Of late, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish television and film has – deservedly – received a lot of attention and adoration. The countries have their masters in crime, drama and comedy genres, yet few of us would know their names. Hopefully with Force Majeure, the name Ruben Östlund will start to become commonplace, and the rest of his career will continue to impress.

Force Majeure [Turist] is an example of very high-class filmmaking, elegant yet simplistic. Whereas some films use the medium to present vistas of sheer beauty, others choose to quietly tell a tale. This is a mixture of both, focusing on a family holidaying in the French Alps, experiencing some drama once an avalanche incident spotlights some shaky parenting. östlund brought the film to Cannes 2014 where it was awarded the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize – it got many critics talking (and laughing), proving its worth before general release. It looks terrific and centres on some fantastic performances.

To explain the story would spoil the pleasure in watching the scenes unfold naturally. It is, to synopsise it as briefly as possible, a look at a family dynamic eroding after a distressing event. Much like Funny Games, there is a twisted glee to seeing a WASP family lose their dignity over something they never expected. Johannes Kuhnke as the father Tomas is simply wonderful. A very handsome, intelligent father, he looks like the perfect role model. When our perception of him changes, as it does for his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and kids, you can see him play on that external judgement. It is a gradual alteration, spanning over the 120 minute runtime, but it is judged perfectly. The time elapses without many superfluous elements felt, concluding eloquently, with a very realistic (and comedic) presentation of a domestic dispute having preceded it.

Chapters [Ski Day X] are punctuated by the controlled explosions of the Alps, set to the frantic violin of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons III. In many respects it’s an obvious artistic play to show tension and outbursts – common tropes of the film – yet it also links to the playfulness all round. There is a beauty to the film, but at its core, it is a low-budget black comedy. So, it uses symbolism in due part, still preserving its domesticated, grounded heart. The drama that pulsates through the film is so recognisable for anyone who has had some familial outburst on holiday. And so you watch on with heightened attention, curious to know how things will be resolved, and entertained by the hurdles that impede Tomas and his wife and children.

It is not a film that has any twists or spoilers to wow the audience (and even though this review reads like it wants to detract you from knowing much, it is only to keep the film fresh upon viewing), but it is constructed around very stark images and themes. Force Majeure will stay with you – tickling you or itching at you (depending on how you react to the neuroses on show). Whatever your perception may be, you will certainly remark on the superb talent– cast and crew – able to make such an unadorned movie laden with insightful, enjoyable moments.

A brilliant portmanteau picture from Argentine director Damián Szifron (exec produced by Almodovar), Wild Tales is consistently thrilling, hilarious and horrifying throughout its numerous unrelated (but thematically linked) sections that make up the complete film. Built out of short stories that would traditionally provoke shock, the film finds a dark humour in numerous outrageous circumstances, to crowd-pleasing and simultaneously disturbing effect.

Wild Tales is at its finest when playing to the most relatable, cathartic circumstances. In one early section two drivers on a remote, mountainous road, square off against one another; one is a suited city-slicker (Diego – played by Leonardo Sbaraglia) in an expensive car, the other a rural tough guy (Mario – played by Walter Donado) in a beaten up old banger. After an exchange of insults, the city dweller experiences a flat tire. Unsurprisingly, he is dealt less than charitable gestures from his partner in road rage.

In perhaps the most frustrating, and simultaneously liberating sequence, a demolition expert called Simón Fischer (Ricardo Darin) finds himself dealing with local government bureaucracy as he attempts to make his way home to his daughter’s birthday party. After a series of run-ins with the law, his specialist training begins to seem useful in ways that do not line up with the imposed social order of which he is an unwilling participant.

The film’s most gloriously outrageous sequence, however, is a more personal affair. Taking place at the wedding of a particularly sickly pair of people, the wedding party is treated to a display from the most excessive, attention seeking kind, when the wife suddenly discovers news of her new husband’s infidelity. The scene is staged extravagantly, with an enormous ballroom, loud music, strobing lights and hundreds of guests and locations throughout the rest of entire venue (including the roof) for the staging of various memorable, sordid moments.

The film’s weaker segments suffer only slightly from excess dialogue – for example, an amusing, but somewhat lengthy legal scenario, in which a wealthy businessman attempts to convince his employee to take the fall for his son’s hit and run accident – and yet on the whole, Wild Tales is a hugely successful tragi-comedy.

As the anthology format goes too, this is also a rare triumph, due to the dramatic promise and satisfying closure of each section. With moments of sheer horror in spite of the laughs Wild Tales is certainly not a film for the faint-of-heart, but for those with the stomach for it, it’s a wild ride indeed.

Piece the deconstructing, by cinema piece.

The last film by the French auteur Alain Resnais comes with a cute backstory. Resnais had discovered that the playwright Alan Ayckbourn was putting on performances in Scarborough, a quaint seaside town, and he and his wife made secret excursions over a number of years to see them come to life. Later the two men met and Resnais asked if he was able to adapt one of his plays for the screen. Life of Riley is the charming, playful result of years of coy flirting between two dramatist icons.

There is a void at the heart of Life of Riley. That void is, as you might have guessed, Riley himself. Riley is both the central driving force of the film and its glorious absence. Two couples are preparing to rehearse for an amateur dramatic play; Kathryn (Sabine Azema) and Colin (Hippolyte Girardot), and Tamara (Caroline Sihol) and Jack (Michel Vuillermoz). Colin, the local doctor, learns that Riley is suffering from a terminal illness, and oafishly reveals this to Kathryn, who once shared a brief fling with Riley many years ago.

Kathryn quickly relays the news to Riley’s good friend Jack, an adulterous swine. What Jack doesn’t know is that his wife Tamara also has romantic longing for Riley. The hapless foursome try to make Riley’s hermetic life as idyllic as possible for his last days, inviting him into their production and descending on his shabby house like a pack of vultures. Ayckbourn’s play is a tightly concocted farce but with a dash of pathos to tug at the heartstrings. Although the characters are often ridiculous and self involved, we cannot help but feel for them as they are played by the ghostly presence that is Riley.

As it is a Resnais film there is a splash of experimentation and even cheekiness in how he has approached the source material. The original work is supposed to be set in a sleepy Yorkshire town, and Resnais begins with a series of shots of English town signs and picturesque villages. But this is all a hoax, as the actual drama unfolds on a self consciously staged set; artificial lighting abound and mise-en-scene straight out of a children’s storybook.  In addition, all the actors speak in French, just to hammer home the point that this is not quite the provincial English towns that bore us all to sleep.

There is a light orchestral score which feels fairly modern, and it echoes the tone of the film pretty well. Life of Riley doesn’t feel like a film that is straining for the audience’s respect. It feels more like a work by a man who was constantly experimenting, caressing, pulling, pushing and provoking. There is a lightness running through the film that smacks of a director at one with themself, and while the film lacks a real punch, its breeziness and charm make it worth a watch.

Deconstructing the cinema, piece by piece.

With a track record that included Winchester ’73, The Man from Laramie and The Far Country, Antony Mann’s knowledge and tact with the Western genre was very substantial. Man of the West marked one of his last efforts tackling stories on the Great Plains, an influential piece of cinema that you can see seeping into the Spaghetti Westerns, famed for mature, raw tales and violence. The restoration of the film is, thanks to Masters of Cinema’s meticulous efforts, superb. The clout of the film, however, is less stunning, sadly dated despite some gritty aspects.

Jean-Luc Godard was one of the most vocal fans of Mann’s 1958 film, claiming it was stunningly simple, with a realm of complexity behind it. This quote, unlike the film, has not dated and still stands up in relation to the film, in whichever way you are affected or unaffected by its story and power. Gary Cooper plays a retired crook, moving to a new town to find teaching staff for a new school. His shady past is only revealed a third to half of the way through, always keeping you guessing as to what the silences and awkward conversations between him, Julie London’s Billie and Arthur O’Connell’s Sam are truly about. The mystery never feels entirely uncovered, with Cooper’s Link Jones such a multifaceted character. Cooper plays the role beautifully, reflecting his own past with the Western image altering into that of a more modern actor. He takes control of the film, asserting his movie star persona and veteran cowboy/crook facade. There is a very straight-forward hero versus the baddies narrative, with all of the questions lurking beneath the surface.

It is a much stripped back film, focusing more on character and cinematography. You have to watch and listen to the characters, as you aren’t drawn to much else; the framing and scenery behind, perhaps is all else. Cooper, as said, is an imposing and authoritative figure, overshadowing singer Julie London and a quirky, yet forgettable Arthur O’Connell. It is the entrance of Lee J. Cobb – as Dock Tobin – where things get tense and exciting. Here is a formidable presence, hell-bent on crime and masterfully played with a booze-crippled drawl by Cobb. Despite the obvious age difference, Cobb and Cooper are very believable as uncle and nephew/past partners in crime/enemies of the present. Tobin pushes Link to many extremes, with each actor clearly enjoying the characters’ incompatible, yet harmonious relationship.

The shocking elements of the film maintain their resonance (to be clear, it is the slow pace and slightly uninteresting side characters that drain it of its enduring strengths). Rape, coldblooded murder and sudden hostilities are usual tropes of the genre, but often only implied, or watered down. Many vile occurrences in Man of the West feel beyond their time and censorship, giving it a slight edge in over the universally-aimed Westerns still shown often on afternoon TV. Man of the West is a niche piece of cinema, catering to those die-hard genre fans, whilst clearing having the ability to deter them. If you want to catch it, don’t wait out for its place on Channel 5 Monday at 1pm in place of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; it is different and meandering, lacking the spark of Ford and Hawks, leaving to find attention through recommendation and the search for nostalgia.

Montgomery Clift’s Chuck Glover, a modern man, finds himself in the midst of a dated landscape with a forward-thinking mind-set, making him a very commendable cinematic character at the centre of this wonderful 1960 modernity drama from Hollywood master director Elia Kazan.

With a great change sweeping through America by the late 1950’s, Wild River came at a time where some doubted the Government’s initiatives, and racial injustice took over headlines. The 1930s setting that Elia Kazan’s film takes place in is an archaic, bigoted one, prone to debate. The depiction of such morals thirty years after 1930 – and now eighty-five years after – shocked and enraged; Kazan’s power is to realistically portray these events, attempting a timeless, non-biased approach to them.

Wild River has had such a great influence on the country-folk vs the Government storyline that its blood still pumps through modern day cinema. Take Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, about Matt Damon’s fracking salesman trying to persuade a local town to sell some of their land. This, compared to Clift’s Tennessee Valley Authority buying people off their land in order to flood it and build a dam, is along the same lines decades down the line. Not only does the story allow for contemporary audiences to and enjoy it without jarring context, but it is shot and acted in a very modern manner. Many older films have the tint of age over their aesthetic, the notion that this is from a long time ago and difficult to engage with, but Wild River is consistently absorbing.

There are a few drags in the plot though, with a love story that feels forced, yet Kazan has a very meticulous handling of narrative. The 110 minute run-time passes by in a flash for the most part, with a satisfying ending that neatly ties everything up. Coming from the director of On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and East of Eden, there shouldn’t be much doubt as to the tactful handling of humanity. Chuck is, on paper, a wooden product of the “system”, trying to take the land off of rural innocents. However, Clift, Kazan and writer Paul Osborn present him as a humble state employee. We watch him on tender-hooks, hopeful that he will succeed, especially as he loses so many battles. The abject realism, akin to John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath, draws you in, largely thanks to Clift’s performance.

Perhaps forgotten over time by wider audiences (despite its selection for preservation in the United States National Film Registry), the newly restored and released version of Wild River should hopefully elevate its status yet again. There is a lot of beauty and heart in the film, perfect for a Sunday afternoon watch. We often take for granted these studio films of old, but Wild River has never really had its due – do yourself a favour as a film fan and seek it out.

Hot on the heels of the superb Ganja & Hess re-release from The Eureka Classics Collection comes Robert Mulligan’s (To Kill a Mockingbird) elegantly lensed 1972 chiller The Other. Despite being less well known than the more shocking 70’s Gothic classics The Exorcist and The Omen, this is still a valuable film for it’s creepy and detailed characterisation, idyllic farmhouse location and elaborate long lens cinematography by Robert Surtees (Ben Hur, The Graduate.)

Amid a family whose misfortune is rife, the film centres on Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) a vulnerable boy with a bowl cut and a troublesome identical twin brother Holland (Martin Udvarnoky.) Niles and Holland have lost their father, who died in a barn accident and their mother has since become housebound and catatonic. Niles secretly harbours a ring that belonged to their father and we come to suspect that it possesses strange and dark qualities.

The family’s Russian grandmother, Ada (Uta Hagen), is Niles’ closest companion. There is something desperate and intense in her character – well portrayed by Hagen – that is deeply unsettling. The primary tension in the film comes from the various situations Holland goads Niles into, as well as their relationship with snotty cousin Russell, who comes to a sticky end in the barn when he leaps into a pitchfork lodged in the hay bales. It is a film brimming with bottled up anxiety.

There is an overall sense of strangeness throughout The Other, and Mulligan and Surtees follow the action with virtuoso use of pans and zoom lenses. As can be seen in many low budget films of this era (particularly cheap Italian horrors), this is a camera style than can come off as unbearably clunky; however, the skill level witnessed here means the continually complex shooting style seems natural and relentless. Like cinematographer Surtees’ drama The Graduate from five years prior, The Other is a film with an original uneasiness.

Perhaps because of its similarities to superlative drama The Graduate however, The Other does not make for an exemplary horror film. In spite of some late twists and grisly developments in the plot, the film lacks a forceful and all-encompassing horror concept like the shocking The Exorcist, the disaster-ridden The Omen or the dread filled The Wicker Man.

Perhaps a closer relation is Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film The Babadook: a horror film whose scares never quite live up to the exemplary aspects of craft and performance surrounding them. While it is entirely unjustified to decry a horror film for reaching for higher standards of drama and film art, it is that authentic sense of catastrophe that truly endures.

After last year’s success, the Festival of the Moving Image (FoMI) returns with a thrilling new programme. FoMI will run for four days between February 27th and March 2nd. The theme for this year’s festival is “Truth and Lies.” This theme has been chosen due to recent issues surrounding government surveillance and secrecy, such as WikiLeaks, the Snowden files, and the Guantanamo Diary. FoMI hopes to bring this kind of debate and discussion to the films chosen for this year’s festival. To ignite debate a distinguished group of speakers and films have been assembled.

The Q&A with director Mike Leigh will be a definite highlight of the festival. The BAFTA and Palme d’Or award winning director of Mr. Turner and Vera Drake, will be answering the audience’s questions following the screening of his film Secrets & Lies. This, perhaps his most acclaimed and loved film, will show how the theme of the festival corresponds to personal and everyday issues in this portrait of a highly recognisable reality.

There will also be a Q&A with director Jaco Van Dormael following the screening of his critically-acclaimed debut Toto le Heros. His films are often defined by physiologically complex and imaginative stories, and should correspond directly the issues the festival hopes to raise.

Other speakers include; Paul Donovan, the CEO of ODEON, Alissa Phillips the producer of Moneyball and Dracula Untold, and Jan Harlan the executive producer for both Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg.

The festival aptly opens with Laura Poitras’ extraordinary documentary Citizenfour, which centers around Edward Snowden and the NSA spying scandal. This acclaimed documentary recently won the Oscar for Best Documentary, as well as the Best Documentary Award at this year’s BAFTAs and will be followed by a discussion panel on the film.

The ethos of FoMI is to create an environment which fosters enjoyment and critical discussion around film. Festival-goers can expect a highly diverse and exciting line-up: from foreign language masterpieces, to indie shorts, to cult classics. Even those with the most eclectic tastes will find plenty of interest.

To buy tickets and day passes for the festival please click here. Please remember to read the terms and conditions for any purchased tickets.

(Disclaimer: The Festival program may change due to unforeseen events)

In a recent Indiewire interview, director Peter Strickland requested that he not be compared to David Lynch. His reasoning? It was a limited reference for “strangeness” used, he felt, by the younger constituency of his audience. Strickland, not afraid of comparisons though, seems happy providing his audience is looking for a wider context in which to discuss his films. The Duke of Burgundy, out this week, is the most recent.

Amongst more experienced cinemagoers, the frame of reference used to describe Strickland widens with every film. When the Transylvanian set Katalin Varga was released in 2009, it was received very favourably. In his review, Peter Bradshaw drew comparisons with the Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr, citing the film’s environment and cast as similar (although he called Katalin Varga more “taut” and less “indulgent.”) At the time Strickland himself was very keen to highlight his reverence for Georgian iconoclast Sergei Parajanov, particularly the magical Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

When dealing with an interesting first time indie director, such critical connections are not entirely unexpected. Less predictable is the way in which Strickland’s subsequent films seem to have revived a fascination with underappreciated directors of bygone subgenres. This is precisely what has happened with film number two and three. The story for his second film Berberian Sound Studio (2012) is set inside a 70’s Italian dubbing theatre, dedicated to churning out soundtracks for Giallo films; Giallo (Italian for Yellow) refers to the 1970’s Italian horror films, based on cheap paperback novellas.

That Strickland made reference to such a distinct and overly ‘cult’ genre like Giallo helped adorn him with a reputation as a film buff’s director. Owing to the film’s use of underexposure and a heavy sound design, the David Lynch references rolled out, but the key generic touchstones were Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. Strickland had traded-off the elegant poetics of Tarr and Parajanov for the visceral retro style of Giallo, meaning bold camera moves, prog rock soundtracks and baroque special effects.

Early on in the arrival of his latest feature The Duke of Burgundy, cinematic references were central to the discussion. The surprising name – less fashionable than the horror directors of the former film – was the late Spanish director Jess Franco. Franco was famed for his bold sex films, known for their exotic locations, stark nudity and unashamedly voyeuristic visual style. His filmography includes such outrageous titles as: Nightmares Come At Night (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973). Like Fulci his films reveal a visual flare, which is perhaps limited by the lowbrow genre in which he worked.

In these post-Tarantino years, there is a danger of treating a filmmaker like Strickland as one who exists exclusively inside a framework of intertextual references. This is a problem however, because found within each of his films is an intention not at all in line with that of their respective genre. While the Giallo genre’s major intent was to deal with spectacularly staged murders as Freudian outlets, Berberian Sound Studio is about becoming lost in a celluloid reality; tapping into the very modern theme of media overexposure. While Franco’s films primarily concern sexual stimulation, The Duke of Burgundy predominantly avoids exploitation, in favour of cyclical events that explore the dynamics of manipulation between two people; in fact the dynamic between the two female protagonists is much more reminiscent of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s radical gay melodrama The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972).

But there is something else that has emerged consistently in Strickland’s films that transcends the subgenre trappings: the use of avant-garde film techniques (like those of Stan Brakhage – see Mothlight, 1963) to interrupt the film’s coherent language and assault the psyche of the viewer. Sometimes in Katalin Varga the sound design takes over from the visual narrative, zoning in on pure atmospherics, before proceeding with the story. In Berberian Sound Studio clips from the film that protagonist Gilderoy is working on (The Equestrian Vortex) interject into the story destroying the boundary between film and film-within-a-film. In The Duke of Burgundy there are stunning montages of Duke of Burgundy butterflies and their larvae, which forcefully invade the tense romantic plot between the two female lovers, creating a nightmarish first person experience.

In Strickland’s films there is room for fantasy of a bold and visionary kind too. The Duke of Burgundy is a film made up entirely of female characters that inhabit a lush and isolated world, with the plot revolving around two lesbian lovers. Like the largely male-dominated novels of writer William S. Burroughs (think 1959’s Naked Lunch or 1981’s Cities of the Red Night), the single gender dynamic creates for a reality of an entirely different nature – never banal, rich with conflict, yet somehow utopian. The film, like Burroughs’ books, asks us to look outside the heterosexual normalcy of society; this has a powerful, liberating and otherworldly effect.

Strickland’s films are very much inspired by the ideals of the radical artists of former decades. They may adopt generic blueprints of earlier styles, but only as a means of resurrecting a conscious expanding attitude towards art; an attitude that is often displaced in contemporary culture, by narrow, neat, satisfying entertainment value, which parasitically uses the facade of the ‘radical’ to repackage the familiar as something new (a staple method of advertising.)

Peter Strickland is a director keen to transport us to a place where cinema is a powerful art form that challenges our way of seeing. It is interesting to note that so far he has resisted from setting a feature in Britain. Katalin Varga was set and filmed in Romania, Berberian Sound Studio in Italy (although it was filmed in London’s Three Mills) and The Duke of Burgundy in Hungary. Sometimes you have to travel beyond your own space and time to discover something truly enlightening and cinema is the appropriate vessel for that voyage.

Read our review of The Duke of Burgundy by Rob Arnott here.

After the success of his previous Kickstarter campaign for The Dance of Reality, you can now help to Kickstart Alejandro Jodorowsky’s next film Endless Poetry by trading your money for poetic money (and more.)

With a track record that includes Fando Y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre and The Dance of Reality, as well as the “greatest film never made” Dune (subject of Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune) Endless Poetry is guaranteed to be something special from the now 86 year old director.

Click the image below to find out more:

“Fuck it, I’ll have the dessert”

That was the feeling you got when watching Peter Strickland’s previous film Berberian Sound Studio, a completely indulgent, self contained homage to his beloved Giallo horror films. There was no message about contemporary society to be relayed here, just an orgy of gaudy colours, creepy sounds and gore, straight out of a Dario Argento or Mario Bava film. Although you could level accusations of self indulgence at Strickland, it was also refreshing to see a film that enjoyed itself on its own terms, unwilling to pander to modern day cinema.

Strickland continues his nostalgic reminisces in his latest film The Duke of Burgundy. While Berberian took the Italian giallo horrors as its muse, Strickland looks to the softcore erotica of Jess Franco and 60’s/70’s Eastern European art cinema for inspiration. The narrative revolves around Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a domineering owner of a picturesque villa in a rural locale, and her submissive, timid maid Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), who arrives everyday by bicycle to do the chores. It quickly becomes clear that this is an S & M relationship, but as the film progresses the balance of power becomes increasingly confused.

The film is very atmospheric, its ethereal, dreamy air conjuring comparisons to staples such as Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Broadcast, the composers for Berberian, were hugely influenced by Valerie) and Picnic at Hanging Rock. The sets are deliciously decadent and decorative, while Nicholas D. Knowland’s cinematography is inventive and often beautiful, utilising many a soft focus shot, treated in the editing with cross fades. The score by Cat’s Eyes is also very evocative, using delicately psychedelic orchestration. Strickland has made a film for the senses, even going so far as to credit perfumers in the opening sequence, a tongue in cheek joke if there ever was one.

All this suggests The Duke of Burgundy should be a terrific, distinctive film…and yet, it’s not. While Berberian was ultimately little more than homage, it knew its limitations and kept the audience intrigued and involved to its end. Unfortunately Duke feels more like an exercise than a film, and there is not enough narrative drive here to keep the viewer enthralled. It’s a thin idea taken past its limit, testing the audience’s patience. The two central performances by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna are stilted and often wooden, struggling to deal with Strickland’s laboured dialogue.

There is not enough real psychological insight into the two characters here and it feels flimsy. A film maker like Bergman was brave enough to narrow his focus on just two characters and relished the claustrophobia, yet Strickland fails to elicit any real drama out of his leads or script. In interviews surrounding the film Strickland had stated a desire to make a film that doesn’t conform to ideas of good taste or sensibility, a film with the potential to be outrageous. Which is a shame, because he has made a film about sadomasochistic lesbian lovers which is deadly dull, and that is quite an achievement. Slow clap.

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