Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

There’s Still Tomorrow (2023)

Dir: Paola Cortellesi | Cast: Paola Cortellesi, Valerio Mastandrea, Romana Maggiora Vergano, Emanuela Fanelli | Italy 118mins

A downtrodden Roman housewife turns her life around in this 1940s tale of female empowerment from first time director Paola Cortellesi who also stars in her multi-award-winning first feature.

In Neo-realist black and white Cortellesi plays a modern day Anna Magnani in a stylish domestic melodrama with a relevant political message that sees Delia (Cortellesi) living in Rome just as Italy is getting back on its feet after the Second World War. American GIs are still patrolling the streets but the winds of change are blowing through the open air markets where the long-suffering wife and mother does her daily shopping often queuing for ages to feed and care for her boorish father-in-law, three children and controlling macho husband Ivano (Valerio Mastrandrea) – who greets her with a slap in the face when she wishes him ‘good morning’ in the opening scene.

Delia tiptoes around her family always being the martyr by putting them first and ignoring her own needs while life is passing her by due to the patriarchal society of the day where women appear to carry the weight of domestic responsibilities and have no agency. Cortellesi puts this all down to the Fascist regime. And the future looks more or less the same for the next generation in the shape of Marcella, her teenage daughter ((Romana Maggiora Vergano), who is not destined for a career but a good marriage: her middle-class boyfriend Giulio (Francesco Centorame) could fit the bill. Meanwhile Delia is thankful for small mercies such as sharing a bar of American chocolate with her old flame Nino (Vinicio Marchioni) – the two of them smile to reveal stained teeth, reflecting the film’s dark slick of humour and addressing the poor state of the Italian postwar health service. Delia knows that change can only come if she puts her mind to it.

This is a stylish if slightly uneven crowd-pleaser which will go down well particularly with female audiences, and the cleverly contrived finale shows Cortellesi to be a filmmaker with panache and a rare talent for storytelling. @MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE/BELGIUM | IN UK/IRELAND 26 APRIL 2024

Civil War (2024)

Dir/Wri: Alex Garland | Cast: Nick Offerman, Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Jesse Plemons, Jefferson White, Cailee Spaeny | US Drama 109′

Civil War provides UK filmmaker Alex Garland with an expanded American canvas on which to explore themes and ideas of his four earlier, more intimate, British films. This new UK/USA co-production follows the journey of a quartet of media journalists racing against time in a 4-wheel vehicle as they travel from New York through Pennsylvania onto Washington DC to record a make-or-break address to the nation by a beleaguered President of the USA. The journey itself is no joy ride as the American landscape has been ripped apart by warring communities that has paralysed the White House at the heart of American politics.

In one chilling sequence, the journalists remind a menacing ginger henchman with red glasses (played by Jesse Plemons) that ‘Were Americans, ok?’ to which they get the reply ‘What kind of American are you?’. In another scene, Kirsten Dunst, as a world-weary war photographer journalist (named after Lee Miller the WW2 war photographer), has become the reluctant mentor for a young woman (Cailee Spaeny) who is hungry for experience without comprehending how bloody and awful is the reality of war. The older war photographer mentions she has covered the horrors of war thinking that this would be a warning to others not do so again, although she knows now that this is not the case.

In another of the most tender and telling scenes in the film, the photographer agonises over the decision to delete or retain what may be a beautiful image but also one which may exploit the death of a man she has befriended. It is in scenes like this that Garland raises moral dilemmas between what the human eye can see and the camera lens records that is at the heart of photography and the subject of Haskell Wexler’s 1968 film Medium Cool. The film also suggests the spectre of Susan Sontag’s devastating essay Regarding the Pain of Others (2003). It is within the skill of Garland’s writing that themes questioning politics, media and society can be found beneath the surface of a film fundamentally built on images linked to a physically fast flowing narrative.

Garland is added by a production team from earlier films and Rob Hardy’s use of a new small light camera (DJI Ronin 4d) is able to keep the action stable when viewed on both IMAX and smaller screens. Fast-moving action sequences benefit from off-screen input of an experienced ex-Navy Seal adding authenticity to the film’s vivid sense of physical movement with Glenn Fremantle’s soundtrack combining lush chords of stereophonic music with soundscapes. The performances are skilful and reveal the director’s sensitive understanding of women in largely maledefined environments. Kirsten Dunst brings depth to the role of the mature photographer/journalist just as much Garland centred earlier films around female characters with the sensitive performances of Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina, Natalie Portman in Annihilation, Sonoya Mizuno in Deus and Jessie Buckley in possibly his most personal and misunderstood film Men.

Civil War also fits very well alongside outsider filmmakers who have observed America at a not so cool distance and is comparable with American films made by Europeans such as Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda. The film that Civil War most echoes may well be the Italian director Antonioni and his daring and ground breaking critique of America in Zabriskie Point from 1969. Civil War contains similar cinema-verité images of protest between civilians /students and military police/guards suggesting that nothing much has changed since the revolution of 1968. The UK-based filmmaker also captures images of the decay of former glories of communities crystallised by beautiful images of a damaged circus clown model, neglected rural landscapes and characters who are framed or towered over by the glass and concrete of American architecture.

Just as Antonioni questioned the breakdown of society and consumerism in 1968 there is also rich and potent post COVID/ Capitol Hill riot material here for Garland in 2024 with both films involving a journey heading towards apocalyptic finales. Civil War tackles the meltdown and threat to order by the divisive behaviour of people that is accelerated by politicians and speculates on the current fear that America is drifting towards a kind of anocracy, existing somewhere between democracy and autocracy. If Garland’s earlier films derived from intimate, dystopian and out-of-body time zone experiences his latest could be viewed as the nightmare of what becomes of paradise as envisaged by the youthful ‘trippy hippy’ but now older protagonists of Garland’s breakthrough 1996 novel The Beach.

Civil War may have rough edges linked in places to the ambitious script, although it remains a remarkable contemporary outing revealing a sensitive director with the ability to harness vivid images of death and violence from acts of warfare. @PeterHerbert

https://www.peterherbert.online

https://theartsproject1.wixsite.com/theartsproject

CIVIL WAR on release from 12 April 2024 | PREMIER IMAX London on 19/3/24 with an introduction from Alex Garland

Phantom Parrot (2024)

Dir: Kate Stonehill | UK Doc

Digital surveillance is all part of being in the internet age and we go along with it while not being entirely at ease at being spied upon against our will. It’s just one of the downsides of modern life. We share the info, others use it to their own advantage.

Kate Stonehill’s documentary explores a far more sinister form of surveillance. It focuses on our mobile ‘phone use via a new state programme nicknamed “Phantom Parrot” that allows the government to plot our whereabouts at any given moment through our active handheld devices. With the nation’s increased exposure to nefarious elements at UK ports (sea, air or rail) the police have been given enhanced search powers under the 2000 Terrorism Act, and this allows them to crack down on suspects, at will, demanding PIN codes and passwords across all their devices and the further power to confine them to three months in prison, if deemed appropriate.

In 2016, Muhammad Rabbani, a director of Cage, an organisation that campaigns on behalf of Muslims held under war-on-terror laws, came under police suspicion under Schedule 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act when he travelled back to the UK from Qatar. And he was not the only one stopped. Much the same as your luggage  being randomly rifflled through when airport security staff get bored, it’s a similar situation. And nobody likes it but that’s the deal. For some unknown reason Rabbani was subject to a random check at border control and when he refused to comply with police protocol he found himself in court and threatened with prison.

Stonehill became fascinated with his case and decided to make this film with a view to ‘making the invisible world visible’. Luckily for Rabbani, Gareth Pearce, a human-rights lawyer came to his rescue. I, for one, am  glad the police are patrolling our borders. That’s what they’re paid and trained to do and we rely on them to keep us safe. @MeredithTaylor

Phantom Parrot is in UK cinemas from 15 March

 

 

 

 

 

Le Bonheur est pour Demain (2024)

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE AND BELGIUM

Argylle (2024)

Dir: Matthew Vaughn | UK Thriller 139′

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS IN FRANCE and the UK

Un coup de dès | Breaking Point (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Shoshana (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN UK CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY

The Three Musketeers: Milady (2023)

Dir: Martin Bourboulon | France, Adventure drama 115′

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

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

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

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

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

From 15 December in French K and Irish cinemas.

The Portrait (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Portrait is available on digital platforms from 11 December.

 

Lost in the Night (2023)

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

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

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

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

NOW IN UK Cinemas

https://youtu.be/S38sRUvJjYs

 

Sweet Sue (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

IN UK AND IRISH CINEMAS from 22 December 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Napoleon (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW IN CINEMAS

 

Past Lives (2023)

Dir: Celine Song | S Korean Drama 105′

An ambitious – you could say precocious – pre-teen playwright moves from Seoul to Canada to further her writing ambitions in this moving first feature from Celine Song.

Nora (Seung-ah) leaves behind a teenage sweetheart Hae Sung. Twelve years later we meet her again as Nora (Lee) and fate sees her rekindling the earlier crush with Hae Sung (Teo Too) who still lives in Seoul. But their thing fizzles out and she marries New Yorker Arthur (John Magaro). Another twelve years goes by and Hae Sung still carries a candle for Nora, and hopes it will come alight again when he visits New York.

There’s something quite detached about Nora as a character that fuels this subtle drama about a young woman who often blows hot and cold in her romantic encounters. Clearly Nora (Lee) has a palpable chemistry with Hae Sung (You) but Arthur (Magaro) also features heavily as her neglected other half. Past Lives is a thoughtful and appealing debut for a South Korean director who is clearly going places. @MeredithTaylor

APPLE TV, AMAZON PRIME VIDEO | BERLINALE premiere 2023

Seaside Special (2022)

Dir: Jens Meurer | Germany Doc

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

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

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

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

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

The Royal Hotel (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS

The Killer (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

OUT TODAY IN CINEMAS | 10 November on NETFLIX

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jules (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Club Zero (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW IN CINEMAS IN FRANCE and BELGIUM

The Killer is Loose (1956)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Typist Artist Pirate King (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS FROM 27 OCTOBER 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS IN FRANCE | SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2023

Fremont (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS FROM 15 SEPTEMBER 2023

Barbie (2023) Cinematic and Box Office Achievement | 81st Golden Globes 2024

Dir: Greta Gerwig | US Fantasy drama | 116′

Before an explosion of psychedelic plastic heralds the long-awaited advent of Barbie we are transported back to a prehistoric playground where Helen Mirren describes a ludic past when little girls played ‘mummy’ with their pliable baby dolls. Then Mattel entrepreneur Ruth Handler came along and decided to up the game. She gave her own daughter something more adult-like to play with – the result was Barbie.

Margot Robbie, all toned limbs and blonde, hair plays this glamour toy like the real thing. In her candy-coloured kingdom “Artificial Barbie” enjoys a sexless teenage dream of girlie get-togethers where wimpish, whingeing himbos only exist to serve to serve their female counterparts. We start to wonder how long we can put up with this prissy pastel charade. Then along comes the storyline.

Artificial Barbie encounters ‘an issue’ and has to visit the ‘real world’ where women are still being diminished by the male of the species. And, unsurprisingly, she immediately suffers an existential crisis.

In her fourth feature, Greta Gerwig shares script honours with consort Noah Baumbach. crossing into the 145 M$ super league. Co-produced by the Barbie franchise m-holders Mattel, the feature suffers a toxic overload with its multiple subplots: the gender war between Barbie (Robbie) and Ken (Gosling) is just an excuse for a tiff in the trenches of old and new feminism. The boy brigade, led by Ken (a perfectly cast Gosling), is rather less imaginative in the tussle to regain control not only of old-fashioned Barbie-land but also of reality (in this case the Hollywood suburb of Santa Monica). Gerwig/Baumbach create endless quotes to exploit their subject matter, starting with Kubrick’s 2001 styled set where sullen little girls throw their toys out of the pram, rejecting dreams and motherhood at the same time.

Barbie Team | 81st Golden Globes | photo credit Benny Askinas

Barbie is a resentful feature even when indulging in self-critique: Artificial Barbie complains about “Sexualised Capitalism” and her lack of beauty, the Helen Mirren cuts in with “Margret Robbie is the wrong actress to cast”. Well, Robbie might not be a miniature doll, but she is certainly not a push-over when it comes to Ken and his low level aggressiveness which often looks over-mannered.

But as long as Barbie channels its Busby Berkeley spectacle of song and dance routines all is well. Somewhere after the 90 minute mark Gerwig remembers she is supposed to be staging an epic masterpiece, and things go down downhill. “Irresponsible thoughts of death” and “Proustian flashbacks” have nothing to do with ‘gen Barbie Doll’, past or present.

Virtue-signalling demands the hiring of America Ferrera and Issa Rae, a Latino mother/daughter duo, who help Barbie to save and conquer the real world. Will Ferrell is brilliant as the dancing/singing/running CEO of Mattel, reprising his sublime nasty role in Elf.

But whatever Gerwig/Baumbach had in mind the profit will go to franchise holders Mattel and Ruth Handler ((cuttingly described as “a five foot Jewish woman with a double mastectomy and tax issues”) who have once again reinvented their brand. Barbie will go on living in the minds of those who – like me – just thought of her as a ‘fun doll to dress up in different outfits’: and even gave her an androgynous crop (her hair never grew back!.) The film is original, high-performing but soulless. MT

CINEMATIC and BOX OFFICE ACHIEVEMENT | 81st GOLDEN GLOBES 2024

 

 

 

 

Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis (2023)

Dir.: Anton Corbijn; Documentary with Aubrey Powell, Noel Gallagher, Roger Waters, Nick Mason; UK 2022, 101 min.

Cambridge in the early 1960s: four young men set out to make history: Syd Barnett and Roger Waters would found “Pink Floyd”, meanwhile Storm Thorgeson and Aubrey Powell were re-inventing the art of record cover design with Hipgnosis’; an English design duo who created memorable cult classic album sleeves. The images would sear into our collective unconscious as a visual record of the times. Hipgnosis would go on to devise iconic covers for the likes of T. Rex, Black Sabbath, Wishbone Ash, the Alan Parsons Project, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Yes,  AC/D and many more.

First time full-length documentary filmmaker Anton Corbijn has adapted Trish D Chetty’s script chronicling the often wild and chaotic relationship between Storm Thorgeson (nomen est omen) and Aubrey Powell (*1946), the latter contributing much of the film’s material, since “Stormzy” died in 2013. Noel Gallagher, David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Roger Waters and Nick Mason give their testimony of a ground-breaking relationship.

Back in the day the HQ of “Hipgnosis” in Denmark Street (WC2) had no loo facilities – everyone used the sink, and nobody thought much of it. Then a water pipe burst in the Greek Bookshop on the ground floor below and valuable antiques were severely damaged – luckily Storm and Aubrey had insurance cover. These were just some examples of a time when art got away with blue murder.

Hipgnosis’ first cover work was for “Pink Floyd’s” 1968 album “A Saucerful of Secrets”. From then on the band would headline the Hipgnosis catalogue – together with “Led Zeppelin” . Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother” soon followed in 1970, that famous cover with “the Cow”, that resisted any attempt to be replaced by its given title. Pink Floyd’s 1973 outing “Dark Side of the Moon”, with the famous triangle glowing in a dark SF world, was so far the most ambitious attempt to elevate cover design into an artform in its own right – but it often succeeded in doing much more. Pink Floyd’s “Wish you were Here” (1975) took things a step further, avant-garde, even for those days: Few knew the stuntman risked his life in being set on fire – most people thought it was just a collage.

Hipgnosis’ 1973 cover for Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” – featuring naked children climbing on Ulster’s Giant Causeway – would never have got past the censors today. On a more playful note “Look Here (‘10cc’ 1980), pictured a lightly tranquiliised sheep on a psychiatrist’s couch – (under strict medical conditions!).

And talking of our furry friends, Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album cover (1977) featured a pink plastic pig floating over Battersea Power Station. Roger Waters considers pigs to be at the top of the social pecking order, and -in fitting tribute – the porker later broke free and ended up drifting over countryside meadows.

Perhaps much more frightening was Peter Gabriel’s cover for “Scratch” (1978), which showed the artist itching himself out of his cover cage, foreshadowing horror films to come.

When asked about Storm, all interviewed were unanimous “but he was a genius”, although Thorgeson was invariably a procrastinator – always in a bad mood and uncompromising. In 1983 things came to an end even though Peter Christopherson, also from Cambridge, had joined the duo. “Stormzy” never cared much about money, and soon the group turned their talents to producing music videos, Storm thought he was “a Hollywood director with all the money in the world to spend”. But the bank had other ideas after Powell had left. The two didn’t speak to each other for twelve years, much in the same vein as Syd Barnett and his Pink Floyd band members.

DoPs Martyn Breekhulzen and Stuart Luck give life to this tour-de-force of images. And for once, the music takes a back seat. Opening a new Vinyl and reading the lyrics printed inside the cover was a ritual for us back then. Corbijn’s overdose of nostalgia will go down a storm with fans of that magical era. Enlightening, passionate and rather sad. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 14 JULY 2023

Une Nuit | Strangers by Night (2023)

Dir: Alex Lutz | Cast: Alex Lutz, Karine Viard | France, Drama 90′

Alex Lutz may have had Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in mind with this chatty drama capturing a brief romantic interlude between two complete strangers who literally bump into each other on a crowded Paris metro.

Conceived by Lutz and his co-star Karine Viard and their co-writer Hadrien Bichet Une Nuit premiered at this year’s Un Certain Regard sidebar and certainly provides food for thought and a few laughs too despite the rather slim storyline that stretches the imagination, to say the least.

The film kicks off with a fierce argument in the underground after one of them complains about the other’s perceived bad manners. Next minute they’re getting on like a house on fire with a steamy session in one of those photo booths that still (thankfully) exists in France.

Karine Viard once again dusts down her comedy talents as the flirty Nathalie, a woman of the world comfortable in her skin and happy to experiment. Lutz plays a slightly younger but still frisky Aymeric. Both have teenage kids and are happily married so this this is clearly just going to be a flash in the pan. The romantic banter is probably best appreciated by a French-speaking audience but the two actors share an easy onscreen chemistry making this an amusing, often touching, little interlude. Paris gets a bit of a look in too as the setting for this cheeky, very French affair. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE and BELGIUM

 

 

Afire (2023)

Dir.: Christian Petzold; Cast: Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel, Enno Trebs, Paula Beer. Matthias Brandt; Germany 2023, 103 min.

German writer/director Christian Petzold (*1960) won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival 2023 in for Afire, his tenth feature film. This award is well earned: Petzold can be called the chronicler of recent German history, illuminating past and not so present transgressions. Hot on the heels of Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog he is the only German director regularly featuring at international festivals. His minimalist style always cuts to the chase with a lean but substantial body of film.

Petzold’s first feature Innere Sicherheite/The State I’m In (2000) set the standard for what would follow: Petzold tells the story of a teenager whose desperate need for freedom jeopardises the security of her terrorist parents who have so far successfully avoided capture. In the 2001 he began what was to be an enduring collaboration with Nina Hoss and continued with FIPRESCI prize winner Wolfsburg (2003) and this continued with Yella (2007) and Jerichow (2008). In Barbara (2012) Petzold investigates Germany’s immediate 1945 past, and Transit (2018), an adaption of the Anna Seeghers’ novel of the same name, featuring the life of German immigrants during the first years of the Nazi regime, saw him replacing Hoss with Paul Baer who won the Best Actor prize in Berlin for Undine (2020).

Afire is the second part of a trilogy about the artist in society in Germany. Set in an imagined time span after the fall of the wall in the advent of the computer age, this is a feature nonetheless dominated by human emotions with a dose of dark humour .

On the way to a summer getaway on the Baltic Coast friends Leon (Schubert) and Felix (Uibel) are waylaid when their car breaks down. Then Felix’s mother, the owner, has also promised Nadja (Beer), a post graduate student, one of the rooms. Nadja has a boyfriend, coastguard Devid (Trebs), and Felix and Leon have to listen to the couple’s lovemaking. This is quickly reversed, with Nadja and Leon having to listen to Devid and Felix getting it on.

Leon, meanwhile has just finished writing a second-rate novel and is behaving like a stroppy teenager, secretly in love with Nadja. Leon’s editor Helmut (Brandt) turns up and tempers flare, with catastrophic results.

All this fits into Petzold’s general overview of German men who still seem better at living than dying. Helmut discusses the director’s pet theme with Heinrich Heine’s poem “The Asra”.

DoP Hans Fromm puts a documentary spin on his images, catching the protagonists like fish in a deadly net. Schubert simmers quietly but effectively as the spoilt child would be author, and Beer does her best with a tricky role. But true to Heine himself, Petzold stays the course, and no one’s prepared for what’s in store.

Afire might not be Petzold’s greatest achievement, but he once again proves to be head and shoulders above his German peers. This is another sad tract on Germany’s guilt complex – played out by a new generation of males. AS

IN CINEMAS and ON CURZON HOME CINEMA from 25 AUGUST 2023

La Chimera (2023)

Dir: Alice Rohrwacher | Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Josh O’Connor, Isabella Rossellini Italy, Drama 130′

Alice Rohrwacher’s latest drama is set during the 1980s in world of the ‘tombaroli’ or tomb robbers and tells the story of an English archaeologist (Josh O’Connor) caught up in this illegal trafficking of ancient artefacts.

A magical poetic tenderness is the ephemeral quality in Rohrwacher’s unique style of filmmaking and her dreamlike fourth feature has the same lyrical lightness of touch that haunted Corpo Celeste, The Wonders and Happy as Lazarus in some ways completing the final trio. Unfolding in her home of Tuscany the tale once again connects the past with the present through a delicate thread linking Italy’s ancient history that is still so much part of everyday life where relics are as common as bus stops at every street corner. La Chimera is a film that you gradually surface into as if waking out of the depths of a dream.

Italy’s Etruscan heritage was still being discovered at the end of the last century and a motley band of wayfarers chance upon this priceless buried treasure hoping it will finance the rest of their lives. Arthur (O’Connor) leads the quest – but is also haunted by another, more spiritual search, an illusory longing for Benjamina, a girl he loved and lost long ago. Her mother – a delightful Isabella Rossellini who brings so much resonance to the story with her own personal history – is still living in the past in a decadent grandeur of the old station of Riparbella, with her family and housekeeper Italia (Duarte).

Sporting a crumpled cream linen suit – the masculine sartorial emblem of 1980s Italy – Arthur spends most of the film in a state of gruff melancholy after being hailed by the others as the quintessential Italian-speaking Englishman who innate style and sense of conviction capture their imagination. They tag along with Arthur in the hope that he will lead them to the holy grail with his knack of locating sites with a flimsy forked branch. But like life itself, their odyssey is filled with dreams and illusions: Always better to travel in hope than to arrive. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS | CURZON

Free Money (2023)

Dir.: Lauren DeFilippo, Sam Soko; Documentary with Michael Faye, John Omondi, Isaac Nyamori, Mary Anyango Songa, Jael Rael Axhieng Songa, Larry Madowo; Kenya/USA 2022, 78 min.

Kenyan director Sam Soko (Softie) and her US counterpart Lauren DeFilippo (Red Heaven) have researched the impact of fast growing Non-Profit agency GiVE DIRECTLY (GD), founded by Michael Faye and three of his fellow students from Harvard and MIT.

GD has come up with a revolutionary idea to fight poverty in eleven countries, giving participants in the scheme $22 a month for twelve years. The pilot scheme will run until 2031.

Caroline Teti, who works for GD, is aware she does not represent the emissary from the First World, promising much and delivering nothing. Near the Kenyan village of Koogutu, where GD’s recipients of UBI (Universal Basic Income) live, there are houses without roofs, financed by Kenyans who were told they could sell them for a profit after purchase, when the real estate company had installed the roofs – something that never happened.  

The men of the village are particularly sceptical, they fear that their women will grow horns and leave them – part of a satanic cult which promises money but instead takes the souls of the recipients.

Larry Madowa, a journalist with the BBC, who grew up in the area, keeps an eye on the GD activities. He is sceptical – and so is the audience, when we find out that Google is one of the the main investors in GD. Anyone in the village who is over 18 will receive the money monthly via a smart-phone transfer, itself a novelty. The directors chose to follow two participants in the scheme, John Omondi (18) and Jael Rael Achieng Songa (16). Whilst John receives the 2280 Kenyan Sterling monthly payments, Jael is the victim of a bureaucratic bungle, and is left penniless. Meanwhile her girlfriends go to school and gain an education, which will set them free. John later encounters difficulties in Nairobi, where he wants to study, but the capital is an expensive place. The villagers runs a lottery, and one day Jael is the winner, and together with help of her family she can now also start school.

At a visit at the local call centre we can see the progress the young people have made thanks to technology, after the initial shock of having to use a mobile.

There is no easy answer here. No one knows what will happen when the scheme runs out in 2031. Yes, maybe the recipients of UBI serve as guinea pigs, but GD is trying to break the charity mould, and it’s well worth a try, in spite of early pitfalls. After all, in the First World the workforce was paid to stay home during the pandemic.

Four different DoPs follow the participants in this trial and error exercise. It seems that the improvements to their homes have alone made it all worthwhile. And on the local market, UBI recipients get preferential  treatment because the traders know they will not ask for credit. AS

FREE MONEY, in cinemas and on demand, on 21st April.

Suzume (2023)

Dir.: Makoto Shinkai, Anime with the voices of Nanoka Hara, Eri Fukastu, Hokuto Matsumura, Ann Yamane; Japan 2022, 122 min.

The turbulent history of Japan comes alive in this delicately drawn and magical adventure that will resonate with a generation of young people still traumatised by the Tohoko earthquake and Tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster.

Suzume (voiced by Nanoka Hara) is a clever 17-year-old orphan who lives with her aunt in Kyushu, on Japan’s southern Island, after losing her mother. On the way to school one day she meets Souta (Hokuto Matsumura) a mysterious young man with a special ability for ‘closing out’, by way of a door, an ancient demon called the Worm who can bring havoc on Earth. Together, they set out in search of the door, tramping through ruins in the countryside, and Suzume is the first to find it, accidentally unleashing the Worm that then morphs into a kitten called Daijin, and leads them on to surreal adventure across Japan during which Souta miraculously transforms into a shape-shifting stool – of the wooden variety (!) – causing hilarious scenes – with Suzume and Souta having to wait a long time, before Daijin decides to turn Souta back into his human form.

The animation is spectacular, a mixture of 2 and 3D hand drawn animation and the use of CGI, which in the case of the red super worm is rather overdone: the worm looks tame in comparison with the rest of the Anime. Loss and decay are the main subjects of Anime director Makoto Shinkai (Your Name). The past is a dangerous place to return to, particularly for Suzume, who is able to close doors to keep the beastly worm underground, while also being afraid of what she will find behind the door leading to the house she grew up in during the first few of her life. Two scenes in particular stand out, one takes place in an ancient bath house, desolated and abandoned, and another in an old-fashioned fairground which comes eerily to life.

Suzume is a potent mixture of melancholy and hilarious fun, as the girl gradually grows up during her adventures. Suzume has an impressive confrontational scene with her aunt, accusing the woman of only adopting her to avoid an adult relationship. At a later stage, Suzume takes back her accusations, but this is as a result of her falling for Souta, as her Tom-Boy identity gradually recedes. Overall, this is a mature Anime, with Shinkai using lots of kawaii cuteness, but also referentially quoting Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service with the talking cat in the shape of Daijin. A magic round-about-movie. AS

SUZUME IN UK and IRISH CINEMAS on 14 April 2023

Leonor will Never Die (2023)

Dir.: Martika Ramirez Escobar; Cast: Sheila Francisco, Bong Cabreara, Rocky Satumbides,c Anthony Falcon, Rea Molina, Dido De La Paz; Philippines 2022, 101 min.

This tongue in cheek love letter to the TV films of the 1980s comes from first time Philippine writer/director Martika Ramirez Escobar. It follows one time filmmaker Leonor (Francisco) who hasn’t worked in the industry since her heyday in late twentieth century.

A well known figure in her neighbourhood Leonor lives with her son Rudy (Cabrera) who one day finds out from the ‘ghost’ of her other son Ronwaldo (Falcon) that a competition for new screenplays is due to be launched on national TV.  Keen to get back in the saddle, Leonor dusts down an old script entitled “The Return of the Kwago”. But the re-write is curtailed when a freak accident puts Leonor in a coma. Even then, the catatonic Leonor refuses to give up. Aided and abetted by various corrupt politicians like the local mayor (De La Paz), and the helpless Isabella (Molina), and yet another son – who lost his life in one of her previous endeavours, giving the piece a macabre twist – Leonor trail-blazes her return to glory.

Escobar runs riot with her curio, switching ratios in the style of the 1980s in a series of wacky episodes set in different time frames, DoP Carlos Mauricio working miracles with the complexity of it all. Leonor will Never Die may be not be for everyone, but will go down a treat for fans of bad taste. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 7 APRIL 2023

 

The Cairo Conspiracy (2022)

Dir.: Tarik Saleh; Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares, Mohammad Bakri, MakramKhoury, Mehdi Dehbi, Ramzi Choukair, Sherwan Haji; Sweden/Finland/France 2022, 126 min.

The Cairo Conspiracy is an ambitious thriller with strong affinities to John Le Carre’s novels, telling story of an innocent “Angel”, who falls prey to unholy machinations in the Al Azhar University in Cairo, the heart of Sunni Islam, in this increasingly damning but overlong portrait of corruption in the Egyptian capital.

Adam (Barhom) is a naïve fisherman whose life changes when he is selected to join the prestigious Al Azhar University in Cairo. Here he crosses paths with Zico (Dehbi), who delivers an enimatic message: “Your soul is pure, but every second in this place will corrupt it”. Zico should know, he is working for State Security agent Ibrahim (the reliable Fares Fares) and dies mysteriously before he can tell Adam more.

Adam then finds himself promoted as Zico’s successor in the grand conspiracy scheme, with the secret service trying to find an appropriate replacement when the Grand Iman dies. The most popular choice is “Blind” Sheikh Negm (Khoury), who is supports the Brotherhood, in the eyes of Ibrahim and his superior General Al Sakran (Bakri) a “terrorist”. Adam is then told to infiltrate the Jihadist cell, led by Solomon (Haji). But his bid to navigate the system could be tricky and precarious if he makes the wrong move. 

The placid setting of the mosque contrasts with the mayhem of the conspiracy. Fares is an ambivalent person: he seems to genuine, almost caring towards Adam. His superior General Al Sakran is made of sterner stuff: violence for him is simply a way of life. Adam is caught in the spider web of deceit as the plot closes in on him, well aware that running away will bring shame on his family.

Visually this is a rewarding experience, even the violent scenes are shot with a degree of poetic sensitivity. Apart from the length, the only point of criticism is Saleh’s failure to take sides: and this objectivity collides with the byzantine brutality engulfing the two sides of this power struggle.

The Swedish TV director has had a run of decent big screen features of late and this follow-up to the The Nile Hilton Incident and The Contractor won him Best Screenplay at Cannes Film Festival 2022. AS

IN PICTUREHOUSES FROM 14 APRIL 2023

 

Kindling (2023)

Dir.: Connor O’Hara; Cast: George Somner, Conrad Khan, Wilson Radjou Pujalte, Mia McKenna-Bruce, Rory J. Saper, Geoff Bell, Tara Fitzgerald; UK 2022, 94 min.

The first feature film of English writer/director Connor O’Hara is based on his short film Infinate, dealing with premature death. O’Hara tries to strike a balance between grief and optimism, but it is up to the audience to decide if he manages to avoid a rather sentimental tearjerker.

Sid (Somner) is about to die from testicular cancer, having been given two years to live, he has managed three, but this summer will be his last, and he invites his best friends to a special celebration of his leaving the planet: Diggs (Pujalte), Dribble (Khan), Plod (Saper) and Wolfie (Zajaz) to celebrate his leaving this planet.

Sid’s parents (Bell/Fitzgerald) are long-suffering, trying not to transfer their trauma on to their son. Sid then meets Lily (McKenna-Bruce), a girl of his own age who has had her own share of trauma and is unsure what to study at university – Sid makes her promise to chose English literature. The two have an ambivalent relationship, with Sid guided by his keen interest in Astrology which inspires him to ask each of his four friends to find tokens relating to Love, Home, Family, Friends and Location. They must all come up with a symbol for these objects, which will be burned at a bonfire at the end of the summer, with Sid hoping to be granted immortality.

It seems churlish to criticise such a worthwhile undertaking as this but Kindling really lacks the sufficient narrative ballast to keep us engaged for over 90 minutes in what largely amounts to a series of episodes with the main message buried in bickering and tantrums. All Sid’s friends want to make his passing a special occasion, but they are not always mature enough to find a way to express their emotions. It is no surprise that Geoff Bell and Tara Fitzgerald are outstanding as the parents, having had the opportunity to work through their loss and survivors’ guilt. In the end, Sid’s wish to be immortal may not be fulfilled, but he has made a lasting impression on his social circle.

DoP David Wright makes evocative use of the surrounding countryside to lighten the clouds of dread hanging over proceedings. Kindling is a labour of love, a way for the writer/director to work through his own experiences, and is admirable as such. AS

KINDLING IS IN UK CINEMAS AND DIGITAL PLATFORMS from 21 APRIL 2023

Grand Expectations (2023)

Dir: Sylvain Desclous | Cast: Rebecca Marder, Benjamin Levernhe, Emmanuelle Bercot, Marc Barbe | France, Drama 105′

Benjamin Lavernhe and Rebecca Murder star as hypocritical left-wing lawyers in this ambitious but flawed film that starts in a glorious modern villa in Corsica and winds up in a prison in Lyon. 

Madeleine (Marder) is on holiday with her lover Antoine at his father’s swanky beach villa near Porto Vecchio. One morning, driving along a small deserted road, their career prospects are dashed forever when they make a fatal decision with irreversible consequences.

High hopes of this turning into a sultry seaside thriller sink without trace in Sylvain Desclous’ follow-up to his 2016 feature debut Vendeur. What starts as a pithy psychological drama with an intelligent premise and a brief tension-fuelled police procedural, soon gets bogged down in a far less promising slice of social realism  weighed down by tedious political pretensions in the style of Ken Loach. 

Ultimately Grand Expectations doesn’t know whether it wants to be a thriller or a drama centring on workers’ rights. And it ends up failing on both counts. The characters of Antoine and Madeleine are badly thought out and totally un-likeable. And they’re implausible into the bargain, showing no real warmth or compassion in relation to their aims in life: No humanist individual would behave the way Madeleine or Benjamin do, so we really don’t care what happens to either of them. Bercot is cast in another hard-faced unsympathetic role – this time as a lawyer and union representative. Isabelle Huppert made a much more sympathetic job of it in her recent film Le Syndicaliste. Madeleine’s father (Barbe) is convincing as her estranged parent who walked out on the family and gets a chance to redeem himself, providing the vital link in the film’s denouement. 

The accident and its aftermath – the most fascinating part of the feature – takes a backseat for most of the film, Madeleine hardly giving it a second thought while focusing of her career prospects, and only thinking of her own glory while pretending to champion workers’ rights. The original plot-line is then shoed in again in the final act with an unfeasible outcome for all concerned. MT

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

One Fine Morning (2022) Un Beau Matin

Dir.: Mia Hansen-Love; Cast: Lea Seydoux, Melvil Poupaud, Pascal Greggory, Camille Leban Martins, Nicola Garcia, Fejria Deliba, Sarah Lepricard, Pierre Meunier, Sarah La Picard; France 2022, 112 min.

French writer/director Mia Hansen-Love always tries to show the extraordinary in simple terms: and One Fine Morning is another story about love and loss that unfolds without sentimentality. There is poetry, but always of the melancholy kind and small details turn out to be the harbinger of change. Nothing comes easily to her main characters who feel real and relatable, and full of human flaws. To put it all into context, Hanson Love interweaves pithy insights  into her narrative as the large picture gradually emerges in the final act in this uplifting, profound and deeply affecting story of love in all its forms.

Sandra Kingsler (Seydoux) is a widow living with her young daughter Linn (Martins) in Paris where she is coming to terms with the slow demise of her father Georg, a former professor, who is suffering from a neuro-degenerative disease. Life is literally slipping away from him: “I wait for the thing to come and it doesn’t”. A care home is the only option, and Sandra and her sister, mother of two Elodie (Picard), and their divorced mother Francoise (Garcia) are searching for a suitable place.

In the middle of this family crisis, Sandra falls for a friend of her ex-husband. Clement (Poupaud) is a cosmo-chemist caught up in his own marriage and father of one. Finally, Sandra has enough of “being his mistress” and leaves Clement to make a decision. And as other characters join the story it grows ever more complex like a richly woven tapestry, each thread dependent on the other.

Going through her father’s diaries Sandra finds out that he wanted to write his autobiography, giving the film its title. There are certainly autobiographical passages from the director’s life, but they are part of a storyline explored the ongoing collision between Sandra’s attempts for happiness, and the reality. Her father’s illness sends her also back into her ambivalent childhood: even though she now idolises her father. In some ways, One Fine Morning is the reverse telling of the Hansen-Love’s earlier feature Good-Bye First Love in which the female central figure says goodbye to her past, having stepped into an identity more suitable for the rest of her life.

Sandra reflects on her past, her husband and a father who will soon will be memories. After all these years of emotional turbulence and physical abstinence she wants a passionate relationship, and she collides with Clement who does not want to spend all day in bed making love. As a translator/interpreter, she is well aware of the importance of words, and she wants to live life to the full, not content to take a back seat like her sister or mother. But Sandra is also as dependent on Clement’s return as her father is of outside help. One Fine Morning is all about hope after all – a story about the moments that make up a life. AS

IN CINEMAS IN UK & IRELAND FROM 14 APRIL | EXCLUSIVELY ON MUBI from 16 June 2023

Air (2023)

Dir.: Ben Affleck; Cast Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Matthew Maher, Damien Young; USA 2023, 112 min.

Director Ben Affleck teams up again with Matt Damon – this time to sell shoes. But this is no ordinary footwear, but the titular basket ball trainers that would kick Michael Jordan and ‘Nike’ to the top of their respective games.

It pays off that Affleck never reveals the actor who plays MJ – just a shot of the back of his head. AIR works hard to make us root for ‘Nike’, the sports shoe company that ranks third after ‘Adidas’ and ‘Converse’ in the sneaker hall of fame, the former being the favourite to sign MJ to the most lucrative deal ever – despite his rookie status.

Damon plays Sonny Vaccaro whose brief is to save Nike’s basketball division when the founder and his boss, Phil Knight (Affleck) tries to pull the plug on the whole division. Vaccaro is no sportsman and hates physical exercise, but when it comes to negotiation he is in the premier league and, in the pre-internet days of 1984 personality mattered much more than today and scriptwriter Alex Convery reflects this in some showcase scenarios for Sonny, not least with David Falk (Messina), Jordan’s agent, the villain of the piece.

One of the highlights is Sonny’s encounter with MJs mother Deloris (Davis), the only woman in this male-only talk show. There are fine performance from Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser, one of the company’s leading execs, and Matthew Maher as Peter Moore, the designer behind the famous shoes. DoP Robert Richardson does a marvellous job in the confined environment of the sports arenas, and the film gets out and about to the Jordan’s home for some fresh air. William Goldenberg’s editing is brisk, reminiscent of Argo. But there is a drawback: it’s one thing seeing American hostages escaping from post-revolutionary Iran in Argo – but watching a major company trying to outwit their competitors is hard work. And anyone familiar with the story knows how it all pans out. The good old boys of ‘Nike’ made profit-sharing for athletes possible, so it became obligatory for colleges all over the country to share the gains they made on selling sweaters with their students. But ultimately, watching shoes being sold by people with six or seven digit salaries is hard work, particularly when visual power is in short supply. AS

IN CINEMAS ACROSS THE UK FROM 5 APRIL 2023

Raised up West Side (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS FROM 28 MARCH 2023

 

The Last Sentinel (2023)

Dir.: Tanel Toom; Cast: Kate Bosworth, Lucien Laviscount, Martin McCann, Thomas Kretschmann; UK 2023, 117 min.

On a beleaguered Earth in the year 2063 this rambling Sci-fi thriller sees four soldiers waiting for their long-overdue relief crew on Sentinel – a remote nuclear-armed military base in the vast sea that separates two remaining continents. As weeks turn into months their patience is tested to the limit, rather like ours in having to endure the overlong running time.

Estonian director Tanel Toom had a great idea to adapt Malachi Smyth’s script about a dystopian future set on the dwindling remnants of dry land. But the story would have worked better as a theatre play given the confined nature of the location.

A storm wreaks havoc in the opening scenes of The Sentinel testing the men’s patience and setting them at loggerheads, willing to die rather than fail in their mission. Thomas Kretschmann plays their stern leader Hendricks. Kate Bosworth steals the show as Cassidy, the lone female trying to forget her past and her, now dead, family. But even she has a job saving a thriller which often feels like an over-talkie, second-hand Sci-fi yarn. Needless to say, she embarks on an affair with one of the men, Sullivan (Laviscount), who is rather an unstable character and wants to leave the ship and get home on the “Aurora”, a boat which shows up on the radar and is nearly sunk by the trigger happy Hendricks, who has a rebellion on his hands when it turns out the vessel is not an viable option. Naturally, it all ends in tears when we discover the truth about the level-headed Cassidy. Mat Ratassepp captures some striking images but the darkness, limited location and restraint of the battleship makes his job hard. An ‘A’ for effort, but rather limp in its execution. AS

Released on digital 24 April 2023

 

The Master Gardener (2023)

Dir.: Paul Schrader; Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Quintessa Swindell; USA 2022, 107 min.

Paul Schrader follows First Reformed with another lean film noir about redemption. Starring Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton The Master Gardener is as perfect a B-Movie as you can get, this one in the Southern Gothic tradition spiced up with a contemporary twist. Full of surprises and much soul-searching it centres on a rather eclectic menage-a-trois. Schrader is still the last men standing in a Hollywood renaissance that never really happened.

Rich, arrogant and spoilt, dowager Norma Haverhill (Weaver at her most acerbic) is on the wrong side of middle age, and rules her garden empire like a plantation owner before the Civil War. She is the Law, or better still, she makes and breaks it. Her “Boy Friday”, or more of a man servant, is Marvel Roth (Edgerton) the titular horticulturalist.

Schrader gives a running VoiceOver that tools through all the fine gardens in history. Norma is not very keen on under-achievers, she even refers to her dog as  “just a veranda dog”; not fit for blood sport. And we can well imagine Norma in her younger days, riding mercilessly to hounds. Roth panders to her obediently during the preparations for the forthcoming garden show (which may be the last, as Norma is not what she was), but when Norma invites him to bed, a ritual that clearly dates back along way, we are quietly taken aback to witness his florid tattoos particularly the swastikas.

Into this idyll of tranquility and natural beauty Norma then places a time-bomb, very well aware of its explosive powers: Maya, her nineteen-year old grand-niece will help Roth and his staff to create the perfect garden. Norma did not care much for Maya’s mother – or any other relatives, for that matter – but prides herself in doing a good deed just this once. Roth, who is no spring chicken himself, immediately falls for Maya who is also has a drug problem. Her boyfriend/pimp/dealer regularly beats her up, and faces the wrath of Roth. But there a consequences, and Roth must retaliate, revealing a tawdry past – all redeemed courtesy of Miss Norma. But now he must make a choice.

DoP Alexander Dynan, who worked with Schrader on First Reformed, conjures up a rather staid and sterile picture of the gardens, historic and contemporary, and may be this is intentional. The only time they really enchant is in a surreal sequence towards the end, But his images of a broken America caught between white supremists and the immigrant underbelly feel authentic. The dying gang lords are being replaced by small time drug dealers and their scene. Schrader again quails away from judgement or sentimentality: his style is laconic and the assault is always full frontal. Master Gardener is like one of the best pulp-novels: the great Jim Thompson would have been proud. AS

ON RELEASE FROM May 2023

Houria (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | PREMIERED AT CAIRO FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

Sage Homme (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Infinity Pool (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 24 MARCH 2023

The Tutor (2023)

Dir: Jordan Ross | Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Noah Schnapp, Victoria Justice, Johnny Weston | US Thriller 91′

Garrett Hedlund gives a charismatic performance as a successful private tutor for the rich in this slick sophomore feature from Jordan Ross. The opening scenes picture Ethan (Hedlund) mentoring a series of odious and precocious young adults in the palatial Southern mansions of the East Coast monied elite. We are immediately on his side and appreciate the tricky nature of the work despite the considerable financial advantages. “The Magic City” of Birmingham Alabama, home of the Civil Rights Movement, provides a refreshing setting with its neo-classical buildings and leafy avenues captured with cinematic panache by Brian Rigney Hubbard.

By night Ethan is calming his pregnant girlfriend (Justice) with his sardonic sense of humour and raspberry leaf tea and life looks rosy until the past comes back to haunt him when an opportunity to improve the family finances comes in the shape of an unusual new client whose fancy abode and wealth beyond the dreams of avarice tops anything Ethan has ever experienced before. On arrival, the butler shows him to his personal suite complete with pool table and an extensive library, and Ethan – who will turn out to be an unreliable figure of authority – can hardly believe his luck.

His new charge – the troubled young Jackson (Noah Schnapp) – proves to be challenging and is most certainly on the spectrum in the way he forms an unhealthy attachment to Ethan, throwing tantrums and generally acting out in unpredictable ways. And Jackson’s bizarre cousins – spending the summer with him – stretch our imagination with their wild antics as this imaginative psychological thriller scripted by Ryan King (Law & Order Criminal Intent) morphs – not altogether convincingly – from light-hearted to seriously sinister threatening to derail Ethan’s own existence and unlock secrets from his past. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 23 MARCH

 

The Pilgrim (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPwrXj8BBvI

The Blaze | En Plein Fer (2023)

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE + BELGIUM

 

 

Le Syndicaliste | Sitting Duck (2022)

Dir: Jean-Paul Salome | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Gregory Gadebois, Yvan Attal, Marina Fois, Pierre Delardonchamps | France, Drama 121′

French director Jean-Paul Salome has made a complete pig’s ear of this true story about a dedicated union campaigner for a French nuclear industrial. Based on the book by investigative journalist Caroline Michel-Aguirre: ‘The Union Official’, The Syndicaliste – starring Isabelle Huppert – feels like two structurally flawed films rolled into one. The end result undermines both, and feels like a pyrrhic victory for a victim of crime dedicated to lifting the lid on malfeasance in the French nuclear sector during the time of Francois Hollande (2012-17).

The film opens in 2012 as Irish-born union official Maureen Kearney (Huppert) is found gagged and tied up in the basement of her Paris home. Flashback to several months earlier, and Salome establishes how this plucky woman is not afraid of making enemies or speaking her mind on behalf of her union members or standing up to her new boss Luc Oursel (Attal) who she suspects, quite rightly, of dodgy dealings in the nuclear business, having just replaced the more honourable Anne Lauvergeon (Marina Fois) in a political coup.

Kearney then finds out from a mole in the EDF nuclear agency that the Chinese are getting into bed with the French in a deal that will undermine workers and their employment rights. So we have a strong and appealing storyline that should make a successful film. But Salome and his co-writer manage to complicate things with a fractured narrative that flashes backwards and forwards making Kearney look increasingly ridiculous in fighting her corner, despite Huppert’s convincing performance as the sassy, well-presented woman executive, married to a faithful and supportive husband (Gregory Gadebois).

After an hour of dealing with the political whistleblowing side of the story, Salome then turns his focus on the detective procedural that hones in, with almost forensic detail, on Kearney’s purported attack. The film’s second half involves Kearney’s struggle to prove her innocence with endless gynaecological procedures and an intrusive ongoing interrogation by an unsympathetic police detective (Delardonchamps) who calls into question her side of events, unable to believe that her professional composure is consistent with that of a woman who has been raped. Eventually there is a legal inquiry and court case with Huppert having to defend herself, in similar vein to her role in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. By the end we are incredulous at seeing her being exonerated – and not in a good way. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

Creed III (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS FROM 3 March 2023

Mary Cassatt: Painting the Modern Woman (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pearl (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 17th March 2023

Simple Things | Les Choses Simples (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Creature (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY

A Happy Man | Un Homme heureux (2023)

Dir: Tristan Seguela | France, Comedy 97′

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Marlowe (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | US and other territories.

 

God’s Creatures (2023)

Dir.: Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holmer; Cast: Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi, Declan Conlon, Toni O’Rourke, Lalor Roddy, O’Dwyer); USA/UK/ROI, 100 min.

An ambitious murder story unfolds in the style of a fishy Greek tragedy in this Ireland-set thriller from Brooklyn-based filmmakers Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer.

In a dour and windswept fishing village a mother called Mary (O’Dwyer) is crying over the body of her drowned son, while another, Aileen O’Hara (Watson) is celebrating the return from Australia of her own offspring, Bryan (the ubiquitous Paul Mescal). Aileen’s husband Con (Conlon) and daughter Erin (O’Rourke) are less keen to see Bryan who was a tear-away in his youth. Grandfather Pat (Roddy), who spends his days napping, gets on best with Bryan, the two singing old seafarer songs.

Bryan has come back in the hope of reviving his father’s defunct oyster farm, but that’s not his only mission in life. With an eye for the girls he sees every female in the village as a potential paramour but soon comes a cropper with a less pescatarian catch in the shape of Sarah (Franciosi), whose delicate features belie a stern personality when challenged. But Bryan’s ‘way with woman’ fails to make the oysters thrive and soon the plant has to stop working full time due to fungal contamination. Meanwhile Emily Watson, as mesmerising as ever as Aisleen, has more fish to fry that normal grafting in a fish processing plan and dealing with her son’s slimy reputation. She will soon be forced her to make a decision that will destroy everything she has worked for. As that’s not all, the local fishermen soon start complaining about missing catches.

The scope of the production is very much like a TV play, with action scenes covering up for the sparse emotional content: there is no slow dramatic build up, just sudden outbursts of violence, and the motivations are only too obvious. Most members of the O’Hara clan seem rather one-dimensional making this a rather predictable story held together by solid performances, Mescal playing against his usual cuddly casting in Normal People and Aftersun. DoP Chayse Irvin does a great job with his panorama shots of this coastal backwater, and his images in the food procession plant show the terrible working conditions in this seething study of mother love gone wrong. AS

NOW IN CINEMAS FROM 31 MARCH 2023

 

La Montagne (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 10 FEBRUARY 2023

Amanda (2023)

Dir: Carolina Cavalli; Cast: Benedetta Percaroli, Galatea Bellugi, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Margherita Maccapani Missoni, Monica Nappo, Michele Bravi; Italy/France 2022, 93 min.

Amanda is the anti-social but wickedly amusing daughter of one of Italy’s rich industrialist families in this impressive first feature from Carolina Cavalli who celebrates female friendship.

The sardonic 24-year-old (Benedetta Percaroli) is back in her home town of Turin after spending some time in Paris. In a bid to put distance between her and her family, who have no time for her whims and capricious behaviour, she opts to stay in a hotel but makes a regular appearance at the family dinner table and seems to have hit it off with her niece, much to the consternation of Amanda’s older sister Marina (Missoni).

Amanda’s first object of desire is a regular visitor to the Cinematheque – a place of magic for Amanda – but neither of them makes any contact. The “Dude” (Bravi) is next in line, but after it transpires he only wants to distribute free condoms – instead of drugs – he bites the dust as potential bestie number two.

Then a blast from the past arrives in the shape of Rebecca (Bellugi), her best friend from primary school. After a long stand-off – Rebecca suffers from claustrophobia – the two manage to connect, but a horse will be the vital link in cementing the women’s friendship.

Although Amanda is not very lovable Cavalli’s clever writing skills make her an irresistible force of nature: she can be witty, but her comments often cut to the quick. All this scathing comedy and a string of amusing plot lines make the film whizz by leaving us wanting more. Cavalli – unlike her feminine creation – adopts a restrained approach to the storyline that – at just over 90 minutes – is well worth watching. AS

NOW ON CURZON From 2 June 2023

The Whale (2022)

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

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

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE IN UK + FRANCE

 

Plane (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

PLANE IS IN UK CINEMAS from 27 JANUARY 2023

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Holy Spider (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case of the Red Monkey (1955)

Dir: Ken Hughes | Cast: Richard Conte, Rona Anderson, Russell Napier, Donald Gordon | UK Thriller 71’

This Merton Park espionage drama came as an early indication that Ken Hughes was a director to look out for. The subject belongs to a conventional thriller but a vein of eccentric humour runs throughout and the jaunty little hammond organ score which gives the film its unusual title adds a tone of whimsy and evokes a silent film.

The inevitable American star Richard Conte is always good to watch, Rona Anderson is feisty as the romantic interest who just happens to be the police superintendent’s niece, while among the bad guys Sylva Langova makes an elegantly coiffed dragon lady cigarette in hand, and Colin Gordon is cast refreshingly against type as heroic Martin of the ‘Echo’ who declares “The people want facts with their cornflakes!” @RichardChatten

Babylon (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 20 JANUARY 2023

Two Tickets to Greece | Les Cyclades (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW IN FRENCH CINEMAS

https://youtu.be/xbIsRbyrhJQ

 

 

Goodbye Happiness | Au revoir le bonheur (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

Beat Girl (1960)

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

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

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

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

The Old Way (2023)

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

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

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

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

Erotikon (1920)

Dir: Mauritz Stiller | Silent Drama 106′

Posterity is proving much kinder to the films of Victor Sjostrom than those of Mauritz Stiller and despite its title the late David Shipman described this particular example “as erotic as an ashtray full of dead stubs”.

For most of it’s length Stiller just directs people constantly talking in long shot as if the closeup hadn’t yet been invented; the raciest moment actually comes when the characters all decamp to a theatre where a lady called Carina Ali performs a startling Apache dance practically nude.

Tora Teje plays a high-maintance floozie who sashays about with her hand on her hip and a cigarette between her fingers, cuckolds her husband (a lecturer on the polygamous tendency of beetles) and makes eyes at a “modern day Icarus”. Her parting shot “It’s a crying shame I had mutton casserole today” isn’t exactly “tomorrow is another day”, but it’s certainly one for the book. @RichardChatten

ON AMAZON and BLURAY

 

 

Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel (2023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 20 JANUARY 2023

ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS FROM 20 JANUARY 2023

The Cat and the Canary (1978)

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

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

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

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

Tár (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Empire of Light (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piggy (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY

 

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Dir: Robert Wise | US Sci-fi 92′

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

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

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

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

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES

The Minute you Wake Up Dead (2022)

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

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

ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS from 9 JANUARY 2023.

 

A Man Called Otto (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 6 JANUARY 2023

Rimini (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE in the UK early in 2023

 

Caravaggio’s Shadow (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE and in the UK later in 2023 | ROME FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE

 

Speed (1994) Prime video

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

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

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

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

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

You Resemble Me (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS 3 February 2023

The Grand Bolero (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON AMAZON PRIME

Anonymous Club (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Mr Bachmann and His Class (2021)

Dir: Maria Speth | Doc, Germany 217′

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM 9 DECEMBER 2022

 

January (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AS
***1/2

Sight and Sound Poll 2022 | The Critics’ top 20 Greatest Films of All Time

The Critics’ top 20 Greatest Films of All Time are: 

1       Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
2       Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
3       Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
4       Tokyo Story (Ozu Yasujiro, 1953)
5       In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2001)
6       2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
7       Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1998)
8       Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
9       Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov,1929)
10     Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1951)
11     Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
12     The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
13     La Règle du jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)
14     Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
15     The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
16     Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid, 1943)
17     Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1989)
18     Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
19     Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
20     Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)

Jeanne Dielman 1 @BFI National Archive

 

Since it was first conducted in 1952, Sight and Sound’s Critics’ poll has become a hotly anticipated event within the global film community as it represents a litmus test for where film culture stands. This year’s poll reached a wider and more diverse group than ever before and incorporates the top 10 lists of over 1,600 participants from all corners of the globe who voted for more than 4,000 films overall. This compares to the 846 who were asked 10 years ago and reflects a variety of factors, including the more diverse group of contributors voting in the poll and the impact and increased influence of film commentators internationally via the internet. It may also be explained in part by the explosion of access to a wider selection of films, thanks to the proliferation of movies available to view on numerous streamers, boutique Blu-ray and DVD collections, the increase of TV channels dedicated to movies and curated film seasons, all of which have helped to create a more cine-literate contributor. A largely unimaginative and list then which has not really changed much since it first came into being. The voters were asked to interpret ‘Greatest’ as they chose: to reflect the film’s importance in cinematic history, its aesthetic achievement, or perhaps its personal impact in their own life and their view of cinema.

Cleo 5-7 – Number 7 – @Bfi National Archive

 

The wider and more diverse electorate appears to have had an impact on the diversity of the top 100 films. Chantal AkermanJeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and Claire DenisBeau travail were the only female filmmakers’ films in the 2012 top 100. This years poll now features 11 films by female filmmakers in the top 100, and four in the top 20, with new entries by Chantal Akerman – her second entry is News from Home at number 52 – Agnès VardaCléo from 5 to 7 at number 14 and The Gleaners and I in number 67, Maya DerenMeshes of the Afternoon (co-directed with Alexander Hammid) in 16th place, Vera ChytilováDaisies at number 28, Céline SciammaPortrait of a Lady on Fire in 30th place, Barbara LodenWanda at number 48, Jane CampionThe Piano at number 50 and Julie DashDaughters of the Dust in 60th place.

In 2012 there was one film by a Black filmmaker listed in the top 100 – Djibril Diop MambétyTouki Bouki, at number 93. In 2022 there are seven titles in the top 100 by prominent Black filmmakers. Touki Bouki has climbed to 67th place, with new entries for Spike Lees Do the Right Thing in 24th place, Charles BurnettKiller of Sheep at number 43, Julie DashDaughters of the Dust and Barry Jenkinss Academy Award®-winning Moonlight in joint 60th place, and Jordan PeeleGet Out and Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl jointly at number 95.

Barry Lyndon – No 45 @Bfi National Archive

 

In 2012, two films from the last two decades made the top 100 – Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. The top 100 in 2022 features nine films from the last two decades, with new entries including Bong Joon HoAcademy Award®-winning Parasite at number 90Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar®-winning Spirited Away in 75th place and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady at number 95, as well as The Gleaners and I, Portrait of a Lady on FireMoonlight and Get Out. The top UK film is Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon at number 45, followed by Carol Reed’s The Third Man at number 63 (up from 73rd). Two films by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger feature in the top 100: The Red Shoes in 67th place and A Matter of Life and Death at number 78 (up from 90th).

Metropolis @Bfi National Archive

 

Two silent films have made the top 20: F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, which is also the only documentary to make the top 20. There are nine films from the silent era in the top 100, including Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights and Modern Times, Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. and The General, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Films that have been knocked out of the top 100 include Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou, Jean Renoir’s Partie de campagne and La Grande Illusion, Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du paradis, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II, Robert Altman’s Nashville and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.

These are my own personal choices, and my reason for making them. Of course these are only ten of my favourites, but I’ve tried to choose films not just for their technical strength but also for their powerful effect on me. I want to come away feeling moved, enlightened, inspired or changed in some way. They need to stand up to the test of time. All these films have good performances, a solid script and strong visual allure, but there has to be an X factor too. And that lies at the heart of my choices.

  1. MY 20th CENTURY (1989)
    Director(s): Ildiko Enyedi (Hungary)
    Comment: An elegant inventive whisper-light reverie about civilisation at the turn of the 20th Century seen from a woman’s point of view.
  2. BARRY LYNDON (1976) 
    Dir: Stanley Kubrick (US)
    Comment: This epic saga has something new to discover each time I watch it. An extraordinary treasure trove of images, performances and historical details captured by John Alcott and bound up in an iconic score. If I could choose one film to take to my desert island it would be this one.
  3. SUPER FLY (1972)
    Dir: Gordon Parks Jr (US)
    Comment: I discovered this gem at a Black cinema retrospective at Locarno Film Festival some years ago. A heady breath of New York in the early 1970s it captures the daily life of a cocaine dealer (Ron O’Neal) and his lover (Sheila Frazier) who live life on a knife edge with such style and gutsiness – Curtis Mayfield’s score it just the icing on the cake. And of course costume design from Nate Adams sets the tone.
  4. THE TENANT (1976)
    Dir: Roman Polanski (France)
    Comment: Paris is the sombre star of this twisted psychodrama, a portrait of paranoia punctured by lewd moments of humour in a scabrid script. Polanski is the timid outsider gradually cowered into submission, and as the horror unravels to Philippe Sarde’s plangent score, all sorts of skeletons emerge from the past and the present. Bang up to date with its immigration theme, yet constantly resonating with the Holocaust, and echoing the pity, shame and humiliation of its central character, this is an endlessly haunting thriller that left Polanski empty-handed at Cannes (1976) after surely one of the most extraordinary performances of the 20th century.
  5. KOBIETA SAMOTNA(1987) 
    Dir: Agnieszka Holland (Poland)
    Comment: Shot on a hand held camera, this simple tragedy speaks volumes about the abject emotional misery and privation suffered by its central character Irena who lives alone on the outskirts of Communist era Wroclaw with only her 8 year old son for company. A brief period of happiness leads once again to desperation and gloom. Unforgettable in its stark depiction of life in eighties Poland. Won the Special Jury prize at Polish Film Festival 1988
  6. THE CRANES ARE FLYING  (1957)
    Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov (Soviet Union)
    Comment: Kalatozov led Soviet cinema back to the lyricism of Pudovkin and Eisenstein away from the realism of the Stalin era in a poignant drama portraying dark times with such elegance, its everlasting themes of love, war and courageous sacrifice enveloped in the velvety visuals of DoP Sergey Urusevsky. Tatyana Samoylova is mesmerising as Veronika and won Best Actress at Cannes where the film won the Palme d’Or in 1958.
  7. DON’T LOOK NOW (1987)
    Dir: Nicolas Roeg (UK)
    Comment: A beautiful horror masterpiece: chilling, soulful, romantic in its depiction of extreme grief, regret and yearning for love lost, in all its forms. Totally relatable and yet mysterious, treacherous and unreachable. So many emotions well up when watching this film. It resonates with a grief that is palpable. The tragedy of its story remains in the mind forever.
  8. THE GREAT ADVENTURE (1953)
    Director(s): Arne Sucksdorff (Sweden)
    Comment: A lyrical black & white Swedish cinema verite docudrama that pictures a year on a farm in remote Sweden where a man lives with his family in the heart of the forest, the director doubling us as the pipe-smoking father and DoP. The film won prizes at Cannes and Berlin for the poetic way Sucksdorff combines wildlife photography with a gripping storyline that plays out like a thriller with touches of humour, the local fauna unwittingly providing the characters: owls, otters, pine-martens, rabbits, squirrels and a lynx all take part in their natural habitat in a deeply forested 1950s Sweden. Enchanting.
  9. NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)
    Director(s): Werner Herzog (Germany)
    Comment: The vampire legend is brought to life in this hauntingly beautiful fantasy fable that takes us into the realms of darkness and beyond with an atavistic quality that strikes at the core of our deepest fears. The power and complexity of the performances, the magnificence of the sets and Wagner’s score make this an all time classic masterpiece that feels fresh and deeply thought-provoking each time you watch it.
  10. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)
    Dir: Wong Ka Wai (Hong Kong)
    A smoulderingly sensual love story unfolds between two Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, in 1962 Hong Kong. Enchanting and suggestive, the film floats along like a gorgeous cloud of perfume buoyed by delicately suppressed emotions and vibrant visual allure.   

SIGHT AND SOUND POLL 2022

White Noise (2022) Netflix

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

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

ON RELEASE on NETFLIX FROM 9 DECEMBER 2022

Tori and Lokita (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released exclusively in cinemas on 2 December 2022 | Picturehouse Entertainment

   

More than Ever (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Menu (2022)

Dir: Mark Mylod | Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo, Judith Light, Hong Chau | Drama, 107’

A puzzle lies at the heart of this deceptively simple satirical drama from Succession director Mark Mylod. And no prizes for guessing who eventually finds their way successfully through the trial that takes the form of a puffed-up haute cuisine soiree, a sort of ‘masterclass’ lead by Ralph Fiennes’s condescending chef and his prim assistant Elsa (Hong Chau).

The Menu is the latest in the recent spate of films that lampoon the rich and privileged. But also those who slavishly follow the crowd – here it’s a brace of bankers, a washed up wealthy couple; an actor beyond his sell by date. And at the end of the meal their lives will end in tragedy – no less – as the mood shifts into horror.

Then there’s Margot (Anya Taylor Joy) a last minute stand-in date for fearful foodie Tyler (Nicolas Hoult) who is in awe of the whole set-up. The Menu is clever, amusing and very proud of its smug credentials. But Margot will call it all out and foist Fiennes’s eminence grise masterchef by his starched, shroud-like overalls. As a footnote when it comes to over-inflated food descriptions, I first heard the phrase ‘freshly harvested baby carrots tossed in creamy butter’ back in the early 1980s, on a flight to San Francisco. Who would of have known that this ridiculous food gentrification fetish would get so out of hand. MT

THE MENU IS NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

She Said (2022)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW IN CINEMAS

 

Enys Men (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS FROM 23 JANUARY 2023

Bones and All (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nostalgia (2022)

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

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

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

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

NOW IN CURZON HOME CINEMA

Armageddon Time (2022)

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 18/11 |  CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

Million Dollar Pigeons (2022)

Dir: Gavin Fitzgerald | US Doc 98′

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

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM 26 NOVEMBER

 

Incubus (1966)

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

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

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

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

Living (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Medieval (2022)

Dir: Peter Jakl | Cast: Michael Caine, Ben Foster, Sophie Lowe, Til Schweiger | US Action drama, 126′

A bloodthirsty bohemian epic from the days when men took their anger out on the battlefield rather than the football pitch and warlords said deep and meaningless things like “Death brings Life”. Medieval, touted as the most expensive Czech film ever made, tells the story of the Czech warlord Jan Žižka (1360–1424ish) who is considered a major figure in Czech history and led the military wing of the followers of the religious thinker and reformer of the Catholic Church Jan Hus, the so-called Hussites.

Žižka is played by American actor Ben Foster who’s more interested in grimly defeating armies of the Teutonic Order of Holy Roman Empire than exuding charisma. Once again, Michael Caine stars – and is no guarantee for the quality of a film – but he brings a certain sense of naturalness to the party as the wise old Lord Boresh. See it on the big screen where Jesper Toffner’s swashbuckling set-pieces really come into their own. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Cette Maison (2021) Viennale 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCREENING AT VIENNALE 20 OCTOBER – 1 NOVEMBER 2022 | ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 4 NOVEMBER 2022

The Innocent (2021)

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

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

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

Abel (Garrel) certainly has mixed emotions about Michel (Roschdy Zem), convinced that his mum Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) will end up a victim – again – when her new lover returns to his life of crime, although the couple’s marriage certainly seems like a bed of roses. And when they start a new floristry business in Lyon’s trendy Corbas district Abel, who works in the local aquarium, is appalled to hear them having raunchy sex in the stockroom. Sylvie’s romance reminds him how much he misses his own lost love and he is driven to tears laying flowers on her grave in the shadow of Lyon’s famous Notre Dame de Fourviere, a scene that gives the film its tender touch of melancholy.

But Abel certainly has mixed emotions about Michel – and some of them are downright hostile. So with his spunky new girlfriend Clemence (Merlant) Abel hatches a mischievous plan to spy on Michel at work, and this neurotic quest to dig the dirt on his father in law provides the film with its rich vein of humour. But Michel is no fool and calls their bluff with embarrassing results as we start to wonder whether he really is a reformed character. 

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

IN CINEMAS FROM 25 AUGUST 2023

Lynch/Oz (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 2 DECEMBER 2022

She is Love (2022)

31Wri/Dir: Jamie Adams | US Drama 83′

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

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 3 FEBRUARY 2023

https://youtu.be/GMZCckgI-wY

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All is Vanity (2022) London Film Festival 2022

Wir/Dir: Marcos Mereles | UK Drama 72′

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

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

ALL IS VANITY ON CINEMA AND DIGITAL RELEASE in UK and IRELAND FROM 14 OCTOBER

Nocebo (2022)

Dir: Lorcan Finnegan | Wri: Garret Shanley | Cast: Eva Green, Mark Strong, Chai Fonacier, Billie Gadsdon | Ireland, thriller 90′

A blood-sucking insect is a metaphor for the exploitative fashion industry in this ingenious horror outing starring Mark Strong and Eva Green. She plays a fashion designer suffering from a mysterious illness that frustrates her husband (Strong), the pragmatic voice of reason, and leaves their little daughter Bobs -a stunning Billie Gadsdon – totally distraught. Help arrives in the form of a Diana, a Filipino carer (Fonacier) who uses traditional healing to reveal a terrible truth in this latest riff on the nanny sub-genre.

Best known for his distinctive sophomore feature Vivarium Irish director Lorcan Finnegan plunders Filipino folklore and may have had his fellow countryman Sheridan Le Fanu’s The Evil Guest in mind for this incendiary thriller set in the contemporary and contentious world of children’s fashion. Once again, as in Vivarium, the focus is a married couple in crisis, this time a well-off professional couple: Chrissi (Green) and Felix (Strong) who live in a vast Victorian mansion in smart part of Dublin, but Bobs comes second to their high-flying careers.

The marriage is not without its flaws and the opening scene that sees the couple  arguing about who should pick Bobs up from school – as they climb into their top of the range cars in their gravelled driveway – will strike a familiar cord for parents who both work. Eva Green’s delicate – almost feral – beauty is just right for the role of Chrissi a highly-strung children’s designer whose health takes a turn for the worse after a difficult phone-call provokes a series of ghastly hallucinations featuring a dog festooned in tics.

Feeling generally under the weather Chrissi completely forgets hiring Diana (Fonacier), a spooky Filipino helper who arrives on the doorstep making herself immediately at home. Felix resents her intrusive way about the house calling her “a backward snake oil merchant”. Diana is indeed a mixed blessing – she cooks sumptuous meals and provides Chrissi with symptom relief – but always with the sinister caveat “for the time being”. A sinuous use of slow-mo and an exotic score ramps up our fears for the family, and flashbacks reveal Diana’s troubled past toiling in a Filipino sweatshop. Garret Shanley’s well-thought out script touches on all the right notes with convincing characters, a backstory that feels real and a satisfying plot resolution, and although the finale is a touch overwrought Nocebo is a slick and gripping watch. MT

ON RELEASE in early DECEMBER 2022

Confetti (2021)

Dir.: Ann Hu; Cast: Harmonie He, Zhu Zhu, Amy Irving, Helen Slater, Li Ya Nan; USA/China 2021, 97 min.

Dyslexia is a common condition that bears no relation to intelligence. In CONFETTI Chinese-American writer/director Ann Hu presents an engaging, humanistic drama about the struggle for adequate education for dyslexic students in two vastly different cultures and countries namely China and the USA.

In China where dyslexia is barely recognised, Mei Mei (He), daughter of Lan (Zhu Zhu) and Lao Chen (Ya Nan) is teased and bullied at her small-town primary school. Lan, who is illiterate, fears her daughter will ostracised by society, having to do a menial job as a cleaner, like her illiterate mother. When Thomas, an American teacher, meets Mei Mei, he immediately suspects she is dyslexic: his sister displayed the same symptoms, but still went on to enjoy an academic career. Lan discusses the educational offering for dyslexic students in the USA and proposes she and Mei Mei emigrate there to benefit from these schools.

In New York Lan and Mei Mei stay with Thomas’ friend Helen McCellan (Irving), a wheelchair-bound writer who has lost her close family in a car crash, and is just in the process of finishing her book. The search for a suitable school gets underway in a much more positive way than in China where the authorities were blatantly ill-informed and unhelpful. But in the US money is the key to accessing schools and social services. Eventually, Lan and Helen come across ‘Horizon’, an institution catering for students with all kinds of special needs who are prepared to consider taking Mei Mei providing the child gets a neuro-psychological evaluation from a registered psychiatrist. And this does not come cheaply. But this means that Helen can connect personally with Dr. Wurmer (Slater), head of the ‘Horizon’; but Lan’s patience has run out, and she want to fly home to China.

As always in Hu’s feature, details play a big role; and culture clash is not just linguistic but brought about by very different expectations between the two countries, Hu letting sentimentality creep into a narrative whose structure does not leave much room for  ambiguity. Still, Confetti – named after the colourful paper rain symbolising Mei Mei’s attempt to deal with language – is a worthwhile feature, but not one of her most intriguing as a director. AS

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 21 OCTOBER 2022 | IN SUPPORT OF THE BRITISH DYSLEXIA ASSOCIATION

Emily (2022)

Dir.: Frances O’Connor; Cast: Emma Mackey, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething, Fionn Whitehead, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Adrian Dunbar; UK/US 2022, 130 min.

This big screen imagining of Emily Bronte’s life is a wild affair that will offend scholars but delight cinema audiences. Emma Mackey is dynamite as the 18th century poet and novelist who dares to have sex with a curate and revolts against patriarchy and her two sisters, who are only too happy to conform.

Emily is a rebel with a cause: the early death of her mother has seen two of her Brontë sisters Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling), Anne (Gething) cow-towing to their stern, rather blustery father Patrick (Dunbar), who regularly hammers home the word of God from the pulpit. His Byronesque son Branwell (Whitehead) will become a role model for Emily: she copies his tattoos proclaiming ‘freedom of mind’ and turns a blind eye to his opium habit which will be his undoing.

The new curate William Weightman (Jackson-Cohen) is handsome beyond belief but deeply wedded to God. All her sisters swoon over William, but only Emily takes action: their affair is passionate and sweepingly romantic, firing up her senses and sublimating real life into her poems and famous, and only, novel ‘Wuthering Heights’.

Alas, William gets cold feet, the fear of God and Patrick, his stand-in on Earth, plays on his conscience, driving him to terminate their affair. But on the eve of Emily’s departure with Charlotte to Brussels, the curate rues his decision, and gives a letter to Branwell, begging Emily to stay and be his love. The remainder of the drama plays out in this mood of utter devastation of mind and body, before the final triumph of ‘Wuthering Heights’.

The plot turns on the letter episode: O’Connor does not go with the submissive suffering of the three women – she hurtles headlong into Thomas Hardy territory and ‘Jude the Obscure’. But although Branwell is a less evil creature than Hardy’s Arabella, he still plays God to the detriment of the lovers.

DoP Nanu Segal makes nature as foreboding as the lovers’ souls with the English countryside blossoming in tune with the lovers’ springtime emotions and brooding in the murkiest of winter hues, as the camera exploring the ghostly atmosphere of the moors in gloomy tracking shots. Haworth, the village, where Emily is seen as an outsider, is shown as a bastion of local traders and shopkeepers.

Abel Korzenioski’s Gothic score ramps up the romance but the self-defeating story perseveres with its passionate tale of woe. The only slight drawback in this gut-wrenching tale about a woman colliding with a world run by men is the self-indulgent running time that takes away the sting of the bitter male/female confrontations. Although O’Connor plays fast and lose with a few literary facts this is no place for anaemic scholarly retrospection – Emily is a drama seen through the prism of female emancipation; a vivid re-imagining of what could have been. AS

ON RELEASE FROM OCTOBER 14 2022

The Lost King (2022)

Director: Stephen Frears| Cast: Sally Hawkins, Steve Coogan, Harry Lloyd, James Fleet, Jessica Hardwick, Robert Jack, John-Paul Hurley, Sinead MacInnes | UK Drama, 108′

Sally Hawkins plays the researcher who discovered the remains of Richard III in this low-key drama from director Stephen Frears. The result is entirely watchable but ultimately a little uneven, as if it can’t quite decide which story it wants to tell.

Hawkins plays Philippa Langley, a divorced mother of two young teenage boys, who’s passed over at work possibly due to suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. When she takes one of her sons to see a production of Richard III, she feels an instant kinship with the King (played by Harry Lloyd) and is compelled to learn more about his life.

After becoming a member of the Richard III Society and doing some diligent detective work, Philippa becomes convinced Richard’s remains are buried beneath a car park in Leicester. However, she meets continual resistance from various Leicester authorities, who are then only too pleased to take all the credit once Philippa’s hunch turns out to be correct.

Understandably, given the similar based-on-a-true-story premise, Frears has reunited a significant number of the creative team behind his 2013 hit Philomena, including co-writers Steve Coogan (who has a token support role as Philippa’s supportive ex-husband) and Jeff Pope. Also on board is Philomena’s composer, Alexandre Desplat, who opens the film with a bizarre pastiche of Bernard Herrmann’s theme for Psycho, setting entirely the wrong tone.

That tonal inconsistency continues throughout the film, as the script cycles between several different story aspects seemingly unable to settle on whether it wants to be a fantasy-tinged tale of self-discovery, a symbolic battle against the establishment (men) and injustice, or a heart-warming, lightly comedic family drama. In the end, in trying to be all three elements at once, it fails to fully satisfy in any of them.

Hawkins is on her usual excellent form as Philippa, but it frequently feels like she’s only been given one note to play. On top of that, the conceit of having her essentially haunted by Richard III (Lloyd appears by her side repeatedly, with very little dialogue) largely backfires because she starts to look crazy, especially when passers-by observe her talking to herself in the street.

The script’s most compelling element is the way it addresses how history is written – Philippa isn’t just exhuming Richard’s remains, she’s also restoring his maligned reputation, compounded through the ages by Shakespeare’s play. The film attempts a parallel in the way it suggests the establishment tried to write Philippa out of her own story, but it ultimately comes off as clumsy, something that isn’t helped by a misjudged ending that’s almost laughably sanctimonious and fails to ring true. Matthew Turner

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE from FRIDAY

 

Smile (2022)

Dir.: Parker Finn, Cast: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Robin Weigert, Gillian Zinser, Kal Penn; USA 2022, 115 min.

Horror flick Smile brings nothing new to the sub-genre, although Christobal Tapia de Veer’s inventive soundscape will echo eerily in your head long after the film’s forgettable mundane plot has faded; the second half is particularly absurd and surreal. Parker Finn developed the feature debut from his eleven minute short Laura hasn’t slept and borrows heavily from J-horror especially The Ring and It Follows.

Over-worked and on call 80 plus hours a day Dr Rose Cotter is barely holding down a job in the trauma department of a psychiatric ward in a large hospital where she is also receiving treatment from therapist Dr Madeline Northcott (Weigert) for the damage caused by her mother’s suicide. Backstory-wise Rose also has issues with her sister Holly (Zinser) for leaving Rose to deal with her mother. When Holly’s son celebrates his seventh birthday, he unpacks Rose’ present, only to find the dead body of Rose’ missing cat Moustache. Then comes the more recent shock of Rose seeing her patient Laura (Stasey) die before her very eyes by slicing her throat with a piece of porcelain, having confessed to being unable to cope with the strangely smiling faces of strangers hunting her down.

Soon, Rose is experiencing the same symptoms as her dead patient, and researching Laura’s past she discovers that her university lecturer also committed suicide in front of her. Rose’s fiancé Trevor (Usher), is unwilling to discuss the issue, so Rose turns to ex-boyfriend Joel (Gallner) who happens to be a cop. She has to escape the deadly curse and has only four or five days to do so.

Visually DoP Charlie Sarroff shocks with the some decent horror tropes, jump-cuts and gory set pieces. Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin) feels real as a mental health professional coming up against something no textbook has prepared her for. In the end, Smile looks convincing, but no prizes here for the unimaginative storyline. AS

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Dir.: Olivia Wilde; Cast: Florence Pugh, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Harry Stiles, Gemma Chan, Kiki Layne, Douglas Smith; US 2022, 122 min.

Not even three three publicity stunts could elevate Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to her debut feature Booksmart at the Venice Festival this year where the film written by Katie Silberman, Shane and Carey Van Dyke was screened Out of Competition.

Was Shia LaBeouf really fired and replaced by Harry Stiles? And did Styles really spit at Chris Pine? And what about Florence Pugh. Did she cut down on press work because she was miffed by Wilde?

Don’t Worry Darling turns out to be a pale imitation of Stepford Wives, The Truman Show and Pleasantville rolled into one. In the southern Californian desert a model community called ‘Victory’ has been set up very much along the lines of Pleasant Living, with the wives cleaning and cooking while their menfolk put their minds to the top secret ‘Victory’ project, all kitted out in dapper 1950s suits and driving souped-up retro cars.

In this empty-headed utopian Eldorado Alice (Pugh) are Jack (Styles) are always hard at it – even on the kitchen table – cutlery and plates flying all over the place. Frank (Pine) and his wife Shelley (Chan) are meanwhile the leaders of the clean living brigade. Frank is not only the boss at work, he is the spiritual guru who keeps everything together like a scout master. Bunny (Wilde) and Bill (Smith) are trying hard to fit in with the set-up; the only one having doubts is Margaret (Layne).

One day a toy airplane lands in her lap and soon afterwards Alice sees a full size version falling from the sky and detonating in the desert. After Margaret commits suicide on the roof of her house, Alice takes matters into her own hands. But instead of offering insight into why these female characters are being gas-lit, Wilde opts for a car chase.

PD Katie Byron and Aronofsky’s regular DoP Matthew Libatique keep the production values up, mustard and pistachio dominating in the desert sand and the cloudless sky. Vacuous and totally humourless, Don’t Worry Darling is a void, held together by Pugh who struggles desperately to bring something fresh to the production. A first class actor in a lousy imitation game, she has all the right to be angry at Wilde – never mind the rumour mill. AS

VENICE REVIEW | ON RELEASE IN THE UK FROM 23 SEPTEMBER

Juniper (2022)

Dir/Wri: Matthew Saville | Cast: Charlotte Rampling, George Ferrier, Marton Csokas, Edith Poor | Drama, 95′

Charlotte Rampling steals every scene in this poignant if predictable drama from debut director Matthew Savile. Light-hearted and upbeat Juniper also showcases the verdant landscapes of Auckland captured on the widescreen by Marty Williams.

Ruth (Rampling) is a prickly English wartime correspondent convalescing in her son Robert’s (Csokas) country house in New Zealand where she has wised up to his ulterior motives – a need for financial support and to act as a rudder for his unruly teenage son Sam (Ferrier). Sam has no wish to look after a cantankerous old woman and is furious about her sleeping in his late mother’s bedroom.

A keen battle of wits develops as Ruth and Sam find common ground as intergenerational tearaways with the same rebellious take on life, although Ruth has the edge in this amusing character drama that shares certain similarities with Justin Kurzel’s recent hit Nitram, without the incendiary power and implications of that thriller.

Rampling brings out the humanity in Ruth whose eloquent resolve is unaffected by her regularly hitting the gin bottle and calling a spade a spade without ever losing her cool determination not to be outwitted by a petulant grandson who has recently lost his mother and been expelled from school, and eventually uses him to achieve her own benevolent ends.

Avoiding sentimentality and astute in his observation that age and infirmity have no bearing on a person’s innate character drives, Juniper is a witty and well-written debut taking its clever title from the Juniper berry that goes into making gin. Ruth is a courageous woman whose desires are undimmed by her increasing years bringing to mind Dylan Thomas well worn poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 23 SEPTEMBER 2022

 

All that Breathes (2022) Grierson Award BFI London Film Festival

Dir: Shaunak Sen | India, Doc, 91′

In New Delhi nature is adapting far more intuitively to pollution than humans according to this visionary documentary that embodies the stealth of the animal kingdom.

All That Breathes works on three levels: as a melancholic, dreamlike meditation on the vital synergy that exists between all living creatures; as an eco-doc exploring the worsening effects of pollution and climate change in India; or simply, as a human story about two brothers working together to make the world kinder and more humane.

Living in an increasingly violent and overpopulated capital city, Mohammed, Nadeem and their friend/co-worker Salik dedicate their spare time to a home-based mostly self-funded organisation called Wildlife Rescue. For the past two decades they have rehabilitated kites and other birds of prey in the cramped conditions of a makeshift clinic. Key to the relevance of kites is that Muslims believe feeding them will bring some kind of religious reward or sawab.  Since the brothers started the clinic in 2003 the situation has got worse and their patient list is constantly growing, consuming more of the brothers’ time and impacting on their own family wellbeing.

Director Sen creates an evocative portrait from the opening scenes that see ants, mice and rats scurrying around under the neon-lit night skies of Delhi oblivious to the looming violence and public unrest that rages, on a daily level, in the background. Meanwhile, landfill sites are invading the landscape, rivers are drying up and monsoons are worsening causing flooding that brings sewerage out into the open. “Delhi is an open wound, and we are tiny a band-aid” says Nadeem.

The air is becoming so heavy with chemical pollution and smog that birds are tumbling from the skies and often literally crash into one another as they hover over landfill sites, scavenging for food. Crucially, many chemicals are not fully tested for their environmental impact and these birds act as a monitor for toxicity – rather like the famous ‘canary in the coal mine’ back in the Industrial Age. But the brothers have no time for chemical testing and analysis as they face a growing list of avian patients. Cinematographer Ben Bernhard creates a woozy poetic bird’s eye view of a city intoxicated by its own chemical brew. His camera also allows us intimate close-ups of the kites, vulnerable but beady-eyed on the operating table.

Swooping between the real and the surreal Shaunak Sen invites us to gaze at the beauty of the animal kingdom and the ugliness caused by humans, in this decadent apocalyptic world, and draw our own conclusions. MT

Everybody Loves Jeanne (2022)

Dir/Wri: Celine Devaux | Cast: Blanche Gardin, Laurent Lafitte, Maxence Tual, Nuno Lopez, Marthe Keller | France, Drama 95′

Jeanne founded an ecological startup to save the world from plastic. Now on the verge of bankruptcy she has some tough decisions to make about her future in this cross between a screwball comedy and a reflective romantic drama.

First time director and illustrator Celine Devaux opts for a jokey narrative device featuring animated inserts of a female version of ‘Mr Blobby’ voicing Jeanne’s worst fears, hopes and melancholy musings. These illustrations actually interrupt the narrative flow making you wish the director would just get on with a story powerful enough to carry a drama that gets more and more enjoyable as it finds its groove, although the message it finally delivers is a bit of a cop out feminist-wise. Not sure whether this was what Devaux originally intended. 

Fortunately Jeanne happens to have inherited her mother’s place in Lisbon where she grew up with her brother Simon (Tual). So off she heads to the sun to clear her debts with the sale.  On the way she meets old school friend Jean (Lafitte on top form as a pain in the arse) and spends the flight wondering whether she fancies, or finds him deeply irritating. This dilemma is soon resolved when Jean is met by his wife and little daughter, and also turns out to be loaded – in a withering twist on Jeanne’s own financial failure. She, by contrast, is met by her ex Victor (Lopez) who is also now a father, and married into the bargain, although she re-kindles secret desires to bed him. And it’s these amusing insights that make the film entertaining and Jeanne so appealing as a character who everyone can relate to: a woman who is not afraid to be disliked but also wants to be perceived as doing something worthwhile, while suffering the secret need to be loved – a tough call but one that Blanche Gardin pulls off successfully in this impressive feature debut.

In Lisbon she sees her mother everywhere in the flat – a hoarder who nagged about her never calling. So clearing out the flat is the last thing on her mind. Gradually slumping into a low level depression she escapes into the sandy beaches and mellow sunsets of the Portuguese capital until the unexpected arrives in a soft-pedalling finale. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | CAMERA D’OR 2022

 

The Tiger and the President (2022)

Dir: Jean-Marc Peyrefitte | Cast: Andre Dusollier, Jacques Gamblin, Anna Mouglalis, Astrid Whettnall, Laura Benson | France, Drama 108′

Jacques Gamblin is the star of this jaunty political drama inspired by on real events surrounding an almost forgotten French president Paul Deschanel (1855-1922).

Paris in the roaring 1920s and a transformational time for French politics in the wake of the Third Republic. President Georges Clemenceau (Dussollier) aka ‘The Tiger’ for his contribution to the Allied Victory, has just been ousted from office by a forward-thinking and sharp-witted successor Paul Deschanel (Gamblin) a radical reformer and inspired orator. Deschanel realises his task is to transform the post world war lives of the French people whose battle cry is: “you won the war, now let us win the peace”. Meanwhile the Treaty of Versailles is being signed, with Germany the last to put ink to paper. On his victory the new president launches into a raft of sweeping reforms including the vote for women – poopoo-ed by Clemenceau – ridding France of the nightshift in factories, along with the death penalty – were amongst his most positive social changes.

In his first feature French director and writer Jean-Marc Peyrefitte freely admits to embellishing the storyline co-written by Marc Syrigas, ramping up the sparring between Clemenceau and Deschanel to give the film its comedy elements and adding a picaresque even whimsical quality to an often poignant drama about a man whose fervent desire was to better his country recovering from the First World War. But this humanist side of his character also gave rise to deep anxiety, and to remedy this his doctor prescribed a controversial barbiturate called Veronal – later withdrawn from use – that led to a famous episode of him sleepwalking off the back of train, during a presidential visit which culminates in a painterly stay in the French countryside with a family of yokels. Anna Mouglalis offers a shoulder to cry on and much valued pillow talk to both men who apparently shared the same ‘Salon’.

Peyreftte cleverly dovetails both presidents into news highlights from the 1920s archives. And these along with stylish Art Deco settings and a score of appropriate musical hits from the era add to the allure of this intelligent and jaunty interwar drama about a man slowly losing his mind. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

 

 

 

Kompromat (2022)

Dir: Jerome Salle | Cast: Gilles Lellouche, Joanna Kulig, Louis-Do de Lenquesaing, Michael Gor | France, Action thriller 122′

Gilles Lellouche brings some much needed Gallic charm to this chilly political espionage outing co-written and directed by Jerome Salle and based on real events.  

Kompromat is a story that couldn’t get much grimmer if it tried in shadowing the current state of affairs in Russia. Lellouche plays affable French diplomat Mathieu Roussel who is thrown into jail in subzero Siberia on a flimsy charge of child pornography. In reality he is being framed by the FSB in a ‘no-win’ situation known as a ‘Kompromat’. But Matthieu is mystified as to why, in a plot that only goes to underline just how impossible his situation is when up against the Ruskies.

You can’t help feeling sorry for Mathieu when it later emerges his marriage to French wife Alice (Lasowski) is is also doomed. They are briefly seen in a lukewarm exchange before the authorities arrive to arrest him in a violent incursion. Later Alice returns to France with Rose, but not before filing a complaint about him to the authorities.

So begins a Kafkaesque nightmare of epic proportions as Mathieu takes on the authorities from a weakened position. Friendless and down on his luck, he turns to a mirthless Russian lawyer called Borodin (Godunov) who manages to get him released on an electronic tag. Then there is Louis-Do de Lenquesaing’s sharp-suited French ambassador, who briefly swings into action but to no avail. A Russian woman called Svetlana (Kulig) – whose marriage is also in trouble – supplies a frost-bitten romantic frisson. The two had briefly danced together at a work do, and she enables his bid to escape by supplying a mobile phone. But can he really trust her as he makes his way across the frozen wastelands in this dour but watchable thriller. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRENCH CINEMAS | 12 SEPTEMBER 2022 

It Is In Us All (2022)

Dir/Wri: Antonia Campbell-Hughes | Cast: Cosmo Jarvis, Rhys Mannion, Claes Bang | Drama

This enigmatically titled thriller is the confident feature debut of seasoned actor Antonia Campbell Hughes who certainly knows how to create atmosphere even if her writing needs some fine-tuning.

Cosmo Jarvis leads in a pent-up performance as Hamish Considine a nihilistic young man whose past comes back to bite him with tragic consequences after a motorway accident unleashes a lifetime of suppressed emotional baggage.

Campbell Hughes creates a terrific sense of place in the rain-lashed countryside of Ireland, And it’s here where Hamish returns to visit the grave of his Irish-born aunt and deal her estate – a desolate house – on behalf of his pragmatic father, an expat businessman (a bearded Claes Bang who we only see on zoom). Outwardly blasé and self-assured Hamish soon turns out to be anything but after his car collides with another vehicle setting in course a cataclysmic chain of events as he pieces together his childhood to makes sense of the present.

The crash has destabilised Hamish physically and mentally but he shrugs it off stoically discharging himself from hospital too early with a severe concussion. When the only survivor of the other vehicle – a 17 year old livewire called Evan (a brilliant Mannion) – drops round to the house the two develop an almost surreal bond as Hamish is sucked into his mother’s homeland, feeling a palpable connection with the locals who share their own experiences of growing up with her and her sister.

A humble cow in Evan’s family farm becomes the symbol of this cherished motherhood and the fear of her being slaughtered in the abattoir nearby has Hamish reliving the devastation of losing his own mother when he was only a boy. Evan’s volatile personality comes to represent a seething life-force for Hamish drawing him inexorably to the past until he realises there is no going back and no way forward. It Is In Us All is not much of a thriller, in the traditional sense, but certainly a spellbinding look at how places create emotional memories that bind us eternally to the past. MT

UK AND IRISH CINEMA AND DIGITAL RELEASE DATE 23 SEPTEMBER 2022

 

 

The Son (2022)

Dir.: Florian Zeller, Cats: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Zen McGrath, Vanessa Kirby, Anthony Hopkins, USA/UK/France 2022, 123 min.

The Son is a glib and one-note second feature for director Florian Zeller after his Oscar-winning debut The Father took the film world by storm with its emotional clout and authenticity. The Son is too verbose, and too monotone to be engaging despite its slick production values, never escaping its stagey origins in a screenplay adapted by Christopher Hampton from Zeller’s play.

Anthony Hopkins again stars as a father, this time to successful lawyer Peter (Jackman) who is on the verge of a potential White House association and has left his wife Kate (Dern) for a much younger trophy wife Beth (Kirby). The couple have just had a baby son but Kate contacts him about taking on board their own teenager Nicholas (an underwhelming McGrath ) who has obvious mental problems, self-harming and playing truant from school. Peter’s relationship with his stern father Anthony (Hopkins) has not helped him bond with Nicholas and after a suicide attempt, Nicholas is sectioned in a psychiatric ward turning his parents’ world upside down. Performance wise the standout is once again Hopkins who is commanding as a tough pragmatist, against Jackman’s dignified but hamstrung lawyer, with the female characters more or less brushed aside. The Son feels too redactive in contrast to its successful predecessor, with Zeller stranded in the middle between a film and a theatrical production. The upshot is a depressing psychodrama. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 17 FEBRUARY 2023 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE  | GOLDEN LION 2022

 

 

Blackbird (2022)

Dir/Wri: Michael Flatley | Drama, 97′

Michael Flatley’s self-financed spy thriller has a checkered history, premiering briefly four years ago, and now back in cinemas in the UK and Ireland.

The Riverdance supremo directs and also stars as a James Bond style spy turned luxury hotel owner, retired to Barbados for some peace and quiet after his fiancée is killed in a mission. But the past comes back to haunt him when another old flame (Nicole Evans) reappears on the arm of an arch villain (Eric Roberts) whose game plan is not unlike Hitler’s idea of exterminating the Jews. 

Flatley has certainly splashed out budget-wise in a story that flips between lush Irish countryside, rainy London and beachside Barbados, but although his moves may be slick on the dance floor Flatley’s directing skills are less so. Blackbird is certainly a watchable if rather predictable little thriller with its heart in the right place. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 2 SEPTEMBER

Hilma (2022)

Wri/Dir: Lasse Hallstrom | Cast: Lena Olin, Tora Hallström, Catherine Chalk, Jazzy De Lisser, Lily Cole, Rebecca Calder, Maeve Dermody, Tom Wlaschiha, Anna Björk, Clare Holman, Adam Lundgren, Jens Hultén, Emmi Tjernström, Martin Wallström, Lukas Loughran | Sweden, Biopic Drama, 113′

In this artful family affair Lasse Hallström casts his daughter Tora and wife Lena Olin as the pioneering avant-garde Swedish painter and mystic Hilma at Klint (1862-1944) recognised as being one of the first and foremost abstract painters, before Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian.

The elegant painterly styling certainly suits this English language biopic drama about a creative spirit who was developing her ideas sexually and artistically in upmarket Stockholm at a time of rapid artistic change at the turn of the 20th century. The European creative community in general was embarking on a quest for psychological truth and exploring the unconscious through their work, and Hallstrom reflects on Hilma’s evolving modernist style and spiritual leanings in his inspired direction and Ragna Jorming’s floating images and fluid camerawork that echo Hilma’s radical progression from her student days to accomplishment as a full-fledged artist. The focus here is the spiritual inspiration that drives Hilma’s creativity, and her turbulent relationship with the landscape artist Anna Cassel (Chalk).

The film opens with the death of her little sister Hermina (Emmi Tjernström). Their deep spiritual bond would go on to be an inspiration throughout Hilma’s working life. Born into a noble but not wealthy family Hilma’s mother stresses the need for her daughter to find a husband rather than dabble in the dilettante world of art, where only men were considered painters, and even enjoyed an exclusive entrance to the Royal Academy in Stockholm where Hilma studied classical drawing and painting techniques.

Hilma then struggles against a tide of negativity due to the very nature of her radical style and makes no bones about revealing how the spirits inspired her to paint, an approach considered outré and highly questionable back in the day. And to be fair, she does bang on about it almost evangelistically rather than play it down as a subtle and enigmatic adjunct to her talent. She is obsessed with the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and shares her spiritual ideas with him to little avail despite his admitting to receiving messages from the soul through the medium of colour.

Lasse Hallström’s well-crafted film will certainly appeal to art-lovers. Although Hilma herself remains an acquired taste, brilliantly portrayed in an impressive double act by Tora Hallstrom and Lina Olin who trace the artist’s life from her early twenties to her late middle age. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 28 OCTOBER 2022

 

 

Queen of Glory (2021)

Dir.: Nana Mensah; Cast: Nana Mensah, Meeko Gattuso, Oberon K.A. Adjepong, Adam Leon, Christie Mensah, Madeleine Weinstein; USA 2021, 78 min

A first time feature for American Ghanian filmmaker Nana Mensah who directs and stars in this lively female empowerment drama, short-changed by her rather uneven script.

In “Little Ghana”, New York’s Bronx, we meet Mensah’s Sarah Obeng studying for a PhD on Molecular Neuro-Oncology at Columbia University. She has a married boyfriend, Lyle (Leon), who works in the same department, and has promised Sarah he will leave his family and move with her to Ohio. We know how this will turn out.

But then tragedy suddenly enters the picture: Sarah’s mother Grace dies of an aneurism, leaving her with a house in Accra, and a shop selling kitsch Christian merchandise run by Pitt (Gattuso), an ex-convict, whose whole body is covered in tattoos. Sarah’s estranger father Godwin (Adjepong) soon fetches up from Accra, angling for a part of the inheritance. Thwarted, he slaps Sarah and treats her like a servant, asking her to follow him to Ghana, but Sarah hits back.

Life in Ghana is very much a family affair. Sarah is sucked into back into domestic scene and has to dress accordingly, her aunts hoping she will soon produce a child. Faced with the appalling misogyny amongst the menfolk, Sarah ends up running the Cult shop with Pitt.

In an interview with ‘Vogue’, the director made it clear she had intended Sarah to be a cis-woman. But this doesn’t quite work with the acceptance of her marginal existence for Sarah – working in the shop, instead of pursuing her scientific career. Going to Ohio State, just to be with her lover was bad enough – exchanging the prestigious Columbia University for an academic backwater – but giving up her profession altogether is a bridge too far.

DoP Cybel Martin underlines the realism of the script, her images brilliantly evoke the choice facing Sarah with the “Tracey Towers” block in Pelham Parkway, Bronx, and the university atmosphere of an environment dominated by academia.

Mensah’s protagonists are cyphers rather than fully-fleshed out personalities: Lyle remains sullen and tight-lipped, and even Gattuso’s Pitt is just a caricature of a semi-reformed convict. Mensah is a committed director and a convincing actor, but even with a running time of 78 minutes and a few laughs, the reductive characters lack authenticity. AS

RELEASED IN THE UK ON 26 AUGUST 2022

Fall (2022)

Dir: Scott Mann | UK Action Thriller, 107′

British director Scott Mann Takes a shoe string budget and turns it into one of the best action thrillers of the summer with ‘a feel the fear and do it anyway’ premise.

Totally far-fetched and ludicrous it may be but certainly effectlve (and aimed at the GenZ generation) it all starts with accident when experienced climber Dan (Mason Gooding) falls to his death from a vertiginous mountain face leaving his wife Becky (Grace Fulton) and her and best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner) stranded thousands of feet above ground level, and then left to cope with his tragic loss.

Becky is still drowning her sorrows a year later when Hunter, now a unfeasibly fearless extreme sports fanatic with a massive online following, suggests they scatter Dan’s ashes in style, rather than moping around mourning his death. But what Hunter actually has in mind actually beggars belief: the two will climb 2,000 feet to the top of a rusty old pylon support – the same height as the Eiffel Tower – for the ceremony, it’s the stuff of nightmares.

Mann and his DoP MacGregor and team make terrific use of cutting edge visual effects to make us believe the girls are really up there in the skies where its searingly hot and scorching) but what’s beyond belief and most impressive is their clear-eyed vision and steely resolve to survive once things start to go wrong. Admittedly Becky is hard-nosed and cruel as we’ve already discovered in an earlier scene where she leaves a coyote to be eaten alive by vultures, relaying the spectacle to her followers, she also admits to feeling hungry when the smell of a BBQ drifts up to the skimpy metal platform they are standing on (surely the last thing on your mind on the brink of death). With its simple but effective plot-line Fall is a buddy survival movie that never outstays its welcome in delivering watchable, stylishly artful thrills – in contrast to the summer’s overblown blockbusters such as Nope and Bullet Train.

Fall is out in the UK on 2 September

 

https://youtu.be/Y1hIzSPajYE

Black Mail (2022)

Dir.: Obi Emelonye; Cast: O.C Ukeje, Allesssandro Babalola, Julia Holden. Nikolay Shulik, Natalia N, Tony Richardson, Emma Fletcher, Mladen Petrov, Jelena Borovskaya; UK 202, 98 min.

UK writer/director/producer Obi Emelonye (Badamasi) puts lots of punch into this London based crime drama, centred around a Russian blackmail ring trying to destroy – among others – the life of film star Ray Chinda (O.C Ukeje).

Emelonye handles the insecurities of his hero with great sensitivity although Ray Chinda is not best suited for a role that somehow diminishes his physical presence. His wife Nikki (Holden), a well known immigration lawyer, is dragging him to “Relate”, and the two real live children of the director, Kosi (Luchy E.) and Zorba (Richy E.) are playing up, because they are not getting enough attention from their workaholic parents.

Things get much worse when Ray gets an email from a Russian blackmail ring informing him they have salacious footage of him reacting to porn on the net. The first amount they are asking for is reasonable, but, as Ray’s friend Ruben (Rabalola) tells the actor, the next figure will be higher. We soon encounter the Russian Mafia at work: Igor (Shulik) works for bar owner Alexei (Petrov), but is also in charge of the blackmailing scheme. He treats Ivana (Natalia N) with contempt and forces her to have sex with him. But he also has a softer side: caring for his sick daughter Jelena and wife Kathryn.

Unfortunately, Alexei finds out that Igor has embezzled 200 000 sterling from the night club business, and is about to be sent back to St. Petersburg to face the music of the senior Mafiosi. Igor is keen to finish the ‘business’ with Ray, but Ivana’s attacks him viciously before committing suicide. Petra, another member of the night club’s women, who have been forced into prostitution, spills the beans to the police, while Ray is on his way to a final show down with Igor, who is ready to die. Will the force arrive in time to prevent a bloodbath?

Ukeje is convincing as the guilt-driven antihero: his glamorous status for the outside world is nowhere near the reality he experiences in his private life. The black mail episode is the final straw that brings on a TIA (Mini-Stroke). He seems unable to get his two identities together, coming closer and closer to a total breakdown. DoP Robert Ford captures contemporary London – will all its glitter and dirt – even though some multi frames are superfluous. Overall, Black Mail is high octane drama that spills over into sentimentality. A genre feature with some noir elements and a very broken hero. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 26 AUGUST 2022

Nope (2022)

Dir.: Jordan Peele; Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Keith David, Brandon Perea, Michael Wincott, Steven Yeun; USA 2022, 131 min.

Best known for his much acclaimed feature debut Get Out, the mantle of ‘cult director’ is now sitting comfortably on Jordan Peele’s shoulders with this latest, rather confused epic, an accomplished B-movie that runs at over two hours. His backers, who budgeted a quarter of a billion dollars on his first two flics, are waiting with baited breath to see if Peele can score a hatrick with Nope – (yes, seems the answer could be there).

OJ (Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Palmer) live on a ranch in the Californian desert where they train horses for Hollywood productions, after their father Otis Sr (David) was killed in a freak accident when metallic UFOs rained down from the sky.

Divided into chapters named after the ranch’s horses, OJ and Em are alarmed by ‘phone and electricity black-outs, and spot some saucer-like apparitions in the night sky. Emerging from a cloud, the creatures resemble birds caught in the mist, but soon morph into a manta ray or a peculiar form of octopus. OJ treats them like animals and avoids starring at them, hoping to keep them at bay.

Meanwhile the siblings see a chance of making it big in Hollywood, and team up with a salesman (Perea) and cameraman Antlers Holst (Wincott) in the hope of capturing images of the entities with his advanced equipment.

In an unrelated plot-line, OJ sells some of the horses to Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Yeung), who runs a tacky Western show in the valley. Jupe has a weird backstory: he has been traumatised for life after playing a boy called Jupiter in the 1990 sitcom Gordy. In one of the episodes, a chimpanzee suddenly runs riot, killing all human cast members apart from Park.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that the Gordy massacre was telegraphed by a bible quote from ‘Nahum’ Chapter three, in which the citizens of Nineveh are threatened with punishment: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle”. Peele somehow connects the quote with the massacre, having the chimp pull off his garish birthday hat off and throws it to the ground. He certainly had enough.

This is certainly a Hollywood spectacle, but too far-fetched to give it much credit – it’s not even on par with the overrated Once upon a Time in Hollywood – without the historical underpinnings. There are gaps in the narrative, and some sort of structure would have helped. What makes it really worthwhile are DoP Hoyte van Hoytema’s brilliant 65 mm images (Ratio 1:2.39), unfortunately only available in Imax theatres.

Overall, NOPE is certainly a bit of fun, but the lack of depth – despite some allusions to history and politics – reduces its impact to just another fairground attraction. AS

ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 12 AUGUST 2022

Official Competition (2021)

Dir.: Mariano Cohn, Gaston Duprat; Cast: Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martinez, Jose Luiz Gomez, Irene Escolar; Spain 2021, 115 min.

Argentine directors/co-writers Mariano Cohen and Gaston Duprat made an uproarious comedy satire The Distinguished Citizen which never got a decent showing in Britain. So it’s a shame that their ludicrous latest outing is now on general release, and not even Oscar Martinez, the star of the 2016 film, can save it. Films about movie making schemes are notoriously prone to disappoint – and this is no exception. Even the premise feels phoney.

Super-rich entrepreneur Humberto Suarez (Gomez) wants to be remembered as an art lover. So to celebrate his 80th birthday he gets eccentric director Lola Cuevas (Cruz) to adapt a best seller for the big screen with his daughter Diane (Escolar) bagging a role in a drama starring Hollywood duo Felix Rivero (Banderas) and theatre-loving pseudo intellectual Ivan Torres (Martinez) as feuding brothers, who hate each other on and off set.

Cuevas has all her hands full from the get go. The gags are not particularly promising: a rock made of cardboard dangling over the actors’ heads is mistaken for a real boulder. Rivero pretends at one point to have pancreatic cancer, and Torres, testing his rival, tries to make Rivero believe he is a serious actor. Meanwhile lesbian Cuevas sets up a kissing contest between the two men, and ends up doing the most convincing job and leaving Diane gasping for more, the two of them rolling around on the floor to the horror of Suarez senior. Finally, Rivero goads Torres into attacking him, but ends up falling down several floors with tragic consequences.

Official Competition is all glitter and glam with its loud and confrontational characters and a predicable plot-lines. Sometimes the self-parody actually succeeds in spite of itself. DoP Arnau Valis Colomer does his best to conjure up a chaotic ambiance which would make Cecil B. DeMille proud – but this is a tawdry Tinseltown project, not Ben Hur. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE IN CINEMAS AND EXCLUSIVELY ON CURZON HOME CINEMA FROM FRIDAY, 26 AUGUST 2022

 

Flux Gourmet (2022)

Dir/Wri: Peter Strickland | Cast: Asa Butterfield, Gwendoline Christie, Ariane Labed, Fatma Mohamed, Makis Papadimitriou | UK Comedy Horror, 110′

Blending elements from his previous offerings Peter Strickland concocts a mind-boggling soup of style over content. You will either relish Flux Gourmet – or retch into your popcorn.

The soundtrack has echoes of Berberian Sound Studio, but the look is distinctly In Fabric in style with its garishly macabre 19th mitteleuropaïschen overtones. There is the same teasing quality of The Duke of Burgundy but the narrative is precarious and difficult to pin down. The humour – if you can call it that – is deadpan and lavatorial rather than witty or amusing. The performances are generally engaging, Strickland working with his core team of Gwendoline Christie and Fatma Mohamed Asa Butterrfield, Ariane Labed and Makis Papadimitriou boosting an eclectic cast. 

This is Strickland’s most self-indulgent and unrelatable film to date. Some may find it laborious – I certainly did. There is a feeling the auteurish filmmaker just wants to mock his audience with a piss-taking pot-pourri of outlandish ideas that somehow fail to make sense, let alone entertain.  

In an old English country house, Christie’s Jan Stevens runs residential courses in “sonic cooking” that boil down to a series of creative experimental events taking place with a live audience egging the team on. Participants are selected for their inspired ideas in preparing food, and invited to present their efforts during a series of workshops that culminate in a showcase showdown on the final evening. The sound element is provided by microphones placed strategically into the food that sometimes consists of whipped up terapins or pigs’ ears, and ultimately of those taking part, with ghastly results.

To add to the film’s bizarre nature, there is part-narration in Greek by flatulent commentator Stones (Makis Papadimitriou) who has the job of interviewing the attendees for an in-house journal. Stones is forced to share a dormitory with the rest of the team: tousle-haired Billy (Butterfield), the chain-smoking Lamina (Labed) and Elle (Mohamed). During the small hours, Stones makes frequent trips to the ensuite bathroom to fart ferociously and empty his bowels, and this malaise forces him to seek medical advice from Dr Glock (Bremmer) who takes delight in prolonging his agony with a battery of invasive tests, some of them staged for the live audience.

Meanwhile Billy has a fetish for eggs that somehow leads him into an erotic clinch with the voluptuous Jan Stevens (sporting a ‘Jester’ style nightcap). There are feint connotations to Marco Ferreri’s 1973 curio La Grande Bouffe but that was a film with heart and emotion. Flux Gourmet will no doubt go down in history as a “cult classic”, a label it does not really deserve. There is a visceral emptiness here that leaves you with a feeling of gut-churning disgust. But there again it may be ‘bread and meat’ to some. MT

ON RELEASE from 30 SEPTEMBER 2022  | BERLINALE 2022 PREMIERE.

 

The Harder they Come (1972)

Dir.: Perry Hanzell; Cast: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw, Ras Daniel Hartman Bobby Charlton, Basil Keene, Winston Stona; Jamaica 1972, 104 min.

When Jamaican director/co-writer Perry Hanzell (1946-2006) came to Venice Film Festival fifty years ago, not many people watched his debut, the first Jamaican feature The Harder they Come. Only select screenings, away from the Lido, led press to the discovery of a US distributor in shape of Roger Corman’s New World Film. And while time has not always best served this singular movie, it is still a monumental achievement. There is a raw quality which can only be appreciated by Jamaica’s post-colonial status, just ten years after Independence.

Ivan (Cliff) arrives in Kingston from the countryside hoping to make a career as a singer and songwriter. Taking a job with the local preacher (Keene), he soon falls out with him after talking his ward Elsa (Bartley) into letting him use the church for a recording session. When Ivan tries to claim a bicycle from his successor, as the preacher’s handyman, the man denies his claim, and the two end up in a brall. Instead of prison, Ivan is sentenced to eight lashes – a public humiliation he will never forget. Ivan is finally manages to record a single, but his promoter only pays him twenty dollars. Desperate for cash, Ivan calls on his friend Jose (Bradshaw) who lntroduces him to a police protected drug ring involved in moving hash from the countryside to the city.

Although the law usually gives Ivan a wide berth on his drug-running tours, one day he panics and kills a police officer who flags him down on his motor cycle. Ivan is now a wanted man, and what’s worse, he shoots three more policemen. Pedro (Hartman) helps Ivan to hide, but detective Jones (Stona), the ringleader, shuts the operation down, until such time as Ivan is killed or handed over to him. In a wild last reel, Ivan tries to escape to Cuba but is too weak to swim to the rescue vessel. On the beach, imagining he is the hero of an Italo-Western he watched soon after arriving in Kingston, Ivan is attacked by the whole police force, But his record is great hit, making a fortune for the record producer.

The second line of the title reads “They harder they fall” and this is very much true for Ivan. His one-man assault of everyone in power has to end badly. But he takes it like a man: mixing cinema and life, and is only to grateful to get some  when applause, even at the end. Ivan is the archetypal loner, a ‘Django’ without the skills to survive. Furious and uncontrolled in the style of this iconic feature, Ivan loves his life on the fast lane – whatever the cost. The Harder they Come is a sledgehammer, its blows still rain down today. AS

BACK IN CINEMAS ON 5 AUGUST 2022

Paris, Texas (1984)

Dir.: Wim Wenders; Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Nasstassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson, Bernhard Wicki; West Germany/France 1984, 147 min.

German director Wim Wenders follows his earlier road movies with a real cult classic. Paris, Texas is perhaps most memorable for Harry Dean Stanton, Ry Cooder’s moody score and the burning images of the Wenders regular, Austrian DoP Robby Müller. Written by the Sam Shephard, and adapted for the screen by L.M. Kit Carson, this enigmatic character drama won the “Palme d’Or” in Cannes 1984.

Wim Wenders in Cannes | Debussy Cinema @Meredith Taylor copyright

 

Stanton is Travis Henderson, an aimless drifter who stumbles into a bar in the Texan desert, and promptly passes out. A German doctor (Wicki) revives him and finds a piece of paper with a phone number, in the man’s pocket. It belongs to Travis’ brother Walt (the charismatic Dean Stockwell), who collect him and endures his brother’s stony silence on the long drive back to LA where Walt lives with his gentle wife Anne (Clement) and Travis’ 7 year old son Hunter (H Carson, son of Karen Black and Kit Carson) who they have raised for the past four years.

Hunter and Travis hit it off – against all odds – and Anne tells Travis that Hunter’s birth mother is paying a monthly deposit money into an account for her son. Travis and Hunter track Jane (Kinski) down to San Antonio, Texas where it transpires she is working as a sex worker in a Peep-Show. Pretending to be a client, Travis, who can not be seen by Jane because of one-way glass window, talks to her via an intercom, sharing their love story until she cottons on. Confused by his emotions but wanting the best for Hunter, Travis finally hatches a very unlikely plan.

Guilt is the watchword in Wenders’ movies. Overtaken by the emotion from an early age, he considered taking the priesthood to fulfil his strong feelings about Catholicism. Nearly all his anti-heroes live their lives in the past, and fear the future. Travis’ unfounded jealousy and alcoholism led to the break-up of the torrid relationship with the much younger Jane (a luminous Kinski). He had even bought a plot of land to prepare for their future together. Only a crumpled photo of a ramshackle hut in the desert remains. But Travis clings to it like a totem. Along with the titular hero in The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (1972), who kills out of boredom, Travis is always running away, not to find anything, just to lose himself.

The German photographer in Alice in the Cities (1974) escapes to another continent to ‘forget’ a relationship, only to be trumped by a mother who leaves her daughter in his care, expecting him to trace the girl’s relatives in Germany. Kings of the Road (1976) sees two lorry drivers dreaming of a future which will never be realised because they can only talk about women, and how much they miss them. Finally, in The American Friend (1977) Zimmermann, a painter and frame-maker, is unable to communicate his physical and emotional turmoil to his wife; instead he goes on murdering spree, for money.

Paris, Texas raises the timely theme of belonging: As nurturing fill-in parents to Hunter for most of his life, Walt and Anne are the losers of the piece. But Wenders hardly touches on their emotional arc – or their pain – in the aftermath to Hunter’s departure. His focus is the birth mother and son who must be united at all costs. And their final scene together brings to mind the emblematic coupling of Christ with the Virgin Mary.

Leading men are generally loners in Wenders’ features, their isolating fear of women gradually diminishes their persona as the narrative unfolds. Violence is never far away, and Travis suppresses his anger into a brooding silence. Harry Dean Stanton channels a palpable intensity of feelings into a performance that is subtle and exquisitely felt, but barely shown. His brother Walt is likeable and articulate along with his delicate wife Anne, a touching turn from Aurore Clement. There’s an almost whimsical quality to the early domestic scenes with the four of them together. Where there could have been emotional trauma and harsh words, Wenders instead brings a tender, almost comedic lightness of touch.

Wenders’ love for America and its culture is explainable: violence is simmering under the surface, ready to explode at any time. Paris, Texas is never violent, but the emotional pain is only too visible. A cult classic that needs to be explored again and again.

ON RE-RELEASE AT Picturehouses | Curzon Cinemas | from 29th July 2022

Fire – Both Sides of the Blade (2022)

Dir: Claire Denis | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Grégoire Colin, Issa Perica, Bulle Ogier, Mati Diop | France Drama 116′

Claire Denis explores the intense dynamics of a love triangle in this coruscating character drama that reunites her regular cast of Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Gregoire Colin and Bruno Podalydes.

Sara (Binoche) and Jean (Lindon) have been in love for nearly a decade living together in a stylish penthouse in Paris where she runs a radio station while Jean, a former professional rugby player, is getting back to normal after serving time. Despite his impulsiveness and potent physicality, Jean offers warmth and stability to Sara who can be controlling and neurotic, rather like his demanding mother Nelly (Ogier) now confined to the family home in the suburb Vitry where she barely manages his troubled teenage son Marcus (Perica) who is slowly going off the rails.

The opening sets the tone for this torridly sensual romantic drama with its elegantly ecstatic sex scenes: Jean and Sara are pictured cavorting in the sea on a winter break. Back in Paris grey skies call time on their idyllic romance when Sara’s saturnine former lover Francois comes back on the scene, offering Jean a new start as a talent coach in his rugby start-up. Sara has certainly found contentment with Jean but catching sight of Francois for the first time in ages leaves her breathless and ready for another dose of the intoxicating chemistry they once shared. Caught in the emotional crossfire between the two men in her life, she probes Jean obsessively for details about Francois and the new venture. But Jean keeps her in the dark while he processes his own feelings, fully aware of the dangers that lie ahead.

Cleverly adapting Christine Angot’s novel, Un tournant de la Vie, for the screen, Denis keeps the camera close and intimate but retains her distance, avoiding sentimentality in charting the emotional volatility and shifting moods with laser sharp intensity as a baleful score hints at turmoil and heartache for the star-crossed lovers. At this point ad libbing takes over between Lindon and Binoche as their onscreen relationship starts to falter and fall apart amid scenes of barely controlled hysteria as powerful emotions surface. Sara, in denial, tries to contain her turbulent thoughts and real motives, becoming defensive: Jean gives her tenderness and security but it is Francois who really sends her wild with his mercurial charm. Jean knows this love is out of control and he prepares to leave only just suppressing the hurt and fury he really feels inside.

The final scenes of enduring love imploding on the rocky shores of passion are revealing and compulsive to watch. Denis keeps us guessing right up to the devastating denouement which is left open to interpretation, satisfying in its ambiguity. MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 9 SEPTEMBER | SILVER BEAR | BEST DIRECTOR | BERLINALE 2022

The Shuroo Process aka The Shuroo Retreat (2021)

Dir.: Emrhys Cooper; Cast: Fiona Dourif, Donal Brophy, Emrhys Cooper; USA 2021, 95 min.

This first feature film by British director/co-writer Emrhys Cooper is an unstructured, freewheeling comedy bent on creating dramatic confrontations – seemingly just for the sake of it.

NYC based Journalist Parker Schafer (F. Dourif) is at a crossroads – emotionally and career wise – having just lost her lover and a job at “Rogue” Magazine after a shambolic TV award appearance. In desperation she turns to Guru Shuroo (Brophy), also known as Declan, hoping that a weekend at his summer retreat in the Catskill mountains will turn things around.  Ironically, this turns out to be the case, but not the way the guru had in mind. There are some embarrassingly clumsy “solutions” for all concerned: a gay coming-out and childhood sex abuse among them, Schafer admitting to guilt surrounding her brother’s death after introducing him to cocaine. The guru adopts a ‘one size fits all’ approach to healing his patients, and clearly the cast enjoyed themselves judging by those attending the press screening. Cooper and his co-writer Donal Brophy go all out for laughs in a film that has nothing really to say, leaving the audience scratching their heads in amazement. AS

THE SHUROO RETREAT out on demand from 25 July 2022

 

 

Only in Theatres (2022)

Dir.: Raphael Sbarge; Documentary with Greg Laemmle, Tish Laemmle, Robert Laemmle, James Ivory, Roberta Grossman, Cameron Crowe; USA 2021, 95 min.

Arthouse cinemas are facing tough competition from the likes of streaming platforms Netflix and Amazon Prime. But one Los Angeles chain is still thriving after thanks to the pioneering spirit of its owners, the Laemmle family.

US director Raphael Sbarge chronicles its fight for survival against the odds for the new  generation of Laemmles, who (still) own the much-loved 84-year-old chain in Los Angeles. Founded by German-Jewish emigrants Max and Kurt Laemmle in 1938 – they were nephews of Hollywood tycoon Carl Laemmle – the cinema chain fought off the threat of closure from dwindling audiences during the Covid-19 epidemic.

Founders Max and Kurt followed their uncle Carl from New Jersey to California after Thomas Edison insisted on all film production companies using his patent. Any producers who refused had cameras and other film-making equipment smashed to pieces; the police were unable to intervene. Capitalism was tough, it was the survival of the fittest.

Today’s Laemmles: CEO Greg, his father Robert (the president), Greg’s wife Tish and their triplet sons Gabriel, Nadav and Ezra, are fighting a different battle of survival. Since the early 1950s the various outlets, headed up by their marquee theatre “Royal”, has specialised in European Arthouse fare from Bergman, Resnais and Godard. The Laemmles enjoyed a certain monopoly on the foreign market as Hollywood productions dominated the LA cinema scene.

Streaming started to take great chunks out of audiences, and the profits; rather like the advent of TV seventy years ago. Laptops and iPads threatened the very existence of the Arthouse scene. Director James Ivory, one of many filmmakers, critics and film historians – among them Roberta Grossman and Cameron Crowe – is adamant in not wanting his films to be streamed: “If anyone told me they’d seen my films online, I would say ‘Oh no!'”

For months during the second half of 2019, CEO Greg Laemmle mulled over the possibility of selling the family business. His father Robert and wife Tish watched him getting more and more depressed. But finally, on Christmas Day, Greg told a delighted audience he had decided against selling. A few months later Covid-10 led to the closure of all cinemas in the state of California. The doors would not open again until March 2021. Greg and Tish had to sell their LA house and move to Seattle, Washington. They were also forced to put two cinemas up for sale to finance the remainder of their outlets, This ‘victory’ has certainly taken its toll on Greg – the responsibility to carry on the family tradition is a tall order for anybody who values quality above the profit margin, particularly in the materialistic world of the United States.

Only in Theatres is passionate but never sentimental. The battle of art versus commerce is fought out in the open with DoP Matt Kubas’ handheld camera being a witness to this war for the ‘soul of cinema’. A informative piece of living film history. AS

ONLY IN THEATRES PREMIERED AT THE GALWAY FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Rifkin’s Festival (2020)

Dir/Wri: Woody Allen | Cast: Wallace Shawn, Gina Gershon, Christoph Waltz, Louis Garrel, Elena Anaya, Sergi López | US comedy 92′

Woody Allen’s latest addition to the archive needed more oomph. The weary reverie tinged with wistful melancholy reflecting on the golden age of arthouse cinema and the nature of longterm love is let down by dreary characters.

The annual San Sebastián Film Festival is in full swing and jaded novelist, the shrew-like Mort Rifkin (Shawn), is there with his hard-faced publicist wife Sue (Gershon). But their marriage is in trouble. Super busy Sue is handling press for a breakout hit directed by popular French filmmaker Philippe (Garrel) who who will inadvertently seduce her with his signature brand of self-obsessed seriousness while hot-footing it from interview to press conference.

The Basque capital positively glows in the gilded tints of Autumn (captured by Woody’s regular cinematographer Vittorio Storaro) but this drama feels dour and decidedly lacklustre, largely due to a charmless set of one-dimensional characters. Mort and Sue seem a mismatched couple from the start – hard to imagine they ever had much in common. Her lack of empathy sends his hypochondria into overdrive, and heart palpitations soon see him in the arms of local cardiologist Jo Rojas (Anaya) whose marriage to the cartoonish creative Paco (Lopez) is also on the rocks. Dreams of a putative future together and a trip round the scenic coastline provide us with cinematic relief, but all Mort needs is another neurotic – and Jo is certainly no picnic in the park – falling asleep through sheer emotional exhaustion after finding Paco in bed with another woman.

Rifkin’s Festival is certainly a highly intelligent film full of insight and spirited humour largely lost . Woody takes scenes from his own film favourites: Citizen Kane to Jules et Jim and The Seventh Seal (Christophe Waltz the standout as the grim reaper) re-staging and re-shooting them as black & white parodies representing Mort’s own experiences. The trouble is, we feel nothing for any of these people and their turgid marriages and lifeless new love affairs despite the very real and relatable nature of their problems. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

 

 

 

The Quiet Woman (1951) TPTVEncore

Dir/Wri: John Gilling | Cast: Derek Bond, Jane Hylton, Dora Bryan, Michael Balfour | UK Drama 71′

Older viewers probably remember Jane Hylton (who died aged just 51) as Frank Spencer’s highly strung mother-in-law in ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ rather than for her films; but here she plays the title role and models a variety of eye-catching outfits ranging from a swimsuit to a man’s suit (watch the film if you want to find out how that came about) in this breezy piece of escapism enhanced by excellent photography by co-producer Monty Berman including attractive location work shot on Romney Marshes in the summer of 1950.

As Britain continued to suffer rationing and austerity, smuggling rapidly came to seem rather romantic and featured in quite a few films at that time; now so long ago that Derek Bond, John Horsely, Harry Towb and even Michael Balfour all then looked relatively young and dashing. @RichardChatten

NOW ON TPTVENCORE.CO.UK

The Good Boss (2021)

Dir.: Fernando Leon Aranoa; Cast: Javier Bardem, Oscar de la Fuente, Manob Solo, Almadena Amor, Tarik Rmili, Sonia Atmarcha, Fernando Albiza, Celso Bugallo; Spain 2021, 119 min.

Javier Bardem plays another arch villain in this darkly satirical Spanish arthouse flic which is entertaining up to a point, but doesn’t quite do justice to the serious nature of the material with bland jokes and one-dimensional characters often reducing the narrative to a farce, the many plots and subplots are still left dangling despite the generous running time.

Blanco (Bardem) has inherited a factory from his father, and somehow thinks he owns his employees into the bargain, lording it over them and interfering in their lives at will. The regional council is giving out a prize for the most progressive company and Blanco is keen on the prestige the award confers, and the prize money. His first target is José (de la Fuente), who takes his revenge on being sacked by building a minicamp outside the main gates of the factory where he is joined by his children in chaotic protests. Next in line is production manager Miralles (Solo). The two grew up together and Blanco believes he can sort out Miralles’ marriage rift when his wife decides to play the field. But all he gets for his troubles is a slap in face from the wife, in public. When new intern Liliana (Amor) joins the company Blanco’s luck seems to change. But after a night of passion with Liliana he find out from his long suffering wife Adela (Almarcha) that he looked after Liliana as the baby daughter of some close friends. Blanco ends the relationship unceremoniously, but Liliana teams up with Khaled (Rmli), who has taken over from Miralles’ role as productions manager, leveraging a pay rise and a job as marketing boss in return for not spilling the beans to her parents. So Blanco’s dream of winning the coveted award seems a long way off at this point in the game.

Best known for his breakout hit Loving Pablo, one can see what Spanish director Fernando Leon Aranoa had in mind: a modern version of a Frank Capra movie. But he lacks the finesse of the legendary American director, and even though Bardem makes for a charismatic lead there is no Jimmy Stewart to counter him. DoP Paul Esteve Birba and his handheld camera keep up the tempo in the production scenes, but the domestic stuff with Blanco in different bedrooms is rather old hat. Overall Boss falls between two stools, lacking the ballast to be a populist satire or enough humour and nuance for a modern screwball comedy – but it’s certainly worth a watch. AS

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

Operation Amsterdam (1959) TPTV

Dir/Wri: Michael McCarthy | Cast: Peter Finch, Eva Bartok, Tony Britton, John Le Mesurier, Alexander Knox | UK Thriller 104′

A harsh wartime drama with plenty of action and gunplay about infiltrating occupied Holland to obtain industrial diamonds. Vigorously directed by the late Michael McCarthy, augmented by Reg Wyer’s usual vivid photography and second unit work by Stanley Hayers; and lent class by the presence of Peter Finch and Alexander Knox in lead roles, with the usual entertaining supporting cast of familiar British faces such as John Le Mesurier.

The film’s biggest liability is Philip Green’s eccentric score, sometimes noisily percussive and full of drumrolls and sometimes attempting to convince us that this is all taking place in Amsterdam (perhaps to take our minds off the frequent process work both indoors and outdoors which show that much of it was actually shot at Pinewood! @RichardChatten

NOW ON TPTVENCORE.com 

Robust (2022)

Dir.: Constance Meyer; Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Deborah Lukumuena, Lucas Mortier, Megan Northam, Florence Janas, Steve Tientchen; Belgium/France 2021, 95 min.

A short synopsis of Swiss director/co-writer Constance Meyer’s first feature film Robust might read like a second version of Untouchables, but luckily it is far superior. Starring Gerard Depardieu, also the leading man in Meyer’s two award-winning short films, this is a subtle comedy of growing-up pains – particularly where adults are concerned.

Pampered and terribly overweight, actor Georges (Depardieu) is playing the spoilt child who craves attention at all costs. Enter Aissa (Lukumuena), security guard – but also a talented wrestler. Aissa is charged by her boss Lalou (Tientchen) to look after Georges, who is on the verge of starring in a new film, a feudal drama set in 1847. Fond of his motorcycle, but crashing it during his nighttime forays, he lives in a posh Paris district where his home is dominated by a huge aquarium, the tropical fish gliding around in total darkness, and somehow assuring the hypochondriac George’s peace of mind.

Aissa not only has to deal with Georges, but also his family and friends: and his four-year old son Gabriel plus a new dog becomes also becomes his responsibility. Sofia, George’s ex-wife and Gabriel’s wants constants updates on the ‘phone, constantly wanting to know if all is well, not that she really cares either way.

One day Georges goes astray in the middle of the night and is set upon by eco-freaks who are easy meat for the well-trained Aissa, who may be the same weight as Georges, but also packs a mean punch. Her on/off boyfriend Eddie (Mortier) is a work college; but Aissa’s real roots are in a high rise block in the 20th arrondissment, where she lives with her little sister and mother. There is just one really ugly scene when Georges pesters Eddie and Aissa enjoying a Chinese meal: the actor makes his (imagined) superiority count: pulling rank on Aissa, and forgetting that she had comforted him hours before, when he had one of his panic attacks.

The running gags are the dialogues from the forthcoming feature film which Georges rehearses with Aissa. “Look at me now, deflated, timid and enslaved like a child”. Kids they may be, but Aissa is relaxed and in charge: soon becoming a team leader and taking on the protection of an important politician. Georges begs Aissa to stay – but Lalou will provide him with a new child minder.

DoP Simon Beaufils make use of an expressive colour palette, giving the narrative a distinct visual appeal. Depardieu and Lukumuena are both subtle and understated in their roles, even though the French star sometimes struggles to stay within “a mere human range”. Robust makes a welcome addition to the sub-genre of “odd couple” features in a humanistic and entertaining observation of human frailties. AS

ON RELEASE DIGITALLY FROM 22 JULY 2022

Ithaka (2021)

Dir.: Ben Lawrence; Documentary with John Shipton, Stella Moris, Ai Weiwei, Vivienne Westwood, John Pilger, Nils Melzer; Australia/UK 2021, 104 min.

The contraversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (*1971) is the subject of this new documentary that takes the first lines of the titular 1911 poem by Greek writer Constantine Cavafy as its motto: As you set out for Ithaca /hope that your journey is a long one/full of adventure, full of discovery”.

Assange could not have asked for more: his discoveries are the stuff of nightmares, and the revenge of the governments he exposed has landed him in Britain’s High Security prison Belmarsh where he has languished for the last three years, actually managing to marry while in captivity: quite a feat for most people, particularly those accused of rape. Anyone who saw Laura Poitras’ hagiographic biopic Risk (2016/7) will have made up their minds about Assange’s persuasive powers where women are concerned, but Lawrence casts no judgement here, keeping his distance. An extradition order from the USA is pending, with British home secretary Priti Patel only too willing to oblige.

We meet Assange’s wife, the lawyer Stella Moris, at the unveiling of a statue of her husband in Geneva in November 2021. “I am here to remind you that Julian isn’t a name, he isn’t a symbol, he is a man and he is suffering”.

The couple have two young children, both conceived at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange stayed between 2012 and 2019. There is CCTV footage from the embassy, showing Assange and Moris, the former skate-boarding in his room. A guard warned Moris that the footage was to be sent to the US secret service every fortnight – Moris stopped visiting Assange. She also learned there were plans to poison her husband. The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Nils Melzer said “Torture is a tool used as a warning to others. It’s most effective when inflicted in public. In Julian’s case it’s about intimidating everyone else”. In this particular case it was Chelsea Manning, ex-US officer, who blew the whistle on Afghan war crimes by the US Army, and went to prison, to avoid talking about Assange’s part in the operation after she found out that Assange was depressed, and suffered a ‘mini’ stroke in Belmarsh Prison.

The time at the embassy coincides more or less with the Swedish Justice system accusing Assange of sexual assault, a charge bought forward by two Swedish women in 2010. In 2019 the case was dismissed, due to the long intervening period since the original accusation.

Besides Moris, Assange’s main defender is his father John Shipton (76), who travels the world in search of a positive solution to the case, neglecting his own five-year old daughter in Australia. John stepped out of Julian’s live when he letter was three, but re-entered when John was in his early twenties. John is tired, so much time is lost for him and his daughter Severine. He likens Lawrence to “Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor”. “He keeps burrowing away”.

On January 10th 2022, the UK High Court ruled Assange could be extradited to the USA, overturning a Lower Court ruling from 2021. On March 3rd of this year, the High Court refused Assange permission to appeal. On June 17th 2022 Priti Patel, UK Home Secretary, approved the extradition order. Two weeks later Assange and his team appealed against the extradition order. The war in the Ukraine has led to strong statements in the western media. It is perhaps helpful to remember that one of the WikiLeaks posted on 12.7.2007 concerned the killing of journalist Namir Noor-Eidsen and Saeed Chmagh, who were shot dead from the air by a US helicopter.

A strong score by Brian Eno helps to round off this passionate plea for a man who, according to Melzer, “never wanted to be in the spotlight”. AS

ON ITV on 21 May 2023

Death of a Ladies Man (2020)

Dir/Wri: Matt Bissonnette | Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Jessica Pare, Brian Gleeson, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilor, Karelle Tremblay | US Drama, 100′

To the dulcet tones of Leonard Cohen this familiar but feisty love story sizzles with mischievous humour courtesy of veteran Irish star Gabriel Byrne. 

Poetry professor Samuel O’Shea (Byrne) is one of those men who feels the need to chat up every woman he meets – in a well-intentioned way that inevitably leads to love and romance. Now past his prime and feeling dejected due to his wife’s infidelity and a recent cancer diagnosis he takes refuge in the bottle and decides to devote more of his time to his two adult children Layton (Pilor) and Josee (Tremblay) who are both facing difficult choices. But despite all this Samuel will soon embark on yet another flirtation, with another much young woman (Jessica Pare). Once again, falling in love – rather than facing his demons – is his default position.

Writer-director Matthew Bissonnette sets a melancholic tone with a score of memorable hits by Leonard Cohen that works well with the film’s Montreal and Dublin settings. The script is insightful and full of witty one-liners with its reflections on modern life and the generational divide but there are some rather odd interludes where Bissonnette attempts to liven things up with impromptu dance sequences involving the entire cast. Byrne is a charismatic class act perfectly capable of carrying a film without the additional dramatic device of casting a much younger actor as his old dad back from the grave to provide advice and insight from the past, although Brian Gleeson offers sanguine support as the father in question. MT

OUT ON THE 22 JULY 2022

The Wizard of Mars (1965)

Dir: David L Hewitt | Cast: John Carradine, Roger Gentry, Vic McGee, Jerry Rannow, Eve Bernhardt  | US SciFi, 78’

Without its absurd title this strange little film might have been taken more seriously. As it was, knowing that it was supposedly based on The Wizard of Oz, instead of placidly accepting this film as a sort of ‘Z’ budget precursor of The Martian, I instead sat through fully two thirds of its running time wondering when John Carradine was going to show up in order to justify its catchpenny title. It actually seems to owe at least as much to C.S.Lewis, and the ruined city at the end reminded me more of Charn in The Magician’s Nephew than the Emerald City.

Considering that David Hewitt was just 25 when he made this on a tiny budget estimated at just $33,000, it’s certainly nowhere near the embarrassment that John Boorman’s pretentious bore ‘Zardoz’ (which also derived its title from The Wizard of Oz) was ten years later. Handsomely photographed in Deluxe Color by Austin McKinney, it also has an interesting electronic score by Frank A. Coe; but any director who employs Tom Graeff (who directed Teenagers from Outer Space) as his editor and Forrest J.Ackerman his Technical Adviser is asking for trouble! For much of its running time it feels like a foreign film dubbed into English which has had its plot amended in the process; and according to her daughter, Eve Bernhardt as ‘Dorothy’ was indeed redubbed after a spat between her and Roger Gentry after he made a pass at her while they were on location, which might account for her being billed fourth in much smaller letters than her male co-stars. Bernhardt is an extremely beautiful woman, and refreshingly she’s portrayed as just one of the crew rather than made part of a romantic subplot (not that that would have been easy since she spends much of the film inside a spacesuit), but she’s saddled with a whiny little voice that obviously isn’t hers; and with an irritating personality to boot. Apparently, she has also suffered from shoulder and back pain ever since, as a result of spending a month staggering about in an authentic spacesuit and helmet that “weighed a ton”.

As the protagonists escape from the collapsing city at the film’s conclusion, they pass out by the half-buried remains of a red brick road that recalls the gold brick road that had previously led them there. So now I finally know where the Red Brick Road led…! @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

McEnroe (2022)

Dir.: Barney Douglas; Documentary with John McEnroe, Björn Borg, Billie Jean King, Patty Smyth; US/UK 2022, 104 min.

This new documentary about sporting (anti)hero John McEnroe overcomes the limitations of the genre in the same way as breakout hits Senna and Amy. US Writer/director Barney Douglas certainly mines the incendiary potential of his subject matter tennis icon John McEnroe (*1959) who never needs an excuse for his tirades and tantrums on and off court. Old age eventually mellows the star of Centre Court, after 37 psychiatrists, cocaine and countless affairs failed to do so.

John McEnroe won his first Grand Slam at the US Open in New York in 1979, age twenty, by defeating fellow New Yorker and best friend Vitus Gerulaitis; only five years later he would win his last and seventh Grand Slam title on the same ground, beating Ivan Lendl. He retired in 1992 from playing singles, but the question is: what happened in the intervening eight years.

The answer is not an easy one, even though McEnroe confesses: “I may be slightly on the spectrum”. Yes, he was one of the many high-functioning autism cases, always looking for perfection – for himself and others. And when both fell short, he exploded. But there is more to it: namely his relationship with his father John Patrick senior, who was for a long time his manager. When McEnroe junior wanted (needed) a father more than a manager, however successful, he sacked him, creating a lifelong rift. John senior was one of many fathers of his generation who proclaimed truthfully to love their offspring – but were totally unable to show it. Towards the end this father vs son struggle became bitter, with John junior blaming his father for the early death of his mother Katherine (of cancer in 2017); death also claiming her husband in the same year.

John’s marriage with Tatum O’Neal (1986-1994) did not help either – John was not prepared to take second place when it came to their media attention. Gaining custody of the three children from the marriage, his daughter sided with her mother. His 1997 marriage to vocalist Patty Smyth is more peaceful and produced two daughters, Ann and Ava, who also contribute their version of their father’s troubled existence. Björn Borg, who became a close friend after both men retired, and Billie Jean King, tell the story from a sporting point of view. After his retirement in 1992, John pursued the career of a musician, something he had planned with Gerulaitis, who died of carbon-monoxide poising at the age of forty, leaving a big hole in John’s life.

At the end of the day, there are many reasons why John McEnroe did not achieve the long lasting success of Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, who all are still winning at the wrong end of thirty: so far 20+ single titles. Even Pete Sampras has doubled John McEnroe’s record with fourteen grand slams titles; McEnroe not even ranking among the first fifteen of the all time Winners’ List.

DoP Lucas Tucknott really excels in the nighttime visuals in Queens where McEnroe stalks his old stamping grounds, asking and answering some of the questions that still haunt him. Rather like the ‘Flying Dutchman’  he will never really find a peaceful harbour from life’s emotional trials. McENROE, very much an American tragedy: gruelling competition, failed parenthood and the loneliness of a life so long without any real emotional awareness. “My greatest failing – my lack of empathy”, he confesses in the dark shadows of Queens.AS

OUT ON 15 JULY 2022

The Black Phone (2022)

Dir: Scott Derrickson | Cast: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Davies | US Horror, 104′

The Black Phone is set in the early 1970s around the time of Tobe Hooper’s cult classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre and with that same grungy aesthetic – there the similarities end. Derrickson has made some decent movies but this isn’t one of them; a despicable horror outing that follows two kids and their abusive father during the sinister goings in a down-at-heel rural backwater somewhere near Denver.

Bullied at school and beaten by their dad, their mother having committed suicide, Vinny (Thames) and Gwen (McGraw) do their best to survive by giving each other emotional support until Vinny is bundled into a van by a masked weirdo (Hawke) who goes by the name of “The Grabber”. 

Well that’s the first half hour, the remainder of the film descends into a well of psychological torture (for the audience as well as the kids) as spunky Gwen tries to track down her brother, and tough teenager Vinny is forced to endure the nefarious ministerings of Hawke’s uninspiring psycho and a series of silly anonymous calls from the so-called ‘Black Phone’ on the wall of his subterranean padded prison.

The only mystery here is why producers keep funding this kind of drivel. It’s sad, depressing and, worst of all, not even scary and has been done so many times before, and far better. If you don’t nod off early as the narrative torpor drones on, your attention will soon be drifting off to what’s in the fridge for dinner. And the gratuitous physical violence afflicted on Gwen by her deranged father (Davies) is simply inexcusable in a new feature film, given the current climate of hatred women are enduring all over the world. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN NATIONWIDE

Girls About Town (1931)

Dir: George Cukor | US Comedy

More glamorous escapism from the lowest point of the depression, in which the wavishing Kay Fwancis and the amazonian Lilyan Tashman sashay about pursued by Ernest Haller’s sinuous camera-work in nightclubs and on yachts dressed (and undressed) to the nines, or in the palatial bachelor girl pad where they apparently have a foolproof way of denying the sugar daddies they bring back their sugar.

Gifted silent comic Raymond Griffith shares the screenplay credit, and his hand can be discerned in funny business like the hilarious scene on the yacht with the golf balls and the ‘auction’ of Francis’s glad rags at the end (in which a slinkily attired Adrienne Ames and a blonde Claire Dodd are particularly eye-catching among the bidders).

Beneath this hard-boiled coating director George Cukor naturally whips up a soft centre in which Kay falls for handsome hunk Joel McCrea, and Tashman shows herself a tart with a heart by putting her expertise as a gold digger at the disposal of Michigan Copper King Eugene Palette’s neglected wife Lucille Gleason (“He’d never even gave me an engagement ring. I don’t believe he’d have given me a wedding ring, only his mother left him hers when she passed on.”) A touching little gesture probably engineered on the set is that the baby girl introduced to the plot near the end continues holding on to Kay’s pearls after she’s put her down. @Richard Chatten

ON AMAZON DVD

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Dir: Martin Scorsese | US Drama

A stylish, exhilarating film to experience (although hardly – despite the incredible ‘quaaludes’ sequence – three hours worth). Nor is it the first to be called ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. That distinction belongs to a long-lost early talkie starring George Bancroft that opened a few months before the original Wall Street crash of 1929. And the new ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ amply demonstrates that the United States of America has learned absolutely nothing in the intervening ninety years.

DiCaprio acknowledges at one point that the life that he and his cronies lead is unsustainable in the Real World, “but who wants to live there?” This is of course an option denied the colossal army of poor working stiffs (many of them women) with their feet planted firmly on the ground working long hours for peanuts serving as waiters, domestic staff and nurses; as well as manufacturing the sharp suits and industrial-strength quantities of drugs consumed by the leads “sailing a boat fit for a Bond villain”.

This army remains as invisible throughout most of this film as the consumption by the masters they spend their lives servicing and cleaning up after is conspicuous; which graphically demonstrates the harmfulness of giving the predominantly white male parasites who populate this movie “more money than you know what to do with”.

Billionaire conservatives meanwhile continue to lobby tirelessly for tax cuts and sanctimoniously and disingenuously to demand where the money to create adequate universal health cover in the richest nation on Earth would come from. @Richard Chatten

NOW OUT ON QUALITY DIGITAL PLATFORMS

 

Incredible But True (2022)

Dir/Wri: Quentin Dupieux | 
Cast: Alain Chabat, Léa Drucker, Benoît Magimel, Anaïs Demoustier, Stéphane Pezerat
i | France, Comedy 74′

The age of electronic penises has finally arrived according french filmmaker Quentin Dupieux whose latest high-concept absurdist comedy sees two suburban couples trying to turn back the clock and pursue the dream of eternal youth with hilarious and disastrous consequences.

Middle-aged house-hunters Alain (Alain Chabat) and Marie (Léa Drucker) are captivated by a modernist villas in a leafy location near Paris and immediately move in. The house has a life-changing feature in the shape of a trapdoor to the basement: enter and you take three days off your life, while moving 12 hours forward. Marie is sceptical but soon becomes obsessed with going through the trapdoor and gradually the rejuvenating effects are noticeable. Alain struggles on with a difficult client, hoping not to lose his wife to a younger man. Meanwhile his boss and close friend Gérard (a paunchy Benoît Magimel) has an intriguing new toy to play with of his own. Invited chez Alain and Marie with his much younger girlfriend Jeanne (Anaïs Demoustier in bleach blonde mode), the two are desperate to share their cheeky secret about his new Japanese “electronic penis”, remotely operated by an iPhone.

Dupieux – also known as his DJ alter ego Mr Oiseau – certainly has a vivid imagination and his films get weirder and wackier with each passing year, Deerskin and Mandibles being recent examples. But although his ideas are plausible this blend of surreal and lowkey sci-fi feels out of place with the second-rate suburban settings and pedestrian characters, and the punchy plot lines are never full realised as they are for example in comedy sci fi outings such as Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man or the Korean comedy Miss Granny. Incredible But True is light-hearted fun that never takes itself seriously with a few laughs along the way thanks to some strong comedy performances before resorting to ludicrous back-to-back montage sequences in a rushed final showdown. MT

NOW ON MUBI | Berlinale premiere

 

My Old School (2021)

Dir.: Jono McLeod; Cast: Alan Cumming, Clare Grogan, Lulu; UK 2022, 104 min.

Alan Cumming stars in this unconventional documentary about identity and belonging and a man who pretended to be someone else, named the martial arts legend Brandon Lee. Structured in to phases by first time Scottish filmmaker Jono McLeod who revisits his schooldays in an interview with his former classmates and teachers from Bearsden Academy in Glasgow, the 5Cof 1993. The centre of attention is a certain student: Brandon Lee, whose celebrity namesake met his death on set in Hollywood.

This Brandon joined the class late: his mother, an opera singer, had just been killed in Canada in a car accident and Brandon was under the care of his grandmother in Glasgow. Bearsden Academy was as close to a fee paying school as you can get. Little proof of Brandon’s identity was asked required to join the school: just the testaments of private Canadian tutors. But a birth certificate was missing. Headmaster Norman McCloud and his deputy Mrs. Holmes were obviously satisfied. And Brandon’s academic progress gave everyone reason to be happy. He would end up with five straight As, his knowledge of anatomy was so astonishing his biology teacher exclaimed “Brandon teaches me”. Brandon also helped to integrate other students and kept bullies at bay. Even more sensational was his acting, singing – and yes kissing – in the school’s production of “South Pacific”. He was admitted to read Medicine at Dundee University. A fight on a holiday trip with his fellow undergraduated brought the charade to an end: the police found an additional passport on Brandon Lee in the name of Brian MacKinnan. The latter had left Bearsden Academy for Glasgow University to study medicine in 1975.

It turned out Brian, to give him his proper name, had never been to Canada. His mother, posing as his grandmother, had been the motivation for his quest to become a doctor at all costs. After the death of his father – Brian used the family bereavement to skip a tricky physics test – Brian and his mother had plotted even harder to make his second chance a success: In Glasgow, he had been released for lack of progress in his first year.

After all this came to light Dundee expelled him, and he knew no university would take him on as by now he was over thirty, the cut off point for medical students in the UK. Now 58, Brian is not so keen on publicity; he requested that the actor Alan Cumming should lip read his answers to McLeod’s questions.

The most interesting aspect of MyOld School are the interviews with the anti-hero’s former class mates, the range of opinions differing very strongly. His co-lead in “South Pacific” finds it rather “icky” to learn that as a sixteen-year old she had been kissed by a man of thirty-two in public.

DoP George Geddes combines interviews, TV archive material and animation (Rory Lowe, Scott Morris) into a very lively watch. McLeod has skilfully assembled a study about time, memory and the way we are all unreliable narrators when our past is concerned. AS

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 19 August 2022

Wayfinder (2021)

Dir: Larry Achiampong; Cast: Perside Rodgrigues; UK 2022, 83 min.

Wayfinder is British-Ghanaian artist Larry Achiampong’s first feature, a more poetic and languid version of an unfinished project, based on series of apocalyptic cartoons where isolated figures walked through a torrid landscape, breathing filtered air.

In Wayfinder the wanderer is called Perside (Rodrigues) and she crosses England from Hadrian’s Wall to Margate, the freewheeling narrative touching on cultural heritage, exclusion and displacement, with regional aspects replacing a nationwide view of conflicts, current and historical. On her journey Perside visits a housing estate in Wolverhampton, a cafe in Bethnal Green, the National Gallery at night, and a fun fair in Margate. In Bethnal Green pays her last respects to a friend, and discovers that the longest surviving building is a funeral parlour, dating back some 200 years. Letting agencies and health food shops have replaced the old-fashioned outlets of her youth. Back then the Blair mirage of “Education, Education” was paramount and when she finished university with her siblings the three of them went straight to the local job Centre after the graduation ceremony. Their mother had bought a flat, hoping that her children would be able to pay off the mortgage. In reality it was bought by a wealthy man for his daughter who was studying from abroad. And while home pays and important element in all the segments, ambiguity overlays any identification. This is a Britain which is not only punished by the epidemic. Achiampong’s visionary outlook catches all the small details without losing the overview. AS

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 1 JULY 2022

Elvis (2022)

Dir.: Baz Luhrmann; Cast: Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Kodi Smit McPhee, Richard Roxburgh; US/Australia 2022, 159 min.

Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977) was – and still is – the most successful recording artist on this planet, so hiring Baz Luhrmann, well known for his baroque output, to make a film of the entertainer’s life, and turn in a handsome profit seemed like a brilliant idea.

But casting Tom Hanks as the singer’s gambling, cheating and lying manager Colonel Tom Parker put Austin Butler’s Presley at a glaring disadvantage. Parker, who voices the linear narrative, is also a rather unreliable witness to the story; Butler is certainly entertaining and charismatic as the titular hero, but does he do a convincing job as the hip-swivelling legend? Let’s just say few performers would have fared better opposite a behemoth like Hanks. Olivia DeJonge, as Elvis’ wife Priscilla, is even more short-changed: she brings up their daughter and suffers in silence, while her husband shags and devours pills like candies. And no mention is made of her being a teen bride; Priscilla was fourteen when she met the twenty-four-year-old Elvis for the first time in 1959.

The writers offer no real explanation as to why Elvis left for the army as a rebel in 1958, only to return two years later his bad boy instincts buttoned down. Amateur psychology is used to lay the blame on the shady Parker and his greed – we are led to believe the scrupulous manager of dubious Dutch origins had a hold over Elvis using the star as a cash cow to payoff his own mounting debts. Presley’s father Vernon (Roxburgh) was a weak role model and ended up in jail. Elvis’ actress mother Gladys (Thomson) is also just an underwritten sketch.

Luhrmann dishes up the legend’s mammoth musical history in all its glittering details weaving in a strand about his formative musical associations with the  segregated black artists Little Richard and Mahalia Jackson who lend vibrance to the story. DoP Mandy Walker, who worked with Luhrmann on Australia, pulls out all the stops in a biopic that runs for nearly three hours. Rather than zero-in on a pivotal era of the star’s career, Luhrmann merely touches on his entire life, and any depth or resonance is lost in the cacophony of flashing lights and noise.

Behind the cinematic showcase lies a hollow heart. Luhrmann, an obsessive showman himself, again goes overboard with his obsession for split screens in another sparkling montage that will satisfy the lowest common denominator. But having spent all his budget on appearances there’s nothing left for the script. The story is a classic but the straightforward chronicle approach takes away the element of surprise leaving us with an ‘all singing all dancing’ cabaret showpiece that ends in tears; a burnished biopic to please the investors rather than arthouse enthusiasts with discerning minds. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM JUNE 24TH 2022

It Snows in Benidorm (2021)

Dir/Wri: Isabelle Coixet | Cast: Timothy Spall, Sarita Choudhury, Carmen Machi, Pedro Casablanc | Spain Drama, 117′

Lost souls are marooned in an artificial ‘paradise’ in this meandering drama from Catalan writer director Isabelle Coixet.

The best thing about It Snows in Benidorm is Timothy Spall who carries the film with a permanently perplexed and world weary expression as Peter Riordan, a kindly but disillusioned bank clerk given early retirement when his ethics fall out of favour with the bank’s modern approach to lending.

Peter, also a keen meteorologist, heads off to Spain to visit his brother Daniel who he hasn’t seen for years, and who never appears either, providing the first in a long list of unanswered questions in this overlong and often farcical feature with its stagey internal scenes set against the towering skyscrapers of its panoramic backdrop of the Costa Blanca. Benidorm emerges a touristy retirement backwater for garishly dressed hysterical pensioners on their second lease of life; a sunny place for shady Spaniards, as Somerset Maugham who say, where people regularly disappear into its criminal underworld.

The dispeptic Peter does find love of sorts in burlesque dancer Sarita Choudhury who fails to bring out the humanity in the lonely ‘Pearl’ resigned to a life of displacement after a questionable past. Peter discovers his brother was embroiled in dodgy dealings in the property market, and ends up in a phoney kidnap attempt courtesy of Daniel’s business partner Esteban Campos (Casablanc) a longtime lamb butcher hellbent on making a killing of a different kind. There’s also a part for Almodovar regular Carmen Machi as the spunky seaside police chief: an awkward scene involving a tryst with her muscled young lover feels ridiculous.

Coixet has had some successes in her long career but with Snows it looks like she made a list of socially relevant themes to be incorporated into her storyline, and they crop up in offbeat scenes that sit incoherently alongside the main thrust of the narrative – the search for Daniel – robbing the piece of a much needed dramatic tension, rather like the adverts on TV. Whether It Snows in Benidorm is meant to be a dark comedy, or a comedy of manners, is unclear but it doesn’t succeed as either. And as the story draws to its cryptic conclusion we are left as uninspired and perplexed as Peter himself. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 23 `June 2022.

 

 

 

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Men (2021)

Dir: Alex Garland | Cast: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinear, Paapa Essiedu | US Fantasy horror

English director Alex Garland (Annihilation) dices with horror and comedy in his weird and wonderful hybrid set in a picturesque village in the depths of the English countryside where the male of the species appears in various guises – none of them favourable.

A secluded English country house with manicured gardens should be the perfect place to recuperate for a woman whose ex husband (Essiedu) has just committed suicide. But the Herefordshire hideaway where Harper (Buckley) seeks solace is more akin to the sinister Cornish village of The Wicker Man , and the owner, Geoffrey (Kinnear), an uppercrust oddball, is a dead ringer for TVs Harry Enfield complete with buck teeth and dandruff and a penchant for cavorting stark naked in the grounds. Other incarnations in his repertoire include the famous ‘loadsa money’ lookalike; a leery, misogynist vicar; and a schoolboy who looks like Anthony’s Hopkins’ puppet Corky from Magic.

Clearly Garland had a big budget to throw at this production that takes a tokenistic swipe at toxic masculinity, and gives lip service to domestic violence. But it does no favours for Jessie Buckley who is left incredulously hung out to dry with her character, a ballsy career woman who feels completely out of place in this meaningless ‘Midsomer Murders’ style charade, she seems to be in a different film.

For a time Buckley lends credibility to the film’s initial shock value but then our patience wears thin as Kinnear gets the more gratifying job of pulling different disguises out of his pantomime box of tricks. The overriding comedy element soon punches a hole in any vestigial tension the film has tried to instil, leaving Harper’s tragic backstory somehow diminished by the garish absurdity of the rest of the antics, and leaving us not sure whether to laugh or scream. A bizarre but watchable film. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 3 JUNE 2022 

 

The Night of the 12th (2022)

Dir: Dominik Moll | Cast: Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners, Théo Cholbi, Johann Dionnet, Thibaut Evrard, Julien Frison, Paul Jeanson, Mouna Soulam, Pauline Serieys, Anouk Grinberg, Lula Cotton Frapier | Thriller 114′

Dominik Moll’s memorable arthouse drama goes to intriguing places with a realistic and richly crafted narrative more focused on the moods and motivations of its authentic characters that the whodunnit at its core. Even though The Night of the 12th is an inconclusive crime drama it leaves you with a feeling of calm satisfaction rather than jangled nerves.

On the way home from a girls’ get together Clara (Lula Cotton Frapier) is.torched to death in an otherwise peaceful village in the suburbs of Grenoble. An extensive police investigation fails to flush out her murderer but in the process we are introduced to the local French detectives Bastien Bouillon (Yohan) and Bouli Lanners (Marceau) playing a rookie and hardened duo whose personal lives add valuable insight to the police procedural by exploring the wider implications of this violent murder in the context of contemporary attitudes towards women in France.

Moll and his regular co-writer Gilles Marchand base their script on a section of Pauline Guéna’s essay novel “18.3 – Une année à la PJ, Paris” that deals with this real crime but translocates the action to southeastern France. The remoteness of the mountain setting thrusts our focus onto the intense exchanges between Marceau and Yohan, and adds a scenic allure to the internal scenes of the police procedural with its acerbic macho observations of modern life and the eternal ongoing conflict between the sexes.

Marceau, whose wife has just left him, is increasingly disenchanted by the modern world; the lack of romanticism and culture amongst the young, and their glib attitude towards relationships. This spills over into his dealings with the various suspects, and he eventually retires from the case. But Yohan is the most mesmerising of the two; a deep thinker quietly fascinated by his work and the people he comes into contact with, especially his new colleague Nadia (Soualem) who brings her female gaze to the investigation:”men are often the perpetrators and women the targets” and the local judiciary judge, Anouk Grinberg, sublime in a cameo role. MT

NOW ON BFI SUBSCRIPTION | VOTED BEST FILM BEST DIRECTOR, BEST FILM, BEST NEWCOMER, BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, BEST SOUND+ BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | CESAR AWARDS |

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Casablanca Beats (2021)

Dir/Wri.: Nabil Ayouch, Cast: Anas Basbousi, Ismail Adouab, Amina Kannan, Meriem Nekkach, Nouhaila Arif, Zineb Boujemaa, Samah Barigou, Abdelilah Basbousi, Maha Menan, Mehdi Razzouk, Marwa Kniniche, Soufiane Belali, Zineb Boujemaa; Morocco/France 2021, 101 min.

French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch is no stranger to controversy: His feature Much Loved about prostitution in his home country was banned, and Horses of God is a sober fictionalisation of the the suicide bombing that killed 33 people in Sidi Moumen, a deprived neighbourhood in Casablanca.

Ayoch has returned to Sidi Moumen with CASABLANCA BEATS, the first Moroccan feature in competition at Cannes since 1962. An uplifting story of local teenagers, uses rap and hip hop to hit back at the male-dominated set-up, and the religious bigotry that condones it. All actors are playing out their own lives with Anas Basbousi being the central character. Basbousi is a rapper, who founded the ‘Positive School’ in a cultural centre in Sidi Moumen where he clashes with the leader who feels his progressive style of music will alienate the centre from the rest of the community. In real life, Ayouch was instrumental in setting up the cultural Centre ‘Les Etoiles’ in Sidi Moumen back in 2014, together with author Mahi Binebine, on whose novel ‘Les Etoiles de Sidi Moumen’ Horses of God was based.

“Hip hop is an art form”, exclaims Anas, but not everyone shares his enthusiasm. It certainly proves to be a divisive art form, particularly for the parents of teenager Maha Menan who protest “Not for us”, as they drag their daughter out of the centre. Meriem Nekkach’s brother even tries to prevent her visits. But her counter attack makes things clear: “For you, women are slaves/It makes me sick/For you, being a man, means dominating us/look at our mother in chains/never had a voice, and never complained. While all this is happening the male religious enforcers (known at The “Beards”) patrol the streets extolling the teachings of the Quran: “Everything that lures us from God’s path is a sin”.

But the dance craze is refusing to back down. More centres along the lines of the Sidi Moumen “Positive School”, have now been stablished in Morocco, and Casablanca Beats’ main dancers, Ismail and Mehdi have now turned semi-professional. The film comes to a head with the long anticipated ‘big concert’, which should have won over hearts and minds – but ends in a violent confrontation with the “Beards” and their supporters, leaving Anas’ future in the balance.

This effervescent feature fizzes with fun thanks to the lively camerawork of Amine Messadi and Virginie Surdej. Casablanca Beats is not simply a North African version of the Bronx or Paris sub-culture, but an indigenous approach to rap/hip hop artists, defined by the fighting spirit of a youth rising up against a repressive and often violent parental and authoritarian regime. In true Middle Eastern style Casablanca Beats is a feisty but fervent hymn to music, life and love. AS

IN CINEMAS AND ON CURZON HOME  FROM FRIDAY 29 APRIL 2022

Atabai (2021)

Dir.: Niki Karimi; Cast: Hadi Hejazifar, Sahar Dolatshahi, Javaad Ezzati, Danial Noorvash, Yousefali Daryadel, Mahlagha Meynoosh, Masoumeh Robaninia; Iran 2020, 106 min.

The Iranian countryside is the setting for this visually vibrantly but brooding feature that sees modern and traditional values colliding for Kazem (co-writer Had Hejazifar) a middle-aged man who left university without completing his architecture studies, and is now designing holidays villas for the rich and powerful who he desperately resents.

Kazem often resorts to physical violence, his secretive past seems more meaningful to than the present and he has not moved emotionally after an unhappy relationship during his student years, although he has changed his name from Atabai. He has never forgotten Sima, the most attractive woman on campus, and has not been able to have another relationship since their break-up.

Kazem’s emotional centre is his nephew Aydin (Noorvash), but he is unaware of  repressing the teenager, who has internalised his uncle as a Super Ego. Aydin has grown fond of Jeyran (Robaninia), but  is much more interested in the much older Kazem: “Marry me and get me out of this village” she implores Kazem,  Kazem’s relationship with his own father (Daryadel) is fraught to say the least. It will get even worse, when Kazem learns, that his father has sold an orchard to the realtor Parviz, whom Kazem blames for the death of his sister Farokhlagha, who set fire to herself at the age of fifteen. Kazem explodes, blaming his father for “selling” his daughter to a man of his own age, to pay for his opium habit. Parviz has two daughters, Sima (Dolatshahi) and the much younger Simin (Meynoosh), who are on a visit to the orchard. Aydin falls for Sima, but ends up at the wrong end of Kazem’s violent tantrums: “You have disgraced the family, this man murdered my sister”. But then, the wife of Yahya (Ezzati) dies, and Kazem and the bereaved husband, best friends for a long time, have the first serious talk for years. We learn, that Yahya had a relationship with Farokhlagha, with Kazem making sure, that the two could meet in secret. When Yahya told Farokhlagha, that he would marry his cousin, she told him, that she would commit suicide by setting fire to herself; with everybody believing, that she killed herself it to escape Parviz. Both men have much soul searching to do, particularly Kazem, who is falling in love with Sima, who by coincidence, shares the first name with Kazem’s great love. But will he be able to care more for the present than the past?

DoP Saman Lotfian has created a wide-ranging palette of colours for the outside action, whilst his close-ups of the the heavy emotional battles are set against the background of a landscape, which is never idealised. Somehow, the two go together, and Kazem finds no solace in being home – still hankering for Tehran. Karimi is very self assured regarding the aesthetically choices, but she is overloading the feature with too man conflicts; ATABAI does not always flow easily, and one has the feeling of an overly constructed structure. Still, it is a well worth a watch. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 6 MAY 2022

https://youtu.be/MH-12ucYM5I

The Northman (2022)

Dir.: Robert Eggers; Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawks, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, Björk, Oscar Novak; USA 2022, 136 min.

After his breakout success with The Witch and impressive follow-up The Lighthouse, the main problem with Robert Eggers’ latest – a violent Viking drama set in AD895 – is that it’s not weird enough. Yes, blood and gore will satisfy the aficionados of the sub-genre; and a dash of magic and some warmed-up Shakespeare, with the anti-hero Amleth (Skarsgard) impersonating the Bard’s Danish prince, although less reflective and more prone to spontaneous combustion. The cast is certainly up to it and Jarin Blaschkeof of Lighthouse fame does a brilliant job with the images but The Northman suffers the fate of most auteur-driven vehicles. Once the auteur is no longer in the driving seat the vision is lost in a big studio blowout that careens all over the place at two hours plus.

After returning home from a war to his Queen Gudrun (Kidman), King Aurvandil (Hawk) joins his son Amleth (Norvak) to celebrate victory with ferocious farting match as they impersonate wild dogs (a recurring motif). But the jubilation is short-lived when the King’s brother Fjölnir (Bang), murders Aurvandil in full sight of the boy who escapes and flees the country only to return as a fully-fledged fighter (Skarsgard). Having been sold into slavery by his uncle and mother – now an item – he falls for love interest Olga of the birch forest (Taylor-Joy), and soon turns the tables on Fjölnir spilling family secrets in a revenge-fuelled furore that culminates in a lava-spitting volcano at the Gates of Hell.

A cast of big names appear in cameos: Willem Dafoe has fun as court jester Heimir the Fool, and Björk warns of things to comes as eerie eye-less witch. There is a Valkyrie riding across the sky on a horse – again counterpointing the terrifying violence of spilled guts, death by fire and multiple mutilations. Perhaps the key to Eggers’ approach lies in an early scene when Aurvandil has returned and Queen Gudrun invites him to bed. But the King is too proud to admit he is wounded, and instead of conjugal sex teams up with his son for a bloody bonding session where Amleth watches his father’s intestines morph into a magical tree crawling up into the sky. Later we will see Amleth repeating his father’s penchant for toxic male activities in place of female company. Eggers struggles to close the gap between supernatural magic and an expensive conventional Viking noir adventure. One big question hangs over this overstuffed mainstream production: what would the beast look like had Eggers’ had full control of its reins?. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 APRIL 2022

The World of Yesterday | Le Monde d’Hier (2022)

Wri/Dir: Diasteme | Lea Drucker, Denis Podalydes, Benjamin Biolay, Alban Lenoir, Thierry Godard | France, Drama 90′

Elisabeth de Raincy, the French President, has decided to withdraw from political life. Three days before the first round of the presidential election, she learns from her Secretary-General, Franck L’Herbier, that a scandal on a Russian news site will splash her designated successor and propel the right-wing candidate into the Elysée. They have three days to change the course of History.

Inspired by Stefan Zweig’s 1934 novel depicting the stability of the Austro Hungarian empire before the catastrophe of the First World War, this tense political character drama co-written by niche French director Diasteme (French Blood) is a timely reminder of how history repeats itself particularly with the French general elections coming to a head with the threat of major change.

Essentially a three hander this plush and persuasive political thriller unfolds in the elegant surround of the Elysee Palace where de Raincy – an impressive Lea Drucker – is concerned with her political past and her teenage daughter’s need for attention too as she faces difficult choices in a world that is clearly dying out. MT

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

Notre Dame on Fire | Notre Dame Brule (2022)

Dir: Jean Jacques Annaud | France, Docudrama 120′

Veteran filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud pulls out all the stops for this incendiary  docudrama that offers a blow-by-blow reenactment of the thrilling events leading up to the tragic fire that partially destroyed Paris Notre Dame Cathedral during 24 hours in the spring of 2019.

Tracing back to the human error that set the blaze in motion, the film also shows how La Brigade Des Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris (also known as the fire brigade) eventually quelled the flames and saved the iconic Christian monument – that took 182 years to build – from total destruction.

Notre Dame on Fire is a lavishly mounted epic that plays out like a thriller in revealing the perfect storm that leads to the climax. What’s crucial is the way Annaud and his writer Thomas Bidegain (A Prophet) – whose script rather overdoes the melodrama – show just how close Paris came to having its majestic Gothic centrepiece reduced to rubble in a fire that could have obliterated the cultural and religious touchstone of many a film and novel, Victor Hugo’s hunchback the most memorable.

Occasionally veering into dialogue as clunky as the blocks of limestone that bolster the cathedral’s foundations Notre Dame certainly makes for compulsive viewing with its blend of genuine footage – made up of government drones, TV clips, and mobile phones – and the imagined drama that follows the race to save not only the edifice but the priceless religious relics: a crown of thorns believed to be the original from the Crucifixion and a nail from the True Cross. They are locked away in a hidden safe, but the mystery that drives the action forward is – who has the key?

The dramatic scenes of the roaring inferno are brilliantly handled by DoP Jean-Marie Dreujou and production designer Jean Rabasse who has incorporated replica sets, which were subjected to fierce but controlled flames, and these impart an authenticity that is really impressive. The cast and crew had to wear real fire-fighting gear capable of withstanding temperatures of 1300° F. The fiercest parts of the blaze are the choreographed highlights in the belfry and the transept, and catastrophic collapse of the spire as it comes crashing down into the nave. A fascinating true story which makes for a visually exciting spectacle.

IN CINEMAS FROM 22 JULY 2022

Hide and Seek (2021)

Dir.: Victoria Fiore; Documentary; UK/Italy 2021,85 min.

In the back streets of Naples’ ‘Spanish Quarter’, Entoni dreams of Gomorra. First time filmmaker Victoria Firore follows into teenaghood charting his descent into juvenile prison.

Entoni is just ten when we see him burning down Christmas trees and other petty crimes with his older friend Dylan. His grandmother Dora, is no stranger to crime, a former member of the Camorra she provides the key to Entoni’s past, forced into a life of crime when her husband went to prison. And so did her daughter Natalie when Entoni’s father was given a long-term sentence. Like father like son, crime is endemic in the local community, normal territory for these boys. For Dylan and Entoni this is par for the course. “Boys without fathers grow up angry”, according to Dora. Entoni’s younger brother Gaetano is only too willing to take on the mantel of crime – as we discover in the post credits.

Young Entoni already has a reputation: “Don’t bring Entoni here, he will hurt you”, is the word on the street. A local mother blames the movies: “They copy what they see in  films.” On the radio, a serious voice talks about taking the guardianship away from parents who are involved with the Mafia. Meanwhile Dora does a Tarot to predict Entoni’s future, and the future is not bright.

In a disused jail, Dylan and Entoni talk about their favourite film, surprisingly Titanic. Dora reflect; “We sin, because we have to survive”. Her husband told her he was on drugs when Natalie was seven months old. Stealing was her only way to survive, her husband dying in jail. He had some form of cancer, and when Natalie saw him for the last time, he was like a skeleton, and she was never the same again. Watching a procession, Entoni muses,” in ten years I will be twenty-two and married”.

To avoid Nisida juvenile prison, the authorities decide to put Entoni in a reform school – But Entoni has no intention of staying: “when put him into a reform school before, he was back home earlier than we were”, comments Natalie. Entoni seems to prefer the  countryside to the city, and there are some shot of him wandering around looking vaguely calm. During a visit to his father’s prison, he waves his bandera frantically. But his imprisonment in Nisida comes earlier than expected, setting the tone for the rest of his young years. Is seems the die is cast for these boys: “We are the kids from the Quarter, to hell with everyone else. Prions are always with us. Entoni is always with us.”

Fiore, who grew up in Naples, maintains her distance never sensationalising the boys’ sell-induced tragedy, conveying the inevitability of it all in a lowkey empathy but never sympathy. AS

NASCONDINO (Hide & Seek) – in UK cinemas from January 20th 2023 |  CPH:DOX PREMIERE

Midnight (2021)

Wri/Dir: Kwon Oh-Seung | South Korea, Thriller 103′

An impressive first film for South Korea’s Kwon Oh-Seung highlighting his country’s negative attitudes towards women and the less able in a really tense cat and mouse thriller.

Kyung Mi (Jin Ki-joo), a deaf woman, is attacked in a crowded street when she goes to the assistance of another young woman, onlookers siding with the assailant (serial killer) Do Shik (Wi Ha-Joon) and viewing her cries for help as female histrionics – or even a tantrum.

The implication here is that these two women really shouldn’t really be out and about after dark. But putting misogyny aside for the moment, the film inadvertently sheds a grim light on the male characters: a control freak brother and an outright killer.

Kyung Mi and her mother may be aurally challenged but they certainly make up for it with their courage and resourcefulness refusing to be put down despite their impairments, without coming over as self-pitying. The director makes clever uses of a soundscape that imagines the world from the POV of the hard of hearing and that is its selling point, despite the rather trite finale. MT

Midnight is released on 14 March on digital platforms courtesy of EUREKA

The Audition | Das Vorspiel (2021)

Dir.: Ina Weisse; Cast: Nina Hoss, Simon Abkarian, Jens Albinus, Ilja Monti, Serafin Mishiev, Sophie Rois, Thomas Thieme; France/Germany 2019, 99 min.

Nina Hoss brings her signature style to this muted portrait of middle age crisis from German director Ina Weisse (The Architect).

Suffering from a debilitating illness Anna (Hoss) has been forced to give up her career as a concert violinist and relegated to teaching at Berlin’s famous Conservatoire. A star pupil  Alexander (Monti) becomes the focus of emotional energy as her private life spins out of control. In the throes of an affair with colleague Christian (Albinus) she desperately tests her marriage to bewildered husband Philippe (Abkarian), a craftsman, and over-pressurises her son Jonas (Mishiev) into learning to play the violin.

Borrowing heavily from Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher and Denis Dercourt’s La Tourneuse de Pages, Weisse fails to put her personal stamp on the feature but Hoss gives a resonating performance channelling her angst into all the other characters without resorting to the histrionics Anna clearly feels inside. There are some really taut scenes particularly one where she plays in Christian’s string quartet with disastrous results.

Anna has clearly been affected by her over-achieving parents and she reprimands her draconian father during a terse set-to at a family get together when he tries to discipline Jonas. A dramatic finale follows Alexander’s titular audition, but somehow we feel shortchanged by the outcome. AS

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

 

The Loneliest Whale (2021)

Dir: Joshua Zeman | US Doc 96′

A stunningly photographed eco documentary that sets out to track the largest and most lonesome sea mammal, accidentally discovered through naval sonar during Cold War reconnaissance in 1989.

The whale – known as 52 for its unique-to-whale frequency of 52 hertz – has never actually been seen by a human being but marine mammal bioacoustics specialist William Watkins determined to put ‘a face to a name’. He searched for the creature for over a decade after its calls went unanswered suggesting it could be the only one of its kind.

The New York Times picked up the story in 2004 and it captured the public imagination with its relatable tale of loneliness and romantic disillusionment for a loveless creature travelling the vast oceans desperate to find a mate. Documentarian Joshua Zeman was also intrigued and got together with the team of marine specialists determined to find answers in a voyage of discovery that would be a drop in the ocean towards uncovering another of nature’s mysteries. MT

ON RELEASE from 4 April 2022

 

 

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Vanity Fair (1932)

Dir: Chester M Franklin | Cast: Myrna Loy, Walter Byron, Barbara Kent, Conway Tearle | US Drama 78’

When she played Becky Sharp, Myrna Loy was still a couple of years away from her breakthrough role as Nora Charles in The Thin Man, which overnight established her as Hollywood’s most charismatic female star of the thirties. Her elevation to the ‘A’ list in 1934 almost exactly coincided with the introduction of the dreaded new Hays Code, which had profound consequences, as the Charles’s were never again to be such heavy drinkers, and the newly elevated Myrna the Perfect Wife was to be an entirely different entity from the gold digging tramps as which the pre-Code Myrna had until now tended to be typecast. The latter was far closer to the woman she actually was, but the former are not surprisingly much more fun to watch when the opportunity now arises – which is far too seldom. And is what makes Vanity Fair so tantalising.

Even in her star vehicles Myrna was rarely the focus of things; and had she played one of literature’s most celebrated vixens in this modernised Vanity Fair in a production properly mounted by MGM (in the sort of slinky backless gowns currently being designed by Adrian for Norma Shearer) it could have been a powerhouse showcase for Loy in her nubile young prime. The screenplay by F.Hugh Herbert does a creditable job of compressing the bare bones of the novel into just 73 minutes; and Loy is surrounded by a pretty good supporting cast (turning her mercenary charms on a trio of randy old goats played by Billy Bevan, Lionel Belmore and Montague Love). But unfortunately for Myrna, what could have been her big break was made on loan-out in just ten days for a poverty row outfit called Allied Pictures and creaks badly.

Miriam Hopkins made a far less appealing Becky three years later, but was backed by an opulent Technicolor production with all the trimmings; which although post-Code also permitted her a more upbeat fate than that suffered here by poor Myrna. @RichardChatten

The Third Man (1949)

Dir: Carol Reed | Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Ernst Deutsch | UK Thriller

It’s a sign of what happened to the cinema between 1950 and 1980 that if a film had come out thirty years after The Third Man with Joseph Cotton, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles in the cast you’d have known it would be garbage; but in the forties the result was pure gold.

Harry Lime’s speech about the cuckoo clock always seemed to me just sophistry and his remark about people being just dots to him reveals that he’s a sociopath for all of his charm; which necessitated him (SPOILER COMING:) killing the film’s most likeable character to justify his comeuppance (a moment that always comes as a shock to me no matter how many times I see it).

Although it seems starkly realistic, The Third Man is a triumph of artifice, since Welles is only in the film for about ten minutes (he wasn’t actually in Vienna for much longer, which is why you so seldom see his breath in closeups). The sewers in Vienna don’t actually provide the unbroken passage throughout the city the film so vividly suggests and the famous final shot in the cemetery wasn’t shot by Oscar-winning cameraman Robert Krasker, but an uncredited Hans Schneeburger (who did get a credit a few years later for his second unit work on Carol Reed’s The Man Between).

The opening narration by the way (only heard in the British version) is by director Reed himself (who’s fingers are seen coming through the grill at the climax). And two of my favourite moments belong to Bernard Lee: his admiration for the craftsmanship that went into Valli’s forged documents and his reassurance when reading through her love letters, “That’s all right miss, we’re used to it. Like doctors”. @RichardChatten

NOW ON BBC IPLAYER

Psycho (1960)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | Cast: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles | Thriller 109′

Herschel Gordon Lewis used to boast that his films where the first in which people died with their eyes open; but that’s precisely how the first victim ends up here.

One of only two films Hitchcock made in black & white after 1953 (which probably accounts for it’s relative eclipse by Vertigo in recent years), it demonstrates that a cheap horror movie can reach the heights if made by people with talent; witness Bernard Herrmann’s pulsating all-string score and a script that includes lines like “a son is a poor substitute for a lover” and “if it doesn’t gell, it isn’t aspic”.

Copyright Universal Pictures

 

It was Hitchcock who had the bright idea of changing Norman Bates from a middle-aged recluse to a personable young man (who in retrospect resembles Lee Harvey Oswald). Flashes of The Master’s wit can be discerned in Marion’s smirk as she imagines her client’s outrage, the moment when we’re rooting for Norman when her car briefly stops sinking, Sheriff Chamber’s wife lowering her voice when she says Norman found his mother and her lover’s bodies together “in bed”, and realising a long-held ambition by showing a toilet flushing in close-up; while Hitchcock’s famous fear of policemen finds full flower in the scene with the patrolman.

Copyright Universal Pictures

 

People tend to not to notice that the film takes place at Christmas and forget that the close-up of Norman (lifted from that of Michael Redgrave at the end of his episode in ‘Dead of Night’) is not the final shot in the film, since it actually ends with the car being winched out of the swamp (thus providing one final shudder since you know what they’ll find when they open the boot). @RichardChatten

Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960) Original Theatrical Cut 4k restored and in UK/Eire cinemas from 27 May as well as selected international territories, including: France, Austria, Spain, Denmark and Switzerland | Park Circus is representing PSYCHO on behalf of Universal Pictures.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

Wri/Dir: Joel Coen | Cast: Frances McDormand, Denzel Washington, Alex Hassell, Bertie Carvel, Brendan Gleeson, Moses Ingram, Kathryn Hunter | US drama, 107’

This elegantly crisp version of Shakespeare’s Scottish play already looks like a modern classic, a cross between Dreyer’s Ordet and Ken Russel’s The Devils thanks to Oscar hopefuls Bruno Delbonnel, Stefan Dechant, and Nancy Haigh who have created a magnificent yet pared-down spectacle that manages to retain the intimacy of the stage.

Joel Cohen’s first solo outing behind the camera stars his wife Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth and Denzel Washington in the main role. Both bring a heady contemplative quality to the murderous machiavellian couple, but the standout is Kathryn Hunter who trebles up as The Witches in a particularly haunting performance that feels otherworldly but jester-like. A conspiracy of ravens give an inspired and deeply terrifying touch. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE and on APPLE TV

 

Return to Dust (2022)

Dir: Li Ruijin | Cast: Renlin Wu, Hai-Qing | China, Drama 131′

“Love is not about staring at each other, but looking in the same direction”

The sun shines and each frame glows with painterly charm in this modest but momentous story of love and adversity for two people rejected by their family after an arranged marriage, and forced into a humble existence on their isolated homestead in rural northwestern China, 

Return to Dust is the latest from Chinese independent director Li Ruijin who scores subtle political points behind his perfectly pitched storyline that speaks volumes about the China’s rapid urban shift. The focus is farming couple Ma (Renlin Wu) and Gui (Hai-Qing) as they face the odds together in the rugged landscape with only their livestock for company. Tenderness contrasts with dark humour as Ruijin depicts the crass materialism of modern China with the poetic honesty of the past: one scene features their donkey alongside a flash new BMW signalling that time, inevitably, must move on. 

Each day a new challenge presents itself and Ma and Cao seem to cope without drama fronting up placidly seemingly unsurmountable hardship in the haunting beauty of the remote setting. Li Ruijun – best known for his 2015 feature River Road – focuses on the growing strength of their relationship as it transforms from initial diffidence to enduring love. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY | BERLINALE 2022 | GOLDEN BEAR COMPETITION 

 

Beautiful Beings (2022)

Dir/Wri: Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson | Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Czech Republic – 2022 – 123 min – Icelandic Cast: Birgir Dagur Bjarkason,, Snorri Rafn Frimannson, Blair Hinriksson, Askar Einar Palmason.

Life-threatening violence and magical realism make for an imaginative feature that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality in modern day Iceland. Beautiful Beings is the latest triumph from awarding winning Icelandic auteur and producer Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson (Heartstone) whose distinctive lyrical style makes him one of the most impressive talents on the international indie film scene.

Addi (Birger Dagur Bjarkason) is the charismatic boy at the centre of it all. Raised by a clairvoyant mother, he takes pity on a bullied misfit Balli (Askell Einar Palmason) in an impressive debut) and brings him into his gang of teenage hooligans. And the relationship will be the salvation of both of them in this full-throttle character drama that explores teenage-hood in all its dimensions from aggression and violence to loyalty, love and sex.

As the boys behaviour escalates from horseplay to murderous violence, Addi – under the influence of his quietly inspirational mother (Anita Briem) – is touched by series of enlightening dreams that sees him evolve into a sympathetic light-bringer rather than the destructive force he has ground into, along with his friends. But the director avoids simplistic solutions in a subtle narrative that uses its ample running time to explore every single chink of the boys’ developing personalities and how they react with each other, Addi’s dark side is fully fleshed out in a captivating performance from Hinriksson showing how his newfound intuition will have transformative effects on the rest of the gang, not least the most troubled boy Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frimannsson). Silver Bear awarded DoP Starla Brandth Grovlen (Victoria) works wonders with his camera to make Iceland into a summer paradise that provides the luminous backcloth to this human vision of Hell. MT

Signature Entertainment presents Beautiful Beings on Digital Platforms 19th December

 

The Souvenir: Part II

Dir/Wri: Joanna Hogg | Cast; Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, James Spencer Ashworth, Richard Ayoade | UK Drama

Joanna Hogg continues the impressionistic reflection on her twenties in The Souvenir Part II that sees her coming to terms with the abusive relationship that ended in tragedy for her boyfriend, Anthony (an archly sardonic Tom Burke) the first part.

There’s a strong feeling that Julie (Swinton Byrne) invested far more in the relationship than did Anthony. Somehow his caddish manner, pinstriped suit and ‘foreign office’ job made her believe he was worthy of consideration, love even; yet behind it all he was a fantasist and a drug addict who undermined her (“you’re lost and you’ll always be lost”) and stole from her to fund his habit. Hogg brilliantly epitomises this kind of fucked up weirdness of the 1980s that many repressed middle class girls still tolerated in the name of love, and the decent straightforwardness of her comforting parents (Tilda Swinton and James Spencer Ashworth) who provide a welcome sense of equilibrium that kept her going off the rails. But Julie resolves to go back to her London flat where the ‘love story’ forms the more authentic ‘autobiographical’ narrative for her graduation film, after the bogus script about poverty stricken Sunderland is vehemently rejected by her tutors.

Anthony remains the glowering elephant in the room, her colleagues, friends and family tiptoeing around the issue, not wanting to offend Julie who continues to elevate his memory with a solemn respect when secretly he was despised by everyone else accept his long-suffering parents, who gradually fade into the background. At one point Julie tentatively asks her flighty filmmaker friend Patrick (a standout Ayoade): “do you think Anthony worked for the Foreign Office?” He firmly bursts her bubble with: “he was a junkie – move forward”.

Still processing her feelings of grief Julie understandably lacks the conviction to take charge and direct her cast and crew with the confidence they desperately need, and Hogg deftly handles the ‘film in a film’ structure with its scenes of naturalistic on-set mayhem between all of them. Ably supported by her real life mother (Swinton), Honor Swinton Byrne glides through her performance with decorum avoiding histrionics yet imbuing Julie with all the pent up anxiety and hurt her upbringing has forced her to internalise. MT

THE SOUVENIR II IS IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 4 FEBRUARY 2022

 

 

Onoda (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

 

Waiting for Bojangles (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRENCH CINEMAS

The 355 (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE

The King’s Man (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

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

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

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

I Passed for White (1960)

Dir: Fred M Wilcox | Cast: Sonya Wilde, James Franciscus, Patricia Mahon, Elizabeth Council | Drama 63’

Far from being the trashy exploitation movie signalled by the title, the rather bland groupings by veteran director Fred Wilcox actually heighten the drama that grows and grows and grows, with the final resolution only coming right at the very end.

Based on Mary Hastings Bradley’s novel, James Franciscus’ aryan good looks are perfect for the leading man who you never know which way he’ll jump. But but as usual it’s the women who are the most interesting characters: Sonya Wilde in her screen debut after making her mark on Broadway taking over the role of Maria in ‘West Side Story. Pat Michan as the friend who’s the only one in on the heroine’s (literally) dark secret, Elizabeth Council as the menacing mother-in-law who you are never sure how much and what exactly she suspects; and especially Isabelle Cooley as the ever-present but quiet and inscrutable maid who is yet another element in the film that keeps you guessing. @RichardChatten

NOWN ON YOUTUBE

Cicada (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Story of Film: A New Generation (2021)

Dir/Wri: Mark Cousins | Doc, UK 160′

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM 17 DECEMBER NATIONWIDE

 

Ailey (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS AND ON DEMAND from 7 JANUARY 2022

Rebel Dykes (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eiffel (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE IN UK and IRISH CINEMAS from 12 August 2022

 

The Gravedigger’s Wife (2021)

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

The Gravedigger’s Wife was the first Somali film ever to be nominated for the Oscars in the Foreign Features category. It takes place in Djibouti City, the capital of the smallest country on the African continent, where employment – or the lack of it – is a major issue for nearly a million who live in and around the capital.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his passionate feature debut Ahmed adopts a less is more approach to the narrative, but the way he deals with conflicting emotions augurs well for the future.  AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 21 OCTOBER 2022

Eugenie Grandet (2021)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971)

Dir: Jean Rollin | French, Horror

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

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

ORCHESTRATOR OF STORMS: THE FANTASTIQUE WORLD OF JEAN ROLLIN | and other SELECTED TITLES is on ARROW.COM in FEBRUARY 2023

Pleasure (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/1hl4D0sE5TA

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

 

Next Door | Nebenan (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

AT CURZON CINEMAS AND HOME FROM 1 OCTOBER 2021

 

 

 

Wild Indian (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vengeance is Mine (1949)

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

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

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

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

The Alpinist (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CINEMAS FROM 24 SEPTEMBER 2021

Copilot (2021)

Dir.: Anna Zohar Berrached; Cast: Canan Kir, Roger Azar, Ozay Fecht, Julia Roth, Ceci Chuh; Germany/France 2021, 118 min.

German director Anna Zohra Berrached is the daughter of an Algerian immigrant who grew up in the GDR. Her sophomore feature, a complex character study, follows a Muslim couple in late 1999s Germany before the world was changed forever by the turbulent events of 9/11. Based loosely on one of the pilots (Ziad Jarrah) who actually took part in the atrocity (Ziad Jarrah), the film asks the question: how much do we really know about people close to us?

Asli (Kir) is a brilliant medical student, shy and insecure. She falls for a Lebanese student Saeed (Azar), whose dream is to be a pilot, but his wealthy traditional family refuse to support him, Asli’s Turkish just wanting her to marry the ‘right’ husband. Saeed is certainly not on this list partly because of his Arabic background. so the lovers will later marry in secret, but not before Saeed becomes more radical in his views, giving up alcohol and avoiding sex with Asli, telling her: “I don’t want to be like the Germans, who sleep around”.

But there are warning signs from the beginning. Saaed’s anti-Israel remarks soon make the two of them social outcasts amongst their group of friends as Saaed starts proselytising Islam to them and eventually Saeed disappears off to Yemen for a while. And when he comes back his behaviour has changed radically. Suddenly, he decides to take up his pilot licence in Florida, the cheapest and quickest way possible. Asli joins him and they fly together as she gradually becoming his titular co-pilot. Returning to Germany for an operation, Asli comes round from the anaesthetic to see breaking news about the 9/11 disaster on her beside TV. But Saeed’s mobile is switched off.

With its multi-lingual cast and differing cultural touchstones Copilot had quite a laborious scripting and filming process, and as the story unfolds hope gradually fades as Asil loses her focus on reality, preoccupied with work. As for Saeed, he lived in a dream world, sustained by a nightmare: his final letter to his wife is proof of his ghastly fantasy: “The world will be a different one, and happier for all”.

RELEASED IN UK & IRELAND IN CINEMAS 10 SEPTEMBER 2021

Marceline. A Woman. A Century. (2021)

Dir.: Cordelia Dvoràk; Documentary with Marceline Loridan-Ivens, Simone Veil, Judith Perignin, Jean-Pierre Sergent; France/Netherlands 2018, 76 min.

Cordelia Dvoràk’s biopic about the life of filmmaker and author Marceline Loridan-Ivens (1928- 2018) is an example of the triumph of opposition: Fourteen year-old Marceline Rozenberg was imprisoned in Bollène (Vaucluse) then deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 13.4,1944, having worked with her father Szlama for the resistance. She did not only survive Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Terezin (Theresienstadt), but became a filmmaker, working with her husband Joris Ivens (1898-1989) in Vietnam and China.

Loridan-Ivens was one of only 2500 French Jews who survived deportation, just under three percent of the total of 76 000 victims. After watching Loridan-Ivens signing copies of her auto-biography ‘Et tu n’es pas Revenu’, she meets co-author Judith Perignon in her Parisian flat, a cheerful place with flowers everywhere. This sets the tone of an upbeat documentary: the old Marceline talking to her young self. “Hunger, beatings, thirst. People die, and you instantly forget them. No soul is left. I can see her clearly, that little girl that is still inside me to this day. She is fairly shy”. Marceline met Simone Veil in Block 9, and the once Minister of Culture makes a (too) short visit.

After her liberation by the Red Army in May 1945, she returned to Paris where her mother “wanted her daughter to marry into Jewish families, have children and erase the past”. But “sexuality was a form of disobedience”, and Marceline, who never wanted children on her own, preferred to visit the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris and sit in bistros to discuss the past and present. This is how she met documentary filmmakers Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, whose star she became in Cronique d’un Ete (Chronicle of a Summer) in 1961. It also led to a liaison with 18 year-old journalist Jean-Pierre Sergent, who was supposed to teach Marceline all about Philosophy so that she could prepare to study at the university. But the two became lovers and later filmmakers in their own right, having discovered that filmmaking was not that difficult. The duo was very much a supporter of the FNL, Marceline even carrying suitcases for the FNL. The result was the documentary Algeria Année Zero. Today, Loridan-Ivens is very critical of herself: “We thought the FLN was led by progressive militants, little did we know the majority had their roots in Islamic fundamentalism.”

She met Joris Ivens whilst watching his feature A Valparaiso. He was impressed by Marceline, sending her flowers, but then disappearing for months. When they met again, they stayed together until Ivens’ death. The couple lived like vagabonds, Ivens being “very macho” at the beginning, but Marceline “imposed her will on him.” The past suddenly becomes the present, when Mrs. Phuong arrives from Vietnam to invite Marceline for the 50th Anniversary screening of The 17. Parallel, the couple’s iconic Vietnam documentary, with Mrs. Phuong not only doing the translating, but was also offering technical support. Next for the filmmakers was China, then ostracised by the whole world, after their split with the Soviet-Union.

Joris and Marceline documented the last two years of the cultural Revolution in the 763-minute epic How Yu Kong moved the Mountains (1976), which was to be shown in twelve parts. With “The Band of Four” making a power-grab, Premier Zhou Enlai told the filmmakers to leave the country immediately. Jean Bigiaoui, who worked with the crew, gives a lively commentary on the (film)adventure. We watch clips from Franck Leplat’s 2015 documentary Marceline Loridan-Ivens racontant sou passage a la prison de Sainte-Anneavant (2015). Loridan-Ivens is, for once, very bitter on the commentary. She remembers singing for her father, whose cell was near to her own. But this sets her off into an angry monologue about “never forgiving” the perpetrators.

Marceline is the only Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor who returned to the camp and made her own feature film about her incarceration there: La Petite Prairie aux Bouleaux (The Birch Tree Meadow) 2003. Anouk Aimée plays Marceline’s Alter Ego, who meets a German photographer and questions him about his motives for taking photos in the ruins of the camp. Marceline was not quiet satisfied with her effort: “The concept of a documentary was not enough, because I wanted a representation. I should have played myself.”

Marceline Loridan-Ivens died on 18.9.2018, six weeks after this documentary was finished. She wanted to be buried, even though it frightened her. “But everything is better than being burned”. AS

NOW ON TRUE STORY at all leading platforms | From September 17

Calling All Stars (1937)

Dir: Herbert Smith | With: Larry Adler, Arthur Askey, Bert Ambrose, Caroll Gibbons, Evelyn Dall | UK Musical 75′

Shown in the small hours by Talking Pictures, this tinny Joe Rock potboiler is of archival interest for the visual record it provides of the likes of The Mills Brothers, Mantovani and Nat Gonella, loosely held together by a farcical plot involving Clapham & Dwyer in the doghouse for saying a naughty word on the air and getting involved with Claude Dampier as a gormless rat poison salesman rejoicing in the name of Pomphrey Featherstone-Chew.

Purportedly the film debut of Arthur Askey, a sassy young Evelyn Dall supplies the glamour; and the finale is broadcast using television technology far in advance of that actually then available. @Richard Chatten.

TALKING PICTURES TV

Silent Land (2021)

Dir: Aga Woszczyńska | Poland, Drama 112′

In Aga Woszczyńska’s impressive first feature, a Polish couple’s relationship exposes serious fault-lines during a stressful Italian vacation where everything goes wrong.

Polish filmmakers certainly know how to be provocative and push the boundaries where love and sex are concerned and Silent Land excels in ramping up the tension in this subversive and acutely piquant two hander.

A cleverly written script and choice visuals keep us engaged with an all too familiar holiday scenario primped with surprising twists and turns enough to derail the most loved-up up romantic break. And what initially feels like an ideal marriage soon shows cracks that run deeper than those in the dirty and disused swimming pool that awaits this couple in their dream villa.

Confronted by builders who can’t speak English – or Polish for that matter – Adam and Anna head for the idyllic beach for some rest and relaxation. On their return the pool has been repainted but still lacks the requisite water, and a serious accident poolside involving the immigrant builder then deep-sixes any chance of a late afternoon swim. Soon the owner and the paramedics arrive and as the two holidaymakers give evidence in the ensuing police investigation, a dark vein of humour creeps into the narrative ‘lost in translation style’ when the carabinieri also turn up, and clearly don’t speak much English either. But why should they?.

The compliant Poles are only too delighted to accompany the police to the station to help with inquiries, their holiday clearly heading into a disaster zone for no fault of their own. A Kafkaesque scenario develops when the detective leading the inquiry picks apart their statement and asks them to return for further questioning. The tables are gradually turned as the justifiably disgruntled clients soon become unwitting suspects in an accidental death inquiry.

There are certainly touches of Michael Haneke’s observational storytelling in the precise framing as the voyeuristic camerawork tracks the couple in silent contemplation or sharing a private joke. The Colombo style police procedural has a understandably unsettling and de-stabilising affect on the couples’ sense of integrity and tranquility as they start to question their own response to the tragedy as foreigners in a unfamiliar environment increasingly coming under the xenophobic spotlight of a tightly knit community far away from home. Tense and highly intelligent filmmaking. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 23 SEPTEMBER 2022 | TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL

 

 

Annette (2021)

Dir/Wri: Leos Carax | Marion Cotillard, Adam Driver, Simon Helberg | Drama France, 139′

French auteur Leos Carax last graced the Croisette with Holy Motors a weird and mysterious odyssey into the mind of one man. Annette his latest creation sees him back in Cannes nine years later with another cinematic sensation: another journey into the complexities of male psyche that explores the nature of fame and the fragility of love through his first English language film.

Adam Driver haunts this moody modern opera with a muscular expressiveness that lurches from rage to almost religious fervour as offbeat comedian Henry, although his comedy act sequences are overlong and not particularly amusing and detract from the central narrative which already has more than enough references to his anger issues. Marion Cotillard shimmers exquisitely as the diva he falls for but the baby they make together is simply out of the world.

Visually stunning in the style of Holy Motors, is Caroline Champetier once again beguiles with her luscious cinematography in a highly original film that blends its bizarre ideas and tonal switches with elegance, always surprising the audience: particularly with erotic sex scenes laced with obsidian black humour: this is a richly thematic modern classic with a focus firmly in the future.

The cult rock band Sparks performs and composes a score that is daringly racy and poignant in the style of a Greek tragedy (complete with a black female chorus) where its central character Henry (Driver) is a meglamaniac narcissist whose lust for new experiences and extreme carnal compulsion will be his devastating downfall, destroying everything challenging his dominance.

Opera singer Ann (Marion Cotillard) melts his heart with her dulcet tones – for a while at least – and the two wander deliriously in a verdant garden of Eden crooning the film’s catchy musical leit-motif “We Love Each Other So Much”. and soon their baby Annette is born and their joy now complete.

But storm clouds soon gather over on the loved-up paradise in a melodramatic tone shift. Carax goes into overdrive in a full-blown expose of macho toxicity where passions are given full throttle during Henry’s hysterical nighttime motorbike rides home to his tropical hideaway, the dizzying camerawork  recalling Holy Motors’ nocturnal taxi forays. There is a third narrative strand in shape of Simon Helberg’s compelling turn as Ann’s spurned lover now reduced to her accompanying pianist at her elegantly-staged opera gigs. Once again Cotillard get the chance to play Lady Macbeth and this will be teased out suggestively in the film’s third act.

Baby Annette is like a benign female version of ‘Chucky’, her blue eyes and auburn locks adding an endearing appeal and vulnerability to the subtle scariness she engenders but also hinting at A.I. She will grow up to be a thoughtful and intuitive little girl, whose presence pivotal to the storyline. At this point Carax uses the female chorus to clever effect as a #MeToo theme kicks in and this feeds into Henry’s violent anger management issues which are now the central focus of the story and pivotal to the final reveal.

Annette is a compelling visual masterpiece that utterly captivates and confuses for nearly two and half hours. An atmospheric soundscape, dreamlike images and extraordinary performances coalesce in a contemporary rock melodrama the like of which has never been seen before, and it world premieres here at Cannes. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT CURZON

Gaia (2021)

Dir: Jaco Bouwer | Cast: Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk, Anthony Oseyemi | US Eco-thriller, 97′

South African director Jaco Bouwer delivers a stunning eco thriller that’s less impressive on the narrative front despite a beguiling premise that unfolds in the mysterious depths of the country’s atavistic Tsitsikamma rain forest, home to some terrifying species.

South Africa’s rangers are well known for their intricate knowledge of the animals that inhabit the wild untamed landscapes of the Cape and beyond. But during a routine mission with her colleague Winston (Oseyemi), nothing prepares Bouwer’s heroine Gabi (Rockman) for the terrifying alien predators that lurk in the undergrowth. And when she is injured by a poisoned spear, help arrives in the shape of two mysterious human beings who initially save her life. These ‘post-apocalyptic survivalists’, father and son Barend and Stefan, are clearly versed in all sorts of natural medicine, but lying in a state of semi-sedation, Gabi starts to wonder whether they are as benign as they appear, while trying to contact Winston who has disappeared into the forest. Communicating exclusively in Africaans with the surreal cavemen-like couple Gabi is nevertheless none the wiser as to their motives. Things take a sinister turn when Winston is invaded by flesh-eating lichen like funghi and Gabi’s hopes of escape start to diminish. Bouwer comes up with some stunningly imaginative special effects captured by Jorrie van Der Walt’s immaculate lensing. But Tertius Kapp’s storyline is just too slow-burning and enigmatic to keep us engaged despite the film’s modest running time. Although highly entertaining for body horror fans, Gaia is perhaps best described as style over substance. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 27 SEPTEMBER 2021

 

The Last Bus (2020)

Dir.: Gillies MacKinnon; Cast: Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Natalie Mitson, Ben Ewing; UK 2021, 86 min.

The Last Bus is something between a feel-good-movie and an elegy on death in modern Britain seen through rose-tinted specs. Carried by the great Timothy Spall, it somehow lacks enough information on the character he plays, eighty-something Tom Harper, who is taking his wife Mary’s ashes all the way from John O’Groats to Lands End, making the 838-mile journey on public transport thanks to his bus pass.

After Mary’s death Tom’s reverse journey is a nod to the past, with flashbacks of their married life together as a young couple (Natalie Mitson/Ben Ewing) when they first made the trip, through to the present day. Undeterred by terminal cancer, Tom still firing on most of his cylinders: helping when the bus breaks down and rooting for a racially abused fellow passenger. As the bus travels southwards we’ll get to know more about Tom’s trails and tribulations finishing on a high note on his arrival in Lands End

The contrast between the early 1950s and today Britain seems more positive than realistic: the good old days reflect the happiness of Tom’s married bliss with Mary, nothing seemingly dimming their nirvana, even 70 years later. The goodwill shown by nearly everyone towards the pensioner seems idealist given what most older people have to put up with. Nostalgia rules visual and tonally, the characters reflecting this bland idealism in their conventional rather make-believe lives. A touch of irony would have been welcome to take the edge off the sweetness, Spall breathing life into a chocolate box existence. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 20 August 2021

Mandragore (1952)

Dir: Arthur Maria Rabenalt | Cast: Hildegard Knef, Erich von Stroheim, Trude Hesterberg, Denise Vernac, Harry Holm | Fantasy Drama 92′

The fifth and – to date – last film version of Hanns Heinz Ewers’ 1911 bestseller is handsomely mounted, interestingly cast but far too talky. It worked far better as a silent film, with Brigitte Helm much more convincing than dear Hildegard Knef as the soulless product of artificial insemination.

By bestowing such inauspicious parenthood upon his creation Professor Jacob ten Brinken (Erich von Stroheim!) explicitly states that his desire is to inject a bit of depravity in the female genes in order to create a more  exotic bloom by unnatural means than two upstanding citizens could ever hope to produce; although real life is constantly demonstrating that Mother Nature can always be depended on to bring into the world plenty of young women with more conventional antecedents that would be capable of wreaking just as much havoc among the male sex.

Although Ewers was initially an enthusiastic supporter of the New Order and joined the NSDAP in 1931 – and Alraune clearly reflected the eugenics debate that Hitler brought into disrepute – it wasn’t filmed during the Nazi era. The director of this postwar version, Arthur Maria Rabenalt, had been an enthusiastic propagandist for the Nazi regime, which makes him an ironic choice for such potentially touchy subject matter. @Richard Chatten

Escher: Journey Into Infinity (2020)

Dir.: Robin Lutz; Documentary with George and Jan Escher, Liesbeth Escher-Hogenhout; Netherlands 2018, 80 min.

Like many before him Dutch graphic artist M(aurits) C(ornells) Escher (1898-1972) came late to fame. But his influence, particularly in pop-culture, is still growing. This might seem to be a contradiction, since Escher was a modest creative who told his admirers he was not clever enough to be an academic and had to wait until 1970 for his first exhibition. But he doubted his artistic talents because he believed a ‘real’ artist should not enjoy his work but be tortured in creating it

Escher met his wife, 24-year old Russian émigré Yetta Umica, in Ravello in 1923. The couple married in Viareggio a year later and settled in Italy where Escher marvelled at the blue skies “colour was needed, but I did not want colour”. He often sketched at nigh-time although he maintained: “the reality of the day is like a dream”.

Escher and his wife travelled on a cargo ship to Valencia, paying their way with ten drawings, which the company used for advertising. They then travelled through southern Spain to Granada where he worked every day in the Alhambra. Escher was particularly struck by the geometric figures used by the Moors. Back home in the Netherlands he worked from dawn to dusk “so that the inner images came out”. One of his most famous drawings was of people living in the ‘second and third dimension’ but never meeting on imaged of stairs, one person going up as the other went down. Mathematics became increasingly important to his work leading him to pose the question: “Is it still art?”. But as son Jan comments, “work was opium for him.”

By now, the Germans had occupied the country, and Jewish artists could not exhibit any more. Escher cancelled his membership of the Artists’ Society and the Graphic Association. He rescued over two hundred drawings from his art teacher, one of the many deported to the death camps. When the wartime food supply dwindled Yetta sacrificed her own well-being, saving what little was available for the three sons.

After the end of WWII, she became more and more fragile and her mental health deteriorated. She would later travel to Switzerland and live with her son and his wife Liesbeth, but they eventually had to put her into a nursing home. She survived her husband who died after numerous operations for cancer.

MC Escher had been supported by his wealthy parents for most of his life, but an interview with ‘Time-Life’ in the 1960s raised the profile of his work and he became famous virtually overnight. One of his most famous concepts pictured people as wheels, rolling forward. When he listened to Bach’s St. Matthew oratorio, he imaged the cathedral floating over the ocean to New York and San Francisco. And this drawing with its psychedelic beauty found many admirers in the growing counter-culture, even though Escher had little in common with the flower-power generation.

Stephen Fry reads Escher’s letters as a v.o. Music by Bach dominates the feature, hardly a co-incidence since the composer himself admired mathematics. Escher was a certainly a person of substance and wild imagination, and deserves all the plaudits he gets after a life of self-doubt. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL RELEASE

Hinterland (2021)

Dir: Stefan Ruzowitzky | Austria/Luxembourg, Noir Thriller 99′

Germany and Austria have been brought to their knees after gruelling defeat in the Great War and limp home broken to a decadent Vienna amidst poverty, despair – and a serial killer on the loose – in this stylish noir thriller that sees Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky return after his The Counterfeiters won the international Oscar. For once the tight running time could have been extended to fully flesh out the story which also could work well in as a Netflix series. 

In the opening scenes a ship glides by laden with dead and mutilated soldiers, the living barely alive against the atmospheric green-screen technology that pictures utter devastation an a desperate homecoming. The men soon discover their surviving comrades are being preyed upon by a grisly murderer as the story unfolds around Marathon Muslu’s dynamite performance as an injured veteran embroiled in the murder mystery.

Wonky German expressionistic framing and a sombre atmosphere creates a jagged-edged feel echoing M by Fritz Lang or even something out of Grimms’ Fairy tales, suffused with Klimt’s jewel-like Secessionist paintings transporting us back to early 1920s Vienna where a savage mood of mistrust prevails at every turn in the decadent splendour of the Austrian capital. But our war hero Peter Perg (Muslu), once a respected police officer and criminologist, is still haunted by the past. After dark, the nightmarish terror of his Russian internment camp looms up in dream sequences on the vast wall behind his bed in the apartment he once shared with his wife who has fled to the sanctuary of the countryside with their daughter. Meanwhile the fatherland has lost its indomitable Emperor emperor (Franz Joseph, in 1916), and Austria is raging against a climate of anarchy and political unrest brewing throughout Vienna’s tea rooms. 

Perg teams up with the Poirot-like Detective Renner (Marc Limpach) and pathologist Theresa Korner (Liv Liese Fries) to fathom out a motive for the horrific murders perpetrated by the “Beast of Vienna” – one particularly gruesome corpse has been decapitated and flayed with a cat o’nine tails, another left to be eaten alive by sewer rats. But the team’s interest focuses on the iniquitous murder of Perg’s war-wounded comrades, who are being picked off, one by one, his close friend Captain Krainer appears to have been garrotted by the roaming psychopath. And as their investigations go underground to the murky depth’s of the city sewers Peter becomes meets the killer face to face in this seedy and stylishly evocative serial killer thriller. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL PREMIERE 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Human Factors (2021)

Dir.: Ronny Trocker; Cast: Max Waschke, Sabine Timoteo, Jude Hermann, Wanja Valentin Kube, Daniel Séjourné; Italy/Germany/Denmark 2021, 102 min.

Italian-born Ronny Trocker’s intelligent but underpowered invasion thriller has the same fault line that runs through many German features of the past few decades: a premise that looks promising on paper but fails to come alive cinematically because everything has to serve the central construct. This may work for Michael Haneke but Trocker’s film lacks the narrative heft that makes Haneke’s features so absorbing. DoP Klemens Hufnagl tries for a ‘Huis clos’ atmosphere but he’s further hemmed in by the narrative confines, and the actors can’t inject much verve either with their underwritten characters.

Human Factors centres on a repressed and deeply conflicted upper-middle class family. For some light relief they take a break in a holiday home in Belgium near the German border but this is a sticking plaster rather than a solution to their woes. Husband Jan (Waschke) and wife Nina (Timoteo) run a PR agency in Germany, but politically they are poles apart and this tension bleeds into their ongoing campaign in the run up the country’s elections. Their kids are suffering too: Teenage daughter Emma (Hermann) is having problems at school and hanging out with the wrong crowd, her young brother Max (Kube) has lost the plot completely and is only interested in his pet rat Zorrow.

The holiday gets off to a bad start with a bungled burglary, the repercussions having a knock on affect for all concerned in this Rashomon like set-up. Nina’s gay brother Flo (Séjourné) and his partner then fetch up on the scene, and this doesn’t go down well with the rather homophobic Jan, opening up further avenues of discontent. Back in Germany on the Monday, things just go from bad to worse. AS

IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 15 February 2022 | SUNDANCE LONDON premiere |

 

Misha and the Wolves (2021)

Dir.: Sam Hobkinson; Documentary with Misha Defonseca, Jane Daniel, Evelyn Haendel, Sharon Seargant; Belgium/UK 2021, 89 min.

Sam Hobkinson (Fear City) tells one of the most bizarre stories of modern times. Misha and the Wolves could be a fairy tale, but it turns into a nightmare – and then into something completely beyond the wildest imagination.

In the remote town of Millis, Massachusetts. Belgian immigrant Misha Defonseca regaled friends and neighbours with her experiences during the Holocaust. She told the members of Temple Bel Torah how, as a little girl in during wartime 1941, she left her loveless foster home and began to search for her biological  parents who had been deported to a death camp. Taking up with a pack of wolves she walked on foot from Belgium to Germany, it what would be an eventful and violent journey.

One of her neighbours of Defonseca Jane Daniel, ran a small publishing company, the Mt. Ivy Press and offered to publish the memoir as ‘Misha: A memoire of the Holocaust Years’. It came out in 1997 and was a great success, as was the French version. In 2007, the French filmmaker Vera Belmont shot the story as Survivre avec les Loups. But the cracks started to show: Defonseca took Daniel to court, over her refusal to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. Next came a major discovery: Defonseca had used two different versions of her birth name: one for the America edition, one for the French one. Than everything unravelled quickly, thanks to forensic genealogist Sharon Sergeant, and Evelyne Haendel, a Belgian researcher and Holocaust survivor. What emerged was a completely different version of events.  Misha was born in 1937 as Monique de Wael to catholic parents in Etterbeek, Belgium. She never left home as a child.

Hobkinson then uses the Errol Morris technique, turning the narrative into a Patricia Highsmith style story where the focus is no longer Defonseca – but a gullible public on both sides of the Atlantic intrigued to have discered just another plucky Jewish survivor. The guilt surrounding lack of social responsibility during the Shoah still haunts communities who react with denial (as in Poland) or half-truths as they do in France. Misha’s real story is also chained to this process of uncovering the kindness of strangers who courageously risked their own safety to help Jews. Opportunism is still rife in the publishing world, Jane Daniel being only one example. DoP Will Pugh documents this torrid tale of a deception that provides a welcome version of the truth, an antidote to bestseller spin. Misha Forenseca still lives in Millis. AS

NOW ON RELEASE

Sabaya (2021)

Dir.: Hogir Hirori; Documentary with Mahmud, Siham, Shadi, Sheik Zyad; Sweden 2021, 91 min.

Kurdish director/writer/DoP/editor Hogir Hirori (The Deminer) has certainly ventured where few other filmmakers dare to go: he follows Kurdish resistance fighters, both men and women, in their efforts to liberate young Kurdish women who have been abducted, raped and sold by members of Daesh, during their reign of terror which lasted from 2014 to 2019. The Yazidi, a Kurdish minority religion, was one of their fiercest opponents, and Daesh took it out on them: By 2016 over two thousand six hundred women and girls – some still babies – were abducted, 3793 remain as sex slaves until now, given the titular name of Sabaya by their captors.

Mahmud, a Syrian, seems to live where he works, the ‘Yazidi Home Centre’ in north-east Syria. Mahmud and Sheik Zyad, the director of the Centre, lead a group sending female “infiltrators” into the nearby ‘Al-Hol’ refuge camp to locate Yazidi women. Daesh is trying to reconstitute itself by selling Yazidi women to sex trafficking groups. Bereft of any political aim, they are simply a Mafia organisation. Some of the Yazidi women are sold up to 15 times to different sex-slave operators. The fighter’s most important allies are older Arabic women who “look after” the captured Kurdish women evading Mahmud and his female spies by changing tents when the liberators arrive. The search is hampered by their inability to identify the women, post capture, and this is their main setback. Even when a positive identification is made, the real trouble begins: the liberators – including Hirori – are shot at in their cars, and near the end there is an armed attack on the Centre itself. Eylol, the commander of the female troops, also has to use rifles. The number of nationalities in the Camp makes is even more difficult and dangerous to spring the Yazidi women: 58 nationalities are involved, among them citizens of Morocco, Tunisia, Russia, Chechnya, France and Somalia.

Mahmund, whose wife Siham and young son Shadi suffer from his regular absence; but when he visits the nearby Hassaker Prison, where Daesh prisoners are kept, he can confirm the identity of Leila and Dilsoz, who were abducted from the city of Sinjar. Leila has a baby from her Daesh rapist/husband, but when even if her family are alive it’s doubtful they will welcome her with open arms. Finally, young Mitra, who is unable to speak or understand anything but Arabic, will be re-united with her parents – if they can be found. To date, 206 Yazidi women and girls have been rescued, 52 had children born after a rape. When Mahmud takes five of the liberated women to Sinjar, he brings back the same number of female infiltrators.

Like his ‘hosts’, Hirori certainly put his life at stake during the nightly raids. Sabaya is a chronicle of courage, it is filmed like a diary, avoiding dramatic arcs – the continuous action speaks for itself. It could be considered a thriller – but that would sensationalise its sad subject matter. The reality can be found in the faces of the ‘liberated’ women – to call hem the lucky ones would be a sad euphemism. Brutal and unforgiving, Sabaya is a unique tale, told under the most hazardous circumstances. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 20 AUGUST 2021

 

Nitram (2021)

Dir: Justin Kurzel | Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis, Anthony LaPaglia, Sean Keenan, Conrad Brandt | Australia: Drama 118′

Justin Kurzel blows us away with this scorching arthouse psychodrama commemorating the Port Arthur tragedy, exploring the milieu that created a murderer (Martin Bryant) who would kill 35 people on that fateful day in 1996.

Not since Snowtown has a film engendered such utter terror through its central character – the titular Nitram – played by a coruscating Caleb Landry Jones – as a fully formed enfant terrible who lives with his long-suffering parents (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia) in the sleepy seaside town.

Snowtown writer Shaun Grant again shows how long-term parental abuse and a casually toxic environment turns Nitram ((Martin backwards his hated school nickname) into a vulnerable, isolated loner who wreaks havoc wherever he goes. A display of his anti-social behaviour opens a story driven forward by an unpredictable behaviour even more frightening than his brutal strength: like a firecracker he goes off without warning, but is also capable of loving affection for his mother who diminishes him with constant putdowns.

But his unpredictability is nerve-shredder here. And the film open with a typical episode of antisocial behaviour when Nitram sets off firecrackers  from the rooftop of his parent’s house in a bid to dispel his sense of ennui and hopelessness – there’s nothing else to do here but surf, and we watch him floundering in the waves, driven to tears by another failed attempt to stay onboard.

Port Arthur feels more like an English seaside town in the 1960s, charmingly down-at-heel and raffling. Redolent of its faded but questionable glory as a colonial outpost, basking in the lush green landscapes leading down to the sea. But when Nitram meets ditzy local heiress and Gilbert & Sullivan fan Helen (Essie Davis) things are set to change. An offer to mow the extensive lawns of her rambling mansion with its menagerie of dogs leads to a touching friendship, Nitram finding acceptance and a contentment of sorts as the misunderstood misfits rub along together in a ‘folie a deux’ before thunder clouds once again gather and his fate is finally sealed.

Kurzel and Grant show how Nitram is unable to empathise as a result of his dysfunctional family dynamic. Davis and LaPaglia are charismatic as his callous mother and depressive father, Nitram’s flawed emotional touchstones as the story seethes towards a devastating finale. All this contrasts with the serene shambolic beauty of the painterly settings – particularly of Helen’s home. This is a mesmerising look at mental illness made all the more pitiful by the tragedy that could have been avoided. As a master of quirky psychological dramas Kurzel is back at the top of his game. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 1 JULY 2022

Shorta (2020)

Dir.: Frederik Louis Hviid, Anders Olholm; Cast: Jacob Lohmann. Simon Sears, Tarek Zayat, Al Jabouri, Issa Khattab; Denmark 2020, 108 min.

Shorta is an intelligent a police thriller tucking a range of weighty social issues firmly under its belt for an adrenaline-powered ride.

Danish first time directors/writers Frederik Hviid and Anders Olholm unpack the role of the today’s police in a crime caper that never lets up in dealing with racism, immigration and misogyny. The violence is hard-hitting but never gratuitous.

We start with the familiar good cop/bad cop routine: a day after a teenage immigrant is gravely injured by police, the squad boss asks officer Jens Hoyer (Sears) to keep an eye on fellow officer Jacob Lohmann (Andersen) who has a track records of open racism and misogyny, and enjoys provoking immigrants – something to be avoided on a day of high tension, even so when their patrol covers the infamous Svalegarden estate where the young victim lived.

At first the cops’ behaviour is true to form: Hoyer the voice of reason, Lohmann a brutal bully. Their relationship is made even more fraught by Jens having been a witness when the teenager was put in an arm lock by the police. Lohmann more or less threatens Hoyer to lie to the internal investigators maintaining that no excess force was used during the incident – appealing to his esprit de corps. Enter Amos (Zayat), a teenager from the same estate, deliberately throwing a milkshake at the two officers in the squad car. Amos is arrested and it soon emerges that  the victim of police brutality has died in hospital and more violence follows for all concerned.

Although the director keeps his distance, his message is clear as day: the police cannot be expected to deal with issues caused by politics and parents who are no longer responsible or even interested in their kids. There are two scenes which really are heart-breaking: Lohmann fighting a German Shepherd in a lift: no prizes for guessing who survives. When are filmmakers going to stop kill off their dog characters? Still, Shorta makes its point and is entertaining – if you disconnect from reality. AS

ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS FROM 30 AUGUST 2021

Anaïs in Love (2021)

Dir: Charlene Bourgeois-Tacquet | Cast: Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi, Anais Demoustier, Denis Podalydes, Jean-Charles Clichet,

Anaïs in Love is light, fluffy but real in its depiction of a young girl enjoying her Parisian life, flirting and indulging in a varied sex life while trying to pay the rent – and who better to play her than a gorgeously flip and froufrou Anais Demoustier who strikes just the right chord between frivolousness and concern for her mother, recently diagnosed with cancer, as the titular Anaïs, who can shed a tear although a smile is never far from her pouting red lips.

This is French filmmaker Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s feature debut and she writes and directs with confidence and a lightness of touch in a freewheeling narrative that sashays gaily around Paris in the summer. Of course, it always helps to have Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi in this sort of upbeat sweet-hearted drama, and she adds a touch of class in her usual slightly ‘distraite’ style as Emilie, a vaguely blue-stocking woman who lectures on creative writing at a summer school that piques Anais’ attention. The two bond immediately, drawn together  by the stylish allure they both exude, and a strong sexual attraction.

Of course, Anaïs is short of cash and has to blag herself onto the class where upfront payment is de rigueur. Here she meets Yoann whose father has just died of cancer, reminding Anaïs to write to her mother (cue John Ireland’s mournful score of “When I am dead”). But it’s Emilie who holds the strongest interest for the young Anaïs, until it turns out that they also share the same man, in the shape of much older Daniel (Denis Podalydes) who turns up unexpectedly to join the fun in this enjoyable literary-themed romantic drama with its scarlet aesthetic and vibrant lesbian twist. MT

COMING TO CINEMAS ON 19 August 2022

Where is Anne Frank? (2021)

Dir: Ari Folman | With voices of Emily Carey, Ruby Stokes, Neil Barlow, Skye Bennett, Sebastian Croft, Stewart Scudamore | US Animation 109′

On a dark stormy night in Amsterdam a red-haired beauty breaks into the city’s Holocaust Museum and steals a diary from a crystal showcase. The woman is Kitty and the daybook belonged to the famous woman who created it, Annelies Marie Frank (1929-45).

Ari Folman’s latest animation is a playfully evocative take on the tragedy of Anne Frank (Emily Carey) whose final months are reflected through the eyes of her gadabout muse and confidante Kitty, vividly brought to life here by Ruby Stokes. Bristling with ideas that buzz around like fireflies in the vibrantly rendered animations, this clever imagined drama offers a slice of European social and political history pulsing to an upbeat syncopated score, but doom is never far away.

Ink spots on the diary implode to expose episodes of Anne’s daily life before and after her Jewish family’s confinement in the Amsterdam attic, Folman reveals a tense and introspective young daddy’s girl (her father Otto was the sole survivor) escaping into her imagination, pushed away by an unloving mother, an envious elder sister (Margot) and a collection of unsuitable boyfriends in the shape of Herman Kupman and Rob Cohen, growing up in wartime Amsterdam. Finally she settles for the gentle unassuming hypochondriac Peter van Daan, thoughtfully voiced by Sebastian Croft.

In the present day, Kitty comes alive as an inquiring young ‘girl about town’ desperate to find out what happened to her creator, who disappeared nearly eighty years ago. Gradually the past and present collide through a kaleidoscope of comic and tragic touchstones: flashbacks to Anne’s final birthday with a cake and bottle of ‘4711’ cologne; Nazi troops marching into the city as supersized Darth Vader monsters shrouded in black; the ‘Occupy Europe’ era. The current immigration crisis shoehorned in as a pivotal plot twist is inspired, but somehow a step too far.

More convincing is the film’s ‘cancel culture’ theme that sees the wan and prickly teenage Anne confessing to missing the cinema as she huddles with her family in their attic hideout while the Nazis set fire to the city, banning Jews from everywhere in the ensuing mayhem. Her dream that Clark Gable will scoop her up on a white charger and save her from the macabre encroaching enemy feels real and poignant with its nod to the pandemic.

In their hideout the Frank family are joined by the genteel Van Daans. This allows Folman to make some amusing observations about living in close quarters with strangers: how do you cope with flatulence when your diet consists largely of cabbage? Then there’s the well-worn  hypochondria theme seen through Peter’s penchant for staying in bed all day feigning illness.

After Anne’s ‘disappearance’ Kitty files a ‘missing person’s report’ and meets little Ava who has managed to enter Europe by boat courtesy of her sailor father. The police are ever vigilant, one officer has an Israeli accent, but the shadow of the death camps darkens the film’s final segment in haunting widescreen animations picturing trains travelling East to Westerbork transit camp where Anne and her mother are briefly united before she goes with Margot to Bergen Belsen and beyond.

There is a romantic scene towards the end that captures Anne and Peter kissing under a frosty star-strewn sky, set to Chopin’s Piano Etude #3 In E. this is the loveliest memory of a film that occasionally dazzles with its trove of thoughts and memories of a terrible time in history when Europe was divided as it is, once again, today. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 12 AUGUST 2022

Freaky (2020)

Dir: Christopher Landon | US Comedy Horror 98′

A fun and freaky body-swap film that sees a bullied beauty become the target of a serial killer on the run whose mystical dagger sets in motion an unlikely switcheroo. Worse still the young schoolgirl has only twenty four hours to return to her original form before she is stuck as the hideous “Blissfield butcher” forever.

Vince Vaughn is astonishingly complex in his teenage girl guise carrying this film through a largely predictable storyline with some inspired gore-filled set pieces echoing Freaky Friday in a comedy slasher that’s more weird than scary, but certainly entertaining and confidently put together by Landon who is best known for his 2017 outing Happy Death Day.

Meanwhile Millie (Kathryn Newton) recruits her friends (Misha Osherovich and Celeste O’Connor) to help her get back to normal and garners considerable emotional and physical power as a 6.5 foot man – offering some food for thought with the boot on the other foot. There’s also a flirty frisson going on in the background between Vaughn’s teen transformation and Millie’s high school crush (Uriah Shelton). And you don’t often see that kind of subplot is this kind of movie. MT

OUT IN CINEMAS FROM 1 July 2021

Eternal Love (1929) Prime Video

Dir: Ernst Lubitsch | Cast: John Barrymore, Camilla Horn | German, 61′

Eternal Love was the final silent film made by Ernst Lubitsch and John Barrymore. Based on a 1900 novel by J.C.Heer called ‘Der Koenig der Bernina’, the feature is fairly typical of the cross-pollination then common between Europe and Hollywood, with a German director and scriptwriter and female leading actress, sets and costumes by Caligari veteran Walter Reimann and Banff National Park in Canada standing in for the Swiss Alps in 1806.

Despite the high-powered talent brought to bear on it, Eternal Love for the most part lacks Lubitsch’s customary saucy wit promised in the earlier scenes featuring the saucy Mona Rico, and seems rather perfunctory compared to G.W.Pabst’s similar but far superior Weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü released later the same year. Oliver Marsh’s photography would plainly be far more impressive in its pristine nitrate form than the rather blurry version available today, while the drab Vitaphone score by Hugo Riesenfeld also rather holds it back.

The luminescent final shot of the moon emerging as the clouds part strikingly anticipates Crack in the World (1965), directed 35 years later by Eternal Love’s editor Andrew Marton, which ends with a shot almost identical to that of Eternal Love, except that at the end of Marton’s later film there are two moons…@Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Lifeboat (1944) TPTV

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | Cast: Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, Walter Slezak, William Bendix, Mary Anderson, Henry Hull | US Drama  97′

That the celebrity of Hitchcock’s films bears no relation to their actual achievement is attested to by the obscurity in which this little beauty continues to languish.

Having already set The Lady Vanishes largely on a train, although Hitchcock never got to make a film entirely set in a phone booth (as he once longingly speculated), he comes close with this bold and stylish exercise that anticipates his own Rope and 12 Angry Men by making a film consisting entirely of people talking within a confined space. (And also contains a ferocious murder unaccompanied by music like that in Torn Curtain.)

Although obviously shot entirely in the studio tank, it’s still a thoroughly cinematic experience thanks to a script as raw as the strictures of the Hays Office would then permit, gothic photography by Glenn MacWilliams capable of virtuoso effects like sweat breaking on a man’s brow and consistently superb performances (one of them from Hume Cronyn, who latter collaborated on the screenplay of Rope), including a typically ambivalent Hitchcock ambivalent villain, as ruthless and resourceful as Eric Portman had been in 49th Parallel.

(Also as in Rope, Hitchcock himself got round the problem of making his appearance by featuring in an advertisement for Reduco – the “Obesity Slayer”. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV | PRIME VIDEO

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) Prime Video

Dir: Anthony Mann | Cast: Christopher Plummer, Sophia Loren, James Mason, Alex Guinness | US Action drama

Samuel Bronston’s answer to Heaven’s Gate is usually dismissed as inferior to El Cid, but The Fall of the Roman Empire still has recent Desert Island Disks castaway Sophia Loren in it (according to George MacDonald Fraser the historical Livia was “a murderous adultress who tried to assassinate her brother”, so maybe Lollobrigida should have played her after all); plus the inevitable Finlay Currie clinching this film’s credentials as a bona fide vintage historical epic. There is also the bonus of Alec Guinness and James Mason.

The late Christopher Plummer meanwhile hit his stride as a screen actor as the seriously mad Emperor Commodus. (He and director Anthony Mann had a such a blast working together they were keen to do another picture together; but Mann sadly died only four years and one and a half films later before that could happen.)

The fact that it was a colossal financial (and critical) flop simply enhances its grandeur and the money is certainly all there up on the screen, with impressively wintry location work shot outside Madrid; while the recreation of the Forum in Rome made it into the ‘Guinness Book of Records’ as the largest set ever built for a movie. (There is none of that fake-looking CGI or wobbly steadicam that ruins 21st Century epics. And what colours!)

Robert Krasker and composer Dimitri Tiomkin both surpassed their work on the previous film, and although like most epics it’s at least an hour too long, Plummer comes into his own in that final lap; his emergence from a giant hand worth of Brigitte Helm flaunting herself in Metropolis and Dietrich shedding a gorilla skin in Blonde Venus. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

 

Black Oxen (1923)

Dir: Frank Lloyd | Cast: Corinne Griffith, Conway Tearle, Tom Ricketts, Clara Bow, Tom Guise | US Drama 81′

This film version of 65 year-old feminist writer Gertrude Atherton’s controversial 1923 novel, based upon her own treatment with an early form of hormone therapy, was on cinema screens by the end of the year and generated a lot of discussion at the height of the flapper era; and it remains increasingly topical today.

Aged 45 (but like many matinée idols of the era looking much older), Conway Tearle as eligible bachelor Lee Clavering has the dilemma that dizzy flappers like Janet Ogelthorpe (played by Clara Bow) bore him, yet has “a vague idea that Autumnal love is – is rather indecent”. He indeed looks pretty long in the tooth for 28 year-old Corinne Griffith as the mysterious Mary Ogden, referred to in the opening credits simply as “The Woman”; about whom an awful lot of footage is squandered upon speculation as to her true identity until she finally fesses up and confirms that she is really sixty year-old Madame Zatianny. In a flashback in which she is supposed to be in her late fifties, but is made up and shuffles about like an infirm eighty year-old, she is rejuvenated in Austria by a medical procedure that is alluded to only very vaguely.

At this point it gets interesting, as her old friends digest the implications of this revelation; notably Claire McDowell as Agnes Trevor, who bitterly regrets her own lost opportunities to find love when young and thus sorely envies Madame Zatianny the second chance her treatment has gifted her. (McDowell was actually less than six months older than Tearle and would probably have benefited enormously just from a more contemporary makeup and wardrobe like Griffith’s.) Unfortunately, with twenty minutes still to go this is the point at which the only currently available version of Black Oxen abruptly ends. Or maybe it’s not so unfortunate. We know from original reviews that her old Austrian beau Prince Rohenhauer (played by Alan Hale) shows up, persuades her to act her age and return with him to Austria, leaving Lee to find true happiness with the flapper who had so bored him earlier, provoking ‘Variety’s original reviewer to ironically state that the film’s “only fault seems to be the disappointing ending”.

An epilogue to Black Oxen that proves yet again how much stranger real life can be even than a silent movie came in 1966 (the year that Claire McDowell died at the age of 88) when 72 year-old Griffith divorced her 45 year-old fourth husband of a few days and testified in court (contradicting testimony from Betty Blythe and Claire Windsor, who had both known her during the 1920s) that she was not Corinne Griffith, but her younger sister who had taken her place upon her elder sibling’s death. @Richard Chatten

 

Peril for the Guy (1956)

Dir: James Hill | Cast: Frazer Hines, Mandy Harper, Christopher Warbey, Ali Allen | UK Drama, 55′

A delightful CFF lark that starts well with a jaunty title sequence, after which it’s elegantly directed by James Hill against the atmospheric backdrop of a freezing fifties London fog.

Blandishments that would satisfy the most politically correct modern audience include a little black kid called ‘Ali’, with an oil company the guys in black hats rather than the usual gormless spivs (although Ian Whittaker is gormless enough for an entire gang), Paul Daneman suitably dashing as the young inventor whose invention they’re after, Katherine Kath a glacial, buttoned-down dragon lady and today’s cameo appearance provided by an unbilled Arthur Mullard.

The makers actually managed to commandeer a helicopter for the finale, while as befits a film set around Guy Fawkes night the climax involves fireworks rather than water. Without being too preachy about it the audience is discretely reminded to be careful around fireworks and the final display is conducted under the stewardship of (reasonably) responsible adults. ©Richard Chatten

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Karloff at Columbia 1935-42

 

Boris Karloff was born in London as William Henry Pratt on 23 November 1887. His parents shared Indian ancestry and his mother’s maternal aunt was Anna Leonowens whose writings inspired The King and I musical. Pratt was tall and well built but suffered from a lisp which adds a rasp to his deep, melodious voice. The youngest of nine children, he was privately educated at Uppingham and went up to King’s College, London with a view to joining the Foreign Office, but eventually ended up travelling to Canada where he fell into acting adopting his stage name of Boris Karloff. He would marry six times, clearly his big break in Frankenstein in 1931 at the age of 45 didn’t put women off.

As one of the legends horror cinema he made six horror films during his time at Columbia, three with Nick Grinde, one with Robert Dymtryk and a final comedy spoof, joining forces with Peter Lorre: The Boogie Man Will Get You directed by Lew Landers.

The Black Room (1935)

Writing for The Spectator in 1935, Graham Greene described Roy William Neil’s thriller as “absurd and exciting”, and “wildly artificial.” praising both the acting of Karloff and the direction of Neill, and noting that Karloff had been given a long speaking part and “allowed to act at last”, and that Neill had “caught the genuine Gothic note” in a manner that displayed more historical sense than any of Alexander Korda’s films.

In the early 19th century twins are born to the DeBerghman family who rule a Czech province from their majestic medieval castle, bizarrely located in the Tyrol and designed by Stephen Goosson (Columbia art director who won an Oscar for Lost Horizon). A curse on the family states that the birth of twin boys will destroy the dynasty forever, the younger will murder the elder one in the infamous Black Room, betrayed by the family dog.

Made for Columbia Pictures at the height of his career, an eloquent Karloff has  fun here fleshing out the characters of the gallantly endearing gentleman Anton and his arrantly fiendish older brother Baron Gregor (who women both fear and detest). Magically captured in Allen G Siegler’s luminous black and white camerawork, it’s fascinating to see Karloff getting his teeth into a fully formed, non horror role. The pet mastiff Tor is terrific in support.

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Columbia’s prescient sci-fi themed riff on the Old Dark House theme sees Karloff directed by Nick Grinde in the first (and arguably most intelligent) of his ‘mad scientist’ roles as Dr. Henryk Savaard a kindly and convincing psychopath bringing the dead back to life through the use of an artificial heart, twenty five years before reality. But when his healthy patient dies in a ‘failsafe’ experiment Savaard is tried in a pithy courtroom procedural (“I offered you Life, but you gave me Death”) and condemned to swing. Using the doc’s same methods his assistant, Lang (Byron Foulger), revives him, but Savaard is bitter for revenge.

The Devil Commands (1941)

Karloff really brings out the humanity of a bereaved husband mourning his beloved wife in Edward Dmytryk’s Gothic horror outing based on William Sloane’s novel The Edge of Running Water. It’s a convincing beast from the ‘mad doctor’ stable that explores the afterlife where science meets the surreal in a sorrowful romantic love story stylishly captured by Allen G Siegler’s spooky shadowplay making Karloff look raffishly sexy.

Nick Grinde collaborated with Karloff in two other ‘mad scientist’ films: The Man with Nine Lives (1940) and Before I Hang (1940). MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY EUREKA CLASSICS | 3 May 2021

The Last Shelter (2021) IDFA

 

Dir.: Ousmane Samassekou; Documentary; Mali/France/ Germany, 2021, 85 min.

Malian director Ousmane Samassekou has filmed random travellers from all over North Africa in a transit home in Gao, near the Sahara Desert. Most have come a long way, the nearest from the Malian capital of Bamako which is 496 km away – and some as far away as Burkina Faso. Their common goal is Algeria, a stepping stepping stone away from France and Italy where there are magic money trees and streets of gold. The reality is migrant camps and years of misery.

The Caritas –  House of Migrants caters for mostly young people whose aim is to cross the desert, however reluctantly, to their families in Bamako or more far-flung destinations. Many of the girls and women have spent time in captivity and have been raped. Yet they travel on regardless, risking it all. One 16-year old girl talks about the usual teenage pipe dreams of becoming a celebrity, an actress or a boxing champion. Far from this reverie is the reality of road blocks, where they often robbed on the money to pay the people smugglers taking them over the border. They’d have been much safer staying at home with their families.

Esther doesn’t want to share details of her relative, ashamed that she has not made it to France, even though her family has given her money to support them from Europe. So her dreams are largely built on wild ideas from unrealistic parents who are simply living in the cloud cuckoo land of social media, and she is caught in an invidious trap. Another young woman had ended up in captivity, and only thanks to a benevolent older woman, has been released – but she still wants to try again to get to Europe from this Sahara’s hostile terrain and treacherous sandstorms.

Mariko, an older man, begs staff not to send him to Bamako where they will give him injections which make him sleep all the time. Another young woman was sold by the man who was supposed to be looking after her. Endless stories from Sahara crossings are told: “You die without warning. No matter why, they shoot us like chickens.” The staff warns them over and over again: “Your dreams and illusions make you feel clever, but you will not reach your destinations, it is better to have a job at home, than to dream of abroad.”

Made on a shoestring budget, The Last Shelter could do with a re-edit. But the rawness of the material lends itself to some structural inadequacies, a more polished version would only mask the terror these migrants have been through – and, worse, want to risk all over again. Their lives are so far removed from the dream of the places they want to reach – they think that wearing the logo teeshirt of a millionaire footballer from Barcelona and Arsenal – will transport them on a magic carpet to that lifestyle. They as well might try and reach Mars. AS

|CPH:DOX | DOX:AWARD Winner – Main Competition
|DOK.fest Munich (5-13 May) | NOW SCREENING DURING IDFA 2021 | 17 – 28 November 2021

Studio One in Hollywood: 1984

Dir: Paul Nickell | Creator/Wri: Fletcher Markle | US Drama

As a huge admirer of Orwell’s original novel I was pleasantly surprised that although inevitably not in the same league as Nigel Kneale’s BBC adaptation broadcast the following year, how much of the basic storyline – and more importantly the mood – adaptor William Templeton’s distillation managed to get into just 50 minutes (minus commercials) broadcast live on a TV budget.

A modern viewer will approach this version with scepticism, knowing that it was made at the height of anti-Red hysteria in the United States and of the blacklist. An opening narration underlined by Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony has been added to Orwell’s story to convey Soviet-style totalitarianism and stresses that “What happens to the people in this story might happen to us. Might happen to you. If we should ever relax in our fight for freedom, if we should allow any individuals or any group of individuals to reduce our freedom of thought, our freedom of speech, our freedom of religion, then what happens to the people in this story will happen to us.” However, the irony implicit in this exhortation forcefully delivered by CBS newscaster Don Hollenbeck in the context of the McCarthyite America of 1953 is probably deliberate; and Hollenbeck himself was hounded into committing suicide by gassing himself the following year by a relentless campaign of press harassment headed by a Hearst columnist named – I kid you not! – O’Brian. (Hollenbeck is played by Ray Wise in the 2005 film ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’).

The production looks suitably expressionistic (the bizarre, vaguely abstract portrait of Big Brother somewhat resembling Dr. Mabuse), and although big, strapping Eddie Albert is as miscast as the undernourished, downtrodden Winston Smith as Edmond O’Brien was in the film version three years later, like O’Brien he gives his usual excellent performance. Fans of ‘Bonzana’ will be surprised to see Lorne Greene as an incisive O’Brien. Norma Crane (little known to film viewers, but memorable as Ellie Martin in ‘Tea and Sympathy’ and Golde in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’) is a sassy Julia who I personally found far sexier in her regulation-issue dungarees & blouse and leather greatcoat than the fifties party frock she changes into during her trysts with Winston (in this version of the future it’s mainly the women rather than the men who wear ties), and the moment when she undoes and discards her Anti-Sex League sash carries quite an erotic charge. @Richard Chatten

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Stella Dallas (1925) Venice Film Festival

Dir: Henry King | Wri: Frances Marion | Cast: Ronald Colman, Belle Bennett, Alice Joyce, Jean Hersholt | US Drama

Anybody even vaguely familiar with the subject of Olive Higgins Prouty’s 1923 novel should know about the famous ending; so I won’t bother spoiling it by discussing it here. More people will be familiar with the 1937 remake made by a better director and with a greater actress in the lead. But moving as she is to watch at the remake’s conclusion, Barbara Stanwyck comes across as naturally more capable and resilient than the rather simple and child-like loser portrayed by Belle Bennett, which is what makes Bennett so heart-breaking to watch.

Although top-billed, Ronald Colman gets only a fraction of the screen time of Bennett and never gets the opportunity to project himself as much more than a bit of a prig as Stella’s husband; and one never really appreciates what drew them to each other in the first place other than on the rebound from other disappointments in love. One can certainly warm, however, to the almost unbearably beautiful Lois Moran as their daughter Laurel, who ages very convincingly from a child to a young woman and whose scenes with Bennett powerfully convey the bond between them. One would have thought that Laurel could have had a quiet word with her mother offering her advice on fitting in with her new up-market circle of friends with a few hints on dress and make-up, and keeping her voice down in polite company (as well as spending a lot less time carousing with the egregious Ed Munn, played by Jean Hersholt, who would cramp anyone’s style; but who she later rather cruelly uses). But it’s in the nature of heart-rending tales of mother-love like this that her sacrifice for her daughter has to go far far beyond the necessary call of duty. @Richard Chatten

 

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | CLASSICS STRAND 2022

 

White Heat (1949) Prime Video

Dir: Raoul Walsh | Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brian, Margaret Wycherly | US Crime Drama 116′

Jimmy Cagney was in his fiftieth year when he made this return to the gangster genre, and looks it. But age has neither mellowed him nor slowed him down in this consummate star vehicle with all the trimmings (including a haunting score by Max Steiner – who gets a separate title card all to himself).

White Heat is inconceivable without Cagney, but he’s surrounded by a top supporting cast, most of whom aren’t even named in the credits (I particularly liked G.Pat Collins as the old lag with the hearing aid), with Margaret Wycherley unforgettable as the meanest mama since Ma Barker.

White Heat begins by showing it means business with an incredibly violent train hold-up; after which Cagney continues to display a wanton lack of respect for human life right up to the end. But being Cagney you can’t help rooting for him, and he and Edmond O’Brien (usually unfairly overlooked in discussions of this movie) are both such charismatic presences that it’s almost heartbreaking to see them bond while knowing all along that O’Brien is simply a police plant. Although we’re told well before the end that Cagney is by now hopelessly insane with only brief periods of lucidity, he still seems perfectly functional until the very, very end. (His retelling of the story of the Trojan Horse is particularly cherishable.)

For a late 1940s thriller much of the film actually takes place in the Southern California sun; and the use of locations throughout is exemplary, culminating in the oil refinery on 198th Street and Figueroa, near Torrance, which provides Cagney with a suitably imposing backdrop for his big scene at the end. @Richard Chatten.

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Rascal (2020) Vilnius Film Festival (2021)

Dir/scr: Peter Dourountzis | Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Ophelie Bau, Sebastien Houbani | France, Thriller. 96′

Rascal is a an everyday story of a psychopath played with hard-eyed nonchalance by Pierre Delardonchamps.

There’s nothing sensationalist about the story of Dje. The title might suggest a cheeky playfulness but this couldn’t be far from the truth. Not without charm when he wants something, Dje he can also being quietly menacing as he goes with the flow living by his wits, casually violent if he needs to be. In fact, ‘casual’ sums up a man who never gets worked up about anything. This homeless opportunist is none too shabby in his stylish anorak. A recidivist bottom-feeder who gets by on the streets of Limoges, where we first meet him on a train, rudely intruding on the privacy of his neighbour in a train carriage. But that’s the most harmless trait in his repertoire of antisocial behaviour.

Peter Dourountzis’ first feature takes a detached view of his psychopathic protagonist seen through the steely lens of DoP Jean-Marc Fabre. Limoges is seen as a joyless urban centre where danger lurks at every turn as Dje slips unnoticed in the crowd until he spots an unsuspecting female glance and returns it with a smirking stare. What follows could be a seduction or something more deadly but it mostly occurs off camera, and some women can be extraordinarily accommodating to this enigmatic stranger who is never there when the going gets tough. Of no fixed abode he has no identity papers. Meanwhile, street signs in bus shelters warn women to be vigilant. There’s a killer on the loose. But why would anyone suspect Dje with his boyish looks and clean complexion?.

Rascal was originally made as a short film, Dourountzis cutting himself plenty of slack with the textured script that plays to our fertile imagination and works in a subplot about Dje connecting with an underground network of homeless misfits who offer him room in their squat. Here he meets Maya (Ophelie Bau Mektoub, My Love) and the two have a thing for a while until Dje loses control and needs to move out of the spotlight and back into the shadows. MT

EUROPEAN DEBUT COMPETITION  | Best Actor: Pierre Deladonchamps | AT VILNIUS FILM FESTIVAL | 18 MARCH – 6 APRIL 2021 |

 

 

 

 

The Snorkel (1958) Blu-ray

Dir: Guy Green | Cast: Peter van Eyck, Betta St John, Mandy Miller, Gregoire Aslan | UK Psycho Drama, 90′

In 1968, when I was nine years old, I was about 10 minutes from the end of this gripping Hammer psycho-thriller on Anglia Television when my father amused himself by suddenly packing me off to bed. It’s taken me forty-nine years, but I finally got to see the ending of this film.

Hammer’s psychological thrillers of the early sixties are usually deemed sub-Hitchcock copies of Psycho; but since The Snorkel was released a full two years before Psycho their inspiration is more obviously Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), from the mystery novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narjejac, who also wrote the book on which Vertigo was based. (Peter van Eyck, the evil stepfather in The Snorkel, actually starred in Clouzot’s previous film, Le Salaire de la Peur.)

The Snorkel was the last film lead played by the unique Mandy Miller, then 13, whose dramatically arched eyebrows and full lips render her still recognisable as the pretty little deaf & dumb girl from Ealing Studio’s classic Mandy (1952). Already convinced that her mother is simply the second of her two parents to be murdered by Van Eyck, a poster of Cousteau’s ‘Le Monde du Silence’ provides her with the clue she needs as to how he did it, and she enters with gusto into a game of cat and mouse with her wicked stepfather. Thus provoked, van Eyck puts on his striped jersey and rubber gloves again, slips her a Mickey Finn, seals off all the windows and doors and turns on the gas, and then…

It’s taken me nearly fifty years to find out what happened next, but it’s a beaut! ©Richard Chatten

NOW ON BLURAY AT AMAZON 

Zee and Co. (1972)

Dir: Brian G Hutton | Wri: Edna O’Brian | Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine, Susannah York, Margaret Leighton | US Drama 110′

For anyone who ever hankered to see what a collaboration between the novelist Edna O’Brien and the director of Where Eagles Dare would have looked like, look no further! After two war movies in a row, Brian G. Hutton obviously felt the need to try his hand at something a bit more dangerous; and Elizabeth Taylor in all her big-haired, loud-mouthed and even more loudly dressed glory dominates this delirious spectacle in a way rarely seen since the heyday of Bette Davis.

Taylor and Caine give their all as a self-absorbed pair who make George & Martha from ‘Virginia Woolf’ look like The Brady Bunch. In reality Caine would probably have abandoned or murdered Taylor long ago; but she’s entertaining to watch and listen to – at least for the duration of the movie – and shows a delightful flair for mimicry mocking some of her co-stars. (spoiler coming up: I thought she jumped the shark, however, with her suicide attempt.)

Susannah York understandably seems more than a little overwhelmed by the madhouse she’s wandered into. A few spoilsports have already revealed the twist at the end of this tale. As a bloke I was as surprised and delighted as I was relieved that a woman wrote it; so it absolved me of feeling guilty at being served up with one of my favourite male fantasies about two women.

Whatever happened to these three after the closing credits is anybody’s guess; but the audience I watched it with at the Barbican tonight laughed appreciatively all the way through and gave it an enthusiastic round of applause as the lights went up. @Richard Chatten.

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

Bad Roads (2021) Vilnius Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Natalya Vorozhbit; Cast: Igor Koltovskyy, Andrey Lelyukh, Vladimir Gurin, Ekaterina Zhurakovskaya, Ekaterina Zahdanovich, Anastasia Parshina, Yulia Matrosova, Marina Klimova, Yuri Kulinich, Zoya Baranovskaya, Oksana Voronina, Sergej Solovyov; Ukraine 2020, 105 min.

Ukraine’s Natalya Vorozhbit shows how women are exploited sexually and emotionally during wartime in this award-winning feature debut adapted from her play of the same name that staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

In 2014 Ukraine’s Donbass region was the setting for ongoing hostilities with neighbouring Russia. Women bore the brunt of both sides of the conflict, humanitarian rules were abandoned in the survival of the fittest. Bad Roads explores four episodes in very different settings detailing man’s barbaric treatment of the opposite sex during wartime.

At a casual road stop in the war zone, a headmaster (Koltovskyy) of a nearby school is trapped in a Kafkaesque showdown with two soldiers. The teacher clearly came out with the wrong passport, that morning, and the Kalashnikov rifle in his boot doesn’t help matters. He claims it is a toy model for teaching the students, but the militia men are suspicious. Then it becomes clear why the teacher is driving around: he is looking for a female student; after spotting her, he asks the soldiers to let her go: “You are saying that you defend us, but you are fucking our children. Please leave this one alone, she is an orphan”. The headmaster retrieves his passport and the Captain (Lelyukh), gives the him “the word of honour of an officer that there is no girl in the compound of the militia”. These assurances fall on deaf ears: Both know that he is lying.

Three school girls wait at a bus stop for their soldier friends who bring them cigarettes and cosmetics in return for sex. There’s nothing new in this transactional relationship, but it has a brutal edge as the girls know full well they may be lynched when the soldiers retreat. A grandmother (Matrosova) recounts the past when she and her friends sat on the same bench waiting for their boyfriends to come home from work.

In the most inhumane scenario a human rights journalist (Klimova) has suffers an attempted rape after being detained by soldiers one of whom (Kulinich) shares his childhood memory of a pet hamster who bit him so hard he made the animal drown in his own blood. War makes monsters of these men, death becomes meaningless “at first, you were glad that you were alive, but now there are no feelings left”. The episode ends shockingly.

A young woman (Baranovskaya) driving in the countryside accidentally runs over a chicken. She tries to compensate the old couple (Voronina/Solovyov), who think she has stopped for another reason. “Have you been raped? We can call the police”. They ask candidly. Later on the couple try to bargain with the woman, putting a priceless value on their hen. Bitterness and desperation turn ordinary people to irrational acts of mental cruelty. And there are no happy endings in Bad Roads: Later on the old people hear on their radio that a young local woman was severely injured when her car ran over a landmine.

DoP Voladymir Ivanov oscillates between hyper-realism in the Spa episode, poetic realism in the episode with the three girls and a bit of horror-treatment in the last section. The ensemble cast is brilliant, particularly the three girls, who are non-professionals. But the narratives are grim and unforgiving. Bad Roads is a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life: utter depravity of mind and body.

VILNIUS FILM FESTIVAL ONLINE | 18 MARCH – 5 APRIL 2021

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Dir/Wri: Sam Fuller | Cast: Constance Thomas, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante, Virginia Grey | US Drama 90′

It was always hard to tell if Sam Fuller was pulling your leg or in earnest in his 1964 follow up to Shock Corridor another potent psychodrama. Female lead Constance Towers (who had recently featured in two productions for John Ford) is yet another otherwise little-known actress only fleetingly given the opportunity to show on screen just what she was capable of. As late as 1994 she still brought a glacial elegance to the role of a sophisticated older woman in an episode of ‘Frazier’, and as photographed by Stanley Cortez in Fuller’s last film in black & white, thirty years years earlier, she is amazing; entirely worthy of Cortez’s previous collaborations with Orson Welles & Charles Laughton. The Naked Kiss resembles a silent film, and parts of it an underground film of the 1970s; (and like them the supporting cast includes a former silent star, in this case in the form of Betty Bronson, who forty years earlier had played Peter Pan).

The Naked Kiss continues to divide the relatively small number of those who have actually seen it. Some consider it a masterpiece, others an utter bore. That said, it remains ahead of its time while exuding retro glamour (especially when Virginia Grey turns up in a beehive and business suit playing a madam). Rejected by the British Board of Film Censors in 1964 it would probably continue to encounter censorship problems today. @RichardChatten

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Pariah Dog (2020)

Dir.: Jesse Alk; Documentary with Kajal, Milly, Subrata, Pinku; Canada/US/India 2019, 77min.

This homage to the stray dogs of Kolkata is the first feature documentary from US Canadian director Jesse Alk. The decaying glory of the former capital of the Raj provides an evocative setting for his labour of love, and  possibly the saddest film of the year. Alk (whose father Howard, directed The Murder of Fred Hampton 1971) influenced by Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Paris Spleen’ a hymn to the street dogs of Paris, who inspired his poetry.

The Indian Pariah dog, aka South Asian Pye dog, has been forced out of its native habitat leaving nowhere left to go in the squalid backwaters of grandiose post-colonial decay: shoeless children play on a riverbank, a man urinates against a wall while a little girl disco dances, oblivious. Shot on the hazy waterways of the coastal delta or at night under velvety street lights where goats are herded through waterfronts and slums, Uber-Drivers dart like ghosts from another cosmos.

But Pariah Dog is more about the four souls who help strays survive. It’s a symbiotic relationship, the dogs are their raison d’etre and their extended family. Artist Pinku tools wooden sculptures by day and drives a taxi at night to pay the bills. A gentle, philosophical man he lives for his menagerie of dogs, a parrot, a rabbit and a monkey, all sharing a decrepit hovel not big enough to swing a cat. Meanwhile Subrata is possibly the first yodelling rickshaw driver. His efforts to raise money with his dog-themed songs are laudable and touching, but his pleas for animal welfare donations fall on deaf ears, so he resorts to street leftovers to feed his grateful pack of hounds. In 2013 he took part in a Bengali TV show, fading posters the proud testament to his moment of glory. Later in the film he transforms into a canine troubadour encouraging others to care for “humans, animals and plants”.

Two women make up the foursome: Milly and her helper Kajal come from different castes of Hindu society, often falling out over their rules of engagement. Millly is a highly educated disillusioned romantic whose husband left her in her decrepit family pile. Of Japanese-Russian descent, she pleads poverty: her land has been taken over by squatters but the authorities couldn’t care less. Kajal lives nearby in a hut the size of a kennel. Devoted to her strays, maimed by passing cars or unkind people, she cares for them until they die, burying them with a yellow garland, a sign of Hindu respect. A supreme love for life and the vulnerable has struck a chord with their feelings of dispossession, carrying these desperate women through ructions and reconciliations, their dignified street marches to raise awareness of animal welfare are to be admired.

For dog lovers, some of the footage is too difficult to watch. Alk conjures up enough poetry in his images without resorting to sentimentality, maintaining a dispassionate eye in this cruel metropolis of 15 million where only the fittest survive. In this ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ the spirit of Mother Theresa still survives.

AVAILABLE TO VIEW ON TRUESTORY

No Ordinary Man (2020)

Dir: Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt | US Doc

The story of jazz musician Billy Tipton (1914-89) is seen from the perspective of his sexuality rather than his musical talent in this new, experimental documentary from Canadian filmmakers Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt (who is trans). They see Tipton as a trans trailblazer, a jazzy gender bender. But his common-law wife Kitty Kelly claims never to have realised he was a woman. And it didn’t end there. Another three ‘wives’ under his belt and three adopted kids later, this trans legend still had everyone fooled almost everyone.  And who really cared when he played the piano so divinely and was always ready to improvise when another musician dropped out.

By way of background, Billy was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton in Oklahoma City on December 29, 1914 and was raised by an aunt in Alabama, but later adopted Spokane, Washington as his home. Tipton had shown a keen interest in jazz but was barred from joining the all-male school band at Southwest High School. But perseverance paid off and he eventually developed a serious musical career as a ‘male musician’ by concealing his female form and calling himself Billy Lee Tipton in the early 1930s. By 1940, Tipton was living as a man in private life as well in public.

But rather than sensationalising the reveal of his being transexual, the filmmakers’ focus here is laudably Tipton’s legacy as a ‘transmasculine’ icon, inspiring the lives of many. During his lifetime he was successfully all things to all people: Kelly claiming. “Billy Tipton was a man in every sense of the word,” – “he was the best husband anyone could have dreamed of” adding “He will always be a man. He will be nothing more than a man” to a stunned audience in one of Oprah Winfrey’s chat shows.

Enriched by archive material, newspaper clips and excerpts from Stanford professor Diane Middlebrook’s 1998 biog ‘Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton’, this is an intellectually bracing film informed by a welter of authoritative talking heads, most poignantly Tipton Jr.  Amongst them is also author and gender theorist Kate Bornstein who asserts “there was no such thing as a trans man back in the 1980s. But one can hardly blame Billy for embracing the idea that being a ‘man’, rather than a woman, would path the way to success in the music business (or any business) back then. Had he stayed cisgender we may never have enjoyed his brilliant contribution to the world of jazz. Tunes like “Please Don’t Be that Way”.

Susan Stryker, a filmmaker, author and professor of Gender and Woman’s Studies comments on the rampant transphobia of the 1980s, hardly surprising when even nowadays the whole idea of trans sexuality still has some people run, screaming for the hills. But no-one has any proof that Tipton, who began presenting as a man from the ago of 19, made any fuss about his conception of gender identity, one must assume he just got on and did it, joining the party with so many other artists of the era who freely indulged their queer sexuality while being married to ‘women or men’.

What makes this film so innovative is the filmmakers’ framing device that sees a group of talented trans-masculine actors auditioning for the main role in a putative Tipton documentary, taking their cues from the (offscreen) directors in order to perform Billy at pivotal moments during his career – such as his first meeting with Duke Ellington, and so on. This offers them a collaborative springboard to then voice their own experiences and impressions of trans-masculinity with reference to Tipton – a very popular device nowadays – but not if you’re just yearning for a straight up biopic of the legendary musician himself, which hasn’t been done before.

No Ordinary Man does fall into the trap of allowing judgement of the past to be made by today’s standards, with a double time line – twenty years after the Middlebrook biog, and another nearly ninety, since Billy first put on masculine garb. We are living in a hyper-sensitive age where there are so many differing viewpoints and so many platforms available to give these varying stances voice, it’s almost impossible not to offend. But in this instance the film provides pithy insight into the trans experience, widening the debate for those affected by the issues, and offering worthwhile insight into how trans stories are often framed from the cisgender viewpoint – all in a meaty 83 minutes. Poignant also to that Tipton junior is able to hear more about his famous forebear. Well made, engaging and powerful. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 2021

 

 

 

Call Northside 777 (1948)

Dir: Henry Hathaway Wri: Jerome Cady | | Cast: James Stewart, Richard Conte, Lee J Cobb, Helen Walker, Betty Garde | US, Noir thriller 112′

The postwar Jimmy Stewart demonstrates his new, hard-won gravitas in this engrossing drama in which background music and narration are largely absent as he investigates a conviction he becomes increasingly convinced is unsafe; while Richard Conte plays a downtrodden Pole rather than a downtrodden Italian as the innocent man sentenced to 99 years.

Most viewers already know (even before Truman Bradley informs us in the opening narration) that Conte is released, so it’s HOW rather than WHETHER he’s cleared that holds the attention; and it all gets rather involved. That those in authority found it convenient to leave Conte in jail is touched upon, while high-tech gadgets like polygraphs and microfilm cameras further the narrative, and such a gadget makes for satisfyingly cinematic climax that anticipates ‘Blowup’ by twenty years. But (MASSIVE SPOILERS COMING:) was it really possible in 1944 to blow up the date on a newspaper as sharply as is done here, and (as my predecessor observed) why did they ignore the pictures on the front page, which we never see sharpened up and would in themselves have confirmed which edition the newsboy was holding?

Real life as usual inevitably denies us such a tidy conclusion as ends the film; since the real Joseph Majcek, actually led a troubled life following his eventual release from prison in 1945 and ultimately ended his days in a mental institution in 1983. ©Richard Chatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV | AMAZON

Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation (2020)

Dir: Lisa Immordino Vreeland | Cast: David Frost, Dick Cavett, Voices of Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto; USA 2021, 96 min.

Apart from in chat shows few people have actually heard the real voices of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams but Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons sound realistic in this enjoyable documentary about the friendship between two of the most charismatic personalities in American 20th century culture.

Lisa Immordino Vreeland is a dab hand at as a documentary filmmaker having already showcased the lives of Peggy Guggenheim, Cecil Beaton and Diana Vreeland (her grandmother-in-law). And here she brings the forty-year long relationship between Capote (1924-1984) and Williams (1911-1983) into focus – whilst private secrets are spilled, Vreeland never falls into the trap of sensationalism, the overall structure is enlivened by TV interviews of both men by David Frost and Dick Cavett.

courtesy of Getty Images

Capote and Williams both grew up in the South and had troublesome and relationships with their overbearing fathers, turned to books early on as a way to escape, and had a life-long struggle with drugs and alcohol. They met when Capote was sixteen, and spent most of the years between 1940 and and 1960 enjoying Spain, Italy, France and Morocco with their respective partners: Williams with the actor Frank Merlo (1921-1963) and Capote with the author Jack Dunphy (1914-1992). Truman says, that their relationship was purely “an intellectual friendship”, which did not hinder either of them from making bitchy remarks about the opposite’s spouses.

Courtesy of the Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Capote’s first success came with ‘Other Voices, other Rooms’ in 1948, three years after Williams’ ‘The Glass Menagerie’, which was followed by ‘A Street named Desire’. It may come as a surprise that Williams, who confessed to being “just terribly, terribly over-sexed”, did not have his first (heterosexual) affair before 27, having taken up masturbation only a year earlier, before consummating his first gay affair aged 28 with Frank Merlo.

Truman was blunt about his sexuality stating that it would have been easier to have been a girl, but “I was homosexual and I had never any guilt about it what so ever. I was the only character who was beyond the pale. I didn’t care”.

Williams, assuming rightly, that he would be judged by the many feature films based on his plays, regretted that censorship ruined many endings, even to the point of negating what had gone on before. Capote felt let down by the producers of Breakfast at Tiffany’s claiming he had been promised Marilyn Monroe, his first choice, as Holly Golightly. But they “cheated”, and “cast Audrey Hepburn, who was not right for the part, because Holly was based on a real person, and she was very tough, unlike anything Hepburn was”.

The docu-feature film of Capote’s non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, about two drifters who murdered a Kansas family, “scraped me right down, to the marrow of my bones. It nearly killed me. I think, in a way, it did kill me. I had been a stable person. Afterwards, something happened to me”.

The 1970s and 80s saw both men in decline, Williams complaining he never had a positive review after 1961. “Everything went wrong, private and professional, and ultimately my mind broke”. They died within 18 months of each other. Getting together for the last time at a party a few weeks before William’s death, the latter asked Capote “Where will we meet again?”. To which Truman answered “in paradise”.

Overall Truman & Tennessee does feel like a very private affair, dominated by the revealing ‘conversations’ of these literally giants who lived and breathed through for their writing. DoP Shane Sigler integrates the still photos, feature film clips and the TV interviews into an aesthetically convincing form, with Vreeland showing enough empathy with her subjects, bringing their Icarus-like careers into perspective in this cinematic catnip for literary lovers. AS

Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation is available on Dogwoof on Demandand other platforms from 30 April.

Main image credit: At Sotheby’s 1978 Globe Photos/Media Punch/Shutterstock & Tennessee Williams courtesy of the Cecil Beaton Studio. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catch Us if You Can (1965)

Dir: John Boorman | Wri: Peter Nichols | Cast: Dave Clark, Barbara Ferris, David Lodge, Robin Bailey, Clive Swift, Marianne Stone, Ronald Lacey, Yootha Joyce, David de Keyser,

John Boorman’s calling card for Point Blank wasn’t a straight-up musical biopic of the famous early 1960s band (whose 1964 hit ‘Glad All Over’ knocked the Beatles off the top of the UK Singles Chart) but something altogether more interesting, the DC5s music providing the score for a ‘Youth Culture’ escapade. Taking its title from another band hit Catch Us if You Can starts in London then broadens out into an eventful auteurish travelogue of the West Country in an E-type Jag, captured by Manny Wynn’s evocative black and white camerawork. There are some memorable turns – particularly from Barbara Ferris as a model running away with a stuntman (played by Clark) while filming a promo for an ad agency – who then capitalise on the caper. The Five boys don’t have the chops, but they certainly held the tunes – and add a certain cocky verve as ‘Beatle competitors’, and Ferris is amusingly perky as Dinah. Watch out for Yootha Joyce, Clive Swift, Michael Gwynn, Peter Nichols (who wrote the script) and a mellow David de Keyser (who is still with us) as the quintessential Sixties adman adding a touch of edgy class. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY, DVD, DIGITAL PLATFORMS – 5th April 2021

Wilderness (2021)

Dir.: Justin John Doherty; Cast: Katharine Davenport, James Barnes, Sebastian Badarau, Bean Downes; UK 2017, 84 min.

The first feature for Justin John Doherty, scripted by Neil Fox, is a melancholic tract on the impossibility of true love. Set during the 1960s Wilderness is two films in one: a passionate and playful love affair influenced by Godard’s wordy confrontation of the genders in Contempt all coupled with a brilliant jazz score reminiscent of Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’echefaud .

John (Barnes), a black jazz musician, who shuttles between Europe and the US, meets Alice (Davenport), the two of them stealing moments between concerts and travel. Their relationship is fired by a palpable physical attraction that powers their idealistic affair. This loved-up dynamic changes when they spend a long weekend beachside in Cornwall meeting strangers and friends only to discover (like the audience) they hardly know each other beyond a sexual bond.

At a drunken party with John’s friend Charlie (Baderau) and his partner Francis (Downes), the tenuous nature of their relationship becomes obvious. Alice starts dancing rather too intimately with Charlie, and then joins Francis in criticising ‘men’ for keeping old affairs to themselves.

While Alice is interested in finding out about John – particularly his past – John is often unable to voice his feelings. Alice is shown as a rather moody character, her randomness often leaving John bewildered. “Are we over?” he asks at one point. But that would be too easy for Alice who involves John, not for the first time, in a game of strip poker. Side by side on the floor, they mourn the loss of their idealised passion. Gender and race politics raise their heads but are integrated into the narrative.

Shot with four professional actors and the same number of filmmakers, Wilderness feels very much a work in progress, and this has pro and cons: the poetic, non-linear element of the first part confidently reflects the more daring student element, but the rather wobbly second part, particularly the clunky dialogue and the lack of visual strength, might have been avoided by a more self-critical crew. Overall, Wilderness feels like a promising feature in its draft process, the completed version still waiting to be unveiled. AS

WILDERNESS IS ON 5 APRIL 2021 ON SKY STORE, iTUNES, AMAZON, GOOGLE, and BT

An Impossible Project (2021)

Dir.: Jens Meurer; Documentary with Dr. Florian Kaps, Oskar Smolokowski, Slava Smolokowski; Austria/Germany/UK 2020, 99 min.

The Digital age may be upon us but humans are still analogue. Austrian documentarian Jens Meurer (Public Enemy) has chosen sides and this bid to champion and hold on to everything analogue is quietly amusing and informative.

Paradoxically Meurer was responsible for the very first digital entry at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2002. His 99 minute uninterrupted digital shot for Alexander Sukuorow’s Russian Ark (2002) was filmed on Sony Cine Alta HDW-F90.

Science and politics dominate and in keeping with his sentiment everything is shot on 35mm film (Arricamera), even the score by Haley Reinhart was recorded direct onto vinyl. In 2008, whilst techno-freaks were celebrating the first i-Phone, Dr Florian Kaps, a former biologist, known as Doc, was invited to Enschede (Netherlands) to the closure of the last Polaroid factory.

Instead of last rites, the Doc proscribed a resurrection somehow managing to scrape together 180 000 Euro to keep the factory going. And while he persuaded the workforce to co-operate, the first products were rather disappointing. Even if their artistic value was cool – the forty minute development time was certainly not. The machines did work again, but the chemicals and formulas for the development of the famous instant photos had been lost. Doc was unperturbed, and the worldwide community of Analogue fanatics helped as much as possible.

Kaps was not allowed to use the name Polaroid for a long time, and called the enterprise ‘Impossible’, with its HQ in Berlin. Meeting the New York based photographer Oscar Smolokowski and his investor father Slava, turned out to be a poison chalice for the Doc: the duo helped to launch a fully functioning Polaroid revival (in 2018 over one million films were sold), but the Doc had the same fate as Steve Jobs: he had to leave the company, the reasons not really explained.

Undeterred, Kaps soon found a new project, the Viennese Grand Hotel Moleskine, build in 1900. At the end, Haley Reinhart and the Sascha Peres Orchestra perform in the presence of the Doc in the restored hotel ‘Ball Saal’ – directly recorded for Europe’s largest Vinyl company, contributing to a yearly sale of 300 million vinyl records in 2019.

Even though Meurer introduces some polemic: “Digital is not real, it’s just a simulation of reality”. There is something to be said for regaining the use of our senses, all five of them – not just the two that are digital, but also taste, smell and touch because they make us happier and healthier”. Overall there is enough humour and self-deprecation in coming to terms with the fact that humans are the most analogue beings on the planet. AS

NOW ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS

The Man Who Sold His Skin (2020)

Dir: Kaouther Ben Hania | Cast: Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci, Saad Lostan, Darina Al Joundi, Jan Dahdouh, Christian Vadim | Tunisia, Drama 104′

A Syrian man turns difficulty into success in this stunning exploitation love story set in the international art world.

This Oscar-nominated follow-up to Beauty and the Dogs gives Tunisian writer director Kaouther Ben Hania another opportunity to question social injustice with her signature sensuous cinematic language.

Powered forward by an unabashedly angry performance from newcomer Yahya Mahayni as Syrian refugee Sam Ali – whose chance meeting with a famous artist sees him agreeing to be transformed into an artwork himself:. a Schengen visa is then tattooed on Ali’s back, securing him a coveted air passage to Europe, Belgium to be precise, where he reconnects with girlfriend Abeer (Dea Liane).

To say that Sam has a plucky attitude is an understatement. But his-blind-sided sense of self-belief certainly opens doors and gets him what he wants. First of all the sympathy of the controversial artist himself, Jeffrey Godefroi (De Bouw) who takes him onboard as a ‘canvas’, despite his chippiness. It also ensures the utter dedication of the artist’s assistant (a blond-haired Monica Bellucci, no less) who panders to his every whim, even after being told “F**k you”.

But what Ali really wants is the woman of his dreams who he proposes to in the deliriously romantic opening scenes, but who is now married to somebody else, and living comfortably in Belgium.

There is a dark Shakespearean downside to the story and one that gives the film a potent message: Ali must agree to give his skin back after his death, as it remains (ironically) the copyright of the artist. And there’s more, poor Ali must also acquiesce to being ‘auctioned’ which seems a gross act of human commodification, in a plotlline that makes this relevant all over the world, not just locally.

This stylish production is shot by award-winning Christopher Aoun (Capernaum). And although the rather schematic plot falls into place rather too easily, the sheer verve of the performances and the highly controversial civil liberty and refugee issues at its core makes it a soulful winner. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 23 SEPTEMBER 2021

 

Firebird (2021) Bfi Flare 2021

Dir: Peeter Rebane | Cast: Tom Prior, Nicholas Woodeson, Diana Pozharskaya, Oleg Zagorordnii | US Drama 107′

Firebird runs along similar lines to the recent South African services drama Moffie, this version inspired by late Russian actor Sergey Fetisov’s memoir and set in the Soviet Air Force during the Cold War.

Screening as part of the Hearts strand of this year’s Bfi Flare Festival, the lavishly mounted feature debut draws on the director’s own experience of growing up in Soviet occupied Estonia, yet fails to mine the incendiary potential of a dramatic episode in European history.

Tom Prior co-wrote the script and stars as the unsettled soldier Sergey who is drafted into the services but really has dreams of being an actor. He soon gets involved in an illicit love triangle with a dashing fighter pilot Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii) who invites him to see Stravinsky’s Firebird at the opera. But Roman is also kindling a desire for his female comrade Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya) amid the high octane backdrop of a Soviet Air Force Base.

A friendship across the ranks soon sparks into an amorous escapade involving all three comrades in arms, once again highlighting the risks of love affairs in the time of war, this one spiced up by its forbidden nature, punishable by five years in a hard labour camp. The men’s interest in photography is brought to life by the vibrant aesthetic of Mait Maekivi’s colour-drenched camerawork.

Firebird certainly looks impressive with its authentic settings and lush production values but the film never quite generates enough heat to make us care for its underwritten characters who remain cartoonish and rather glib throughout, Luisa hardly getting a look in as a staid and sketchy also-ran in this so-called menage a trois.

Clearly Prior – so affective in Kingsman – has been brought in to lend star power but here joins the rest of cast of rather robotic stormtroopers bringing to mind Kraftwerk’s heroes rather than real people who we can empathise with in their tortured love lives. MT

FIREBIRD is premiering at BFi Flare

 

 

Groundswell (2020) Earth Day 2021

Dir.: Johnny Goran; Documentary with Mark Ruffalo, Nuala McNulty, Olivia Mitchell, Kate Ruddock, Joe McHugh; ROI 2021, 80 min.

Activist and filmmaker Johnny Gogan’s Groundswell explores how Ireland banned the practice of fracking (releasing oil or gas from shale rock) and how Northern Ireland still faces a prospect that has led to tremors, and poisoned water in NE Pennsylvania, where fracking is common.

Gogan guides us through his powerful film showing what is possible with direct action on the ground from his base in Fermanaugh. Political campaigner Nuala McNulty started the fight against fracking in Northern Ireland after the Irish Parliament, the Deil, had given licenses for exploratory drillings to Canadian company Tamboran Resources, whose agent Tony Bazley promised that no chemicals would be used in the process.

Jamie Murphy from ‘Love Leitrim”, remembers the police action in the Northern Irish fight against Shell, one of their slogans was “Farming, not Fracking”. Later a moratorium was reached in the Deil, pending the feasibility study into gas mining in the licensed areas near the border. The area was still suffering confrontations during the “Troubles”.

Arlene Foster, a staunch Fermanaugh activist and Northern Ireland’s First Minister, had an ambiguous relationship with fracking that drew criticism from the Irish border population. Meanwhile Gogan visited campaigners in NE Pennsylvania where diagnosis of cancer had almost doubled in the population, particularly in young people indicating a clear correlation with the fracking activities. The Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI) joined the fight, as did Friends of the Earth: “Fracking is leaving more carbon footprints on the planet than coal.”

A Private Members Bill to legislate for the banning of fracking was introduced in the Deil, but was a victim of the General Election in 2016. Finally, a motion was passed in October 2016, to ban the import of gas gained from fracking, the only bill of its kind in the world. Nevertheless, not all is won: we listen to ex-president Trump announcing that the EU is planning to import fracking products, and in June 2019 Tamboran Resources was given permission to explore for Shale Gas in Northern Ireland – the decision of the restored NI executive is pending…

Gogan’s detailed chronicle is a laudable testament to the fight but instead of appealing to heart and minds, it often bogs the audience down with too much detail, names and organisations making Groundswell a valuable insider documentary rather than for mainstream entertainment. AS

Groundswell will be released on Friday 16th April, ahead of Earth Day 2021 and will be available via the Modern Films virtual cinema platform. It will screen theatrically later in the year.

 

 

 

The Quiller Memorandum (1966) TPTV

Dir: Michael Anderson | Cast: George Segal, Alex Guinness, Max Von Sydow, Sent Berger, George Sanders, Robert Flemyng, Philip Madoc | Uk Drama 106′

Adapted from Adam Hall’s novel ‘The Berlin Memorandum’, this was the only spy film written by Harold Pinter; a sad loss, since he and the genre – with their ambiguous motivations and outright deceptions, complicated here by the fact that almost everybody around him is speaking amongst themselves in a foreign language – were made for each other.

The dialogue scenes between spymasters George Sanders and Robert Flemyng in Whitehall are pure Pinter. While back in Berlin the second most Pinteresque scenes are those where our disarmingly offbeat hero is interrogated by knuckle-cracking neo-Nazi Max von Sydow. Alec Guinness puts in a sinister appearance in the mammoth Olympiastadion at Charlottenburg. Truly the stuff of nightmares.

Senta Berger is the heroine. Meester Quiller!! (She is currently shooting her latest film in Bavaria). While the final scene is a wonderfully Hitchcockian denouement, all the more shocking for taking place in glorious morning sunshine to an appropriately wistful accompaniment from John Barry’s score sung by the mellow Matt Munro. ©Richard Chatten.

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV | AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

Human Rights Watch Festival 2021 | Women have their say

Opening this Thursday 18 March, this year’s HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FESTIVAL  kicks off with The 8th about Ireland’s women-led campaign to engineer the impossible – to overturn the 8th Amendment, a constitutional ban on abortion.

In Belly of the Beast two women wage a near impossible battle against the US Department of Corrections to expose modern-day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons.

Mujer de Soldado reveals a deeply moving picture of female solidarity among four Peruvian women, who are bringing charges of historical rape against their abusers.

And in the Closing Night film on 26 March Unapologetic new talent Ashley O’Shay spent four years chronicling the lives of two young, black, queer women within the Black Lives movement in Chicago. In Ashley’s words: Unapologetic serves as a blueprint to that moment (last summer)…. I hope you walk away feeling inspired, and hopeful, and righteously rageful at the systems that have failed women.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | Tickets go on sale February 18 and can be purchased via the Human Rights Watch Film Festival or Barbican Cinema On Demand.

Tove (2020)

Dir: Zaida Bergroth | Finland, Drama | 100′

This drama about Moomins creator Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is as enchanting as her hippo-like cartoon characters that are celebrated by kids and adults all over the world.

Finnish filmmaker Zaida Bergroth brings the Finnish bisexual artist to life in this delicately sensuous and affecting biopic that showcases her unconventional loves as much as her talent as an author, artist and creator, played here by a captivating Alma Pöysti and scored by evocative soundtrack of tunes from the era from jazz to swing, Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing being the musical motif throughout with Stefan Grapelli and Edith Piaf enlivening the Parisian sequences of the early 1950s.

Eeva Putro’s gracefully paced script focuses on the immediate aftermath to WWII in a discretely decadent Helsinki where Soviet bomb raids fail to spoil Tove’s fun at lively cocktail parties where champagne continues to flow during illustrious soirees. Home is a stylish bohemian milieu where Swedish is spoken. Tove is often put down by her renown but competitive sculptor father (Enckel), although her graphic artist mother (Kajsa Ernst) adores and encourages her creative potential.

Later at art school Tove is nudged by her father towards the more highbrow artistic expression of painting, but prefers illustrating and doodling cartoons for a subversive magazine, and this is where she will eventually make her name and earn a meagre living. All this creativity naturally spills over into amorous encounters. Soon Tove is involved with a married politician (Shanti Roney as Artos Wirtanen) and a wealthy female client Viveca Bandler (Kosonen) in dizzying sexual encounters, both leaving her troubled and unsatisfied as she seeks solace in her art. Bergroth keeps the tempo romantically-charged and touching rather than tortured or soul-searching. Artos eventually proposes but Paris beckons promising other opportunities on the horizon as well as a reunion with the past.

This is such a wonderful film about female creative and sensory expression made more so by its gentle, often handheld, camerawork in Helsinki and Paris – DoP Linda Wassberg often uses that atmospheric technique of fading out the scenes in slow-mo to an echoing soundtrack lending emotional depth and a dreamlike quality to the narrative leaving us contemplating what has gone before and appreciating the intensity of Tove’s artistic and emotional truth. MT

On release from 9 July 2021

Johnny Cool (1963)

Dir: William Asher | Wri: Joseph Landon | Cast: Henry Silva, Elizabeth Montgomery, Richard Anderson, Jim Backus, Wanda Hendrix | US Crime Drama 103’

Before Lee Marvin in The Killers and Point Blank there was Johnny Cool. The name ‘Johnny’ in the title usually means a romantic loner; but this Johnny was such a reptilian thug that by the end I was rooting for him to get what was coming to him in a way that I never did with the likes of Jimmy Cagney.

After possibly the worst title song I’ve ever heard (sung by Sammy Davis Jr., who also contributes a cameo as a dealer in a gambling den in an eye-patch and loud check jacket named “Educated”), what follows is a real curate’s egg vividly shot on location by Sam Leavitt in deliberately ugly black & white with an astonishing cast of cameo players (I particularly liked Mort Sahl’s contribution). The bewitching Elizabeth Montgomery is wasted as a bored socialite who takes a shine to Johnny after seeing him karate someone in a restaurant, yet seems a bit slow to realise that maybe he’s not really a very nice person. (She and director William Asher married the same year and together embarked the following year on the evergreen TV hit ‘Bewitched’, and she was lost to movies forever.)

That the Production Code was by now on its last legs is attested to by macabre details such as the fact that he takes a knife rather than a gun with him to settle one particular score; while he improbably uses a big heavy suitcase with a bomb in it to blow up one victim rather than simply shooting him. And how did he make his getaway after machine-gunning someone else through the top floor window of a high rise office block from a window cleaner’s cradle? However, the film is obliged to show sufficient restraint in its denouement to leave enough to the imagination to make the conclusion far more chilling than had we seen more. (And it’s refreshing to see Elisha Cook Jr. come out on top for once). ©Richard Chatten

 

Memories of My Father | El Olvido Que Seremos (2020)

Dir.: Fernando Trueba; Cast: Javier Camara, Juan Pablo Urrego, Nikola Reyes Cano, Patricia Tamayo, Maria Teresa Barretyo, Laura Londano, Elisabeth Minotta, Kami Zea; Columbia 2020, 136 min.

Memories of My Father in a spirited family saga set against the background of Columbia’s darkest days.

Based on the (auto)biographical novel ‘El Olvido Que Seremos’ by Hector Abad Faciolince, Spanish director Fernando Trueba and his brother David set their story in the city of Medellin, where fiery militias took the law into their own hands. Both novel and film are a tribute to the Columbian human rights advocate and doctor Hector Abad Gomez, by his son Hector ‘Quiquin’ Abad Faciolince.

The story opens in a monochrome Turin in the early 1980s where student Hector Abdad (Urrego) is watching a South American gangster movie with a girl friend. We hear him later on the phone to his mother Cecilia Faciolence de Abad (Tamayo) discussing his father’s rebellious nature. Glorious colours then flood the screen as we revisit Hector’s ‘Quiquin’ (Cano) childhood world, dominated by his compassionate father (Camara) and his four sisters: teenage Mariluz(Barreto), Clara (Londano), Marta (Zea) and Vicky (Minotta.)

Medellin was a turbulent place to grow up: bombs went off regularly, right-wing militia terrorised the population, drug cartels fought it out, and at university fascist professors made life difficult for Abad Gomez. At home, matriarch Cecilia keeps the family finances in order, whilst Clara changes boyfriends regularly and Marta sings melancholic songs, playing the guitar.

Quiquin and his school friend are up to no good – throwing stones at the window of a Jewish family living next door. The school boys are victims of a reactionary aunt, a nun, who tells Quiquin that the Jews killed Jesus Christ and should be punished. Father Hector takes his son to the neighbours and makes him apologize. The same school friend asks Quiquin “if his father was gay” – since Hector senior likes to cuddle his only boy. The youngster is soon fed up with religion and God, and is ordered by his father to attend church to please his mother. The grandmother is sent to a care home, and Cecilia’s brother, a bishop, warns Hector to be more careful with his critique of the government and militia.

But the lack of sanitation in the poor quarters is appalling, and the doctor is the only one, who cares to get prosthesis’ for the victims of bomb attacks.  On the radio, the family listens to accusations against the patriarch, he is branded a Marxist, soon having to leave the country to teach abroad. Then tragedy strikes at the heart of the family and life is never the same.

The feature then circles back to 1983 and black-and-white footage seeing Hector returning to Medellin, where father and son are more and more estranged, since the young man does not understand his father’s social engagement. The first grandchild in the family is born, and Doctor Gomez announces that he is going to run for mayor of the city in 1987. After family tragedy, the scene is now set for confrontation.

DoP Sergi Ivan Castano can take much credit for this engrossing family saga, sometimes told in the style of a tele-novella. The black-and-white images are wonderfully lit, and the colour scenes at the heart of the feature are so vibrant in their crystalline intensity you almost have to squint. The directors avoids a political treaty, focus on the emotional conflicts. Memories is a testament to a man of passion and compassion. ©AS

CURZON HOME CINEMA exclusively from 26th March 2021

 

The October Man (1947) Talking Pictures TPTV

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Wri: Eric Ambler | Cast: John Mills, Joan Greenwood, Edward Chapman, Kay Walsh, Joyce Carey | UK Drama 85′

John Mills has the good fortune to attract the interest of throaty-voiced enchantress Joan Greenwood (like Alec Guinness in ‘The Man in the White Suit’, also playing an industrial chemist, but one far less assailed by doubts and far less appreciative of her) in this atmospheric psycho-drama vividly designed by Alex Vetchinsky, gothically lit by Erwin Hillier, personally produced by Eric Ambler from his novel and marking an auspicious directorial debut for Roy Baker. ©Richard Chatten

ON TALKING PICTURES TV

Strange Journey | El Extrano Viaje (1964)

Dir: Fernando Fernan Gomez | Cast: Carlos Larranaga, Tota Alba, Lina Canalejas, Rafaela Aparicio | Spain, Drama 92’

It’s a wonder this very black comedy got past Franco’s censors in the first place. After the premiere it received only a very limited release, but has since enjoyed considerable acclaim. Based on the notorious unsolved death of two brothers found dead on a beach in Mazarrón in 1956, in the film they have become brother and sister; a pair of moon-faced simpletons completely under the thumb of their terrifying big sister Ignacia. The setting is a small coastal town in which old women in black shawls cluck with disapproval at swinging young sixties chicks in leopardskin slacks; while Ignacia presides over a Gothic old house deliberately reminiscent of the Bates mansion in Psycho.

Described by Pedro Almodóvar as an “accursed masterpiece”, the film’s director Fernando Fernán Gómez (1921-2007) was best known in Spain as an actor, and fleetingly appeared as Penelope Cruz’s senile father in Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (1999).

After Tota Alba’s Ignacia discovers passion she undergoes a startling visual transformation from the housekeeper in The Cat and the Canary into a dead ringer for one of Almodóvar’s short-skirted, big-haired cougars of the eighties and nineties. And as if the film wasn’t already weird enough, her downtrodden brother Venancio is played by international sleazemeister Jesús Franco, who although he often played small parts in his own films, here makes an extremely rare appearance in a substantial acting role in a ‘respectable’ film. ©Richard Chatten

 

Night World (1932)

Dir: Hobart Henley | Cast: Lew Ayres, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff, Dorothy Revier | US Drama 58′

The opening montage of this delirious slice of pre-Code life amounts virtually to a declaration of intent, as various New Yorkers hit the town in pursuit of sex, booze and violence. You can practically hear the scratch of pencils from the bluestockings in the audience whose increasingly persistent calls to put a stop to the depiction of just this sort of depravity would soon, alas, be calling the shots in Hollywood.

In just 58 minutes, Night World depicts illegal booze (“they can make it faster than you can drink it”), homosexuality (in the flouncing form of “MISTER Baby”, played by a very young Byron Foulger before he grew his moustache) and adultery as facts of life; and comes dangerously close to condoning the latter in the scene in which Hedda Hopper appears as Lew Ayres’ ghastly mother who shot his father for an improbably innocent dalliance with another woman. (It also takes a rather callously casual view of violent death when the bullets start seriously flying in the film’s finale).

A couple of previous reviewers have compared Night World to a low rent Grand Hotel; with Merritt Gerstad’s extraordinarily mobile camera weaving it’s way throughout the joint picking up one set of characters and then another rather as Robert Altman would later do. Presiding over ‘Happy’s Place’ is a tall, lisping, English-accented proprietor called “Happy” MacDonald, played by – of all people – a third-billed and fascinatingly miscast Boris Karloff. The women all look magnificent – all that bobbed hair and bare shoulders! – and a sweet blonde Mae Clarke is permitted a sunnier characterisation than we are accustomed to seeing her get a chance to play. It’s a blast to see her actually dancing in the lineup on the floor show (with appropriately lascivious choreography courtesy of Busby Berkeley himself)!

The name of the prolific Hobart Henley often crops up in filmographies from the early thirties, but after Night World he only directed one more film. On the strength of this I’d sure like to see some of his others. ©Richard Chatten

 

Night Games (1966)

Dir: Mai Zetterling | Cast: Ingrid Thulin, Keve Hjelm, Lena Brundin, Jorgen Lindstrom | Sweden, Drama 105′

Even in her days working in the Hollywood mainstream as Danny Kaye’s leading lady Mai Zetterling always had an air of menace about her; which she more than amply confirmed when she finally got behind the camera herself. Night Games was in its day considered the last word in shocking, but is today largely forgotten; and it’s hard to figure out just how seriously we’re supposed to be taking it all until the Hal Roach-style slapstick and music behind the end credits finally clinches it: we’re not.

Zetterling’s second feature film as a director evokes Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957) both through its elegant shifts back and forth between the hero’s childhood and adulthood; and by the presence of Ingrid Thulin as the hero’s long-dead mother whose hedonistic lifestyle has left him marked for life, and of Naima Wifstrand (who had played Isak Borg’s terrifying mother in Wild Strawberries) as Jan’s dotty old aunt (while Jörgen Lindström, who plays the young Jan, had been Thulin’s nephew in Bergman’s The Silence).

Most of the mother’s entourage disport themselves more like characters out of TV commercials than recognisable human beings; recalling the orgiasts of late Fellini and the decadent weirdos who invade Tony’s home at the conclusion of Joseph Losey’s The Servant. For good measure, the final sordid scramble for expensive goodies resembles the conclusion of The Magic Christian; before Jan finally purges himself once and for all of a lifetime of Oedipal baggage by dynamiting the palatial family home to kingdom come. ©Richard Chatten

 

Lost in La Mancha (2020)

Dir.: Keith Fulton, Lou Pepe; Documentary with Terry Gilliam, Amy Gilliam, Nicola Pecorini, Lena Mossum; UK 2019, 84 min.

After more than 20 years and multiple setbacks, Terry Gilliam finally got his dream project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, to the big screen. This is the story behind the project that started with Lost in La Mancha back in 2002 and has now been remastered.

With production costs halved from the original budget of 32 million dollars, and minus Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradise and Jean Rochefort  Rochefort (who had to leave because of illness) – a tornado destroyed some equipment and rain changed the colour of the sand from the earlier scenes. Then John Hurt, who was to play Don Quixote, was diagnosed with his fatal cancer. 

It’s good to see DoP Nicola Pecorini, costume designer Lena Mossum (who had kept all the designs from the original shoot) and PD Benjamin Fernandes back together again with Gilliam – they celebrate after shooting day seven: none of the cast had ever made it thus far. Fulton and Pepe decide on a rather sombre tone. After freely admitting to the two of them: “I don’t actually like making films”, and I have done the film too often in my head, is it better to leave it there?” One has to respect his sheer perseverance, a quality that is often more valuable these days than talent.

And in the 2018 interviews he talks about the ageing of Quixote: “An older man, with one last chance to make the world as interesting as he dreams it to be.” And about himself: “Did I get to change the world? Gillian looks, quite reasonably, irritated during the shoot, not helped by a kidney problem that required him to move around with a bag of blood, draining from a catheter, strapped to his leg. Even when it all comes together in the last day of shooting, Gilliam is vehement: “this is my last film. Then there’s a great void ahead of me, and that scares the shit out of me”.

Lost in La Mancha is padded out with clips from Gilliam’s successful features Brazil, Time Bandits and Baron Munchhausen; and the endless comparisons between Gilliam and Quixote become tiring. Interviews on the subject, given by Gilliam since 2000, give the feature even more of a disjointed feeling: There is so much to say about the filming of The Man who killed Don Quixote but with neither Driver nor Pryce having their say, much remains untold. DoPs Lou Pepe and Jeremy Royce succeed in showing the film within a film: their lively camerawork is certainly a reason to watch it. 

The ending is rather elegiac: a still of with Gilliam taking the applause at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where the premiere was beset by legal controversy over the rights, The Man was screened at the Closing Night, is possibly the best way to remember this documentary – but somehow it feels like Terry Gillian deserved more. AS

Now on release

Zana (2019) digital release

Dir: Antoneta Kastrati | Cast: Adriana Matoshi, Astrit Kabashi, Fatmire Sahiti, Mensur Safqui | Serbia Drama 93′

The legacy of a war on a Kosovar woman’s life are insightfully portrayed in this hauntingly lyrical debut feature from Kosovo-born, LA-based writer/director Antoneta Kastrati.

Lume (Matoshi) lives with her loving husband Ilir (Kabashi) in a farming village of Kosovar Muslims, dominated by rituals and superstitions and caught between the past and the present in the lush Albanian countryside. Psychological scars run deep years after the war is over and Lume is suffering the double blow of losing a child and being unable to conceive another. Her bereavement is made all the more insufferable as she is defined by her childlessness in a community where family is the entire focus of a woman’s life.

Lume experiences the emotional fallout in all kinds of ways: nightmares and hallucinations – involving dead or wounded animals and a mysterious bloody corpse – and these are cleverly woven into the narrative providing a constant reminder of the atrocities of the 1990s – while daily village life sees grotesque interference from her mother in law, Lume emerging a detached and morose figure lost in a world of hopeless misery and indignity.

So backward is the set-up here that the family believe Lume to be possessed by an evil spirit rather than needing medical advice. But she soon resorts to village healers in the hope of a much desired pregnancy, and these intimate scenes are evocatively captured and contrast with the bucolic images of farming in the Balkan countryside that could be set in the 18th century.

Ilir is the most likeable character supporting his wife with genuine love and concern even when Lume’s father threatens to burn the couple’s house down when his daughter asks to come home after a visiting her mother. And this is where Kastrati makes us aware of the superstitious attitudes that are still very much alive, with constant talk of spells, curses and Black Magic freely banded around by a community still locked in the past, mobile phones their only acknowledgement of contemporary life.

Lume keeps her calm distance throughout until Ilir takes her to a witch doctor to rid her of ‘inner demons’. And she objects to his violent methods. But life improves dramatically when Lume finally conceives and once again we experience the full force of traditional rituals, her mother in law dominating family life and undermining her in every way. And gradually as winter sets in, the trauma of the past catches up with the present in a grim reveal which finally clarifies Lume’s rich dream life in a deeply felt tribute to Kastrati’s own family. MT

ON CURZON HOME CINEMA, BFI PLAYER AND BARBICAN CINEMA ON DEMAND from 2nd APRIL 2021

 

 

Senso (1954) DVD/blu-ray

Dir: Luchino Visconti | Cast: Farley Grainger, Marcella Mariani, Alida Valli, Massimo Girotti, Heinz Moog, Rina Morelli | Italy, Drama 123′

Visconti’s first film in colour and his first with a patrician 19th Century backdrop, Senso is a squalid tale of base animal passion with an epic grandeur that raises it to the pantheon of Great Screen Romances by courtesy of Visconti having robed his sixth feature in the trappings of the momentous historical backdrop of the Risorgimento of 1866, Venetian locations, plush interiors, immaculate costumes and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (which wasn’t actually composed until fifteen years later).

The plot actually has marked similarities to Joseph Losey’s The Sleeping Tiger, made concurrently in drab monochrome in postwar austerity Britain; in which refined Alexis Smith (married to decent but dull Alexander Knox) completely loses her head over delinquent Dirk Bogarde. Ten years earlier, Visconti himself made a much more unadorned treatment of greed and destructive passion with Ossessione (1942) an adaptation of James M. Cain’s sweaty tale of blue-collar adultery and murder, The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Maria Callas had been Visconti’s first choice for the part of Countess Livia Serpieri – a society wife who becomes infatuated with good-looking creep Lieutenant Franz Mahler (played in a gleaming white uniform by an obviously dubbed Farley Granger), but she had too many theatre commitments to take time out for the shoot which eventually took nine months to complete, and Ingrid Bergman was too wrapped up working with her husband Roberto Rossellini, so the role eventually went to Alida Valli. Still stunning, but already perceptibly older than during her late forties Hollywood sojourn, in the arms of Lt. Mahler Valli discovers an erotic fulfilment entirely new to her; but to Franz she’s just another notch on his bedpost, and someone to sponge off.

Marcella Mariani (who died in a plane crash aged 19, just six weeks after Senso‘s premiere) is rather sweet and vulnerable as the young prostitute Clara who is spitefully exploited by Franz to further rub Livia’s nose in his rejection of her. Rina Morelli has an eye-catching cameo flitting about Livia’s villa in Aldeno as her maid, who seems to be actively enjoying the thrill of her mistress’s affair. But the most blackly comic element in the film is the way that as momentous historical events escalate around them, she and her idealistic cousin Roberto Ussoni (played by Massimo Girotti) are shown to be completely oblivious to what is making the other tick.

Under the impression that Franz is waiting for her at an address to which she has been followed by her stuffy husband (Heinz Moog) she melodramatically declares, with her back to the door, that YES SHE HAS A LOVER!!!, only to discover the place occupied by Roberto and his revolutionaries eagerly making plans; as oblivious of the turmoil raging inside Livia as she is by now indifferent to their cause. She commits treason by sheltering Franz from the Italians, and then gets even deeper into corruption by helping him to avoid combat by giving money meant for The Cause to him. One of a number of loose ends in the plot is that we never find out what happens when it’s discovered that 200,000 florins have gone missing from the fund intended to finance The Revolution, has been filched by yours truly.

As her grip on sanity loosens, Livia’s wardrobe (the work of Marcel Escoffier & Piero Tosi) becomes more and more buttoned down and severe, the black dress she wears in her final scenes making her resemble some ferocious bird of prey. The distinguished Italian cameraman G.R. Aldo was killed in a car crash during filming (this was also his first colour production); and the opening scene in Venice’s Fenice Theatre is the work of his successor Robert Krasker, who himself walked out on the production after falling out with Visconti, leaving the film to be completed by Giuseppe Rotunno. Whoever shot the amazing close-ups of Valli – her eyes wildly darting from side to side as she becomes more and more unhinged – merits particular kudos. During the final confrontation in the hotel you’re expecting her to produce a gun and shoot Franz; but she achieves the same end by more deliciously vindictive means, and he ends up in front of a firing squad assembled at remarkably short notice while she careens into the night to a very uncertain fate.

Having ended with a bang, the final credits still have one more surprise to serve up when the first two names we see after Visconti’s turn out to be those of the future directors (on this occasion humble assistants), Francesco Rosi and Franco Zeffirelli.

Senso was shot in English, and there are a couple of excerpts on YouTube from the truncated 94 minute English-language version, ‘The Wanton Countess’ which enable you to hear Granger in his own voice speaking dialogue written by no less than Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles (thus confirming suspicions that we are witnessing a Venetian variation on A Streetcar Named Desire).

By the 1970s Visconti could finally make a film truer to his own inclinations in Death in Venice (1971), with Dirk Bogarde – once the object of infatuation himself in The Sleeping Tiger, but now the one smitten – in a production again dressed up to the nines, handsomely set in period, again using beautiful Venetian locations and this time almost entirely dispensing with dialogue in favour of Mahler, his favourite composer; whose name he had co-opted for the young officer in Senso (who had been called Remigio Ruz in Camillo Boito’s original novella). Richard Chatten.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD on AMAZON + CRITERION COLLECTION

The Frightened Man (1952)

Dir: John Gilling | Cast: Dermot Walsh, Barbara Murray, Charles Victor, John Blythe | UK Drama 69′

An ultra-noirish cautionary tale (like most Tempean productions superlatively lit by Monty Berman) sternly warning audiences in postwar austerity Britain against the lure of apparently easy money; such as that stands to be acquired from frequent target Hatton Garden in a diamond heist.

Making the most of a meagre budget, John Gilling writes and directs a tighly-plotted and rather unpredicable little heist thriller that sees the profligate Julius Rosselli (Walsh) paying a visit to his adoring, antique shop-owner father (Charles Victor) after being sent down from Oxford University in disgrace. Julius plunders his father’s savings, flirts with the lodger (Murray) and soon falls in with a criminal element in a bid to make money without working for it, in a heist that runs into complications.

The first of two films by Tempean in which Charles Victor played the lead (the second being the title role in The Embezzler) flanked by the usual choice cast many of whom later featured in TV comedy series (Peter Bayliss in ‘The Fenn Street Gang’, Ballard Berkeley in ‘Fawlty Towers’, John Horsley in ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’, Martin Benson in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and Thora Hird and Michael Ward in just about everything else). Richard Chatten.

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO | TALKING PICTURES TV

Five Films for Freedom | BFI Flare 2021

During the FLARE LGBTIQ+ BFI’s annual celebration of all things gay five festival films have been selected to screen free internationally from 17-28 March

Five Films For Freedom 2021 sees filmmakers exploring emerging sexuality, trans-activism, homophobia and genderless love at a time when people may have been adversely impacted by the pandemic.

In a new twist for 2021, audiences will be invited to nominate their Five Films Favourite via a British Council web poll, the winners will be announced via British Council social media channels prior to 28 March. Voting opens 17 March via the #Five FilmsForFreedom homepage.

The FIVE FILMS FOR FREEDOM campaign has been going since 2015 and over 15 million people from more than 200 countries have engaged with it particularly in places where homosexuality can be prosecuted and, in some cases, punishable by death.

Five Film For Freedom programme 2021:

 

Bodies of Desire (India/Dir. Varsha Panikar & Saad Nawab/3 mins), directed by Varsha Panikar and multi-award-winner Saad Nawab, uses Indian poet Panikar’s work as the basis for a visual, poetic film capturing four sets of lovers in a sensual celebration of genderless love and desire.

Land of the Free (Sweden/Dir. Dawid Ullgren/10 mins) – Ullgren’s tense Swedish drama follows the fictional David and friends as they celebrate his birthday with a nightly swim at the beach. The good mood swiftly changes after two straight couples walk by and laugh – was the laughter directed at them, or something else? Who owns the truth of exactly what happened?

 

Pure (USA/Dir. Natalie Jasmine Harris/12 mins) is the fictional debut from 2020 Directors Guild of America Student Film Award winner Natalie Jasmine Harris, centring on a young Black girl grappling with her queer identity and ideas of ‘purity’. The film is written, produced and directed by Harris – a filmmaker passionate about the intersection between filmmaking and social justice.

Trans Happiness is Real (UK/Dir. Quinton Baker/8 mins) – a moving documentary from first-time filmmaker Quinton Baker – sees transgender activists take to the streets of Oxford, England to fight anti-trans sentiments using the power of graffiti and street art.

Victoria (Spain/Dir. Daniel Toledo/7 mins) follows a bittersweet reunion between a trans woman and her ex, sparking tension and long buried resentment. Directed by award-winning filmmaker, Daniel Toledo, Victoria also features acclaimed trans actress, writer and director Abril Zamora (The Life Ahead, The Mess You Leave Behind).

All films will be available to view from 17 – 28 March 2021 via the British Council Arts YouTube channel as well as being part of the BFI Flare digital programme on BFI Player and associated platforms.

My Father and Me (2021)

Dir.: Nick Broomfield; Documentary with Maurice Bloomfield, Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill, Barney Bloomfield; UK 2019, 97 min.

British documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield (Marianne & Leonard – Words of Love) has created a loving portrait of his father, Britain’s pre-eminent industrial photographer Maurice (1916-2010), Despite their ups and downs what shines through here is a genuine warmth and filial respect My Father also serving as a social history of the British working class since the end of WWII.

Maurice’s photos and Nick’s creative output makes this an especially enjoyable father and son portrait: Maurice Broomfield (1916-2010) started his working life on the floor of the factories in Derby where he was born. Taking a degree in photography at night school, he became the chronicler of the excellence of British production, be it Phillips Nuclear Power or Rolls Royce – his brilliantly-crafted photos showed a glamorous, even romanticised image of the workplace, with the craftsman in midst of his products.

Maurice was a contentious objector in WWII and remained a pacifist all  his life, but he was still able to see the positive factors in life and work. In 1947, he married Sonja Lagusova, a Jewish emigrant from Czechoslovakia, who had lost half her family in the Nazi concentration camps. She hardly ever talked about her Jewish identity and Nick, born in 1948, only learnt the stark facts that had traumatised his mother for life, in his twenties. In Derby, Maurice’s parents had already picked a local girl for him to marry and were nonplussed at his choice of Sonja,  relations between them never recovering. Nick, like his father, was not a good student at all, he was expelled and later went to boarding school. Afterwards, he joined his father on his photographic tours around Britain’s factories, and had his first crush on Maurice’ assistant Barbara. Nick’s grandfather Gogo worked on the film about the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and he and his daughter were somewhat critical of Maurice’s rather optimistic attitude towards society and life in general.

Nick’s work, on the other hand, shared the more critical attitude of his mother’s side of the family. “My Dad and me were competing for Sonja’s approval”. Meanwhile, Maurice tried hard to “unlearn’ his working class accent, his first studio was located in the grounds of the  Lady Crossfield’s estate; he even met the Queen. The gulf between father and son widened after Nick married fellow documentarian Joan Churchill (now divorced), the couple have a son, Barney. Their documentary Juvenile Liaison (1976), about an eight-year old boy who stole a toy pistol, and is then shown the inside of a jail by a policeman who frightens the child with dark stories, was banned for thirty years, and could even then only be shown to criminologists.

Maurice did not accept that his son had a different outlook on society, after the private showing of Tattooed Tears (1982), he simply left the screening room without saying a word. After Sonja died at the age of 59 of skin cancer, Maurice fell into a long depression. Father and son reconciled in the wake of Maurice finding a new life with Suzy, who re-kindled his lust for life, taking on painting, and losing his inhibitions. The family saga ends with Maurice, Nick and Barney (who is one of the DoPs of Father) sitting happily together on a bench “talking about nothing in particular”.

The writer/director combines the generational conflict with a short history of how Britain changed from the hopeful new beginnings of 1945 to the social divisions that now face the country. Unfortunately, we are still far away from the reconciliation and mutual acceptance of the three generations of Broomfields. AS

The V&A museum will host a Q&A screening on 4 November of Nick Broomfield’s MY FATHER AND ME exploring his relationship with his father, photographer Maurice Broomfield, to tie in with a display of photographs and book Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime opening at the V&A on 6 November.  BBC Four will also air the film in November and stream on BBC iPlayer. More info below and V&A info here – Link

 

     

Berlinale Award Winners 2021

Berlinale 2021: The Award Winners of the 71st Competition

The first part of this year’s BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL has drawn to a close and the following winners announced.

Golden Bear for Best Film:

Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc (Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn) by Radu Jude

Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Silver Bear Jury Prize: Herr Bachmann and His Class by Maria Speth

Silver Bear for Best Director: Dénes Nagy for Természetes fény (Natural Light

Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance: Maren Eggert in Ich bin dein Mensch (I’m Your Man) by Maria Schrader

Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance: Lilla Kizlinger in Rengeteg – mindenhol látlak (Forest – I See You Everywhere) by Bence Fliegauf

Silver Bear for Best Screenplay: Hong Sangsoo for Inteurodeoksyeon (Introduction) by Hong Sangsoo

Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution: Yibrán Asuad for the editing of Una película de policías (A Cop Movie) by Alonso Ruizpalacios

Berlinale 2021: Awards of the Encounters Section

Best Film: Nous (We) by Alice Diop
Special Jury Award: Vị (Taste) by Lê Bảo
Best Director (ex-aequo): Das Mädchen und die Spinne (The Girl and the Spider) by Ramon Zürcher, Silvan Zürcher
Best Director (ex-aequo): Hygiène sociale (Social Hygiene) by Denis Côté
Special Mention: Rock Bottom Riser by Fern Silva

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL PART II | JUNE 2021

The Last Forest | A Ultima Foresta (2021) Berlinale Panorama 2021

Dir.: Luiz Bolognesi; Documentary with Davi Kopenawa Yanorami and members of his indigenous community; Brazil 2021, 75 min.

The Yanomami tribe have lived in the Brazilian Rain Forest for over a 1000 years. Survival is the focus of this indigenous tribe, who are extremely smart, despite their primitive way of life. In his ravishing docudrama Luiz Bolognesi dives deep into the jungle on the borders of Venezuela and Brazil to uncover their story.

Bolognesi has already filmed the Yanomami back in 2018 gaining the trust of a group with the help of their Shaman and elder Davi Kopeneva Yanomami, who reveals the history of a tribe whose existence predates Brazil as a nation, by 500 years. But there is a new strand to their struggle. Since taking power in 2019, right-winger Jair Bolsonaro has sanctioned continuing deforestation of the Amazon encouraging gold prospectors who dig up the land occupied by the Yanomami, polluting the waters with Mercury and bringing disease, including Covid-19, into the community.

Above all this is a film to watch and marvel at, its enchanting images show an atavistic tribe unalloyed by the march of time, both men and women contributing to their daily subsistence by hunting with bows and arrow and poisoned darts. But there is an important message in Bolognesi’s narrative, and that’s the real thrust of his film.

Legend has it that there were two brothers, Omama and Yoasi who purportedly dug up the forest ground creating rivers and lakes. But the bothers were lonely and longed for women. Then Omama met the water goddess Thuëyoma, who came out of the river to join him, later admitting she had also slept with Yoasi who had treated her badly. Omama found his brother, rubbing his miss-shaped penis against a rock and banned him from the land to the other side of the ocean. “You are not my brother any more”. And Yoasi went away for good, and created death. Yoasi became the spirit of evil, whilst Omama buried the gold deep into the earth, so that Yoasi’s spirit could not be awoken to bring back the smoke of disease, which made us mortal.

Davi has lived with the ‘white men’, but he was lonely, and their ‘products’ put a spell on him. Making use of modern technology, he looks out of place making a phone-call, but this is all for the good of the tribe to organise resistance against the gold prospectors who have already made their negative presence known: In 1986 over 45000 gold prospectors forced the Yanomami deeper into the rain forest, killing between 1500-1800 natives. Six years later, despite of a change in the law granting this territory to the Yanorami. During the infamous Haxima massacre sixteen people lost their lives at the hands of the ‘white people’.Meanwhile back in the village, one woman mourns the loss of her husband: she believes the water goddess has taken him into the river with her, and begs the Shaman to help retrieve her husband.

Despite their primitive credentials the women here are very enterprising and have formed a co-operative to improve production of baskets which they can barter for food from the men, making them less reliant. Davi too is highly intelligent, demonstrating nous and a grasp of capitalism: “Gold prospectors dream a lot, but only about money. But it is the business men who keep the money, the ones who come here, the workers stay poor. It is all about greed”. He also remembers the plight of his relatives’ further north, whose water was poisoned with mercury.

The Yanomami are savvy and sociable people. DoP Pedro Márquez, who also photographed Ex-Shaman (2018), talks of their willingness to facilitate the making of the film, but ensuring they never looked into the  camera, believing it would steal their souls. The filmmakers’ hope is that they can persuade investors who work with the Bolsanaro administration, upholding the 1986 law so that the Yanomami can return to their way of life. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 

 

Introduction (2021) Best Screenplay Berlinale 2021

Dir: Hong Sang-soo | South Korea, Drama 66′

Hong Sang-soo serves up his first slice of suggestible social drama for the year, at Berlinale’s 71st edition. Along with his muse (Kim Min-he) the usual sympathetic suspects join the party, the title has us hoping there may be a sudden dramatic epiphany but we’re not surprised when no such breakthrough occurs as the narrative soft-peddles enjoyably through to the end.

This is another short and sweet story, running at just 66 minutes, but make no mistake, the script is rich enough to stretch along for much longer, although the welcome brevity will always keep us coming back for more. No film festival would be complete without the South Korean master’s lightness of touch and teasing humour, and Introduction is no different.

Korean society is so coy and polite reflected once again in this delicate intergenerational piece, that will see the lowkey conflict play out between mother and son, and son and father. In one early scene a young couple meet again ever so formally after spending the previous one together. Maybe they are playing some sort of seductive game by adding an air of detachment to the rendezvous, a ploy that is always guaranteed to add a frisson of sexual tension to each new meeting. They are obviously in love. We have become accustomed to these winsome moments which are part of the director’s idiosyncratic cinema language but why this is called Introduction remains an enigma, and it could just be for no reason at all.

The film drifts peripatetically from South Korea to Germany. But one of the most interesting interludes involves the likeable Young-ho (Shin Seok-ho) who we first meet visiting his father (Kim Young-ho) at his acupuncture clinic in Seoul. The two clearly don’t see eye to eye and his father is under great emotional stress as he desperately tries to take a moment to relax in his private office, before placing strategic needles in one of his patients, famous actor (Ki Joo-bong), who, it soon emerges. dated Young-ho’s mother (Cho Yun-hee), and could be the reason for their marriage breakdown.

Meanwhile Young-ho’s timid girlfriend Ju-won (Park Mi-so) is off to study fashion in Berlin where she stays in a flat owned by a leading artist, and a friend of Ju-won’s mother (Seo Young-hwa), another rather fraught character who wants the best for her daughter in the rather controlling way mothers often do. Young-ho is also at odds with his own mother over his choice of acting as a career. Clearly she disapproves.

The film is full of these moments of tension that are so delicately appealing in their self-containment and so deftly handled with the director’s usual lightness of touch. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | Best SCREENPLAY

Petite Maman (2021) Berlinale Competition 2021

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

Petite Maman shows France’s Celine Sciamma at the height of her powers with an enchanting ghost story contemplating loss and longing through young eyes.

In competition at this year’s Berlinale, the French auteuse once again evokes the subtle sensibilities of human dynamics through her cast of child performers capturing naiveté but also resilience in the wake of a family bereavement.

The director showed a keen appreciation of childhood dynamics in her 2011 film Tomboy. Here the focus is little Nelly and how she copes in the aftermath of her grandma’s death as the family clears out the home so familiar and comforting in the first years of her life.

Avoiding sentimentality Sciamma maintains a pensive ambiguity for most of this almost spellbound drama that sees solemn 8-year-old Nelly (Josephine Sanz) wondering into the nearby woods where she meets  Marion (played by identical twin sister Gabrielle), the two striking up a tentative friendship as they build a tree house. These two are so po-faced they almost resemble the couple in Kubrick’s The Shining with their chilly demeanour, but we are far removed from any horror story here in a style that is best described at fantastical realism.

Mature beyond her years Nelly views her bereft mother with detatchment although she cares for her in the days after her own mother’s death, doing chores around the house with her father (Varupenne) who she regards with scepticism chiding him over his chain-smoking smoking. Sciamma gradually abandons enigma in the second half but also keeps us guessing as the story gradually unfolds in an eerie and suspended moment in time.

Building a gentle but detached camaraderie throughout the Sanz sisters give captivating debut performances that evoke confidence but also vulnerability. Meurisse is full of sensitivity as Nelly’s mother carrying her grief with a doleful dignity. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 |

 

 

Tina (2021) Tribute to Tina Turner

Dir: Daniel Lindsay, T J Martin | With Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett, Kurt Loder | US Doc 118′

The most surprising quality about Tina Turner, according to Dan Lindsay and T J Martin’s revealing biopic about the superstar, was her sheer determination, given her crushing start in life. This new film chronicles Turner’s early rise to fame, her personal and professional struggles and her musical renaissance in the early 1980s. There are snatches of her iconic stage moments, with the American singer’s performance of her dynamite R&B hit:- River Deep…Mountain High being the most notable. The hit marked a move away from her controlling partner Ike, thanks to producer Phil Spector.

And there are snatches of Rolling Down the River, Heartbreak Tonight and Simple the Best – but mostly the focus is on the singer herself, revisited via the original interview audio tapes as well as commentary from the famous celebrity journalist Carl Arrington, in conversation in her Swiss lakeside chateau. Kurt Loder (the Rolling Stone editor), Angela Bassett (who played her in What’s Love Got to Do With It ), Oprah Winfrey and playwright Katori Hall, who wrote the book for the musical, are the most informative talking heads in a film whose first half is, appropriately, still haunted by the shadow of Ike.

She – who died on 24 May 2023 – was born in 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee, the child of cotton farmers. Her parents fought endlessly and her mother hit back – a defiance that clearly gave Tina her get up go after the two eventually disappeared leaving her and her siblings with a cousin. They never came back.

And she speaks out about her turbulent life and marriage to Ike who beat her with coat hangers, even when she was pregnant, during those Motown years. She admits to being “insanely afraid of him” so much so she attempted suicide two or three times due to his womanising and cruelty, and she finally left him-  ironically on the 4th July – finding salvation in Buddhism which changed her life and set her free to be resilient and self-determining – not a victim  – during her fifty year career in music. She left her marriage to Ike with nothing but her ‘name’ which is now a brand. So she had to go back on the road to make some money.

The turning point came in the 1980s when she came into contact with the engaging Australian manager Roger Davies who asked her how she saw a new solo career. She told him she wanted to be “the first female roll’n’roll singer to fill a stadium”.

And so he sent her to Britain for a new chapter in her life, setting off with a song she at first detested ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’, written by Manchester born Terry Britten (and originally recorded for Bucks Fizz) that became the breakout number in an album ‘Private Dancer’, that sold out in two weeks and went on to spawn 50 concerts. Tina was 50. At this point manager Kurt Loder suggested she author a book to ward off the tacky stories that still dogged her time before and after Ike. And they didn’t go away – although the book ‘I, Tina Turner’ became a bestseller.

Restyled and booted, Tina’s terrific body and gyrating hips – not to mention her dynamite vocal delivery – made her a stunning stage presence and the film captures this jubilant wave of female emancipation that lit up London’s Wembley Arena and everywhere else she played.

The final scenes are gilded with a blissful aura as Tina reveals the love in her life in the shape of German music pro Erwin Bach, whom she met in 1986 and married 27 years later. And it’s these golden moments that really shine in a biopic that quietly reflects on the past and joyfully celebrates the tremendous feminine force of nature that was Tina Turner. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | Premiere

Ted K (2021) Berlinale Panorama 2021

Dir: Tony Stone | Cast: Sharlto Copley, Drew Powell, Amber Rose Mason, Travis Bruyer, Megan Folsom, Andrew Senn | USA 2021 121′

We’ve all felt stressed out by noise and leaf blowers or that Tesco doesn’t stock our favourite break anymore but terrorist Ted Kaczynski took things a stage further killing three people and injuring 23 in his attempt to bring about “a revolution against the industrial system”.

“Yesterday was quite good, the only disruptive sounds were nine evil jets.” wrote Ted, a Harvard Maths professor, in his diary of 25,000 pages penned in the seclusion of a wood cabin in deepest Montana and his sanctuary after dropping out of a society he had grown to hate with a vengeance, Ted is the infamous Unabomber.

Tony Stone’s study of mental disintegration is a slick and engaging procedural drama that moves tensely through its paces to show how a brilliant albeit emotionally disconnected son and brother become a domestic terrorist, prompting the largest manhunt in FBI history. The film focuses on the final seven years from the late 1980s to his capture in 1996 and is screening in Berlin’s Panorama section at this year’s festival.

But Ted K never uncovers what drove Kaczynski  into isolation in the first place although we certainly get a glimpse of his family background, through fraught conversations, particularly with his mother who had possibly played her part in his complex personality disorder, and he rails at her in one phone booth conversation, blaming her for his dysfunctional relationship with the opposite sex, claiming to have never touched a woman despite being, by now, well into his forties.

Sharlto Copley makes a formidable lead as the geekishly sinister ‘Basil Fawly’ type character. An unknowable action man who vehemently competes against the elements in the stunningly photographed landscapes of the Big Sky Country on the borders of Canada. There’s a distinct retro feel to the small-town locations where Ted arrives on his easy rider bike to research his victims in computer shops, where one assistant shows him how to correct a sentence on a new-fangled word processor. You can feel the anger coiled like spring beneath his well-formed physique – Christian Bale could have been another contender for the part – although Copley has a meaner look to his craggy features and although irritated by noise and machinery, we see him carefully blow-drying his hair in the mirror after hitting himself on the nose with a brick. And there’s a fascination to watching him go about his daily tasks, often swearing under his breath in terse exchanges, especially when confronted by women.

Stone clearly speculates about Ted – clearly he’s no charmer in the style of Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dharmer who were more intimately concerned with killing their victims. Ted K is all about reclusiveness but he still talks of the tremendous relief at ‘getting his own back’ after after sending mail bombs to his imagined adversaries. Ted’s concern is a more ‘noble’ one aimed at those he blames for destroying nature and allowing technology to take over society’s wellbeing. Rather than intellectually engaging with those causing the damage, he strikes back like a wounded animal, killing them.

Stone makes atmospheric use of an electronic score by Blanck Mass that alternates with soothing classical vibes from Schubert’s No 2, Op 100 (that Kubrick memorably used in Barry Lyndon) But Copley makes no attempt to embroider or dress up the banal evil of his character playing him as a straightforward Mr Angry from Montana whose dour prickly introspection does lighten up a touch when a pleasant woman smiles at him in a shop. Stone’s portrait is more fascinating than thrilling but he doesn’t attempt to fashion it into an arthouse extravaganza – in the style of The True History of the Kelly Gang, and in some ways this is to film’s credit in portraying Kaczynski’s ordinariness and social dislocation. He is a deeply wounded man crying out for attention and rehabilitation. Or at least that’s what comes across in this watchable study of loneliness and desperation. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

I’m Your Man | Ich Bin Dein Mensch (2021) Best Leading Performance Berlinale 2021

Dir: Maria Schrader, Wri: Maria Schrader, Jan Schomburg, Emma Braslavsky | Cast: Dan Stevens, Maren Eggert, Sandra Hüller, Hans Löw, Wolfgang Hübsch, Annika Meier, Falilou Seck, Jürgen Tarrach, Henriette Richter-Röhl, Monika Oschek | Sci-fi Drama Germany 105’

Dan Stevens plays a sycophantic male escort in Maria Schrader’s darkly comic Sci-fi drama screening in competition at Berlinale 2021.

Slick, sophisticated and satisfying this dating movie with a difference sees things from a distinctly female perspective exploring love and desire in a scenario may remind you of another recent German comedy Toni Erdmann which also starred Sandra Huller as a put-upon professional. Here Maren Eggert plays a similar character, a hard-working scientist at the famous Pergamon Museum in Berlin, struggling to care for her dementia-ridden dad (Hubsch). She accepts an invitation to participate in an extraordinary experiment that will fund her research. For three weeks, she is to live with a humanoid robot. And this is where Dan Stevens comes in as ‘Tom’ a dating machine in human form, with the intention of fulfilling her dreams. But although Tom’s artificial intelligence has been designed to allow it to morph into the man of Alma’s dreams, sadly it is on the spectrum feelings-wise, unable to appreciate human emotion, forcing the couple to seek professional help, from a relationship counsellor in the shape of Sandra Huller.

Maria Schrader, who won a Silver Bear for acting and is the director behind breakout TV mini series Unorthodox and award-winning biopic drama about Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, directs with supreme confidence adapting her script from a book by Emma Braslavsky, and adding a suggestive cinematic spin to her intuitive grasp of the subtle dynamics of love and dating, and the chemistry behind acting, in a film that reflects the reality that love relies just as much on the lows as the as the highs to be emotionally fulfilling for the human psyche. Maren Eggert is superb as the thinking woman’s love interest in a performance that is fraught with emotion as well as thoughtful dignity, never resorting to histrionics or melodrama. Benedict Neuenfels makes this a pleasure to look at with his lush summery landscapes of Germany and Denmark.

But the film belongs to Dan Stevens who gives a nuanced performance in a difficult role as a robot that teeters between the ideal emotionally intelligent man and a geeky robotic guy you may even and have dated yourself and eventually grown to love – and even fancy – for his truly masculine take on life. I’m Your Man shows a bright future, where women (and men!) can get what they really want. But do they really know what it is? MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 13 AUGUST 2021 | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Blast of Silence (1961) DVD

Dir: Allen Baron | Cast: Allen Baron, Molly McCarthy, Larry Tucker, Peter Clune | US Noir Thriller 77′

The most valuable asset to an ambitious young filmmaker of the 21st Century would probably be a time machine capable of returning you to the year 1960. Clocking in at just 77 minutes but seeming much longer, Blast of Silence is further evidence that in those days it would have taken genius for an independent filmmaker NOT to create a classic city ‘noir’. Just make sure there’s film in your camera and take your pick from all the breathtaking compositions – complete with vintage cars and sharply dressed passers-by – constantly forming around you; even Michael Winner couldn’t fail to turn in a black & white urban gem three years later with West 11 (1963).

It certainly anticipates Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967) – but then so do Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss (1955) and Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) – and plenty have been seduced by Blast of Silence’s aura of monochrome period cool into extravagantly overpraising it. Allen Baron’s inexpressive performance as hit-man Frankie Bono (he resembles a young George C. Scott) certainly provides a perfect blank slate on which to inscribe any profundities or angst that grab you. In his capacity as writer-director Baron at some point late in production evidently felt the need to do just that, calling upon two eminent blacklistees whose services at the time would have been available at an affordable price.

The insistent narration reminiscent of Mark Hellinger’s in The Naked City was written under the pseudonym Mel Davenport by Waldo Salt (who later won Academy Awards for Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home), while the rasping voice of Lionel Stander is uncredited but unmistakable on the soundtrack, providing the glue which with Merrill Brody’s photography holds the film together. Unfortunately much of what Stander keeps telling us on the soundtrack doesn’t really need to be spelled out so relentlessly; while Meyer Kupferman’s jazz score is extremely effective in moderation, but gets very noisy in places.

Despite supposedly being such a pro, Frankie Bono’s murder of Big Ralph (played by Larry Tucker, who I recognised from Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor) is remarkably amateurishly executed, his long-anticipated hit of Troiano no big deal, and he proves remarkably easy to ambush at the film’s conclusion. Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) Netflix

Dir: Joseph Sargent | Cast: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, James Broderick, Dick O’Neill, Lee Wallace | US Thriller 104′

A depressing sign of the times is that Ridley Scott’s underpowered 2009 remake of this classic thriller has far more posts on IMDb, after ten years, than the original after twenty. Mind you, even older viewers would be hard-pushed to recall the name of the actual director. But Joseph Sargent (whose long career in TV included James Cagney’s final role in Terrible Joe Moran) put his long career directing actors to good use in his one major cinema release, filmed in New York with a cast recruited largely from Broadway (including Rudy Bond – who played the judge in the opening scene of 12 Angry Men – as the police commissioner).

A slow-burner with a terrific score by David Shire (whose other films include The Conversation and Zodiac). During filming everyone knew they were making a winner, but at the box office back in the day failed to come up trumps, and the thriller rarely showed up on tv during the eighties. It was eventually resurrected twenty years later as a cult movie after inspiring Reservoir Dogs, which turned the film inside out by not actually showing the caper itself, dealing instead which its planning and aftermath.

In Reservoir Dogs we instead see the squabbling among grown men over who gets what colour, while the black suits worn in Tarantino’s film reflect the simple but effective disguises employed by the original desperadoes (it comes as quite a shock when Mr Grey turns out to be bald underneath his hat).

Frederick Raphael cited the use of the word ‘Gesundheit’ and its implications in the final scene as exemplary of the high standard of the writing; evident throughout the film as when one of the security men observes that “You’d think a million dollars would look like more” or when Garber is surprised to discover that Inspector Daniels is black. The one major flaw is when Blue behaves wholly out of character by going back into the tunnel to kill the plainclothes man solely so that he can get caught (Matthau’s line that they don’t “at the moment” have the death penalty in New York State shows just how long ago this film was made). The scene where Blue kills the guard is genuinely shocking since we have come to care about him, but demonstrates just how ruthless Blue is and justifies his own sticky ending. Richard Chatten

NOW ON NETFLIX

The Mauritanian (2021) Amazon Prime 2021

Dir: Kevin Macdonald | Cast: Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Levi, Saamer Usmani, Baya Belal | US Thriller 129′

Tahar Rahim plays a longtime Guantánamo Bay detainee accused of masterminding 9/11, in Kevin Mcdonald’s worthy biopic, based on the memoirs of one Mohamedou Ould Slahi – aka The Mauritanian.

The film’s opening scenes unfold in an exotic North African desert location where a tented wedding ceremony is reaching its climax. But not for the white-robed Slahi (Rahim) who is whisked away and later brutally tortured in scenes of extreme violence, after his incarceration. Next we meet ‘no nonsense’ lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) tasked with batting for Slahi in his habeas corpus case, after he fails to be charged or given a trial. Her opponent in the ensuing courtroom potboiler is prosecutor Stuart Couch (Cumberbatch rocking a Louisiana accent is the highpoint of the film) and they make a formidable pair investigating what really happened to Slahi in the infamous prison. Denis Menochet, Shailene Woodley and Zachery Levi offer strong support but feel sadly underused in the scheme of things.

There’s incendiary dramatic potential here, and considerable humanitarian clout – not to mention a fabulous cast – and some swanky locations: New York, Cape Town and Mauritania itself – but somehow Macdonald delivers and underwhelming thriller whose finger-wagging script is so focused on the parlous state of US Democracy it starts to feel preachy rather than powerful in convincing us to care about those affected, particularly Slahi himself. And he comes across – mostly in flashback – as rather a glib character which is disappointing considering his stunning track record in a variety of roles. MT

PREMIERS ON PRIME VIDEO 1 APRIL 2021 IN THE UK | Premiered at Berlin Film Festival 2021

BERLINALE SPECIALS 

 

 

 

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021)

Dir: Radu Jude | Drama, Romania, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Croatia 2021 | 106 min| Romanian | Cast: Katia Pescaru, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Malai, Nicoldim Ungureanu

The moral of Radu Jude’s latest film is simple: don’t put anything incriminating on film. But Bad Luck Banging addresses far wider concerns that its title suggests: hypocrisy, misogyny, tyranny, racism and of course sex are the elements of this intoxicating, indigestible cocktail – you may even feel sick by the end. If not, you’ll be left with a real mouthful to chew over. This thematically thorny Golden Bear winner is not for the timid, and unfolds in three distinct parts.

Known for his unbridled dramas, snide social satires and several sombre documentaries, the Romanian provocateur delivers a mordant social satire laced with his usual brand of dark and irreverent humour and set in a crumbling Bucharest. Jude describes his treatise as a sketchbook, a work in progress, an unedited collage of ideas. It’s demanding, aggressive and visually stimulating – and opens, appropriately, with a bout of raunchy sex, between school teacher Emi and her partner Eugen.

Emi, (Katia Pescariu, who ironically last played a nun in Beyond the Hills), finds her career at stake when a video of her carnal encounter, shared on an adult only porn site, ends up on the general Internet. Discovering her flirty faux-pas Emi flees through the streets of Bucharest. And this febrile odyssey fuels the film’s extensive second part which starts as an enlightening architectural tour of the centre, its crumbling facades and landmarks such as the Roman Orthodox cathedral and Nicolae Ceausescu’s Palace, but soon widens into an opportunity for the director to air his outspoken views on the state of the nation in a piquant pot-pourri of archive footage that reeks of subversion with its salacious snapshots and facts from the capital’s colourful past. These include Jewish and Roma atrocities, Orthodox Christian ceremonies, folklore and fables. As images flash before us – a row of pigs heads and a woman performing fellatio contrast with icons and ancient texts – and more or less anything the director could lay his hands on to back up his view that society as a whole is hypocritical, pornographic and deeply misanthropic.

The third act takes us back to Emi who must now face the music in a socially distanced kangaroo court of teachers, religious officials, random citizens, and a man in an unfeasibly large teacosy, who all watch the tape – some quite attentively (especially the males) before holding forth with their vehement views in raucous and melodramatic debate on the rights and wrongs of Emi’s behaviour, working up to the film’s over-excited finale. This is an exhausting film to watch, but one that presents Romanian society as intelligent, fervent in its beliefs and proud to stand by them. And although we never really get to know – or even like – Emi as a woman, she serves the narrative as a fearless self-determining female of the future who refuses to take things lying down. MT

NOW ON RELEASE | WINNER GOLDEN BEAR 2021

 

 

Eye of the Storm (2020) Glasgow Film Festival 2021

Dir: Anthony Baxter | UK Doc 78 mins

“In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king” Desiderius Erasmus

James Morrison (1932-2020) was one of Britain’s finest Scottish landscape painters and a founder member of the Glasgow Group of artists. A new documentary set to premiere at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival paints a lively and amusing portrait of the painter himself and his vision of climate change that became his focus in the final years of his life when failing eyesight putting an impressionistic spin on what many regard as his finest work. Apart from offering insight into the painter’s substantial body of work and methods, this is the fascinating story of his greatest challenge. With his eyesight failing, one of Britain’s greatest landscape painters attempts one final masterpiece.

Hooking us in with its climate change credentials Eye of the Storm offers much much more. Entertaining and enjoyable, this artist’s impression of our changing world, also works as a mini Scottish travelogue, brought to the screen by Anthony Baxter (You’ve Been Trumped) who shows how the laid back and likeable character was inspired to paint Glasgow’s shipyards, and the countryside of Scotland, France and South Africa, and a series of works reflecting the impact of climate change after travelling to the Arctic. The artist had long be fascinated by the changing face of his native Scotland and the countryside in general was an issue close to his heart.

In his bright and airy studio the tousled haired Morrison shares his horror of not being able to paint – his eyesight dwindling – in the build up to a retrospective of his work in The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh. His watercolour Green Valley (1972) will feature, amongst other works, in an exhibition dedicated to Angus landscapes. He began to paint the Angus outdoors in the 1970s ‘The Rolling Landscapes of Angus (1973). The following decade would see him moving to the north-west Highlands where he befriended a number of local artists, including the renowned figurative painter Joan Eardley. Yet even his famous landscapes avoid human presence:”I don’t want people, they seem an irrelevance to what the landscape is about”.

After studying art in Glasgow under David Donaldson, who taught him a technique of using a spent match (struck on his shoe heel) to get a head start on his life drawing classes, quite literally starting from a top down approach. Then after consciously moving away from the leftwing vibe of his early fellow painters in Glasgow. Morrison describes how he became increasingly drawn to painting the city’s built environment – some areas which no longer exist – and these sequences are enlivened by archive footage of tenement demolition, along with animated drawings and inter-titles featuring quotes from Cezanne, and pictures of Matisse.

In 1960 a move to the ancient East Coast town of Catterline (Scotland’s answer to St Ives with its artist community led by Joan Eardley) saw Morrison being drawn to seascapes with the fishing boats a frequent subject, a painting from the era ‘East Coast Fishing Boat’ (1962) describes in monochrome detail the magnificent fishing vessels which had already done decades of service in the unforgiving North Sea.

In 1971 Morrison found himself moving down the coast to teach at Dundee’s wellknown Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art where he made the next twenty years of his life about opening the horizons for those learning to paint, rather than setting a curriculum. During these exciting years, Morrison gave his students as much scope as possible. And it was in Dundee that he started painting ‘en plein air’ like the original impressionists, with their famous technique of getting the paint straight onto the canvas, after painting out the white, and without preparatory sketching. His hands on approach included mixing his own paints and stretching his own canvases, and it’s here that we get an impromptu visit to the famous French paintbrush shop Sénnélier in Paris.

His first visit to the Arctic came about after he met a biologist, Dr Jean Balfour (who suggested he should paint there), and these sequences are beautifully brought to life by Catriona Black’s animations and archive footage of Morrison at work. The documentary reaches its finale with a sense of anticipation as the artist goes ‘into the eye of the storm’ with his much anticipated, triumphant final work.

Talking heads include Catriona Black who animated key moments of Morrison’s life for the film, his art historian son Professor John Morrison, and the Montrose writer Dennis Rice. MT

EYE OF THE STORM is released in virtual cinemas from 5th March 2021 

McManus Gallery, Dundee

The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Egon Christus (2021) Berlinale Perspektive Deutsches Kino 2021

Dir.: David and Sasa Vajda; Cast: Paul Arámbula, Sascha Alexander Gersak, Roxanna Stewens, Angelo Martone, Benjamin Stein, Zora Schemm; BR Deutschland 2021, 51 min.

David and Sasa Vajda’s debut feature is an uneasy docu-fiction hybrid that follows a motley crew of drug addicts who have found refuge in an evangelical psychosocial support group at the outskirts of Berlin. Rumour has it that one former member Angelo (Martone) was a Mafia boss. Run by a self-proclaimed priest, a self-confessed junkie himself, who often insults and humiliates his ‘flock’, there is no structure in their day-to-day life, just an endless flow of psychotic people, left more or less to themselves.

Egon (Arámbula) is the main focus. Recently new to the group he does his best to fit in having to repeat even short utterances at least twice as he is sinks further and further in his psychosis during the filming. When Ben (Stein), beats the priest at chess, Egon compares him to Michael Jordan: “Ben is a Pro”. It soon emerges that Ben nearly overdosed, and that Egon avoids having a shower, apparently sharing his reluctance with Jesus to clean himself (clearly this is the key to the film’s title).

Egon is full of the usual gestures common to his particular mental illness. Out on the street he waves at the cars flying by, “allowing” them to pass. When a dumpster lorry stops to collect rubbish, Egon gracefully permits the men to get on with their work. Pinky (Schlemm) sings badly into a microphone, before declaring that Jesus is dead. Egon grabs the micro from her, sharing his ‘encounter’ with Jesus the previous night. “He said, he loved me, and does not like to shower. And he smoked cigars. And I said to Jesus, ‘laugh, at least once’.” As the film plays out Egon refers to himself increasingly in the third person singular – a sure sign of an impending split in his personality. He asks the priest if he will go to Heaven. “I want to know now”. At one point during dinner, the priest asks Egon to hoot like an owl, and the latter acquiesces.

We suddenly cut to a Super 8 home movie with the young Jenny (Stewans), who had been sexually abused by her father since the age of ten. Her torment went on for years. The voice-over also confesses Jenny and the family watched TV, a broadcast featuring child prodigies, one of them could remember all street names in Oslo.

DoP Antonia Lange contributes with her very realistic images to this perturbing and very unsettling narrative. Clearly all participants are suffering from major psychosis, and should be looked after in a proper psychiatric unit. The filmmakers’ neutrality is somehow infuriating – even though they stay true to their fly-on-the-wall cinema-verite approach. Benjamin Stein died and the feature is dedicated to him. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL

Day of the Triffids (1963)

Dir: Steve Sekely, Freddie Francis | Cast: Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janette Scott, Kieron Moore, Mervyn Johns | Sci-fi 93′

Nobody ever points out that John Wyndham’s classic 1951 novel actually contains two apocalyptic catastrophes for the price of one; either of which would have provided ample material for an entire book in its own right. The whole population suddenly going blind would have been hard enough to deal with even without the survivors also having to fend off giant carnivorous plants going on the rampage! (As the night watchman at Kew Gardens devoured by one of the exhibits, Ian Wilson without his usual glasses ironically has one of his largest roles ever, with plenty of close-ups, but no dialogue).

Described by Raymond Durgnat as “hideously botched, but interesting”, this, the sole big-screen version yet attempted of Wyndham’s book, had a troubled production, plainly lacked the budget for adequate special effects and has a very abrupt tacked-on resolution. (The original itself lacks any sort of tidy conclusion.) Inevitably it pales by comparison with either of the two films derived from The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) or the TV versions since made. But it treats the original with respect and generally captures it’s mood. Were it’s source not so renowned, it would probably be considered more sympathetically on it’s own terms.

The film suffers from the same problem as the original novel that once the wonderful central situation has been set up it bogs down somewhat and runs out of plot: hence the addition of the scenes in the lighthouse. And it has the affliction of most modern creature features that the triffids themselves are deprived of their original elegance by making them just too slaveringly revolting compared to those in the book; although the noise they make is cool.

But the scene where the word ‘blind’ causes sheer feral panic to sweep like wildfire through a plane in flight is alone powerful enough to justify the film’s existence. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO |

Minari (2021)

Dir/Wri: Lee Isaac Chung | Cast: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Yuh-Jung Youn, Alan S. Kim, Will Patton, Noel Kate Cho | Drama

Lee Isaac Chung’s endearing portrait of a Korean-American family, Minari won the hearts and minds at this year’s Sundance, taking home both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, and Yuh-Jung Youn went on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

The pace is gentle and upbeat as Chung unspools his autobiographical immigrant story – mostly in English- that feels real in its depiction of rural American in the 1980s (filmed in Oklahoma) then quite a difference place than the albeit modern Korea of his birth. Brimming with warmth and a touch of nostalgia, this is a universal experience of adjustment but the details are personal, imbued with the Korean sense of humour, and always delivered with a lightness of touch.

Originally starting off in California, farming-minded father Jacob (Steven Yeun) decides that the wide open spaces of Arkansas may be a better option for his family of four — mother Monica (Yeri Han), daughter Soonj (Noel Kate Cho) and son David (Alan S. Kim) — and they soon settle into a prefab with fifty acres in the hope of building up  a small-holding. With this idea in mind, Jacob and Monica take a job in the agricultural sector separating male and female baby chicks (or “chicken sexing”).

Monica is the only one who finds this new life a strain, the kids are only too happy to amuse themselves with plenty of land to play on. Grandma’s arrival helps to lighten things up providing a welcome buffer zone between Monica and Jacob – who are now barely talking – and helping with the kids who are the focus with their cheeky antics and naturalistic performances.

Jacob teams up for company with the local Bible-fearing eccentric (Will Patton) who spends a great deal of his time channeling Jesus, dragging a full-sized wooden cross along the main road. Feeling back-footed in his attempts thus far in providing for the family, Jacob’s business hunch finally shows signs of potentially coming good. But dramatic heft and gentle tension is provided when little David is in need of emergency medical treatment. No NHS to help here in the wilds of rural America. And although Minari doesn’t come through with a satisfactory conclusion to all the issues it raises, charisma and a real feelgood factor carries it through, along with winning performances from an impressive cast. MT

Now on release nationwide from 17th May | Oscar Winning for Best Supporting Actress: Yuh-Jung Youn |  Glasgow Film Festival 2021

 

 

 

 

Apache Drums (1951)

Dir: Hugo Fregonese | Wri: David Chandler | Cast: Stephen McNally, Coleen Grey, Willard Parker, Arthur Shields, James Griffith, Armando Silvestre | US Western 76′

Growing older makes you release just how shockingly young some of cinema’s luminaries were when they passed on (I have now outlived Max Ophuls by seven years, for example) and that Val Lewton was practically a boy when he exited film history aged a mere 46.

Lewton’s next move would have been to join Stanley Kramer at Columbia, but (having just tread water with two duff programmers for Metro) he went out on a high note with this, his only western, for Universal, that strikingly anticipates Zulu (right down to those under siege bursting lustily into ‘Men of Harlech’) and Assault on Precinct 13.

It was also his only Technicolor production and the potential for colour to heighten thrills is adroitly exploited in judiciously applied splashes of colour, like the green dress heroine Coleen Gray wears and the war paint the attackers come covered in when dramatically hurling themselves through the windows. Those almost expressionistically stylised windows (often visible in the background preparing us for attacks that don’t necessarily come) gradually change colour as the sky goes orange from Spanish Boot ablaze, and night becomes dawn (like the Manhattan skyline in Hitchcock’s Rope) until the door itself is finally devoured by flames when the final onslaught eventually arrives. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PARAMOUNT

Iorram | Boat Song (2021) Glasgow Film Festival 2021

Dir: Alistair Cole | UK Doc 96′

The first ever film in Scots Gaelic and none the worse for it, the native tongue – which has possibly only a year to live in its native setting – adding considerable atmosphere and poignancy to this impressionistic and informative portrait about fishing past and present before globalisation, climate change and Brexit decimated the stock. This film will certainly be meat ‘n bread (and possibly fish?) for dear old Nicola Sturgeon who is very much the poster girl for her country’s fishing industry. Livelihoods are at risk, not to mention the Scottish cultural heritage.

Back in the good old days fishing was the main industry up in the Western Isles around Barra, Vatersay and Cape Wrath, over a hundred miles North of Glasgow where the film screens at this year’s festival. The inhabitants of the islands today are observed on land and on water going about the business of fishing, while the ghostly voices of their ancestors tell stories and sing songs about life at the mercy of the sea.

In the mid-20th century, with the advent of portable sound recording, researchers started visiting the Outer Hebrides to preserve the voices of the islands for future generations. These were the first recordings to capture the oral history of Scottish Gaelic culture which stretches back thousands of years, and once covered the whole of Scotland, but now survives mainly in the island communities off the west coast.

Iorram is a second feature documentary for Alistair Cole whose work explores the link between language and the environment, as here where the evocative seascapes of the Outer Hebrides light up every frame. Music and fishing go very much hand in hand with being a sailor, songs and shanties keeping up the spirits and camaraderie during long or arduous forays into the blue yonder, and award-winning folk musician Aidan O’Rourke provides the film’s entrancing soundscape. Interestingly the word for rabbit sounds similar to the Spanish ‘conijo’.

Gaelic was once spoken across most of Scotland, but sadly Scottish Gaelic has now only around 11,000 habitual speakers, mainly in the Outer Hebrides, according to a recent study by the University of Highlands & Islands. Ironically, interest in Scots Gaelic is booming, with Gaelic schools flourishing in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and world interest in learning the the language has come via the internet and a ‘phone app (Duolingo has more than 560,000 registered learners worldwide signed up to Scots Gaelic).

Alistair Cole works as his own DoP to create stunning 4k observational footage of island life today. While the sailers prepare their creels to set out for the lobster and langoustine catch, and these action sequences are combined with imaginative land and seascapes captured on the widescreen. Meanwhile the film’s narration is composed of archive sound recordings of Gaelic speakers in the Outer Hebrides from the 1940s to 1970s reminiscing about the past when fish were so plentiful that the boats were often out all summer, and the locals time on land was spent busy with the harvest and looking after livestock. Holidays were never even considered, let alone taken. Other filmed footage shows local woman going about the meticulous preparation of the prized catch destined for restaurants all over Europe and these contrast with the lilting voices of the past sharing magical tales of fairies, mermaids and patron saints of the islands keeping the folklore alive.

Over the past decade, the School of Scottish Studies Archives has digitised and restored these recordings. Cole has selected the most emotional and lyrical voices in exploring the often fraught relationship between the fishing community and the stormy Atlantic Ocean.

World Premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival on February 28th 2021, followed by a virtual UK theatrical release from March 5th 2021 via the Modern Films ( in collaboration with key independent cinemas across the UK, and other partner organisations.

 

 

 

The Girl and the Spider (2021) Best Director Ex-aequo | Berlinale Encounters 20201

Dir: Ramon Zürcher, Silvan Zürcher | Cast: Henriette Confurius, Liliane Amuat, Ursina Lardi, Flurin Giger, André M. Hennicke, Ivan Georgiev, Dagna Litzenberger Vinet, Lea Draeger, Sabine Timoteo, Birte Schnöink | Switzerland 2021German 98’

The Girl and the Spider is an ambiguous puzzle of a film exploring the anatomy of a messy break-up. Dreams and anecdotes keep us entertained, while pets – a cat and a dog – steal the limelight.

This second feature from Swiss twins Ramon and Silvain Züricher (Das merkwürdige Kätzchen) sees Lisa (Amuat) leaving Mara (Confurius) to stay in their polyamorous flatshare. Chaos reigns throughout, Lisa’s mum (Ladri) flirts with removal man Jurek  (Hennicke) while overseeing the move. Mara swears “Fuck you!”, with Lisa answering “Later, first I move out”. suggesting that all may not be lost.

Clearly though the relationship has hit rock-bottom when Lisa insists on taking the dishwasher, telling Mara “you will never leave this dump, you’ll kick the bucket here”. To complicate matters Jan (Geiger) and Kerstin (Litzenberger-Vinet) also share this female centric ‘love-in’. Jan seems to be keen on Mara. Then there is Nora (Draeger), who spends a great deal of her time in bed asleep.

A young boy and a girl, possibly neighbours, add to the mayhem. And  Mrs. Arnold (Schoch), who stole the neighbour’s cat (who is now biting through cables), but has since returned it. The piano will stay in the flat as it belongs to the chambermaid (Schnöink), who once owned the place and is now working as a cleaning supervisor on a cruise ship – not that her short story makes anything clearer.

DoP Alexander Haßkerl conveys the general claustrophobia of this polyamorous set-up that takes place entirely within the confines of the cramped scenario, an obvious nod to the pandemic age, its residents and relationships in continual flux. The titular Spider story creates a constant formal tension in an aesthetically convincing, jumbled mayhem, but the lack of a satisfying narrative arc leaves us wanting more. AS

BERLINALE | SILVER BEAR | Best Director Ex aequo | ENCOUNTERS

 

 

Brother’s Keeper (2021) Berlinale Panorama 2021

Dir: Ferit Karahan | Cast: Samet Yıldız, Ekin Koç, Mahir İpek, Melih Selçuk, Cansu Fırıncı, Nurullah Alaca | Turkey / Romania 2021 | Turkish, Kurdish | 85’

Ferit Karahan’s stunningly captured second feature takes place in a draconian boarding school deep in the snowbound mountains of Anatolia. Bringing back memories of many British public schools where caning and freezing cold showers were commonplace, this study of cold-hearted repression serves as an artful metaphor for the ongoing conflict between Turks and their Kurdish underclass whose cultural identity has been repressed since the 1980 coup.

In this chilly hellhole – and the cold here is palpable – Turkish teachers subject the poor but gifted Kurdish pupils to regular beatings in spartan conditions where internet connection is random. Once a week, the boys are allowed to shower, and on one such occasion twelve year-old Memo catches a chill in the freezing dorm and by the morning is very ill indeed. His friend Yusuf tries to alert the masters to the boy’s plight but they carry on their collective neglect of Memo’s condition – so desperate are they to keep up the macho facade – until the boy becomes unresponsive, along with the mobile connection to the emergency services.

The tension is spiked by moments of hilarious situational humour – one involving a repetitive slipping sequence, another sees a puppy repeatedly trying to suckle its recalcitrant mother – Karahan – himself a Kurd – uses his largely non-pro cast to impressive effect. Elegantly framed and bitingly relevant this tightly packed drama unfolds in 85 enjoyable minutes. My Brother’s Keeper is an intelligent piece of film-making that makes impressive use of a low budget to create a memorable gem. At the heart of the story is Samet Yildiz’s haunting performance as Memo’s friend Yusuf, a boy whose knowing expression and sad eyes seem to speak volumes for the continuing plight of the Kurdish people. MT

BROTHER’S KEEPER won the FIPRESCI prize at Berlinale 2021 |

BEST SCRIPT, BEST FILM, ANTALYA FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

Herr Bachmann and his Class (2021) Jury Prize Berlinale 2021

Dir: Maria Speth | with Dieter Bachmann, Aynur Bal, Önder Cavdar, Schüler*innen der Klasse 6 b, Schüler*innen der Klasse 6f | Germany, Doc 217’

A teacher nearing retirement decides to do his bit for international entente cordiale in Maria Speth’s immersive look at contemporary schoolroom dynamics. In Stadtallendorf, a German city with a complex history of both excluding and integrating foreigners, genial teacher Dieter Bachmann believes that social integration starts at grass roots level, offfering his ethnically diverse pupils a welcome entree into modern Germany

Aged between twelve and fourteen, these pupils come from twelve different nations; some have not quite mastered the German language, so Bachmann adopts a kindly approach to confidence-building, eager to inspire them with a sense of curiosity for a wide range of crafts, subjects, cultures and opinions.

Teaching is not just about loving your subject – it’s about being able to convey information clearly and engagingly. And Dieter Bachmann certainly has the emotional intelligence and patience to inspire his kids helping them to understand that discussion and dialogue is the way forward when dealing with others. His vision of utopia sensitively conveyed here in by Maria Speth and her cinematographer Reinhold Vorschneider, is a testament to something quite ordinary and yet so vital for children everywhere. MT

BERLINALE | COMPETITON 2021

Tag der Freiheit – Unsere Wehrmacht | Day of Freedom (1935)

Dir: Leni Riefenstahl | With Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler | Germany, Doc, 28′

As we approach the much awaited days of freedom the renowned German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl was focusing on a Day of Freedom of another kind. Tag der Freiheit marked Riefenstahl’s third and final visit to Nuremberg for the rally of September 1935. Although she would doubtless have preferred for it to have  remained missing; the film resurfaced in the 1970s to further challenge her claims of being present at the rallies merely as an impartial observer.

The early 1930s saw her limbering up to film the 1936 Olympics, and both the photography and editing of Tag der Freiheit mark considerable advances on its ponderous predecessor Triumph of the Will; and watching this bellicose display of military machismo it’s again extraordinary to reflect that a woman was directing it.

Subtitled ‘Unsere Wehrmacht’ (‘Our Wehrmacht’), the emphasis is this time squarely on the armed forces rather than the NSDAP, and the film was shrewdly sneaked into cinemas as part of the supporting program for the popular costume drama Der höhere Befehl – thus ensuring plenty of people saw it – as well as screened it in schools until 1938.

The ‘freedom’ to which the title refers to here is from the constraints of the Treaty of Versailles, the disarmament clauses of which had been denounced by Hitler the previous March and which are here shown being brazenly flouted by an aggressive display of military might with cutaways to the Führer looking on in approval. (The fellow with the monocle on Hitler’s left is the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General Werner von Fritsch, later forced to resign on 4 February 1938 following trumped-up accusations of homosexuality by Himmler and Goering.) Exactly where all the bullets and shells supposedly being fired are ending up within the confines of the zeppelin field on which it was staged is alarmingly unclear. For the sake of the spectators and the aircraft shown being fired at, hopefully they’re all firing blanks.

Triumph of the Will had begun with the arrival on the tarmac at Nuremberg of a lone private plane carrying Germany’s new saviour. Tag der Freiheit by contrast ends with the sky filled with military aircraft flying in formation (including a swastika), soon to be deployed in the Rhineland, which showed the direction in which the new Germany was now decisively and irrevocably moving. Richard Chatten.

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON AS A BOX SET

Gatecrash (2021) Digital release

Dir: Lawrence Gough Cast: Olivia Bonamy, Ben Cura, Anton Lesser and

Adapted from a play by Terry Hughes, Gatecrash is a slick home invasion thriller that retains its stagey claustrophobic credentials by keeping things mostly indoors, thus keeping the budget down. As usual with these contempo British indie films, the female character is the victim.

Samuel West has been persuaded to join the decent cast of what is a slim but effective four-hander that ultimately leaves too many questions unanswered. It sees a French woman Nicole (Olivia Bonamy) trapped in an abusive relationship with her hard-edged and controlling husband Steve (Ben Cura). After a night out in their flashy car the couple return to the confines of a plush garage where a vicious row breaks out. Clearly something has gone wrong and they both blame each other, although Steve is clearly the culprit and coerces Nicole to keep schtum.

But it gets worse. Two other characters know what’s happened and they’re not going to let Steve get away with it. As the innocent party, Olivia’s feelings of isolation and fear intensify grow as the pair are increasingly pressurised to fess up – at any cost. MT

Gatecrash will be available for rent or Digital Download from 22nd February in the UK and Ireland.

A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces (2021) Berlinale

Dir: Shengze Zhu | China, Doc

“it is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.” Italo Calvino

Chicago based Chinese filmmaker Shengze Zhu follows her Tiger award-winning documentary Present. Perfect (2019) with this acutely personal almost Proustian love letter to the past. Serving as a paean to pre-pandemic times but also a poignant reflection on how the world continues to change, not always for the better. It also serves as a humble apology for a town she never particularly liked anyway. The town is Wuhan.

Several years ago no-one had ever heard of the infamous city that sprawls along the Yangtze River in Northern China, and whose wet markets would soon breed a global health crisis that would help to decimate our lives. Many of us now feel a complete dislocation from our pre-Covid past. The life we knew, before the pandemic took hold of ‘normality’, is changed forever. The innocence of spontaneity is also gone, another nail in the coffin of freedom – rather like that of post 9/11.

Back in 2010 when she left for America, Shengze remembers the burgeoning industrial metropolis of Wuhan as ‘a stage on which people perform in various ways’ a landscape formed by nature and then dramatically assaulted by roaring machines and rapidly rising infrastructure. A place where ‘memories are buried. The lost place’. But it’s the little things that count here, rather than Wuhan itself. The shop that sold her favourite spicy beef noodles, has shut down, the friendly owner moved away.

In her restrained and strangely alluring treatment Wuhan is very much a character who she remembers – but not always with pleasure. Casting her mind back to the past Shengze avoids nostalgia, instead reflecting on consequences in this contemplation of the past and the lost in a bid to revaluate what happened, and what could still happen.

Five years in the making the film starts in the very recent past, recorded on surveillance footage that pictures empty streets gradually filling again after April 2020 with figures standing in tacit obedience. The images of ‘before’ in the empty streets play out in a series of vignettes held for several minutes in a static camera, a ‘symphony without music’ is how Shengze describes them. Her decision to use the distant ambient soundscape is a wise one, making this so much more transcendent in its eerie beauty, picturing the bustling metropolis with surprising grandeur. There are also scenes of meditative calm – the neon lights of the suspension bridge are strikingly beautiful as they shimmer in the darkness.

A River is imbued with a vague feeling of wistful regret, the whirring neon-lit industrial present slowly pans out into the purple past in the fields beyond where buffalo still graze in contented torpor. And the Yangtze River is the endless glowing connective tissue that keeps on flowing, renewing, cleansing. No one can imagine just how vast Chinese cities are until they visit. But Shengze conveys some of this enormity in a way that never feels frightening or aggressive. Her memories are now locked in the past but the future keeps on coming. A reflective, positive, graceful film that brings hope from so much tragedy. MT

BERLINALE FORUM 2021.

The Good Fairy (1935)

Dir: William Wyler | Wri: Preston Sturges | Cast: Margaret Sullavan, Herbert Marshall, Frank Morgan, Cesar Romero, June Clayworth | US Drama 98′

In her short life, the ethereally radiant Margaret Sullavan (1909-1960) did not last the night, but the lovely light she briefly gave is preserved for posterity in charming mementoes such as this. Deeply touching in drama, Sullavan’s best remembered comedy role was in Ernst Lubitsch’s evergreen The Shop Around the Corner (1940), which was the second romantic comedy she made set in Budapest. ‘The Good Fairy’ was the first.

Scripted by Preston Sturges from a play by Ferenc Molnár produced on Broadway in 1931, The Good Fairy would have been a very different film indeed but for the introduction of the strict new Production Code of June 1934 just three months before shooting commenced. Sturges had to keep one step ahead of the film throughout production as he extensively rewrote the script, which has the Hays Office’s fingerprints all over it; as well as a generally disjointed feeling – such as the early disappearance of Alan Hale from the narrative, never to return; and the late appearance of Herbert Marshall, never to leave – and a LOT of talk. The droll film-within-the-film which reduces Ms Sullavan to tears which was added to the script by Sturges is among a number of hints earlier on in the film that we were going to something sharper and more sophisticated than the bowdlerised romcom that we actually get. (The same plot played as drama might have made better use of Ms Sullavan’s talents and made a more interesting film).

Sullavan plays Luisa Ginglebusher, a charming, accident-prone orphan who is vastly more innocent and unworldly than the sweetly manipulative little vixen played on Broadway by Helen Hayes. Rather bizarrely plucked from the orphanage to become a cinema usherette – for which Luisa is kitted out in a magnificent uniform that looks more like one of Marlene Dietrich’s cast-offs from ‘The Scarlet Empress’ – as Miss Ginglebusher ventures out into the big wicked city, one initially fears for the safety of this seeming cross between Prince Myshkin and a more garrulous version of Chauncey Gardner.

But salvation is at hand in the form of Detlaff, a brusquely kind-hearted waiter played by Reginald Owen; who looks younger than I’m used to seeing him and gives the most engaging performance I’ve ever seen him give (he befriends her while cautiously removing her knife when she reveals to him during dinner that she was released from an asylum that morning, but quietly returns it when it turns out that the asylum was for orphans); and takes it upon himself to protect her from the wolves that prowl the city (an extremely wolfish-looking Cesar Romero puts in a brief appearance as one such).

The film, unfortunately, soon tires of giving us a heroine who’s just a simple working girl (we never actually see where she lives, for example), and is irrevocably derailed by the introduction of Frank Morgan as Konrad – one of those vague, benevolent millionaires encountered so often in Hollywood movies – who agrees to become Sullavan’s sugar daddy without ever suggesting he might eventually be expecting some sugar in return. Ironically, considering he is today principally remembered for later playing the title role in The Wizard of Oz, Morgan actually describes himself at one point as “a wizard” and offers to demonstrate his magic powers to Luisa by pulling out his cheque book to enhance the life of the non-existent husband she has just made up to ward of his advances.

I agree with ‘kyrat’, who said in an earlier IMDb review nearly fifteen years ago that it would have been more fitting to have bestowed Konrad’s windfall upon her own good fairy Detlaff rather than just randomly take a name from the ‘phone book; and the romance that develops between Luisa and the thus gifted Dr. Sporum (Herbert Marshall in a goatee and wing collar) – whose greatest excitement at his sudden good fortune is that he can now afford a proper office pencil-sharpener – seems dictated by Hollywood convention rather than any actual chemistry between them. (Surprise! Surprise! the film ends in a wedding; and I would have liked to have had a better look at the very striking wet-look art deco bridal gown we fleetingly see Ms Sullavan walk down the aisle in just before the end credits.)

As the film progresses Luisa frankly comes across as a bit of a simpleton rather than just a pure simple soul; and the 25 year-old Sullavan is playing a girl nearly ten years younger than her real age surrounded by middle-aged men whose motives all remain impeccably but rather improbably chaste (there’s some supposedly innocent but I found decidedly creepy horseplay in Konrad’s hotel room with him pretending that he’s a mountain lion and Luisa’s a lamb).

But this is all A-grade Hollywood hokum done to a turn by rising young director William Wyler (who ran off with Sullavan to get married in the middle of production), and all very pleasant if you don’t take it too seriously; which I’m sure nobody involved in the production did. Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

The Ace of Hearts (1921)

Dir: Wallace Worsley | Wri: Gouverneur Morris, Ruth Wightman | Cast: Lon Chaney, Leatrice Joy, John Bowers, Raymond Hatton, Hardee Kirkland | US Silent, Drama 65′

At noon on 16 September 1920 the United States suffered the most destructive act of terrorism yet committed on American soil when a bomb believed to have been planted by Italian anarchists exploded on Wall Street, killing 30 people outright and injuring hundreds of others.

Already in cinemas, Wallace Worsley’s The Penalty (1920), had recently starred Lon Chaney as the head of a gang of anarchists plotting a spectacular robbery; and a year later the director and star released a similarly themed follow-up based upon another novel by Gouverneur Morris.

Obviously a pot-boiler compared to The Penalty (but like its predecessor handsomely shot by Donovan Short), Chaney has top billing but a very secondary role as a member of a secret society who resemble the anarchists in Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907), the conspirators in Thorold Dickinson’s Secret People (1952) and the vigilante judges in Peter Hyams’ The Star Chamber (1983). They decide to rid society of a vile plutocrat (Raymond Hatton, called “The Menace” in the cast list but referred to throughout the film as “The Man Who Has Lived Too Long”) by cutting cards to choose the assassin. This scheme is complicated by an extremely uninteresting love triangle comprising Farallone (Chaney), Forrest (John Bowers) and the intriguingly named Lilith (Leatrice Joy); the last being the brotherhood’s only sister, a prig whose infatuation with “the Cause” means she has zero interest in romantic matters.

Although selected on the basis of cutting cards (an obvious nod to Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Suicide Club’), Forrest should have been the obvious candidate to carry out the assassination in the first place; since for the past three months he’s been working as a waiter in the restaurant where The Menace has breakfast every morning at 9.00, and thus perfectly placed to shoot him in the head at point blank range.

Instead their chosen method of execution takes the form of an entirely indiscriminate act of terror employing a bomb capable of destroying an entire building; which it should already have been obvious to Forrest and his associates would mean that The Menace would not be the only casualty (like the little Kenyan girl in Eye in the Sky). Sure enough, when it finally dawns upon Forrest that there will be collateral damage the entire operation is compromised.

The bomb itself looks like a cigarette case and neatly fits into a jacket pocket: yet another example of movie technology far in advance of anything available in real life. The Wall Street bomb itself had had to be brought to the site where it exploded on a horse-drawn wagon.Richard Chatten

NOW ON YOUTUBE

 

Film Memories from Korea: Five of the Best

Sweet Dream (Lullaby of Death) (1936) Yang Ju-Nam

One of the few lost films from the Japanese colonial era (1910-45) that has been rediscovered in recent years tells the story of Ae-sun, the vain wife of a middle-class man who has no interest in looking after her family and is chased out by her husband, only to find out her lover is not the prosperous entrepreneur she thought he was but a poor student and criminal.

Madame Freedom (1956) Han Hyeong-Mo

Films of the 1950s confronted some of the key issues facing Korean society as it rebuilt itself again. Madame Freedom, an adaptation of the decade’s most scandalous serial novel, centred on a woman whose troubled marriage symbolises the tension between collapsing traditional values and the influence of Western capitalism, as she goes from one torrid encounter to the next. The box-office success of this film encouraged a renewed flow of investment into a film industry hit hard by the war.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring (2003) Kim Ki-duk

A sublime, poetic, transcendental trip that explores the essence of the human condition with wit and poignancy. Sadly Kim Ki-duk died in December 2020 but his often provocative award-winning work defined Korean arthouse cinema at the turn of the 21st century, with often striking visual allure.

Thirst (2009) Park Chan-Wook

An intelligent take on Zola’s Therese Raquin this opulent and topical vampire melodrama seethes with irony in its Grand Guignol lyricism. A priest offers himself up to be infected with a virus that eventually takes over forcing him to abandon his ascetic existance. 

In Another Country (2012) Sang-soo Hong

This low budget comedy drama starring Isabelle is one of funniest Korean films I’ve ever seen and competed for the Palme d’Or in 2012. Huppert plays three different versions of a French woman who visits a small fishing village, the humour lying in the ‘lost in translation’ situational comedy in her interactions with various locals.

NOW ON YOUTUBE | ON DEMAND | DVD/BLU

The Wheel of Fantasy and Fortune | Guzen to Sozo

Dir.: Ryusuke Hamaguchi: Cast: Kotone Furukowa, Katsuki Mori, Kyohiko Shibukawa, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri, Shouma Kei, Katsuke Mori, Aoba Kawai, Fusoko Urabe; Japan 2021, 121′.

Director/writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour) weaves three short stories into an emotionally powerful and visually alluring film with narrative that could easily spin out into three more full length dramas, if desired.

In chapter One, ‘Magic – Or Something Less Assuring’, two actresses, Meiko (Furukawa) and Tsugumi (Mori) drive home in a taxi after a shoot. Tsugumi tells Meiko all about a guy called Kazu (Nakajiima). She’s has clearly fallen in love. She also tells Meiko about his emotional trauma with an ex who cheated on him. Little does Tsugumi know that her friend Meiko is the woman in question. And once Tsugumi has got out of the taxi, Meiko goes straight round to Kazu’s office. Clearly things are not over for the couple. When Tsugumi and Kazu meet up in a cafe Meiko casually walks by the window. She is invited in, and the audience are invited to choose one of two alternative endings.

Episode Two – Door Wide Open – follows a humiliated college student, Sasaki (Kei) take revenge on his professor, Segawa (Shibukawa) with the help of his lover Nao (Hyunri) also a ex-student of the professor, and  now married with a daughter. Together they hatch a plan that sees Nao walking into Segawe’s office at the university with the aim of securing incriminating evidence of the professor’s unseemly behaviour. She reads him a pornographic excerpt from his prizewinning novel, but despite his reluctance to be drawn into the trap the poor man ends up becoming involved in a salacious encounter, Nao taping the incident and sending the evidence to Segawe’s university mail address, losing hum his job. Nao and Sasaki meet by accident five years later, and all has changed.

The third – Once Again – is by far the most intriguing segment that sees three characters involved in a lose love triangle originally meeting in college and going on to live their lives before becoming involved again in a drama of mixed identities and role play. Natsuko Higuchi (Kawei) meets up with her class of 1998. She is obviously an outsider, hardly bothering to socialise. Next day in Tokyo she meets Aya Kobayashi (Urabe). Natsuko is convinced Aya is really her ex- Mika Yulli, a girl she wanted to spend her life with, but who decided to marry a man. It takes Aya ages to convince Natsuko she is not Yulli. Aya is married with two children before the virus Xeron ruined electronic communications, and sent the world back to mailed post and telegrams. Aya is helpless, before she decides to participate in a role play in which she plays Yulli. Natsuko tells ‘Yulli’ how much she was hurt by her decision to leave her. Now Natsuko regrets the past, she has never fallen in love again. After the women re-bond Aya agrees to play the role of a girl in her class, Nozumi, a boyish girl, on whom Aya had a crush. Aya and Natsuko part as friends, having created a romantic past.

The is an elegantly crafted romantic drama full of twists and turns, a mature masterpiece, with Hamaguchi effortlessly playing all emotional nuances in a satisfying trilogy of different passionate styles. Apart from being a master class in narrative structuring, Wheel is also full of ambiguity and ambivalence: human emotions being shown as destructive as well as healing. Outstanding. AS

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE from  7 FEBRUARY 2022 | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | GRAND JURY PRIZE  2021

Fabian: Going to the Dogs (2021) Berlinale Competition 2021

Dir: Dominik Graf | Cast: Tom Schilling, Saskia Rosendahl, Albrecht Schuch, Petra Kalkutschke, Elmar Gutmann, Aljoscha Stadelmann, Meret Becker, Michael Hanemann; Germany/Austria 2021, 176 min.

Fabian: Going to the Dogs is the second big screen adaptation of Erich Kästner’s 1931 novel Fabian: Die Geschichte eines Moralisten, and much more successful than Wolf Gremm’s rather facile 1980 attempt.

Directed and co-written by German veteran director Domink Graf (The Invincibles) it does justice to the novel and its author. Erich Kästner (1899-1974) best known for his children books, which often found their way into screen versions, like Das Doppelte Lottchen, filmed as The Parent Trap in 1961. Fabian was his only mature adult novel. His poems and lyrical texts are rather whimsical in their romanticism echoing the of his contemporary Kurt Tucholsky, who emigrated to Sweden where he committed suicide in 1935

But Kästner stayed in Nazi Germany, even though he was present when his books (with many others) were burned as ‘Entartete Kunst’ by the Nazis. The author visited exiled colleagues, but “wanted to remain in Germany as a chronicler”. Unable to write anything but children books, he was not even allowed to join the ‘Reichsschriftstumkammer’, the global Nazi organisation for writers, but nevertheless managed to write (uncredited) the scripts for Munchhausen (1943) and the adaption of his own novel ‘Der kleine Grenzverkehr’ as Salzburg Comedy, also in 1943, under the pseudonym of Berthold Burger.

Kästner was an individualist not given to joining groups in the post-war Federal Republic, he nevertheless remained true to his pacifism demonstrating on the ‘Easter Marches’ against re-militarisation and nuclear weapons, and later against the Vietnam War. Fabian‘s two leading male characters correspond quite closely to the author’s personality .

Fabian is set in and around Berlin in the final years of the Weimar Republic, where Dr. Jacob Fabian (Schilling), in his twenties, works in an advertising agency, enjoying a nightlife of sexual escapades. He meets Irene Moll (Becker) whose husband pays other men to sleep with his wife – if he approves of them beforehand. Fabian will meet Irene on two more occasions: on the first, she gives him work as her assistant in a brothel offering female sex workers for heterosexual men. Later on in a train to Dresden, she offers to take him to Budapest for another sexually charged enterprise. Fabian’s close coterie of male friends includes Dr. Stephan Labude (Schuch) an emotionally unstable intellectual champagne socialist who is writing his post-doctoral thesis on Lessing. Fabian, on the other hand, avoids politics, devoting his time to his lyrical writings. All this changes when he meets meets the young Cornelia Battenberg (Rosendahl), an aspiring actress.

The two fall in love, and their magical nighttime foray in Berlin is one of the film’s highlights, before the two return to the cheap pension where they both live. But money will be their downfall, and after visiting Labude at his posh family estate, Fabian finds himself dismissed from the agency on the grounds of his lack of focus. Enter Cornelia’s more illustrious suitor, the film producer Markart (Stadelmann). At a lunch with Fabian’s mother, Cornelia leaves her lover and sits at Markart’s table. This is the beginning of the end for their relationship, and both struggle to maintain contact.

But worse is to come for the romantically inclined pals who are both subsumed by their political and amorous ideals. Labude falls foul of a prank at the university where the Nazi Germany had considerable support: far from being the party of the underdog the Nazis were a major contingent of the intellectual establishment.

Meanwhile Fabian returns to his parents in Dresden where he continues his life supported by regular phone calls with Cornelia, who visits their favourite cafe every afternoon to wait for him. Having ignored countless public posters of “Learn to Swim”, Fabian ignores them, and goes to the rescue of a boy who jumped from a railway bridge into a river. The boy survives and uncovers Fabian’s bag, full of writings and personal memorabilia.

The is a visually alluring drama despite some tricksy multi-screen images which feel out of place in the period setting. DoP Hanno Lentz and PD Klaus-Jürgen Pfeiffer recreate the era with avantgarde flair. Schilling and Rosendahl have chemistry and make for a believable couple caught in the midst of a ‘coup de foudre’.

But it’s Graf’s direction that really wins the day, creating a German epos full of contradictions, but with universal appeal. Yes, the running length is questionable, the overbearing sex scenes are filmed with the male gaze, women are either total victims or scheming traitors (like Cornelia), – but overall Graf comes close to Bernhard Wicki’s 1989 masterpiece of  Spider’s Web, set in the same period in Germany, and based on the novel by Joseph Roth who, like Kästner, was an immigrant with addiction issues. Graf pulls off the “double-suicide” of two romantic idealists unable to face a world that did not reflect their longings. AS

IN COMPETITION BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky (2021)

Dir/Wri: Alexandre Koberidze | Cast: Giorgi Bochorishvili, Vakhtang Panchulidze, Ani Karseladze, Oliko Bakradze and Giorgi Ambroladze | Georgia, drama 126

Love at first sight is one of those strange human miracles. And this serendipitous occurrence lights up everyday life in a Georgian city in this whimsical sophomore feature from Georgia’s Alexandre Koberidze.

The lovers in question – Lisa and Giorgi – meet in their home town of Kutaisi (north west of Tbilisi) agreeing to see each other the next day – someplace, same time – without exchanging numbers. But a stranger has cast the evil eye on their happiness, completely changing their appearance.  When they finally get together, the feelings of passion are still there under the surface, but they desperately try to recapture the magic of that first flirtatious flight of fantasy. They are still the same people, but they look completely different.

Koberidze keeps the action light-hearted and playful, making use of magic realism to show how the lovers (now played by different actors) both fall into new jobs in a local cafe. Meanwhile, we get a glimpse of life in this cathedral city on the banks of the Rioni River, in a series of vibrant vignettes that spill out one after the other, anticipating the excitement of the forthcoming World Cup. There’s an intoxicating feeling of camaraderie but also a hint of wistfulness in the air giving the film a gently poetic feel. We never get to know the protagonists and so they remain distant, locked away in this modern fairy tale.

Intoxicated by its own joie de vivre the bittersweet docudrama tries hard to keep us engaged but rather overstays its welcome at well over two hours. DoP Faraz Fesharaki does his best to entertain and delight with glowing images, using a static camera to enhance the film’s more sober final sequences. In a world with so much tragedy, conflict and seriousness, Koberidze shows us there is still room for dreams if we let our imagination loose. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 25 NOVEMBER | PREMIERED AT BERLINALE 2021 

 

The High Bright Sun (1965)

Dir: Ralph Thomas | Wri: Ian Stuart Black, Brian Forbes | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Susan Strasberg, George Chakiris, Denholm Elliot, Colin Campbell | UK, 96′

Dirk Bogarde’s ninth and final film for Betty Box and Ralph Thomas. Although King & Country (from which Bogarde went straight into this slick, good-looking guilty pleasure) had been set during the Great War, and this as recently as 1957, this seems more of a throwback than Losey’s film.

The whole thing takes place during Cyprus’ war of independence from Britain in 1957/ Strasberg is Juno Kozani an American archeology student who gets caught up in conflict not only with war but also between a local guerrilla fighter (George Chakiris) and Bogarde’s British Army Intelligence officer who tries to protect her.

Despite the glossy sixties veneer, James Bond-style bouzouki & trumpet score by Angelo Lavagnino (and bona fide Cypriots George Pastell & Paul Stassino in supporting roles who both appeared in Bond films) this is more like one of Bogarde’s fifties war films. One of them, They Who Dare (ironically made by the director of All Quiet on the Western Front), also co-starring Denholm Elliot, had actually been made in Cyprus. Obviously Cyprus was out this time round so the picturesque backdrop is provided by Italy.

In the final scene on the flight to Athens I had long assumed the blonde BOAC stewardess was in league with the bad guy, and it was quite a while before I realised the significant looks she kept throwing his way during the flight were those of a concerned innocent bystander rather than a confederate.) Richard Chatten.

DVD AVAILABLE

 

Jack’s Ride | No Táxi do Jack (2021) Berlinale Forum 2021

Dir: Susana Nobre | Cast: Joaquim Calcada | Portugal, 87′

Portuguese director Susana Nobre won the prestigious La Femis Scholars’ Award with her short film Provas, Exorcismos. She comes to Berlin with her unusual first feature No Táxi do Jack which is part road movie part ethnological portrait of small-town rural Portugal but there’s a sting in the tale to the concentric narrative.

Jack’s Ride seems quite straightforward at first as we follow the main character Joaquim Calçada, 63, now semi-retired and back home in his village after spending his working life as a taxi driver New York. Joaquim’s day is full of the usual chores, organising his pension arrangements and shopping for food. Nobre establishes the milieu of this rural backwater with its industrial outcrop and traditional neighbourly values, more 1970s in feel than the present day, and this is reflected in the film’s rather florid visual aesthetic, Joaquim is locked in a time warp looking like a character from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with his dyed black hair, leather jacket and lifts. That said he is a decent, respectful man who cares for his wife, his long-dead parents, and his blind friend, a wheelchair user with diabetes. Nobre paints a portrait of a contented but rather backward place where traditional values still matter.

The rather mundane daily drama plays out against the more intriguing narration by Joaquim – and here there is a dramatic trip over New York’s skyline, provided by archive footage, as he reminisces about his old emigrant days in New York’s mean streets where life was tough as he struggled to make it in the urban jungle, particularly when the law of the jungle saw him challenging someone he thought was his friend. MT

BERLINALE | FORUM 2021

 

District Terminal (2021) Berlinale Encounters 2021

Dirs: Bardia Yadegari/ Ehsan Mirhosseini | Drama, Iran/Germ 117′

In the near Tehran future will be reduced to a broken down backwater. At least that’s the view envisaged in District Terminal a rather stylish but overlong social and political drama from first time Iranian filmmakers Yadegari and Mirhosseini, screening in the Encounters strand in this year’s 71st edition of Berlinale.

This vision of dystopia and existential angst is seen from the perspective of a mother and her junkie son Peyman (played by Yadegari) who are struggling to make sense of their daily lives as they face a grim and uncertain future in a pokey flat near Tehran’s eponymous transport hub. A lethal virus, possibly the result of environmental pollution, has brought the city to its knees and their local neighbourhood has been placed under round-the-clock surveillance by quarantine officers.

The film’s premise is universal, especially in these Covid times, but District Terminal feels distinctly Iranian in flavour, making use of use of his exotic poems written (and he often chants them in hushed tones in Farsi) on the peeling walls of his bedroom. The junkie moments are given an artful spin by the cinematographer.

There’s nothing unusual about this doom-laden scenario. While his long-suffering mother gets on with the business of running the domestic side of his life, the self-obsessed loser Peyman spends his time shooting up and listening to jazz; over-thinking the status quo (and these moments are envigorated by menacing archive footage of ecological disasters); attending his alcoholics support group; and Skyping a skanky-looking woman in the USA who he has married to get a visa, and who is hoping for great things from this ‘marriage’. Meanwhile Peyman is desperately learning English, while his teeth are falling out one by one.

Sometimes his daughter swings round to see him, chanting Amy Winehouse songs and rocking a beanie – rather than a headscarf – she confesses to her father that she loves dating “assholes” and promptly leaves in a white Mercedes.

His two closest friends Ramin and Mozhgan seem the most edifying companions but Peyman is also in hopelessly involved in an illicit love affair. There’s absolutely nothing appealing about these any of these characters who are locked, almost contentedly so, in their aimlessly existence. After a while living in lockdown does induce people to settle for the lowest common denominator, but there’s also something deeply irritating about the way these characters refuse to aspire to anything more than their days of emptiness, drug-taking and navel gazing. MT

BERLINALE | ENCOUNTERS 2021

 

Bloodsuckers – A Marxist Vampire Comedy (2021) Berlinale

Dir.: Julian Radlmaier; Cast: Aleksandre Koberidze, Lilith Stangenberg, Alexander Herbst, Corinna Harfouch, Andreas Döhler, Anton Gonopolski, Daniel Hoesl, Mareike Beykirch; Ger/France/Switz 2021, Drama,125 min.

A tour de force of German cinema of the 1960s and 70s slips through the cracks in this riotous summer seaside sortie that sees a penniless Soviet refugee in thrall to an exotic vampire and her love-sick manservant a decade after the First World War.

Gloriously set on the verdant Baltic coast in 1928, Bloodsuckers channels the wacky humour of Woody Allen’s Love & Death with a touch of Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay thrown in. Just falling short of self-parody in a bizarre two hours, this is high-octane stuff intellectually-speaking; a nuts and bolts grasp of Marxism or the ins-and-outs of Soviet film history will partly explain Radlmaier’s arcane comedy caper and third feature. That said, you’ll either love it, or hate it – to death.

The film unfolds in three chapters with incomprehensible titles but the settings are sumptuously photographed, although not always in keeping with the era costume-wise – occasionally striking a bum note that gives the film the amateurish look of a high school production. Another scene featuring modern Mercedes cars also sticks out like a sore thumb.

Breaking away from an earnest beachside chat between members of a Marxist study group we witness a more intriguing rendezvous taking place between rich heiress Octavia (Stangenberg) and the ‘soi-disant’ Count Ljowushka (Koberidze), who shares his sob story of starting life as a poor factory worker before being discovered by filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (Gonopolski), who cast him as Trotsky. (Unfortunately, the real Trotsky fell out with Stalin and Ljowushka’s part ended up on the cutting room floor, along with his budding romance).

The Countess invites the young man to stay in her lushly appointed villa where Jakob (Herbst) serves a supper of snails, before they repair to bed. In the dead of night the impoverished Count attempts to crack open the safe but is nipped in the bud by Jakob, and the Countess graciously excuses him – in the spirit of true Marxist values – before the two hatch plans to make a film together in the villa’s ample grounds. Unknown to the Count, Octavia is a vampire (not the only one) and Jakob does the honours with daily supplies of his blood.

Various characters join in the fun including a Chinaman whose stock in trade is a healing ointment for vampire bites, that naturally none of the workforce can afford. The exploitative factory owner turns out to be one Dr. Humburg (Döhler), whose own father is rather tight-fisted with the family purse strings, and is being egged on by his aunt Erkentrud (Harfouch) to marry Octavia and get his hands on her money. Meanwhile Rosa falls for Jakob who isn’t the slightest bit interested and is too taken up with Octavia, desperately trying to impress her by reading Proust, (quite apart from offering her his own fresh blood).

A certain Bonin (Hoesl) then fetches up at the villa, Ocatvia and Auntie had met him on a skiing holiday in St. Moritz. Filming gets under way with Jakob behind the camera and Octavia and the (false) Count cast as the lovers, where the jealous Jakob eats a poisonous mushroom and dies.

Chapter Three  (A Wrong Life cannot be Lived Rightfully) brings the feature to a close with Döhler, who is also a vampire, attempting to tap the Russian ‘Count’. Döhler invites Octavia to come on a capitalist-themed jaunt to Budapest, to invest in a sort of early television. A costume ball provides a showcase showdown, with Jacob coming back to life, remembering that famous day in 1917 when the revolution set him free from his serfdom. The Study Group makes a re-appearance, but their leader is shot dead by some fascists, after everyone has watched the Vampire film.

There are some interesting ideas to be had in this ambitious third feature for Julian Radlmaier, who doesn’t quite pull off the comedy element in a film that’s more weird than funny. Performances are game and high-spirited throughout, DoP Markus Koob successfully conveying the painterly feel of the Baltic seaside in summer. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

The Kentuckian (1955)

Dir: Burt Lancaster | A B Guthrie Jr | Cast: Burt Lancaster, Diana Lynn, Dianne Foster, Walter Matthau | US Action Drama 104′

An attractive slice of Americana shot in rich autumnal colours and in widescreen to accommodate all Burt Lancaster’s teeth. Making this adaptation of Felix Holt’s 1951 novel ‘The Gabriel Horn’ (“with his own face in front of the camera most of of the time”, as the Allans disrespectfully put it) thereafter largely cured Lancaster of his yen to direct.

Set in the 1820s the film follows Lancaster’s Texas-bound Kentucky frontiersman gamely trying to raise his young son while desperately fighting off the evils of liquor and the charms of women, not to mention Walter Matthau’s whip-cracking local businessman.

With an appropriately recherché score by Bernard Hermann, the supporting cast includes John McIntyre as Lancaster’s brother (only their mother could tell them apart) and two blue-eyed elfin charmers in the form of Una Merkel and Diana Lynn. Villainy was supplied by Walter Matthau – looking older and heavier here in his film debut than he did ten years later; while Douglas Spencer & Paul Wexler as the cold-eyed Fromes brothers are a pair of ghouls that look like models for Grant Wood executed by Charles Addams.

The scene depicting the time it actually took to reload a shotgun in those days should be seen by all modern advocates of the Second Amendment. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Against the Tides (2019) VOD

Dir: Stefan Stuckert | UK Doc 87′

Let go of what’s stopping you. Let go of the doubt. 

Extreme swimming fans and psychologists, this is for you. Professionals go one step further and call long-distance sport ‘challenge’ swimming, and Beth French is a pro. Some may call her a fanatic. She is certainly courageous and comes across as extremely plucky and high-active in this Stefan Stuckert’s griping documentary that follows the self-employed, self-funding single mother of one as she takes on the Oceans Seven – a mammoth swimming challenge that could cost her life. It takes in seven terrifying open sea channels across the world, from New Zealand and Hawaii to Japan and Northern Ireland. And Beth will tackle them all in one year.

The sea between Northern Island and Scotland (for one) is certainly no walk in the park. One of the coldest stretches of water in Europe, it is fraught with marine craft not to mention marine life: if the tankers don’t get you the jelly might. And then there’s the inclement weather, tides and currents. During the endurance course she will be followed by a small boat and a canoe.

But there’s more to Beth than just swimming. And soon we begin to understand what motivates to seek out extreme and often dangerous challenges in the water. And it seems that a childhood illness that left her in a wheelchair is the key to her – some may say, fanatical – obsession with endurance swimming.

But that’s not all. Beth believes her young son could also be on the autistic spectrum, but it can’t be easy for a little child to live in constant fear of its only parent dying tragically albeit doing what she loves best. Beth obviously reassures her boy that everything will go according to plan, but she is so driven and single-minded her son takes a back seat, much to the concern of her mother at home in Somerset. Her support buddy Martin eventually parts company with Beth and leaves during the trip.

Beth lavishly shares her thoughts and feelings throughout the feature yet always remains a detached and unreachable character who clearly needs to prove herself, push herself ever harder, an enigmatic soul who seems haunted by a need to keep running, and Stuckert never really gets under her skin. There is clearly a family back story here but are left in the dark experiencing only the emotional fallout rather than the root of the trauma. It’s a shame that Beth never opens up fully about the past. This is a striking and intriguing film but one that leaves so many questions still open.

AGAINST THE TIDES IS ON DEMAND IN THE US/UK from 1st March 2021

UK iTunes link:

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/against-the-tides/id1552700437

US iTunes links

Against the Tides – iTunes pre-order

Against the Tides – AppleTV pre-order

 

 

Breeder (2021) Digital/Bluray

Dir: Jens Dahl | Cast: Signe Egholm Olsen, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen | Thriller, Denmark

This brutal survival horror outing from Denmark’s Jens Dahl’s – who actually wrote Nic Winding Refn’s drug thriller Pusher – is set in rather sophisticated surroundings in a smart part of Copenhagen.

‘Women beware women’ is very much the order of the day here as female themselves are the victims of a curious bio-hacking experiment, run by a ruthless businesswoman (Signe Egholm Olsen) who is using her health supplement company as a front for selecting and abducting them as part of an experiment to reverse the ageing process, which most of the female population could end up benefiting from if only they could survive.

The central character Mia (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Borgman) tries to get to the bottom of it all and ends up trapped, branded and tortured in a grim underground facility. Familiar faces start to appear, and Mia realises she is not alone in all this. But does she have the will to survive and escape from the nightmare? Or do we really care?

Dahl has some interesting ideas but lacks the directing experience to pull it all off successfully, and despite his considerable talents as a writer he relies on a  script by Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen. Slack pacing and an unremarkable cast are supported by Nikolai Lok’s camerawork that certainly looks impressive, but you can’t rely on images alone to make a gripping horror film.

Clearly Dahl is harking back to the New French Extreme films at the turn of this century from filmmakers such as Gaspar Noé’s, Catherine Breillat and Leo Carax but Breeder is rather a pale rider in comparison to Polar X, Baise Moi or even Trouble Every Day. MT

NOW ON BLURAY & DIGITAL from MONTAGE PICTURES

From the Wild Sea (2021) | Berlinale Generation 2021

Dir: Robin Petré | Doc, 77′

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

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

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

copyright Tanya Haurylchyk

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

Many animals are suffering the effects of starvation. One seal enjoys a basinful of fish, while another waits patiently for attention by the side of a ceramic bath. It’s extraordinary to imagine that an animal that spends most of its time under the sea can demonstrate so much awareness of a human setting on dry earth. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that thousands of years ago we too came from out of the sea. Whales fare particularly badly: we watch as 19-metre-long whale lies beached like a massive, punctured tyre, off the coast of Cornwall. The team rushes to help but it’s already too late. The animal will not just die from its bleeding injuries but because its sheer weight will crush its organs, unless the tide favours its transport back into the sea. Many whales die due to head-butting from a boat, or multiple injuries from propellers. An autopsy takes place on the beach itself, it must be one of the few times the pathologist actually gets inside a body to do his work. We also witness a fascinating autopsy of a small 4-5 year-old dolphin who has been terribly badly scarred by marine craft and survived and healed, before finally dying of other injuries.

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

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

FROM THE WILD SEA | BERLINALE GENERATION

The Lesson | Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2021 | 18-26 March 2021

Dir: Elena Horn | Germany, Doc 60′

It is often said that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. At the age of 14 every school child in Germany is taught about the atrocities that occurred under Nazi rule. Filmmaker Elena Horn returns to her hometown in rural Germany to follow four of these children as they first learn about the Holocaust.

Five years in the making (2014-19), the film touches upon important social and political issues including the resurgence of the far-right, xenophobia, the fractured, disparate collective memory of National Socialism, and the surprising lack of intimate knowledge of the younger generations on the subject.

Screening at this year’s HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL the documentary opens as the camera pans over the summer countryside where a girl from a village in West Germany (where not much has changed since 1932) recalls talking to a tall, dark athletic American after an evening out with college friends. He turns to her and says: “your grandparents killed my grandparents” this was her first meeting with a Jewish guy and she was 21.

Screening during this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the documentary goes on to explore with archive footage and clips from the contemporary German classroom how despite the perceived exemplary educational system, new generations are growing indifferent to their nation’s dark past and unwilling to apply the lessons learned to the realities of today. Filmed against the backdrop of changing political scenery during five years of production, in Germany and across the world, the film subtly suggests the urgency and importance in tackling the uncomfortable modern reality of truths therein. MT

Elena Horn is a young German filmmaker who started her career as a media psychologist researching the framing effects in the news coverage of the Iraq War in the US, Britain, and Sweden. Today she is working as a story producer for ZDF, WDR, SKY and SPIEGEL TV Wissen. Elena’s films focus on questions around education, migration, working culture, love, and ethnic conflict, employing visual inspirations from the world of music and dance. As a director, Elena is a fellow of the Logan Non-Fiction Program in New York. Her short documentary Pizza, Democracy and the Little Prince, co-directed with Alessandro Leonardi, earned the “Best Short Documentary Award 2019” at the Sedona Film Festival. Currently Elena is working as a director for ARTE, a French-German culture channel.

SCREENING DURING HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL 2021

ALL FILMS AVAILABLE TO SCREEN 

 

All Eyes Off Me | Misheshu Yoav Mishehu | Berlinale Panorama 2021

Dir.: Hadas Ben Aroya; Cast: Elisjeva Weil, Hadar Katz, YoavHait, Leib Lev Levia; Israel 2021, 89 min.

The sophomore feature of Israeli writer/director Hadas Ben Aroya is as enigmatic as the title suggests but after a while you may recognise an ultra modern low-powered version of Schnitzler’s La Ronde.

 

Ben Aroya explores personal freedom, commitment and generational dynamics but also questions a society permanently in conflict with itself. The story centres on a group of glib polyamorous characters who seem caught up in their trivial lives but emotionally disengaged from the world at large, and each other.

First up is the appropriately named Avishag who enjoys sexual encounters of the brutal kind, as we later discover. Then there’s Danny (Katz) who becomes fascinated by a dying butterfly on the way to a party in Tel Aviv, and contemplates taking it to the vet. She’s off to join her boyfriend Max (Levia) with a surprise announcement, but is greeted with an earful about the after-effects of another girl’s self-induced abortion when Danny reveals her own pregnancy .

Max, meanwhile, seems unfazed by Danny’s wonderful news. His focus is now on Avishag (Weil) and has surprising news of his own. He and Avi are planning a holiday to the Sinai peninsula. And while Danny tries to appear cool, telling Max not to do anything rash, she is clearly upset. But the next scene sees him in bed with Avishag. Post coitus, she confesses her love of rough sex, and this seems to make Max even more keen to satisfy her needs, bruises and all.

Later Avishag meets up with her neighbour Dror, an overweight man in his forties, and his out of control dog Bianca. Dror talks about growing up in a kibbutz and later attending a religious school where he found himself actually losing faith, to the chagrin of his ultra-religious parents who were furious when he left without finishing his studies. Suddenly, Avishag pounces on him, smothering him with kisses, clearly she has an ulterior motive but poor Dror falls for her advances, he’s so insecure about his body.

Meanwhile Danny is back at the party, still pondering the medical care of  butterflies. We know all this talk is meant to hide the film’s real motives. Danny’s encounter with Max proves the point. When Max tells Avishag he really prefers young boys, she remains unfazed, trumping this with by asking for more rough sex, just to keep him keen. But Avishag is content to submerge her sexual desires for the security Dror could provide in his Art Deco villa with its swimming pool and lush gardens. Avishag is only too ready to flee from responsibility, and into the welcoming arms of this pot-bellied father figure, who seems overjoyed that a young woman might want to bed him. These unreachable and unappealing characters remain casual bystanders throughout, seemingly part of a society which “plays” at being at peace, but has turned the conflict in on itself.

DoP Meidan Arama showcases the intimate close-up of the social merry go round, contrasting the casual party atmosphere of the opening scenes with the interiors where the narrative unfolds. Dror’s upmarket home is a world away from the chaotic student flat where Max and Avishag hang out. Everything is flip, lightweight and interchangeable in this pastel-coloured world where integrity has been air-brushed out of sight. AS

BERLINALE | Berlin Film Festival | Panorama 2021

Any Day Now | Ensilumi (2021) Berlinale Generation 2021

Dir: Hamy Ramezan | Cast: Lumi Barrois, Laura Birn, Shabnam Ghorbani, Muhammed Cangore, Pezlman Escandari | Drama 82;

Iranian first time director Hamy Ramezan recalls his own start in a new country with this touching drama that sees an Iranian family waiting to make their new home in Finland.

Ramezan has persuaded Asghar Farhadi regular Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman) to add firepower to this upbeat project but the star turn is his onscreen son Ramin (Aran-sina Keshvari in debut) the only Finnish speaking member of his family who must be responsible to the authorities while also enjoying his first Finnish fling on the school dancefloor.

Any Day Now feels very much a passion project for Ramezan and a way of thanking the Finns for their kindness and hospitality, the family befriending an elderly couple played by veterans Kristina Halkola and Eero Melasniemi who act as mentors when they first arrive.

What stands out here is the way the locals readily accept the new family into their midst (providing stylish accommodation in the detention centre where Alvar Aalto’s legendary cane chairs grace the family dining table). The family adapt well to their new environment and make great efforts to socialise with the rest of the detainees, although it’s not all plain sailing and Ramezan and his co-writer Antti Rautava shows their anxiety and disappointment in a scene where their bid for asylum is rejected. But drama wise there little tension here Any Day Now playing out as more of a cinema verite piece than a real drama,  Arsen Sarkisiants creates a lush sense of place both in the rural summer setting and approaching winter when the family experience their first snowfall. This is a lovely positive first feature suitable for all the family. MT

BERLINALE | GENERATION 2021

I Live in Fear | Ikimono no kiroku (1955) Bfi player

Dir: Akira Kurosawa | Wri: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa | Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Eiko Miyoshi | Japan, Drama, 103′

Akira Kurosawa’s reputation both at home and abroad continues to rest mainly upon his samurai films rather than his modern dramas; and this very contemporary family saga addressing the traumas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ten years earlier – and a critical success – was one of the biggest financial flops he ever made and remains one of his least known films. (It didn’t open in America until 1967.)

although one of his films in which Kurosawa personally took most pride

For me, its timely message acquired additional resonance years later when George W. Bush became president of the United States, and continued to reverberate with the publication of the Chilcot Report into the conduct of the invasion of Iraq. Originally proposed to Kurosawa by his distinguished collaborator, the composer Fumio Hayasaka (who died during production), as a satire akin to Dr Strangelove; the film retains a grimly comic quality that was ahead of its time and anticipates much that has followed since – including Losey’s The Damned, Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast and even the seventies sit-com The Good Life – and still has much to say to us today.

Appropriately shot while Tokyo was experiencing a heatwave, 35 year-old Toshiro Mifune gives a towering performance as usual (unusually cast even for him in heavy makeup, greyed hair and spectacles) as Kiichi Nakajima, a 75 year-old iron foundry owner who stuns his entire family by announcing that he is going to sell his business and relocate to Brazil taking them all with him in order to be safe from nuclear war. Their dilemma in many ways resembles the quandary in which Tony Blair fairly rapidly found himself when Bush Jr. became president.

Jean Renoir famously declared that “Everyone has their reasons”; and one can empathise with both sides of these two dilemmas. Nakajima’s family understandably don’t want to give up the comforts of life in modern Japan for an uncertain future in Brazil. But is Nakajima’s obsessive fear of nuclear weapons (or that of nuclear terrorist Professor Willingdon in Seven Days to Noon) really any crazier than the suppression of that fear by ‘normal’ people, one that enables them daily just to get on with their lives? (The central paradox of the Atomic Age is that people today enjoy the highest standard of living that homo sapiens has ever known; while being saddled with the constant anxiety that it could all evaporate in an instant at the push of a button.)

Just as Nakajima’s family desperately want to keep the old man happy for the sake of a quiet life – but the only thing that will shut him up is the one thing that they have absolutely no intention of doing – so when George W. emerged triumphant from the shambles of the 2000 presidential election, it was Tony Blair’s ardent wish to be the new president’s new best friend. (If a freak result had somehow put Charles Manson in the White House, Blair would doubtless have been just as eager to extend HIM the hand of friendship.)

But when Boy George swaggered on to the White House lawn the whole world knew he had unfinished business with pappy’s old nemesis Saddam Hussein to attend to; and that any attempt to remain friends with him would sooner or later mean receiving extremely awkward requests concerning Iraq.

As in many awkward situations the short-term desire to avoid unpleasantness simply by saying ‘Yes’ can have very unpleasant long-term consequences. I saw this film over thirty years ago but remember it as if it were yesterday. Richard Chatten

 

Azor (2021) Berlinale | Encounters Berlinale 2021

Dir: Andreas Fontana | Cast: Fabrizio Rongione, Stephanie Cleau, Gilles Privat, Elli Medeiros, Carmen Iriondo, Pablo Torre Nilson, Ignazio Vila, Juan Trench, Juan Pablo Geretto| Argentina, Switzerland, 99′

Another sophisticated Argentine thriller along the lines of Rojo set during the ‘Dirty Wars’ and this time seen through the eyes of a Swiss banker who arrives in Buenos Aires to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his partner only to discovers intrigue and subterfuge amongst the elite.

In 1976 a military junta seized power from Eva Peron’s government resulting in the deaths of over 30,000 people. Swiss born filmmaker Andreas Fontana transports us back to these uncertain times with high society characters who feel real in their glamorous settings, manicured poolsides, lush estancias, exclusive polo parties where Fabrizio Rongione strikes just the right tone of cool circumspection and biddability in his role as the trustworthy banker with a listening ear (a million miles away from the shoddy service we’ve come to expect from our own banks).

Cleau adds allure as Ines, his chain-smoking wife and confidente, oiling the wheels of their social encounters – where smoking is ‘de rigueur’ -with her unthreatening, savvy charm. Other characters who stand out here are Carmen Iriondo, a society hostess, and the Monsignor, who strikes fear into the proceedings with his chilly glare. These are people you may not trust to post a letter but as the gatekeepers of Argentina’s shady upper echelons of power, they must be respected.

In their car from the airport Yvan and Ines witness two men being held up at gunpoint, Yvan suavely fails to bat an eyelid, and once in their comfort of their exclusive hotel, Buenos Aires stretches before them just like any other international capital city, although the tinkling harpsichord score warns of trouble ahead, in the style of those Claude Chabrol thrillers. The couple get a rude awakening from the rather glib thickly-accented lawyer Dekerman (Geretto), who welcomes them to BA on behalf of ‘the client’, before rudely ordering his own whiskey before offering Ines a drink (and failing to light her cigarette), preparing her for the macho set up that will follow.

Business here is not just about talent but also moving in the right circles and keeping quiet at the right time (the code word ‘Azor’ means to ‘keep shtum’, rather like the Sicilian ‘omertà’). As a private banker from a monied background Yvan De Wiel settles graciously into the hushed scenes of high society in this enjoyably taught first feature from Swiss director Fontana who writes and directs with considerable flair, capturing the zeitgeist of these dangerous times with a florid eye for local detail.

A De Wiel sashays discretely and suavely in soigné villas, lush lounges and amongst the polo ponies, he swiftly gains the trust of the movers and shakers repositioning his bank’s interests with the junta when it dawns on him that his partner Rene Keys had possibly pulled the wool over his eyes bringing his firm into question. But he has another string to his bow, that of deal-making (aka laundering blood money) using his utmost caution. it’s a restrained performance and one of subtlety.

From the outset Fontana creates a real sense of danger here, a feeling that anything could go wrong as De Wiel’s investigation leads him deeper and deeper into the exotic hinterland of Argentina’s pampas where the Junta’s sinister types hang out in the film’s seething finale.

There is more that a whiff of colonialism here. Silence and an evocative ambient soundscape prove to be Fontana’s best weapon in ramping up tension in the final stages of his restrained thriller, a slick seventies score of musak playing out during discrete cocktail parties where these smooth operators mingle under swaying palms, waiters plying them with drinks as they plot and plan how to deal with the trappings of colonialism. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | Encounters 2021

 

Dr Crippen (1962) DVD | Talking Pictures

Dir: Robert Lynn | Wri: Leigh Vance | Cast: Donald Pleasence, Samantha Eggar, Coral Browne, Donald Wolfit, James Robertson Justice | UK Drama 98′

Along with Himmler in The Eagle Has Landed this is the role Donald Pleasence was born to play; although ironically Coral Browne, who stars as his abrasive wife, later married Vincent Price who landed the part originally written with Pleasence in mind, of Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General (1968).

Nic Roeg is behind the camera here and the focus is Crippen’s love life in a storyline that opens at the start of the doctor’s trial in the Old Bailey, flashbacks fleshing out the gruelling desperation of his marriage to failed performer Belle (Browne), whom he later leaves to elope with his young secretary and mistress Ethel Le Neve (Eggar) only to be arrested on boarding the vessel bound for freedom – and death in 1910.

George Orwell once observed that it shows what society really thinks of the institute of marriage that whenever a woman gets murdered the first person police suspect is always the husband. Making a welcome change from the usual theme of petty crime and bank robberies that British cinema at that time became known for, Robert Lynn’ macabre ‘true crime’ drama followed swiftly on the heals of the Lady Chatterley’s trial that showcased the subject of sexual incompatibility within marriage. Dr Crippen carried an ‘X’ certificate due to its raw depiction of unfulfilled married life, rather than its murderous subject; and in order to potray a very contemporary problem on screen it was necessary to do so in the guise of a famous criminal case over a half a century earlier. Richard Chatten.

ON DVD and TCM | TALKING PICTURES TV

 

Verdict (2020)

Dir: Raymond Ribay Gutierrez | Drama, 126′

 

 

18th and Grand: The Story of the Olympic Auditorium (2020) Slamdance 2021

Dir.: Stephen DeBro; Documentary with Aileen Eaton, Gene Le Bell, Mike Le Bell, James Ellroy; USA 2020, 83 min.

A new film pays homage to Los Angeles’ well known sports arena and the promoter Aileen Eaton (1909-1987) who ran one of the most famed boxing bowls between 1942 and 1980.

Aileen is the focus of Stephen DeBro’s first feature about the only female (so far) inducted into Boxing’s Hall of Fame, an extraordinary achievement and all the more admirable in an era when women, let alone single mothers, were the target of abject discrimination: widowed early on in her marriage Aileen was brought up two sons who would follow her into the family business.

The Olympic Auditorium was built in 1924 and opened a year later in August. It was a great social event in the presence of – among other luminaries – Rudolph Valentino and Jack Dempsey. During the 1932 Olympic Games the venue was used for wrestling, boxing and weightlifting competitions. Los Angeles was a centre of strained race relationships and some of the fights between Latinos and the LAPD turned into riots, and this atmosphere of prevailing violence would shape the history of the stadium.

Aileen had never even seen a fight when she took over the boxing business in 1932, and the sport was in decline. Gangland LA controlled the territory and many bouts had been rigged. Aileen’s sports and entertainment empire extended all the way to the border with Mexico – how she held sway when  Mickey Cohen fancied the same turf, is a miracle – her nickname “The Dragon Lady” was well earned.

But boxing was not the only sport staged at the Olympic: Roller Derbies with the LA Thunderbirds were very popular. These encounters were anything but peaceful, serious injuries were common. Director Norman Jewison based much of the action for his 1975 feature Rollerball on these LA skating fights. Staying with the movies, countless films were shot partly in the Olympic: The Manchurian Candidate (1962), the Rocky Trilogy, Raging Bull, Ready to Rumble and Sting II.

Aileen’s son Gene Le Bell was a wrestling champion and stuntman, his brother Mike, rather more sedate, took care of the wrestling empire from a desk – like his mother. On the scene were also Dr. Bernhard Schwartz, ring doctor and bass player, as well Dick Lane, B-movie actor turned wrestling announcer. Mexican fighters dominated the early bills of the boxing events, with Manelo Ramos, Carlos Palomino and Manuel Ortiz three of the World Champions looked after by Aileen. And then there was the legendary fight between Mohammed Ali and Archie Moore in November 1962.

Blues Concerts were regularly staged. The punk movement was headlined by raves when Mountain Jack and Ten Years After performed in the Grand Olympic. GBH, The Exploited, Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies and New Regime brought in crowds that saw the place fit to bust and overflowing into the surrounding parking lot of the building. The Survivors’ promo video  ‘Burning Heart’ was shot in the building in 1985, Bon Jovi was the guest for ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ a year later, and in 1987 Kiss filmed the music video of the namesake track of their album ‘Crazy Nights’. Later in the mid-1980s, the venue was closed for eight years, before reopening in 1993.

But by 1980 Aileen had already gone. And while commercial considerations clearly played a part, the main reason for her leaving was the death of Welsh boxer Johnny Owen. Owen (‘The Match-Stick Man’) had fought the Mexican Lupe Pintor for the Bantam Weight Championship of the World on 19.9.1990. Owen lost and died in November, a few weeks later. For Aileen, this was a bridge too far: In the 50s and 60s fight pairings were billed with massive posters on the outside of the arena with the feisty warning: “Loser will leave town”. But the brutal reality of Owen’s death forced her wisely into retirement.

Strewn with archive footage and photos to satisfy fan’s nostalgic longing this is an informative piece of filmmaking enlivened by a flood of “Talking Heads” who provide social and psychological context, crime writer James Ellroy’s insight is particularly worthwhile. DoP Tony Peck concentrates on the faces of the survivors, many of whom died during filming. Since 2005 the former arena has been recommissioned as “The Glory Church of Jesus Christ in LA”, a Korean evangelical congregation. Rather like our own Golders Green Hippodrome in London – a 3000 seat music hall that once billed Marlene Dietrich – now serves as an ‘Islamic Centre’ in another religion-based switchover. It seems the world has turned into a much more serious place.  AS

SCREENING AS THE FESTIVAL CLOSING FILM | SLAMDANCE 2021

 

Jungle Street (1960) Talking Pictures

Dir: Charles Saunders | Wri: Alexander Dore | Cast: Jill Ireland, David McCallum, Kenneth Cope, Brian Weske, Vanda Hudson, Edna Dore | UK Thriller 89′

A short-haired Jill Ireland already caught the eye as a dancer in ‘Powell & Pressburger’s Oh…Rosalinda!! in 1955. A few years later we discover her as a glacial hussy flaunting herself in tights in a strip club called the Adam & Eve (along with several other girls, one of them Black) in this vividly sleazy record of a Britain sixty years ago between the end of the Chatterley ban and The Beatles’ first L.P.

Her leading men were later TV stars David McCallum (then looking very lean ‘n hungry and married to Ireland, who later dumped him for Charles Bronson), and Kenneth Cope, introduced in what was then the traditional manner of leaving Wormwood Scrubs.

Noirishly photographed by Walter J. Harvey from a story by exploitation producer Guido Coen, and with an appropriately trashy jazz score by someone called Harold Geller, it vividly evokes a world sixty years ago when £50 was worth committing robbery with violence for, despite it then being a hanging offence. Richard Chatten.

(P.S. Ignore the date given by the IMDb, according to Gifford’s ‘British Film Catalogue’ it was released in October 1961, and 1961 is the date in the credits.)

DOING THE ROUNDS ON TALKING PICTURES TV

 

The Great Adventure | Det stora äventyret (1953) Netflix

Dir: Arne Sucksdorff | Cast: Arne Sucksdorff, Anders Nohrborg, Kjell Sucksdorff, Gunnar Sjoberg | Sweden, 93′

The Great Adventure is a lyrical Swedish cinema verite drama that pictures a year on a farm in remote Sweden seen through the eyes of the family who live in the heart of the forest, the director doubling up as the pipe-smoking father.

 

Arne Sucksdorff’s film won prizes at Cannes (1954) and Berlin, appropriately taking a Silver Bear for the poetic way he combined truly magical wildlife photography with a gripping storyline and evocative score to create a nature tale that plays out like a thriller with touches of humour and sadness  – the feel is a cross between Tarka the Otter, My Life as a Dog and Mikhail Kalatozov’s Letter Never Sent. And all the time Arne is offering us a fascinating nature study with the most beautifully observed shots of owls, otters, pine martins, rabbits, squirrels and lynx, in their natural habitat, ever committed to celluloid film in the depths of 1950s Sweden.

Working with his composer Lars-Erik Larsson, and it took Arne two years to film and edit the material for his Berlin winner. Mysterious yet majestic the sly vixen is pivotal to the narrative, somehow emerging the tragic heroine with her family of cubs. Arne’s agile contre-jour camerawork following her antics from Midsummer’s white nights through to the snowbound winter, stealthily slinking through moonshine or broad daylight – one scene shows her toying with silk stockings on a washing line. Always fleeing at the last minute with a plump chicken she darts across swaying curtains of corn or flowery meadows, to feed the cubs.

Man is the villain in this rural adventure, determined to kill the beast, his shotgun poised at the ready. One scene sees the old fisherman springing a vicious iron trap, then opportunistically tracking an otter with an axe. As the otter bobs away across the twinkling snow drifts, the chase gains momentum, a fox cub joining in the chase. Eventually the kids come to the rescue (Kjell is Arne’s son) saving the otter from a burrow and keeping it as their secret pet. Sometimes the mood is upbeat, others more sinister, the animals unwitting players in this often nightmarish murder story, that often ends in tragedy, but there are surprises in store in this incredible journey. MT

THE GREAT ADVENTURE IS ON NETFLIX

To Olivia (2021) Sky

Dir: John Hay | Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Keeley Hawes, Conleth Hill, Sam Heughan | UK Biopic drama, 99′

Roald Dahl (1916-90) was a celebrated English writer known for his children’s books and short stories with a deliciously subversive twist. But his life was also fraught with sadness as we discover in this lush Hollywood-style biopic – based on Stephen Michael Shearer’s biography, Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life.

Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville and Keeley Hawes star as the slightly wacky Dahl and his famous American actress wife Patricia Neal (Hawes is a dead ringer in the role which she pulls off with aplomb).

Unfolding in the glorious Buckinghamshire countryside where the Dahls raise their large family during the 1960s and 70s, the focus is the tragic death of their eldest daughter Olivia in 1962, although director John Hay and his co-writer David Logan also flesh out the author’s life and marriage to Patricia, a formidable talent in her own right, who had previously dated Ronald Reagan and Gary Cooper before meeting Dahl, the couple eventually divorcing in 1983. Neal (1926-2010) would go on to win an Oscar, for Hud, the year after her daughter’s death, and Sam Heughan makes for a pale rider as Paul Newman (who also stars alongside her in Hud), not holding a candle to the legend but there again who could?). The late Geoffrey Palmer also puts in an appearance (his swansong) as the reverend who tries to console the couple in their grief. It’s also got Conieth Hall (from Game of Thrones) as Hud’s director Marty Ritt.

Most kids sailed through measles (I remember lying in bed with the curtains drawn in broad daylight, and a painful rash) and Patricia was advised: “let the girls get measles, it will be good for them”, but Olivia was unlucky and died from the effects of encephalitis, due to complications. Dahl would become a pro-vax advocate after the tragedy.

Hay and Logan show how Olivia Twenty Dahl’s death at only 7 had a profound affect on the couple’s turbulent marriage, plunging them into grief but also resilience in their respective careers, they had to be strong for the rest of their young family. Finally recovering they went on to have two more children, Ophelia and Lucy, sisters for Theo and Tessa (mother of Sophie Dahl). MT

TO OLIVIA, a Sky Original Film, available on Sky Cinema and Now TV from 19 February 2021.

 

Calculated Risk (1963)

Dir: Norman Harrison | Cast: William Lucas, John Rutland, Dily Watling, Shay, Warren Mitchell, Harry Landis | UK Drama 72′

Since negotiating today’s icy pavements itself constitutes a calculated risk at the moment, this constitutes a timely revival for a bleak little caper film scripted by the actor Edwin Richfield set against the atmospheric backdrop of the great winter of 1963 (and a notable omission from Chibnall & McFarlane’s 2009 book ‘The British ‘B’ Film’).

Calculated Risk was made on a measly budget of £19,685, and none the worse for it. One critic said of it: ‘The script is tight, the vivid black-and-white photography perfect for the tale that’s told, and even though one of the actors are known in this country – and maybe not even in England – they all fit their characters well, and what more could you want?”. What more indeed.

Atmospherically set in a London still strewn with bombsites and unexploded wartime bombs, our old friend Wormwood Scrubs appears in the opening scene shrouded in snow. Beatles producer George Martin provided the snazzy soundtrack at the same time as he was working on the band’s Love Me Do, and they travelled down during the Big Freeze.

I won’t give away what happens other than mentioning that crime wasn’t allowed to pay in those days. Maybe they should have waited until the weather got a bit warmer, like the pros who carried out The Great Train Robbery that summer. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV

Citizen Lane (2018)

Dir.: Thadddeus O’Sullivan; Cast: Tom Vaughan-Taylor, Michael Gambon, Derbhie Crotty, Marty Rea, Boso Hagan, Peter Campion; ROI 2018, 80 min.

This post-modern docudrama raises the profile of controversial Irish art dealer Hugh Lane (1875-1915) and his valiant attempts to set up a modern art gallery in Dublin during the early 1900’s to house his important collection now in the London’s National Gallery. The film succeeds with a lively cast and vibrant images, but there’s simple too much going on, and many viewers may find themselves bogged down by Mark O’Halloran’s dialogue-heavy narrative of staged dramatic interludes and an overdose of verbosity from the many talking heads.

Hugh Lane was born in a suburb of Cork, the only one of many siblings fathered by the Reverend James Lane (Hagan) born in Ireland, where Hugh would perish on the Lusitania in 1915, torpedoed by German U-boots off the coast of Cork.

Educated in England and Europe where Irish culture and identity was experiencing a rebirth, Lane became fascinated by the old Masters, and then of Impressionist paintings which he felt where undervalued at the same time that French dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel was also of that opinion, and considered an important dealer, particularly of Monet, Pisarro and Renoir work, and establishing galleries in New York, Berlin and London and other centres.

Lane’s coterie admired his taste – so much so that when ne looked long and hard at paintings in exhibitions, he would drive up the prices for these so far ‘worthless’ pieces. His travels took him to Paris, and soon his Impressionist collection would make him a fortune back in Ireland, and he fought long and hard for a National Gallery in Ireland’s capital. Sadly he was defeated during his life time, only establishing the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in 1908.

Today, ‘The Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane’ houses one of the finest collections in Europe, but more than 40 of his Impressionist works now hang in the National Gallery, because Lane failed to ‘witness’ the codicil in his Will, that bequeathed the paintings – among them a Monet and a Renoir – to Ireland. Until this day the ownership fight is still ongoing: in 2008 a daring heist saw to men steal one of paintings from the National Gallery in London. The works were returned, but the perpetrators got away Scott free.

Lane enjoyed a wide circle of illustrious friends, amongst them his aunt Lady Augusta Gregory (Crotty), WB Yeats (Campion), Lord Ardlaun (Gambon), and William Orpen (Marty Rea), and staged, fictional conversations with them show him to be snobbish and egalitarian, but at the same time, convinced of his own superiority often clashing violently with the authorities. When we see him walking through the Dublin City Hall Gallery which bears his name – though he never saw it, he looks like a ghost.

O’Sullivan sometimes lets the characters speak directly to the camera, explaining their points of view, an effect which some viewers may find disconcerting. Overall, Citizen Lane is a slow burner, hampered by a torrent of interjecting experts: historians and art historians, amongst them Roy Foster, Paul Rose, Morna O’Neill and Barbara Foster, whose worthwhile and wide-ranging opinions nevertheless overload the 80 minutes running time. AS

ON iTUNES, AMAZON AND GOOGLE on 12 April 2021

Berlinale Specials 2021

Best Sellers – Canada / United Kingdom
by Lina Roessler
with Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza
*World premiere / Debut film

Courage – Germany
by Aliaksei Paluyan
with Maryna Yakubovich, Pavel Haradnizky, Denis Tarasenka
*World premiere / Documentary form / Debut film

French Exit – Canada / Ireland
by Azazel Jacobs
with Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Valerie Mahaffey, Imogen Poots

Je suis Karl – Germany / Czech Republic
by Christian Schwochow
with Luna Wedler, Jannis Niewöhner, Milan Peschel *World premiere

Language Lessons – USA
by Natalie Morales
with Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass, Desean Terry
*World premiere / Debut film

Limbo – Hong Kong, China / People’s Republic of China
by Cheang Soi
with Lam Ka Tung, Liu Cya, Lee Mason, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
*World premiere

The Mauritanian – United Kingdom
by Kevin Macdonald
with Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch

Per Lucio (For Lucio) – Italy
by Pietro Marcello
*World premiere / Documentary form

Tides – Germany / Switzerland
by Tim Fehlbaum
with Nora Arnezedar, Iain Glen, Sarah-Sofie Boussnina
*World premiere

Tina – USA
by Dan Lindsay, T. J. Martin
with Tina Turner, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, Katori Hall
*World premiere / Documentary form

Wer wir waren (Who We Were) – Germany
by Marc Bauder
with Alexander Gerst, Sylvia Erle, Dennis Snower, Matthieu Ricard
*World premiere / Documentary form

WORLD PREMIERES

 

Berlinale Competition – Golden Bear contenders 2021

The Berlin International Film Festival announced a line-up with a distinctly European arthouse flavour for its 71st online edition, taking place during an industry market event from 1-5 March 2021, later that its usual February slot.

Festival regulars Dominik Graf, Hong Sangsoo and Radu Jude will bring their films to Berlin this Spring, and they are joined by French director Celine Sciamma’s latest feature Petite Maman, and newcomers from Georgia, Hungary, Iran and Mexico – as well as homegrown talent from Germany.

From June 9 to 20, 2021 the Berlinale will launch a “Summer Special” for the public with indoor and outdoor cinema screenings all over the German capital whose much awaited new airport will welcome guests flying in.

The competition also features the usual sidebar sections such as Berlinale Special and Berlinale Series, Encounters, Berlinale Shorts, Panorama, Forum & Forum Expanded, Generation, Perspektive Deutsches Kino. The Retrospective showcasing films of Mae West will screen during the summer edition.

GOLDEN BEAR COMPETITION 2021

 

Albatros (Drift Away)
France
by Xavier Beauvois, with Jeremie Renier (pictured)

 

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu buclucsau porno balamuc) 
Romania/Luxemburg/Croatia/Czech Republic
by Radu Jude

 

Fabian – Going to the Dogs (Fabian oder Der Gang vor die Hunde)
Germany
by Dominik Graf

 

Ballad of a White Cow (Ghasideyeh gave sefid)
Iran/France
by Behtash Sanaeeha, Maryam Moghaddam

 

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Guzen to sozo)
Japan
by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

 

Mr Bachmann and His Class (Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse)
Germany
by Maria Speth

 

I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch)
Germany
by Maria Schrader

 

Introduction 
Republic of Korea
by Hong Sangsoo

 

Memory Box
France/Lebanon/Canada/Qatar
by Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige

 

Next Door (Nebenan) 
Germany
by Daniel Brühl

 

Petite Maman
France
by Céline Sciamma

 

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky (Ras vkhedavt, rodesac cas vukurebt?)
Germany/Georgia
by Alexandre Koberidze

 

Forest – I See you Everywhere  (Rengeteg – mindenhol látla)
Hungary
by Bence Fliegauf

 

Natural Light (Természetes fény)
Hungary/Latvia/France/Germany
by Dénes Nagy

 

A Cop Movie (Una Película de Policías)
Mexico
by Alonso Ruizpalacios

BERLINALE | PART ONE 1-5 MARCH 2021

Oscars – International Features – the race is on

The Oscar race has started. Fifteen films will go forward to the next round of voting in the International Feature Film category for the 93rd Academy Awards, from the 93 countries eligible.

The films, with their reviews and trailers are here to remind you:

Bosnia and Herzegovina, QUO VADIS, AIDA?

Chile, THE MOLE AGENT

Czech Republic, CHARLATAN

Denmark, ANOTHER ROUND

France, TWO OF US

Guatemala, LA LLORONA

Hong Kong, BETTER DAYS

Iran, SUN CHILDREN

Ivory Coast, NIGHT OF THE KINGS

Mexico, I’M NO LONGER HERE

Norway, HOPE

Romania, COLLECTIVE

Russia, DEAR COMRADES!

Taiwan, A SUN

Tunisia, THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN

 

THE ACADEMY AWARDS WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON 25 APRIL 202

MLK/FBI (2020)

Dir.: Sam Pollard; Documentary with Clarence Jones, Charles Know, James Comey, Donna March , Beverly Gage, Andrew Young; USA 2020, 104 min.

Seasoned documentarian Sam Pollard takes a deep dive into the FBI’s surveillance on Dr Martin Luther King (1929-68) in this searing study  proving that systemic racism is still alive and kicking in the USA today.

Enriched by newly released material, Pollard’s findings are inspired by David Garrow’s book ‘The FBI and Martin Luther King’ and cleverly put together by editor Laura Tomaselli and Benjamin Hedin.

There’s still more to this story because the actual wire tapes of the FBI surveillance of MLK won’t be be released until 2027 – but what emerges is a fervent obsession with the subject on the part of the FBI’s director Edgar J. Hoover (who headed the agency from 1924 until his death in 1972). It tells how the cross-dressing Hoover invested at least as much energy in the Civil Rights leader’s political activities as in his sexual conquests.

Hoover directed William Sullivan (for ten years the chief of the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Operations) to wire tap King, not only at home, but during his hotel stays on the campaign trail throughout America. Hoover wanted to probe MLK’s extra-marital affairs to discredit his leadership and his campaign. He and his G-men used the white man’s prejudice with Black male sexuality, to denigrate ‘Black Men’ as animalistic beasts, endangering the sexual purity of white women and the racial integrity of the white race as a whole. This racist pathology, as shown in Griffith’ Birth of a Nation, is still alive today, with White Supremacists storming the Capitol on 6th of January. Back in the 1960s, all polls showed the popularity of Hoover’s agenda: the majority of the nation wanted him to defeat King and his movement.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, made him a household name, Hoover and MLK met only once, in November 1964, but sides reported the meeting as amicable, although many supporters on both sides, had a different opinion. Even though MLK was instrumental in the 1956 Montgomery (Alabama) Bus Strike, the FBI did not pay special attention to him back then. MLK only emerged as a one to watch, at least for the FBI, in 1963, when he led the March to Washington and the events of that same year in Birmingham (Alabama)  when Governor Wallace, a supporter of KKK, provoked an uproar.

It was unfortunate that one of MLK’s closest advisers, the NY lawyer Stanley Levison, who had faced HUAC trials and was supposed to help communist front organisations, gave Hoover the excuse to build King up into a “Black Messiah” figure, who wanted to destroy the USA with the help of the Communists. Footage of McCarthy-era Hollywood films Walk a Crooked Mile (1948) and I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951) show a real paranoia since the CPUS hardly played any real role in the political arena.

But Hoover and the FBI declared, that Black men and women were particularly suggestible to Communist propaganda. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, the Attorney General, authorised the FBI wiretapping King and his inner circle. This led to the discovery of King’s extra-marital affairs.

In 1964, President LB Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and MLK was awarded the Nobel Price for Peace, meanwhile Hoover sent ‘salacious’ material to King’s wife Coretta Scott King suggesting her husband consider suicide before Hoover made the material public – including a sort of ‘hit list’ of his sexual conquests.

The FBI’s actions did not stop with wire-tapping: they had two very influential sources in the MLK campaign who reported back daily on his moves. One was Ernest C. Withers, the “un-official” photographer of the Civil Rights movement, who worked for the FBI for 18 years. Then there was James D. Harrison, who gave the FBI all details of MLK’s personal and political assignations.

In 1965 protests against the Vietnam War become more numerous in the US and President Johnson is quoted as saying “we can’t be defenceless”, while accelerating the USA involvement in the war. King meanwhile was engaged in Southern Christian Leadership Conference ( SCLC), which led to the “Poor People’s Campaign” and the March to Washington in March 1968.

King was very much against the Vietnam War, but he was also aware of a need to support President Johnson. He broke his silence after 18 months of deliberations, stating “silence is traitorous”. A