Monday, 27 July 2020

Daughters of Darkness (Devil's Advocates)

Harry Kümel
Harry Kümel. Image: Hawawiki1 [CC BY-SA]
Last summer I posted a little something about the book I'd written on Ken Russell's The Devils, which was published as part of Auteur's Devil's Advocates series.  Bearing in mind that I am probably not the most impartial judge, I can honestly say I've never encountered a bad entry in this series, and each and every title I've read has left me with a newfound appreciation of the given film.  My experience of Devil's Advocates pre-dates my direct involvement with it, and I'm very pleased to have contributed to a series I've been a fan of both before and since my book formed a small part of it.  Naturally, there's an extra frisson when a DA appears on a film I'm especially fond of—Laura Mee's excellent book on The Shining and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas' fine volume on Suspiria being two such cases in point—so I was most pleased to learn that the series was going to include a book on Belgian filmmaker Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness (Dutch: Dorst Naar Bloed), a film I wrote about way back in 2012 for the print version of Holland Focus.  If you so wish, you can venture into the HF archives to view a washed-out scan of that short piece.

The Devil's Advocate on Daughters of Darkness is the work of Kat Ellinger, who for some time has been one of the most consistently interesting film historians out there.  As well as her numerous contributions to a variety of both print and digital publications, Kat is the editor-in-chief over at Diabolique Magazine, and she has also recorded a number of audio commentaries for DVD/Blu-ray releases; her commentary (with Samm Deighan, author of the DA on Fritz Lang's M) on Eureka Video's disc of Joe Begos' Bliss is, to my mind, the best new commentary track of I've heard this year.  As an admirer of both Kat's writing and Daughters of Darkness, it seemed certain that I was always going to find this particular DA to be a great read, and I'm pleased to confirm that the book more than met my (admittedly high) expectations.  The book is split into four main chapters, and it moves along at a nice clip; chances are you, like me, will devour it in one sitting.

The book contains a huge plus in that Ellinger has sought out the views of both director Kümel and the film's co-star, the Québécoise Danielle Ouimet, which really adds a most satisfying layer onto what is always an engaging, insightful read.  As a longtime fan of the incomparable Delphine Seyrig—I'm currently neck-deep in my own project concerning another of the actress' films—I especially appreciated reading their thoughts on working with this great star.  The book is highly recommended, and it might be best to pick it up sooner rather than later, given that in exactly three months' time a limited 4K UHD disc of a new restoration of Daughters of Darkness will be released; among its many bonus features, this edition will include commentary tracks from both Kümel and Ellinger.  Needless to say, I'll be in the queue for that one, but until it appears you can put in some preparatory work thanks to yet another excellent addition to the ongoing Devil's Advocates series.  The book is available from numerous sellers, including Amazon Netherlands.

Darren Arnold

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Allez, Eddy! (Gert Embrechts, 2012)

11-year-old cycling talent Freddy is the son of a local butcher in the back of beyond. When the village’s first supermarket opens its doors in 1975, Freddy’s isolated life is turned upside down. To celebrate its opening, the supermarket organises a bicycle race, the winner of which will get to meet Eddy Merckx. Freddy’s father, a fervent opponent of the supermarket, wants nothing to do with the race. Freddy enters secretly. Participation in the race opens up a new world, not only for Freddy, but also for all those surrounding him.

Allez, Eddy! is een hartverwarmende komedie over het elfjarig wielertalentje Freddy, zoon van een slager in een idyllisch dorpje in niemandsland.  Zijn geïsoleerde leventje wordt volledig overhoop gehaald wanneer in 1975 de eerste supermarkt in het dorp zijn deuren opent.  Ter gelegenheid van de opening organiseert de supermarkt een wielerwedstrijd waarbij de winnaar Eddy Merckx zal ontmoeten.  Freddy’s vader is fervent tegenstander van de supermarkt en wil niets van de wedstrijd weten. Freddy schrijft zich toch stiekem in.  Door deelname aan de race gaat er een nieuwe wereld open, niet alleen voor Freddy maar ook voor alle mensen om hem heen.


Gert Embrechts enrolled at Sint-Lukas film school in 1987. After graduating, he worked as first assistant for directors such as Ben Sombogaart, Frank Van Passel and Peter Greenaway. Gert shot a number of award-winning short films (13, Vincent), documentaries and episodes of TV series (Kinderen van Dewindt). He also wrote the screenplay of Stricken, the box office hit based on the novel by Dutch author Kluun. Allez, Eddy! [which can be bought or rented here] is Gert’s debut as a feature film director.


Jacqueline de Goeij worked as an independent producer in The Netherlands for more than 10 years, producing quality drama for TV and cinema. In 2002, she produced Zus & zo which was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2009 Jacqueline founded her own Belgian independent production office Ciné Cri de Cœur, focusing on feature films and documentaries. Allez, Eddy! by Gert Embrechts is the first Flemish feature film produced by Ciné Cri de Cœur.

Source/images: Flanders Image

Monday, 29 June 2020

King of the Belgians (J. Woodworth / P. Brosens, 2016)

King of the Belgians [which can be bought or rented here] is a road movie in which a dormant King gets lost in the Balkans and awakens to the real world. King Nicolas III is a lonely soul who has the distinct feeling he’s living the wrong life. He embarks on a state visit to Istanbul with a British filmmaker, Duncan Lloyd, who has been commissioned by the Palace to shoot a documentary intended to polish the monarch’s rather dull image.

The news breaks that Wallonia, Belgium’s southern half, has declared its independence. The King, bursting with purpose, must return home at once to save his kingdom. And for once, he declares, he will write his own damn speech. As they rally to depart, a solar storm strikes the earth causing communications to collapse and airspace to shut down. No phones. No planes. To make matters worse, Turkish security coldly dismisses the King’s suggestion they return home by road. But the King has no intention of waiting out this storm. Lloyd, sniffing an opportunity of historical proportions, hatches a dubious escape plan that involves flowery dresses and singing Bulgarians.

Thus begins their undercover odyssey across the Balkans, a journey that’s loaded with wrong turns, startling encounters and moments of fleeting joy.

Director's Statement:

An Icelandic volcano erupted and an idea was born: let’s drop a Belgian King in Istanbul, stir up a natural disaster, spark a political crisis and then launch him on a homeward overland journey, incognito, that features trip-ups, show-downs and moments of grace. Displacement as the essence of comedy, in other words. 

The challenge was how to actually tell this tale... The Royal Palace hires Duncan Lloyd, a Brit, to upgrade the King’s image. Nicolas III is a lonely soul who drifts through the motions of protocol and is largely kept silent. His unexpected odyssey through the Balkans causes him to question his worldview and to ponder his awkward place in the universe. He is but a man. But he is also a King. What could or should that mean in such fragile times? Lloyd’s lens is the sole prism through which we experience these six extraordinary days in the life of a King. 

And what about Belgium, a complicated little country that specializes in surrealism and compromise? The ongoing political turmoil in our peanut kingdom and Europe’s ever-deepening identity crisis were a key source of inspiration. But the political tangent of the film remains secondary to the inner transformation of the King as he savors his anonymity and begins to discover his genuine yearnings. 

To enhance authenticity and spontaneity we often invited the actors to improvise. And we filmed chronologically. The situations become increasingly outrageous but actually remain delightfully believable. The result is King of the Belgians, a road movie about a wayward monarch profoundly lost in the Balkans.

Source/image: Flanders Image

Monday, 8 June 2020

The Ape Man (Pieter Vandenabeele, 2017)

A small, plump man lives on the top floor of a skyscraper. During the day, he's a garbage man, but in the evening, he watches Tarzan movies and maintains his lush roof garden. One day, when he hears the aggressive rants of his neighbour, he looks for the Tarzan inside to rescue the Jane next door.

Centraal staat een klein, dik, eenzaam mannetje dat op de bovenste verdieping van een wolkenkrabber woont. Hij heeft een voorliefde voor Tarzanfilms en onderhoudt daarom een weelderige daktuin. Wanneer hij, over de muur heen, hoort hoe de buurman agressief tekeer gaat, zoekt hij naar de Tarzan in zichzelf om zijn buurvrouw te redden.

Pieter Vandenabeele is an illustrator and animator. In 2014, he graduated at KASK / School of Arts Gent with the animated short A Dog's Life, which was selected at several international film festivals. His newest animated short, The Ape Man [available here], is loosely based on a comic book he made a few years ago. Other work of his includes Mee-eters and De Kraai Met Vier Poten.

"The short animation film, The Ape Man, finds its origin in De Amateur, a comic book I made in 2011 as a graduation project for my training as an illustrator. With this comic, I wanted to tell the story of a lonely (little) man hopelessly in love with the woman who lives next door. It was my intention to portray the desire for an impossible love in a goofy way through this character. I originally planned to add a couple of chapters to this comic, but after my education as an animator, I decided to adapt the story to an animation film. In order to do so, I added a pinch of action and just a touch of entertaining violence" - Pieter Vandenabeele

Source/image: Flanders Image


Tuesday, 26 May 2020

We Are One: A Global Film Festival (29/5/20–7/6/20)

Tribeca Enterprises and YouTube announced today the programming slate for We Are One: A Global Film Festival, which will feature over 100 films co-curated by 21 prolific festivals, hailing from 35 countries, in addition to talks, VR content and musical performances. The 10-day digital event will celebrate global voices, elevate films that have the power to create change and bring audiences from around the world together to create meaningful connections. Assembling some of the world’s most talented artists, storytellers and curators around a central effort to provide entertainment and offer relief in the form of supporting organizations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will run exclusively on YouTube May 29 - June 7 at

We Are One: A Global Film Festival will give audiences an opportunity to experience different cultures through an artistic lens - each official selection was handpicked for inclusion to highlight the singularities of each participating festival, while also providing a voice to filmmakers on a global stage. Many of these titles will have significant debuts at the festival, with programming consisting of over 100 films, including 13 world premieres, 31 online premieres, and five international online premieres. A truly international festival, the programming will represent over 35 countries and will include 23 narrative and eight documentary features, 57 narrative and 15 documentary short films, 15 archived talks along with four festival exclusives and five VR programming pieces.

We Are One: A Global Film Festival will host a number of specially-curated talks, both archived from past festivals and brand new discussions, that will offer viewers a chance to revisit important moments in film. Talks will feature Francis Ford Coppola with Steven Soderbergh, Song Kang-ho and Bong Joon-ho, Guillermo del Toro, Jane Campion and Claire Denis. 360 VR selections will feature Emmy-nominated documentary Traveling While Black and Atlas V, a sci-fi narrative starring Bill Skarsgard, as well as additional titles with notable talent including John Legend, Oprah Winfrey and Lupita Nyong’o. There will also be special musical performances, including a 30 minute DJ set by Questlove.

The global festival will include programming curated by and unique to the identity of all participating festival partners, including: Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Guadalajara International Film Festival, International Film Festival & Awards Macao (IFFAM), International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), Jerusalem Film Festival, Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, Marrakech International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, San Sebastian International Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, and Venice Film Festival.

True to its mission, We Are One: A Global Film Festival will seek to bring artists, creators and curators together around an international event that celebrates the exquisite art of storytelling. In doing so, it will aim to provide not only solace and entertainment for audiences during a time when it’s needed most, but also opportunities for these individuals to give back through donations to the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children,, Doctors Without Borders, Leket Israel, GO Foundation and Give2Asia, among others. Audiences will be able to donate to COVID-19 relief efforts through a donate button or link on every film page. The full festival schedule is available at

Source/images: BFI

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The Other Lamb (Małgorzata Szumowska, 2019)

The Other Lamb marks the English-language debut of Małgorzata Szumowska, who in 2011 directed Juliette Binoche in the highly impressive EllesElles boasted a typically strong performance from the excellent Anaïs Demoustier, a performer whose career has skyrocketed over the past decade; earlier this year, she picked up the best actress award at the Césars in a ceremony which made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  As with EllesThe Other Lamb sees Szumowska elicit a robust turn from a young female lead, this time in the form of Raffey Cassidy, who in recent years has caught the eye in films such as The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Vox Lux.  With this is mind, it's a pity that the overall quality of The Other Lamb doesn't come close to matching that of Cassidy's peformance.

Cassidy's Selah is a young woman born into a "flock" of females presided over by "shepherd" Michael (Michiel Huisman), who, as the group's sole male, rules unchallenged in the community's isolated forest settlement.  The women are divided into two categories - wives and daughters, clad respectively in red and blue - and Selah, whose mother died giving birth to her, appears to be a model member of the group.  The self-anointed Michael, whose image is prominently displayed on a large mural on the side of a caravan, frequently selects a different woman from the group to receive his "grace", and there's little doubt as to what this involves.

An intrusion from the outside world forces the cult to suddenly abandon their camp, and the group set off on a long, hard trek to find a new site.  During the journey, Michael's cruel behaviour escalates, prompting Selah to question both the community's hierarchy and its leader.  Selah grows close to Sarah (Denise Gough), a "broken" wife ostracised from the group by Michael, and it's through Sarah that Selah learns of the mother she never knew.  Trudging through the countryside in all weathers, the group happen upon a dilapidated house which looks as if it might work as a new base, but Michael dismisses the property as having belonged to "broken people".  Therefore, the gruelling hike continues, as Selah's resentment of Michael starts to come to the boil.

The Other Lamb features a fairly promising setup and, as already mentioned, a fine performance from Raffey Cassidy (furthermore, Michał Englert's cinematography is superb), so it's unfortunate that the story is both thin and poorly-paced.  The Other Lamb's case is not helped by it appearing on the tail of a couple of other recent films on a similar theme: Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood and Mary Harron's Charlie Says, while both centring on the Manson Family, covered similar ground far more successfully.  Going back a bit further, Ti West's excellent The Sacrament - which basically retold the Jim Jones/Peoples Temple story - is a good example of a strong, direct film focusing on a cult, while The Endless demonstrated how a more oblique take on the subject can work.  The Other Lamb, on the other hand, simply doesn't have enough about it to warrant a recommendation; it hovers between arthouse and horror, seemingly unsure of its own identity.

Darren Arnold

Image: TrustNordisk

Friday, 17 April 2020

Cold Blood Legacy (Frédéric Petitjean, 2019)

Jean Reno. De immer kalme acteur die meestal geassocieerd wordt met rollen als politierechercheur, gangster of huurmoordenaar. De bedaard uitziende Fransman heeft een welbepaalde uitstraling dat perfect past bij zulke rollen. Raar maar waar. Ik heb nog maar recent de film Léon: The Professional gezien. Zonder twijfel het allerbeste dat Jean Reno heeft gedemonstreerd op het witte doek. Een ervaren huurmoordenaar die als eenzaat het kleine meisje Mathilda onder zijn hoede neemt en haar de kneepjes van het vak bij te brengen. Een cult-film avant la lettre. In Cold Blood Legacy toont Jean Reno éénzelfde personage. Een professioneel en berekend iemand die op een beredeneerde wijze zijn klusjes opknapt. En daarmee is het meest positieve over deze film gezegd.

Cold Blood Legacy is een straight-to-video film, wat dan al een voorbode is van wat je kan verwachtingen. Bijster weinig goeds, vrees ik. Ja, Henry (Reno) straalt autoriteit en kalmte uit. Zijn woorden zijn zorgvuldig afgewogen. En hij verdiept zich in filosofisch boekwerken zoals The Art of War. Verder weet hij genoeg over letsels en het behandelen ervan. En tenslotte lijkt hij bedreven te zijn in survival-technieken. Technieken die noodzakelijk zijn, wil je overleven op een geïsoleerde winterse plek ver van de beschaving en omgeven door de ongenaakbare natuur. Kortom, het is weeral en genot om Jean Reno aan het werk te zien.

Spijtig genoeg is Reno’s schitterend acteerwerk niet voldoende om een film te doen slagen. De rest is op zijn zachtst gezegd abominabel slecht. Niet alleen is het verhaal op zich vreselijk saai en niet interessant te noemen. Ook sommige vertolkingen zijn om te janken. Vooral de twee politierechercheurs Kappa (Joe Anderson) en Davies (Ihor Ciszkewycz) winnen de wisselbeker “Meest belabberde personages”. Alhoewel dit eerder te wijten is aan het script dan de kwaliteiten van de acteurs zelf. Ook David Gyasi’s personage is vatbaar voor kritiek. Zijn uiteindelijke rol in deze film, bleef voor mij nog een raadsel op het uiteinde. Maar het is vooral het verhaal waar het scheef loopt. Echt duidelijk is het niet. En bovenal lijkt het alsof het een samenraapsel is van verhaallijnen en impressies die op een verwarrende manier in één verhaal zijn geperst.

Toch nog enkele positieve bemerkingen. Sarah Lind acteert overtuigend, ook al doet ze dat bijna de gehele film vanuit een horizontale positie. De interactie tussen haar en Henry maakt de film soms boeiend om naar te kijken. Een psychologisch steekspel tussen twee onbekenden met hun eigen geheim waarbij Henry aantoont dat hij een deskundige is op zowel geneeskundig gebied als op het gebied van marteltechnieken. En verder is de film doorspekt met prachtige natuurbeelden van dit winters landschap. Verwacht echter geen spanning of beklijvende actiescenes. De film is gewoonweg futloos en saai. En aan het einde van de film bleef alles nog steeds onduidelijk en wazig. Het feit dat ik de volgende dag al niet meer wist waar het over ging, is dan ook een logisch gevolg. Hopelijk schittert Jean Reno nogmaals in een oerdegelijk actiethriller komende jaren.

Peter Pluymers 

Words: copyright © 2019

Images: Screen Media

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Vivarium (Lorcan Finnegan, 2019)

Three years on from his frustrating debut feature, director Lorcan Finnegan has returned with a greatly superior work in the form of Vivarium, a film which defies easy genre categorisation; while the label of sci-fi thriller might be close enough, there's also a healthy splash of horror thrown in.  Regardless of what genre(s) it may belong to, Vivarium is a creepy, unnerving and absorbing Twilight Zone-esque tale.  Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley have certainly taken some chances with their film, and it's nice to see such risks being rewarded here as, despite some obvious ambition, their previous collaboration Without Name fell flat on its face.  The excellent Vivarium is helped no end by fine performances from Imogen Poots (recently seen in the lacklustre second remake of Black Christmas) and Zombieland's Jesse Eisenberg, two endlessly watchable performers who are reunited here following their work together on last year's The Art of Self-Defense.

Gardener Tom (Eisenberg) and teacher Gemma (Poots) are a young couple keen on purchasing a starter home.  While taking an impromptu look at what's on the market, the couple encounter bizarre estate agent Martin (Jonathan Aris, son of the great character actor Ben Aris), who persuades the couple to view a property on a new development called Yonder.  Martin shows the couple around house number 9 - which is situated on an eerily silent complex where every property is completely identical - then promptly vanishes before the tour is concluded.  Perturbed by this, Tom and Gemma get in their car to head home, only to find that every turning they make in the cookie-cutter streets takes them back to number 9.  After some arguing and numerous attempts at navigating a way out of the estate, the car runs out of fuel and the couple decide to spend the night in the show home.

The next day is filled with further efforts to leave, the failure of which prompts the desperate Tom to set fire to number 9; as they watch the home burn, Tom and Gemma fall asleep, and wake to find the house renewed and a brown package by the kerbside.  Gemma opens the box to find a baby boy and just one instruction: "raise the child and be released".  And raising the child is exactly what the couple proceed to do, although they are completely unenamoured with both the situation and The Boy (Senan Jennings), who grows to the size of a seven-year-old in just a few months and develops an uncanny knack for mimicking his guardians.  As apparently the only three people living in the whole of Yonder (regular food packages are delivered by an unseen hand), Tom and Gemma's mental health begins to suffer, and their stress levels aren't helped by their charge's unnerving traits, which include - but aren't limited to - screeching until the requisite amount of milk is poured on his cornflakes.  Using his work tools, Tom obsessively digs a deep hole in the garden in the hope of finding a way out, while The Boy continues to grow at an unnatural rate.

While Vivarium was no doubt conceived as a commentary on domesticity and parenthood, the timing of its release seems strangely apt, arriving as it does during a period when so much of the planet is in lockdown, with people confined to houses where, in effect, their worlds begin and end.  Obviously, Tom and Gemma's situation is a bit more extreme than the one most of us will face during the Coronavirus pandemic, but Vivarium's vision of a time when society doesn't exist beyond the confines of the family home is eerie for reasons which go way beyond the filmmakers' intentions; had it been released a year ago, this worryingly prescient film's reach would have been limited to its considerable atmosphere of dread.  However, judging the film solely on its merits and sidestepping the weltschmerz of the present time, this is a hugely engaging work, one that pulls off the impressive feat of locking us in with just three characters without ever feeling stagy.  As the film comes to a close, Finnegan - perhaps predictably - doesn't quite stick the landing, but Vivarium is nonetheless one of the most original movies you'll see this year.

Darren Arnold


Friday, 27 March 2020

The Remembered Film (Isabelle Tollenaere, 2018)

Back in 2015, Antwerp-based Isabelle Tollenaere's feature debut Battles examined what becomes of the traces of war: in peacetime, what happens to the various buildings and objects that were specifically constructed for conflict?  Whether chronicling the various methods of disposing of ordnance or highlighting how a prison camp can be repurposed, Battles nonetheless hinted at the unsettling idea that war - despite what John Lennon might have said - is never really over; rather, we just move to a state where we're between conflicts, and we learn to live with - and even make inventive use of - what's been left behind.

Tollenaere's 2018 short The Remembered Film, which also takes a novel look at war, could quite easily be viewed as a companion piece to Battles.  Opening in a lush green forest, it's some time before we hear anyone speak - on this basis, you'd be quite forgiven for thinking the film was going to be dialogue-free.  When someone eventually does break the silence, it's in the surprising form of a young man (quite possibly a teenager) in army fatigues, who speaks directly to the camera as he recounts some details of a conflict he was involved in.  This sets the pattern for the rest of the film as, one by one, a series of similarly-aged men relate their wartime experiences to the camera; quite poignantly, a few of them say nothing at all, but simply stare at the lens.

What is highly unusual about this setup, however, is that, judging by their uniforms, these soldiers seem to belong to several different armies: Wehrmacht, American and Soviet troops all appear to share these woods (although, curiously, all the men have English accents).  But what is far stranger is that the soldiers speak about wars that they couldn't possibly have participated in.  While these memories clearly don't belong to these men, they nonetheless do sound like authentic experiences.  From the stories, you do understand that war never really ends - at least not for the men behind these brief monologues who, in the main, remain haunted and disturbed by what they've seen.

Shot in a naturalistic, documentary style, The Remembered Film initially proves to be a jarring, slightly disorienting experience, and it takes a few minutes to tune in to what's actually going on.  Once you do, it's a satisfying, wistful piece, one which lingers long after its 18 minutes are up.  While none of the soldiers in The Remembered Film are as young as those featured in Monos, Tollenaere's film would work as an opening short for Alejandro Landes' nightmarish, hallucinatory tale; while the two films boast very different styles, they do share a special quality, one which taps into the poignancy of the countless young people who have been sent off to war.

Darren Arnold

Images: Flanders Image


Wednesday, 11 March 2020

[CANCELLED] BFI Flare 2020 (18/3/20–29/3/20)

UPDATE (16/3/20): 
This event has now been cancelled.  Click here for more info.

The 34th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival unveiled its full programme tonight [18/2/20] at BFI Southbank. One of the world’s most significant and long-standing LGBTIQ+ film events, BFI Flare will present over 50 features, 85 shorts and a wide range of special events, guest appearances, family-friendly and free events, club nights and more.

The Festival will open with the World Premiere of Matt Fifer and Kieran Mulcare’s remarkable feature debut Cicada, about a young man forced to face past traumas when he embarks on a new relationship. The Closing Night Gala is the UK Premiere of acclaimed theatre director Jessica Swale’s Summerland, a moving Second World War drama about a woman rediscovering her ability to love, starring Gemma Arterton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Bumping into an ex the day she moves into a new apartment makes Anne reflect on her past in Valerie Bisscheroux’s Anne+ (Episodes 1-6), a smart and sexy web series. Taking refuge in an idyllic lake house following her recent break-up, Karen meets the mysterious Lana in Clementine (Dir. Lara Jean Gallagher), a moody and atmospheric debut. This year the Interbank LGBT Forum Members will support debut director Monica Zanetti’s Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), a delightful rom-com where Ellie’s dead aunt has the perfect dating advice for her. But will she listen to it? A kiss between two childhood friends has dramatic repercussions in Matthias & Maxime, Xavier Dolan’s eighth film.

Don your best Ver-sayce and leave your inhibitions at the door for a night you will never forget. Join award-winning Baby Lame as your host for a trash-tastic interactive screening, Showgirls Shade-Along (Fri 20th March), bringing Paul Verhoeven’s outrageously camp classic to life as you’ve never experienced it before. This special event will screen alongside Jeffrey McHale’s fascinating Showgirls documentary, You Don't Nomi (Fri 20th March, Sun 22nd March) which puts one of cinemas most baffling creations under the microscope.

From 18th – 29th March at BFI Southbank, the Festival will showcase the best of the latest global LGBTIQ+ features and short films. BFI Flare is divided into three thematic strands: Hearts, Bodies and Minds.

Source: BFI


Wednesday, 26 February 2020

The Lost Prince (Michel Hazanavicius, 2020)

OSS 117 director Michel Hazanavicius won an Oscar in 2012 for The Artist, his charming (if slight) silent movie which netted four other Academy Awards, including one for OSS star Jean Dujardin.  Hazanavicius faltered with his next film, a poorly-received remake of Fred Zinneman's The Search, but bounced back in 2017 with the excellent Jean-Luc Godard biopic Redoubtable.  Happily, his latest film provides further proof that The Search was little more than a blip.  As with the majority of his work, The Lost Prince stars Hazanavicius' wife Bérénice Bejo, who is here joined by Omar Sy, an actor who in recent years has landed a string of roles in entries in long-running Hollywood franchises such as Jurassic Park, X-Men and Transformers.  There's also a sizeable part for Belgian star François Damiens, who brings his fine sense of comic timing to what can perhaps be best described as a fairy tale with a rather unique twist.

Djibi (Sy) is a single dad who is completely devoted to his young daughter Sofia (Sarah Gaye).  Every night, Djibi settles down with Sofia and reads her a bedtime story, and it is during these tales that the father enters a Day-Glo fantasy world in which his words really do come to life.  In this realm, Djibi is a prince, one who always comes to Sofia's rescue when the wicked Pritprout (Damiens) has executed some dastardly plan or other.  But although Djibi's prince always saves the day, it does seem that he is aware this is just a role: once a story's finished, the main characters are revealed to be played by actors, and we witness the crew and all the backstage efforts that go into mounting these elaborate scenarios.  All of this is in sharp contrast to the modest reality occupied by Sofia and Djibi, who live in a small but cosy flat where they soon gain a new neighbour in the form of the chatty, likeable Clotilde (Bejo), who will soon appear in both worlds.  

While Djibi seems quite happy with the status quo, he fails to catch on to the fact that Sofia is growing up fast, and once she gets to high school she discovers other things in her life, meaning she would like her evenings to consist of a bit more than Djibi's stories.  Among these other interests is Max (Néotis Ronzon), a friendly classmate who is one of the first to befriend the 12-year-old at her new school.  As Djibi continues to make forays into the fantasy world, he soon discovers that he's no longer the star of the show, having been usurped by a much younger prince.  Joining the dots between the events of the two worlds isn't exactly difficult, and Djibi - who's now been relegated to little more than a bit player - plots to restore things to how they were.  In the fictional universe, Djibi is aided in his quest by an unlikely ally in the shape of former nemesis Pritprout, while in the real world it is down to Clotilde to provide some much-needed perspective.

The Lost Prince proves to be a more satisfying film than the somewhat overrated The Artist, and it's a warm if rather predictable tale which features typically winning performances from Sy, Bejo and Damiens.  The scenes set in the fantasy world look incredible, with Hazanavicius' regular cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman turning in some sterling work here.  The film features a nice nod to Schiffman's mother Suzanne in the form of a glimpse of a bus stop which bears her name; Schiffman Sr. worked closely with Truffaut, Godard and Rivette, among other greats, and it's often overlooked that she was the co-director (with Rivette) of the 13-hour Out 1The Lost Prince was certainly not a cheap film to make, so it's something of a pity that it appears to be set for middling box-office returns; it's a well-crafted and entertaining slice of family entertainment, one which shows a bit more ambition than most films of its ilk.  While his two OSS 117 films remain this director's best work (a third instalment has just finished filming - without Hazanavicius - and is set for release next year), The Lost Prince is certainly a worthy addition to his CV.

Darren Arnold

Images: Pathé

Monday, 3 February 2020

Atlantics (Mati Diop, 2019)

Last year, Atlantics' director Mati Diop made history as the first black female director to compete for Cannes' Palme d'Or; her debut feature went on to win the the festival's Grand Prix, only being pipped to the top prize by Bong Joon-ho's much-lauded Parasite.  Diop actually made her first short film way back in 2004, but in the years between that effort and last year's Cannes triumph she had become better known for her work in front of the camera, starring in the likes of Simon Killer and Claire Denis' excellent 35 Shots of Rum.  2019 came to a close with Atlantics ending up on both Netflix and the shortlist for the Oscars, and en route to these events it had also picked up the Sutherland Award for First Feature at the London Film Festival.  Not a bad year's work.

While Atlantics didn't make the final cut for the Oscars when the shortlist was chopped in half last month, its presence on Netflix will ensure the film receives way more exposure than it would have had in the times before streaming services.  The days of such a film being relegated to a limited release on the art-house circuit - before eventually turning up on a boutique home video label - seem to be fading; at the very least, such a fate is no longer a certainty.  While it will get a Blu-ray release - via the prestigious Criterion Collection, no less - later on this year, the lengthy wait which would once have been in place between the film's theatrical release and its appearance on disc is seamlessly bridged by the streaming giant.  The Netflix vs. cinema row has been raging for some time but, in the case of Atlantics, streaming's role is hard to argue against; a film which, had it appeared 10 or 15 years ago, would have been treated as a niche title can now share a home screen with the likes of Uncut Gems, Marriage Story and The Irishman.

Anyway, on to the film: Ada (Mame Bineta Sane),a young woman living in Dakar, is due to marry the wealthy Omar (Babacar Sylla).  Unfortunately, Ada's heart belongs to construction worker Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), who has been working on a huge, futuristic tower in the city.  Souleiman and his fellow builders are continually stiffed for wages by the developer (Diankou Sembene), which leads to them looking elsewhere for paying work, and they decide to attempt the perilous journey across the sea to Spain.  It's perhaps not much of  a spoiler to say that Souleiman and the others sadly don't make it to Europe; meanwhile, back in Dakar, Ada marries Omar, but their wedding night doesn't happen due to a mysterious fire occurring in the bridal suite.  To say what happens next would be to spoil, but suffice it to say that the film takes a sharp left turn, one for the better; it's really only once you reach the halfway stage that the film really starts to crackle and fizz, as Diop adds an extra layer to proceedings.

Much has been made of Atlantics' switch from realism to something altogether different, and it's a trick which has certainly been handled very deftly by Diop.  The film is wonderfully atmospheric, combining some beguiling cinematography with a driving, unnerving score.  Whether in the bustling streets of Dakar or by the side of the sea which plays a key part in the story, Diop shows a fine eye for light and colour.  It's a haunting, ambitious work, yet not without its flaws: there's an unevenness to proceedings which proves slightly frustrating, and the film really does take some time to get going.  But, all said, Atlantics is a fine debut feature, one which greatly impresses as it continually pushes into new territory - even if such moves don't always come off; Diop doesn't play it safe here, and there's much to like about that approach.  We'll be hearing from her for some time yet.

Darren Arnold


Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont, 2019)

Following the second series of Li'l Quinquin, Bruno Dumont immediately set about making another sequel with Jeanne, or Joan of Arc, which continues his retelling of the Maid of Orléans' story which began with 2017's demented musical Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (which, incidentally, was the very first film to be reviewed in this incarnation of Holland Focus).  As with its predecessor, Jeanne is an adaptation of Charles Péguy's 1897 play Jeanne d'Arc, but this time around Dumont mixes it up a bit and opts for much gentler musical accompaniment in the form of the variété française of 70s pop star Christophe (who cameos here), whose distinctive falsetto replaces the much harsher sounds of Jeannette composer Igorrr.  There's another key personnel change in the form of cinematographer David Chambille, who comes in for Dumont's longtime DP Guillaume Deffontaines.  Chambille, who lensed last year's smash hit Invisibles, steps into Deffontaines' shoes without missing a beat, and his work here on the interiors (of which there were none in Jeannette) proves to be particularly impressive.

But perhaps the biggest surprise in Jeanne - which earned a Special Mention from the jury at Cannes - comes in the casting of its leading actress.  While you may have been expecting to see Jeanne Voisin continue in the role she played in the second half of the earlier film, it's Lise Leplat Prudhomme - the younger Joan in the previous instalment - who returns from Jeannette to play a much older version of the character in Jeanne.  Apparently Voisin was lined up to play the part but eventually bowed out, leaving Dumont to turn to his other Joan from Jeannette.  As a result, watching the two works as a double bill (or simply one very long film) will no doubt be rather jarring in terms of continuity - Joan will apparently get older then younger, perhaps leading viewers to think that Jeanne Voisin's scenes are some sort of flash-forward.  But any such issues shouldn't detract from the work of Prudhomme, who gives another terrific performance here, despite playing a character who, by the end of the film, is nearly twice the actress' age.  Jeanne is a long, hefty and frequently taxing film, and this talented ten-year-old carries it quite brilliantly.

Jeanne begins with things going very well for the title character as the Hundred Years' War between France and England rages on; with her famous victory at the Battle of Orléans in the bag, Joan is delighted to see the Dauphin crowned king of France.  However, after Charles VII (Fabrice Luchini) is installed as monarch (thanks in no small part to Joan's help), he takes a position very different to that of Joan regarding how events should proceed: Charles favours diplomacy, while La Pucelle wishes to continue fighting.  As Joan's military luck eventually runs out, she's captured then delivered to the English, for whom she's proved to be quite the fly in the ointment.  The rest - indeed, the bulk - of the film is dedicated to the exhaustive, and exhausting, ecclesiastical interrogation which this young woman is subjected to in Rouen (actually Amiens) Cathedral.  Needless to say, King Charles is nowhere to be seen as Joan is tried and sentenced.  Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll be painfully aware of the horrible, fiery fate which awaits the protagonist, and in Jeanne - as in every other screen version of this story - her inevitable untimely death hangs over the entire duration as events stick to their terrible course.

Movies about Joan of Arc are nearly as old as cinema itself and, of the many films of Joan's story, the one Dumont's take has most in common with is Jacques Rivette's Joan the Maid - although the parallels are only fully obvious now Dumont has made this second film.  Rivette's version likewise cast an actress whose age (27) was some way off that of the real Joan, and was also released as two separate films (carrying the sub-titles The Battles and The Prisons), each of which documented a different stage of Joan's short life.  Equally perversely, both projects disregard significant events: Jeanne neglects to show the capture of Joan by the Burgundians, while Joan the Maid - which totals a running time of well over five hours in its unexpurgated version - omits her entire trial, slapping up a solitary title card to account for months of what Jeanne depicts.  And Dumont, just like Rivette before him and no doubt for similar (i.e. budgetary) reasons, populates his Joan of Arc films with just a few characters at any given time; those coming to any of these films expecting to see hundreds of extras battling it out, Lord of the Rings-style, at Orlèans or Compiègne will be sorely disappointed, and may be better served by Luc Besson's unfairly maligned The Messenger.

While such a constraint could easily have seen all four of the Rivette/Dumont films succumb to an unwelcome staginess (not that Rivette was averse to a bit of theatricality in many of his other films), in Dumont's case this has been resolved via some huge, wide shots of both the windswept Opal Coast and the interior of Amiens Cathedral; both directors' films on Joan - which share a distributor in Les Films du Losange - certainly feel grand (Rivette also used the landscape to let his film open up and breathe).  In Jeanne it's actually the cathedral scenes which are the more effective, as the exteriors feature a number of abandoned WW2 blockhouses - one of which serves as Joan's prison - which are far too recognisably 20th century to really aid suspension of disbelief.  While these buildings make for an atmospheric backdrop to some of the scenes in the quite contemporary Li'l Quinquin, their presence in Jeanne is most distracting - even if Dumont claims to be aiming for a "timeless" accuracy, as opposed to a historical one.  Of course, if you're not familiar with the area where Jeanne was filmed, then this may not present too much of a problem.

In many ways, the main purpose of Jeanne appears to be to replicate the gruelling nature of Joan's trial - that is to say, to make the audience feel as drained, weary and bewildered as our young heroine as she endures endless rounds of arcane questions from the parade of clerics which lines the cathedral's benches.  The clergy's attempts may be futile vis-à-vis wearing down the accused, but they prove to be quite effective when it comes to getting the viewer to crack: the screening I attended saw numerous walkouts - apparently a not uncommon occurrence during Jeanne's theatrical release (and festival showings).  It's certainly an endurance test, and if the dry theological debates don't get you, chances are the long static takes will.  In employing such a daring, unusual film grammar, Dumont has created what is by far his most challenging work; not only is the pacing very slow and deliberate, but at 138 minutes this is the second longest of the director's films (1999's Humanity - which positively flies by in comparison - exceeds it by around ten minutes).  Jeannette may have been niche, but its sequel will appeal to far, far fewer.  Which is not to say that the film isn't worthwhile; here, Bruno Dumont presents a real cinema experience in which those with sufficient patience (say, of a saint?) will be rewarded - although the austere Jeanne has no intention of giving up its mysteries without a fight.  You have been warned.

Darren Arnold

Images: Les Films du Losange

Wednesday, 1 January 2020