Archive for the ‘France’ Category

The Europa Cinemas Label Award winner at Cannes 2015, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut feature Mustang has had quite the journey, through to its nomination at the 2016 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. The film’s place in the Glasgow Film Festival Audience Award seems modest in comparison, but the buzz around the film was keenly felt, acknowledged by festival director Allison Gardner’s proclamation that this film is: “my favourite child of the festival”.

This is an appropriate analogy, as Mustang follows five teenage sisters in rural Turkey who – after an innocent game with their male schoolmates – are accused of indecency by their guardian grandmother and uncle, who look after the girls after their parents passed away a decade earlier. As a result, the house is removed of any potential “instruments of corruption” as the girls become increasingly imprisoned within their own home. The girls are modern and strong willed as a unit against their oppressive forebearers, but this begins to crack when they start to be coupled off into arranged marriages.

While the family and community apply a sanctimonious attitude towards the practice of arranged marriages, there is a dark sexual tension simmering underneath the surface and throughout the village in which the film is set. The girls, for instance, are paraded around the town for the men’s interest and while everyone seems to pretend sex (and potential abuse) doesn’t exist, there is an unnerving, unspoken feeling that everyone knows what is really going on. This tension quietly bubbles for the majority of the film and when it finally boils over in the final act, it does so with devastating effect. What starts off as a coming-of-age film becomes a rebellious road movie.

The impact is keenly felt, as the bond between these sisters is strong and genuine. While eldest Sonay (İlayda Akdoğan) seems to have the most knowledge and control, it is the youngest, Lale (brilliantly performed by Güneş Şensoy in her debut) who is the most defiant and strong; she leads the girls and devises for them to express themselves. In a charming scene, she leads the girls to a see her beloved football team Trabzonspor playing the mighty Galatasaray in an important match. The scene has a daydream feel, expressing this fleeting moment of freedom.

Mustang is a gorgeous tale of the human spirit breaking free from the oppression of society, expertly directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. The film succeeds on every level: brilliantly acted by a largely amateur cast, beautifully shot by David Chizallet & Ersin Gok and all topped off by an incredibly moving score by the longtime collaborator of Nick Cave, Warren Ellis. Each beat is truly felt and one can tell that this is a very personal story to its director.

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Joachim Trier follows his highly regarded Oslo, August 31st with his English-speaking debut Louder Than Bombs, which received mixed reviews in Cannes and Toronto before arriving here in Glasgow. Featuring an impressive cast including Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, Millers Crossing), Isabelle Huppert (Amour) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, The End of the Tour) Trier directs with skill, regardless of the new challenge of a second language.

Louder Than Bombs opens with a striking image of life – a newborn holding the hand of its father Jonah (Eisenberg) – shortly followed by a reveal of the death of Eisenberg’s mother Isabelle (Huppert), although this has already happened by the birth of Jonah’s son. This becomes a staple technique of the film, jumping forward and backwards in time, revealing a bit more detail each time, or viewing the same scene from a different character’s perspective. As a result, the dead mother Isabelle remains a living, breathing character in the film’s narrative, either due to flashback or premonition.

As for the rest of the family, the film deals with their varying attempts to cope with the grief of losing their mother including the sensitive windowed Husband Gene (Byrne), the aforementioned Jonah – who is more similar than his secretly suffering mother than he realised – and the younger teenage son Conrad; expertly played by Devin Druid, previously only known for playing teenage Louis C.K in his eponymous show. Conrad’s character is particularly fascinating, as while he appears to be the hardest hit of all, he shows the greatest deal of optimism in the film.

As well as family grief, Louder Than Bombs is very much about the words and feelings that go unexpressed between close family members – and the gap in understanding that this creates. Jonah’s character goes in the opposite direction of his younger brother: at first seeming capable of saving his family’s problems, but soon emerging as repressed and neglectful.

While the premise may sound fairly depressing, there is plenty of emotional depth found in this film. Louder Than Bombs retains a sense of humour and is playful enough with its form to keep it from being a “Capital D Drama” as Trier has put it. While the film examines the universally difficult subject of family grief, it doesn’t fail to show the warmth that these characters exert; even if often misplaced – as shown in several attempts by the father and sons to engage with the opposite sex – with varying degrees of success and conscientiousness.

On top of this, Trier plays with not just narrative structure, but with realism and filmic self-awareness, including lots of fun references to influential films (Vertigo, being one.) He also uses the imagination and dreams to represent the characters’ consciousness on screen. The greatest example of this is Conrad listening to a female classmate he is crushing on. As she reads aloud a classic text, he starts imagining her words visually; his mind takes over and she begins narrating the scene of his mother’s death and what thoughts might have gone through her mind, when she realised she was about to die. It is a truly thrilling scene and a technique that Trier explores throughout this intriguing film.

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1) TIMBUKTU (DIR. ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO, FRANCE/MAURITANIA)
TimbuktuA tremendously moving modern tragedy set in contemporary Mali, but filmed in director Sissako’s native Mauritania. Timbuktu tells a story of a community fractured by a group of power-hungry Islamist militants intent on controlling the population by undermining the people’s existing cultural and religious practices. In spite of its bleak outlook, the film also captures the incredible music of the region and possesses a sense of spirited defiance in the face of tyranny.

2) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (DIR. GEORGE MILLER, AUSTRALIA/USA)
Mad Max

In the hands of another director Mad Max: Fury Road would likely have been an unnecessary and unwelcome reboot, but in the hands of Mad Max originator George Miller it was a triumph. The film is a relentless post-apocalyptic dash from A to B (then B to A), in which Tom Hardy’s petrol head grunt overcomes his misogyny in the service of fighting totalitarianism. It felt surprisingly prescient.

3) SELMA (DIR. AVA DUVERNAY, USA)
Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 12.16.05
With Selma Ava DuVernay declared herself a directorial force to be reckoned with in 2015. Telling the story of the civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama in 1965, DuVernay marshals a remarkable ensemble of actors with a superb David Oyelowo as Dr King. The film is most exhilarating thanks to DuVernay’s focus on King’s tactics, making for a timely film that reveals both the tough decision making, as well as the sacrifice behind the cause.

4) A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (DIR. ROY ANDERSSON, SWEDEN)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceRoy Andersson’s latest work is a film of light amusement, deadpan wit and grandiose horror; as the final film in a trilogy about being human, it is an apt achievement. In Pigeon… Andersson’s view on humanity – as found in his advertising work – is one of stale compartmentalised existence, yet there are also moments of painful history, which intrude at uncomfortable intervals. It’s a telling take on modern Western life and a haunting look at our place in history.

5) A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (DIR. ANA LILY AMIRPOUR, USA)
A Girl Walks Home Alone At NightUndoubtedly the coolest film of the year was the brilliant directorial debut of Ana Lily Amirpour, who transitioned from a prolific career in shorts. Though an American production, the film is an Iranian vampire flick in spirit with Amirpour’s Farsi script and excellent troupe of Iranian-American actors. The real success of the film is Amirpour’s perfect blending of the vampire genre with film noir and Fellini & Leone-esque cinematic stylistics. It’s a film buff’s dream.

6) WELCOME TO LEITH (DIR. MICHAEL BEACH NICHOLS & CHRISTOPHER K. WALKER, USA)
Welcome To LeithWelcome To Leith is a brilliant example of how documentaries are becoming increasingly suited to the cinema environment. Telling the story of the residents of Leith as they face off against notorious white nationalist Craig Cobb, filmmakers Nichols and Walker use Western genre tropes to tell both sides of the story and build unbearable tension. It’s a disturbing tale of intolerant ideology and vigilante action in modern America.

7) WILD TALES (DIR. DAMIÁN SZIFRÓN, ARGENTINA/SPAIN)
Wild TalesBrilliantly pulling off perhaps the most challenging film format, the anthology film, Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales tells a number of disaster stories – from vehicular disasters to weddings gone awry – in an almost-continuously exhilarating two hours. Particular highlights include tales of a jaded demolition expert and a case of rural road rage.

8) IT FOLLOWS (DIR. DAVID ROBERT MITCHELL, USA)
It Follows 2The long held horror tradition of punishing the sexually promiscuous comes to its inspired conclusion in It Follows, in which a curse is passed on through the act of sex. Mitchell creates an atmosphere of dread seldom seen since Hideo Nakata’s Ring in 1998 and the direction recalls the artful horror tropes of John Carpenter, making this a rare American horror classic among recent genre entries.

9) PASOLINI (DIR. ABEL FERRARA, FRANCE/BELGIUM/ITALY)
PasoliniAbel Ferrara’s look at the life of Italian cinematic maestro and social critic Pier Paolo Pasolini is something of an oddity. It features a gravely Willem Dafoe and numerous fantastical sequences from an unrealised Pasolini project; yet it is also an atmospheric, passionate, even mysterious tribute from a student to a master. So evocative in style, it’s a film that begs to be revisited and Dafoe is captivating under Ferrara’s direction.

10) FORCE MAJEURE (DIR. RUBEN ÖSTLUND, SWEDEN)
Force MajeureNo film comes close to Force Majeure in the race for the most cringeworthy filmic effort of 2015. This story of a Swedish family on a skiing holiday in the French Alps becomes a hilariously excruciating watch, after the father fails to exhibit the expected alpha male traits in a crisis situation. Director Ruben Östlund amps up the tragicomedy with his use of glorious cinemascope, which makes every awkward line and humiliating detail seem embarrassingly colossal.

HONORABLE MENTION – JOHN WICK (DIR. CHAD STAHELSKI, USA)
JohnWickThe Matrix aside, Keanu Reeves has not exactly been a reliable source of cinematic greatness – but in Chad Stahelski’s John Wick he contributes so perfectly to the film’s understated wit and panache that we should probably think again. Based on a premise of such hilarious simplicity, this is the revenge flick that Nicolas Cage and Liam Neeson have been relentlessly competing to make for about a decade.

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The BFI will re-release Jean-Luc Godard’s stunning post-modern classic Le Mépris in selected cinemas UK-wide on 1 January 2016. It will be the centrepiece of BFI Southbank’s Jean-Luc Godard season running 1 Jan – 16 March.

Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance and Fritz Lang star in this visually stunning, emotionally charged New Wave masterpiece, which epitomises 1960s style, modernity and glamour. The trailer strongly features the film’s evocative score by Georges Delerue.

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The biographical film is dangerous territory. There are myriad reasons for this: the hackneyed form of the biopic, the biographical inconsistencies, the expectations that come with portraying a revered figure. Dealing with a master filmmaker is perhaps the most treacherous of territories; if your filmmaking doesn’t live up to theirs, what have you said that they couldn’t more eloquently?

When it comes to Abel Ferrara, director of Pasolini, it is well established that he has balls of steel. Whether it’s his self-starring soft-core debut 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, the rampant punk horror The Driller Killer, or his hysterical drug cop drama Bad Lieutenant, his resume is replete with the bold, brash and explicit. But how does this confidence lend itself to the subject here, one of Ferrara’s heroes: Italian neo-realist, Catholic, Marxist, poet, writer, director Pier Paolo Pasolini? The results are fresh, authorial and not at all definitive.

Pasolini begins with Pier Paolo (Willem Dafoe) in post-production on a deeply disturbing scene from his final film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, in which young people are raped and exploited by a fascistic political elite after the fall of Mussolini in 1943. It is a show of confidence to begin the film by referencing this famous scene; a scene representative of Pasolini’s disturbing power as a filmmaker. Fortunately Dafoe immediately cuts a striking, if Americanised, version of Pasolini and generating sufficient intrigue in the character.

There is a tone of rumination that is maintained throughout the film, which plays out Pasolini’s final day before his untimely murder. Juxtaposed with the day’s activities are scenes from an unmade Pasolini film, in which the lesbian and gay communities meet on one night a year in Rome to propagate the human race. The cutting back and forth never glimpses us quite enough of one or the other – given the film’s lean 84 minutes – but with a character as complex as Pasolini one senses that Ferrara intends to create a snapshot rather than a complete portrait.

The film does not attempt to provide us with a comprehensive understanding of Pasolini, nor does it attempt to wrap his death up in an overly ambitious poetic, or political logic. What the film does do is glimpse aspects of a renegade thinker and polymath artist, as seen through the eyes of the generation he influenced most profoundly. It is a reimagining and an attempt at humanising the figure. We see him in his role as an intellectual, as a gay man and as a family figure; he was profoundly attached to his beloved mother.

It is in playing to his own strengths that Ferrara makes a success of Pasolini. He is clearly at home working with Dafoe, whose own work as Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ was an even more preposterous, yet fascinating interpretation of a figure of moral significance. Ferrara’s own thematic interests are present in Pasolini: ethics, faith, politics and the alienation of modern life. This is the work of a committed fan and student of Pasolini and not one who claims to possess all the answers.

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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.

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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.

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1) 12 YEARS A SLAVE (DIR. STEVE MCQUEEN, USA/UK)

An ultra-early release of 2014 in the UK (January 10th to be precise), Steve McQueen’s third film 12 Years A Slave has endured, in my memory, as the most moving cinema experience of the year. Prior to this film McQueen had established himself – with Hunger and Shame – as one of the most important feature directors in the UK, for his ability to merge demanding topics with fresh visual language. With 12 Years A Slave he proved himself capable of this on a much grander scale, earning a Best Picture Oscar, a $187.7 million box office return and widespread critical support. It is essential that we revisit history through the eyes of great artists and Steve McQueen is one such artist.

2) 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (DIR. IAIN FORSYTH & JANE POLLARD, UK)
In a strong year for cinema documentaries 20,000 Days on Earth expanded the paradigm. Composed of elements from dramatic fiction, observational documentary and the rock film this Nick Cave biopic, set over the course of a day, is an expertly framed Petri dish of fascinating ideas. While the film might primarily appeal to Cave fans, it should interest anyone who creates, or simply wishes to understand themselves and their human impulses. Cave’s transcendental live performances feature prominently, while the meaning of these occasions is explored in moments of fascinating examination, as the frank and eloquent Cave reflects on his life to a therapist and lives out his life in atmospheric Brighton.

3) THE WIND RISES (DIR. HAYAO MIYAZAKI, JAPAN)
The Wind Rises is the final film of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki and it is a bittersweet achievement, not only about about the cost of innovation, but the cost of dreams. Based loosely on the true story of Japanese engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who was responsible for designing fighter planes during World War II, the film surrealistically captures the glorious freedom of imagination and intellect and contrasts it with the devastation these powers can bring. In line with Horikoshi’s own attitude towards the futility of WWII, the film’s tone is one of profound melancholy. The film presents a man whose talent for innovation and love of flight is tragically undermined by the impulse, in others, for war.

4) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (DIR. JIM JARMUSCH, USA)
In the cinema, 2014 was a special year for the more esoteric side of rock n’ roll. With Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch took the horror genre into reverent territory and drew a line straight back through the history of art. The film, which centers around the reunion of a pair of vampire lovers (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston), resonates with a universe of fascinating culture for those ready to listen. With locations in Chicago and Tangier the film takes us on a poetic punk journey, into a world once inhabited by Shakespeare ghost writers, Nikola Tesla, William S. Burroughs & The Stooges. The film’s soundtrack, featuring Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL, Jozef van Wissem and Yasmine Hamdan is also not be missed.

5) VIRUNGA (DIR. ORLANDO VON EINSIEDEL, UK/CONGO)

This extraordinary film from prolific director Orlando Von Einsiedel is a thrilling piece of journalism and another fantastic expansion on the possibilities of documentary cinema. The film follows the current crisis of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the park’s security team and rangers attempt to hold off an onslaught from Congolese rebels who appear to be collaborating with British oil company Soco. The documentary creates extraordinary emotional stakes by telling the stories of Andre Bauma, who cares for the park’s gorilla population, park director Emmanuel de Merode and journalist Melanie Gouby. These individuals put their necks on the line for the park, which the film depicts as an integral element to the survival and autonomy of the DRC, while the filmmakers capture the unfolding violence and human displacement.

6) THE KIDNAPPING OF MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ (DIR. GUILLAUME NICLOUX, FRANCE)
Back in 2011 controversial French author Michel Houellebecq (Whatever, Atomised, Platform) disappeared during a book tour for The Map and the Territory, leading to media speculation that he had been kidnapped by al-Qaida. The contention created by the author’s works may have justified such a possibility, but director Guillaume Nicloux’s dramatic interpretation of the situation (starring Houellebecq as himself) speculates on a much different – and hilariously funny – scenario. The integral joke of the film is that Houellebecq, in sly deadpan style, rather enjoys the experience, as he encourages his surprisingly benevolent captors to cater to his whims and vices. However you may feel about Michel Houellebecq, this film riffs brilliantly on his dark humour and outsider status.

7) NIGHTCRAWLER (DIR. DAN GILROY, USA)
Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy (The FallReel SteelThe Bourne Legacy) made his directorial debut with Nightcrawler and doing so brought to the screen a career best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, as aspirational anti-hero Louis Bloom. The film takes it’s cue from the post-recession job crisis, with Bloom as an ultra-opportunistic news cameraman who dispenses with all moral values to succeed in the business. His ambition leads him to film increasingly grisly crime scenes, as he simultaneously loses contact with the reality of what he films. The film is a thrilling romp, starring an unusually manic Gyllenhaal, which also works as a critique of the potentially exploitative nature of American news broadcasting.

8) 22 JUMP STREET (DIR. PHIL LORD & CHRISTOPHER MILLER, USA)
22 Jump Street is an unexpectedly great sequel, to an unexpectedly great feature adaptation (21 Jump Street), of a late 1980’s TV police comedy primarily remembered for kicking off Johnny Depp’s acting career. The beauty of 22 Jump Street is the way in which it comedically writes itself off as a pointless sequel. The irony of the film is that this bold sense of flippancy (embodied through the perfect buddy-chemistry of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) is precisely what makes the Jump Street films relevant. After years of terrible sequels, remakes and computer game adaptations, these films are the evidence that someone in Hollywood is finally thinking what the audience has been for a long time.

9) BELLE (DIR. AMMA ASANTE, UK)
Following her 2004 debut A Way of Life, Streatham born writer/director Amma Asante made a strong return with Belle. The film tells the story Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – the daughter of Maria Belle, an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, and Captain John Lindsay, a British career naval officer – who encouraged her uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (and Lord Chief Justice) to recognise slavery as illegal in England and usher about its formal end. The film is directed with elegant style and frank sincerity, influenced no doubt by the 1779 Johann Zoffany painting that it was inspired by, in which a headstrong Belle appears animatedly alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray.

10) THE ROVER (DIR. DAVID MICHOD, AUSTRALIA)

David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom was one of the most striking debuts of 2010, showing Michôd to be one of the most gifted directors of contemporary Australian cinema. The film was a dense and engaging drama of a Melbourne crime family, made with an impeccable grasp of tension and great style. With The Rover Michôd stripped down the scope of his vision, focusing primarily on Guy Pearce’s mysterious protagonist who harbours an undisclosed agenda. The minimalist approach to his second feature pays off, with Michôd delivering a lean, bleak and thrilling film with excellent performances and a beautifully simple central conceit.

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1) IDA (DIR. PAWEL PAWLIKOWSKI, POLAND)

Ida, the Polish nun at the heart of Pawlikoski’s WW2 drama, perfectly encapsulates the lightness and darkness of the film, her beetlebug black eyes framed by a saintly, doll-like complexion. Beautifully played by Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida is told she is a Jewish survivor of the holocaust and must meet her aunt before taking her vows. Shot in austere monochrome, the film is a road movie/coming of age tale, with Ida forced to come to terms with her past and decide on her own future. While a black and white holocaust drama might seem heavy going, Pawlikoski has a lightness of touch which elevates it to something greater than simply a sob story.

2) BOYHOOD (DIR. RICHARD LINKLATER, USA)

rsz_boyhood_momentos_de_una_vida_-__ellar_coltrane_mason_finalLinklater’s much heralded drama follows one boy actor from childhood to adolescence, taking in all the growing pains that come with it. While the film often strays into schmaltz and cliche, it is hard not to be affected by the film and project as a whole. Lead actor Ellar Coltrane may have seemed gawky and awkward as the years passed by, but perhaps that is as accurate a reflection of teenager you can get? Estranged parents Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke provide the acting chops and the pathos of adult instability.

3) STRANGER BY THE LAKE (DIR. ALAIN GUIRAUDIE, FRANCE)

StrangerByTheLake_5_Christophe_Paou_Pi.JPGNo-one does voyeurism quite like the French. By a remote lake in rural France Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) cruises the beach for men in order to sate his desires. His attention is piqued by the athletic Michel (Christophe Paou) and soon his lust for him begins to override his moral compass. How dangerous could Michel really be? Guiraudie’s film is a brooding beast, high on intrigue and psychologically complex. It also has a great sense of place; I can’t think of another film that demonstrates the tranquil joy of lake swimming so much.

4) NYMPHOMANIAC PARTS 1 AND 2 (DIR. LARS VON TRIER, DENMARK)

rsz_1rsz_hero_nymphomaniacvol2-2014-1It is a little sad that Von Trier garners more headlines for his antics than his actual films; Nymphomaniac is another interesting addition to his ouevre. Part of his Depression trilogy this epic double header follows Joe, a young girl hurtling through life with a hard-on, unable to satisfy her desire for human flesh. Ably played by Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Joe’s travails are often bleak and brutal- this is Von Trier in a self destructive mood. The film gains power in its sheer scale and rawness of emotion.

5) WINTER SLEEP (DIR. NURI BILGE CEYLAN, TURKEY)

rsz_1rsz_p02ckcsmIf Once upon a time in Anatolia was the brooding, silent brother in the family, then Winter Sleep is the talkative, narcissistic sibling. Aydin runs a remote hotel in rural Anatolia with his sloth-like sister and bored younger wife, all the while indulging his intellectual delusions with vanity book projects. Ceylan’s latest film is occasionally too verbose and meandering in its 3 hour length, yet it often finds its way to a point of real epiphany. The characters are so complex and fluid that you find yourself dividing your loyalty between each of them from moment to moment.

6) LEVIATHAN (DIR. ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV, RUSSIA)

rsz_leviathanBased on a true American news story but with great parallels with contemporary Russian society, Leviathan is the tale of a local fisherman forced to give up his land for a pittance when the greedy local mayor comes calling. Zvyagintsev arrived with one of the greatest debuts of the 21st century in The Return, but his latest film sees the director opting for a more literal, moralistic form of storytelling. The characters and themes are set out in a blunt fashion but the sheer conviction of the actors and the anger of the director shines through.

7) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (DIR. JIM JARMUSCH, USA)

This is a peculiar one. While watching the film, and just after, I was left with mixed feelings about Jarmusch’s latest offering. His re-imagining of the vampire genre had a typically thin story, a penchant for sixth form level philosophy and a somewhat nerdy obsession with guitars and literary figures. There were probably a lot more ‘powerful’ and prescient films being made this year, but this one has stuck. The moody streets of Detroit and the gothic twang of Josef Van Wissem’s score has left a lingering atmosphere, while the central relationship between the evergreen vampires played by  Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston is oddly moving.

8) THE PAST (DIR. ASGHAR FARHADI, FRANCE/IRAN)

Film still from The Past by Asghar FarhadiFarhadi’s twisty family drama follows a family’s disintegration in Paris. Ahmad, the estranged father figure, travels to France to meet his ex-partner Marie and sign their divorce papers. However, he quickly becomes embroiled in family tensions as her new partner Samir is causing friction with her offspring. The film is a treasure chest of lies and misunderstandings, Farhadi creating a meaty drama out of miscommunication. While the film may become too tricksy and melodramatic at points, the quality of the acting and the dialogue makes it a very satisfying watch.

9) FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (DIR. JOHN MALOOF & CHARLIE SISKEL, USA)

rsz_211-628x425This excellent documentary unearthed the fascinating story of Vivien Maier, a New York nanny with a secret life as a master photographer. In the 60’s and 70’s, Maier would go out onto the streets of New York and take fantastic photos of everyday life; children, old pensioners, the rich, the homeless. Remarkably her talents were unknown to her well-to-do employers, and she lived a life of relative anonymity. This sparky film documents the discovery of her photographs to her eventual reappraisal, all the while demonstrating what a singular and complex individual Maier was.

10) HER (DIR. SPIKE JONZE, USA)

rsz_1rsz_her-screen-shotProbably one of the greatest films to reflect the ever blurring lines between online and real life, Jonze crafts an unusual and heartfelt work out of a challenging concept. Theodore (Joaquin Pheonix) is a lonely urbanite from the future who falls in love with his OS computer (seductively voiced by Scarlett Johannson), a completely intuitive, human-like system. The film has a woozy, wistful glow to it and Pheonix is excellent as the repressed lead. Jonze deserves all the plaudits, however, for concocting such a prescient, emotional film out of a far fetched conceit.

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rsz_2014-05-18_135943“It feels like we’re living in another world”, said one of my fellow Nisi Masa peers. This is Cannes, at the height of the film festival, and everything feels very strange. It might have been the time we were drinking in Le Petit Majestique, a watering hole for anybody too degenerate to get into the parties, as a man made up as the Toxic Avenger posed for photos with delighted revellers.

One thing that struck me in Cannes was the disproportionate amount of French people inhabiting the place. I couldn’t turn for a Jacques, a Celine, a Pierre, a Jean Paul or a Francois blocking my way. The festival was rife with fevered discussion, strangers gesticulating wildly across the Croisette. I engaged in numerous illuminating and deep conversations with the locals; what did I think of the promotion of female directors in the competitions? Was it a cynical attempt to quell last years controversy, or a valiant effort to right the wrongs of industry patriarchy? “Je suis Anglais”, I shrugged, “Je ne parle pas français”.

Cannes is at times ugly, vulgar and seedy, but it also has an irresistible charm and buzz to it that draws you in. Beneath all the fake, elitist glitz and glamour there are people working with great passion. Film makers who have toiled for years with their minds and bodies, struggling to externalise their worldview, and perhaps in turn make the viewer feel connected to its creator, and therefore the human race as a whole. Then we have the perverts, the writers and cinephiles, desperate to make sense of the world but scared of living, finding solace and escape in intimate tales from around the world.

Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner

Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner

There is a great disparity in the world of Cannes and the films that are on show there. The films are often focused on impoverished people, struggling through their lives, beset by tragedy. The festival, meanwhile, is saturated with somewhat closeted, comfortable industry people in Raybans and critics wearing chinos, manicured within an inch of their lives. Is this their Hollywood blockbuster, their escapist cinema? Are the emotional outpourings their explosions, their car chases?

Queueing plays a huge part of the festival as well. In this age of ‘now’ the act of queueing feels quaint and refreshing. It feels so strange that in a matter of seconds one could be streaming a film on Netflix, yet in Cannes you are made to wait an hour, maybe more, to watch the film. I had a strange admiration for the soldiers around me, putting aside their frenzied lives, to act out the most noble service they could in the situation: standing still. What were they thinking about? The film? The others in the queue? Ruminating on their lives? There is too much time to reflect in queues, it’s unnerving.

The Nisi Masa workshop I participated in was invigorating and often inspiring, The other participants had a genuine passion for cinema and writing. What struck me most was, even though the majority spoke English as a second language, the intensity of feeling pierced through the broken syntax and phrasing. As a shamefully ignorant student of languages I was impressed with the dramatic use of words, at odds with the somewhat conservative way English speakers often write in.

Run by Phillipe Lacote

Run by Phillipe Lacote

As to the films, it was a mixed bunch. Darker Than Midnight, a queer coming of age tale set in Catania’s underbelly was disappointingly high pitched and hysterical. Girlhood, a Parisian set teen drama directed by Celine Sciamma of Water Lilies fame was sparky yet felt less distinctive than her previous work. Catch Me Daddy, a Brit thriller, started off brightly with shades of Lynne Ramsay’s hallucinatory visuals, yet devolved into another ‘gritty’ chase movie. Run was a solid, nomadic film set in the Ivory Coast, a bit like Forrest Gump if it had been directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Refugiado was a well directed, well acted Mexican film about a mother and son fleeing domestic violence, not always as grim as it sounds.

The two best features I saw were It Follows and Amour Fou. It Follows was an original, dreamy American horror that subverts the slasher genre. Amour Fou saw the return of Austrian Jessica Hausner after her success with Lourdes. Jokingly described as a ‘romantic comedy’, it is a loose biopic of the writer/poet Heinrich Von Kleist and his affair with Henrietta, a dying housewife. Incredibly dry and somewhat alienating to most viewers, I found it to be wryly amusing and in its own way quite touching. Special mention goes to the short film Thunderbirds by Lea Mysius. Set in rural France, the thin plot follows a vaguely incestuous brother and sister as they go hunting for birds. It had a strong, brutal visual style reminiscent of Bruno Dumont and a distinctive atmosphere to boot. Definitely one to look out for.

Until next time….

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