los sueños by Patricio Guzmán (1 hr 24)

“Patricio Guzmán left Chile more than 40 years ago when the military dictatorship took over the democratically-elected government, but he never stopped thinking about a country, a culture, and a place on the map that he never forgot. After covering the North in Nostalgia for the Light and the South in The Pearl Button, his shots get up-close with what he calls “the vast revealing backbone of Chile’s past and recent history.” La Cordillera de los sueños is a visual poem, an historical inquiry, a cinematographic essay, and magnificent personal exercise in soul-searching.”

Ice on Fire by Leila Conners (1 hr 38)

“In 2007, Leila Conners screened The 11th Hour at Cannes, a hard-hitting documentary about climate change produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. The Festival screens conflict documentaries as part of a strong and proud tradition, like it also did with An Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim, which won an Oscar and earned Al Gore a Nobel Peace Prize. Twelve years later as the alarm bells are still multiplying all around the world (and more!), Leila Conners and Leonardo DiCaprio teamed up again on the same topic to make a film with an eloquent title: Ice on Fire. ”

5B by Dan Krauss (1 hr 33)

“In the 1980s, only a number and letter were used to designate a ward at San Francisco General Hospital, the first in the country to treat patients with AIDS. While a portion of society saw these patients as pariahs, the male and female caregivers in 5B chose a different route. This film is their story.

Directed by Dan Krauss, 5B is a film about a past that questions our present. It will be distributed in the United States, all around the world, and in France, which in October will be hosting the world conference for all fund-raisers donating money over the next three years to fight HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. U2 singer Bono has been a fervent champion of the cause – and of this film, which he will be coming to Cannes to support.”

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14 – 25 MAY 2019 

Canada Now Week 2019

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

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

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

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

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

http://canadanow.co.uk/

Cannes Film Festival –

Thierry Frémaux (now general delegate) has unveiled the 2019 official selection. And this year’s Cannes looks to be a glittering number with plenty of real stars gracing the Croisette (Elton John, Isabelle Huppert, Tilda Swinton and Claude Lelouch), four female filmmakers in the main Competition line-up which strikes a good balance of well known auteurs and new filmmakers – and some promising British Films: Dexter Fletcher’s biopic Rocketman; Asif Kapadia new documentary about his hero Diego Maradona, and another dose of dour social realism from Ken Loach. Cannes and Netflix are still at loggerheads – in the best possible way – but where would Cannes be without a little controversy to hit to headlines…

The four Palme d’Or hopefuls directed by women are— Mati Diop’s Atlantique (she was memorable in Simon Killer);Jessica Hausner’s Sci-fi-ish debut Little Joe stars Ben Whishaw and Emily Beecham in a story set in the world of genetic engineering (left); Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (with its all female cast) and Justine Triet’s Sibyl a psychotherapist themed drama which has distinct echoes of Ozon‘s l’Amant Double. Infact, 13 of the 51 filmmakers (about 25%) are women. And Thierry intends to continue with the trend.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won the festival’s directing prize for Babel in 2006 will head up the jury. This year’s official poster (above) pays tribute to the director Agnès Varda, who died last month at age 90, and features an image from her final film La Pointe Courte. And for the first time ever, the opening film Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die will also play in competition. Styled as a zombie comedy is has a superb cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny and Tilda Swinton.

Also in the main competition is Pedro Almodovar with Pain and Glory described as a fictionalised auto-biopic. He’s be nominated before but never won the Palme so it would be a feather in the Oscar winner’s cap. Canadian Xavier Dolan is back with a Quebec-set drama Matthias and Maxime. Il Traditore is Marco Bellocchio’s drama about Tommaso Buscetta the first mafia informant in 1980’s Sicily. Ira Sachs’s Frankie is set in the bewitching town of Sintra which will add another dimension to the story starring festival doyenne Isabelle Huppert along with Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear and Jérémie Renier. Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu tries his hand at comedy with The Whistlers which unites him once again with Vlad Ivanov (Hier and Sunset). Ladj Ly is the only first time filmmaker on the comp list and he brings a drama expanded from his 2017 short entitled Les Miserables about the Seine-Saint-Denis anti-crime brigade. Veteran favourites The Dardennes Brothers will be there will Muslim-themed Young Ahmed. Malick’s A Hidden Life (aka Radegund) explores the life of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian conscientious objector to the Third Reich who was executed in 1943 and contains final performances from Michael Nqyvist and Bruno Ganz, sadly no longer with us.

Other directors returning to competition include Oh Mercy, a Roubaix-set crime drama from Arnaud Desplechin and a family drama from South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho (Okja). And Cannes regular Kleber Mendonça Filho co-directs his latest (with Juliano Dornelle), a horror film entitled Bacurau.

Un Certain Regard sidebar has films from Catalan auteur Albert Serra – Liberté – and The Wild Goose Lake, a Chinese thriller by Diao Yinan (Black Coal, Thin Ice). Bruno Dumont’s follow up to Maid of Orleans story Jeannette (2017) is simply called Joan of Arc. 

And where would Cannes be without the megastars of the Riviera? Double Oscar-winning Claude Lelouch claimed the Palme d’Or back in 1966 with the iconic Un Homme et Une Femme. And he follows this up with the same classic duo in The Best Years of a Life (Out of Competition) uniting Jean-Louis Trintignant with Anouk Aimée. Veteran heavyweights Abel Ferrara and Werner Herzog also join the party.

TV-wise there will be a chance to sample Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 10-parter  Too Old to Die Young. Venice started the TV-streaming service trend, and Cannes has now joined the bandwagon.

Thierry Frémaux left the press conference with his usual cheeky promise that other titles will soon be announced. And everyone was excited to hear that these could include Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood exploring the final years of the Golden Era with a starry line-up of Al Pacino, Leonard DiCaprio, Dakota Fanning and Margot Robbie.

For the time being no Netflix films will be included in the Palme d’Or competition, indeed the streaming giant does not have a film ready in time to be presented this year. Martin Scorsese has declared that special affects have delayed his entry of The Irishman which was very much on the cards for Thierry Frémaux and Pierre Lescure, and will now most likely appear at Venice.

Other regulars and possible contenders are Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems and the latest from Noah Baumach and Ad Astra from James Gray. So watch this space. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14 -25 MAY 2019

Jury

Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Elle Fanning

Maimouna N’Diaye

Kelly Reichardt

Alice Rohracher

Enki Bilal

Robin Campillo

Yorgo Lanthimos

Pawel Pawlikowski

 

Risk (2016/17) ***

Director: Laura Poitras | 87min | Documentary | France 

Citizenfour director Laura Poitras offers this close-up and personal portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange which was five years in the making and has been updated since its Directors’ Fortnight premiere at Cannes 2016. Yet it still feels unfinished as events surrounding its subject matter continue to evolve.

Gaining access to the powerhouse where Julien Assange works with his ‘team’ composed of  girlfriend Sarah Harrison and mouthy WikiLeaks technology geek Jacob Appelbaum, we see Assange rocking a range of diverse disguises from orange hair and coloured contacts to a goatee beard and beany hat, he cuts a slippery rather glib figure capable of wriggling out of situation. Despite his pasty and porcine features, he’s also very keen on himself and holds forth in long monologues of self-righteous, albeit articulate, blether that does nothing to make us warm to his rather sinister brand of ‘charm’.

Not only has Assange has been charged with spying by the United States and has a number of rape charges against him running in Sweden, he offers classified information to the world, and has his (clearly besotted) girlfriend attempt to call up Hillary warning her of with an imminent ’emergency’ situation while sitting comfortably in the privacy of his Norfolk mansion.

Everything falls into place when we see him interacting with his doting mother, who clearly encouraged his self-belief at an early age and groomed his to become the smarmy individual he is today, particularly where women are concerned. His frequent asides to ‘Laura’ feel as if he is on intimate terms with the director and almost a protagonist here rather than a detached observer, but his condescending approach to Sarah Harrison is grist to the mill. Her deferential respect of his perceived power is particularly noticeable when she rehearses a speech in front of him while he chips in with instructions and grooms her for public speaking.

Poitras follows members of Assange’s team as they go about their business in a self-congratulatory way enlightening the poorly informed about information that has been stolen from them. In Egypt there is a coruscating take-down by Appelbaum of various tech companies such as TE Data and Nokia that supported the Mubarak regime, by blocking or censoring the internet during the Arab Spring. The Wikileaks team feel like the information campaign equivalent of Greenpeace.

Poitras divides her documentary into bizarre chapters introduced in roman numerals, that bear no apparent relevance to the actual content in an expose that gradually morphs into a a personal profile of the man himself. The only person who cuts him down to size is Lady Gaga in an ill-advised (from his point of view) interview with the star during his time in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

So despite all the ground-work and updates, there’s nothing really revealing in this mildly hagiographic portrayal. What the documentary does convey to the outsider is that Julian Assange emerges as a decidedly slippery character who has a way with women (including the director), but whether he deserves to still be in captivity is certainly questionable. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

 

When They Left (2019) *** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir: Veronica Haro Abril | Doc, Ecuador, 61′

In When They Left Veronica Haro Abril tells the story of a dying community in her native village of Plazuela, Ecuador. A series of pithy, melancholy but evocative reminiscences recall a once vibrant mountainside community. But Abril discovers something else in its place.

These gentle old folk are serene and positive about their lives as they go about their daily tasks to maintain self-sufficiency. Lucrecia collects lemons and harvests her potato crop in the orchard:  “I don’t have time to be sad. We love the this place. I don’t know about the people who come from the outside, but for me it’s beautiful”. And she’s right. Abril’s film very much connects  to the global narrative of human survival for remote communities conveying the peace and tranquility of a simple but socially connected place where the villagers are still very much in contact with their family. In some ways the young have lost out by leaving their elders to go the city. They may gain in some ways, but they miss out on the counsel and experience of the older members of the family. For the older generation, the animals are their new ‘children’ offering them produce in return for care. There’s so much to be recommended about village life and these people are never lonely because they have each other to talk through their worries and health concerns. Consolacion and her dog look forward to the arrival of the ice-cream van. 33cents for a scoop of freshly made blackberry seems a reasonable treat. Another tends to her bees with her friend ‘mammita’ donning their makeshift outfits, their hands are left bare. And the honey is fragrant and plentiful. The final act sees them preparing for a musical get-together. The men playing their instruments, and dressed in traditional garb, the women dancing.

Set on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, Abril’s elegant framing, long takes and limpid visuals make this a relaxing and calming experience, the ambient sound of birds and the soft breeze in the trees is pleasant and invigorating. In the end When They Left is not about loss or sadness but about the intense calm that togetherness brings once life’s struggles are over, reflecting the wisdom and serenity of a life well lived for a philosophical generation who have a great deal to teach us in many ways. MT.

VISIONS DU RÉEL | 3 – 13 APRIL 2019 | NYON SWITZERLAND

Kiruna – A Brand New World (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

Dir: Greta Stocklassova | DoP: Stanislav Adam | Doc, Czech Rep, 87′

 

Fugue | Fuga (2018) Kinoteka 2021

Dir: Agnieska  Smoczynska | Cast: Gabriela Muskała, Łukasz Simlat, Małgorzata Buczkowska, Zbigniew Waleryś, Halina Rasiakówna, Piotr Skiba, Iwo Rajski | Poland/Czech Republic/Sweden 2018, 100 min.

Agnieszka Smoczynska re-unites with DoP Jacub Kijowski and actor Malgorzata Buczkowska who together made The Lure an international success. In Fugue, they are joined by writer Gabriela Muskala, who also  plays the lead role of Kinga, a woman suffering from severe post-traumatic amnesia.

We first meet Kinga staggering onto the platform of a station where she promptly collapses, having urinated infront in full view of the other passengers. Clearly she has lost her mind, and spends the next two years in a psychiatric ward in a Warsaw hospital, where she makes a brief appearance on TV, in the hope that someone might identify her. And they do. She is soon re-united with her husband Krystzof (Simlat) and four-year old son Daniel. Her name is Alicja, but strangely, no one appears happy to have her back, least of all Daniel. The only thing she is sure of is her credit card PIN number she and immediately makes an application for a new Identity Card. Her mysterious family friend Ewa (Buczkowska) is clearly so much more that than this, but Smoczynska keeps her cards close to her chest, revealing little in this enigmatic but captivating mystery drama. Eventually Alicja starts to re-adjust to home life with her husband, but a sudden accident in their car seems to trigger   Alicja’s memory and gradually a whole picture slowly develops of their life before the train incident. It emerges that her husband had successfully divorced her and wanted sole custody of Daniel.

In her follow up to The Lure, Smoczynska offers another convoluted and enigmatic drama: there are moments of supernatural evidence, where Alicja’s home environment appears completely alien to her. Particularly the green bathroom looks eerily like a fish tank (drawing comparisons with The Shining’s Room 237). The country house has a weird and haunted feel to it, and Alicja seems to be a prisoner within its walls, he family and even her son treating her with hostile suspicion.

Fugue is an allegorical story of a woman who is unsure of her position in the world, retreating from motherhood, and drifting between various states of being. Gabriela Muskala gives a brilliant tour de force in the leading role of this unique and beguiling Polish arthouse drama. AS.

KINOTEKA 2021 | Premiered during UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8-19 MAY 2018

Yuli (2018) ***

Dir: Icíar Bollaín | Carlos Acosta, Santiago Alfonso, Carlos Enrique Almirante, Keyvin Martinez, Laura De la Uz | Biopic Drama 104

Cuba is the dazzling backdrop to this ‘all singing all dancing’ traditionally-styled biopic that vivaciously explores the rags to riches route to the international stage of its best known living export Carlos Acosta, now an celebrated ballet dancer. Based on his 2007 memoir No Way Home, it stars Acosta himself looking back on a career that has gone from minor to major striking nearly every thematic chord in life’s libretto from childhood poverty to paternal domination, racial discrimination, political turmoil and self realisation through artistic endeavour, under the glare – and glory of Castro’s regime.

Teaming up for the third time with her English husband and scripter Paul Laverty (I, Daniel Blake) Spanish director Icíar Bollaín (The Olive Tree) creates the irrepressibly vibrant milieu of modern Cuba where Acosta is seen rehearsing for a show that chronicles his life in the medium of dance. He is then transported back – by means of a red-bound scrapbook – to memories of his childhood where as ‘Yuli’ the cheeky young Acosta (Nuñes), named after the Cuban Santéria religion, is growing up in an impoverished barrio of Havana, with his white mother Maria (Perez) and his black father Pedro (Alfonso) who we first meet dragging Yuli away from a brilliant break-dancing routine with his pals.

The draconian Pedro has set his sights on better things for the wayward whippersnapper, and soon he is forcing him into a formal training despite the boy’s natural inclination to join a football pitch rather than the stage of the respectable Cuban School of Ballet where he soon fetches up, his talent capturing the imagination of his teacher Chery (De la Uz), who encourages him into a strict regime of training.

The years go by and the grown-up Carlos (Keyvin Martínez) finds himself travelling to London to take up an offer he soon manages to refuse, missing the warmth of his native Cuba which is by now in political meltdown. Back home, his father and Cheryl point him in the direction of dance rather than ballet – despite an approach from the Royal Ballet.

Laverty’s script tiptoes lightly over Maria of the rest of the family – alluding to mental illness for his older sister Berta (Doimeadíos) – but no love stories for Carlos, despite his popularity with the opposite sex. Knowing how well-received father/son relationships are (Boyhood, Field of Dreams etc) maybe Laverty and Bollain have decided to put Carlos and Pedro in the limelight of a story of male inspiration, particularly as it is a black one, although the decision to have Pedro give a diatribe on the slavery question in Cuba seems awkward, and strangely misplaced.

Bollaín injects plenty of joie de vivre into this sun-filled optimistic portrait with its terrific dance routines and sweeping cinematography. And although Laverty’s script sometimes follows a schematic road the performances overcome this, with Olbera Nuñes and Acosta himself the standouts. Yuli provides flamboyant entertainment for ballet lovers and mainstream audiences alike, enlivened by the presence of Acosta having so much fun. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 8 April 2019 | WORLD PREMIERE SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

Monument (2018) *** Kinoteka Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Jagoda Szelec; Cast: Dorota Lukasiewicz, Paulina Lasot, Karolina Bruchnicka, Jacub Gola; Poland 2018, 108 min.

Director/writer Jagoda Szelek (Tower: A bright Day) casts students from the famous Lodz Film School in her sophomore feature, a non-narrative exercise in power and human misery. The ritualistic nature of Monument shines a light on how we chose to remember the past.

Twenty young people have high hopes about embarking on their internship in the hotel business. But before the programme kicks off, one of them has already gone missing. The draconian manager takes a nonchalant approach and hands round their name identification badges: there are ten Pawels and nine Anias. “The customers are not interested in your names, they want to enjoy themselves”, the manager retorts sternly, when asked for a reason.

The job is pretty dreary. The film becomes a study in surreal depersonalisation. The women have to clean the rooms, and the toilets. Moral is low – apart from one young man, who tries to ingratiate himself with the nameless manager, who acquires the nickname “witch’ from his fellow interns. Even though he is rude about them behind their backs, the manager is unimpressed, humiliating him in front of an ‘Ania’, who comes up with good plan to re-organise the work schedule. The women talk about their childhoods, particularly about their relationships with their mothers; while the boys tell each other rather unfunny jokes and fight. Two of them have sex. The place is falling apart, rats run wild down in the cellar, and one of the women faints. In this enigmatic endeavour times seems to stand still. It is never made clear if the missing young man is the only survivor of a fatal bus crash, or if the other have entered a ‘Huis Clos’ a in Sartre’s play. But their relationships are strained, they only unite in hating the “witch”. The final ritualistic dance is a strange exercise in exorcism.

DoP Przemyslaw Brynkiewicz’s black and white images are stunning: the realistic environment of the hotel, the suites, kitchen and laundry are in total contrast to the dark cellar, the moody atmosphere of the rubbish bins and the gloomy, foreboding cellar, where rats scuffle around unaware of the human denizens. But in spite of the overlaying realism of these task-bound interns, there are echoes of The Shining as the past meets the present. Szelec has certainly made a singularly unique feature, which does not need to be categorised to be watched with admiration and a certain awe. AS

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 4 -18 APRIL 2019  

   

Happy as Lazzaro (2018) *****

Writer/Dir: Alice Rohrwacher | Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Luca Chikovani, Sergi Lopez | Italy | Drama 125′

Al Rohrwacher brings tenderness and curiosity to her delicately compelling fables set amongst rural communities in her homeland of Italy. Her latest Lazzaro Felice has clear resonance with the work of Pier Paolo Pasolini and won Best Script at Cannes in 2018. Her previous a languid pastoral The Wonders (2014) followed a family of beekeepers in 1970s Tuscany. In her debut Corpo Celeste (2011)  a young girl challenges religious morality in the southern town of Reggio Calabria.

Happy as Lazzaro is time-bending tale that uses poetic realism to enliven the rather depressing theme of corruption and crime in contemporary Italy. Again Rohrwacher uses Super 16mm to establish a retro aesthetic of sepia and muted senape and to re-create a nostalgic feeling for the past and times gone by in the dilapidated village of Inviolata where a traditional family of sharecroppers still serve the Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna. Although sharecropping has been illegal since the 1980s, their loyalty to their corrupt mistress is born out of habit, and because it suits them to maintain the status quo: It’s what they’ve always done. This recalls a past (and possibly a present in some areas) where a feudal system of sorts still exists, and Italy’s now decadent royal family (Vittoria Emanuele) are still acknowledged, paid homage to and addressed by their titles. So the villagers go about their leisurely business lacking the imagination or motivation to move on, and respecting the powers that be in this remote, sun-baked backwater that seems stuck in the past. And Lazzaro is the man with a heart of gold who is simply too good for this world, let along for this job. A saintly soul, Lazzaro is almost too good for this world, is left with the duties no one else wants to do, such as picking giant guarding the chicken coop from wolves. The Marchesa’s fecklessly lazy young son Tancredi, decides to play a trick on mother, for not giving him his inheritance early, and he sees that Lazzaro’s gentle nature and naive nature will make him perfect for a plan to defraud her. Lazzaro is naturally in thrall to the boy, out of deference, to his status. Tancredi then fakes his own kidnapping, hiding out in the undergrowth around the village expecting his mother to cough up the million lire ransom he has demanded. Naturally things don’t go according to plan and Lazzaro falls through a time-warp – in a tonal shift that Rohrwacher pulls of with aplomb – ending up in another world, set against a corrupt urban sprawl where he wanders dreamlike (and there is a certainly a surreal quality to these sequences) amongst unscrupulous characters as a nightmarish future unfolds around him. Lazzaro at this point takes on the semblance of a Christ-like spiritual figure – it’s a performance of great subtlety and luminance that has to be seen to be believed. This transformation to saint, or even ghost seems to represent the soul of the Italian nation overcome by decadence and the perils of modernity. It also raises the everlasting conundrum: how long can a person continue to be good when continually challenged by evil. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 5 APRIL 2019 NATIONWIDE

 

Making Montgomery Clift (2018) **** BFI Flare 2019

Dir: Robert Anderson Clift, Hillary Demmon | With Montgomery Clift, Brooks Clift, Ethel “Sunny” Clift, Patricia Bosworth, Jack Larson, Judy Balaban, Robert Osborne, Eleanor Clift, Lorenzo James; Joel Schumacher, Tucker Tooley, Vincent Newman, Michael Easton, Mollie Gregory, Woody Clift, Eddie Clift | US Doc, 88′

Montgomery Clift’s nephew sets out to debunk the theory that the Hollywood actor’s life was a conflicted tragedy. Apparently, it was quite the opposite. As you may have guessed from the title, this is not a chronicle of his film career but an exploration of his personality and the rumours that haunted his starry life.

Co-directing and narrating this eye-opening documentary, Robert Clift (who never knew Monty) digs into a treasure trove of family archives and memorabilia (Brooks recorded everything) to reveal an affectionate, fun-loving talent who loved men and dated and lived with women, according to close friends. Monty chose his roles carefully during the ’40s and ’50s, declining to sign a contract to retain complete artistic independence from the studio system with the ability to pick and chose, and re-write his dialogue. This freedom also enabled him to keep much of his private life out of the headlines, although his memory was eventually sullied by tabloid melodrama with his untimely death at only 45. His acting ability and dazzling looks certainly gained him a place in the Hollywood firmament with a select filmography of just 20 features, four of them Oscar-nominated.

Edward Montgomery Clift was born on 17th October 1920 in Omaha Nebraska, with a twin sister Roberta, and older brother Brooks. Privately educated, his wealthy parents struggled during the Depression years and he travelled with his mother extensively in Europe and grew extremely close to his brother. An early role as a teenager on Broadway saw him spending over a decade on the New York stage before Hollywood beckoned, due in part to his friendship with the older and fluidly sexual star Libby Holman, who was apparently instrumental in his decision to decline roles in Sunset Boulevard (1950) and High Noon (1952). His film debut was Red River (1948) alongside John Wayne. This was followed by The Search (1948), The Heiress (1949); the Wartime epic The Big Lift (1950); A Place in the Sun (1951) with his great friend Elizabeth Taylor (who helped him from the scene of his accident); his only Hitchcock collaboration I Confess (1953); Vittorio De Sica’s Indiscretion (1953); From Here to Eternity (1953), Raintree County (1956). Post accident: The Young Lions (1958) alongside Dean Martin and Marlon Brando; Lonely Hearts (1958) alongside Myrna Loy; Wild River (1960); The Misfits (1961) alongside Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961).

Particularly interesting are Brooks’ conversations with Patricia Bosworth, one of the film’s talking heads and the author of a 1978 biography of Clift that inspired later biographies, but has so far become the accepted version of events, although she apparently got many details wrong and certainly lost out to Jenny Balaban in the Monty relationship stakes, when Barney Balaban (President of Paramount) invited the young actor to join them on a family holiday. He is seen messing around on the beach where he cuts a dash with his good looks and exuberance.

Two men who enjoyed significant relationships with Monty have since died but they recorded for posterity on the film: they are Jack Larson who remembers a full-on and unexpected French kiss from Monty, the night they were introduced. And Lorenzo James, who was living with Monty when he died. James sounds a reasonable and honest character on audio tapes and Robert Clift confirms the family’s acceptance of him in the words “my uncle through Monty.”

Clearly Monty resorted to painkillers after his tragic car accident on his way home from a night out in 1956, during the filming of Raintree County. But the directors play this down and downsize the rumours that he became unreliable, a sort of ‘male version’ of Marilyn Monroe. Yet many claim his post accident performance in Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) to be his finest hour. Others state that Nuremberg was actually a “nervous breakdown caught on film”. Instead they claim his mental anguish at the time was the result of a lawsuit by John Huston relating to the film Freud, suspending his from working for four years, and naturally leaving him distraught, as any working person would be. Others state that his disfigurement actually made him a better actor.

Brooks is now dead, but his ex-wife, a prominent Washington journalist Eleanor Clift, states that he was on a mission to correct subsequent editions of Patty Bosworth’s biography using the phrase “Sisyphus battling the myth-making apparatus.” And although Brooks more or less failed in his mission, Robert and his wife have made a decent and worthwhile documentary that aims to reveal the brighter Montgomery Clift. Clearly he will always remain an enigma paving the way for many more insightful biopics.

BFL Flare | ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 7 JUNE 2019

Long Time No Sea (2018) **** Taiwan Film Festival UK 2019

Dir: Heather Tsui | Drama | Taiwan, 93′

This stunning family film blends drama with an ethnological portrait of the indigenous Tao people who have lived on Orchid Island, Taiwan for nearly a century. Long Time No Sea has a convincing ring to it because it’s based on the real life experience of director Heather Tsui whose strong message very much connects with the narrative of survival for small traditional communities all over the world, while also bringing a lightness of touch.

What makes this story of a young teacher who arrives from the city so appealing is its vibrant cinematography and engaging way of putting across the challenges facing these people in a low-key and delicately drawn way, and through preparations for a dance competition which both informative and entertaining. The cast of mostly non-professionals from the Tao community add authenticity to the mix. We watch them at play and at work in the gloriously scenic settings, although it’s a pity that girls seem more or less absent from proceedings.

The story revolves around Manawei (Zhong Jia-jin) who lives with his strict but loving grandmother (Feng Ying-li). It’s traditional in the Far East for parents to work abroad for financial reasons, and this is the case here. Manawei’s father (Ou Lu) has a job on the mainland, so the boy often feels lonely and slightly deprived in comparison with the other kids. Shang He-huang plays the attractive teacher Chung-hsun, who is looking for experience before he moves on to a more senior role. He immediately hits it off with the boy, and when he learns about the bonus offered to teachers willing to coach kids for the national dance competition in Kaohsiung, he pricks up his ears. And soon there’s a love interest coming his way in the shape of Chin-yi (Zhang Ling), a local radio host.

Tsui’s script mines the dramatic potential of the competition but never feels  sentimental or overwrought. The underwater scenes are impressive, particularly  touching is the one where Manawei dives with his father into the Love River and is transported to Orchid Island. Occasional music from award-winning composer Cincin Lee and traditional Tao folklore songs make this impressive debut a memorable experience MT.

TAIWAN FILM FESTIVAL UK 3 – 14 APRIL 2019

 

 

Out of Blue (2018) ****

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

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

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

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

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

IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 29 MARCH 2019 

Kinoteka Film Festival 2019 | 4-18 April 2019

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

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

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

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

NEW FEMALE FILMMAKERS 

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

RETROSPECTIVES 

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

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

https://youtu.be/zdpl1mjutN4

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

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

NEW POLISH CINEMA 

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

DOCUMENTARIES 

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

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

 

Human Rights Watch Festival | 15-22 March 2019

Creating a forum for courageous individuals fighting worthwhile causes on both sides of the lens, this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival returns to the Barbican, BFI Southbank and Regent Street Cinema with an international line-up of 15 award-winning documentary and feature films from Venezuela, South Africa, Palestine, Thailand and more.

The festival will open at the Barbican on 14 March with Hans Pool’s Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World, which follows the revolutionary rise of the “citizen investigative journalist” collective known as Bellingcat, dedicated to redefining breaking news by exploring the promise of open source investigation. 
 
Among other topics highlighted in the festival are: modern-day slavery in the fishing industry, South African students’ #FeesMustFall movement and the call for the decolonization of the education system; ‘boys will be boys’ rape culture; the impact of non-consensual gender assignment surgery on intersex infants; urban displacement; and a behind the scenes access to the trial of Ratko Mladić. Many filmmakers, protagonists, Human Rights Watch researchers and activists will take part in in-depth post-screening Q&A and panel discussions, some of which are detailed below:

UK Premiere: Screwdriver Mafak
Palestine-USA-Qatar 2018. Dir Bassam Jarbawi. With Ziad Bakri, Areen Omari, Jameel Khoury. 108min. Digital. EST. 15

Shot entirely on location in the West Bank, award-winning Palestinian director Bassam Jarbawi’s debut feature film tackles the physical and emotional toll of one man’s return home after 15 years in an Israeli jail. This mesmerising drama examines the trauma of reintegration after imprisonment, together with the unpredictable set of challenges faced in modern-day Palestine.

FRI 15 MAR 20:30 NFT3 | SOUTHBANK

UK Premiere: Facing the Dragon 

Afghanistan-Turkey-Germany-Australia 2018. Dir Sedika Mojadidi. 81min. Digital. EST. 15 

Afghan-American filmmaker Sedika Mojadidi pursues two awe-inspiring women on the front lines as the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and the Taliban regains their hold. As the country’s fragile democracy shakes, threats of violence increase against Shakila, a journalist, and Nilofar, a local politician. They are soon forced to choose between duty and love for their country, and their families’ safety. 

SAT 16 MAR 18:10 NFT3 | SOUTHBANK

UK Premiere: Roll Red Roll 

USA 2018. Dir Nancy Schwartzman. 81min. Digital. 15 

In small-town Ohio, USA, a sexual assault involving members of the beloved high-school football team gained global attention. With unprecedented access to a local community struggling to reconcile disturbing truths and the journalist using social-media evidence to reveal them, this true-crime thriller cuts to the heart of debates around engrained rape culture, and unflinchingly asks: ‘Why didn’t anyone stop it?’ 

SAT 16 MAR 20:30 NFT3 | SOUTHBANK

UK Premiere: The Sweet Requiem Kyoyang Ngarmo
India-USA 2018. Dirs Ritu Sarin, Tenzing Sonam. With Tenzin Dolker, Jampa Kalsang Tamang, Tashi Choedon. 93min. Digital. EST. 15

At the age of eight, Dolkar fled her home with her father to escape Chinese armed forces, and faced an arduous journey across the Himalayas. Now 26, she lives in a Tibetan refugee colony in Delhi, where an unexpected encounter with a man from her past awakens long-suppressed memories, propelling Dolkar on an obsessive search for the truth.

Tickets go on sale to the general public on 12 February 2019. Members of BFI Southbank can purchase tickets from 5 February and members of the Barbican can purchase tickets from 6 February.

Oscar Foreign Language Academy Awards 2019

Nine films were on the short list for the coveted Academy Awards Foreign Language title at the end of last year: Some are well known (COLD WAR, CAPERNAUM, SHOPLIFTERS) but AYKA comes from a country where there is hardly any structure let alone financing available for filmmakers, so Kazakhstan’s entry should be particularly applauded.

Denmark: The Guilty (Gustav Möller)

Möller’s feature debut premiered at Sundance in January 2018, winning the audience award in the world cinema dramatic competition. The entire film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a Copenhagen emergency services station, where a former police officer (Jakob Cedergren) has to deal with gruelling telephone calls from a kidnapped woman.

Germany: Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

von Donnersmarck is very well thought of in German cinema circles and has a previously won in the category back in 2007 for his Cold War spy thriller The Lives Of Others. His latest sees an art student involved in a difficult situation at his college. We reviewed the film at Venice where it premiered in August 2018.

Poland: Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)

Pawlikowski’s film opened in Cannes Competition in 2018 and won him a best director prize. Searingly beautiful, it chronicles a love story between two people from different walks of life, set against the backdrop of the Cold War in the 1950s in various cities in Europe. Pawlikowski has previously won this award back in 2015 for his war-themed drama Ida – but his multi-faceted films have been arthouse staples since he started out in the 1980s with his TV fare (Open Space and From Moscow to Pietuschki in 1990), his first feature was The Stringer (1998).

Colombia: Birds Of Passage (Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra)

An arthouse title that explores the narco-trafficking industry and its profound effects on Columbian society. Gallego and Guerra’s film opened Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2018 but their breakout success was with Embrace Of The Serpent (with Guerra directing, Gallego producing).

Mexico: ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón)

WINNER ACADEMY AWARDS 2019

Cuarón’s latest is a semi-autobiographical take on his own Mexico City upbringing, focusing on a middle-class family and their live-in housekeeper. With so many interesting stories coming out of Mexico, this is Cuarón’s first nomination in the category, although he has been nominated for six Oscars previously, winning best director and best editing for Gravity in 2014.

Japan: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Kore-eda’s cheeky story of a family living on on its uppers won the Palme d’Or in 2018.

Kazakhstan: Ayka (Sergey Dvortsevoy)

Living in abject poverty in Moscow, a young Kyrgyz woman tries to survive after abandoning her newborn, to return to her job. It premiered in the official Competition at Cannes in 2018.

Lebanon: Capernaüm (Nadine Labaki)

After her lively social drama Caramel, Labaki’s Cannes 2018 Competition entry is a more heavyweight but enjoyable story for its humanity and insight. Shot on the streets of Beirut using non-professional actors, the story follows the fate of a precocious but endearing 12 year-old boy who takes his parents to court.

South Korea: Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

Lee’s Cannes Competition title was the favourite amongst the critics at Cannes last year. It’s a psychological thriller but also a subtle love story based on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning.

THE AWARDS TOOK PLACE in Los Angeles on 24 February 2019 

Cinema Made in Italy 2019 |

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY is back in London to kick off the Spring with the latest crop of Italian films. The 9th edition takes place at Cine Lumiere and is supported by Istituto Luce Cinecitta and the Italian Cultural Institute.

LORO ****

Director: Paolo Sorrentino Cast: Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio, Kasia Smutniak, Euridice Axen, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Roberto De Francesco, Dario Cantarelli, Anna Bonaiuto | 150′

Paolo Sorrentino’s savage political satire is a powerful portrait of controversial Italian public figure Silvio Berlusconi and his inner circle. | UK release date: 19 April 2019

EUFORIA ***

Director: Valeria Golino | Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Valerio Mastandrea, Isabella Ferrari, Valentina Cervi, Jasmine Trinca, Francesco Borgese, Francesco Pellegrino, Andrea Germani, Marzia Ubaldi | 120′

Valeria Golino’s second film as a director explores brotherly love through two very different siblings. It stars her on/off partner Riccardo Scamarcio as one of two brothers brought together through adversity when one falls dangerously ill. Matteo is a man of means in central Rome, Ettore is a primary teacher in their provincial hometown. Beautifully photographed in the eternal city, Euforia ultimate predictability is rescued by the strength of its dynamic performances.

RICORDI? ***

Director: Valerio Mieli | Cast: Luca Marinelli, Linda Caridi, Giovanni Anzaldo, Camilla Diana, Anna Manuelli, Eliana Bosi, David Brandon, Benedetta Cimatti, Andrea Pennacchi, 106′

After success with her debut Ten Winters this touching love story explores the ups and downs of this emotional journey for two young lovers Luca Marinelli and Linda Caridi.

LUCIA’S GRACE (Troppa Grazia) ***

Director: Gianni Zanasi | Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Elio Germano, Hadas Yaron, Giuseppe Battiston, Carlotta Natoli, Thomas Trabacchi, Daniele De Angelis, Rosa Vannucci, Elisa Di Eusanio, Davide Strava | 110′ 

Alba Rohrwacher blazes through this upbeat ecumenical drama that sees single working mother Lucia juggling her life between motherhood, an emotionally exhausting romance, and her work as a land surveyor. When she discovers that an ambitious new building project will have devastating effects on the locale, she debates whether to challenge the project when up pops a mysterious woman, claiming to be the Madonna and offering to support Lucia in flagging up her concerns, and suggesting the construction of a church as an alternative. This whimsical affair offers cheap laughs as an alternative to trusting its strong psychological elements, but Vladan Radovic’s lively camerawork and a strong cast carry it through in the end.   

THE GUEST (L’Ospite) ****

Director: Duccio Chiarini | Cast: Daniele Parisi, Silvia D’Amico, Anna Bellato, Federica Victoria Caiozzo aka Thony, Milvia Marigliano, Daniele Natali, Guglielmo Favilli : 96′

Sofa-surfing is the theme of this coming of age drama about the ups and downs of modern day love and commitment phobia. Guido (Daniele Parisi) is a 38-year-old academic who is writing a pot-boiler on Italo Calvino. But his girlfriend girlfriend (Silvia D’Amico) is having none of it, and puts an end to their flagging relationship forcing him to out of his cosy existence to face some uncomfortable truths through the experiences of lodging with his friends and family. Insightful and enjoyable  .

THE MAN WHO BOUGHT THE MOON ( L’Uomo che compró la Luna) ***

Director: Paolo Zucca |Cast: Jacopo Cullin, Stefano Fresi, Francesco Pannofino, Benito Urgu, Lazar Ristovski, Angela Molina |  103′

This off the wall spy-themed buddy movie from Sardinia stars Jacopo Cullin as a secret agent tasked with investigating a claim that one of his compatriots has bought the Moon as a gift for his girlfriend. Teaming up with his fellow Sardinian Badore (Benito Ugo) the pair set off to infiltrate the Sardinian community and investigate the ludicrous idea in a surefire but engagingly silly caper.

WHEREVER YOU ARE (Ovunque Proteggemi) ***

Director: Bonifacio Angius |Cast: Alessandro Gazale, Francesca Niedda, Antonio Angius, Anna Ferruzzo, Gavino Ruda, Mario Olivieri | 94′

Bonifacio Angius won the Junior Jury Award at Locarno for Perfidia (2014) and returns with this impressively perceptive drama about a middle-aged ‘mammalone’ with a drinking problem. Burning a hole in his mother’s pocket with his failed singing career, he has a mental breakdown and is taken to hospital, where he meets Francesca (Francesca Niedda), a young mother with drug issues. The two fall madly in love and set off on an eventful odyssey to redeem each other by reclaiming Francesca’s daughter who has been taken in to care. 

NOTTI MAGICHE ****

Director: Paolo Virzì |Cast: Mauro Lamantia, Giovanni Toscano, Irene Vetere, Giancarlo Giannini, Eugenio Marinelli, Marina Rocco, Paolo Sassanelli, Roberto Herlitzka, Regina Orioli, Andrea Roncato, Giulio Scarpati, Simona Marchini, Annalisa Arena, Ornella Muti, Jalil Lespert, Paolo Bonacelli | 125 ‘minutes

Ornella Muti makes a welcome return in Paolo Virzi’s playfully affectionate black comedy that explores the mysterious drowning of a film producer in the River Tiber. The main suspects are three young aspiring scriptwriters, and their outlandishly spirited alibis form the basis of an entertaining exploration that takes us back to the golden years of Italian cinema and a moving and magical trip through the backstreet of Rome

THE CONFORMIST (Il Conformista) *****

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci | Cast: Jean-Louis Tritignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Enzo Tarascio, Fosco Giachetti, José Quaglio, Yvonne Sanson | 118′

A wonderful chance to see this classic cult thriller adapted from a novel by Alberto Moravia. Set in 1938, it tells the story of an aristocratic would-be fascist who is sent to Paris to murder his former, anti-fascist philosophy tutor. Jean-Louis Tritignant is supremely sinister in the role of Marcello Clerici, whose demeanour is an eternal reminder of the banality of evil. It was an instant hit when it was released in 1970, and some say it is one of the most poetic and influential films ever made, beloved by film-makers the world over.

WE’LL BE YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL (Saremo Giovani e Bellissimi) ***

Director: Letizia Lamartire | 92 minutes)

In the early 1990s, 18-year-old Isabella (Barbora Bobulova) was a pop star. Two decades later she’s still on the road singing the same old songs with her son Bruno (Piavani) on guitar. But nothing can last for ever and soon the ties that bind will also unravel in this bittersweet and often poignantly moving musical love story.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | LONDON 2019 | 26 FEBRUARY – 3 MARCH

 

Capernaum (2018)***

Dir: Nadine Labaki | Drama | 105’

Nadine Labaki sprung to fame with her delightfully upbeat debut Caramel, set around a women’s hair salon in Beirut Set. Here she casts non-professional actors in a politically themed fable that sees a child resorting to the strong arms of the law.

This multi-awarded Oscar hopeful has the same warm, stylish look as her previous two features but is a much more accomplished film that puts a watchable spin on dour social realism although it does not quite reach the heights of perfection as the script resorts to disingenuous pandering in the slack final section. Subject-wise we are back to Daniel Blake territory although this is a much better crafted film than the one that bagged Ken Loach the top  Cannes award several years ago and CAPERNAUM does not bludgeon the life out of your with its agitprop hammer. There are similarities too with Slumdog Millionaire in its upbeat fervour powered by cute and captivating performances from its newcomer children.

Labaki structures her film round a trial, although this is not a courtroom procedural and most of the action is set in the chaotic streets or in cramped interiors where 12 year old Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), who looks more like 8, is already serving a prison sentence for stabbing, is now suing his parents for bringing him into the world. One of several siblings, his parents never registered his birth. Despite cocky indignation and a bristling sense of entitlement to his rights, he is a likeable kid who lives with his parents Souad (Kawthar Al Haddad) and Selim (Fadi Kamel Youssef). Rather than school, he goes out to sell fruit juice in the market, where he also collects tramadol which the family grind into clothes-washing water which is then passed to Zain’s prison-serving elder brother. Although these circumstances are all quite startling to Western viewers, they are sadly run of the mill for millions all over the world. But medication here in the Lebanon seems to be free at the point of collection, a fact which is difficult to believe.

After his younger sister Sahar is sold in marriage by his parents. Zain runs away and comes across Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an Ethiopian cleaner who is in Lebanon illegally. He offers to look after her toddler while she is at  work but she later disappears leaving the two to fend for themselves in what turns out to be quite an adventure.

This is a watchable drama with some endearing turns from the ensemble kiddy cast who conjure up an intoxicating chemistry considering their lack of experience. But the star of the piece is Rafeea as the cheekily adamant Zain, a tribute to kids everywhere who feel life has dealt them an unfair start, and who set out to put matters right. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 22 February | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | Jury Prize Winner 2018

 

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya (2019) ** Berlinale 2019

Writ/Dir: Teona Strugar Mitevska | Drama, Macedonia 100

Teona Strugar Mitevska’s fifth feature sets off with an intriguing concept and title but gradually peters out unable to maintain its initial momentum. All the themes are worthy and in place: Petrunya is overweight, unmarried and still living at home with her parents in her late thirties. Her masters degree in history is no help to finding a proper job.

Petrunya is not short of gutsy self-belief , largely due to her indulgent father who always supports her. But her traditional mother wants her to marry, and even serves her breakfast in bed. The possibilities for romance seem thin on the ground in this rural backwater and her meeting with a young police office also fails to ignite. 

Virginie Saint-Martin captures the grim realities of modern life in the drab riverside location of Štip, to the south east of capital Skopje, where Orthodoxy dominates – along with the men of the village. When Petrunya secures an interview at a local factory the owner first makes a pass and then insults her when rejected. On her way home she dives into the river to retrieve a wooden cross that conveys luck when caught as part of the religious men-only ceremony. Petrunya then makes off with the cross and the ensuing ruckus plays out in a skimpy narrative that turns on the question of whether religion or law is more important in Macedonia.  But this debate quickly loses steam – and our patience – due to an underdeveloped script, making promising lead Zorica Nusheva’s role all the more difficult. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019

A Colony | Une Colonie (2019)

Dir: Geneviève Dulude-De Celles | Cast: Émilie Bierre, Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie, Robin Aubert, Irlande Côté, Noémie Godin-Vigneault, Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier

Life isn’t easy, as two sisters soon find out in this impressionistic French Canadian coming-of-age drama about teenage angst and sibling rivalry in the outskirts of Quebec. The film also deftly raises the more provocative profile of Canada’s colonial past, without making a meal of it.

It all begins when the youngest girl Camille (Irlande Côté) sees a chicken being pecked to death in the field behind the family’s new home. She is visibly upset by the animal’s suffering, but rather than offering sympathy and support, her new school friends mock and taunt her for her sensitivity towards animals. Later, her older sister Mylia (Émilie Bierre) explains it away as ‘the law of the jungle’. And this metaphor plays out as the delicately drawn story unfolds.

Ironically Mylia emerges as the more introspective of the two girls, discovering boys in her new school and experimenting with clothes and make-up. Looking a bit like a teenage Dakota Johnson, Bierre is convincing as the diffident teen who strikes up a rapport with a slightly older school friend Jacinthe (Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier) — who encourages her to push the boundaries with alcohol and boyfriends. But Mylia’s not quite ready for all this and finds her thrills in other directions. Soon she meets Jimmy (Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie), a thoughtful and creative boy who lives with his grandmother in a local Indigenous community, and through whose character the director touches on Canada’s Euro-centric view of history in a feisty classroom encounter.

With remarkable performances from its young cast, particularly the two sisters, Une Colonie doesn’t try to find easy or schematic ways of portraying growing up, and shows that teenage fun doesn’t have to rely on rampant sex and drugs, especially when home life is unsettled and bewildering. Instead, she offers a poetic riff on so-called ‘rainbow parties’, classroom antics,  and amorous encounters, showing how girls really think, talk and interact at this adolescent time of life. And there are some genuinely moving scenes throughout this cinema vérité gem. An easy-going score of contempo beats and some glowing camerawork completes this teen arthouse package which is suitable for audiences of 13 upwards.

NOW ON BERLINALE GENERATION 2019 PREMIERE

Hormigas (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum

THE AWAKENING OF THE ANTS (EL DESPERTAR DE LAS HORMIGAS)

Dir.: Antonella Sudasassi Furnis; Cast: Daniela Valenciano, Leynar Gomez, Isabella Moscoso, Avril Alpizar, Kyrsia Rodriguez, Carolina Fernandez; Costa Rica 2018, 94 min.

Antonella Sudasassi Furnis has embellished her short film El Despertar de las Hormigas exploring the gradual emancipation of a seamstress who lives with her blokeish husband and two daughters in small town Costa Rica where the family is everything.

There’s pressure on all sides for Isabel (Valenciano) to have a third child – husband Alcides (Gomez) and his domineering mother talk of nothing else at a family gathering. But Isabel has enough on her plate: daughters Valerie (Moscoso) and Nicole (Alpizar) are demanding, and since Alcides is not much help, Isabel has to cater single-handedly for their needs. Then there is granny, who takes off with children one day, without letting Isabel know. She is livid, but Alcides sides with his mother: she only means well and wants to help. Still under the maternal cosh, Alcides is not a great provider: his casual work doesn’t  feed the family, and only Isabel’s skills with the sewing machine makes it possible for them to survive. Nevertheless, Alcides wants a son (sic!) and dreams about building a house for them all, despite not enough enough for the bare essentials. He life revolves around a macho group of men: when Isabel watches him playing football with relatives at another family event, she might as well be watching her own son. Best friend and client Mireya (Fernandez) is on the pill, because her doctor told her it would sort out her gynaecological problems. So Isabela follows suit, without telling Alcides. After a vivid dream where she runs her own business, she decides to make some changes.

Most interesting here are the family dynamics: and it’s the other women who are constantly on at Isabel to Isabel is procreate. Women are socially competitive, and vying with each other for children and wealth. But the couple’s sex life is dire: Isabel prefers to masturbate whilst her husband sleeps next to her, and when she is having sex with him, she looks at the ceiling, waiting for him to finish. Her great love – for the moment – is dealing with fabrics and designs, hoping to one day run her own shop.

DoP Andres Campos lets the camera follow Isabel every step, she is at the centre of every colourful scene, the panning shots capturing her very basis surroundings and transforming them into something special, a she dreams about her future. This might be a simple story, but the director has created a passionate and intense portrait of a young woman trying to break away from a suffocating family life. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

My Extraordinary Summer with Tess (2019) **** Berlinale | Generation Kplus 2019

Dir: Steven Wouterlood | Anna Woltz, Laura van Dijk | Cast: Jennifer Hoffman, Hans Dagelet, Terence Schreurs, Guido Pollemans, Sonny Coops Van Utteren |

South Holland (Zeeland) has some fabulous islands and white sandy beaches and provides a sun-baked summer setting for this coming of age story based on the book by Anna Woltz and directed by Steven Wouterland, one of Variety magazine’s 10 Europeans to watch.

Young teenager Sam (plucky newcomer Sonny Coops Van Utteren) arrives with his family and gets to know Tess who is slightly older than him, and on holiday with her feisty mother. The two will spend more and more time together after Sam’s older brother Jorre is confined to a wheelchair on day one of the summer holidays, with a broken leg.

Wouterlood and his cinematographer Sal Kroonenburg create a terrific sense of place in the glorious soft dunes and wide-open windswept seascapes of Zeeland. It’s a back to nature sort of place where cycling, wind-surfing and horse-riding are the order of the day. And the the two muck about on the beach, getting to know each other, Sam is a thoughtful young teen and clearly more emotionally mature than Tess gives him credit for, when he warns her not to flirt with his brother, who has a girlfriend back home. But the mood soon becomes more introspective when Tess lets on that her father is no longer on the scene, and she’s not sure where he is. For his part, Sam admits that he worries about being alone and outliving everyone else, as the youngest in his family. For that reason, he’s practicing being alone and developing a sense of sell-reliance he calls “aloneness training”. But Tess soon cheers him up with her very own madcap scheme involving a quiz. This appeals to Sam who is a mine of useless information. And suddenly being alone is not an option anymore. But despite all this Sam makes a drastic decision that puts his close friendship with Tess in jeopardy. It will change Tess’s life forever.

With an original score that very much sets the tempo for this footloose adventure, MY EXTRAORDINARY SUMMER is an upbeat film that handles its tonal shifts with dexterity and is not afraid to explore more serious themes such as loneliness, love and even death. There are moments of fun, frivolity and sadness too in a well-crafted story suitable for the over 10s. MT

AWARDED A SPECIAL MENTION BY THE INTERNATIONAL JULY AT BERLINALE | GENERATION KPLUS 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

Freak Show (2017) ** Bluray/DVD release

Dir: Trudie Styler | Musical Drama | US | 97′

Actor, producer and now filmmaker, Trudie Styler works her contact list to great effect in cobbling together this middling teen-outsider musical powered by an impressive central turn from Alex Lawther. He plays Billy Bloom, a spirited and thoughtful young man who finds his gay identity at odds with his new surroundings when the family move from New York to a Red Neck southern state.

Thanks to DoP Dante Spinotti, Freak Show opens stylishly with a glamorous Bette Middler (as Muv) dancing with her little son (Eddie Schweighardt as the young Billy). The two are as thick as thieves but when Muv falls off the waggon, leaving Billy with Daddy ‘Downer’ (Larry Pine actually looks like Lawther), the movie soon loses its pacy allure, and dissolves into a series of musical vignettes that piece together Billy’s gradual empowerment from victim to victor. This schematic sprawl lurches from one scene to the next, hanging entirely on Lawther’s capable coat tails – and there are some striking rigouts thanks to Colleen Atwood and Sarah Laux – and Billy gets the best lines: “I just moved here from Darien Connecticut, the hometown of Chloe Sevigny”.

Intended for a teen audience Freak Show brings to mind Amy Heckerling’s 1995 comedy Clueless, and is adapted from James St James novel by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio, who also wrote Raising Helen. Rather than finding her own distinct voice, Styler cherry picks liberally from reliable stalwarts such as Oscar Wilde and Plastic Bertrand whose quotes and music may not be known to young audiences.

After the conservative kids get used to Billy’s outlandish attire at his new school, he soon becomes friends with tousled haired dreamboat Flip Nelson (Ian Kelly), who he secretly fancies, meanwhile Flip is a bland but underwritten teen idol who remains unconvincing as a real person. Billy suffers a brutal homophobic attack that lands him in a coma and hospitalised, but this deepens his thing with Flip and he’s persuaded to run for homecoming Queen. There are some witty exchanges between Middler’s Muv and Dad’s housekeeper Florence (Celia Weston) who flags up the potential woes of Billy’s adolescent crush with Flip, and the gauche handling of this particular conflict resolution is one of the film’s many flaws. But these will likely slip off the radar of the film’s intended audience – it premiered at Berlinale’s 14K generation plus sidebar. See this for Alex Lawther and his star performance as Billy. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY DVD

 

Sundance Film Festival | Award and Winners 2019

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

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

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

 photo by Nanfu Wang.

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

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

 

photo by Eric Branco

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

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

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

The Souvenir| photo by Agatha A. Nitecka.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Audience Award: NEXT, Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra

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

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

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

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

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

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

 photo by Tore Vollan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

Transnistra (2019) | **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Anna Eborn | Doc, 93′

There’s a breezy insouciance to this slice of realism set in the tiny unrecognised state of Transnistra, which split from Moldova after the civil war in 1992. Atmospherically shot on gritty 16mm, it follows a group of close friends and their emotional ups and downs from the sultry days of summer to the bitterly cold winter. Technically the country doesn’t exist at all and that mood uncertainty is conveyed by Anna Eborn’s freewheeling approach to her narrative and a seductive occasional score of woozy jazz tunes and ambient sounds that convey a feeling of surreal dispossession. Far from the buzz of modern life and social media, they shoot the breeze and hang out amid crumbling Soviet buildings. You get the impression the Transnistrans don’t really care what happens now or in the future, beyond their secluded bubble, as long as they can enjoy life in this peaceful softly wooded wedge of land on the Black Sea south of Ukraine and North East of Romania.

There’s a still strong Soviet vibe to the infrastructure and Transnistra has its own police force, currency and army. And they make proud soldiers as we see them graduating from military school to the sounds of a full band and stage appearance, and there are congratulations all round. Russian is their language and the red and green flag sports a sickle but that’s as far as it goes. Eborn’s watchable, un-judgemental fourth feature portrays a happy little ‘country’ content to jog along proudly for as long as it can. And after all, love is still love wherever you are in the world. MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | 23 Jan – 3 Feb 2019 | VPRO BIG SCREEN WINNER

 

An Impossible Love (2018) ****

Dir.: Catherine Corsini; Cast: Virginie Efira, Niels Schneider, Jehnny Beth, Estelle Lescure; Belgium/France 2018, 135 min.

Best known for her Lesbian drama La Belle Saison director/writer Catherine Corsini’s screen adaptation of Christine Angot’s novel plays out like an historical thesis on feminism. Starting in the late 1950s in the small French town of Chateauroux, Corsini tells the story of a brief but passionate love affair that turns into a long-term war between Rachel and Niels. Their daughter Chantal will suffer tragically from her father’s contempt for her mother.

When Rachel (Efira), a clerk, meets the upper-middle class Niels (Schneider) they are attracted to each other. But it soon becomes clear he’s just interested in sex, while Rachel is an incurable romantic and falls for the “man of the world”. Niels leaves her, making it clear he’s not interested in marriage. But when Rachel gives birth to a daughter, Chantal (who is played by four actors during the film), Niels refuses paternity, so Rachel has to settle for “father unknown”, which hurts her much more than being left behind with Chantal. The two adults barely talk, but Niels tells Rachel en-passant, that he has married a wealthy German woman “who will look after him”. By the time Chantal (Lescure) reaches adolescence, the picture has changed with alarming consequences for all concerned.

An Impossible Love is sometimes heartbreaking. Rachel has such low self-esteem from the beginning, she does not ask anything for herself: she does not expect Niels to ever recognise her as an equal. But she hopes that her daughter will have a better life, if she can persuade Niels to give her his name. She is well aware how disturbed Chantal is after her frequent visits to her father a teenager, but she is adamant not to rock the boat.  

DoP Jeanne Lapoirie, who worked with Corsini on La Belle Saison, has gracefully recreated the atmosphere of the 1950s and early 1960s, when women were (the supposed) passive victims of men. The images show Rachel seemingly living in a “pink world with fluffy clouds”, in which she surrenders he whole identity to Niels. The latter is cold and manipulative, always yearning for his ‘freedom’, committed only to his own progress. If one compares Rachel with the adult Chantal, one sees the difference. Progress, so Corsini, has been made, but at what cost:  since Chantal had to carry the burden of her mother’s lack of self-esteem. Even though sometimes over-didactic, Corsini achieves her goal of showing the long, ongoing struggle for emancipation.  AS 

NOW SHOWING at http://Curzoncinemas.com and selected arthouse venues | Previewed at BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://youtu.be/B-2QL8tjP2I

   

Hail Satan! (2019) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Penny Lane | US, Doc 95′

Satanism is gaining ground, but don’t panic. Penny Lane’s drôle but disappointing documentary will explain why. According to her findings, the old Devil we can come to know and love has actually been foisted by his own petard. His cult has been hijacked by a motley crew of rather ordinary people who just want to get together and counter the mainstream forces they see dominating America. No harm done. Counterbalancing  is certainly a reasonable idea, but not a compelling premise for a a full length feature documentary. 

Satanists have chosen the rather apt name of The Satanic Temple (TST for short) to represent their cause – and simply because no one else had chosen this title, they checked on the internet, and it was available. And their main man and co-founder really looks the part too with his glazed right eye and shifty expression: Lucien Greaves – not his real name – works jolly hard for the organisation as its spokesperson, ensconced in the black-painted wooden clad house (straight out of the film Halloween) in Salem Massachusetts. Some of the other supporters look rather weird too in their Gothic garb and horned headgear, but that’s about as scary as it gets. And they don’t have much to say for themselves  either, beyond criticising the people they vehemently oppose.

But doesn’t a religion have to have conviction, spirituality, beliefs and customs that transcend mere civic duty?. Amongst their seven tenets the Satanists list: compassion, a struggle for justice, and ‘the inviolability of the body’. But this doctrine could easily apply to the Girl Guides.

And Lane’s documentary certainly doesn’t make us quake in our boots over these so-called Satanists. Mild fascination turns gradually to boredom as Hail Satan! plays out, running round in ever decreasing circles in its effort to get to the crux of the organisation. What TST purports to represent seems ill-defined, but its certainly anti-establishment. The thrust of their activity is clearly to oppose government efforts to establish religious totems such as a granite structure listing the The Ten Commandments in front of a state house, and to erect their own idol which is a metallic figure called Behemoth.

But once we discover that name Satan is just a facade for TST’s rather pointless activities – such as attending ‘unbaptisms’ – and it adherents are just a bunch of average punters with nothing salacious or particularly macabre about them (except their black garb) the whole documentary starts to feel quite tedious. And the fact that they feature regularly on Fox News spinning endless ‘Satanic’ narratives won’t have a novelty value forever. On their website they maintain: We acknowledge blasphemy is a legitimate expression of personal independence from counter-productive traditional norms”. Isn’t this just the same as supporting free speech?. And there’s nothing evil about that.

There’s nothing even o suggest that Satanism is a religion. Ok, it doesn’t espouse violence or evil. Infact it doesn’t really espouse anything cogent at all, apart from being a force for decency and liberalism, and a mealy-mouthed opposition to the mainstream. But behind their black hoods and wicked headgear, there is little talk of faith, spirituality or even morality. Infact there’s no talk of anything other than their smug feeling of hiding behind something that actually doesn’t represent them at all. So their whole existence is misleading. But it’s gathering ground. Their numbers swell day by day, and you might even find yourself joining them one day. But make no mistake. If you’re drawn to this film in the hope of experiencing of something dark and dastardly, you will leave feeling disappointed. At the end of the day, these Satanists are just a bunch of small-town do-gooders.  MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) ***

Dir.: Marielle Heller; Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtis, Anna Deavere Smith; USA 2018, 109 min. 

Celebrity biographer Lee Carol Israel (1939-2014) made a decent living writing biographies of the likes of Estée Lauder and Katherine Hepburn. But when her books no longer sold she turned her hand to a deceptive means to make money in this darkly caustic literary ‘thriller’ adapted from her memoirs by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl).

Scripted by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty it follows Israel’s descent into forgery after her literary career comes to a grinding halt. Mellissa McCarthy atones for some mediocre support performances with her powerhouse portrayal of a misanthrope who cannot accept that her work has gone out of fashion. Meanwhile, her bills pile up and Lee sinks deeper and deeper into alcoholism and unreasonable behaviour. Agent Marjorie (Curtis), tries to help Lee, but only gets disdain and anger for her trouble.

Then quite by chance, Lee comes across a note written in a library book and accidentally left there by a well-known writer, and it gives her an idea: she starts forging notes purportedly written by Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker, spurred on by her jailbird friend and accomplice Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). Israel cashes in with booksellers, who re-sell with a profit at a time where this kind of activity was alarmingly unregulated. Among them is Anna (Wells), who is blinded by Lee’s past glory, and fancies a romantic engagement. But this is furthest from Lee’s mind: she is afraid of any sort of intimacy; a meeting with her ex-lover Elaine (Smith) confirms this. But the easy money  soon slips away: Lee is blacklisted when her forgeries come to light, so she has to go one step further in this dark biopic of descent into shameless deception.

There is hardly anything positive to say about Lee Israel: she is unattractive physically and personally and also extremely arrogant, claiming “I am a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker”. Unable to feel any empathy, Lee goes through life with a tunnel vision of arrested development. It is to McCarthy’s credit that she wrings some withering humour and a chink of humanity laced with sardony from this egomaniac. 

DoP Brandon Trost lovingly re-creates a New York before the internet, and there are some glowing skylines, welcoming bars and cosy bookshops where people had the leisure of reading and discussing. Marielle Heller directs with great panache, and McCarthy carries the feature with gusto for the socially inept and deluded Lee Israel, whom she humanises with a performance of nuances. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2019

   

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

Dir: Eva Ionesco | Drama,

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

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

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

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

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JAN – 3 FEB 2019

The Best of Dorien B (2019) *** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Anke Blonde | Cast: Kim Strauwaerts, Dirk van Dijk, Peter De Graef | Belgium, Drama | 106’

Anke Blonde’s contemporary portrait of loneliness in a seemingly busy and successful life will be familiar. And THE BEST OF DORIEN B’s subdued aesthetic and slow pace reflect a deep-felt dissatisfaction within its heroine’s  humdrum existence in an ordinary town in Belgium. Viewed from the outside wife and mother Dorien has everything to live for: a loving husband, three healthy boys and a vocation she always dreamed of: caring for animals in a busy veterinary practice. 

So what’s missing? A real connection. It feels like everyone is projecting their own needs onto her capable shoulders. But Dorien just plods on oblivious. With no-one to confide in while she soaks up the draining negativity of her parent’s emerging marriage crisis and her vet husband’s previous infidelity with a colleague – which seems to be far from over – she soldiers on. In her deft feature debut, the Belgian director reveals the deep cracks in a perfect facade. And then Dorien’s world crashes down. And from this personal crisis comes an epiphany moment for the former wildchild to bring the focus back firmly to her own hopes and dreams. This thoughtful comedy drama with its sensitive nuanced performances – particularly from lead Kim Snauwaert – plays its serious side lightly but makes a firm point: that sometimes we need to be selfish in order to keep on supporting those whose depend on us. Playing to packed audiences in Rotterdam’s Big Screen Competition line-up it certainly seem to strike a chord.  MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | BIG SCREEN COMPETITION | 23 Jan-3 Feb 2019

Berlinale Competition films announced | Berlinale 2019

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

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

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

BERLINALE GOLDER BEAR – hopefuls and Competition films:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

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

Berlinale Special Gala at the Friedrichstadt-Palast

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

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

In Competition – Out of Competition

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

Marighella by Wagner Moura (Brazil) – Out of competition

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

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

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

Berlinale Special films:

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 

On her Shoulders (2018) ****

Dir.: Alexandria Bombach; Documentary with Nadia Murad; USA 2018, 94 min.

Alexandria Bombach (Frame by Frame) has experienced human trafficking at first hand. This informs her devastating documentary about Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad, and her quest to bring justice to her compatriot victims of ISIS genocide. This crime against humanity is still waiting to be addressed by the international community. But Bombach started her project long before Murad was awarded the Nobel Price for Peace in 2018 – jointly with Denis Mukwege. Currently around 400 000 Yazidis, are living in the diaspora all over the world.

Nadia Murad, born 1993 in the village of Kocho, Sinjar province in northern Iraq, was a student when ISIS declared all Yazidi (members of a monotheistic religion) “a shame to Islam” and started a genocide in 2014. Over 5000 people were killed, 7000 women and children were imprisoned as sex slaves. Nadia Murad’s village was attacked on 15th September 2014, ISIS killing her mother and six brothers the same day. Nadia was taken with her two sisters to the city of Mosul, were she was raped, beaten and burned with cigarettes. She escaped, and was smuggled out of the country by neighbours. In Germany, 200 000 Yazidis are living in exile. Here, Nadia was offered psychotherapy for the trauma she had suffered. “But after one session I knew that this therapy would not help me, as long as many of us were still in captivity and nobody was prosecuting the ISIS members who are responsible”. Thus she became an activist, travelling the world for support. In 2015 she was made an Ambassador of the UN, Nadia was the first person to brief the assembly on Human Trafficking. She visited parliaments, among others the Lower House in Ottawa, and attended a rally in Berlin to mark the second anniversary of the genocide. She has tried to improve their dreadful conditions in camps in Italy and Turkey. In 2016 she re-visited the UN Assembly again, together with the human Rights lawyer Amal Clooney, to lodge a formal lawsuit against the ISIS commanders responsible for the atrocities.

Bombach’s greatest achievement is that she always concentrates on Nadia Murad as a real person – rather than an activist. It hurts to watch her suffering all over again in order to get attention for the survivors and justice for the dead and living. For over twenty years she lived in a peaceful village, where she dreamt of opening a beauty salon “so that girls could enhance their personality”. Then came the shock of enslavement, and now the stress of being on the international scene to fight for her fellow Yazidis. It begs the question, what is left of the real Nadia Murad? This indomitable young woman is still working to help her people despite ISIS assassination threats. Putting on a brave face, she tells her fellow Yazidis not to cry. But, Bombach catches the moments when Nadia breaks down – but only in private. A portrait of hope in the darkness of genocide. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 29 JANUARY 2019

Bergman: A Year in the Life (2018) ****

Dir: Jane Magnusson | Doc | Sweden | 116’

Documentarian Jane Magnusson takes a swipe at Ingmar Bergman’s memory in her sprawling in-depth documentary that marks this year’s centenary of the birth of the Swedish legend. It is an informative expose that lays bare the lesser known side of Bergman and follows on from her 2013 outing Trespassing Bergman where Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen appraised the filmmaker’s staggering oeuvre.

In this current climate of moral rectitude, your judgement of the film will be guided by whether or not you think an artist’s work should stand apart from their personal life. Predicably it emerges that Ingmar was his father’s favourite and  his brother Dag Bergman reveals other intimate details about their childhood together, including his brother’s neurosis that led to stomach pains and sleepless nights.

Opting for a thematic rather than chronological narrative allows Magnusson to zoom in on Bergman’s personality, family and the women in his life in a revealing expose of a man who seemed entirely focused on his own needs. Yet he also emerges as a director who worked closely and intensively with his actors creating female roles that were appealing as well as emotionally and intellectually challenging.

So many documentaries about Bergman have been hagiographic tributes to the national hero, and when a filmmaker reaches these heady heights it becomes difficult to be critical. Since the dawn of time, creators have been philanderers and poor parents, driven by their obsession with emotionally consuming work. Does this mean that they should be metaphorically ‘taken out and shot’ or have their work shunned and demonised?

Magnusson’s film is observational in style, cleverly focusing in on 1957, Bergman’s most prolific year as a filmmaker on television and the big screen, with the release of Wild Strawberries and the Seventh Seal, his most autonomous work. It was also the year of his involvement in four theatre productions – including the massive almost unstageable endeavour that was Peer Gynt. 1957 heralded the arrival of his sixth child, with wife Gun Grut, and romances leading to marriage with Käbi Laretei and Ingrid von Rosen, including an affair with actor Bibi Andersson, who starred in the year’s two films.

Enriched by a wealth of personal photos and footage, there are informative talking heads from the world of film, theatre and literature making this a definitive and ambitious piece of work that reveals a complicated but endearing genius, despite its provocative stance. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 29 JANUARY 2019

Destroyer (2018 **

Dir: Karyn Kusama | US Thriller | 121’

You will gawp at Nicole Kidman’s transformation in this rather bleak and messy crime thriller cum character study of a lovelorn woman whose desperate past derails her future. It comes as a shock from an actor who is used to playing vulnerable and smart but always beautiful women.

Karyn Kusama has finally given Kidman the chance to play a broken, badass bitch in Destroyer. And it’s a dynamite performance that may look unappealing but certainly strikes home. As Erin Bell, her baleful, sinister stare haunts nearly every frame and coiled anger springs out unexpectedly – this antiheroine is not out to please anyone. After a messy opening act where Kusama establishes the storyline, a fractured narrative seesaws backwards and forwards from the late 1980/90s to present day LA, Destroyer pictures Kidman as hapless antiheroine Detective Erin Bell, whose youth was spent going undercover with her partner/lover Chris (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate a band of robbers, headed up by glib psycho Silas (Toby Kebbell). But when Silas reappears on the scene, she’s determined to put an end to his antics, which have been carrying on since back in the day. But something else happened – Erin fell in love, madly. And that love, or loss of it on a fateful day that unspools in the satisfying final act, has made her into the woman she is in the current day.

And while her character is utterly believable in both the past and the present, it’s in the unravelling of the story – particularly in fin de siècle LA, that things sometimes feel unconvincing and rather anodyne, given the nature of crime-ridden LA. But Kidman’s detective is hard-hitting, intelligent and unafraid to be unpopular – easier when you’ve got nothing to lose, or live for. And that’s the essence of her character. And although occasionally she overstates her violent vehemence in the context of what’s going on around her, teetering on the edge of caricature, it’s a corruscating performance and one to be proud of.

Sadly this is a step back for Kusama whose brilliant thriller The Invitation (2015), was a shocker with a humane face. Here the band of brigands are almost laughably louche and lightweight, in complete contrast to Kidman’s detective character. And although they try to inject menace into proceedings, all we feel from them is disdain. The only refreshing contrast is a vignette from arch villain who sparks out interest, but not for long.

Kidman is so hard-bitten and bitter you start to feel uncomfortable watching her. Especially in scenes with her daughter’s nasty boyfriend, or jerking off a terminally ill low-life when she’s desperate for a lead. At the end of the day, Destroyer is an unpleasant, empty kind of film. It goes through the motions, but leaves you cold – and glad it’s all over.  MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 25 JANUARY 2019

Nina (2018) **

Dir.: Olga Chajdas; Cast: Julia Kijowska, Eliza Rycembel, Andrzej Konopka; Poland 2018, 122 min.

This hit and miss debut drama from Polish filmmaker Olga Chajdas struggles with an illogical narrative, despite some positive elements. 

French teacher Nina (Kijowska) desperately wants a child despite her failing marriage to Wotjek (Konopka), a car mechanic. In order to find the ideal surrogate mother the couple embark on a bizarre strategy: reversing their car into a prospective surrogate’s car, they then offer the victim a cost free repair at Wotjek’s garage and make a connection. And it’s during one of these ill-conceived escapades that Nina meets Magda (Rycembel), an airport security guard with an active lesbian sex life. Nina falls head over heels for the androgynous young woman but Wotjek, feeling left out, reacts with a violent assault on Magda. Nina then gets cold feet, after a confrontation with one of Madga’s ex-lovers with the whole debacle culminating in a positive conclusion. 

Strangely enough some of strongest scenes in NINA take place away from the central lesbian love affair. But while the lovers somehow lack a certain chemistry, Rycembel’s performance as the hot to trot initiator of the sensitive sexual encounter scenes has a lot going for it. And this is what makes Nina unique in spite of its hapless narrative. DoP Tomasz Naumiuk does a great job of recording the wild goings on with his mobile handheld images. There are also some extremely beautiful snowy landscapes.

At Rotterdam Film Festival 2018, where NINA won the VPRO Big Screen Award, Chajdas talked about the repressive new government and the lack of a gay club scene in Poland – so so she makes this a more colourful feature of her drama than reality permits.  AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS from 29 JANUARY 2019

Mary Queen of Scots (2018) ****

Dir: Josie Rourke | Wri: Beau Willimon | Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Angela Bain, Thon Petty, Adrian Lester, Adrian Derrick-Palmer, Ian Hart, Simon Russell Beale, David Tennant, Brendan Coyle | Drama | US/UK/ 134′

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS is the second film this year that deals with the complicated lives of women in power. In Yorgos Lanthimos’s sassy black comedy Queen Anne falls under the spell of her two female courtiers but manages to prevail despite her reduced mental and physical circumstances. Josie Rourke’s toys convincingly with the truth in her spectacular but sensitive drama that explores the thorny relationship between two 16th century Queens at opposite ends of the British Islands – Mary in Scotland and Elizabeth in Southern England. In some ways these show how women at the top can be lionised and then swiftly victimised: all three female monarchs are highly intelligent and intuitive but they are also totally alone, and crucially vulnerable because of their gender. And the salient fact that emerges in both these films is that regal women – or any female leaders for that matter – are betrayed by their own kind – and not just their menfolk – in their fight to prevail (‘wise men wasted on the whims of women’).

As director of the Donmar Warehouse Lisa Rourke’s approach is theatrical and exquisitely visual in her screen debut. This is a lavishly mounted and magnificent saga that straddles the majestic Scottish landscape and also the lush intimacy of the interior scenes. The 16th century is seen from a uniquely feminine focus. And Rourke appreciates the sensibilities in question that only a woman could appreciate: the great sadness at the heart of Elizabeth I is her inability to procreate and this makes her a vulnerable character with a fatal flaw, despite her abiding strength of character and acute intelligence. Power for women in that era lay in their fertility and also their fecundity. And Mary is fully aware of this and uses her biology to get the better of Elizabeth, at least for a while. And when they finally meet, in a dreamlike scene where gossamer curtains continually conceal Elizabeth from her rival, the meeting is not confrontational but essentially full of regret and commiseration – although neither backs down from their position of residual power. Beau Willimon (Netflix) brings his unique brand of TV theatricals to the party with behind the scenes skulduggery.

The film opens as the 18-year-old widowed and still virgin Mary (Ronan) returns to Scottish shores after a sexless marriage to François – who was apparently too scared to perform his manly duties. Her half- brother (James McArdle) is temporarily on the throne, and not ecstatic to see her, for obvious reasons, and Protestant cleric John Knox (Tennant) is highly vocal in his dislike of her. Her Catholicism is the divisive factor, as is her unwillingness to stroke male egos (“one moment does not make a man”). Her cousin and rival Elizabeth (a regal Margot Robbie) is also unhappy to have her back in Britain, as she is a rightful heir to the throne and Elizabeth is childless, but concedes that Mary will come next. But those around them are not happy about the possible outcomes, and their scheming sets in motion a series of events that are now ‘history’.

Rourke and Willimon’s subtly salacious backdrop to the intrigue makes this neatly condensed historical thriller compelling but also highly plausible. And Rourke keeps the tension mounting and the pace tight throughout in her masterful first feature. There are no long monologues or endless pontifications – and she deftly dovetails the various plot-lines together while stitching sensually intimate scenes into the narrative and also staging short-lived but spectacular battle scenes. Costumes and hairstyles feel both ancient and edgily Avantgarde. And a sexual frisson seems to sizzle throughout the entire cast.

Obviously there will be bleats from historical purists, but this is an imagined drama not an historical recreation. As Mary, Ronan feels perfectly cast and polished, her porcelain prettiness suffused with ethereal delicacy, and yet she is resolute and pragmatic to the last. After being seduced by Darnley’s charm – hardly surprising given that her smouldering libido has been unquenched by a sexless short marriage – she quickly susses him out to be a bisexual airhead with feet of clay and an eye to the main chance – but realises she must also bear a child by him – as soon as possible. She also fathoms out the way to do this is through domination, and he responds.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth gets a dose of small pox – transforming Robbie from a regal stunner to a dried-up crone – but still radiates an inner strength and an outer vulnerability which brings out the Queen’s thoughtful introspection and her deep regret at having to be “a man”. And the final scene sees her holding her own, despite Mary’s persistence as a Stuart. This is a finely-tuned but mesmerising arthouse drama that manages its modern viewpoint without losing site of its elegant antiquity. MT

From 18 JANUARY 2019

Sundance Film Festival | 24 January – 3 February 2019

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

After The Wedding

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

Animals

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

Blinded by the Light

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

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

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

I Am Mother

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

Late Night

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

Official Secrets

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

Paddleton

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

Photograph

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

Relive

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

Sonja – The White Swan

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

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

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

The Mustang

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

The Report

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

The Sunlit Night

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

The Tomorrow Man

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

Top End Wedding

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

Troop Zero

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

Velvet Buzzsaw

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

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

Dir: Ryan White.

Halston

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

Dir: Frederic Tcheng

 Love, Antosha

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

Dir: Garret Price

Marianne & Leonard

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

Dir: Nick Broomfield

 Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen

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

Dir/writer: Hepi Mita

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

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

Dir: Stanley Nelson

 Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Mollu Ivins

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

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

The Great Hack

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

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

The Inventor: Out for blood in Silicon Valley

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

Director: Alex Gibney

 Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

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

Dir: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

 Untouchable

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

Dir: Ursula Macfarlane

Words from a Bear

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

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

Before You Know It

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

Big Time Adolescence

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

Brittany Runs A Marathon

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

Clemency

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

Hala

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

Honey Boy

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

Imaginary Order

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

Luce

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

Ms. Purple

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

Native Son

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

Share

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

The Farewell

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

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

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

Them That Follow

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

The Sound of Silence

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

To The Stars

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

Always in Season

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

American Factory

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

APOLLO 11

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

Bedlam

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

David Crosby: Remember My Name

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

Hail Satan?

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

Jawline

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

Knock Down the House

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

Midnight Family

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

Mike Wallace Is Here

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

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

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

One Child Nation

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

Pahokee

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

TIGERLAND

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

Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary

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

Where’s My Roy Cohn?

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

Dirty God

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

Divine Love

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

Dolce Fine Giornata

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

Judy & Punch

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

Koko-di Koko-da

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

Monos

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

Queen of Hearts

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

The Last Tree

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

The Sharks

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

The Souvenir

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

This is not Berlin

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

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

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

Advocate

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

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

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

Gaza

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

Honeyland

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

Lapü

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

Midnight Traveler

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

Sea of Shadows

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

Shooting the Mafia

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

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire

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

The Disappearance of My Mother

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

The Edge of Democracy

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

The Magic Life of V

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

The Rider (2017) **** Blu-ray

Writer/Dir: Chloe Zhao | Drama | 100min | US | 2017

Skilfully melding narrative and documentary film techniques, The Rider is set on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and follows a Lakota cowboy after an accident derails his rodeo riding dreams.

Chinese-born Chloe Zhao is a writer, director and producer known for her previous Cannes outing Songs My Brothers Taught Me. THE RIDER, her second feature selected for the Directors’ Fortnight and has won the National Critics’ Aeard. It’s a poetic cinema vérité drama that explores themes of male pride, family loyalty and thwarted ambition through a moodily soulful young cowboy who is unable to continue his vocation in the rodeo circuit due to a life-changing injury.

Enlived by the magnificent mountains and windswept prairies of America’s Badland’s National Park, South Dakota, a cast of non-professional actors Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau and Lane Scott star alongside Cat Clifford, who appeared in Songs My Brothers Taught Me, make this resonant action drama feel both authentic and  informative on the subject of horse training and competitive riding.

Zhao convincingly conveys the wild excitement and thrilling danger of this male-dominated world where young cowboys are addicted to the high octane buzz of the rodeo the narrative sizzles with angst and poignant moments, where macho bravado must be tempered with patience and gentle coaxing required to tame and tackle the wild horses and train the, to be ridden, and this is where Brady has an innate ability.

Brady dearly loves his family, his father is a disappointment to him, drinking and gambling on the slot machines, but he also fails to comprehend the weight of responsibility left to his dad when Brady’s mum died leaving him to bring up his two siblings: his brother has been left brain-damaged from a rodeo accident and his kind-hearted sister clearly has learning difficulties. But after a fall competing in the circuit where he was once a leading star, the film’s unsettling tension derives from Brady’s bitter struggle to fulfill his future in the outside world, a pale comparison to his life in the wild outdoors, and he constantly torn between reality working in the local supermarket, and his desire to get back in the wild riding and training with his horses.

But this is Brady’s film and he gives a mesmerising and deeply moving turn with echoes of Montgomery Clift in The Misfitas, as a man so deeply connected to the land and his horses that he doesn’t know where else to go. MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY

The Rider won the Art Cinema Award at CANNES 2017 and National US Critics’ Award 2018

 

 

 

 

The Early Cinema of Helena Solberg | Birkbeck Moving Image

Brazilian director Helena Solberg’s earlier films are contemporaneous with Brazilian Cinema Novo, but her work remains uncharted to most audiences. Following her recent retrospective in São Paulo, the aim of this event is to bring into view Solberg’s earlier films, such as The Interview (1966), The Emerging Woman (1974) and The Double Day (1975).

The Interview was shot in 1964, the same year as the military coup orchestrated against the then President João Goulart, which established the military dictatorship until 1985. The film consists of a series of interviews with young women from a middle-class background, whose testimonies suggest a correlation between female oppression and the military political oppression felt at the time. The Emerging Woman was Solberg’s first film shot in the USA. The documentary offers an account of the history of the feminist movement in the USA and the UK through the use of letters, diaries, manifestos and archival images. The Double Day is, on the other hand, a documentary that examines female labour in Latin America, from the factory floors in Mexico and Argentina to the mining industry in Bolivia and Venezuela.

Documentary film genre conventionally uses oral testimonies of personal experiences, but Solberg’s use of women’s testimonies suggests the deployment of a feminist practice of storytelling as a way to expose and oppose specific instruments of power. Shot 50 and 40 years ago, Solberg’s subject matters and aesthetic choices make her films current and prescient. (C) 2018 Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image All rights reserved.

 The early cinema of Helena Solberg | Saturday 2 February 12.00 | Birkbeck Cinema WC1

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Bird Box (2018) **

Dir: Susanne Bier | Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, Sarak Paulson, Travante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver | Sci-fi thriller | 124′

Susanne Bier is a well known as one of Denmark’s most distinguished auteurs. Her themes are universal in nature but their focus is intimate and often family-based, both on her TV and in big screen outings. As one of the original Danish Dogme pack, her drama Open Hearts brought her into the international spotlight in 2002. Bier was also the first female director to win a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, an Emmy Award and a European Film Award.

This time, to her credit, she has decided to experiment with a dystopian sci-fi drama . Structurally flawed and not particularly enjoyable, despite its starry cast, BIRDBOX is a laudable effort but not one of her best. Sandra Bullock plays Malorie, a run of the mill artist who has converted her small flat into a studio and is expecting the imminent arrival of a baby. But her ordinary life is catapulted into bizarre and tragic circumstances when a wave of unexplained mass suicides in Romania and Siberia turns the world upside down. Everywhere people display what newscasters term “psychotic behaviour” in the post-apocalyptic meltdown. Cars crash for no reason, and pedestrians wander willy nilly onto main roads, or shoot themselves in the head. To add to the weirdness of it all, Bier’s narrative jerks backwards and forwards showing Malorie’s reaction in the present to the madness that has gone before. Clearly this all resonates with a contemporary scenario where people have lost sight of their goals. This translates into a storyline where humans must protect their eyesight at all costs when outdoors, and are forced to be blindfold for fear of facing their worst nightmares.

Bullock is superbly cast exuding all the pragmatism and resilience she’s well known for (in Gravity and Speed) but for some reason she’s also looking after two children who are clearly not hers. And why the pregnancy into the bargain? The film opens well with the cataclysm but then descends into torpor in the claustrophobically awkward second act which takes place in a house where Malorie is hiding with arch misery-guts John Malkovich’s Douglas and a retired soldier (Rhodes). Later joining them is a sinister but chipper Tom Hollander. This interior strife clearly echoes what’s happening outside, and is only briefly leavened by Douglas’ discovery of a cache of booze. But even when the action moves into the forest the whole scenario is unconvincing. BIRDBOX brings nothing new to the dystopian apocalypse party, apart from the blindfolds – which are a distraction. Clearly the dark forces causing all the mayhem are inspired by Medusa’s Gorgon, but this all seems too far-fetched and strung out. Full marks for trying but let’s hope Bier returns to form in 2019. MT

STREAMING ON NETFLIX FROM 21 DECEMBER 2018

London Turkish Film Week 2018 | 12 -16 December 2018

If there’s a common thread that runs through Turkish cinema it lies in the vast nation’s landscape and nature that shapes and often divides human relationships. And nowhere is this more so than in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or winner WINTER SLEEP (2014), set in the Anatolia’s mountain region of Cappadocia. Whilst the mountains represent freedom, his human characters fight it out in a claustrophobic hotel. Men are usually out of touch with their emotions in all of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, and Winter Sleeps anti-hero Aydin is no exception. A former actor, living from his inherited wealth his property portfolio makes him a feudal lord, even though he sees himself more as an intellectual. Living with his much younger wife Nihal and recently divorced sister Necla, Ceylan confronts him with his weaknesses, peeling away his persona away layer by layer. Ceylan pays homage to Bergman and Bresson in the long, vicious arguments between Aydin, his wife and sister where the camera catches them in shot/contra-shot movement, the close-ups showing hurt on the women’s faces, and Aydin’s sarcastic smile. Echoing Bresson in Au hazard Balthazar, Ceylan uses Schubert’s piano sonata no. 20 to score the sequences between Aydin and his wife – the region’s wild horses serve as a metaphor for their seething discontent; in a more generous mood Aydin has freed one of the beasts to return to the wild. Ceylan’s intensity never lets up, leaving WINTER SLEEP as an unforgettable chronicle of human psychological warfare, amidst a towering landscape.

GRAIN (2017), directed by Semih Kaplanogu (Honey), is based on a chapter from the Quran, but can easily compete with the best of Hollywood’s dystopia. A scientist working for an all-powerful Corporation, flees into the wasteland surrounding the heavily controlled city, to find a supply grain uncontaminated by GM. There he meets a stranger, who leads him to a secret location in the rugged terrain where they eventually find what they are looking for. Giles Nuttgens’ stark black-and-white camerawork conveys a post-apocalyptic world, dwarfing the human element. An enigmatic narrative scratches to be heard in this devastated landscape where Ufo-like fighter planes hunt down the characters like animals. Kaplanogu’s symbolism echoes Tarkovsky as his protagonists are overwhelmed by the destruction of nature, a strong ‘end of days’ feeling, where fragmentation triumphs over the human weak attempts to save themselves and the planet.  A terrifying and prescient drama. 

In her debut HICRAN AND MELEK, director Esra Vesu Ozcelik explores the true meaning of female emancipation in a discursive drama set in a small rural community where Iman’s daughter Hicran hopes to find a decent job and a fulfilling marriage. Her childhood friend Melek left a decade ago for Istanbul, where she’s been working in a night club. But her abusive boyfriend has driven her back home. The two women look at their lives but never really find any answers. Again, the landscape is shown as a feature of personal identification.

Dervis Zaim’s DREAM is by the far the most ambitious feature of this year’s programme. Sine is an architect who very much sides with Prince Charles’ traditionalist views in her dislike of contemporary building design. But she is driven to eventually distraction when no-one will support her latest scheme for a cave-like mosque. Suffering from stress and insomnia, she goes into in a sleeping clinic. The treatment has a profound effect on her psychologically and physically: her four different identities then focus on one goal: to finish the project. Based on the ‘Seven Sleepers’ myth, Dream is not only a feminist manifest, but a coruscating critique of contemporary architecture.

LONDON TURKISH FILM WEEK | 12-16 DECEMBER 2018

 

          

Lila Alviles Interview (2018) Jury Prize Winner | Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Marrakech Film Festival Jury Prize Winer THE CHAMBERMAID plays the same thematic tune as two other festival winners this Summer: Golden Lion winner Roma and In A Distant Land which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. They highlight the isolated and lonely lives of ordinary working people, often migrants – in this case, a Mexican national whose job in the capital detaches her from her loved ones. There is a distinct chilly humour to this acutely observed feature debut from Mexican actress, filmmaker and opera director Lila Alviles. We talked to her about her drama that won the JURY PRIZE at the 17th Marrakech International Film Festival 2018. MT

https://vimeo.com/305923453

JOY (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018 | Winner Etoile d’Or

Dir.: Sudabeh Mortezai; Cast: Joy Anwulika Alphonsus, Precious Mariam Sanusi, Angela Ekeleme Pius, Jane Okoh; Austria 2018, 100 min.

German born writer/director Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo) spent her youth in Vienna and Teheran before studying film at UCLA. Her second feature is centred around Nigerian women sold by their families as sex-workers to Europe. In the prologue, we see the local shaman performing the ‘Juju’ ritual on one of these young women: the victims have to leave an intimate part of themselves behind so they don’t run away, and send money home regularly.

We meet Joy (Alphonsus) on a dark night in Vienna where she is soliciting. Next to her stands young Precious (Sanusi), who has just arrived from Nigeria and does not want to sell her body, in order to pay back Madame (Pius), whom she owes 60,000 Euros. Back in the flat where the girls live in cramped  conditions, Madame holds Joy responsible for Precious’ attitude and tells her that her debt will increase if she doesn’t encourage the young girl to work harder. For good measure, Precious is than raped by two men, her cries of help going unanswered. The brutal treatment makes Precious fall into line and she becomes the highest earner of the group. Madame expresses her thanks by selling her for a profit to Italian pimps. 

Meanwhile Joy and Precious are continually pestered by their families to send more money home. Joy’s family ‘invents’ a fake illnesses so her clients will take pity and pay her extra.  And Precious’ mother asks her to sleep with more more men: “Can you imagine, the woman who gave birth to me wants me to do do that!” Joy, who has a daughter Chioma (Okoh), for whose upkeep she pays a nanny, is sent with Precious to the Italian border, keeping her passport. Precious asks her many times to relinquish the passport, so that she can escape. But Joy is well aware that Madame’s vengeance would be be grim, and she reminds Precious: “This is a game of survival of the fittest. I would kill you if I needed to. Do not trust me!”. Her calculation proves right when Madame ‘releases’ her, which is not so generous as it looks since new and younger girls have arrived from Nigeria.

The director takes a detached approach throughout. The gruesome details of the women’s suffering – Joy is bleeding heavily after being raped by three men, but Madame does not allow her to seek medical help. The whole circle of violence, starting in Nigeria is repeated over and over again, because the authorities in Austria want Joy to testify against Madame, but won’t grant her immediate asylum.

JOY explores a real and continuous nightmare that is happening all the time, in nearly every European city. Shot starkly by DoP Clemens Hufnagl, mostly at night, the few interior scenes reveal the misery and fear that haunts women daily. A depressing but worthwhile film that won the Etoile d’Or at this year’s MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL. MT

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | WINNER GOLDEN STAR MARRAKECH | WINNER LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2108

 

The Chambermaid | La camarista (2018) **** Marrakech Film Festival 2018 Jury Prize | Interview

Dir: Lila Alviles | Cartol | Drama | Mexico | 90′

The Chambermaid plays the same thematic tune as two other festival winners this Summer: Golden Lion winner Roma and In A Distant Land which won the Golden Leopard at Locarno. They highlight the isolated and lonely lives of ordinary working people, often migrants – in this case, a Mexican national whose job in the capital detaches her from her loved ones. There is a distinct chilly humour to this acutely observed feature debut from Mexican actress, filmmaker and opera director Lila Alviles. It follows the daily grind of a hotel worker in one of the Mexico City’s 5 star hotels. Cartol (La Tirisia) plays Eve with infinite grace and good humour – in one astonishing scene she stands for seemingly ages outside a lift during one of those awkward silences – catching a hotel guest’s eye several times with an expression that speaks volumes.

Pristinely executed in the zen-like interiors of this palace of interior design, the film pictures an upmarket public as they often are behind the closed door of their luxury suites: ill-mannered, demanding and crude. Bereft of their clothes they also take leave of their humanity – never mind their courtesy. This is social politics laid bare. The Chambermaid also examines the crafty interactions between the low-level workers themselves: the cunning soft sales techniques of her colleague in the laundry who is trying to supplement her low-paid job by selling hand cream and Tupperware. Or just trying to con her into sharing the latest fad – in this case, a gadget that delivers a shock to stimulate a feel-good rush of endorphin. Like a some ghastly face to face equivalent of FarmVille.

The Chambermaid is set in Mexico City’s Presidente Intercontinental. Eve is hard-working and diligent, but if she tries harder she’ll be allocated the stratospheric, newly refurbished 42nd floor with views to die for and even infinity pools. Pinning her hopes on the promotion, she improves her efficiency but to no avail. The only bonus here is in the lost property cupboard. In one of her rooms Eve has found a red dress and hopes to take it home, if the owner doesn’t claim it. But her gruelling schedule leaves no time to be with her child, let alone meet a partner. Outwardly timid, Eve shows her true colours in one scene involving a window cleaner who has taken a shine to her – along with his windows. Eve acknowledges him at a distance. Her reaction is plausible – a little light relief in a sea of sameness. But Alviles restrains herself and keeps this convincing.

Stunningly captured by Carlos Rossini’s creative camerawork, this sealed and sanitised world has a strange beauty. Loosely based on the book Hotel, by Sophie Calle, The Chambermaid is a contemplative but well-paced cinema verité piece that resonates with a powerful message from both sides of the equation. Eve’s humdrum existence is piqued by moments of insight that show her in a different light as she endure the indignities of her role with calm forbearance and subdued silence. The magnificent skyscapes are hers to see but never to enjoy in her closeted existence, locked in an eternal bubble with no respite, until the final scene where the ambient sounds of exotic birdsong replace the refrigerated buzz of musak and air-conditioning.  MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | JURY PRIZE WINNER 

7 QUESTIONS FOR Lila Alviles – director, THE CHAMBERMAID

1: Some of the most interesting films are coming out of South America – your story is simple but has universal appeal

Alviles: When I’m asked to explain my film I realise its so simple and yet profound. The idea started 8 years ago when I saw book about a photographer who took photos of the things people had left behind in hotels. I’m originally from a theatre background so originally it was going to be a play, but then I decided to make a film – to show to the chambermaids working there what I had in mind – and in the end it turned into a feature film as I followed them through their daily lives for 6 years so I could understand their world.  

2: The hotel feels like a microcosm of Mexico or even Mexico City with its different social make-up – the rich the poor, men and women behaving badly – behaving well.

Alviles: Yes, you’re absolutely right – I had so many stories to tell and yet I had no formal training, or diplomas in film – so in some ways I was an outsider. But I was determined to make the film and that’s how it all happened, and then we premiered in Toronto. Now, I’m taking on the festival circuit. 

3. How did you finance the feature?

Alviles: The money came from my own savings but I was so passionate about my idea and so I went with it through intuition. Then my producer joined me and helped me finish the film and other producers joined us to promote it. And we filmed in 17 days and have no done 18 festivals.

4: The good thing about your film is that its minimal dialogue and meditative pacing make it an absorbing watch for all nationalities – viewers can sit back and just enjoy the visual story. And that’s its strength, apart from the intriguing narrative. Are you part of the filmmaking community in Mexico today – along with Alfonso Cuaron or Michel Franco?

Alviles: Yes but not for me! There’s a lot of great cinema in Mexico, I go twice a week to the cinema. Well it’s difficult because I’m the one who came out of nowhere with my film as I didn’t attend film school. But now my film has been shown in Morelia – Mexico’s leading film festival  – and gradually it’s gaining an international platform. For the first time in my life my work speaks for what I am – whether I’m a woman or not.

5: The central actress Gabriela Cartol is very strong – how did you cast her?

Alviles: We had instant chemistry but I knew she was right for the part instantly. I often chose newcomers for my roles. But with Gabriela we have a trust that makes everything happen.

6: Yes she holds that scene outside the life with humour and with dignity – it’s my favourite scene is it yours?

Alviles: Yes it is – it’s almost like a documentary. I wanted so much to be a filmmaker and now I realise that this is my thing!

7: Do you have a project in the pipeline?

Alviles: Well I originally come from theatre and opera – and I love music. My next story actually comes from a personal experience and I started writing it before The Chambermaid. It’s a documentary.

Lila Alviles | THE CHAMBERMAID | MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

 

 

Lynne Ramsay at the Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

We spoke to Competition Jury member Lynne Ramsay to talk about her latest project and the film that most impressed her as a child growing up in Glasgow.

Known for her ground-breaking dramas RATCATCHER (1999), MORVERN CALLAR (2002) and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011),  her latest film YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE won Best Screenplay (ex-aequo) and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix at Cannes Film Festival 2018. (she asked not to be recorded due to a heavy cold).

LYNNE RAMSAY | MAMOUNIA HOTEL | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/305775148

 

Irina (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Nadejda Koseva; Cast: Martina Apostolova, Hristo Ushev, Kasiel Noah-Asher, Irina Jambonas, Alexander Kossev, Krassimir Dokov; Bulgaria 2018, 96 min.

Nadejda Koseva’s debut drama very much echoes the work of her compatriot Kristina Grozeva (The Lesson). Carried by talented newcomer Martina Apostolova in the title role, Koseva portrays a woman’s struggle with men and society in general. Unflinching and always ready to challenge inequality, Irina is full of passion and drive – but she must also discover what it means to love and to forgive.

Irina (Apostolava) is caught in a poverty trap. She works part-time in a restaurant near the capital Sofia, while work-shy husband Sasho (Ushev) is a stay at home father. Returning there one day, she surprises Shaso on the hop with her sister Lyudmila (Noah-Asher) but decides to turn a blind eye and instead invites the two for a drink: “I’m giving a party, I’ve been fired”. Shortly after, Shaso gets his comeuppance during a robbery at the nearby coal-mine, and is buried under the collapsed pit props. Irena saves his life, but suspects that their neighbour Varlam (Dokov) might have been responsible for the accident. But life goes on with Irina desperate for work but unsuccessful for the most part . After trying her luck as a prostitute, she answers a newspaper ad, and agrees to become a surrogate mother for payment. The wealthy couple, Eva (Jambonas) and Bozhidar (Kossev), are living in a parallel universe in Sofia, but Irina has nothing but contempt and judges them harshly. Another tragedy will bring her life firmly into focus.

For most of the time, Koseva conveys her message non-verbally, but in the opening scene, when Shasho badgers her for sex (but is happy to drink instead the beer Irina stole for him), she voices her unhappiness: “I wish I wasn’t alive”. Later on, symbolic gestures are enough: Bozhidar offers her a lift home from her gynaecological appointments in Sofia, but she prefers to take the bus. We see her refusal to be driven from the outside of the car, its windows one of many partitions, like that of the doctor’s office, which show her dis-enfranchisement. Somehow, these systemic fractures see Irina as a rank outsider trying to make her mark.

Apart from Apostolova’s strong performance, Kiril Prodanov’s striking images show that wealth can also be a trap: the many mirrors and alcoves are again partitions which shield  the inhabitants from the outside world. Koseva directs with great verve and confidence in this watchable debut, building on the experience gleaned from her short films. AS

IN COMPETITION | MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018      

 

 

All Good (Alles is gut) ***

Dir: Eva Trobisch | Cast: Aenne Schwarz, Andreas Dohler, Tilo Nest, Lina Wendel | Germany |

Eva Trobisch’s All Good, is about the dark night of the soul in the aftermath to unimaginable tragedy. Something happens, we think we can deal with it, and it goes away – at least for a while – only to return with a vengeance, as grief, anger and finally depression overwhelm and repress the human spirit.

After an ordinary night out at a school reunion Janne (Aenne Schwarz) is raped by a seemingly innocuous old school friend. Martin (Hans Löw) is now a professional, corporate type who duly accompanies her back home after the party. Both are a little tipsy but the evening did not hint at romance or even mild flirtatiousness. So it’s odd that Martin, almost as an afterthought – decided to makes a move.  After a sustained attempt at seducing her, Janne finally acquiesces to Martin’s advances – the scene is well played and captures all the nuanced undertones of an unwanted encounter. In the full light of day, Janne reflects with distaste and then mild anger at Martin’s presumptuousness. But feels awkward about discussing it with her boyfriend Piet (Andreas Döhler) who’s absorbed in his own dramas.

In her feature debut, which won Best Newcomer at Locarno 2018, Trobisch uses these subtle shifts in human response to create a thoughtful and absorbing drama that kicks over the ashes of suppressed anguish with worthwhile insight and impressive command. All Good is just that, Janne fronts up well to her trauma but what lies beneath is quite a different scenario. And Janne’s  increasing and unacknowledged exasperation turns slowly to simmering rage.

At work, Janne’s new boss (Tilo Nest) is also preoccupied with his own issues, and so she goes about her work with resignation and determination not to let the episode overwhelm her as a young, intelligent and independent woman in the 21st century. But life but goes on and Janne will not give up. A surprisingly mature debut with some strong performances, especially from Aenne Schwartz in the lead. MT

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | IN COMPETITION 2018

 

 

Marrakech Film Festival 2018 | Conversations with….

To celebrate the 17th edition – 30 November to 8 December – MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL has introduced an interactive new talk series.

CONVERSATION WITH is an initiative that offers a space for expression, exchange and reflection with screen legends and film luminaries:

Martin Scorsese (b.1942, US)

Director, writer, actor and producer is one of the most influential directors working today and also one of the most generous in his support of talented emerging filmmakers. In a multi-award winning career spanning nearly 60 years his work has been inspired by his early life growing up with Italian parents in New York City in crime dramas such as Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976) and Goodfellas (1990), and his own religious faith as in Silence (2016) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). He has captured the spirit of legends such as boxing supremo JakeLaMotta in Raging Bull (1980), Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004) and the Dalai Lama in Kundun (1997). His animated feature Hugo (2011) was dedicated to his daughter Francesca. His thriller Cape Fear (1991) has one of the most frightening performances in film history courtesy of his long time collaborator Robert De Niro (Max Cady) and Shutter Island (2010) that was his stylistic tribute to both Out of the Past (1947) and Vertigo (1958). His other regular collaborators have been Leo DiCaprio and Bernhard Herrmann who created iconic scores for Taxi Driver and Cape Fear. His latest crime drama The Irishman based on the death of Jimmy Hoffa, is shortly to be released on Netflix.

Guillermo Del Toro (b. 1964, Mexico)

Del Toro started making programmes for Mexican TV before he directed and produced his first feature film Dona Herlinda and Her Son (1986) at the age of 21. Learning his make-up techniques from The Exorcist’s Dick Smith he got his first break in 1993 with Cronos which went on to win the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes. Since then he has won two Oscars in 2018 for The Shape of Water, a remake of Jack Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). He is currently working on a documentary about the filmmaker Michael Mann.

Cristian Mungiu (b. 1968, Romania)

Screenwriter, director and producer Cristian Mungiu rose to international fame in 2007 with his bleak drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days that shocked audiences with its raw depiction of backstreet abortion in communist Romania. He was the first Romanian director to win the Palme d’Or. Since then he has made a series of films exposing moral degradation in Romanian society. Beyond the Hills (2012) won his Best Screenplay at Cannes in year of its release, and his thorny depiction of family life Graduation followed four years later winning his Best Director at Cannes 2016 (ex aequo with Olivier Assayas for Personal Shopper). 

Yousry Nasrallah (b.1952, Egypt)

Born into a Coptic Christian family in Cairo, Nasrallah started his career as a film critic in Beirut in the late 1970s, soon becoming assistant  to Youssef Chahine whose company Mirs would go on to produce his films that focus on Socialism, Islamic fundamentalism and expatriation. His award-winning debut Summer Thefts (1985) was described as “the only non-ideological film on Nasserism in Egypt”. El Medina (1999) describes the struggle for creative realisation of a young Egyptian actor and After the Battle competed for the Palme d’Or in 2012.

Agnes Varda (b.1928 Belgium) 

Director, writer and photographer Agnes Varda has made over 50 films in her celebrated career. She was born in Belgium but moved to France as a baby before settling in Paris where she eventually married Jacques Demy and became one of the protagonists of the French New Wave with her feature debut La Point Courte (1951). She went on to make a series of award-winning dramas focusing on life and love: Cleo de 5 a 7 (1962), Le Bonheur (1965); L’une chante, l’autre pas (1977) and Jacquot de Nantes (1991) a biopic drama dedicated to her husband. Her latest documentary Faces Places (2017) is a rural ride through France.

Robert De Niro. (b. 1943, US)

One of the greatest actors of all time, Robert De Niro grew up in Manhattan where he launched his acting career in Brian De Palma’s The Wedding Party at the age of 26. By 1974 he had won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor in Bang the Drum Slowly, the National Society of Film Critic for Mean Streets, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather, Part II. In 1980 he won his second Oscar, as Best Actor, for Raging Bull.

De Niro’s next project will be Netflix’s The Irishman in which he stars and is producing with Martin Scorsese, for their ninth collaboration. In 2009, De Niro received the Kennedy Center Honor for his distinguished acting and the Stanley Kubrick Award from the BAFTA Britannia Awards. De Niro was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2011 Golden Globe Awards. He served as the jury president of the 64th Cannes Film Festival.

De Niro is also known for his Tribeca Production company and the Tribeca Film Festival, which he founded with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff. Through Tribeca Productions, De Niro has developed projects on which he has served as producer, director and actor. Tribeca’s A Bronx Tale in 1993 marked De Niro’s directorial debut. De Niro also directed The Good Shepherd in 2006.

During the interview De Niro confessed to not liking smoking on set. And has never had trouble keeping his personal life, personal. “Don’t bring your drama to the set, put it into your performance”.

https://vimeo.com/303947159/d498bda114

Cannes Film Festival Creative Director Thierry Fremaux.

Thierry Fremaux has come a long way since joining the Lumiere Institute in Lyon. The Fast-talking artistic force behind Cannes also directs, along with (president) Bertrand Tavernier, the Lyon-based Lumiere Festival that each year celebrates the vitality of classic film (restored films, retrospectives and tributes). Fremaux has even made a film about the brothers (LUMIERE 2016). who were the first filmmakers with their ground-breaking invention, the cinematograph. The legendary brothers not only invented the technique of making film, but also the art and the way of bringing people together in a theatre. Thierry explains how the aim of the Lumiere Festival was to connect the past with the present – as digital internet platforms, and mobile phones now compete with the classic way of crafting films. To be ‘healthy’ with contemporary cinema we have to look to the past, and that is why Lumiere came about – back in 2009

As artistic director at Cannes his work is much more difficult than it was 30 years ago, not simply because of the volume of films presented to the festival (the team selects the line-up down from over 1800 films) but also the sheer variety. And if Cannes misses a potential new auteur then this becomes a big deal – not just a small faux pas. As he explains: “Cannes is an international festival set in France and we try to embrace the ever-widening variety of film from across every continent. In the 1990s film noir was being re-invented in Hong Kong by Phil Joanou (State of Grace), inspired by Pierre Melville. Each time a young filmmaker makes a breakout hit – the spotlight will be on him, and we can’t afford to miss that”. “Pan’s Labyrinth came as a big shock to many festival goers, as it was the kind of style that had never really been invited before, and it really surprised people about the way forward we were taking – also with animation and with documentary”. Most films “choose” Thierry rather than the other way round, as passionate filmmaking eventually shows through, as much as talent. But certain films will never be right for the competition. “You have to ask the question – is it good or not for the film to be in Cannes. Also is it suitable for the audience – or for the press – we have in Cannes”. 

At the moment Thierry works with a group of 8, sometimes 10 people to make the final Cannes selection (equally split by gender). “The culture of making films is not that same for a man as for a woman so gender equality is absolutely vital as we move to 2020. This year’s Cannes selection was criticised but we have a duty to put new names on the map. And we have to adapt Cannes for the future and to make it comfortable for the audience and the press”. Clearly there will more changes, but Thierry assures us that they will be for the better. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL | 30 NOVEMBER – 8 DECEMBER 2018 | INTERVIEW AT THE MAMOUNIA HOTEL POOLSIDE, MARRAKECH 2018

 

 

Mug – Twarz (2018) Bfi player

Dir: Malgorzata Szumovska | Michal Englert | Cast: Mateuz Kosciukiewiczz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik | Drama | Poland

In this salacious social critique of her homeland, filmmaker Malgorzata Szumovska captures the zeitgeist of rural Poland with a strangely moving story involving a scruffy metalhead builder who is forced to reevaluate his life after a tragic accident at work.

Twarz means mug/face in Polish. It refers to the central character Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), who still lives in the lakeside town of Western Polish town of Świebodzin with his petty, provincial family. Despite best intentions to move to London with his floozy fiancée Dagmara (Gorol), Jacek is put off by his brother in law’s zenophobic stance on things and Brexit doubts. Only his sister seems to be on his side.

Jacek is building something he believes in – a statue of Christ the King, and the tallest representation of the saviour so far. But a dreadful fall derails his future and his face is so badly injured that he needs life-changing surgery: the local priest (Roman Gancarczyk), his fiancée Dagmara, and the rest of the family will have to chip in to the expensive medical bills. And the result may be quite different from the Jacek they knew and loved. And the after effects are quite different, although by no means as bad as the family feared. That said, even his mother (Anna Tomaszewska) refuses to accept his new look (cleverly photographed by Michal Englert who also co-wrote the script). But when Dagmara shuns him, her rejection strikes to core of his being as a lover and man. Only his sister (a superb Agnieszka Podsiadlik) is there to help with his rehabilitation.

Szumovska cleverly navigates tonal nuances from realism to comic fantasy in a film that is competently performed, utterly compelling and thematically rich with its reflection on consumerism, identity and prejudice. The film also tackles religious belief and the nature of human suffering symbolised by Jacek’s dignified forbearance under the gaze of an all-seeing Jesus Christ. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER from 15 OCTOBER 2021 | SILVER BEAR GRAND JURY PRIZE BERLINALE 2018
PRESS CONFERENCE 

Red Snow | Akai Yuki (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

An island community is still haunted by the mysterious disappearance of a little boy 30 years after he went missing, in this spookily stylish Japanese crime thriller. 

Premiering at Marrakech Film Festival RED SNOW is the feature debut of Sayaka Kai known for her award-winning short Ondine’s Curse (2014). The young auteur quickly establishes a sinister mood in the eerie snowbound location where her troubled characters are all victims of their own past and still fraught with pent-up emotion and debilitating psychological scars that threaten to break out and reveal a truth too ugly to bear.

Themes of unreliable memory, child abuse and mental illness play out in the sober, icy landscapes where Takumi went missing three decades previously leaving a mood of anger, bitterness and mistrust amongst the broken inhabitants. 

The main suspect is an eccentric female cleaner with an abusive childhood – seen in repetitive flashbacks where we witness the cruelty of her sociopathic mother. Not only is she generally unpopular with the rest of the islanders, but she is also in a toxic relationship with an older man who is purportedly her pimp. And the more Takumi’s brother urges her to share her recollection of what happened, the greater her reluctance to discuss the crime, or even talk about her memory of it. 

But when a reporter arrives on the island to investigate the cold case, clues and truth start to mingle with a trail of other unsolved crimes including insurance fraud and a devastating fire. It soon appears that Takumi’s reclusive brother, a talented lacquering specialist with a workshop close to the desolate shores, could also be involved in the disappearance. 

There are distant echoes of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman of the Dunes to this baleful piece that seems to languish in its own misery. YAS-KAS’ atmospheric score sets a sober tone occasionally giving way to scenes of lingering silence thats seems to accentuate the bleakness of the remote settings. Sayaka Kai makes use of a re-occurring luxuriant red motif that connects the lushly lacquered boxes with the blood of Takumi’s presumptive murder that stains the mournful flashbacks haunting his brother’s dreams and memories, and recalling that fateful day when he left home on a brief errand. 

A strong cast supports lead Masatoshi Nagase as the man trying to solve the mystery. RED SNOW’s visual aesthetic is way beyond what we can usually expect from Japanese first features marking Sayaka Kai as a talented auteur in the making. MT

WORLD PREMIERING AT MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Teatro de Guerra (2018) * * *

Dir/Writer: Lola Arias | Doc | Argentina, Spain 2018

The Falklands War (1982-84)  took the lives of 655 Argentinian and 255 British soldiers. It ended in Argentina’s military defeat and in territorial claims on both sides that remain contentious to this day.
Experimental in nature, this frank and often moving film essay from Argentinian artist and filmmaker Lola Arias tries to discover if past trauma can ever be resolved by collectively revisiting the memories by giving soldiers from both sides a chance to explore their feelings and even re-enact their experiences 34 years after hostilities officially ended. This is an illuminating piece of filmmaking that puts us at the cutting edge of the combat through face to face interviews; news footage and staged episodes of the conflict enacted by those who actually took part.

Now in their early 50s, the 12 veterans from both sides, bear their souls in a piece that swings between moments of anguish and absurd comedy. At one point the men even break into song and perform together in a rock band, emoting and finding a cathartic outlet for their anxiety from the past. This makes for an interactive cinema – the soldiers finding a space to release their trauma and viewers experiencing the full throttle of their pain – and even elation. An engaging piece of cinema that grapples with the coal face of conflict in new and inventive ways. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS | BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018 | BERLINALE FORUM PRIZE | ECUMENICAL JURY | CICAE ART CINEMA AWARD

 

Ça C’est l’Amour (2018) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Claire Burger; Cast: Bouli Lanners, Sarah Henochsberg, Justine Lacroix, Cecile Remy-Boutang, Celia Mayer; France/Belgium 2018, 98 min.

Claire Burger joint project Party Girl won the Camera d’Or in 2014. Her debut as solo director is another passionate family story, but this one suffers from thematic over-loading and a certain lack of structure, despite a fine central performance from Bouli Lanners. Just as the French title implies – “That is what love is” – Burger shows true love in all its forms: from the obsessive and  possessive to the pre-sexual, always reminding us, that none of these is ideal.   

Set in Forbach, northern France, where the Belgian filmmaker spend her formative years, this starts off as the usual dysfunctional family affair. Working in local government Lanners is a bumptious father to daughters Nikki (Henochsberg) and Frida (Laxroix). His regular spates with his long-suffering wife Armelle (Remy-Boutang) who works in the theatre, finally prove too much  and she walks out suddenly, leaving Mario in the lurch. Nikki is seventeen, and ready to fly the nest – despite Mario’s severe reservations. Nikki keeps boyfriend Nazim at a distance – after a kiss she tells him “not to get any ideas”. Tomboy Frida, the younger, wants to be ‘Daddy’s girl’ but also leave home for good. She has a more complicated relationship: girl friend Alex (Mayer), might be more experienced in love, but she can be a pain in the neck for Frida, who wants total acceptance. Mario is unable to come to terms with living without Armelle, following her to the theatre and making it clear that he expects her go come back. Meanwhile, his relationship with his daughters deteriorates. Clearly something will have to give, not only in the lives of these Belgians – but also in the film’s running time. There is really too much going on in her over-stuffed narrative where marginal characters are introduced – and incidents at Mario’s workspace spiral out of control. Real Love simply runs out of space. The inter-familiar conflicts, as presented in first act are just about enough. Burger somehow fails to find a structure to do justice to her main characters. That said, there’s plenty of humour to save this from veering into a dire lecture about role models. Lanners excels in the comedy moments – the same goes for Henochsberg and Lacroix, the latter leaving the strongest impression on the feature. Burger’s error’s are mostly due to her lack of experience: we can certainly look forward to more from her in future.

SCREENING DURING MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

     

Srbenka (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Nebojsa Slijepcevic; Documentary with Oliver Frljic; Croatia 2018, 70 min.

Director/writer/DoP Nebojsa Slijepcevic (Gangster of Love) explores peer violence towards children  of different nationalities in Croatia, and examines how the generation born after the war copes with the dark shadows of history. 

The documentary is set in a Zagreb theatre, during the rehearsals of a play called Aleksandra Zec where the star turn is a Serbian girl who was murdered together with her whole family in 1991, just before the outbreak of war between Serbia and Croatia after the implosion of Yugoslavia. The murder of Aleksandra Zec and her family was an act of social cleansing, and Frljic wanted to show how the wounds of the war are still influencing daily life, not only in Croatia. One actor asks: “Do I become a Serb, because I am in a play about a murdered Serbian girl?” During the rehearsal and on the eve of the premiere, right-wing protesters threatened the director and his girl friend with violence. They were holding up placards saying “Why not a play about the 86 kids of Vukovar”, who were killed during a bombing raid in the civil war. Frljic wanted to detach actors from the play itself, so he let all of them talk about their feelings about the play and the Civil War. Four 12-year old girls – the same age as Aleksandra when she was killed – were also taking part in the play. They too were asked about their feelings, and some of them comment about their fear of Roma – “because when they break their arm, it heals quicker than ours, or “they are like lizards, when they lose a tail, it grows back quickly.”

Their role in the play is to ask the dead girl about her feelings towards her assailants. One of the girls has nightmares after rehearsals, she dreams about killing her sister and taking her organs out. They all admit to bullying Roma children at school. One of girl reports, that a class mate of her did not go to Catholic RE, and was called a Jew. One of the quartet, Nina Batanic, is actually Serbian, she has hidden this from her classmates, particularly from the boy who sits next to her and told her “I like to kill all Serbians, cutting their throat with my teeth”. But Nina is so brave she admits at the evening of the premiere that she is Serbian. After the play is over the camera follows her lingering on the way home.

Even after 25 years, the war is still the central issue. The fear of “the other” is kept alive by right-wing Nationalists, who see anybody who is not Croatian as an enemy. The trauma lets the violence simmer permanent under the surface. Frljic and Slijepcevic see their project as therapeutic, hoping, that when questions about nationality and minorities are brought to the surface, the resentment of ‘others’ might be reduced. But the four girls are living proof, how long the way to anything like a reconciliation still is. Srbenka is brave, but leaves little hope for the future –  and that goes for the whole of Europe. AS

SCREENING AT MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | WINNER OF SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | | SCREENING DURING DOC LEIPZIG.

Cause of Death (2018) *** IDFA 2018

Dir.: Ramy A. Katz; Documentary; Israel 2018, 79 min.

On the night of March 5th 2002, a gunman opened fire in a restaurant near Tel Aviv’s Maariv Bridge. Police officer Salim Barakat, who was nearby, brought the gunman down only to be found dead next to the killer. Director/producer Ramy A. Katz (Freeflow) researches the death of the Druze policeman, following his brother Jamal on his search for the truth.

The verdict was that Salim died from a knife wound to the throat. But after visiting a memorial ceremony for Salim, held every year in the police precinct for the tenth time, Jamal begins to question the official version. He discovers that the emergency ambulance’s doctor called in that night, reporting that his brother was “murdered by gun shots” and contradicting the official diagnosis of throat slashing. We watch a video where the main witness, middle-aged Willys Hazan, claims to have shot the attacker, after slashing Jamal’s throat. He is on a drip in a hospital bed, praising Salim, but admitting that the police officer was actually the terrorist. Then Jamal, a trained investigator, meets the head of the National Centre for Forensics, and tells him about the contradictions. The director is concerned l, and questions why no autopsy was performed; asking Jamal to have his brother undergo an exhumation  –  but Jamal’s religion does not permit such an option. Jamal also confronts the chief of Police who asks him to “let his hero brother rest in peace” – the same answer Jamal gets from Hazan, whom me meets twice. Breaking down, Hazan finally concedes, that “this would not have happened had Salim been an Israeli”. Finally, tracing down the staff of the restaurant, who were on duty on the fateful night, Jamal gets the answers he was originally searching for.

This is not just a document of Jamal’s investigation, but a testament to his coming to terms with grief – and his shattered belief in the righteousness of the law. The more he learns, the more his world crumbles. In the end he has not only lost his brother, but what he called his ‘extended family’,the police officers at the station where Salim served. There are some poetic moments, particularly when Jamal talks about his belief in reincarnation that persuades him that Salim has been reborn, and that his soul now rests in the body of a young boy in primary school. Moving, passionate and gripping, Katz takes a candid approach to his narrative, letting the audience make up their mind about the social implications of this cover-up. AS

SCREENING AT IDFA 2018 |

 

 

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975): The Personal is Political

Dir.: Volker Schlöndorff, Margaretha von Trotta; Cast: Angela Winkler, Mario Adorf, Jürgen Prochnow, Dieter Laser, Heinz Bennett, Hannelore Hoger, Rolf Becker; Federal Republic of Germany 1975, 106’.

Based on a novel by Nobel-Prize winner Heinrich Böll, Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) and Margaretha von Trotta (Paura & Amore) offer a searing critique of Germany in the mid 1970s. The film is set during the reign of  the vicious but politically naïve and often ridiculous Baader-Meinhoff gang. They were a handful of ‘fighters’ who gave the government and mass media the excuse to hunt down anybody who was critical of the security forces manned by many ex-Nazis at that time. The press campaign was led by former SA man Axel Springer and his numerous newspapers (Bild Zeitung among them), employing the same staff who created caricatures for the Nazi press.

Carnival time in Cologne: Katharina Blum (Winkler) joins the merry dance and picks up Ludwig Götten (Prochnow). They spend the night together in Katharina’s flat, but she is woken up in the morning by armed special units breaking down her door. They are looking for Ludwig, who is supposed to be a deserter, anarchist and bank robber. But Ludwig has vanished and Katharina is mercilessly interrogated by police detective Beizmenne (Adorf) and later Distriict Attorney Hach (Becker). Katharina prefers to be locked in than being in the presence of these men. But things get worse for her: Tötges (Laser) a journalist for a national newspaper, ”researches” Katharina’s private life and puts together a story (more lies than facts) about her being the bride of an anarchist. He even interviews her mother, hours before her death in a hospital. Katharina gets no help from her friends: the laywer Dr. Blorna (Bennett) and his wife, the architect Trude (Hoger), or her former lover Bornas, who is afraid that his good reputation might suffer. Released from prison, Katharina is visited by Tötges, who tells her “you are a well-known personality now, you can make a lot of money. But we have to stay on the ball, we have to give the readers more and more”.

The crisis in the Federal Republic ended, somehow symbolically, in October 1977,when the Baader-Meinhoff gang kidnapped and killed Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the leader of the CBI in West Germany, who had been a high-ranking officer in the SS, and served a three-year prison sentence after WWII. By now, the Baader- Meinhof was declared a ‘criminal organisation’, the same as the SS had been declared by the Allies. When the Baader-Meinhoff trial started in 1977, the house of Heinrich Böll was surrounded by special units, not surprisingly, since one newspaper had declared “the Bölls are more dangerous than the Baader Meinhofffs”.

True to the page, Blum is “a busy conformist, who tries to do her best to advance”. She is essentially a good person who is caught in the crossfire. The directors also work out that the mass hysteria was mainly directed against the liberal sympathizers (“Sympathisanten”), and that the Baader-Meinhoff gang was used – like the Red Brigades in Italy who kidnapped and killed Aldo Moro, was ready to include the Communists in government – by old and new Fascists to cement their political comeback in both countries.

The ensemble acting is brilliant, and DoP Jost Vacano (who later made a career in Hollywood with features like Total Recall) creates stunning images of a country at war with a democracy forced on them by the Allies. AS

THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL: Four films by MARGARETHE VON TROTTA – beautifully restored and released by STUDIOCANAL as part of a NATIONWIDE tour from 12 November 2018 until January 2019

Core of the World (2018) **** Russian Film Week 2018

Dir: Natalia Meshchaninova | Drama | Russia, Lithuania | 123′

Best known for her debut The Hope Factory, Natalia Meshchaninova’s award-winning sophomore feature is an acutely observed and thoughtfully performed story of emotional disorder that unfolds in a remote dog-breeding facility in Russia.

Writing again with Boris Khlebnikov (they co-scripted Arrhythmia) and her real life partner Stepan Devonin, who also plays Egor, this latest drama combines tenderness, regret and yearning in a troubled vet who finds his animals easier to live with than his co-workers. Egor breeds special hunting dogs (Alabais, also known as Central Asian Shepherd dogs) using domesticated foxes in their training. He is empathetic rather than sentimental towards the animals in his care.

Devonin’s training as a vet informs his role as Egor and he brings a tenderness but clear focus as Egor. When he learns that his mother has died of heart problems related to alcohol abuse, it becomes abundantly clear that there are issues with his childhood relationship. And when his aunt arrives uninvited with a bunch of his mother’s photography, Egor brazenly tells her to “fuck off” a stance that flies in the face of his previously rather quiet and thoughtful behaviour. His troubled personality issues will soon surface in abundance, although rather late in the story. Clearly Egor has escaped into his work in this peaceful forest location, where he tends a dog who has just been brutally mauled with extreme dedication. He is also keen to ingratiate himself with his tough and overbearing boss Nikolai (Dmitriy Podnozov) who has been running the family training facility for several generations.
The dog-training involves the dogs chasing down small wooden tunnels – representing real burrows – where the dogs come into contact with the foxes and a tussle takes place, confirming the canine’s suitability for hunting. Although neither animal appears to come off any the worse for their order, the practice has attracted negative attention from the animal rights brigade who arrive at the gates to protest. Nikolai tells them: “go away children”.
Meanwhile, Egor starts to have feelings for Nikolai’s daughter Dasha (Yana Sekste) who shares the family house with  her son Ivan (a strong debut from Vitya Ovodkov), There are humorous exchanges and they all seem to rub along very well, and Egor continues to tend his injured dog Belka, patiently teaching her how to swim in the nearby far-flowing river. Alhtough he’s clearly able to communicate affectionately with his dogs, Egor has real problems handling his relationship with Dasha but his feelings are palpable and he is clearly drawn to her physically. And although Nikolai seems to rule the roost, Egor’s latent anger eventually rears up again when he’s  pushed to the limits. And it’s the animal activist who finally set the cat amongst the pigeons in a very well-thought out and imaginative plotline that has tragic consequences. MT
CORE OF THE WORLD won the Grand Prix and Best actor awards at the Kinotavr festival in Sochi, and is now screening during RUSSIAN FILM WEEK 2018
https://youtu.be/6dCINvqGnuk

 

Suleiman Mountain (2017) *** Russian Film Week 2018

Dir: Elizaveta Stishova | Cast:Daniel Daiybekov, Turgunai Erkinbekova, Perizat Ermanbaeva | Drama | Kyrgyzstan | 101′

Enlivened by offbeat humour and vibrant widescreen images reflecting the rugged beauty of this wild Central Asian nation, SULEIMAN MOUNTAIN is the debut feature of Russian filmmaker Elizaveta Stishova. Largely funded by European finance this appealing arthouse drama explores an unconventional journey of discovery – both literal and metaphorical – for its passionate central characters: a woman, her long-lost son and husband, and his other younger wife. In a drama fraught with tense uncertainty and often brutal rituals involving folklore and shamanism – a scene involving an unconscious woman is particularly alarming – Kyrgyzstan emerges as a region caught between the modern world and one of ancient traditions where women (predictably) get a rough deal as they compete vehemently for the attention of self-seeking macho men. Their hope is that somehow, by smothering them with love and attention, they can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Sadly, twas ever thus.

Kazakhstani actor Asset Imangaliev plays the maverick male at the centre of the story, who cleverly plays his two wives off against one another. Karabas is an opportunistic adventurer who cons his way through life veering from violent outbursts to twinkling smiles as he tries to charm the pants off everyone he meets. Recently reunited with the couple’s thoughtfully endearing son Uluk, his older wife is a healing soul, desperately trying to hold the family together, while her coltish younger rival is also pregnant with Karabas’ child.

Although Kyrgyzstan initially feels exotic and remote, the human story at its core is as old and evergreen as the hills. Stishova has certainly made a watchable and lively debut. MT

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK London  2018 | WINNER OF BEST FILM | PRESENTED BY THE ROSSELLINI JURY | PINGYAO YEAR ZERO 2017

Back to Berlin (2018) ****

Dir.: Catherine Lurie; Documentary; UK/Bulgaria/Czech Republic/Germany/Greece/ Hungary/ Israel/ Poland/ Romania/Slovakia 2018, 75 min.

Catherine Lurie produced, directed and scripted this lively re-imagining of the first Maccabiah biker rally in the early 1930s. It saw Jewish motorcyclists from Palestine (then a British Mandate), taking to the road to counter growing Anti-Semitism in Europe, urging Jews to compete in the Maccabiah of 1938, a Jewish Olympiad, which never went ahead.

This 2015 version involved eleven male and female rides who completed the 4500 km in 22 days. Their odyssey started in Israel and went via Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, eventually fetching up in Berlin where the 2015 Maccabiah would be held in the grounds of the infamous 1936 Olympic Games.

Nine Israelis and two Jews from the Diaspora made up the marathon. Israeli architect Gal Marom (49) took part in honour of his grandfather Solomon Adir, who was one of the original riders in 1935, visiting Canada and the USA. “This journey allowed me to close my personal circle in memory of my grandfather”. Most moving is the interaction between Yoram Maron (78), a holocaust survivor, and his son Dan (48). Dan has never heard his father talk about the gruesome memories of the camps – this is common amongst many who saw active service, rarely relating the grim events to their children. Some don’t even mention their escape from the Holocaust. Dan understands his father: ”He wanted to afford me the innocence he never experienced, and I will do the same with my own children.” Dan’s mother Irena and her husband were taken from Zloczow Ghetto in 1943, and put into overcrowded cattle trains to Belzec extermination camp. When one of the prisoners, a railway worker, managed to open the door, Irena throw Dan out of the train and jumped after him. They hid in a bunker, fed by a German soldier who was later named as a ‘Righteous’ in Yad Vashem.

At the border between Hungary and Serbia, the bikers encounter the victims of current Hungarian racism. Later, in Budapest, they are joined by Alexander Rosenkranz (60) from Germany. He and his daughter are sitting on the banks of the Danube, at the “Shoes of the Danube Memorial”. In 1944, over 40,000 Hungarian Jews were drowned in the the river by Hungarian Fascists, the “Arrow Cross”. Rosenkranz tells his daughter, for the first time, how his mother was saved. She was deported by Arrow Cross men to be killed. But when one of the passing German soldiers took a fancy to her, she had a lucky escape. The Fascists in Romania and Hungary were more cruel than the Germans themselves, and reports of their atrocities culminating in a letter from the SS to Himmler, complain about “the needless cruelties of the “Arrow Cross”. In Poland, the bikers visit the Ghettos of Lodz and Warsaw amongst others. We also see Joe Gottdenker (73) unite with a member of the Polish family which hid him for four years in Sandomierz while his mother was fighting in the Polish Underground.

Back to Berlin is worthwhile but emotionally exhausting. But the film is much more than a timely reminder of the recent upsurge in Neo-Fascism in countries like Hungary, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Austria and Italy.  The outlook is grim but this time the reference is more on the spread of Islam. The only critique of Back to Berlin is that eleven riders are never mentioned by narrators Jason Isaacs and Larry King: three or four of them seem to have gone missing without explanation. AS                    

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 23 NOVEMBER 2018

Manu (2018) *** IDFA 2018

Dir: Emmanuelle Bonmariage | Doc | Belgium | 92′

Alzheimer’s is a one of the great human tragedies of modern times. Obliterating personalities, relationships, families, it strikes without warning, often inflicting the most talented and leaving a trail of misery and sadness in its wake. No one escapes its fatal curse.

Belgian filmmaker Manu Bonmariage was 76 when he succumbed. During his career he  made over eighty documentary films, contributing a vast body of work to the landscape of Belgian cinema and television (including the French-Belgian TV show “Strip-Tease”) and establishing himself as a memorable feature of the country’s wider cultural fabric. Sensitive and highly creative (“the camera is my mistress, I like to feel her in my hands”), he co-films here with his director daughter to record their fraught, deteriorating relationship in this painful love letter to his creative past. Manu also serves a socio-political history of Belgium during his lifetime, even recording the time he got stuck down a mineshaft!. This haunting collage of memories, reminiscences, upbeat archive footage (a New York sequence set in the 1960s is one of the most vibrant), medical meetings, musical interludes and cathartic exchanges cannot fail to sadden and amuse. Manu is an endearing and unsettling tribute that will resonate with those involved with the affliction and keen cineastes who remember Manu’s work. MT.

SCREENING DURING IDFA 2018 | INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE | COMPETITION FOR BEST FIRST APPEARANCE | Sunday 18 Nov)

3 Days in Quiberon * * * (2018)

Dir/Wri: Emily Atef | Cast: Marie Baumer, Birgit Minichmayr, Charly Hübner | Germany | Drama | 115′

Award-winning German director Emily Atef’s breezy black and white playful portrait self-indulgently explores the brief sejour in the Britanny seaside resort of Quiberon of one of Europe’s most famous but now fading stars as she attempts to detoxify. At only 42, Romy Schneider’s career was on the wane and she was to die not long afterwards (in 1982). It soon becomes clear that the garrulous diva – a luminous Marie Baumer – is battling demons of all kinds and desperately missing her two children, a baby girl and a teenager who refuses to live with her.

The focus here is the two-day interview with Stern magazine German journalist Jürgs whose crafty attempts to get her to open up about the death of her first husband, who had committed suicide two years earlier, and her tortured relationship with her mother, who allegedly colluded with the press, finally pay off after plying the diva with copious amounts of white Chablis.her best friend arrives to offer support but the two soon fall out.

This playful drama takes inspiration from the glorious maritime setting of a modernist beachside hotel, and is anchored by four thoughtful performances, particularly from Bäumer who bears an uncanny resemblance to Schneider. Thomas Kiennast’s luminous photographs help to recreate a distinct Seventies feel. An enjoyable but rather superficial riff on the nature of celebrity, love and friendship. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDEFROM 16 NOVEMBER 2018

Marrakech Film Festival | Industry Initiatives 2018

THE ATLAS WORKSHOPS | MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

The Atlas Workshops are an Industry and Talent Development Programme taking place at the 17th Marrakech International Film Festival, from December 2 to 5, 2018. Wholly dedicated to cinema from Africa and Middle-East, the workshops are a creative and professional platform to support filmmakers as well as a place for exchange between international professionals and regional talents.

This initiative has been designed to assist regional emerging regional directors who are currently preparing their first, second, or third feature-length narrative or documentary films. For this first edition, eight projects in development and six films in post-production, originating from nine countries, have been invited to take part.

They will benefit from a tailor-made day-long consultation with professionals who will provide them artistic feedback, as well the Industry point of view. At the end of the workshop, a jury will award a Development Prize of 10 000 € and a postproduction Prize of 20 000 € to the best projects.

The Atlas Workshops are also intended to explore questions surrounding film distribution in the region. In parallel with panels dedicated to sharing views on audience development as well as the circulation of films from Africa and the Middle East, the members of the Network of Arab Alternative Screens, which brings together 20 cinema screens across Arab-speaking countries, have been invited to convene, in the Atlas framework, in order to meet with attending professionals, as well as the talents who are presenting their projects.

Finally, the Atlas Workshops consider the process of composing music for films, in a session intended not only to encourage selected filmmakers to think about the musical universe of their films, but also to foster regional artistic collaboration by introducing talented score composers to their filmmaking peers.

In partnership with Netflix, the Atlas Workshops is delighted to gather in Marrakech from December 2 to 5, 150 Moroccan and international professionals in order to champion talents from Africa and the Middle- East.

THE 14 PROJECTS SELECTED FOR THE ATLAS WORKSHOPS, Marrakech International Film Festival

• THE DAY I ATE THE FISH by Aida Elkashef (Egypt) – documentary
• EUROPA « Based on a true story » by Kivu Ruhorahoza (Rwanda) – fiction
• IT’S FAR AWAY WHERE I MUST GO by Karima Saidi (Morocco) – documentary
• KILOMETERS 60 by Hassen Ferhani (Algeria) – documentary
• THE WOMEN IN BLOCK J J by Mohamed Nadif (Morocco) – fiction
• WE ARE FROM THERE by Wissam Tanios (Lebanon) – documentary
8 projects in developement
• PLUM SEASON by Rim Mejdi (Morocco) – fiction

• LES DAMNES NE PLEURENT PAS by Fyzal Boulifa (Morocco) – fiction
• LAUNDRY by Zamo Mkhwanazi (South Africa) – fiction
• THE NIGHTS STILL SMELL OF GUNPOWDER de Inadelso Cossa (Mozambique) – documentary
• IN THE RIVER TRAP by Nicolas Sawalo Cisse (Senegal) – fiction
• QUEENS by Yasmine Benkirane (Morocco) – fiction
• THE RIVER RUNS RED by Rami Kodeih (Lebanon) – fiction
• VUTA N’KUVUTE (A Tug of war) by Amil Shivji (Tanzania) – fiction

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2018

Russian Film Week 2018

Russian Film Week is back for the third year running. From 25 November to 2 December the event will take place in London at BFI Southbank, Regent Street Cinema, Curzon Mayfair and Empire Leicester Square before heading to Edinburgh, Cambridge and Oxford.

The eight-day festival celebrates a selection of award-winning new dramas, documentaries and shorts, bridging the gap between Russian cinematography and the West with the aim of building bridges rather than enforcing tensions. The festival will culminate in the Golden Unicorn Awards. This year’s selection has certainly upped its game and comes thoroughly recommended. Particularly worth seeing is Rashomon re-make THE BOTTOMLESS BAG, a magical mystery drama, in black and white.

Russian Film Week opens with Avdotya Smirnova’s prize-winning historical drama THE STORY OF AN APPOINTMENT (prize for Best Script at Russia’s main national film festival Kinotavr). Based on real life events, it follows an episode from Leo Tolstoy’s life. The opening night will be held at the largest screen in the UK – Empire IMAX Leicester Square.

Other seasonal highlights include Kirill Serebrennikovэ’s Cannes awarded biographical film LETO (Summer) and SOBIBOR, Russia’s foreign-language film Oscar submission 2018. The film is the debut feature for actor-turned-director Konstantin Khabensky, and focuses on events in the titular Nazi extermination camp during 1943. The film also stars Christopher Lambert and Karl Frenzel. Danila Kozlovsky, known for his role in BBC series McMafia (2018) and numerous Russian blockbusters, will present his debut project, sports drama TRENER (‘Coach’).

The festival c Golden Unicorn Awards ceremony, including the Best Foreign Film About Russia. British actor Brian Cox will head up the jury. The awards ceremony is in aid of Natalia Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation.

Russian Film Week and the Golden Unicorn was founded in 2016 by Filip Perkon with a group of volunteers on a non-profit basis. From 2017 the festival supported by the Russian Ministry of Culture, Synergy University, and the BFI.

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK 2018 | 25 NOVEMBER – 2 DECEMBER 2018

Winter Hunt (2017) ** UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Astrid Schult; Cast: Carolyn Genzkow, Michel Degen, Elisabeth Degen; Deutschland 2017, 75′

Winter Hunt is an earnest attempt to address the crimes of the Holocaust. Unfortunately the drama is hampered by the inexperience of its crew and cast. Trying to come to terms with the guilt of the Nation’s involvement has one again proved too much for these German filmmakers. They try to keep it real, but are simply not up to the task: and come across as worthy artisans of their craft, when mastery is required.

The film starts off in thriller territory. A young woman called Lena (Genzkow) is investigating the case of Nazi war criminal and KZ guard Anselm Rossberg (M. Degen), who now lives in a remote wooded location with his daughter Maria (E. Degen), after his recent trial. On the pretext of a faked car accident, Lena forces her way into his property where a verbal exchange of lies and counter-arguments sees the old man plead his innocence. She is soon overpowered by the father and daughter, confessing to be his granddaughter, and opening the way for a rather far- fetched fatal resolve.

Schult tries too hard to ‘make something happen’, but has nothing new to bring to the Holocaust story  – her implausible narrative is shot through with plotholes. The pervasive haunted-house atmosphere gives Winter Hunt the impression of one of those Sherlock Holmes dramas of the 1940s. DoP Katherina Bühler tries in vain to give this parlour piece an atmospheric shot in the arm, but the acting can’t save this worthy endeavour: clumsily raised voices are the rule, and flaying limbs and dramatic hand gestures fail to convince us of their anguish. Sadly, this is a rather amateur affair. AS  

UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL | 8 NOVEMBER – 27 DECEMBER 2018

Death of a Poetess (2017) **** UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Efrat Mishori, Dana Goldberg; Cast: Smira Saraya, Evgenia Dodina, Y. Goldberg; Israel 2018, 77 min.

Poet Efrat Mishori and filmmaker Dana Goldberg’s DEATH OF A POETESS is a hauntingly realistic but depressing portrait of their vision of Israel today. On Tel Aviv’s fabulous beachside two women meet. One has planned her own suicide,  the other one will soon be the victim of a prejudiced police force, who take a dim view of the local Arab population. The bottom line is that this could be any European capital.

Lenny Sadeh (Dodina) is in her fifties and may have lost a daughter. She is adamant about ending her life. She has written some poetry, for the first time in her life, and gives the titular manuscript to a publisher. She then orders a white bathrobe, and makes sure it is in the shop on the chosen day: “There’s no tomorrow” she tells the assistant, who urges her to reflect on her decision. She then takes a taxi to the beach, where she meets Yasmin (Saraya), a young Arab nurse, who happens to be a lesbian, taking a night off from her elderly husband and young daughter. The women talk. Sensing that something is wrong, the nurse follows her into the bathroom, where Lenny has left her ring and other valuables. Yasmin than walks outside, and sees Sadeh heading for the water.

The title is the film’s intended spoiler. The interactions of Lenny’s last day are intercut with a diabolic police interrogation of Yasmin, by an Israeli investigator (Y. Goldberg), who, like the taxi driver, plays himself. We only hear the policeman’s voice, which makes the atmosphere even more frightening. He insists that Yasmin murdered Lenny for the diamond ring, and does not believe a word Yasmin says in her defence. Finally, Yasmin succumbs, telling him that she murdered for greed; she even makes up the details of the murder; even though, in the next scene, her forced confession is refuted.

DoP Asi Oren has conjured up melancholic black-and-white images of Tel Aviv, his close-ups in the interrogation room are masterful, and the doom-laden atmosphere remains til the final scene. Dodina and Saraya are brilliant, they have much more in common the culture that divides them. The directors show a vision of Israeli society not unlike that of Germany during Fascism: greedy and deceitful. The policemen play on these prejudices. A sad lament on daily life in the State of Israel, a tiny Jewish country surrounding by a mass of Muslim nations. And they are fiercely protective of the only place they can call their home. AS

UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8-22 NOVEMBER 2018

    

The Other Side of Everything (2017) ****

Dir/Writer: Mila Turajlic. Serbia. 2017. 100 mins.

Like most people who have been driven to their knees and learned how to survive their troubled history, the Serbians are tough cookies. And none more so than the indomitable a professor (who is also her mother) in Mila Turajlic’s engrossing documentary. THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING illuminates turbulent times in pre-World War II Serbia when Tito’s communists countermanded her family’s spacious central Belgrade apartment, and forced them to share their home with two other families.

Srbijanka was a tiny girl when Tito came to power in 1943. But the experiences of her childhood have made her a strong-willed and independent thinker who cuts to the chase with salient truisms such as: ” You don’t believe how it all can begin….until it begins.”. Her views and experiences are enriched by fascinating archive footage and news reels of the Tito years in a film that won Turajlic the main prize at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival in 2017.

When the communists took over, the internal doors of her apartment were locked back and have remained so for more than 70 years. Serbia is a country that has never really recovered from this shocking era. It’s the sort of place where the Census-taker asks ordinary citizens searching questions like: “Have you had links to terrorism? What about genocide?”.

But it’s the personal story of its stoical matriarch that actually makes this potted history of Yugoslavia and Serbia over the past hundred years, so engaging. And it soon emerges that the casually dressed and amiably ‘bolshie’ raconteur actually took an active part in the eventual downfall of creatures like Slobodan Milosovic.

The rather opulent apartment bears witness to Srbijanka’s upmarket background of enlightened intellectuals and professionals. Her grandfather had involvement with the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes that later became known as Yugoslavia. Sadly, because Srbijanka was not a Communist, she was unable to study Law, but she later became a Mathematics professor at the capital’s University and worked hard to promote pro-Serbian interests. Like so many parents who have experienced terrible political regimes, she warns her daughter to be watchful and sceptical (Mila remains off camera). Yet Mila has her doubts, and this gently probing film marks their expression throughout. The Other Side serves as a worthwhile tribute to the valiant woman at its core, and to everyone who has risked their lives to make their world a better place. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 9 NOVEMBER 2018  | IDFA 2017 REVIEW | Best Feature-length Documentary Winner 2017 | SCREENINGS IN YOUR AREA

 

Treeless Mountain (2008) *** London Korean Film Festival 2018

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Dir.: So-yong Kim; Cast: Hee Yeon Kim, Songhe Kim, Lee Soo Ah, Mi-hyang Kim, Boon Tak Park; USA/South Korea 2008, 89 min.

Two young children are passed around like parcels in So-yong Kim’s touching but unsentimental study of child development and sisterly love.

This thoughtful study of childhood trauma relies largely on its delicate visuals and great subtlety to explore the little girls’ world with a charming lightness of touch.

In Seoul, six-year old Jin (Yeon Kim) and her younger sister Bin (Songhe Kim) live with their mother (Lee Soo Ah) in reduced circumstances. Their father is no longer on the scene, forcing their mother to take them to the country where they will live with their great-aunt (Mi-hyang Kim), who just happens to be an alcoholic. Eventually, they are dumped on their elderly grandparents who run a farm.

The story revolves around their changing relation dynamic. At first, Jin is the strong one, bolstered by her school life and feeling of superiority. But when her mother decides to leave, Jin starts wetting the bed – a clear sign of insecurity. Not surprisingly, Bin is less affected by the new surroundings in her aunt’s house, and while Jin continues to wet the bed, their aunt mistakenly blaming her little sister for it.

Bin soon becomes the practical one, catching grasshoppers and roasting them to sell. She also finds a good way of filling their mother’s pink piggy bank with the coins for her speedy return. But Jin becomes introverted, desperate to see her mother, who never appears despite her promise. And so the kids wait in vain on the treeless mountain, before Jin declares “Mummy has told a big lie.”

Bin soon loses all enthusiasm, whilst Jin perks up, once again asserting her authority as the older girl. On the farm, their caring grandmother (Boon Tak Park), takes over the motherly role the kids desperately need, offering them the patience they will need to develop into secure teenagers.

This sensitive hommage to Bresson’s Mouchette and Jacques Dillon’s Ponette, Treeless Mountain lets Anne Misewa’s exquisite camerawork do the talking, concentrating on the intricate expressions of childhood joy and dismay. A moving exploration of childhood that makes a lasting impression. AS

London Korean FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 

     

   

For Vagina’s Sake (2017) London Korean Film Festival 2018 ***

Dir: Kim Bo-ram | S. Korean Doc | 73′

FOR VAGINA’S SAKE takes a coyly humorous approach to a bodily function that happens to half the world’s population. A woman will lose over 10 litres of blood during her reproductive years. And while in North East Asia menstruation is still often seen as an embarrassing occurrence, Dutch women treat periods much more pragmatically according to this worthwhile but rather scatty South Korean documentary debut from Kim Bo-ram.

Boram has certainly done her research and uncovered a wealth of information about this vital bodily function, uncovering startling facts from the Dark Ages and followed it through with up to date political developments. It’s a shame then that her film is hamstrung by its choppy editing, flipping backwards and forward and flitting around like a butterfly on heat, it eventually becomes exasperating in the final scenes. It’s also focused almost entirely on women in their twenties and early thirties in Holland and South Korea.

A dinner discussion in Holland reveals that young Dutch woman go for basic applicator-free protection, while in South Korea some are still scared to insert a tampon (afraid that it may get lost) in a country where periods are still taboo and anatomical ignorance is frankly shocking. We then meet an 80 year old Korean woman whose first period came after she marred at 18, and who then went on to produce five or six daughters. In those days sanitary towels consisted of natural cotton balls wrapped in cotton material. Tied with strings round the woman’s waste they often fell down, causing horrific embarrassment. And this humiliation and fear connected with staining a public seat or losing a pad in the street is still a woman’s worst nightmare today.

There follows a potted historical and religious background which verges on the macabre (if not downright misogynistic). We learn than ancient Japan women were thrown into communal pits of menstrual blood and allowed to drown, whereas in China those who gave birth would apparently go to Hell (?). Menstrual blood was considered a puny female attempt at producing sperm.

The second part of the documentary focuses on politics developments and taxes that apply to feminine hygiene products, with a discussion on the contemporary developments in sustainable protection (material pads, sea-foam, and an overlong diatribe about the menstrual cup and its advantages.

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For Vagina’s Sake uses a mixture of interviews and delicately-drawn animations to put its information across and is both subjective and observational. Graphic images dovetail with lighter more frivolous hand-draughted visuals. Fast-paced and fluffy and rather than serious and analytical – the film becomes more inspirational and empowering for its contributors as it presses on. Certainly a worthwhile film to show to teenagers and students from all nationalities who may be suffering in silence, rather than learning about a shared and very natural female experience. MT

SCREENING DURING THE London Korean FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Microhabitat (2017) **** London Korean Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Jeon Go-woon; Cast: Esom, Ahn jae-hong, Choi Deok-moon, Kang Jin-ah, Kim kuk-hee, Kim Jae-hwa, Lee Sung wook; South Korea 2017, 104 min.

Jeon Go-woon’s spirited road movie sees a city girl determined to keep her independence while her friends cow-tow to tradition in contemporary Seoul. The original title ‘Little Princess’ better describes this thoughtful story of materialism versus spiritualism.

Miso (a brilliant Lee Som) may be getting on a bit, but can’t afford to heat her tiny studio flat, on her salary as a housemaid. When the rent goes up together with the price of cigarettes, she makes a dramatic decision: to move out and indulge in her favourite brand of whisky, and to keep on smoking. But what price freedom? Her boyfriend Hans-sol (jae-hong) lives in a male-only dormitory, so she can’t go there – they even have to give up having sex. Schlepping around with her belongings, like a bag lady, Miso asks her former band members for help. First off is ambitious office worker Moon-yeong (Jin-ah). She is curt and unapologetic: “I am too irritable to lie with someone”. Next is former vocalist Roki-i (Deok-moon), who now lives with his old-fashioned parents. His mother is keen on the idea. Clearly Miso is the just the right match for her son: “she can clean, and that’s all a woman needs to do”. Roki-i’s certainly keen on Miso. But she can’t deal with being hemmed in with his family, so once again it’s time to move on. The next port of call is her girlfriend Hyeon-jeong (Kuk-hee) whose husband tells his wife “to shut up and cook”. And so it goes on.

Go-woon’s refreshing debut is very much a riff on the traditional versus the modern way of South Korean life. It contemplates the difficulties and isolation of the spiritual way of life, in contrast to the more easier and socially acceptable option of materialism. Freedom may be more nourishing for the soul, but is tough on the body: It’s all very well following your heart in your twenties, but the process becomes tougher as the years go by, and when old age looms around the corner. Esom’s former band-members had their flings with music in their twenties, but they have given up on an inner life, swapping it for opportunism – with different degrees of success.

DoP Tae-soo Kim’s images of Seoul are just breathtaking: the city glitters at night, but during daytime it looks rather drab –  just like Miso’s former friends. Shot in fifteen days, with a rather loose script – Go-woon wanted to convey the humour and absurdity during of the shoot. Microhabitat is a little gem: fast moving yet imbued with gentle insight. This intimate picture of a woman’s determination to follow her dreams at all costs is full of humour and irony. AS

MICROHABITAT OPENED THE LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018

    

  

French Film Festival UK (2018)

A nationwide festival of recent and classic French film that takes place from 7 November until mid December 2018.

From cult classics such as Alain Delon starrer The Unvanquished (1964), to Jean Luc Godard’s Cannes awarded Image Book (2018) there are 50 films to choose from at various venues all over the UK from London to Edinburgh and Belfast to the provincial cities of Bristol and Dundee.

FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL UK 7 NOVEMBER UNTIL 16 DECEMBER 2018

Artes Mundi 8 Award | National Museum Cardiff

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM in Cardiff is playing host to the UK’s largest international art prize Artes Mundi. From the 26 October until 24 February 2019 the exhibition showcases the five finalists competing for this coveted award.

Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul has joined the list with his latest work INVISIBILITY, a short film melding cinema with contemporary art and riffing on the signature themes that permeated Cemetery of Splendour (2016) and his 2006 debut Syndromes and a Century. Also short-listed for this year’s Artes Mundi award is French-Moroccan artist and filmmaker, Bouchra Khalili. Her short film Twenty-Two Hours took part in this year’s BFI London Film Festival. 

In Twenty-Two Hours, Bouchra Khalili (left) considers how celebrated French writer Jean Genet was invited by the Black Panther Party to secretly visit them in in the U.S in 1970. The film features Doug Miranda, a former prominent member of the Black Panther Party. Echoing BlacKKKlansman, the film questions how we might transmit the historical voice of resistance into the present.

This year’s selection has been distilled from over 450 entries, from 86 countries. The judging committee includes Anthony Shapland, creative director of Cardiff’s g39 gallery. Artes Mundi is a charity founded in 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apichatpong’s work deals with memory, personal politics, and social issues in his native Thailand. With over 40 films under his belt, and still only 48, he is a Cannes Film Festival regular, where he won the Palme d’Or in 2010 for his fantasy drama Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and the Jury prize for Tropical Malady in 2004. Cemetery of Splendour (2015/above) was selected to World premiere in the arthouse Un Certain Regard sidebar, and his love story Blissfully Yours won the UCR award in 2002. His surreal and enigmatic open-ended outings evoke the essence of his homeland through mysterious narratives that often remain unsolved, and are best savoured rather than explained. These fables often have a political undercurrent that we can take or leave, depending on our mood. The past and the present co-exist, and while the focus is general Thai history and folklore, the features have a universal quality exploring love and loss, tradition and the supernatural. His rich reveries explore dreams, nature, and sexuality, alongside Western perceptions of Asia. His recent outing Ten Years in Thailand (2018) is a collaboration between three of his compatriots, and premiered during this year’s Sitges – Catalonia Film Festival.

Experimental in nature, Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) is a film of captivating beauty that blends facts and fiction in a story passed from one person to another, Blissfully Yours (2002)is a languid affair that sees two illegal Burmese immigrants enjoys a leisurely afternoon at a remote rural backwater, in the politically charged location between Thailand and Myanmar). One of them is suffering from the after affects of hiding from the authorities in a septic tank. Tropical Malady (2004) sees a love affair gently blossom in the twilight zone between reality and the spirit world, and Uncle Boonmee (2010) also deals in this dreamlike world when a dying man communes with his family, past and present, roaming to the north of Thailand where spends his final days in the birthplace of his first life. Syndromes and a Century (2006) and psychic drama Cemetery of Splendour (2016) both deal with patients and their carers in a rural hospital setting in lush jungle. Bangkok and a countryside clinic is also the backdrop to the unconsummated love story Syndromes and a Century, one of  Weerasethakul’s more accessible films. Music plays a vital role in his features. More often than not, his lulling melodies and soft refrains complement the dreamlike narratives that ask us to abandon ourselves to reverie – and go with the flow. In Mekong Hotel (2012) guitar music accompanies a shifting tale of fact and fiction between a vampire and her daughter in a hotel situated by the Mekong River. Ambient sound in also a used to recreate the intensely sensuous nature of the early scenes of Syndromes and a Century. Traditional folks songs also feature in this autobiographical work that explores the director’s early days at home with his medic parents.

Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili works with film, video and mixed media. Her focus is on ethnic and political minorities examining the complex relationship between the individual and the community. She is also a Professor of Contemporary Art at The Oslo National Art Academy and a founding member of La Cinematheque de Tanger, an artist-run non-profit organisation based in Tangiers, Morocco. She was the recipient of the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship from Harvard University (2017-2018). Her latest film installation is Twenty-Two Hours (2018).

The three other short-listed artists are: Anna Boghiguian, Otobong Nkanga and Trevor Paglen. The prize will be awarded in January 2019.

NATIONAL MUSEUM CARDIFF | 26 OCTOBER – 24 JANUARY 2019  ARTES MUNDI

 

 

Nancy (2018) *** DVD release

Dir/Writer: Christina Choe | US Drama | 74′

In this understated study in narcissism downbeat Upstate New York is brought to life by a captivating Andre Riseborough. She plays a woman who thinks she may be have been kidnapped at birth.

Nancy is a compulsive manipulator of the truth, and a game-changer. In a misjudged bid to garner sympathy, she messes with people’s minds. Leaving meetings early, pretending to be ill or even pregnant – all these kind of moves show her to be at best a fantasist, and worst, completely untrustworthy. A slim story but a worthwhile one draws us into its fascinating web as Nancy quietly drops little thoughts into a conversation which ripple out and affect those around her, changing their dynamic in the process while she retreats into the darkness of her own personality.

A frustrated writer, Nancy prefers her cat Paul to her mother Betty (Ann Dowd), who has Parkinson’s Disease. Their relationship had clearly long since broken-down, but when she dies suddenly Nancy decides to contact a couple she sees on TV (J Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi) who talk movingly about their daughter disappearing 30 years previously. Nancy takes things further. 

Naturally, the couple want to believe Nancy is their long lost daughter, there’s an undeniable similarity between the photofit of the missing child and how Nancy looks in the present day. They also enjoy her company as she plays to their sympathy exposing her (pseudo) vulnerability and bringing out the woman’s maternal instinct, while Buscemi gives a strong performance as the inquiring father. The doom-laden tone is enforced by Peter Raeburn’s discordant score. This Sundance and Biennale College-supported indie debut is glum but certainly intriguing. MT

ON DVD AND DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 5 NOVEMBER 2018

 

Working Woman (Isha Ovedet) 2017 ****

Dir.: Michal Aviad; Cast: Liron Ben-Slush, Menashe Noy, Oshi Cohen; Israel 2018, 93 min.

Best known her documentaries Michal Aviad (Invisible) sophomore feature is more a study of make incompetence than female empowerment. It tackles the timely issue of sexual harassment in the workplace in a detailed casestudy of a woman who has her work cut out both at home and in the office.

Orna (Ben-Slush) is feeling really positive about her new job in her former army boss’s property company. “Benny knows I’m hard working”, she tells her husband Ofer (Cohen), whose restaurant is struggling. But Ofer has his head in the clouds, with his foodie vanity project. Meanwhile in the world of real estate, Benny (Noy) starts his campaign to ‘groom’ Orna, immediately asking to wear a nice skirt instead of trousers, and letting her hair down “because it suits you”. But when he kisses the working mother of three, he over-steps the mark and makes up for it by offering Orna a promotion and securing an alcohol licence for Ofer’s restaurant.

Benny then whisks Orna off to Paris on the pretence of using her language skills for some company business. Carried away by the ambience, the makes another move on Orna but sadly fails to perform: “You are driving me crazy”, he complains, putting the blame (in time honoured male fashion) on this highly capable woman. Orna immediately leaves Benny’s company, but when he refuses to give her a reference, she is forced to take things into her own hands.

Liron Ben-Slush is the heart and soul of this absorbing drama about a positive woman caught between two impossible men, who both want to exploit her in different ways, relying on her good humour and generosity of spirit to get their own way. Ofer is like a forth child, expecting her to take carry the whole family, while pandering to his ego. Benny is the typical male chauvinist, determined to have his way with Orna, and blaming her when it all backfires. Orna feels guilty and responsible, and has to re-invent herself to survive in this subtle chamber piece, supported by its convincing cast. Aviad creates an important chapter in the ongoing #MeToo campaign. AS

SCREENING DURING UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

                                  

A Woman Captured (2017) ***

Dir.: Bernadett Tuza-Ritter; Documentary; Hungary 2017, 90 min.

Bernadett Tuza-Ritter (Cinetrain: Russian Winter) has certainly achieved something remarkable: her documentary about a Hungarian woman enslaved by an ordinary family is not only moving, but Tuza-Ritter can claim that her film really changed the life of the central character.

We meet Marish, a dishevelled woman of 53 (who looks thirty years older) being woken up early in the morning so she can feed her employer’s menagerie of animals in a backyard of the family home. And this is Europe. Marish has been held in captivity by her boss Eta for over eleven years. Her youngest daughter Vivi escaped the draconian demands of Eta, and lives nearby in the comparative safety of a state orphanage. Without holidays or any time off, Marish is permanently on call to her boss who lives a life of leisure. Tasked with housekeeping and the care of three unruly children, Garish also has to work a daily shift in the factory, giving her boss the monthly wage of 550 Forint to cover her “lodging and food”. Eta makes money out of Marish whenever there is a chance, and insults her into the bargain.. The filmmaker was forced to pay the mercenary Eta 300 Forint a month to gain access to film film Marish – and only under Eta’s strict auspices: Tuza-Ritter was not allowed to film the regular beatings Marish is subjected to in this miserable household. Tuza-Ritter phones the police, but is told that they are unable to take action. In Hungary domestic abuse can only be prosecuted where the victim is related to the aggressor.

To add insult to injury, Marish gets the blame when Eta’s kids break her favourite wine glasses; even the dog Lola is treated with more respect and care than this dejected female servant. Finally, Tuza-Ritter helps Marish to escape to a safe house in a city 200 km away from her tormentor. Although the filmmaker maintains a detached but decent attitude during their nighttime escape from the eta’s premises, Marish is still convinced that she will be betrayed. But when the woman confesses that her real name is Edith, and that Marish was her slave name, we realise that a psychological barrier has been broken. Soon Edith is re-united with her daughter Vivi, who is expecting a baby.

That slavery is alive and well in the EU came as a shock to the director, and will also horrify the audience. Both the police and the social services seem completely unfazed by this parlous situation. What is missing here is an enquiry as to why Marish became a slave in the first place? Marish doesn’t wear chains, so what exactly quantifies her “being held a slave”?  Clearly from the way she talks and behaves, there are indications that Edith has always suffered from low self-esteem and it soon emerges that she has a history of colluding with powerful figures in her life, allowing them to dominate her. She does not appear to have been locked up or in Eta’s house, or indeed, prevented from escaping, so she has clearly ‘acquiesced’ on some level to her imprisonment and cannot therefore technically be classified as a slave. But without knowing anything about her early childhood or upbringing these are only assumptions. It would appear she is just a victim of circumstance who has allowed another human being to take advantage of her for too long.

Tuza-Ritter’s camera is the witness of Edith’s ordeal, and the intimate images are often frightening: Edith is not even allowed to sleep in her own bedroom, but on a couch in the hallway. She is isolated, with no friends or contacts nearby. She is, literally, kept in the dark. A Woman Captured is a brave document, a unique achievement, because the filmmaker took action, when nobody else cared. But whether it’s a testament to modern slavery is questionable. Tuza-Ritter achieves an intensity akin to a Grimm’s fairy-tale, with Eta as the evil witch. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 OCTOBER 2018 | IDFA REVIEW 2017

Yuva (2018) *** Warsaw Film Festival 2018

Dir/scr: Emre Yeksan | Drama | Turkey. 2018. 119′

From the depths of Southern Anatolia comes this exploration of subsistence in the wild. And although it very much connects with the narrative of the survival for remote communities; in this case, it sees a man trying to disconnect from his human companions in order to pursue life on his own in nature.

YUVA is writer/director Emre Yeksan’s follow-up to Körfez. Set in the heart of a wooded wilderness, Yuva relies on minimal dialogue and an evocative ambient soundtrack to guide us through a sensory rather than plot driven story of Veysel (Kutay Sandikci) who has left his urban past behind, along with his family, to seek solace in nature and the animal kingdom, Veysel is attempting to rewind his own process of evolution as a human, and so make a purer connection with his natural surroundings.

The verdant lushness of the scenery and the extraordinary otherworldly peace and quiet are the most pleasurable elements that Yeksan conveys together with his commendable sound designer and composer Mustafa Avci. Veysal appears out of the undergrowth carrying an injured animal to the base of a tree that will provide an enigmatic touchstone to this experimental drama (along with a red cross painted on the trunk), as the story unfolds. Veysel is clearly at one with his surroundings, hardly uttering a word until he is roused from his relaxed state of mind by his brother Hasan (Eray Cezayirlioglu) who arrives with some groceries and supplies. Clearly these two are close and very fond of one another and this is shown through kind gestures, one to the other. But the suggestive supernatural elements (poetic realist dreamscapes) are never properly developed. The pace soon quickens into something more febrile in the second act when this rural idyll is disturbed by the arrival of builders – the curse of modern day life – and their guns make it clear that Veysel is not welcome. Anyone who lives in an urban setting knows how miserable life becomes once the developers arrive with their schemes to make money, and more importantly noise and disruption, and this is will resonate with a worldwide audience. The coming of these sinister interlopers sees Veysel drawn back into the human sphere from which he has tried to detach himself. Perhaps Yeksan is hinting at a metaphor for a negative political climate, or even just the simple encroachment of family concerns that threaten to cloud our lives when we aim to escape for some respite.

YUVA eschews a traditional narrative and is experimental in nature, working best as a meditation in its woodland habitat, entrancing us with the ethereal sense of place captured by Jakub Giza’s mesmerising camerawork and breathtaking visuals that lull us into a sense of calm. When the ever loudening sound of chainsaws starts to rupture the placid serenity of it all, Veysel’s motivations seem entirely justified in his desire to escape. Yeksan creates a timely and innovative drama that echoes our atavistic human need to connect with nature, and to seek the peace that will contributes to our collective mental health. MT

SCREENING DURING WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL | 12-21 OCTOBER 2018

Cladagh (2018)**** LFF 2018

Dir: Margaret Salmon | Doc | UK | 40′

Starfish, cup coral, langoustine, dolphins, Herring gulls and Gaelic verse: these are a few of Ullapool’s favourite things, along with the limpid seas and emerald hillsides that make this Scottish Highland settlement, warmed by the North Atlantic Drift, such an important port and tourist destination.

CLADAGH is a lyrical portrait of indigenous habitats and species, as well as human interactions with the sea, in and around the remote coastal town in northwest Scotland. But the film is more than just a documentary – it’s a sensory experience that lulls us into the gentle rhythms and the ebb and flow of its maritime way of life that imbues in its inhabitants a natural softness that has sadly disappeared from the urban sprawl. Wandering through the cobbled streets in the June sunshine, children dance on the key-side while older residents take in the glorious sea views. A local school gathers for a ceilidh accompanied by solo musicians, and then back to the shore for an underwater dip in the cool Atlantic where a variety of local sea animals enjoy their unpolluted habitat.

Director Margaret Salmon, who made the hyper realist fantasy drama Eglantine (2016) develops her worthwhile and enchanting filmic forays into the natural world that started with P.S. in 2002, and continued with Everything That Rises Must Converge (2010); Enemies of the Rose (2011); Gibraltar (2013); Pyramid (2014) and Bird (2016), amongst other titles. Very much festival fare, but valuable in their thoughtful exploration of the British Isles, and often further afield. MT

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

Austrian Films at the BFI London Film Festival 2018

 

 

AUSTRIAN FILMS BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

Austrian cinema is always a worthwhile presence at the BFI London Film Festival, and this year is no exception with Sudabeh Mortezai’s streetwise drama JOY featuring in the main competition.

JOY (2018) Tuesday 16 & Wednesday 17 October

Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo, LFF 2014) presents a vital and hugely affecting drama that tackles the vicious cycle of sex trafficking in modern Europe.

ANGELO (2018) Wednesday 17 & Thursday 18 October

The powerful story of Angelo Soliman, a forced Europeanised African who makes his way through Viennese society in the early 18th century without ever belonging.

STYX (2018) Thursday 11 & Saturday 13 October

A professional woman’s solo sailing journey turns into a deadly serious ethical dilemma in this unusual and taut political allegory. (*Germany-Austria co-production)

TWENTY-TWO HOURS  (2018) Tuesday 16 October

Bouchra Khalili’s meditation on revolutionary histories considers the poet Jean Genet’s secret 1970 visit to the United States at the invitation of the Black Panther Party. *Germany-USA-Norway-Austria co-production Screened in conjunction with PROMISED LANDS, directed by Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa. Austria-Germany-Uganda 2018. 19min

YOMEDDINE (2018) Thursday 18, Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 October

Egyptian filmmaker A.B. Shawky makes his feature debut with this utterly unique road movie which charts the friendship between a leper and a young orphan. *Egypt-Austria co-production

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018 

Two Plains and a Fancy (2018) LFF 2018

Writers/Dirs: Lev Kalman, Whitney Horn | Cast: Benjamin Crotty, Laetitia Dosch, Marianna McClellan, Maria Cid Avila, Alex Decarli, André Frechette III, Libby Gery, Michael Murphy, Travis Nutting, Kim-Anh Schreiber, Logan Boyles | US Drama | 88′

Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn’s “spa western” is a certainly a whimsical curio. A mannered yet inspired period piece it’s set in the Colorado desert in the late 1890s but has characters that are straight out of modern day Brooklyn and smoke dope and utter lines such as “Do you take American Express?”. Along with Laetitia Dosch, it also has the latest buzzworthy star of the indie circuit Benjamin Crotty – whose short film The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin won the Mantarraya prize at this year’s Locarno.

Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn rose to the public gaze with their debut title L for Leisure which is set 100 years later than Two Plains but seems to feature similar fey characters to this quirky drama which takes place over three days in September 1893, after the start of the so-called ‘Denver Depression’. The film also has the same look as Blazing Saddles, without the laughs or the raciness.

To it’s credit, Two Plains doesn’t take itself seriously. There are some rather odd production inconsistencies which are clearly intentional: the signage along the desert route is all freshly painted and the cast are squeaky clean from their rough ride in the dusty landscape and occasionally speak French, eat saucisson and brie for their lunch and have ridiculous names such as Ozanne Le Perrier (Laetitia Dosch with broad French accent), Alta Maria Sophronia (Marianna McClellan) and Milton Tingling (Benjamin Crotty). After a dip in the first spa waters they encounter, their lunchtime conversation focuses on the supernatural and John Atkinson and Talya Cooper’s Sci-Fi style score suggests an ominous, surreal presence in the locale.

But this never develops into a tangible strand in the oddball narrative and the group carry on in a their dilatory fashion in search of the next spa retreat, their bizarre prandial conversations starting to become more and more irritating: amongst other banal subjects they discuss first world concerns such as back-pain, and whether to conduct a séance – which they eventually do – clearly the writers are taking the Micky out of contemporary creative types. Sophronia leads the candlelit seance with a script that sounds more like a post-yoga meditation exercise than the real McCoy. But that’s all part of the ‘humour’. Two Plains & a Fancy is a jokey experiment of a comedy that will either have you dashing for the exit early or rolling in the aisles. MT

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

 

Kusama: Infinity 2018) ****

Dir.: Heather Lenz; Documentary with Yayoi Kusama; USA 2018; 78 min.

Heather Lenz’s captivating debut feature documentary is a portrait of Japanese painter, performance artist and film maker Yayoi Kusama, today the best-selling living female artist, whose long career was rescued from oblivion in the 1980s, when she shared the limelight with such luminaries as Jackson Pollack.

Yayoi Kusama was born Matsumoto, Japan in 1929. Her parents were respectable middle-class people whose torrid marriage was the troubled backcloth to Kusama’s early life. When still a young teenager, she was forced to work in a military factory, producing parachutes for Japanese soldiers. In 1948 she enrolled at the Kyoto School for Arts and Crafts, gaining success afterwards with her lively watercolours. Emigrating to New York in the late 1950s, she became famous for her room-sized installations such as Mirror/infinity (1963). This concept was a first for the New York art scene, but being a woman and a foreigner, she was literally written out of history: Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg exhibited work “very much unlike their past creations”, commented one art critic, implying that Kusama’s ideas had been “borrowed” by men, who dominated the galleries in the 60s and 70s when women artists could never hope to exhibit on their own, only in groups.

During the Vietnam War, Kusama staged many ‘happenings’, and nudity featured proudly. In 1966 she visited the Venice Biennale, which she ‘crashed’ with her installation of many hundred spheres on a ‘kinetic carpet’. But when the spheres went on sale for $4 each, she was evicted. In 1993 she would be the first Japanese artist at the 45th Biennale to have a solo show at the place she had ‘crashed’ in 1966.

Tension with her father gave way to difficulties with intimacy in adulthood. Her longest platonic relationship was with the artist Joseph Cornell, and lasted until to his death in 1972.  When Cornell and her were kissing in the garden of the house he shared with his mother, she would ambush their intimacy by pouring cold water over Kusama. Returning to Japan in 1973, her name in the annuals of her High School in Matsumoto was soon obliterated due of her “shameful” behaviour. Today, her permanent life sculptures still stand in front of the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, where she had last exhibited in 2005.

In 1977 Kusama checked into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill – where she returned every night, having spend the day working in her studio. Sporting her ‘signature’ red Wig and Polk-Dot clothing in the studio, she works intensively to finish her intricate paintings in three days “because I am in the last phase of my life, and have to no time to lose”. Clearly her work is informed by her complex past.

Since 2001 Kusama has had eight major exhibitions all over the world; in 2017 “Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors” opened at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC and will travel to five major museums until the end of 2019. The exhibition celebrates her 65-year long career comprising six of her stunning “Infinity Mirror Rooms” and other key works of together with her latest series “My eternal Soul”.

Lenz captures the personality of this amazing artist who has triumphed over adversity. Today, Yayoi Kusama is serene, her colour schemes reflect optimism through vibrant primary colours. She is an incarnation of the phrase: “if it wasn’t for art, I would have killed myself long ago”.   AS

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY, 5TH OCTOBER 2018 NATIONWIDE

      

My 20th Century (1989) Bfi Player

Writer/Dir: Ildiko Enyedi | Cast: Dorota Segda, Oleg Yankoskiy, Paulus Manker, Gabor Mate, Peter Andorai | Drama | Hungary/West Germany | 104′ 

Enyedi’s intoxicating sensual concoction trips lightly but engagingly over one of the most fascinating and transformative periods in world history – the dawn of the 20th century, seen from the intriguing feminist perspective of two Eastern Europeans, identical twins Dora and Lili, who are born in a simple country household on the evening Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb in 1880. With technology rapidly advancing, could women’s rights ever hope to keep pace?

The orphaned identical twins will take completely different paths in life to discover a world dominated by men where they both nevertheless manage to thrive through their guile and intelligence. One becomes the enticing courtesan/mistress of Oleg Yankoskiy’s Capitalist Z, the other plays take the road less travelled as a radical revolutionary militant. Dorota Segda plays both women in a delicate tour de force that embraces the different possibilities now open to womenkind in a brave new world where their increased agency offers a sense of hope at the turn of the century. She shows how women can succeed if they really put their mind to it.

Still only 34 at the time, Enyedi’s complex but languid fractured narrative seems to amplify the film’s dramatic potential while DoP Tibor Máthé’s sumptuous visual wizardry pays filmic tribute to cinema itself, with the support from the Hamburg Film Board.

Russian star Oleg Yankovsky (Nostalghia) provides romantic support to both women in the lead male role – his slightly exotic looks adding allure to the convincing love scenes. He plays the enigmatic Z. The magical elan of this fairytale-style is further enhanced by twinkling stars and a tinkly original score from Laszlo Vidovszky.

The thematically rich storyline features a variety of animals: a dog in a laboratory sees a vision of the future; a zoo-bound chimpanzee describes how it came to be captured. There is a definite sense of wonder, euphoria and discovery that reflects the true avant-garde nature of the early 1900s – never has art or culture been so radically ground-breaking in the intervening years.

Imaginative and endlessly fascinating to watch this extraordinary debut won Enyedi the Camera D’Or at Cannes in 1989. She continues to experiment on a more realistic but visionary level with On Body and Soul that won the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2017 and just recently at with the overlong but admirable Story of My Wife (2021). MT

4K restoration of MY 20TH CENTURY made possible by BFI awarding funds from National Lottery.

 

 

 

Padre (2016) **

Dir.: Giada Colagande; Cast: Giada Colagande, Willem defoe, Franco Battiato, Miarina Abramovic; Italy/USA 2016, 93 min.

Director/co-writer/star Giada Colagande (Open My Heart) does away with a tangible narrative in this thoughtfully languorous and stunningly captured meditation on death and bereavement, divided into seven chapters with seemingly symbolic headlines suck as “Free from illusion, new motives develop for every act and thought”. Colagrande relies on an associative structure where storytelling is replaced by episodes from the family history, but all she achieves is enigma, which beguiles initially but not for the film’s entire running time. 

In a seaside suburb of Rome, Giulia Fontana (Colagrande) is mourning the sudden death of her father Giulio (Battiato), a well known artist. Skyping with her mother (Abramovic) is one form of release, but Giulia is also comforted by a circle of close friends and amongst them is James (Dafoe) who is staging a mixed-media theatre production in which Giulia has a part. These sequences help to enliven the drama’s narrative torpor adding much-needed texture to what is otherwise rather bland.

After dark, delicately realised visions of her father haunt the house they once shared in happier times, and she tries to keep him alive by reading letters and meditation exercises until the film’s intriguing denouement leaves her at peace. Giulio’s penchant for Asian mysticism and doctrines relating to the soul’s afterlife resonate powerfully in this ancient setting. Giulia is also drawn to a mysterious local art studio where she frequently rummages around in treasures and antiquities eventually uncovering its inner sanctum in the final scenes.  

DoP Tomasso Borgstrom always finds new angles to show off the atavistic beauty of Rome in a contemplative visual treatise that gets lost in a fog of words and graceful poses from her long-haired Persian cat Cosmo. MT

PADRE WILL BE RELEASED IN 2019

The Gospel According to André (2017) Mubi

Dir: Kate Novacek | US Biopic | 95′

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

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

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

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

Now on MUBI

 

Faces, Places (2017) ***

IMG_3618Dir: Agnes Varda, JR | Doc | French/Belgian | 91min

The diminutive Agnès Varda comes across as a warm social animal at the ripe age of 89.  Collaborating for the first time ever with another photographer, the Ali G lookalike and French creative force JR – possibly for his able assistance and van driving skills – the pair embark on a tour of France, not just to take pretty pictures, but as a tribute to the people they meet along the way. Travelling south from the Northern mining towns to the Midi and Savoie, their aim is to record the memory of ordinary citizens by pasting their oversized photographs for posterity, on old houses and monuments.

JR’s van is painted to look like an enormous camera, and contains a photo-booth that churns out the large photographic prints. It’s a clever idea and one that generates enormous pleasure all round. By the end of their journey, Varda will even have her toes and eyes emblazed on road tanks waggons, to carry her adventure forward. Through this interchange of photographs and conversations with locals, they visit the small towns of Bonnieux, Pirou, St Aubin and Sainte Marguerite where in conversation with farmers, postmen, waitresses and dockworkers Varda builds a special portrait of contemporary France that’s also frank and sometimes even controversial along the lines of: ‘why don’t more women drive heavy goods vehicles’, or, ‘should a goat always keep its horns?’.

Varda still has a keen eye, even though she now suffers macular degeneration and has to undergo painful regular hospital injections. Claiming that ‘chance’ has always been her best assistant she clearly has a positive view of life and reminisces over her industry friends: there is Henri Cartier Bresson and his wife Marine Franke, whose graves we visit, and Guy Bourdin whose photo ends up on a beach monument. And despite happy memories of her friendship with Jean Luc Godard, when turning up at his house for an invitation to tea, the veteran director churlishly fails to appear. MT

NATIONWIDE FROM 21 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

11 Films to See at the BFI London Film Festival 2018

 

The lineup for the 2018 BFI London Film Festival has been announced, and the public box office is open. The 12-day festival will show over 225 feature-length films from all over the globe – so here are some of the best we’ve seen from this year’s international festival circuit.

WILD LIFE (2018)

A teenage boy experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in Paul Dano’s crisp coming of age family drama, set in 1960s Montana, and based on Richard Ford’s novel. Although once or twice veering into melodrama, actor turned filmmaker Dano maintains impressive control over his sleek and very lucid first film which is anchored by three masterful performances, and sees a young family disintegrate after the husband loses his job. WILDLIFE has a great deal in common with Retribution Road (2008), with its similar counterpoint of aspirational hope for a couple starting out on their life in a new town – in this case Great Falls, Montana. But here the perspective is very different – in Wildlife, the entire experience is seen from the unique perspective of a pubescent boy, Joe, played thoughtfully by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (The Visit).

WOMAN AT WAR (2018) – SACD Winner, Cannes Film Festival 2018

Benedict Erlingsson’s follow-up to Of Horses and Men is a lively, often funny eco-warrior drama that follows a single woman taking on the state of Iceland with surprising results. Lead actress Haldora Geirhardsdottir has an athletic schedule, running and hiding in the countryside, with helicopters and drones circling overhead. With a magnificent twist at the end, Woman at War doesn’t pull its punches: There are shades of Aki Kaurismaki, the dead pan humour taking away some of the tension of the countryside hunt for Halla. And Erlingsson makes a refreshing break from tradition in the super hero genre by casting a middle-aged woman, who is also super-fit, in the central role.

THE FAVOURITE (2018) Best Actress, Olivia Colman, Venice 2018.

The Favourite is going to be a firm favourite with mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. This latest arthouse drama is his first to be written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara who bring their English sensibilities to this quixotic Baroque satire that distills the essence of Kubrick, Greenaway and Molière in an irreverent and ravishingly witty metaphor for women’s treachery. Set around 1710 during the final moments of Queen Annes’s reign it presents an artful female centric view of courtly life seen from the unique perspective of three remarkable women while on the battlefields England is at war with the French. Despite its period setting The Favourite coins a world with exactly the same credentials as that of Brexit and Trump.

SUNSET – FIPRESCI Prize Venice 2018 

Laszlo Nemes follows his Oscar-winning triumph Son Of Saul with another fraught and achingly romantic fragment of the past again captured through his voyeuristic camera that traces the febrile events leading up to the shooting of Emperor Franz Ferdinand that changed the world forever Set in Budapest between 1913 and the outbreak of the First World War, Sunset reveals a labyrinth of enigma, intrigue, hostility, greed and lust as the central character played by Juli Jakab (Son of Saul) guides us through scenes of ravishing elegance and cataclysmic violence. What seems utter chaos gradually becomes more clear as the spiderweb is infiltrated. Nemes pays homage to the late Gabor Body whose Narcissus and Psyche, are the obvious touchstones to Sunset. On an historical level, Mathias Erdely’s images conjure up the fin-de-siècle fragility in the same way as Gabor’s masterpieces. 

BORDER – Winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2018 

BORDER is one of those bracingly original films. Melding fantasy and folklore while teetering on the edge of Gothic horror, it manages to be cleverly convincing and unbelievably weird at the same time. Fraught with undercurrents of sexual identity and self-realisation this gruesome rites of passage fable is another fabulous story with enduring appeal for the arthouse crowd and diehard fans of low key horror. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist it is Ali Abbasi’s follow up to Shelley and his first film with writing partner Isabella Ekloff. Abbasi masterfully manages the subtle strands of his storyline while keeping the tension taut and a mischievous humour bubbling under the surface.

DOGMAN Best Actor, Marcello Forte, Cannes 2018 | Palm Dog Winner 2018 

Matteo Garrone’s terrific revenge thriller returns to the filmmaker’s own stamping ground of Caserta with a richly thematic and compulsive exploration of male rivalry and belonging in a downtrodden, criminal-infested, football-playing community scratching a living in a seaside backwater. Life has always been tough in this neck of the woods, infested by gangland influences: it is a terrain that Garrone knows and describes well in his 2008 feature Gomorrah. A brutal brotherhood controls this bleak coastal wilderness where everyone relies on each other to survive. Dogman a gritty and violent film and often unbearably so, but there are moments of heart-rending tenderness – between his Marcello and his doggy dependants – where tears will certainly well up. Fonte won Best Award at Cannes for his skilful portrayal that switches subtly from sad loner to daring desperado.

MADELINE’S MADELINE  

Josephine Decker’s inventive, impressionistic dramas – Butter on the Latch (2013) /Though Wast Mild and Lovely (2014) are an acquired taste but one that marks her out as a distinctive female voice on the American indie circuit. And here she is at Sundance again with a multi-layered mother and daughter tale that is probably her best feature so far. With a stunning central performance from newcomer Helena Howard and a dash of cinematic chutzpah that sends this soaring, Madeline’s Madeline is a thing of beauty – intoxicating to watch, compellingly chaotic with a potently emotional storyline.

MUSEUM – Best Script Berlinale 2018

Alonso Ruizpalacios’ follow-up to his punchy debut Guëros, sees two wayward young Mexicans from Satellite City robbing the local archeological museum of its Mayan  treasures – simply out of boredom. MUSEUM is an offbeat but strangely captivating drama that gradually gets more entertaining, although it never quite feels completely satisfying, despite some stunningly inventive sequences and three convincing performances from Gael Garcia Bernal, Simon Russell Beale and Alfredo Castro (The Club). It’s largely down to local Mexican incompetence that these two amateurish dudes (Bernal/Ortizgris) get away with their heist in the first place. But what starts as a so-so domestic drama with the same aesthetic as No!, slowly starts to sizzle with suspense as the director deftly manages the film’s tonal shifts to surprise and even delight us – this is a film that deserves a watch for its sheer wakiness and inventive chutzpah. 

IN FABRIC 

Impeccable red talons slide a flick knife across a box to reveal its contours, a beautiful silky dress that can kill. Peter Strickland’s latest, highly-anticipated oddball feature again stars Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) in a haunting ghost story that follows the fate of this bedevilled garment as it passes from owner to owner, with tragic consequences against the backdrop of the winter sales in a busy department store. This is a gem of a giallo with Strickland’s signature soundscape dominating, just as it did in Berberian Sound Studio. 

THE WILD PEAR TREE – Palme d’Or, Cannes 2018 

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s long-awaited follow-up to Winter Sleep melds his classic themes of family, fate and self-realisation into a leisurely and immersive 3-hour narrative that won him the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes. This is a sumptuous, visual treat to savour but you’ll never actually see a pear tree. 

THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD (2018)

There should be a sub-genre dedicated to films about the multi-talented force that was Orson Welles. Here Morgan Neville (Best of Enemies) has his turn with a focus on the final fifteen years of the director Welles as he pins his Hollywood comeback on a film called The Other Side of the Wind, a film within a film sees an ageing director trying to complete his final oeuvre. Welles’ film starring John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich was a hotchpotch of brilliance and tedium, in equal parts. Neville’s doc offers new insight into the creative legend with clarity and charismatic flourishes that would make Welles turn in his grave…with approval. MT

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

AQUARELA: Victor Kossakovsky, Eicca Toppinen; BEEN SO LONG: Tinge Krishnan, Michaela Coel, George Mackay, Nadine Marsh-Edwards, Amanda Jenks; FAHRENHEIT 11/9: Michael Moore; THE HATE U GIVE: George Tillman Jr, Amandla Stenberg, Angie Thomas; MAKE ME UP: Rachel Maclean; OUT OF BLUE: Carol Morley, Patricia Clarkson; PETERLOO: Mike Leigh; RAFIKI: Wanuri Kahiu; THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD: Peter Jackson 

OFFICIAL COMPETITION

BIRDS OF PASSAGE: Ciro Guerra, David Gallego; DESTROYER: Karyn Kusama; HAPPY AS LAZZARO: Alice Rohrwacher; HAPPY NEW YEAR, COLIN BURSTEAD.: Ben Wheatley; IN FABRIC: Peter Strickland; JOY: Sudabeh Mortezai; THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN: David Lowery; SHADOW: Zhao Xiaoding; SUNSET: László Nemes; TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG: Dominga Sotomayor

FIRST FEATURE COMPETITION

THE CHAMBERMAID: Lila Avilés; THE DAY I LOST MY SHADOW: Soudade Kaadan; HOLIDAY: Isabella Eklöf; JOURNEY TO A MOTHER’S ROOM: Celia Rico Clavellino; ONLY YOU: Harry Wootliff; RAY & LIZ: Richard Billingham; SONI: Ivan Ayr; WILDLIFE: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

DREAM AWAY: Marouan Omara, Johanna Domke; EVELYN: Orlando von Einsiedel; JOHN MCENROE – IN THE REALM OF PERFECTION: Julien Faraut; THE PLAN THAT CAME FROM THE BOTTOM UP: Steve Sprung; PUTIN’S WITNESSES: Vitaly Mansky; THE RAFT: Marcus Lindeen; THEATRE OF WAR: Lola Arias, David Jackson, Sukrim Rai; WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE WORLD’S ON FIRE?: Roberto Minervini; YOUNG AND ALIVE: Matthieu Bareyre.

THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 10-21 October 2018

 

 

 

 

4 Films from Margarethe von Trotta (1975-86)

The first female director to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Margarethe von Trotta (1942) is to thank for some of the most trailblazing films over the past five decades. Von Trotta’s wonderfully complex and outspoken female characters have undoubtedly inspired those taking centre stage in films by contemporary directors such as Jane Campion, Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay and Lone Scherfig. One of the most gifted – but often overlooked – directors to emerge from the New German Cinema movement at the same time as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog – von Trotta has never shied away from topics that resonate with contemporary lives and provoke revolutionary discussion. The power of mass media, historical events, radicalisation and women’s rights, have all been visible elements in her films since the politically turbulent 1970s.

As part of their ‘Margarethe von Trotta Revisited’ programme, Barbican will welcome Margarethe von Trotta for a ScreenTalk on 2 Oct to discuss her illustrious career, following a screening of her 1986 Palme d’Or nominated film Rosa Luxemburg, in a newly restored print. This will be complemented by two further screenings from her body of work, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum and The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (also in new prints). The German Sisters will join the nationwide tour in November and December.

ROSA LUXEMBURG (1986)

Rosa Luxemburg is Margarethe von Trotta’s remarkable biopic of one of the most fascinating figures in modern European political history. Having fought for women’s rights and to revolutionise the state in early 20th century Poland and Germany, the Marxist revolutionary Luxemburg (1871-1919) formed the famous Spartacist League, later the Communist Party of Germany. After a failed uprising, Luxemburg was murdered in Berlin at the age of 47. The film traces Luxemburg’s political and moral development from journalist and author to dissenter from the party line and imprisoned pacifist. Portrayed masterfully by von Trotta regular Barbara Sukowa (also known from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Lola), Luxemburg’s character comes alive on screen with a depth and complexity than her public image as a militant revolutionary might lead us believe.

THE LOST HONOUR OF KATHARINA BLUM (1975)

Young housekeeper Katharina falls for a handsome man at a party – who unbeknownst to her is a criminal on the run from the police. The night she spends with the alleged terrorist is enough to bring her quiet life into ruins and bring her under police surveillance. Now the exploited subject of cheap newspaper sensationalism, Katharina becomes a target of anonymous phone calls and letters, sexual advances and threats, all testing the limits of her dignity and sanity. Directed with her then-husband Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum), The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum is a powerful yet sensitive adaptation of Heinrich Böll’s controversial novel. A stinging commentary on state power, individual freedom and media manipulation, the film feels as relevant today as on the day it was released in 1975. 

THE SECOND AWAKENING OF CHRISTA KLAGES (1978)

The solo directorial debut of Margarethe von Trotta, the film tells of a young woman who, to finance her daughter’s day-care centre, robs a bank. On the run, she is pursued by the police and more mysteriously by a young woman who was her hostage in the bank raid. Shot on a shoestring budget, this compelling and convincing film was also one of a handful of contemporary films that responded to the events surrounding the national terrorist collective Baader-Meinhof, a topic that von Trotta kept referring to in her later work (such asThe German Sisters).

THE GERMAN SISTERS (1981)

Based on the real life story of the Enslein sisters, this is the purest expression of Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political.  Juliane (Jutta Lampe) is a feminist journalist, arguing for abortion rights; Marianne (Barbara Sukowa) is a terrorist revolutionary in a Baader-Meinhof type group. As Marianne’s political activism begins to take a personal cost, Juliane is stricken between her politics and her need to protect her sister and her family. But when Marianne is imprisoned, Juliane is forced to confront the realities of the harsh power of the state. Von Trotta’s first collaboration with her muse Barbara Sukowa (who she would make the protagonist of six more of her features) was selected by Ingmar Bergman as one of his favourite films of all time.

BARBICAN SCREENINGS

Rosa Luxemburg & ScreenTalk with Margarethe von Trotta

West Germany 1986, dir Margarethe von Trotta, 124 mins

2 Oct 18.30, Barbican Cinema 2

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum + intro by Margarethe von Trotta

West Germany 1975, dir Margarethe von Trotta & Volker Schlöndorff, 84 mins

3 Oct, 18.30, Barbican Cinema 2

The Second Awakening of Christa Klages

West Germany 1978, dir Margarethe von Trotta, 93 mins

6 Oct, 16.15, Barbican Cinema 2

PREMIERING AT BARBICAN 2-6 OCTOBER 2018 | NATIONWIDE TOUR FROM NOVEMBER

 

Blindspot (2018) **** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Tuva Novotny; Cast: Pia Tjelta, Oddgeir Thune, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Nora Mathea Æien, Ellen Heyersdahl, Per Frisch; Norway 2018, 102 min.

Tuva Novotny’s impressive and unflinching debut documents every parent’s worst nightmare. Shot in two long takes, we witness the suicide attempt of the teenage schoolgirl Thea, and the reactions of her family, as they try to cope with something they cannot understand. The most used phrase returning again and again, is “that Tea was happy”.But when an unexpected catastrophe happens, everything about their life is called into question.

Maria (Pia Tjelta), Anders (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), and their two children — Tea (Nora Mathea Øien) and son Bjorn enjoy a settling and happy life in Oslo. We during an average day playing handball at school, and walking home with her friend Anna (Heyersdale) and greeting her (step)mother Maria (Tjelta) and her little brother Bjorn in their third floor apartment, where she makes herself a sandwich, before writing a short note in her diary. She then jumps out of window. 

The second part features Maria – the camera focuses on her grief after finding her unconscious daughter in front of the apartment block. Her father Hasse (Frisch) comes to help her, calling an ambulance which takes her to hospital and the trauma team. The arrival of her biological father Anders (Christiansen) makes everything even more fraught as he is aggressive, insisting on seeing his daughter. We learn from him that Thea’s birth mother Line killed herself and was found by her daughter and father. Martin brings bad news, 

The experience of bereavement by parental suicide of children and young teenagers is not well understood, as evidenced by the lack of empirically supported interventions for this underserved sector of the population. All we know is that “there are extra layers of bereavement” for this group. The process of healing is not much helped by the fact that children have an “omnipotent” perspective and feel responsible for the death of the parent. Children under eighteen who suffer parental bereavement are three times more likely to commit suicide as children with living parents. And, for reasons not understood, girls are three times more likely to have traumatic reactions to parental suicide than boys.

DoP Jonas Alarik treats the narrative like a documentary, there is nothing superfluous in his images, particularly the close-ups are impressive, as well as Maria’s ride in the ambulance, when she is trying to understand how his could have happen to her “happy” daughter. Anders might have given a little clue, reporting at the hospital that Thea told him when she was younger “Daddy, when I die. I turn into a lovely flower you can pick and put on to the window sill”. A heart braking study of grief, flawlessly executed by Nowotny.

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 7 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

 

Reinventing Marvin (2017) ***

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

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

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

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

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 SEPTEMBER 2018

  

Flight of a Bullet (2017) Open City Doc Festival 2018

DIR: Beata Bubenec | Doc | 80′

In Flight of a Bullet Russian documentarian Beata Bubenec offers unprecedented insight into life on a volunteer military base during the Donbass 2014 conflict in Ukraine.

This remarkable cinema vérité film is remarkable for being recorded during one single 80 minute take of her handhold camera and brings us face to face with the conflict offering a palpable sense of unease verging on terror. Bubenec gains unprecedented access to a bomb blasted bridge over a river where we witness the arrest and questioning of a Ukrainian man accused of being a separatist by hooded aggressors. We then accompany the men during a car ride to the military base where Bubenec is clearly as recognised part of the team.

Gritty and real, this is guerrilla filmmaking at its more urgent and cutting edge – nothing prepares us for what will happen next. MT

OPEN CITY DOC FESTIVAL | LONDON 4.-9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | Grand Prix Winner

Retrospekt (2018) **** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Esther Rots; Cast: Circe Lethem, Martijn van der Veen, Lien Wildermersch, Teun Luijkx; Netherlands/Belgium 2018, 101 min.

Esther Rots’ follow-up to Can Go Through Skin is a portrait of psychological self-destruction told through three time-lines keeping the audience enthralled but also questioning the role of its plausible characters.

Mette (Lethem) is a busy working mother who runs a domestic violence support centre while coping with the latest addition to her  family, a daughter Michelle. Her marriage is under strain with her husband Simon (van der Veen) often away on business. Aware that Lee (Wildermersch) is also having trouble with her violent boyfriend Frank, she invites the young woman to help in the centre and stay with her during one of Simon’s long absences. Needless to say, Frank finds out where Lee is hiding and when Simon returns on the same night, confrontation in unavoidable and tragic consequences ensue leaving Mette wheel-chair bound but paradoxically bringing her closer to her estranged father – who is also in a wheelchair and suffering from dementia. The pair chatting to each other in their wheelchairs, is one of the highly symbolic scenes of this affecting indie features from the Dutch writer and director.

DoP Lennart Hillege deftly manages two different styles: from hyper-realism to women-in-peril scenes where the traumatise Mette, tries to get her mind around what really happened. The continuously changing time-frames help to crate an atmosphere, where the truth –  Rashamon-style –  becomes more and buried in an ecliptic avalanche questioning our initial perceptions of the protagonists during the course of the narrative. With its score of Brecht-like songs by composer Dan Gesin, Retrospekt is a haunting and enigmatic character study. AS

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Phoenix (2018) ** Toronto Film Festival

Dir.: Camilla Strom Henriksen; Cast: Yiva Bjorkaas Thedin, Caspar Falck-Lovas, Maria Bonnevie, Sverrir Gudnason, Ellen Sandal, Renate Reinsve; Norway 2018, 86 min.

First feature of writer/director Camilla Strom Henriksen’s debut feature is a variation on The Cement Garden, in this case siblings Jill and Bo are forced to grow up too quickly by parents who fail them at every turn. Despite some terrific performances, the script loses intensity in the final third.

Teenager Jill (Thedin) is used to looking after her divorced mother Astrid (Bonnevie) and much younger brother Bo (Falck-Lovas). Astrid is desperate to succeed as a painted and insists that the whole flat is permanently cast in semi-darkness, the many-layered curtains letting in little light. She spends most of her time in bed, dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs. Her friend Ellen (Sandal) talks the local museum’s director into giving Astrid a chance: she is the only applicant for a job. Jill tries to make her mother’s first public appearance in a long time a success, buying her a white blouse. But Astrid is scathing about her daughter’s efforts: “You make me look like a director’s wife, why don’t don’t you wear it yourself, you are so proper”.

Then father Nils (Gudnason), a musician, promises to visit on Jill’s birthday. Jill is ecstatic, ready to be pampered for once. But she soon finds out, that her mother skipped the interview and later finds her dead in the basement. Not wishing to ruin her birthday Jill locks the cellar door and pretends that her mother is missing. Unfortunately for both Jill and the audience, the night out with her father and his new girl friend Kristin (Reinsve), turns out to be a disaster culminating in the admission that he is not going to tour Brazil for six months, but starting a prison sentence for drunk driving. After this bombshell, Phoenix starts to lose its narrative thrust.

Thedin is brilliant in her role as parenting teenager who morphs into a much older act to ‘seduce’ her father in taking her with him to Brazil. DoP Ragna Jorming creates some surreal images in the darkened flat where Jill sees – literally – monsters creeping around. The scenes in the ultra modern hotel where Nils takes his children are overcooked but chime with the plot’s loss of direction. As long as the action stays indoors, Strom Henriksen can not do wrong – afterwards, alas it all crumbles. AS

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://youtu.be/jk0bA3sf8-Q

The Summer House (2018) Les Estivants | *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. France/Italy. 2018. 127mins |

Actor-director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s reworks familiar territory in her latest comedy drama where she plays a vulnerable woman obsessed with a feckless younger man. This time she adds farce to the histrionics sending herself up as the delightfully dizzy delusional central character. You have to admire her cheekiness in this well-observed but flimsy piece of fun.

At the beginning Anna (Tedeschi) is tottering over a Parisian bridge with her sulky lover Luca (Riccardo Scamarcio), on the way to a cafe. Joining them is a serious be-suited man and a divorce proceedings  immediately spring to mind: they are actually attending a film financing meeting where filmmaker Anna freely admits to rehashing her plot when questioned by the team. Considering arch re-hasher Frederick Wiseman is on the panel this comes as a feminist jibe and we actually warm to her, and if you’re a fan of her formula (A Castle in Italy etc) then The Summer House is for you.

The Summer House has the advantage of some seriously sumptuous settings: this time we visit the Cote d’Azur and a gorgeous belle époque Villa surrounded by lavender-scented gardens where her real mother Marisa Borini (resembling her other daughter Carla Bruni) plays her onscreen ma, and the daughter she adopted with Louis Garrel, Oumy Bruni Garrel, is Anna’s daughter – exuding all the saucy sense of entitlement you would expect. Co-scripted by Tedeschi, Agnès de Sacy and Noémie Lvovsky, this upstairs/downstairs affair features the problems of the staff along with those of the guests – although the characterisations are shallow and rather trite – and often descends into implausible farce failing dismally as an attempt to engage us in an exploration of the human condition in all its splendour and desperation.

Bruni Tedeschi’s younger partner Luca does not join them, after hinting at a new romance, so the start of the holiday is blighted by emotional telephone outbursts and the usual melodramatic meltdowns. Anna’s alcoholic sister Elena (Valeria Golino) tries her best in an awful role where she whines and whimpers between drunken episodes as the wife of the villa’s much owner, ageing businessman Jean (Pierre Arditi). Meanwhile, Lvovsky also stars as Anna’s divorced writing partner Nathalie who appears to be recovering from some failed romance in a role that never materialises into anything meaningful.

Ever brimming with hope that her romance with Luca can be reanimated, there is much humour to be had in the way Anna swings from kittenish charisma to snarling witchery, her frustration seething under a well-disguised gamine fluffiness. Tedeschi’s attempt to introduce a sexual molestation strand to the narrative falls on deaf ears – whether this is another jibe on the #metoo theme is left to our individual interpretation. Gorgeous to look at, if mostly exasperating, The Summer House is more of the same fresh air from a familiar face. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Emma Peeters (2018) Venice Film Festival 2018 | Giornate degli Autori


Dir.: Nicole Palo; Cast: Monia Chokri, Fabrice Adde, Stephanie Crayencour, Andrea Ferrol, Anne Sylvain, Jean Henri Compere, Abdre Ferreol; Belgium 2018, 90 min.

Nicole Palo’s second feature is a charming but fluffy comedy about a Belgian would-be actress plagued by her embarrassing parents and fashion faux pas. Shot idyllically, mostly in Belleville Monia Chokri’s portrayal of the titular heroine is an impressive performance. 

Emma (Chokri) is in her mid-thirties and has made the decision to throw in the towel on her acting career in Paris and radically also to end her life. After visiting a funeral parlour – wearing her usual faux-sheep coat and looking very sheepish indeed – she attracts the attention of the owner Alex (Adde), whose struggle with reality is just as troubled. A good-bye visit to her annoyingly banal parents (Sylvain/Compere) in Belgium is followed by several unsuccessful attempts to get rid of her cat Jim, who clings on (clearly loving her jacket). And her friends are no great help either: Stephanie (Crayencour) is a blond, vacuous version of Emma (but a success with men of all sexual orientations) and is only interested in her friend when she wants to borrow her tiny flat to sleep with married men. Her ‘best friends’ Bob and Serge, gay hairdressers, think that a new haircut may lift her spirits. After Mum and Dad turn up for an uninvited visit, we begin to understand Emma’s pain. And when Alex finally gives Emma the promised suicide pill, we know that a happy-end awaits all concerned: Stephanie is pregnant by Bob and/or Serge, and Emma will be the god-mother.

There are shades of the late Solveig Ansbach here (Queen of Montreuil), but without her love of detail and anarchic complications. Palo just goes for the most obvious laughs, using Belleville as a background and creating a succharine atmosphere. On top there are half-baked characters like Bernadette (Ferreol), a lonely old woman who not well-disposed towards Emma. At best this quirky comedy drama could be described as endearing. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 4 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

Joy (2018) Venice Film Festival | VENICE DAYS 2018

Dir.: Sudabeh Mortezai; Cast: Joy Anwulika Alphonsus, Prcious Mariam Sanusi, Angela Ekeleme Pius, Jane Okoh; Austria 2018, 100 min.

German born writer/director Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo) spent her youth in Vienna and Teheran before studying film at UCLA. Her second feature is centred around Nigerian women sold by their families as sex-workers to Europe. In the prologue, we see the local shaman performing the ‘Juju’ ritual on one of these young women: the victims have to leave an intimate part of themselves behind so they don’t run away, and send money home regularly.

We meet Joy (Alphonsus) on a dark night Vienna where she is soliciting. Next to her stands young Precious (Sanusi), who has just arrived from Nigeria and does not want to sell her body, to pay back Madame (Pius), whom she owes 60,000 Euros. Back in the flat, where the girls live in cramped  conditions, Madame holds Joy responsible for Precious’ attitude and tells her that her debt will increase if she doesn’t encourage the young girl to work harder. For good measure, Precious is than raped by two men, her cries of help going unanswered. The brutal treatment makes Precious fall into line and she becomes the highest earner of the group. Madame expresses her thanks by selling her for a profit to Italian pimps. 

Meanwhile Joy and Precious are continually pestered by their families to send more money home. Joy’s family ‘invents’ a fake illnesses so her clients will take pity and pay her extra.  And Precious’ mother asks her to sleep with more more men: “Can you imagine, the woman who gave birth to me wants me to do do that!” Joy, who has a daughter Chioma (Okoh), for whose upkeep she pays a nanny, is sent with Precious to the Italian border, keeping her passport. Precious asks her many times to relinquish the passport, so that she can escape. But Joy is well aware that Madame’s vengeance would be be grim, and she reminds Precious: “This is a game of survival of the fittest. I would kill you if I needed to. Do not trust me!”. Her calculation proves right when Madame ‘releases’ her, which is not so generous as it looks since new and younger girls have arrived from Nigeria.

The director takes a detached approach throughout. The gruesome details of the women’s suffering – Joy is bleeding heavily after being raped by three men, but Madame does not allow her to seek medical help. The whole circle of violence, starting in Nigeria is repeated over and over again, because the authorities in Austria want Joy to testify against Madame, but won’t grant her immediate asylum.

JOY explores a real and continuous nightmare that is happening all the time, in nearly every European city. Shot starkly by DoP Clemens Hufnagl, mostly at night, the few interior scenes reveal the misery and fear that haunts women daily. A depressing but worthwhile film. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 29 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | VENICE DAYS AWARD WINNER 2018

 

 

Adam & Evelyn (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Critics’ Week

Dir.: Andreas Goldstein; Cast: Florian Teichtmeister, Anne Karis, Christin Alexandrow, Lena Lauzemis, Milian Zerzawy; FRG 2018, 100 min.

Based on the novel by Ingo Schulze, ADAM & EVELYN sees a couple’s crumbling relationship set against the final days of the German Democratic Republic in this thoughtful collaboration from Andreas Goldstein and Jakobine Motz.

In his tailor’s shop in the small town of Torgau, Evelyn surprises Adam one day ‘in flagrante’ with a much older client and, not taking his excuses for an answer, she sets out with girlfriend Simone (Alexandrow) for a summer break in Budapest. But this is no happy holiday. They arrive to discover that the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany has been forced to close its doors due to a massive influx of German citizens who are camping inside, waiting to be allowed into the FRG.

For two-thirds of the film we will witness – over the radio – the gradual downfall of the GDR regime, until they throw in the towel and open the Berlin wall and their borders in November. But Adam is totally unfazed, as if it’s nothing to do with him – an accusation Evelyn had made at the beginning. He picks up a hitchhiker, Katja (Lauzemis) and smuggles her nonchalantly over the boarder into Hungary. Near Lake Balaton, the two meet up with Simone and Michael (Zerzawy) – a West German biologist, until Evelyn lures Michael into her bed. Simone leaves but then Evelyn grows close to Adam again, sleeping with both men – a rivalry which Adam seems not to notice. The three of them end up in Austria where Evelyn discovers she’s pregnant – but unsure of the father. Adam falls under suspicion as being a spy and this is so incongruous that Evelyn starts laughing. But the point is made: when it comes to paranoia, both German states have more in common than the FRG might like to admit. Finally, Adam and Evelyn get a new flat in Hamburg where Evelyn is full of utopian dreams for her child, whereas Adam misses the restrictive, but safe GDR.

Book and film make a valid point: the uprising which brought down the regime was more or less restricted to East-Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden – in the countryside there was a sort of inertia which really did not lend itself to revolt. Evelyn is right when she remarks that “Adam did not really have to work: all the girls came to him, and he made them pretty clothes”. But there was no competition, because the state products were absolute awful.

The images in Torgau and the surrounding countryside reflect a country which time seems to have left behind: the cars are 30 years old, the houses are falling apart and sexual infidelity is the only game in town. As one commentator said, after the fall of the Wall “the GDR men had to give their women a decent sex life to make up for the material poverty of all concerned.” Adam will be a stranger forever in the re-unified country – looking backwards to an idyll, which didn’t really exist. AS      

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | CRITICS’ WEEK

L’EnKas (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Orizzonti

Dir: Sarah Marx | Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire | Sandor Funtek | Drama | 85′

L’EnKas is a lucidly imagined slice of contemporary social realism described by its director Sarah Marx as “socially aware”. Her intention was to make a film about “ordinary people who weren’t born bad but who have had to follow illegal paths”. In other words, these are not natural born criminals but those who commit crime when the going gets tough. And although she takes no moral stand with her well-paced observational feature debut, its premise departs from a cock-eyed moral standpoint although its subject matter is as old as the hills. And her main character Ulysse (an impressively convincing Funtek) certainly gets off on the wrong footing, when he arrives home fresh out of prison for a minor offence. His main concern is to make as much money as possible but he is confronted by a stack of unpaid bills and a mother (Sandrine Bonnaire as you’ve never seen her before) who suffers from depression and needs treatment. So he comes up with a plan with his best friend, David. Selling a mixture of water and Ketamine, obtained from a contact who works in a Veterinary surgery, the two travel from rave to rave selling the drug mixture from their food truck.

And it’s a short-sighted idea that naturally sees the pair in trouble as their dreams crash and burn and their world comes toppling down. Meanwhile troubled mother Gabrielle is having private psychiatric care. Fresh and full of naturalistic performances L’EnKas is a strong debut that gets inside the simplistic minds of naive people, who fall, get hurt, get back up again, contradict themselves and have their own reasons for doing so. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | ORIZZONTI

Open City Docs Festival | London 4 – 9 September 2018

Open City Documentary Festival is back for the eighth edition of the annual festival celebrating creative documentary and non-fiction filmmakers with a dynamic new programme for 2018. With 30 features and 48 shorts, 2 world premieres, 3 European premieres and 26 UK premieres across shorts and features from more than 30 countries, the festival will take place from the 4th – 9th September in a host of great venues across central London.

Marking the festivals’ Opening Night will be the UK Premiere of Baronesa (2017, Brazil, directed by Juliana Antunes. Her astonishing debut follows friends Andreia and Leid as they navigate the perilous reality of daily life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte. At first glance, their days seem calm and untroubled, but the threat of violence is never far away and Andreia dreams of moving to the safer neighbourhood of nearby Baronesa. Antunes spent five years in Belo Horizonte, working with a non-professional cast, to create a work of rare intimacy and authenticity which despite its simple structure emerges as a complex, multilayered and moving portrait of contemporary life in the favelas. Baronesa announces an exciting new voice in Brazilian cinema.

The Closing Night will be the UK Premiere of The Swing (2018) directed by Cyril Aris. A touching and emotionally rich film about keeping family truths hidden so as not to upset the patriarch. After sixty years of marriage, Antoine and Vivi have lost their most beloved daughter; but no one has dared to tell the bedridden nonagenarian Antoine, lest his heart crack. A simple solution, though everyone else in this densely interconnected family has then to live the same lie, giving no expression to their grief. A deeply affecting, beautifully shot cinematic novella; like all the best stories The Swing is a simple tale, but one that never short-changes its viewers.

For the Emerging International Filmmaker Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Angkar, dir. Neary Adeline Hay (France); Those Who Come, Will Hear, dir. Simon Plouffe (Canada); Home of the Resistance, dir. Ivan Ramljak (Croatia) and The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life, dir. Zita Erffa (Germany, Mexico). 

The festival will hold selected retrospectives of two unique voices in non-fiction filmmaking: The innovative found footage documentarian Penny Lane and Japanese pioneer of an action documentary’, Kazuo Hara. Both filmmakers will be at the festival to present their work.

For the full programme and tickets

 

Venice Film Festival 2018 | La Biennale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

 

 

San Sebastian Film Festival 2018

The San Sebastian Film Festival is Spain’s only A-list event running from 21 September until 29th in the North West Spanish town, often known by its Basque name of Donostia. This year celebrating its 66th 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. 

Joining the main competition will be the latest from Alfonso Cuaron, Jacques Audiard and Jia Zhangke also join the lineup of features already announced: Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, in which he portrays a musical who falls for a struggling artist (Lady Gaga), Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and Damien Chazelle’s First Man starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the moon, and Claire Foy. The film premieres at Venice where it open the festival running from 28 August 2018 on the Lido

This is the first time that Spike Lee will compete for an award in San Sebastian. His film BlacKkKlansman, the story of an African-American policeman who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, won the jury grand prix honor at Cannes and the audience award at the Locarno Film Festival. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, also premieres at Venice, it is the story of a maid working in a middle-class district of Mexico City in the early 1970s.

THIS YEAR’S COMPETITION LINE-UP

EL AMOR MENOS PENSADO

JUAN VERA | ARGENTINA 

After 25 years of marriage, Marcos and Ana question themselves deeply on the subject of love, the nature of desire and faithfulness, making a decision that will change their lives forever.

 

ANGELO

MARKUS SCHLEINZER | AUSTRIA – LUXEMBOURG 

The story of Angelo, an African born in the 18th century, who is brought to Europe at the age of 10. Now a servant in the court of enlightened nobility, he skilfully employs his otherness to become an appreciated guest and attraction for the members of high society. Being close to the emperor, he decides to marry Magdalena, a young maidservant with whom he falls in love.

DER UNSCHULDIGE / THE INNOCENT

SIMON JAQUEMET | SWITZERLAND – GERMANY 

Ruth works in a neuroscience research lab, despite coming from an extremely traditionalist and conservative Christian family. She suddenly finds herself facing her past when her former lover reemerges after twenty years in jail, prompting her to question her feelings, her life and eventually even her faith.

EL REINO

RODRIGO SOROGOYEN | SPAIN – FRANCE 

Manuel, an influential deputy secretary of a regional government who has everything going his way for making the leap into national politics, sees how his perfect life falls to pieces after news leaks of his involvement in a corruption ring with Paco, one of his best friends. While the media starts reporting the extent of the scandal, the party closes ranks and only Paco comes …

ENTRE DOS AGUAS | ISAKI LACUESTA | SPAIN 

Isra and Cheíto are two Roma brothers: Isra was sent to prison for drug dealing and Cheíto signed up for the Marines. When Isra is released from prison and Cheíto returns from a long mission, they return to San Fernando. The reunion between the siblings brings memories of their father’s violent death when they were only boys. Twelve years have passed since La Leyenda del tiempo…

HIGH LIFE.

CLAIRE DENIS

FRANCE – GERMANY – UK – POLAND – USA 

Deep space. Beyond our solar system. Monte and his daughter Willow live together on board a spacecraft, in complete isolation. A solitary man, who uses his strict self-discipline as protection against desire (his own and that of others), Monte fathered the girl against his will. His sperm was used to inseminate Boyse, the young woman who gave birth to the girl.

ILLANG: THE WOLF BRIGADE

KIM JEE-WOON

SOUTH KOREA 

In 2029, after the governments of North and South Korea announce a 5-year plan to reunify the country, strong sanctions by the world’s most powerful nations cripple the economy and lead to a hellish period of chaos. With the appearance of an armed anti-government terrorist group called The Sect which opposes reunification, the President creates a new police division called …

LE CAHIER NOIR / THE BLACK BOOK

VALERIA SARMIENTO

FRANCE – PORTUGAL 

This is the story of the late eighteenth-century adventures of a singular couple formed by a little orphan with mysterious origins and his young Italian nurse of similarly uncertain birth. They lead us in their wake, from Rome to Paris, from Lisbon to London, from Parma to Venice. Always followed in the shadows, for reasons we don’t know, by a suspicious-looking Calabrian

QUIÉN TE CANTARÁ

CARLOS VERMUT

SPAIN – FRANCE 

Lila Cassen was the most successful Spanish singer of the nineties until she mysteriously vanished from one day to the next. Ten years later Lila is preparing her triumphant stage comeback; however, shortly before the long-awaited date she is involved in an accident and loses her memory. Violeta’s life is dominated by her conflictive daughter Marta. Every night she finds escape..

ROJO

BENJAMÍN NAISHTAT

ARGENTINA – BRAZIL – FRANCE – NETHERLANDS – GERMANY 

In the mid-70s, a stranger arrives in a quiet provincial town. In a restaurant, for no apparent reason, he sets about attacking Claudio, a well-known lawyer. The community supports the lawyer and humiliates the stranger, who is thrown out. Later, on the way home, the man intercepts Claudio and his wife Susana once again, determined to wreak his terrible revenge on Claudio.

VISION

NAOMI KAWASE

JAPAN – FRANCE 

Jeanne leaves for Japan in search of a rare medicinal plant. During the trip, she meets Tomo, a forest ranger, who accompanies her on her quest and guides her through the traces of her past. 20 years ago, in the forests of Yoshino, Jeanne lived her first love.

YULI

ICÍAR BOLLAÍN

SPAIN – CUBA – UK – GERMANY 

Yuli is the nickname given to Carlos Acosta by his father, Pedro, who considers him the son of Ogun, an African god and a fighter. As a child Yuli avoids discipline and education, learning from the streets of an impoverished and abandoned Havana. His father, however, has other ideas, and knowing that his son has a natural talent for dance, sends him to the National Ballet Schoo…

GIGANTES

ENRIQUE URBIZU, JORGE DORADO

SPAIN 

OUT OF competition

For decades the Guerrero brothers have controlled the flow of drugs from the peninsula to the rest of Europe. Now they’re faced with one of the most crucial moments in their history. The eldest brother, Daniel, is released from jail after fifteen years, eager to recover his place in the family. The world Daniel left behind no longer exists. His father Abraham is sick, ..

DANTZA

TELMO ESNAL

SPAIN 

Special Screenings

The storm breaks after a hard day’s work in the fields. When the rain eases off life springs up from the previously barren land. Fruit grows and ripens, survives disease and becomes the apples which give life to cider. Then comes the time to harvest, offer toasts and celebrate love. A story about the cycle of life and death, the fight for survival. Where the passage of time…

TIEMPO DESPUÉS

JOSÉ LUIS CUERDA

SPAIN – PORTUGAL 

Special Screenings

In 9177, give or take a thousand years (there’s no point in being finicky about these details) the whole world, and, according to some authors, the universe too, has been reduced to a single Representative Building and squalid suburbs inhabited by all of the out-of-work and hungry in the cosmos. One of the down and outs, José María, decides that by facing up to the difficul…

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL

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SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL | 21 – 29 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

One Note at a Time (2017) ****

Dir:  Renée Edwards | Featuring: Clarke Peters (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Dr John, Kermit Ruffins, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Irma Thomas, Hot 8 Brass Band | US Doc | 95 mins.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans traditional jazz musicians gather together to play and talk about the soul of their city which celebrates its 300th Anniversary in 2018. 

Renée Edwards’ paean to these Louisiana musicians is a labour of love that’s been nine years in the making. Four of these were spent following a small number from different genres, as they came to terms with their changed city, musical landscape and life. Intertwined are their musical and health stories, as they frequent the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, a lifeline and comfort, that simultaneously had its own struggles, whilst aspiring to fulfil a mission to ‘keep the music ALIVE’. Without these guys the city would lose its soul, not to mention the thousands of tourists who come to join in the fun.

Best known for her editing work for some of television’s highest profile news and current affairs series and documentary dramas, including award-winning Panorama Specials, A Fight to the Death and The Mind Reader, this is the British-born filmmaker’s feature debut. And it’s a semi auto-biographical piece recording her own happy memories of childhood holidays spend in the area, but shot through with a melancholy that records a dark time for New Orleans when the music stopped in 2005 in the aftermath to one of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes in American history. The flood defences failed, flooding the Crescent City for weeks. Lives were lost and lives were shattered. Many displaced musicians felt compelled to return to the chaos and bleak confusion to play again. This is the story of some who made it back, told in their own words. MT
ONE NOTE AT A TIME has won numerous international and domestic festival awards including BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY at Studio City International Film Festival, GOLD WINNER at Los Angeles Film Review Industry Awards, BEST DOCUMENTARY at Nottingham International Film Festival and three awards at the Oxford International Film Festival including FILM OF THE FESTIVAL.

ONE NOTE AT A TIME 2018 marks the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans.

Maeve (1981) Mubi

Dir.: Pat Murphy; Cast: Mary Jackson, Trudy Kelly, John Keegan, Mark Mulholland, Brid Brennan, Liam Doyle; UK/Ireland/Australia 1981, 110 min.

Irish feminist filmmaker Pat Murphy is a unique voice in a male-dominated industry, rather like her titular heroine Maeve. Born in 1958, Pat has so far directed three features: Anne Devlin (1984); Nora (2000) and Tana Bana (2010), and one feature-length documentary. Challenging aesthetically and politically, her debut Maeve is an uncompromising piece of filmmaking with a rather enigmatic storyline.

Set during the ‘Troubles’, twenty-year old Maeve Sweeney (Jackson) has been working in London and goes back to her family home in Belfast for a holiday with her parents, Martin (Mulholland) and Eileen (Kelly), and younger sister Roisin (Brennan). Many of the issues with her boyfriend Liam (Keegan) will be played out to the full during the course of the narrative which jumps between past and the present where we first meet young Maeve in 1980. Feminism is all the rage in London where Maeve has got used to the new sense of freedom. Being back in Ulster with its provincial way of life and traditional attitudes take her back to her upbringing, and not always in a good way. Her sister is extremely conventional, and Liam and her parents keep to their traditional ways, embracing the ongoing Republican struggle. In a key scene, Maeve and Liam are looking down on Belfast from a hill, discussing female liberation and the past. Liam takes a Republican view and does not want to live in a country dominated by British rule. But Maeve disagrees: “You are talking about a false memory… the way you want to remember excludes me, I get remembered out of existence.” To which Liam retorts “But it’s better than living no history at all.”

A family outing does not help Maeve to identify with the Celtic mythology of supremacy, and in a pub she challenges Liam’s hard-core Provisional friends. But everything here is fragmented – her family have had to leave their original home in a Protestant district. But the “Troubles” are very much a part of life: Roisin is stopped after dark by British patrols, telling her sister about a near-rape by an occupying soldier. And the rumbling sound of gunfire is audible most nights.

Murphy tries to unpack her feelings rationally, but she sometimes fails to show how social memory and action are often concealed behind the myths and false memory of the past and present. Maeve’s newly found feminism is at odds with her heritage, and this romanticised struggle for the past is sometimes just an idealised way of returning to the comfort it gave then. It’s a storyline that very much resonates with the UK today, although without the violence.

The director challenges the ‘male gaze’ with a long, non-voyeuristic shot of the naked bodies of Maeve and her sister, inviting the audience to question traditional forms of degrading female bodies as objects of lust. DoP Robert Smith uses light to show the demarcation line between Maeve and the ones she has left behind. Overall Maeve is a very brave undertaking, even though melodrama and political history does not always sit in harmony. But Mary Jackson keeps everything together with a brilliant performance that combines fighting spirit and melancholic recognition of a Northern Irish reality which no longer makes her feel at home, or at ease.

NOW ON MUBI | Blu-ray, iTunes and Amazon Prime and the BFI 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

#Female Pleasure (2018) **** Locarno Film Festival 2018

Dir: Rebecca Miller | Documentary with Deborah Feldman, Vithika Yadav, Rokudenashiko, Leyla Hussein, Doris Wagner; Germany/Switzerland/UK/USA/Japan 2018, 95 min.

Writer/director Barbara Miller (Forbidden Voices), has travelled the world to connect with five different women with one thing in common: the struggle against religious/state sponsored male superiority. Some are even joined by sympathetic menfolk slowly turning the wheel of history. Miller’s straightforward, non-judgemental approach allows the women full reign to share their opinions.

Deborah Feldman, a Hasidic Jew from New York, courageously left her arranged marriage with her little son, splitting from an extended family who are now lost forever. She wants to raise her son to respect women.“The Torah”, she says, “is the word of men”. In Orthodox circles there is a feeling that women are necessary but, at the same time, are the enemy. On a walkabout Jerusalem she passes huge street signs that say:“Please do not pass through this neighbourhood in in-modest clothes: closed blouse with long sleeves, no skirts, no trousers, no tight fitting clothes”. She is emphatic “that orthodox women in arranged marriages do not have the same constitutional protection as other women”. Finding a life outside her old community with a new partner, she goes on fighting the cause.

Meanwhile in India, Vithika Yadav runs a self-help website that supports girls in overcoming the prejudices of Hindu teaching, which has veered very much from Ghandi’s approach to an aggressive male ideology, often held responsible for the many rape cases in this country. Vithika is the first woman in her family to reject an arranged marriage. According to her, Hindu teaching claims “women are the root of all sins”, Indian society is geared toward male desire and satisfaction.Yadav’s website is a great start, but she takes things even further by organising street theatre and demonstrations, trying to rope men into the fight. On the subject of rape, she is very clear: “You all see it, but you don’t do anything”. ‘LOVE matters’, is one of their slogans, and slowly more and more young men are joining Yadav’s movement.

Japanese manga artist and “Vagina defender” Rokudenashiko from Tokyo has a spirited approach to the issue, but the pretty drawing of the female sex organ on her website has already leading to her arrest by ten(!) police officers on the grounds of obscenity. Before her trial she calls a press conference telling the audience “the female body is seen as a sex toy for men. Hard core porn films are legally produced and sold, yet my art is seen as obscene”. She claims Japanese men are very brutal in bed yet pretend to be unaware of the pain they inflict. Even comics portraying images of young girls being raped are allowed to be published in Japan. There is a yearly parade of ‘Penis Worship’ and the artist and her friends make fun of this, sucking sugary phallus-sized sweets. During filming, Rokudenashiko is convicted for spreading obscene art and even sailing a canoe in the shape of a vagina on a nearby lake. She and her lawyers are determined to have the verdict overturned. “As women, we are defined by jealousy”. Buddhist teaching says, ‘that due to the sinfulness of our bodies, women have to suffer eternal torment and the Blood Bowl Hell’”. Her protests have actually found her a sympathetic boyfriend in the shape of Mike, a rock singer who does not smoke or drink and has even composed a song to support her cause. Her parting shot is typical “Long live the vagina!”

Leyla Hussein is a highly articulate and likeable Somali woman living in London where her cause is the global issue of FGM – 200 million women and girls are the victims. “Men have authority over women according to the Quran which says ‘those wives from whom you fear disobedience, beat them’. Often very young woman are forced into arranged marriages when they are still teenagers. “Let’s call arranged marriage by its proper name: Legalized paedophilia.” In London she runs a centre and a website to fight FMG where she describes exactly what FMG does to the female body – some of the younger men can hardly watch. But she is happiest back in Kenya, where Masaai support her cause: “Masaai women have no fun with sex, and that’s frustrating for men too. We have to spread the word!”

In Germany, Doris Wagner joined a Catholic order at a young age. She was systematically raped by her superior but when she reported him to the Mother Superior, the woman shouted at her; then forgave her. She feels that the Catholic Church frames women as  seductresses: “I ask myself: was the Church really founded to do good, or was it all along just intended to support the structure run by men?’ Doris now lives with her partner and son. She is writing her PHD theses “feeling like born again”.

In this substantial and engaging documentary Miller allows her contributors to voice their concerns freely in a way that is both informative and empowering for those affected by the issues. Often amusing, it occasionally takes sides but, crucially, it also raises awareness of women’s plight with a lightness of touch, showing the way forward for men to join the movement for a more liberal and pleasurable society, that can only benefit them in the long run. She feels that women should not feel imprisoned by their gender, and the sooner men learn this, the better it is for us all. Change is possible, but, as Miller point out, it is a long way off in some societies.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 AUGUST 2018 | IN COMPETITION.

 

 

 

 

 

Acid Forest (2018) *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Rugile Barzdziukaite | Doc | Lithuania | 63′

Rugile Barzdziukaite describes her eco-film as a creative documentary. It is set in her native Lithuania where a strange phenomenon has occurred in the forested region of the Curonian Spit, a scenic peninsular edged by the Baltic from one side and the lagoon from the other. ACID FOREST makes its premiere at Locarno Film Festival 2018.

Taking her cue from the likes of documentarians Sergei Loznitsa and Jem Cohen, Barzdziukaite’s debut feature often sees the funny side of this blot on the landscape. This humour comes out of the spontaneous comments made by unsuspecting visitors to the otherwise appealing UNESCO world heritage site, known for its natural resources and high-end beach resorts.

Training his camera on a look-out platform in the midst of the acid forest, her DoP Dovydas Korba gets a bird’s eye view not only of the tourists, but also the black cormorants who migrated back to the area nearly twenty years ago in 1989, after becoming extinct, and have since laid waste to the native pine trees with their acid-rich droppings that fall from the nesting places. where these destructive birds roost and bring up their young. But it’s not all bad. Deciduous trees have now started thrive in the area, feeding on the cormorants fishy manure. And so gradually the forest is mutating from one of pines to one of oaks and ashes. And this narrative very much chimes with the cycles of human migration that have happened all the world since time immemorial. Acid Forest is a an unusual but fitting metaphor for the surreal world that we live in. MT

OUT OF COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

Agnès Varda – Gleaning Truths | 3 – 5 August 2018

GLEANING TRUTHS: AGNÈS VARDA is a UK wide touring programme from Friday 3 August in Curzon Soho. Comprising eight films and spanning six decades, the season celebrates Agnès Varda’s work in the build-up to the release of Oscar nominated Faces Places on the 21 September. The tour follows on from the extensive BFI Southbank season in June and takes the work of this pioneering filmmaker to audiences across the UK. 

The touring programme is launching on Thursday 2nd August with a 35mm screening of Cléo from 5 to 7pm at the Curzon Soho, plus panel discussion on Film, Fashion, and the Female Gaze. The panel will be hosted by The Bechdel Test Fest, an on-going celebration of films that pass the Bechdel Test.

La Pointe Courte 

France 1955. Dir Agnès Varda. With Philippe Noiret, Silvia Monfort. 80min. Digital. EST. PG 

Agnès Varda’s first feature, a precursor to the French New Wave, signals her future stylistic and thematic interests. Set in a working-class fishing village, the story moves between the daily struggles of the villagers and a young married couple from the city contemplating their failing marriage. With stunning cinematography, this striking debut demonstrates Varda’s exquisite sensibility as a photographer. 

Cléo from 5 to 7 Cléo de 5 à 7

France-Italy 1962. Dir Agnès Varda. With Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray. 90min. Digital. EST. PG
In pop singer Cléo, Varda created an iconic female protagonist. Wandering the streets of Paris, Cléo goes on a journey of self-discovery as she awaits the results of an important medical test. Moving and lyrical, Cléo from 5 to 7 is Varda’s breakthrough feature and a French New Wave classic, best enjoyed on the big screen.

Le Bonheur 

France 1964. Dir Agnès Varda. With Jean-Claude Drouot, Claire Drouot, Marie-France Boyer. 80min. Digital. EST. 15 Thérèse and François lead a seemingly pleasant married life, until he begins an affair with another woman, supposedly to enhance their mutual enjoyment. In her first colour feature, Varda becomes not only an observer of human behaviour and a commentator on the sexual revolution of the 1960s, but also a painter, utilising her palette on screen to enhance the story to great effect.

One Sings, the Other Doesn’t 

France-Venzuela-Belgium 1977. Dir Agnès Varda. With Thérèse Liotard, Valérie Mairesse, Robert Dadiès. 120min. Digital. EST. 12A
Set against the backdrop of the women’s liberation movement, the film charts the friendship between two women over the course of 15 years. Suzanne and Pauline lead very different lives, but what unifies them is their commitment to women’s rights. A deeply personal film for Varda, it combines elements of a musical (with lyrics written by the director herself) with Varda’s usual blend of fiction and documentary.

Vagabond 

France 1985. Dir Agnès Varda. With Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau. 106min. Digital. EST. 15. A Curzon Artificial Eye release
A powerful and heartbreaking account of a defiant and free-spirited woman. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Vagabond is a cinematic landmark that introduced one of the most intriguing, complex and uncompromising female protagonists in modern cinema. Sandrine Bonnaire, who debuted in Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours, gives a remarkable performance as the independent and rebellious Mona, who drifts through the South of France. The first scene shows Mona’s death, and so Agnès Varda tells her story through Mona’s interactions with the cross-section of French society she met in the last few weeks of her life. These encounters reveal people’s preconceptions around women’s place in society, personal freedoms within social structures, and the value of work – issues that still resonate more than 30 years after the film’s release.

Jacquot de Nantes 

France 1991. Dir Agnès Varda. With Philippe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud, Laurent Monnier. 120min. Digital. EST. PG 

This is Varda’s first film celebrating her late husband, French filmmaker Jacques Demy. With her signature style of mixing fiction with documentary, Varda beautifully reconstructs Demy’s adolescence and his love of theatre and cinema, using his memoirs as reference. Initiated during Demy’s last year of life and released after his death, Jacquot de Nantes is a touching portrait of a talented filmmaker-in-the-making. 

The Gleaners & I 

France 2000. Dir Agnès Varda. 82min. Digital. EST. U
Armed with a digital camera, Varda travels through the French countryside and Parisian streets to celebrate those who find use in discarded objects. Throughout, she finds affinity as a gleaner of images, emotions and stories, and expands a poetic exploration of gleaning into an innovative self-portrait. This seminal work, referred to by Varda as a ‘wandering- road ocumentary,’ explores her creative process and approach to making film and art.

The Beaches of Agnès 

France 2008. Dir Agnès Varda. 110min. Digital. EST. 18
A cinematic memoir of Varda’s personal and artistic life, told by the director herself on the eve of her 80th birthday. In a witty and original way, Varda weaves archive footage, reconstructions and film excerpts with present-day scenes to chart her life, including childhood, the French New Wave period, and her marriage to Jacques Demy. Inventive, emotional and reflective, this autobiographical essay celebrates Varda’s artistic creativity and curiosity about life.

SCREENING AT CURZON LONDON 3-5 AUGUST 2018 LONDON

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

Dirs/Writers: Cagla Zencirci, Guillaume Giovanetti | Cast: Damla Sonmez, Erkan Kolcak Kostendil, Meral Çetinkaya, Emin Gürsoy, Elit Iscan | Drama | 95′

Turkish village life is shamelessly exposed by defiant nature girl Sibel in this ravishingly rocking fable from directing duo Zencirci and Giovanetti premiering here at Locarno Film Festival 2018. 

SIBEL is another of the directing duo’s studies examining freedom and belonging following on from Noor (2012) and Ningen (2013). This tightly-scripted and perfectly-paced suspense fable also draws similarities with Reha Erdem’s escape-themed Jin (2013) that explored the perilous life of a Kurdish guerrilla girl on the run in the Anatolian mountains, but in this more intimate drama the setting is the isolated Black Sea town of Kuskoy in Northern Turkey known for its whistled language which adapts standard Turkish syllables into piercing tones that help the scattered locals to communicate long distance when working in the steep hillsides. Eric Devin’s widescreen camerawork conveys the magnificence of this lushly forested region.

And it’s here that Sibel lives with her authoritarian father and wayward younger sister Fatma. It’s a really powerful performance from Damla Sonmez who must be the first actor to whistle her part: strong-willed Sibel is mute from birth but has a closer bond with her father who has seen no reason to remarry much to the chagrin of the local small-minded women who marginalise and menace the young woman for her feral beauty and the freedom that her so-called ‘handicap’ allows. And we feel for her.  With women like these in the community it’s hardly surprising that menfolk would want to keep them down. Sibel is ostracised by every one of them, including her sister. One particularly resonant scene sees Sibel crying silently up at camera, but her speechlessness also works to her advantage allowing her to develop self-reliance and single-mindedness that sets her apart from the others as one of the two strong female characters in the narrative. The other is her bohemian  aunt who lives alone on the hillside encouraging her to follow her instincts: “women get their power from nature” These scenes in the forest provide a refreshing antidote to the female-centric plot-line that portraying the traditional local life that is dominated by the women folk’s need to subjugate themselves to a male-domination. And it’s into this natural habit that Sibel regularly retreats to spend time reflecting and also to hunt down a mysterious wolf threatening the village. It soon transpires that this wolf is really a metaphor for the immigrant outsider feared by the villagers. But soon a stranger does emerge, in the shape of fugitive Ali (Erkan Kolcak Kostendil) who will complete Sibel’s journey to self-realisation in this tense and stunningly filmic arthouse piece.  MT

IN COMPETITION | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 1-11 AUGUST 2018

 

 

 

The Heiresses (2018) ****

Dir: Marcelo Martinessi | Cast: Margarita Irun, Ana Ivanova, Ana Brun

Paraguayan actress Ana Brun won a Silver Bear for her dignified portrait of loss and loneliness in Marcelo Martinessi’s finely-tuned first feature.

The Heiresses shares similar thematic concerns with a number of recent South American features recalling a gilded past such as  Jorge Thielen Armand’s Caracas-set La Soledad (2017) and Argentinian drama Tigre (2017) that played at last year’s East End Film Festival.

Living in reduced circumstances in a well-appointed but shabby apartment in the capital Asuncion, Chela (Brun) has been forced slowly to sell off her prized heirlooms in legal negotiations handled by a trusted friend, Carmela (Alicia Guerra), to save her debt-ridden but considerably more jovial partner of 30 years Chiquita (Irun) who is threatened with a spell ‘inside’. Martinessi’s elegant script enigmatically weaves tentative romantic undertones and female solidarity into his texturally rich and atmospherically evocative storyline often transporting the introspective Chela into a dreamlike reverie consistent with her daily dabbling as a painter.

But an unexpected request from her more flush and considerably less guarded next door neighbour Pituca ( Maria Martins) ushers in a gradual change of circumstances allowing Chela to step out of the sidelines and into the limelight as she slowly regains confidence and a new sense of direction availing herself of a long disused Mercedes to ferry local ladies who lunch to and from each others homes for games of bridge and social tittle tattle. And it is during these leisurely afternoons that the drama gains a gently humorous twist and an opportunity for Chela to broaden her social and romantic inclinations, and to come into contact with the languorously seductive Angy (a feline Ana Ivanova).

Delicately drawn in subdued tones and sombre interior settings The Heiresses is an intimate female-centric affair that draws seething suspense from its hauntingly enigmatic minor-key and acutely observed characterisations of the former elite going about their elderly lives in leafy and affluent Asuncion. But danger is never far away in the over-crowded streets and backwaters of the city.

Men are absent but frequently alluded to in invariably dismissive or even derogatory tones: for what they haven’t done or have done badly, not only on a personal but on a national level. By definition women have learnt to be resilient, forbearing and generally self-reliant and there is considerable warmth and solidarity amongst them, and even though the usual bouts of bitchiness occasionally creep in they are tripped over lightly and soon forgotten. The gay pair have ceased to be close in the intervening years of financial hardship (“have you used my toothbrush again” Chela chides Chiquita) but still cling fastidiously to their routines and rituals: the hair coiffed and perfumed; the jewellery proudly displayed; the morning coffee meticulously prepared and served by the willing housekeeper (Nilda Gonzalez), each cup and accoutrement in its correct place or there’s hell to pay. And it’s these rigorous daily moments that hold their lives together, while everything seems to be gradually falling apart.

Chiquita’s eventual spell in the local women’s prison provides seamy contrast to their sedate life behind domestic doors where the splendour of yesteryear is reduced to ghostly shadows and peeling paper on the wall where once hung masterpieces and family treasures. And when Chela mobilises the ancient Mercedes there’s still a certain diffidence until she gets herself back into gear. But soon her distant memories of the glory days seep back as the casual nonchalance of Angy’s feral joie de vivre proves intoxicating. And it’s here that The Heiresses draws comparison with Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria, as Chela’s slow but sure emergence from emotional confinement finally starts to emerge again quietly but defiantly in this nuanced, slow-burning but compelling drama. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 10 AUGUST 2018

 

 

Open City Docs Festival 2018 | 4-9 September 2018

Open City Documentary Festival is back this Autumn for the eighth year running with a dynamic new programme celebrating documentary and non-fiction filmmaking taking place  from the 4th – 9th September in a host of great venues across central London.

This year – through films, audio and immersive (VR/AR) projects, across screenings, special events, parties, panels, workshops and masterclasses – Open City Documentary Festival will be celebrating the art of non-fiction.

The Festival opens with the UK Premiere of Baronesa (2017, Brazil, 71’), directed by Juliana Antunes and in partnership with MUBI. Her astonishing debut follows friends Andreia and Leid as they navigate the perilous reality of daily life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte. At first glance, their days seem calm and untroubled, but the threat of violence is never far away and Andreia dreams of moving to the safer neighbourhood of nearby Baronesa. Antunes spent five years in Belo Horizonte, working with a non-professional cast, to create a work of rare intimacy and authenticity which—despite its simple structure—emerges as a complex, multilayered and moving portrait of contemporary life in the favelas. Baronesa announces an exciting new voice in Brazilian cinema.

The Closing Night will be the UK Premiere of The Swing (2018, Lebanon, 74’) directed by Cyril Aris. An assured, emotionally rich film about the lies a family tells to keep their patriarch happy and the unattended costs of their falsehood. After sixty years of marriage, Antoine and Vivi have lost their most beloved daughter; but no one has dared to tell the bedridden nonagenarian Antoine, lest his heart crack. A simple solution, though everyone else in this densely interconnected family has then to live the same lie, giving no expression to their grief. A deeply affecting, beautifully shot cinematic novella; like all the best stories The Swing is a simple tale, but one that never short-changes its viewers.

This year the festival hosts an outstanding Jury panel for each of its competitive Awards. For the Open City Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Baronesa, dir. Juliana Antunes (Brazil); Casanova Gene, dir. Luise Donschen (Germany); Flight of a Bullet, dir. Beata Bubenec (Russia); and The Swing, dir. Cyril Aris (Lebanon). The Jury will be chaired by esteemed director Sophie Fiennes (Grace Jones: Bloodlight, Bami), and features Beatrice Gibson, Nelly Ben Hayoun, May Adadol Ingawanij and Mehelli Modi.

For the Emerging International Filmmaker Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Angkar, dir. Neary Adeline Hay (France); Those Who Come, Will Hear, dir. Simon Plouffe (Canada); Home of the Resistance, dir. Ivan Ramljak (Croatia) and The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life, dir. Zita Erffa (Germany, Mexico). The award will be Chaired by independent Dutch documentary programme cultural advisor and filmmaker Tessa Boerman (Zwart Belicht), Luciano Barisone, Cecile Emeke, Chiara Marañón and Tadhg O’Sullivan.

There will be two retrospectives in honour of non-fiction filmmaking: The innovative found footage documentarian Penny Lane and Japanese pioneer of ‘action documentary’, Kazuo Hara. Both filmmakers will be at the festival to present their work.

For the first time the festival has invited artists to present films that have informed their own practice, with special selections from DJ and producer Nabihah Iqbal and filmmaker Marc Isaacs as well as short films chosen by a number of the filmmakers with new work at the festival, screening before their own features.

The festival will also be hosting an Industry Bootcamp aimed at students and recent graduates. These sessions will be about preparing for the next steps in your career and getting ready to enter the industry. Each event is £5, or free with student accreditation.

Open City Documentary Festival is looking forward to hosting a number of exciting festival parties this year including the Opening and Closing Night Receptions at the Regent Street Cinema as well as the Nabihah Iqbal after-party at the ICA, where the DJ, Producer & NTS Radio presenter presents an evening of music inspired by 1972 documentary Winter Soldier, featuring protest songs and music from the anti-war movement from 1950-1975. Other various festival parties will be listed in the festival programme.

OPEN CITY DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL 4-9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

The Receptionist (2017) ***

Dir.: Jenny Lu; Cast: Shiang-chyi Chen, Fan Shixuan, Shuang Teng, Teresa Daley, Sophie Gopsill, Joshua Whitehouse, Stephen Pucci; UK/Taiwan 2016, 102 min.

Needs must when the Devil drives comes to mind in describing Jenny Lu’s grim but timely exploration of migrant’s shattered dreams dedicated to Anna, a woman from mainland China, whose life ended in tragedy after seeking a better life. 

Set mainly in a dingy ‘massage parlour’ near Heathrow and told from the perspective of Tina, the titular onlooker, The Receptionist pictures the lives of several young migrant workers in contemporary London.

Tina (Daley) and her boyfriend Frank (Whitehouse) are  graduates struggling to pay back their student grants and coping with the high rent of their miniscule flat. Tina’s job-seeking experiences are futile – who wants another literature graduate? When Frank is sacked, Tina takes the job she had rejected in the first place: receptionist to ‘Madame’ Lily (Gospsill), whose tawdry house near Heathrow Airport is the setting for this exploitation drama. When Tina arrives, Lily already has two sex-workers toiling for her: the mature, having-seen-it-all Sasa (Chen), and the the pixie-like Mei (Shixuan), who pretends that it’s all a game. At first, Tina is aloof – treating Sasa and Mei with contempt and grudgingly obeying Lily, who always finds new jobs for Tina – such as duct-taping the windows “ so that the neighbours cannot smell the sex”. But Tina prefers writing up her diary – an activity totally out of place given the setting. 

Relationships are complicated by Sam (Pucci) Madame Lily’s much younger ‘toy lover’, who not so secretly yearns for some “freebies”. When Anna (Teng), a woman in her mid-thirties arrives, Tina turns her allegiance to the sex workers, joins “their side” against her employer. Anna is a naive country girl and has no idea what she letting herself into. Her family has paid a huge sum of money so that she can work in the UK – and everybody back home relies on this financial support. She soon finds out from Sasa and Mei that abortions are not safe at all, even an anaesthetic is seen as a luxury. Unable to cope, Anna looses the will to live. The ending itself is poetic but never sentimental and cannot hide what has gone on before.

The director’s debut drama shows a passionate concern for her story and never lets up on realism, without resorting to explicit sex or nudity. DoP Gareth Munden captures the prison atmosphere with great flair and the ensemble acting is brilliant. Whilst there are some structural difficulties, The Receptionist is more than well-meaning, showing the fate of invisible women from another world being pushed to the margins and beyond. AS

NATIONWIDE FROM 20 JULY 2018

Pin Cushion (2017)***

Dir: Deborah Haywood | Cast: Lily Newmark, Joana Scanlan | UK | Drama |

The age-old subject of bullying is tackled here with tender aplomb by first time writer director Deborah Haywood in her poignant mother daughter buddy movie currently doing the festival rounds and now at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Iona (Lily Newmark) and her mother Lyn (Joana Scanlan) are trying for a fresh start in a new town, but their close relationship soon comes under pressure largely due to Lyn’s physical challenges, causing Iona to retreat into her own fantasy world in a bid to escape the constant teasing and ridicule from schoolfriends. The deftly entitled PIN CUSHION is very much a contemporary tale highlighting the often claustrophobic nature of today’s nuclear family where mothers often see their world entirely through their daughter’s experiences rather than reaching out for emotional and intellectual fulfilment in their own peer group, partner or even the workplace. While we have every sympathy for Lyn (Scanlan), her life totally revolves around Iona – they share the same hobbies, and even a bed! Not only does this cramp Iona’s style by preventing her developing at school with kids her own age, but it also discourages her mother from reaching out to contacts in her local community which could in turn benefit both mother and daughter, lending her more respect all round. Scanlan’s brilliant performance as a kindly and caring parent is what really makes PIN CUSHION so enjoyable as an insightful look inside the brutally miserable world of the bullied and abused. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Piano (1993) | Re-Release

Dir.: Jane Campion; Cast: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin; New Zealand, Australia, France 1993; 121 min.

As a landmark in film history, few features can measure up with Jane Campion’s epic The Piano: in only her third outing (after many successful short films) as full-length motion picture writer/director, she tackled all: feminism, racism and above all, sexual relationships. She won an Oscar for Best Director, The Piano got the nod for Best Picture and most wondrous at all, she was the first  – and, 25 years later – still the only woman recipient of the Palme d’Or, albeit sharing it with Chen Kaige’s Farewell my Concubine. 

Scottish widow Ada (Hunter) has been traumatised by the death of husband, who was killed, standing next to her, by lightning. As a result, she has lost her voice. Her father marries her off to Stewart (Neill), a farmer, living in the jungle: he picked her from a mail order catalogue. Ada, a former opera-singer like her late husband, arrives at the unwelcoming beaches of mid-nineteen century New Zealand with daughter Anna (Paquin) and her price possession: the titular piano. Stewart does not care about the instrument, and leaves its transportation to his second in command, Baines (Keitel), a native of the country. Ada, withdrawn from reality, falls in love with Baines, after the latter makes it clear to him, that she is more than a sex object for him. Stewart, jealous and out of control, extracts bloody violence; promising more, if Ada is seeing Baines again. One of the main features is the role of Ada’s daughter Anna, who, whilst loving her mother, sides with Stewart: she yearns for a stable home. Like young Helene in Chabrol’s Les Noces Rouges, she inadvertently gives away the game, whilst intending to help her mother.

Sumptuously photographed by British cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (who collaborated with Campion on An Angel at my Table and The Portrait of a Lady), and  an eerie score by his compatriot Michael Nyman, The Piano seems head and shoulders about contemporary cinema. Alas, Jane Champion would never again be so brave and daring: apart from the Henry James adaption The Portrait of A Lady (1996) and the Keat’s bio-pic Bright Star (2009), both more sturdy than innovative, little can be said of her more recent output. It seems, like she was frightened by her own boldness – like a comet who bloomed to early and imploded. AS

ON RE-RELEASE IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS  in CELEBRATION of its 25th Anniversary | | 16th July 2018

  

Dream Away (2018) *** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Marouan Omara, Johanna Domke | Documentary | Germany/Egypt 2018  | 86 min.

Egyptian filmmaker Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke a visual artist from Germany create a near-absurdist portrait of Sun Rise, a deserted luxury hotel in Sharm El-Sheik in southern Egypt. The whole place is geared-up for Western tourists – but there are hardly any there nowadays, and the staff are left wondering about the future: will their pay-cuts end in redundancy? How can they reconcile their traditional upbringing with the western lifestyle forced upon them in their own homeland. The Arab Sprig and the confusion of the post revolutionary era has robbed the entire place of its livelihood, where once it offered warm seas, fabulous coral gardens as one of the best places for Winter sunshine and diving. And nobody is a winner now.

Horreya Hassan is a member of the housekeeping team, a euphemist title for a cleaner. She is looked down upon by members of the entertainment/animation team such as Shaima Reda (“To share a room with a member of Housekeeping, outraging”). Horreya is finally accepted by the women from Animation, who dance in front of a empty space where the audience used to be. Horreya tries to make up for her lowly status by reading self-help books which tell her “How to connect the mind gaps”. Meanwhile, D J Taki (Khaled Ahmend) has to support an ill mother, and has a foreign girl friend, although in the old days he used to see things from his parents’ point of view. Now, a female member of the animation team is divorced and enjoys running around in bunny costume at night in the eerie desert. Driver Hossam (Abo Salama) is married to a much older but very wealthy woman who has bought him an expensive Dodge. He defends himself with his friends: “It’s okay to marry an older woman, really”. Masseur Alaa (Abo El Kassem), dreams about foreign women wanting a “private massage”. But when he talks one of his friends into giving up a staff room, we watch him treating a mannequin, whose arm comes lose during the process.  All fear they’ll be sacked eventually, but at the same time know “that staying here you will get stuck”.

DoP Jacob Beurle evocative images create a atmospheric  sense of place, particularly in the desert scenes, which have a strong other-wordly character. A more structured approach  make have worked better; but then, life in the void somehow invites the fluent and elliptical style of the filmmakers. Dream Away is a melancholic portrait of a young generation left to fight for a new identity: trying hard to copy the Western heroes of all the films they watch, they are still stuck in a country which is on the brink of a return to traditional authoritarianism.AS

SCREENING DURING KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

53 Wars (2018) Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2018 ****

Dir: Ewa Bukowska | Drama | Poland | 79′

Ewa Bukowska’s stunning feature debut is a visceral impressionist portrait of anxiety, longing and psychotic meltdown seen through the eyes of a woman whose husband is a war correspondent in Chechnya. Based on a best selling book by Grazyna Jagielska, Bukowska builds up a collage of snatched memories, archive footage, thoughts and scenes from the couple’s life together and apart to palpably convey how it really feels to yearn passionately and to fear desperately for a loved one until it hurts, quite literally.

Anchored by a quivering, neurotic tour de force by Magdalena Poplawska (she also appears in this year’s festival’s Panic Attack) this tightly scripted and searingly affective psychological thriller mesmerises during its compact running time. Bukowska makes use an evocative score of romantic tunes, requiems, electronic buzzings and moments of deafening silence as she deftly manages the subtle tonal shifts between the heart-pounding good times when the couple are united, during love-making and with their little son, and those of sheer, dry-mouthed palpitating terror when Anka imagines Witek (Michal Zurawski) dead or on a gurney in some foreign hospital.

Eventually dark dread and purple passion meld into one chasm of terror as Anka downloads her angst-ridden neurosis to everyone in her sphere  – summed up in an extraordinary scene where her head-splitting palpitations are chanelled into a builder’s jammering drill in the street outside. She begs him to stop – but the angst is inside her own head. Later she threatens an innocent woman passer-by in a hijab to ‘stay away from her husband”. Stylishly captured in intimate close-up and on the widescreen by DoP Tomasz Naumiuk this is an inventive and unique way to show how anxiety can eventually take over and become completely destructive. Clearly fear eats the soul. MT

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 29 JUNE – 7 JULY 2018 | EAST OF THE WEST

Suleiman Mountain (2017) | East of West Grand Prix | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Dir; Elizaveta Stishova | Cast: Daniel Daiybekov, Turgunai Erkinbekova, Perizat Ermanbaeva | Drama | Kyrgyzstan | 101′

Enlivened by offbeat humour and vibrant widescreen images reflecting the rugged beauty of this wild Central Asian nation, SULEIMAN MOUNTAIN is the first feature from Russian filmmaker Elizaveta Stishova. Largely funded by European finance this appealing arthouse drama explores an unconventional journey of discovery – both literal and metaphorical – for its passionate central characters: a woman, her long-lost son and husband and his other younger wife. In a drama fraught with tense uncertainty and often brutal rituals involving folklore and shamanism – a scene involving an unconscious woman is particularly alarming – Kyrgyzstan emerges as a region caught between the modern world and one of ancient traditions where women – predictably – get a rough deal as they compete vehemently for the attention of self-seeking macho men, in the hope that somehow, by smothering them with love and attention, they can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Sadly, twas ever thus.

Kazakhstani actor Asset Imangaliev plays the maverick male at the centre of the story, who cleverly plays his two wives off against one another. Karabas is an opportunistic adventurer who cons his way through life veering from violent outbursts to twinkling smiles as he tries to charm the pants off everyone he meets. Recently reunited with the couple’s thoughtfully endearing son Uluk, his older wife is a healing soul, desperately trying to hold the family together, while her coltish younger rival is also pregnant with Karabas’ child.

Kyrgyzstan initially feels exotic and remote, but the touching human story at its core is as familiar and everlasting as the hills. Stishova has certainly made a watchable and lively debut. MT

EAST OF THE WEST 2018 | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

History of Love (2018) *** | Special Mention | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Writer/Dir: Sonja Prosenc | Cast: Dorothea Nadah, Kristoffer Jonah, Zita Fusco, Matja Vasti | Drama l Slovenia Norway | 106’

History of Love is a visually alluring mood peace with an enigmatic storyline that intrigues but never gets under the skin of its central character, despite a committed performance from Dorothea Nadah.

While exploring the various stages of family bereavement, an underlying enigmatic cat and mouse game plays out between the central character Iva and her mother’s ‘lover’ which ultimately fails to convince but provides food for thought in her denial phase when she is seeking someone to blame for the traumatic loss.
Seventeen-year-old Iva (an impressive Dorothea Nadrah) is in the process of coming to terms with the death of her mother. Influenced by this deep personal sadness and by the discovery that she didn’t know everything about her parent, she slowly immerses herself into a strange, almost dreamlike world where water is a recurring motif symbolising the ebb and flow or emotions.
Sonja Prosenc’s second feature is dominated by a sombre and reflective tone and a distinctive poetic style that uses visual impressionism to tell its loose-limbed, structureless story. She also makes good use of sound with an occasional elegiac classical score and soft ambient sounds conveying the shock, grief, denial and finally anger of post bereavement trauma.
The film captures the bosky riverside surrounds of its lush Slovenian locations creating a great sense of rus in urbis as Iva wanders around trying to come to terms with her grief. Discovering her mother’s things: a favourite scarf or a letter, delayed in the post, sends her spiralling into unspoken melancholy but the film is light on dialogue and never resorts to open displays of sadness or histrionics preferring to emote through Mitja Licen’s stunning visuals, a strong score and deftly managed tonal subtleties. MT
 
SPECIAL MENTION | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018
https://youtu.be/kjcg-6rSip4
 
 

Leave No Trace (2018) ****

Dir: Debra Granik | Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Ben Foster | US Drama | 109′

A wayfarer father (Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) are the focus of  Debra Granik’s cogent coming of age docudrama that explores – without judgement or melodrama – the close but often problematic bond between parent and teenager as they go about their day-to-day existence ‘eco-warrior-style’ in the lushly wooded US Pacific coastal area.

LEAVE NO TRACE avoids dramatic conflict in its pragmatic approach to telling a contemporary story that harks back to an atavistic era of hunter gatherers portraying with complete naturalness and finesse the pair’s daily existence as they forage for food, seek out warmth and shelter, relying completely on local flora and fauna for all their creature comforts. And for a while it seems an enviable and harmonious way of life until Tom (Thomasin) grows tired of roaming around and hungers for something more – both physically and emotionally – as she discovers that nesting and belonging suits her better than avoiding society and being constantly on the move. Whether this is a male or female state of mind is a subject for consideration in this – on the surface – simple but thematically rich piece of filmmaking. Tom’s coming of age evolves as naturally as the landscape surrounding her. Clearly her father is a loner, whereas Tom is much more garrulous – clearly a product of her nature rather than her parental nurturing.

What also emerges here is a picture of rural America at its most original state: a collection of people who came together and forged a close community looking after each other in what could ideally be described as basic socialism. But when the state intervenes in the form of social care our hackles begin to rise at this seemingly unnatural intrusion into their state of grace.

With this quietly unassuming indie gem Granik questions and explores complex human dynamics: our desire for privacy and autonomy within our families, communities and even within ourselves is constantly evolving and being challenging by officialdom. LEAVE NO TRACE is a small gem that is larger than life. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 29 JUNE 2018

 

Wadjda (2012) Mubi

Dir/Wri: Haifaa Al Mansour | Cast: Reem Abdullah, Ahd, Waad Mohammed | 98′ | Arabic with subtitles

Wadjda is a jewel in the crown of contemporary Middle Eastern film. The first full-length feature to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, it’s also directed by a Saudi woman. Despite the vast wealth of that country, it was impossible to raise finance for such a venture.  So the funds came from Europe and the feature was backed by the Sundance Institute.

In the modern world of Saudi, there’s nothing religiously radical or precious about Wadjda. She is a fiercely independent ten-year-old, as bright as a button and way ahead of her time.  Living with her mother in a dusty suburb of Riyadh, she goes to school but sees her studies as a means to an end: to win the school prize so she can buy a bike and race the boys instead of taking the taxi provided by her father.  He visits occasionally but has another ‘wife-in-waiting’, hoping that this one will provide him with the prize of a son. But Wadjda would rather be making wristbands and recording music discs and selling them for a profit than waiting to be married off to a local man.

Al Mansour’s clever script reflects every subtle nuance of Muslim society and Waad Mohammed’s charismatic turn as Wadjda is full of insight, wit and cheekiness marking her out to be a talent in the making. Supported by a cast of newcomers and seasoned actors: her onscreen mother Reem Abdullah and Ahd as headmistress Ms Hussa give performances of considerable allure.  Lutz Reitemeier’s cinematography brings clarity and precision to the visuals.

The story is set against the backdrop of a society where women are the isolated chattels of men and merely exist to provide offspring. Woman are highly competitive with each other, gossiping and policing the sisterhood’s moral and religious probity with an eagle eye and a sharp tongue. And whereas in Western society women compete in a machiavellian way for desirable males, in Saudi society this competition is right out there in the open and their only raison d’être in life.

Wadjda is a touching and playful portrait of a spunky little girl – but more than that it’s a fascinating insight into a society with medieval values in the 21st century, and not all are to be dismissed as outdated. But even after all the dust has settled on its novelty value, this is a drama to be reckoned with on the international arthouse scene. MT

NOW ON MUBI | Haifaa Al Mansour was Head of the Dino De Laurentis Jury at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2013

Edinburgh International Film Festival | 20 June – 1 July 2018

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

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

BEST OF BRITISH

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

AMERICAN DREAMS 

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

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

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

WORLD PERSPECTIVES 

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

DOCUMENTARIES

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

DOWNRIGHT STRANGE

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

FOCUS ON CANADA 

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

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

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

 

 

Zama (2017) Bfi Player

Dir: Lucrecia Martel | Argentina, Brazil / 115’ | cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Matheus Nachtergaele, Juan Minujín

Argentinian auteuse Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman) makes a welcome return with a subtle and sumptuously beguiling fantasy peepshow where one man’s mind unravels in mysterious 18th century South America.

Tired of waiting for the King to transfer him to his wife in Buenos Aires, a Creole officer of the Spanish Crown embarks on a perilous bid to return to his family while around him his fellow officers scheme and disemble. Based on an adaptation of Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 Latin American classic, this cinematic soupçon offers creative insight into Spanish colonial history through its central character Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who slowly loses his grip on reality and descends into paranoia in a remote and savage outpost somewhere in Paraguay.

Sensually deprived and desperate for home, Zama falls prey to the South American sirens including Lola Duenas’s lacivious noblewoman, and a local Indian with whom he fathers a crippled child. Martel seduces with her gorgeously costumed cavalcade as we strain to make out the enigmatic storyline through a closeted and voyeuristic lens amid exotic birdsong and strange beasts including a volatile pet llama. Beyond the invidious perils of the settlement lies a land of savagery populated by dangerous masked tribes and a wild Portuguese warrior named Vicuna, whom Zuma is tasked with capturing in a perilous final attempt at a glorious transfer back to civilisation in Spain.

Drawing comparisons with other recent films from South America such as Jauja (Lisandro Alonso) and Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra). ZAMA is an extraordinary historical adaptation. Gleaming like Pandora’s Box and striking like a cobra, Martel offers a dizzyling distallation of the dying days of Don Diego de Zama. MT

ON BFI PLAYER

Sir (2018) | Critics’ Week 2018

Dir: Rohena Gera | Drama | India | 97′

Documentarian Rohena Gera’s fiction debut is a refreshing and delicately drawn character drama, a love story that takes place in modern day Mumbai between two likeable people from opposite ends of the social spectrum, one is rich the other poor.    

Ratka is a young widow whose dicey new single status has for forced her to find work in the city. So she moves from her rural village to work as housekeeper for a wealthy young man whose wedding has recently been called off. “Sir” is clearly feeling emotional and Ratka suggests to his mother that the wedding presents be kept in her room to spare him further heartache. There they fester as a constant reminder of his and her marital failure.

The lovelorn Ashwin is gradually soothed by Ratka’s kind and thoughtful personality, so different from the spoilt prima donnas from his own milieu. Impressed by her drive and ambition to become a tailor, he offers her time out to train. His own work as a writer seems like a vanity project in contrast and most of his time is spent lolling around feeling sorry for himself and secretly ashamed at his lack of ambition.

Gera makes great use of Mumbai’s pulsing metropolis as a backdrop for the pair’s palpable chemistry as sexual tension slowly catches fire between them. But Ratka’s personality is the stronger of the two and Gera takes time to flesh out her emotional qualities and sparky intelligence leaving Ashwin as a rather one-dimensional cypher with only the machismo consistent with his status to define him. Clearly something’s gotta give, and in order to bring these two together between the sheets in an elegant manner Gera has to employ a narrative device that ends up being unconvincing. That said, SIR is a watchable film and was justly awarded a prize at the Cannes Critics’ Week sidebar. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Manto (2018)**** | Un Certain Regard | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Nandita Das; Cast: Navazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Rajshiri Deshpande; India/France 2018, 112 min.

Nandita Das’ follows her stunning debut Firaaq, with a passionate bio-pic of Indo-Pakistani writer and author Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955), whose life was a constant struggle against censorship under British colonial rule and in the newly created Pakistan, whence he fled  from Bombay. Rather daringly, Das has integrated five of his short stories into the narrative, that are proof of Manto’s radicalism.                       

The first is Dus Rupay where a young girl from the slums is sold to two wealthy men for the afternoon: they play with her on the beach, before abusing her. Das covers the time between 1946 and 1950, with Manto (Siddiqui) working as a scriptwriter for Bollywood in Bombay, where feels very much at home before the partition. He and his wife Safia (Dugal) mourn their dead son, but are comforted by their two young daughters. Manto shows his morbid nature on his gravestone: “Here lays Saadat Hasan Manto, wondering if he is the better storyteller or God is!” Manto invariably sides with women in his writings, and it is no accident that he was a good friend of the feminist writer Ismat Chugtai (Despande), who also found herself in the British courts. When asked why he is writing about sex-workers, and not the British repression, Manto answers: “Aren’t they part of society too?”

After the partition, Manto’s friendship with the film star Shyam Chadda (Bhasin) comes to an end when an angry Muslim mob in Pakistan attacks the actor’s Hindu family in Pakistan, making them flee to Bombay, “I could kill you”, says Chadda to Manto – and even though he takes it back, the writer knows his time is up, and he moves to Lahore. But there is little to stimulate him in the Pakistani city, and he is soon in court defending himself for another shot story (Cold Meat), considered obscene. Even though he wins the court case, Manto does not feel at home in Lahore, and his drinking lands him in rehab. Symbolically, he is like the man in one of his stories who remained in no-mans land between the two states, having written “Two or three years after Partition, it occurred to the governments of India and Pakistan to exchange their lunatics, like they had exchanged their criminals. The Muslim lunatics in India were sent to Pakistan, and the Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistani asylums were to be handed over to India.”

MANTO’s stylish aesthetic is photographed by Kartik Vijay in semi-sepia, and Siddiqui gives a subtle splendour to his turn as the caustic, low-level depressive writer who cannot adjust to his new homeland due to his humanist nature. Melancholic, sombre and despondent, he drinks himself to death at only 42. Writing was his life, he even gave up the typewriter to use only pens because he felt they were more pure. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL – UN CERTAIN REGARD 2018

Lazzaro Felice | As Happy as Lazzaro 2018 | Best Script Cannes 2018

Writer/Dir: Alice Rohrwacher | Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Luca Chikovani, Sergi Lopez | Italy | Drama 125′

Al Rohrwacher brings tenderness and curiosity to her delicately compelling fables set amongst rural communities in her homeland of Italy. Her latest Lazzaro Felice won Best Script at Cannes this year, her previous a languid pastoral The Wonders (2014) followed a family of beekeepers in 1970s Tuscany. In her debut Corpo Celeste (2011)  a young girl challenges religious morality in the southern town of Reggio Calabria.

Happy as Lazzaro is time-bending tale that uses poetic realism to enliven the rather depressing theme of corruption and crime in contemporary Italy. Again Rohrwacher uses Super 16mm to establish a retro aesthetic of sepia and muted senape and to re-create a nostalgic feeling for the past and times gone by in the dilapidated village of Inviolata where a traditional family of sharecroppers still serve the Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna. Although sharecropping has been illegal since the 1980s, their loyalty to their corrupt mistress is born out of habit, and because it suits them to maintain the status quo: It’s what they’ve always done. This recalls a past (and possibly a present in some areas) where a feudal system of sorts still exists, and Italy’s now decadent royal family (Vittoria Emanuele) are still acknowledged, paid homage to and addressed by their titles. So the villagers go about their leisurely business lacking the imagination or motivation to move on, and respecting the powers that be in this remote, sun-baked backwater that seems stuck in the past. And Lazzaro is the man with a heart of gold who is simply too good for this world, let along for this job. As saintly soul, Lazzaro is left the duties no one else wants to do, such as picking giant guarding the chicken coop from wolves. The Marchesa’s fecklessly lazy young son Tancredi, decides to play a trick on mother, for not giving him his inheritance early, and he sees that Lazzaro’s gentle nature and naive nature will make him perfect for a plan to defraud her. Lazzaro is naturally in thrall to the boy, out of deference, to his status. Tancredi then fakes his own kidnapping, hiding out in the undergrowth around the village expecting his mother to cough up the million lire ransom he has demanded. Naturally things don’t go according to plan and Lazzaro falls through a time-warp – in a tonal shift that Rohrwacher pulls of with aplomb – ending up in another world, set against a corrupt urban sprawl where he wanders dreamlike (and there is a certainly a surreal quality to these sequences) amongst unscrupulous characters as a nightmarish future unfolds around him. Lazzaro at this point takes on the semblance of a Christ-like figure – and it’s a performance of great subtlety and placidness that has to be seen to be believed. This transformation to saint, or even ghost seems to represent the soul of the Italian nation overcome by decadence and the perils of modernity. It also raises the everlasting conundrum: how long can a person continue to be good when continually challenged by evil. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 9 – 21 MAY 2018

Fugue | Fuga (2018) **** | Cannes Film Festival 2018 | Un Certain Regard

Dir: Agnieska  Smoczynska | Cast: Gabriela Muskała, Łukasz Simlat, Małgorzata Buczkowska, Zbigniew Waleryś, Halina Rasiakówna, Piotr Skiba, Iwo Rajski | Poland/Czech Republic/Sweden 2018, 100 min.

Director Agnieszka Smoczynska re-unites with DoP Jacub Kijowski and actor Malgorzata Buczkowska who together made The Lure an international success. For Fugue, they are joined by writer Gabriela Muskala, who also plays the lead, Kinga/Alicja, a woman suffering from severe post-traumatic amnesia.

We first meet Kinga staggering onto the platform of a station where she promptly collapses, having urinated infront in full view of the other passengers. Clearly she has lost her mind, and spends the next two years in a psychiatric ward in a Warsaw hospital, where she makes a brief appearance on TV, in the hope that someone might identify her. And they do. She is soon re-united with her husband Krystzof (Simlat) and four-year old son Daniel. Her name is Alicja, but strangely, no one appears happy to have her back, least of all her Daniel. The only thing she is sure of is her credit card PIN number she and immediately makes an application for a new Identity Card. Her mysterious family friend Ewa (Buczkowska) is clearly so much more that than this, but Smoczynska keeps her cards close to her chest, revealing little in this enigmatic but captivating mystery drama. Eventually Alicja starts to re-adjust to home life with her husband, but a sudden accident in their car seems to trigger   Alicja’s memory and gradually a whole picture slowly develops of their life before the train incident. It emerges that her husband had successfully divorced her and wanted sole custody of Daniel.

In her follow up to The Lure, Smoczynska offers us another circuitous and enigmatic drama: there are moments of supernatural evidence, where Alicja’s home environment appears completely alien to her. Particularly the green bathroom looks eerily like a fish tank (drawing comparisons with The Shining’s Room 237). The country house has a weird and haunted feel to it, and Alicja seems to be a prisoner within its walls, he family and even her son treating her with hostile suspicion. Fugue is an allegorical story of a woman who is unsure of her position in the world, retreating from motherhood, and drifting between various states of being. Gabriela Muskala gives a brilliant tour de force in the leading role of this unique and beguiling Polish arthouse drama. AS.

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 8-19 MAY 2018

Jeune Femme (2017)

Dir.: Leonor Serraille; Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Gregoire Monsaingeon, Soleymane Seye Ndiaye, Natalie Richard, Erka Sainte, Lila-Rose Gilberti; France 2017, 97 min.

La Femis graduate Leonor Serraille, won the Camera d’ Or at Cannes 2017, is a for this wild debut: its main protagonist Julia  – an excellent Laetitia Dosch – is nothing like the fragile, delicate damsel in distress of countless French features, but a steamroller of a personality: ready to bury anything in her way – including herself.  

Serraille introduces her heroine head on, literally: splitting her forehead, ramming it against the door of her ex-lover Joachim Deloche (Monsaigeon), a photographer, who had made a career modelling her, but has now discarded the young woman on their return to Paris. After a decade in Mexico, Julia has returned to France broke, homeless and looking after Joachim’s cat, a fluffy Persian. She is picked up and rescued, by mistake, by a young woman who believes she is a former school friend, who had heterochromic eyes, just like Julia, whose irises are green and hazel. 

After Julia’s rescuer discovers her mistake, she and the cat are homeless again Thus begins an emotional rollercoaster ride, in which Julia has to adapt like a chameleon to ever changing situations. Her mother (Richard), blames her: “you are just like your father, you leave me alone”. Finding a place to sleep on the sofa of an elderly man, is no solution either; after being told, that he does not like to sleep alone, Julia tells him “to buy himself a teddy bear” and moves out. Answering an ad, Julia then gets a job as a baby sitter, and is allowed to sleep in the maid’s chamber in the attic. This is eventful film full of gleeful energy but Seraille avoids romanticising the predicaments Julia finds herself in. The gender relations are always at the centre, ranging from rough sexual harassment to absurdity (Ousmane falling asleep whilst Julia is undressing him). Serraille, who was pregnant during shooting, never idealises her main protagonist: Julia is not a victim, but her stubborn fight for absolute autonomy results in her having sometimes a part in her own downfall. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 MAY 2018

Bergman: A Year in the Life (2018) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir: Jane Magnusson | Doc | Sweden | 116’

Documentarian Jane Magnusson takes a swipe at Ingmar Bergman’s memory in her sprawling in-depth documentary that marks this year’s centenary of the birth of the Swedish legend. It is an informative expose that lays bare the lesser known side of Bergman and follows on from her 2013 outing Trespassing Bergman where Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen appraised the filmmaker’s staggering oeuvre.

In this current climate of moral rectitude, your judgement of the film will be guided by whether or not you think an artist’s work should stand apart from their personal life. Predicably it emerges that Ingmar was his father’s favourite and  his brother Dag Bergman reveals other intimate details about their childhood together, including his brother’s neurosis that led to stomach pains and sleepless nights.

Opting for a thematic rather than chronological narrative allows Magnusson to zoom in on Bergman’s personality, family and the women in his life in a revealing expose of a man who seemed entirely focused on his own needs. Yet he also emerges as a director who worked closely and intensively with his actors creating female roles that were appealing as well as emotionally and intellectually challenging.

So many documentaries about Bergman have been hagiographic tributes to the national hero, and when a filmmaker reaches these heady heights it becomes difficult to be critical. Since the dawn of time creators have been philanderers and poor parents, driven by their obsession with emotionally consuming work. Does this mean that they should be metaphorically ‘taken out and shot’ or have their work shunned and demonised?

Magnusson’s film is observational in style, cleverly focusing in on 1957, Bergman’s most prolific year as a filmmaker on television and the big screen, with the release of Wild Strawberries and the Seventh Seal, his most autonomous work. It was also the year of his involvement in four theatre productions – including the massive almost unstageable endeavour that was Peer Gynt. 1957 heralded the arrival of his sixth child, with wife Gun Grut, and romances leading to marriage with Käbi Laretei and Ingrid von Rosen, including an affair with actor Bibi Andersson, who starred in the year’s two films. 

Enriched by a wealth of personal photos and footage, there are informative talking heads from the world of film, theatre and literature making this a definitive and ambitious piece of work that reveals a complicated but endearing genius, despite its provocative stance. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY 2018

 

The Poetess (2017) ****

Dir: Stefanie Brockhaus, Andres Wolff | Cast: HIssa Hilal | Drama | 89′ | Saudi/Germany

Hissa Hilal, Saudi poet and political activist in her forties, has made some ground-breaking literary efforts to push out the boundaries for women in Saudi Arabia. Veiled in her burqa she is a vehement critic of fundamental fanatics and Islamist terrorism. To be an outspoken woman and a poet in the Muslim world is an act of courage on its own, but to attack the predominantly male audience in the studio on live TV, goes a step further.

Ms Hilal is the focus of this enlightening documentary from Stefanie Brockhaus (On the other Side of Life) and Andy Wolff. We learn how she became the only woman competitor in the “Million’s Poet Show” 2015, televised to an audience of 70 million from Abu Dhabi (United Emirates). Remia (her mother does not let her use this name on TV), is married to another journalist and poet, who stands by her during the crisis following her appearance in the reality show, filmed in a TV studio with the most garish and gilded decor known to the modern world. It is a miracle in itself that she even reaches the grand final, where she will compete against five men. Covered in an abaya hijab and a burqa, Hissa attacks the unfaithfulness of men, and even more daring, she condemns the muftis, the issuers the Fatwa, all through her clever poetry. Needless to say, a Fatwa has been issued against her, a death threat, for which she is prepared: “If they kill me, I will be a martyr for humanity”.

For Hilal, “religion is a private matter, but is manipulated today for political ends”. Clips from documentaries from the early 20th century support her thesis clearly stating that a hundred years ago, Bedouin women could move around freely, have their own business and did not wear the burqa, which was only introduced later, “because beautiful women caused conflicts in the desert”. She remembers her youth, when Saudi Arabia was a much more liberal country. She watched television in the 1970s “when the parents forbid them to watch Egyptian movies. But we stayed up, until the parents were asleep and then enjoyed the forbidden features”. The change in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world came in late 1979, with the Juhayman incident in Mecca when 270 people were killed and over 500 were injured. The revolt was lead by Juhayman al-Oteibi and Mohammed Abudl al-Qahtan, the latter claiming to be the Mahdi. The Saudi monarchy, feeling threatened by the clerics who accused them of selling out to Western culture, placated the religious leaders by giving them control over the whole of society: media, culture, education, everything. The interaction of genders was the first victim: even in the TV studio, genders are separated.

One of the most interesting elements of the film is seeing the contrast between the cities of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and more liberal Oman, which is photographed both from an aerial perspective and with the camera moving freely through the streets and malls, evoking a authentic feel for Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman.

Tension builds in the grand finale “Million’s Poet Show”. The audience are clearly rooting in Hilal’s favour, but there’s bound to be some manipulation behind the scenes to ensure a male wins. She does not expect to be victorious and sadly her fears are realised. “They like to see me defeated, it’s really hate”. Her income from writing enables her to buy herself a house in Abu Dhabi; in the capital Riyadh this would not have been possible, and certainly not in the UK. She might have avoided the consequences of the Fatwa, but is not sure, when she will see her family again. This real eye-opener should be screened globally for all to see. MT

THE POETESS | NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW |

Sundance London 2018 | 31 May – 3 June

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principal cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

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

Principal cast: Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel

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

Principal cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jamie Babbit, Emily Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the Sun Shine In | Un Beau Soleil Intérieur ***** (2017)

Writer|Dir: Claire Denis, Christine Angot | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Gérard Depardieu, Valéria Bruni Tedeschi | 94min | Comedy drama

Claire Denis opened Cannes Directors’ Fortnight 2017 with her terrific comedy debut Un Beau Soleil Intérieur starring Juliette Binoche, Gérard Depardieu and Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi as Parisians keen to find love the second, third (or possibly even) twentieth time around. Previously known as Des Lunettes Noires, a more edgy and intriguing title that conveys the romantic pleasures of the time discretely known as ‘un certain age’, this drôle and triumphantly upbeat satire will make you chuckle knowingly, rather than laugh out loud.

Binoche plays Isabelle, a recently divorced mother in her early fifties keen to rediscover the buzz of sex and lasting love again and all the other things that make ‘la vie du couple’ worth living, after the pressures of raising a family or struggling to build a life. Surrounded by a series of smucks – to put it politely – she feels that romance is already a thing of the past. Isabelle is ‘special’ in that mercurial way that becomes amusingly familiar as Denis’ insightfully intelligent narrative unfolds. She has reached a time when wisdom and experience enriches everyday life, but when it comes to love we are still often teenagers. She welcomes the familiar routines of daily life, but so do the men she encounters, particularly one pompous banker (Xavier Beauvois) who is the ultimate control freak and is useless in bed, but she falls in love all the same, due to her newfound ability to tolerate the even the worst of what’s left men-wise. After the banker is clearly unable to leave his wife, Isabelle then moves on to Sylvain (Paul Blain), a louche and seedily sensual man she meets in a bar where they dance to they strains of “At Last’  – and of course you know it wont’t be. Then there is alcoholic actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who satisfies her sexually but is too fond of himself to really fall for her. Isabelle is looking for chemistry but also someone from her ‘milieu’, but at this stage in the game, most  available men are single for a reason: they are either geeks or deeply unattractive, but totally unaware of it. And ex husband François (Laurent Grevill) still serves as a ‘friend with benefits’, occasionally popping back on the scene, although her daughter is only glimpsed briefly.

Apart from the acutely observed witty script, the emotional nuances of Binoche’s performances are what makes this so enjoyable. UN BEAU SOLEIL never takes itself too seriously, and is a complete departure from her dramas such as Beau Travail and White Material, and is probably most like her 2002 outing Friday Night. And the final scene where she visits Gerard Depardieu’s psychic is such a perceptive interplay between clever dialogue and intuitive performances it’s a joy to behold. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF CURZON | 14 APRIL 2018

 

 

 

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017) **** | East End Film Festival 2018

Dir: Mouly Surya  Writer: Rama Adi| Drama | Indonesia | 92′

There a dark humour to this feminist parable set in the enchanting widescreen skyscapes and exotic shady interiors of a remote Indonesian village in the South Pacific, where revenge is a dish best served with calm and a dash of strychnine by the central character Marlina, played gracefully and with deadpan conviction by Marsha Timothy.

Although Mouly Surya’s third feature is a modern story from a Muslim country it feels distinctly stuck in the Dark Ages, certainly where attitudes towards to the fairer sex are concerned. Played out in four segments, as the title suggests, the film explores how a young widow deals with the aftermath of being robbed of her livestock and then raped by seven bandits who seem to think they have done her a favour. Clearly the pleasure is hers, as we discover early on in this amusingly arcane tale.

Yunus Pasolang’s limpid lensing and Zeke Khaseli and Yudhi Arfani’s redolent trumpet soundtrack often bring to mind a Sergio Leone Western, albeit one set in Sumba Island, to the north east of Australia. This languid drama takes its time and is surprisingly gentle and poetic in contrast to its