Tuesday 22 December 2020

Merry Christmas!

šŸŽ„šŸŽ„šŸŽ„ Merry Christmas! See you all in 2021!

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Rutger & The Wreck: A Chat with Ken Rowles

The late Dutch actor Rutger Hauer left behind a highly impressive CV, one which includes the likes of 80s classics Blade Runner and The Hitcher, along with four Dutch-language films directed by Paul Verhoeven: Katie TippelTurkish DelightSpetters and Soldier of Orange.  In his later years, Hauer was more often than not seen in supporting roles, and during this century he appeared in several big-budget productions including Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins; towards the end of his life, he had a part in Jacques Audiard's outstanding The Sisters Brothers.  Back in the late 1980s, Hauer was due to star in a film called Torment, yet there's virtually nothing in the way of information regarding this title, despite it occurring during the height of the actor's popularity.  Although there are a few scant production details listed on the British Film Institute's website, Torment has always presented something of a mystery, so I'm pleased to have finally learned a bit more about it, courtesy of the man who was in place to direct the film.

Back in October, I spent a very pleasant couple of hours or so with filmmaker Ken Rowles, who has numerous credits dating back more than fifty years.  I actually met with Ken to ask him about his work on Jean-Luc Godard's Sympathy for the Devil, but our conversation also covered a number of Ken's other projects, both realised and unrealised, with Torment coming under the latter category.  In Ken's many years in the film industry, he's encountered and/or worked with the likes of Stanley Baker, Tony Curtis, Dick Emery, Simon Ward, Ken Russell, Peter Sykes, and Ian McShane, and his film with Rutger Hauer sounds like an intriguing project, one which will sadly never come to fruition.  Torment was to be written and produced by Christian Bel, who took on the same duties for the Anthony Quinn–Lauren Bacall love story A Star for Two, a project that was made after Torment failed to get off the ground.  A Star for Two is a remarkably difficult title to track down, although Bel has uploaded a promo reel for the film to YouTube; Bel, like yours truly, has a solitary feature film to his name on the IMDb, and it seems that he left the film industry following the 1991 release of A Star for Two, which was directed by Canadian Jimmy Kaufman.

Anyway, Ken informed me that Torment was to be a film centring on the Algerian War, or, more accurately, the aftermath of the conflict, as the lead character struggled with his memories of the war as he tried to live out his life in Paris, and this mental anguish is presumably what the film's title referred to.  As the director, Ken spent a lot of time in Paris as the film entered its pre-production phase, and he also flew out to Tunisia to look at potential locations.  But, despite all the groundworkthe film never made it into production; while Torment is by no means unusual in this regard, it does sound like a film that had real potential, and it would have been interesting to see Hauer at work in such a project.  The efforts Ken described served as a reminder of the huge amount of work that goes into each of the many films that never get made, and so often it's merely a simple matter of luck that determines if a film goes ahead or falls by the wayside.

I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Ken, and much more of our conversation (particularly the material regarding Jean-Luc Godard) should eventually surface as part of a writing project I'm currently working on.  Ken still makes films, and in recent years he has directed a documentary about the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery, an explosives-laden vessel that sits just 30 miles from London.  The Wreck is narrated by Ian McShane, and I've been lucky enough to see a workprint of the film; it provides a fascinating look at a remarkable situation: despite this ship and its deadly cargo remaining on a seabed close to densely populated land, the authorities apparently have little interest in tending to the issue.  You can view the film's promo reel below.

Darren Arnold

Images: DWDD [CC BY 3.0] / UniFrance

Monday 23 November 2020

Endless (Scott Speer, 2020)

The Movie Partnership are releasing Endless, a high school love story with a sinister twist, to digital download platforms from today.  This follows an October theatrical release exclusively in Showcase Cinemas.

From the producer who brought you Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's box office smash hit A Star Is BornEndless follows madly in love high school graduates Riley (Alexandra Shipp) and Chris (Nicholas Hamilton).  When the pair are separated by a tragic car accident, Riley blames herself for her boyfriend's death while Chris is stranded in limbo.  Miraculously, the two find a way to connect. 

In a love story that transcends life and death, both Riley and Chris are forced to learn the hardest lesson of all - letting go.  Endless also stars X-Men legend Famke Janssen and DeRon Horton, who stars in the groundbreaking Dear White People and Netflix's Burning Sands.

Endless will be available to watch on all major digital download platforms from today.  Stay in the loop with the film here on Instagram.

Source/images: Strike Media

Thursday 5 November 2020

Druk (Thomas Vinterberg, 2020)

Director Thomas Vinterberg's new film Druk (English: Another Round) is a production that received support from the Netherlands Film Fund, and it played at the London Film Festival just last month.  Vinterberg's previous film, Kursk, was a solid if unspectacular retelling of the tragic fate of the eponymous Russian vessel, but Druk sees the director on altogether more familiar ground, and this efffort feels much more organic than his serviceable submarine movie.  For this latest film, Vinterberg reunites with his Jagten star, the excellent and reliable Mads Mikkelsen, and the results are almost as impressive as the pair's previous joint venture.  Between these two collaborations, Vinterberg made a brace of English-language films (Kursk and Far from the Madding Crowd) with Belgian star Matthias Schoenaerts, an actor whose style is somewhat similar to Mikkelsen's; it is easy to see why the director has favoured these two performers in recent times. 

Mikkelsen's Martin is a high school teacher going through the motions in work and life, and both his family and pupils seem bored of a man who seems to have largely lost interest in the world.  Things change when Martin and three of his colleagues agree to test out the theory of Norwegian psychiatrist Finn SkĆ„rderud, who hypothesised that humans have a blood alcohol deficit of 0.05% and should look to redress this in order to function properly.  Naturally, putting this theory into practice takes a bit of trial and error, and the four participants take to keeping bottles and breathalysers stashed away in the workplace as they look to maintain the level prescribed by SkĆ„rderud.  After a few adjustments, Martin gets to a point that allows him to reconnect with both his wife and his students; life has certainly picked up for Martin and his friends, but how long before the constant drip-feeding of alcohol escalates into something more serious?

While Thomas Vinterberg will most likely always remain in the long shadow cast by his breakthrough feature Festen—a film that is now 25 years old—he more often than not makes interesting, accessible films, and Druk is definitely one of his better efforts.  The film is helped no end by a well-judged lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen and, good as his co-stars are, there's a sneaking suspicion that Druk would be greatly diminished without Mikkelsen's presence; his Martin is by no mean a dislikeable man, but is rather someone who's lost his way a little, and the actor channels an affable world-weariness that is always relatable.  Not unlike Mikkelsen's character in Jagten, Martin is basically a decent guy who finds himself in a hole he needs to dig his way out of, and while the situation in Druk isn't nearly as grave as that in Jagten, Martin still has his work cut out if he's to save his relationship with his wife and sons.

Druk contains some very convincing scenes of drunkenness and, just like recent documentary Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (which could quite easily partner Druk in a boozy double bill), it convincingly conveys the seductive, appealing nature of drinking, although Druk pans out as a cautionary tale as opposed to Bloody Nose's observational, non-judgmental take on barflies at play.  Druk can be fairly predictable at times, but it's an authentic piece of cinema, one that again confirms how reliable Thomas Vinterberg has become—although he would no doubt be aghast to be labelled as such.  It seems quite a coincidence that two of Vinteberg's very best films have starred Mads Mikkelsen, and with any luck the pair will collaborate again in the near future; of course, if it turns out that Mads is busy (as he may well be), perhaps his very able stand-in Matthias Schoenaerts will be available?

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Thursday 15 October 2020

Friendship's Death (Peter Wollen, 1987)

Film theorists Peter Wollen and Laura Mulvey were married for 25 years and made a number of films together, including Amy! and Riddles of the Sphinx.  As a filmmaker, Wollen—who died late last year—branched out on his own to make Friendship's Death, which was to be his only solo feature film.  While Wollen will always be best remembered for his seminal 1969 book Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, his 1987 rarity Friendship's Death is a film that fully deserves its new 4K remaster, which plays as part of the Treasures strand at the London Film Festival from Saturday until Tuesday.  If you happen to miss its festival screenings, a much-needed Blu-ray of this new version will be available at some point over the next year; the disc was due to be released this year, but scheduling issues have pushed it back, with the ETA now being June 2021.

Friendship's Death is effectively a two-hander between Bill Patterson's war correspondent and Tilda Swinton's alien.  Friendship, the extra-terrestrial, is on her way to Massachusetts Institute of Technology when she drifts off course and finds herself in Jordan, which happens to be in the middle of the Black September conflict of 1970.  There, she's steered away from danger by Patterson's Sullivan, and the two go on to enjoy a number of conversations that both sides appear to find equally fascinating.  Sullivan isn't sure whether to believe Friendship's story—she looks and sounds completely human, and he voices suspicions that she might be an agent—but he's certainly interested in finding out more about her.  As the Palestinians and Jordanians go at it outside, Friendship and Sullivan hole up in a PLO-controlled hotel; over a bottle or three of whisky, the pair discuss a range of topics including technology, humanity, football, and of course the conflict that rages around them.  

Although it was made 33 years ago, much of Friendship's Death's dialogue feels remarkably fresh and relevant, with both the man–machine interface and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict remaining two ongoing issues that aren't going away anytime soon.  The point, or at least one of several, appears to be that Friendship is much more sensitive than many humans, and this is something we've witnessed in many a sci-fi tale, with Steven Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence featuring an especially poignant example.  Does Friendship have as soul, or just a facsimile of one?  It doesn't really seem to matter to Sullivan, who enjoys Friendship's company regardless of what may or may not lie beneath her warm, inquisitive exterior.

Perhaps the only gripe with Friendship's Death is that is often feels a bit too much like a filmed play, with two actors and as many sets forming the bulk of the snappy running time.  But that isn't too much of a problem when you have characters and dialogue as engaging as this.  The two leads are both very good here; Swinton, currently starring in Pedro AlmodĆ³var's The Human Voice (which also plays at this year's LFF), gives an appealing performance in a role that's very different from the sort we're now used to seeing her play, while Patterson, just a few years on from his great turn in Bill Forsyth's chronically underrated Comfort and Joy, imbues the world-weary Sullivan with a compassion that belies his cynical, battle-hardened demeanour.  Friendship's Death is something of a minor gem, and its new lease of life is extremely welcome.

Darren Arnold

Image: BFI

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Rose: A Love Story (Jennifer Sheridan, 2020)

This terrific debut feature from director Jennifer Sheridan is one of just three films in the Cult strand at this year's London Film Festival.  The Cult section of the LFF brochure is typically where I start when I'm circling what to watch at the festival, and although I would have liked to have seen a few more titles in there this year, this paring down is in line with the festival having been streamlined in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  On the upside, it means I should manage to see everything Cult has to offer this year, as scheduling conflicts almost always get in the way of me completing a full set when it comes to catching up with everything in this particular strand.  With only a few slots to play with, the LFF programmers had to get it exactly right this year, and Rose: A Love Story, which had its world premiere this evening, is an excellent choice to fly the flag for the Cult strand in these troubled times.  The film screens at the festival from today until Friday.

Rose, which features facemasks, surgical gloves, and a couple spending most of their time indoors, feels very appropriate for the world we're currently living in.  Rose (Sophie Rundle) and Sam (Matt Stokoe, also the film's writer) live in an isolated house in the woods, where they have minimal contact with the outside world.  Their home has no electricity, but is powered by a petrol generator; Sam has an agreement that enables fuel to be delivered to him, but a rupture in this supply forces him to venture further afield in order to keep the generator topped up.  Sam's trip to the filling station has a definite air of risk to it, much like the feelings many of us had (and may still have) when venturing out for supplies during lockdown.  While Sam succeeds in getting the fuel, there's an altercation connected to the original non-delivery of the petrol, one that seriously spooks Rose when she learns of the incident and its potential to threaten her and Sam's off-the-grid existence.

While Sam is at the garage, he collects a parcel containing leeches he has ordered, and we witness him, more than once, administering the bloodsucking creatures to his own body.  After a while a picture emerges: Rose has a taste for blood, and therefore must be kept away from it at all costs, and the jars of well-fed leeches act as a source of sustenance, should the urges become too strong; this vampiric tendency also explains why Rose doesn't really venture outside of the poorly-lit house.  While the petrol station episode is yet to have repercussions, Sam and Rose's idyll is nevertheless shattered when young runaway Amber (Olive Gray) gets caught in one of the many gin traps surrounding the well-guarded property.  Amber's leg is broken by the trap, and Sam helps her but is naturally at great pains to stop the blood making too much of a mess.  With Rose banished upstairs, Sam cauterises the wound and resets the leg, then reluctantly agrees to let the injured girl stay the night.

While vampire tales are certainly nothing new, Rose manages to come up with an interesting take on the genre in that it is, above all else, a human story, one in which Sam and Rose's relationship is most definitely at the forefront, with the horror elements used both sparingly and effectively.  At times ,the film put me in mind of Leave No Trace and Let the Right One In (and its remake Let Me In), but somehow the film never once feels derivative.  The nicely-photographed wintry locale really adds to the sense of isolation, and, as is typical for films in which characters are doing their best to stay unnoticed, we take in the sight of the protagonists going about their strict daily routine, all the while acutely aware that their peace simply can't last—which provokes mixed feelings: we're rooting for Rose and Sam, but also wish for an agent of change to come along and shake things up.  As its subtitle informs us, Rose is very much a love story, one that proves both fresh and appealing, and it is a far cry from the tired, formulaic horror that typically rears its head at this time of year.

Darren Arnold

Images: Strike Media

Sunday 11 October 2020

The Cheaters (Paulette McDonagh, 1930)

Sydney's pioneering McDonagh sisters made several self-funded films, including Those Who Love and The Far Paradise.  Their third silent festure, The Cheaters, was filmed in 1929 and released the following year, when the McDonaghs filmed some additional scenes in an effort to convert the film into a partial talkie using an improvised sound recoding device; sadly, the makeshift system, however ingenious, didn't achieve the desired results, and the film worked better as a silent feature—although it still underperformed on its limited domestic release, with a deluge of American sound films brushing it aside.  The film has now been lovingly restored by Australia's National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), with this new print of the film (in its original silent version) enjoying some outings at festivals including Melbourne and Sydney; it screens at the London Film Festival from today until Wednesday.

The Cheaters finds Paulette McDonagh in the role of writer-director, while Phyllis McDonagh serves as the film's art director.  Isabella McDonagh, under her stage name Marie Lorraine, stars as Paula Marsh, whose father is a career criminal bent on taking revenge on the man who once shopped him for embezzling from his employer.  Paula is part of her father's operation and is involved in scams such as the theft of an expensive necklace, which is depicted in an early, entertaining sequence.  Business is good for the Marsh family, but the situation grows more complicated when Paula falls in love with the son of the man her father's aiming to take down.  While Paula would very much like to leave her life of crime behind and marry the man of her dreams, her father wants her to take part in one last heist—and we all know how those tend to work out.  What could possibly go wrong?

Although The Cheaters starts out strongly—the aforementioned scene in which the Marsh gang swindle a jeweller out of a pricey item really is great stuff—it soon runs out of steam as Paula's love life takes precedence over her criminal activities, and what promised to be a fun caper film soon gets bogged down by an unappealing love story.  While silent movies were always at an obvious disadvantage and often had to concentrate on quickly driving the plot forward, usually at the expense of nuanced storytelling, The Cheaters finds itself in the strange position where it slows down the pace, but then proceeds to do very little with the time and space it has carved out; the result stretches the already-thin topic of Paula's romance to breaking point.  It's a pity the film judders to a halt like this, as it really does come roaring out of the traps, and the setup is extremely promising.  Given the time in which the film was made, there was only going to be one outcome for the villain of the piece (Paula's father), which makes for a conclusion that may well prove unsatisfying for present-day audiences.  On a more positive note, the production values are excellent, as is the use of locations.

To criticise The Cheaters for its long, dull stretch may be to miss the point of this release, which is to show off a sparkling new print of a film that, like Chess of the Wind, could very easily have been lost to the sands of time.  It is estimated that up to 90% of silent films are gone, so the survival of The Cheaters is something to be celebrated.  Since its inception five years ago, the NFSA's restoration program has seen more than 20 Australian classics—ranging from silent movies to films from the early 1990s—preserved and restored before being re-released in cinemas.  The Cheaters may not be the best example of silent cinema, but we should all be extremely grateful for the chance to see it. 

Darren Arnold

Image: image.net

Saturday 10 October 2020

Chess of the Wind (Mohammad Reza Aslani, 1976)

The story behind the magnificent 4K restoration of The Chess Game of the Wind is arguably more interesting than the film itself: Mohammad Reza Aslani's debut feature endured a disastrous premiere at the 1976 edition of the Tehran International Film Festival, and the film was subsequently yanked from both the festival and public view.  To add insult to injury, the film was then banned in the wake of the Iranian Revolution of 1978—not that it needed any government assistance when it came so slipping into obscurity. For the next four decades, the film was largely considered to be lost, save for a very distressed VHS copy that changed hands between those sufficiently determined to dig out this holy grail of Iranian cinema.  The possibilliy of a "proper" version of this lost film ever turning up seemed less than remote, but in 2015 director Aslani was visiting a a flea market when he stumbled across the original negatives, which he duly purchased.  Aslani then sent the reels to France, where they were restored thanks to funds from the George Lucas Family Foundation.   

The Chess Game of the Wind, variously known as Chess of the Wind (the title it plays under at the London Film Festival, where it screens from today until Tuesday), A Game of Chess Lost to the Wind and Shatranj-e baad (Farsi), centres on a wealthy, Qajar dynasty-era family squabbling over a large inheritance, and as such plays along the lines of Rian Johnson's recent smash Knives Out, which screened at last year's LFF.  Although The Chess Game of the Wind contains far less humour than Johnson's enjoyable (if hugely overrated) film, there are some striking similarities between the two movies, including the significant role played by servants as the story twists its way to its climax, not to mention the lengths those circling the honey pot will go to in order to secure what they see as being rightfully theirs.  The Chess Game of the Wind features a dank, creepy basement littered with barrels of acid, so it's not too surprising to find that not all of these characters make it to the end—what was it Chekhov said about a gun?

One way in which The Chess Game of the Wind most definitely doesn't resemble Knives Out is in its accessibility; Aslani's film proves a difficult one to get a grip on, but it may well be that things become slightly clearer on subsequent viewings.  While obviously set many decades before the time in which it was made, the film was presumably a commentary on a particular section of 1970s Iranian society, one whose lives would be changed considerably once the Shah was overthrown.  Thus, the film serves as both a snapshot of pre-revolution Iran and a reminder of a time in which such a project could be made in that country; just a couple of years later, the film's lack of Islamic content cemented its place in the cinematic wilderness.

The Chess Game of the Wind, one of only two features directed by Aslani (the other being 2008's The Green Fire), stands one of the the best recent examples of a film being pulled back from the brink of extinction, and to go from that perilous situation to this incredible print is little short of miraculous.  Sometimes, restored versions of movies fail to produce a significant improvement, but the difference between the old and new prints of this film—and I've seen the creaky VHS copy that was once the only option—really is like night and day.  The Chess Game of the Wind film deserves to be seen simply on the basis of its remarkable, unlikely rescue, and while there is certainly a most handsome movie in there, the content will most likely remain overshadowed by the sheer improbability of its survival.

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Friday 9 October 2020

Relic (Natalie Erika James, 2020)


This debut feature from Natalie Erika James has been hyped as one of the year's better horror films but, despite laying some excellent groundwork, it ultimately takes the audience down a well-trodden path that proves to be much less fun than its setup promised.  Despite a trio of decent performances and some fine production values, this Australian feature just doesn't have enough about it to carry it over the line.  Relic plays as one of three films in the Cult strand at this year's London Film Festival, which has been streamlined in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; the film screens at the LFF from today until Monday. Viewers in Australia can watch the film via Stan, and it is also available on other platforms, including Prime Video and iTunes.

When the elderly Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing from her remote home, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) arrive to join the search for the vulnerable old woman.  Kay and Sam find Edna's house locked from the inside, and although they manage to find a way into the building, there are no clues as to what has happened to its owner.  The house is littered with Post-it notes containing basic reminders for Edna, and there's a strange black mould growing on the walls.  The pair settle into their temporary home, then join the hunt for the missing relative.  After a lengthy, fruitless search through the nearby woods, hope starts to fade, but Edna suddenly reappears in her house, seemingly unaware of her absence and none too appreciative of the exasperated Kay's numerous questions.   

Edna is examined by a doctor who finds no major problems, although there is a strange bruise on her chest.  Kay is still far from happy with the situation and makes an appointment to look round a Melbourne nursing home; Sam, who disagrees with this plan, tells Edna about this and offers to move in with her gran in order to avoid the need for the care home.  All is far from well in the house: Kay notices a strange, indistinct organism under Edna's bed; Sam discovers a secret passageway to another section of the building; and Edna tries to eat, then bury, a family photo album as she feels these measures are safer than leaving it inside the house.  Edna's behaviour grows yet more erratic, and she violently retrieves a ring she'd previously gifted to Sam, claiming her granddaughter had stolen it from her.  Jamie, a neighbour with Down Syndrome, refuses to enter the house when Sam invites him in, and it is later revealed that on his last visit a game of hide-and-seek went horribly wrong when Edna locked the young man in a cupboard and proceeded to forget he was in there.      

Relic does well to create an unsettling atmosphere, but unfortunately can't sustain it for anything like the duration of its running time.  The scenes in which Sam wanders through endless, looping hallways recall similar stretches in Mark Z. Danielewski's excellent novel House of Leaves, but unfortunately Relic is missing the spark that made that book so memorably chilling.  Of the three main performers, Heathcote is the most impressive, and she makes Sam a sympathetic, believable young woman, one who has her own problems long before she arrives at her grandmother's home;  Mortimer and Nevin are similarly committed, and the performances really can't be faulted.  While Relic has something interesting to say about the futility of watching elderly loved ones go into mental and physical decline, it's ultimately an understuffed, predictable and unsatisfying film, albeit one that demonstrates a certain talent on the part of James; it would be interesting to see what she might come up with if armed with a much stronger script. 

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Shirley (Josephine Decker, 2020)


Thou Wast Mild and Lovely was one of two films (the other being Butter on the Latch) by Josephine Decker that screened at the 2014 London Film Festival, and it proved to be an an absorbing if rather oblique effort.  Decker's Shirley, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell about The Legend of Hell House author Shirley Jackson, is a much more direct work, and it screens at this year's LFF from Friday until Monday.  Shirley is not your usual biopic, but rather has more in common with the likes of The Damned United, which was also based on a novel in which the author liberally interpreted a specific period in its subject's life.  As with The Damned United, which focused on football manager Brian Clough's brief, ill-fated spell in charge of Leeds United, Shirley isn't scared to get among the demons that scratch away inside the genius it depicts.

Elisabeth Moss, one of the finest high-profile actors currently working, is predictably great as Jackson, a woman who struggled with several debilitating conditions as she strove to realise her writing projects.  Michael Stuhlbarg, that fine actor from the Coens' A Serious Man, plays Jackson's husband, the critic and academic Stanley Hyman.  Hyman is far from the ideal spouse, and this crashing bore plays a very strange game with his wife, appearing to care while constantly looking to undermine Shirley and her work  It must be said that the razor-sharp Shirley is no stranger herself to playing games, and there are many occasions when she gives back at least as good as she gets.  When a young couple enters Shirley and Stanley's home, they prove a fine diversion for the difficult author and her boorish husband, who take to toying with these rather green newlyweds. 

Rosie and Fred Nemser (Odessa Young, Logan Lerman) are the pair who temporarily move into Jackson's Vermont home; the callow Fred is hoping to secure a tenure at the college where Stanley teaches, while the pregnant Rosie soon gets railroaded into cooking, cleaning, and keeping a watchful eye on Shirley.  Rosie is very interested in Shirley and her work, and although the younger woman is initially treated with contempt by the established writer, the two gradually form a strange bond; on the evidence presented in Shirley, one might conclude that Jackson was incapable of forming a straightforward relationship with anyone.  While the dynamic between these two women is developing, Stanley is busy manipulating the earnest Fred, who is continually badgering his mentor for feedback on his dissertation; Stanley basically strings Fred along and clearly has no intention of appointing this younger, more attractive man to a position that might prove distracting for the cohort of all-female Bennington College.    

Shirley is both well acted and well made, and Moss does very well in a tricky role, one in which she remains sympathetic even when playing elaborate psychological games with the undeserving Nemsers; while Stanley certainly deserves every brickbat that's slung his way, Fred and Rosie arrive in town as an optimistic young couple who simply want to settle down and get on in life, yet both are eventually worn down by the cynical nature and casual cruelty of their hosts.  Comparisons with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are inevitable, but the impressive Shirley, which boasts none other than Martin Scorsese as its executive producer, is very much its own movie, one that will hopefully see the talented Josephine Decker find a much wider audience.

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Thursday 10 September 2020

The Painted Bird (VƔclav Marhoul, 2019)

Tobruk director VĆ”clav Marhoul's new film The Painted Bird enjoyed quite a run on last year's festival circuit, where it impressed and disturbed audiences in cities including London, Venice and Toronto.  Even before anyone had seen the finished film - an adaptation of the eponymous novel by Being There author Jerzy Kosiński - word had it that this was one of the most gruelling cinematic experiences of recent years.  Its festival screenings - which saw countless walkouts from queasy viewers - did much to cement the film's notoriety, but the film's general release was pushed back by nearly six months on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, this Friday finally sees The Painted Bird released in cinemas (and on VOD) courtesy of Eureka Entertainment, who will be handling distribution in the UK and Ireland; the film is due open in the Netherlands next month.

As the Second World War heads towards its conclusion, a young Jewish boy (Petr KotlĆ”r) is sent to stay with his aunt so that he might avoid the attentions of the Nazis.  Whether this plan would have worked or not, we'll never know, as the aunt suddenly dies in the film's early stages, leaving the boy to fend for himself.  And so the unnamed child's odyssey begins, as he trudges his way across the Eastern Front, a pitiless theatre of conflict that could quite easily pass for the unenlightened medieval milieu of Czech classic Marketa LazarovĆ”.  This particular hell is mainly populated by those capable of seemingly boundless cruelty, and any brief flickers of respite stand out like a sore thumb; the few souls who look to help the child include a kindly if misguided priest (Harvey Keitel), a sympathetic German soldier (Stellan SkarsgĆ„rd), and a taciturn Soviet sniper (Barry Pepper).  But if you start to believe that comfort will always come from those played by the more recognisable actors among the cast, think again: Udo Kier's miller and Julian Sands' farmer stand as two of the film's most sadistic characters, with the latter almost certainly the worst of the boy's tormentors.

With its story of a boy experiencing the full-on horrors of WW2 as he stumbles through the wreckage of eastern Europe, The Painted Bird explicitly recalls Elem Klimov's masterpiece Come and See.  Marhoul wears his key influence on his sleeve, even going as far as to cast Come and See's star Aleksei Kravchenko as a Soviet soldier who befriends our young protagonist.  While this is admittedly a neat touch - here, Kravchenko's character provides exactly the sort of ally his Flyora needed in Klimov's film - you do wonder if such a bold move could backfire on Marhoul; The Painted Bird is no Come and See - then again, what is?  Even if The Painted Bird lacks the gut-punch quality of Klimov's 1985 shocker (which was also based on a book), it is nonetheless a haunting, troubling work, one in which the atrocities depicted on screen stand at complete odds with the quite stunning monochrome cinematography.  How can such terrible things be photographed so beautifully?  It's a trait The Painted Bird shares with the notorious Singapore Sling.

While the excellent lensing does help in providing a bit of a distance - the film certainly feels very grand and cinematic, and you shudder to think what the effect might have been had vĆ©ritĆ©-style camerawork been employed - there is another welcome layer of artificiality present here: The Painted Bird is the first movie to be filmed in the constructed Interslavic language (think of it as a sort of Slavic Esperanto), with Marhoul's reasoning for this being that he didn't want the barbarity on display to be associated with one particular nation.  While the film is unrelentingly grim, its content isn't quite as difficult to stomach as the hype and walkouts might suggest; frequently, Marhoul cuts away from violent acts or opts to shoot from a merciful angle.  While you're never in any doubt as to what's happened in any given scene, there is a certain restraint at work here; it's a pity that some have looked to reduce the film to little more than a clutch of shocking moments, as it is an even, measured and controlled piece of cinema.  Given its savage nature and lengthy running time (it's a few minutes short of three hours), The Painted Bird is an endurance test, but it's also an extremely worthwhile film, one which deserves a life well beyond the sensational headlines.

Darren Arnold

Images: Eureka Video

Tuesday 8 September 2020

London Film Festival 2020: Programme Launch

The 64th BFI London Film Festival (LFF) in partnership with American Express today announced the full programme of its reimagined and innovative new 2020 offering that will be delivered both virtually and via physical screenings. Over the twelve days from 7–18th October, the Festival will be its most accessible ever, presenting over 50 Virtual Premieres and a selection of highly-anticipated new feature film previews at BFI Southbank as well as in cinemas across the UK, offering audiences a unique chance to engage with the Festival in different ways. 

With work from more than 40 countries, the programme includes fiction, documentary, animation, artists’ moving image, short film, restored classics from the world’s archives as well as previews of several episodic/series-based works made for the small screen. 

Every screening will be presented with an intro or Q&A from filmmakers and programmers. The Festival also includes many ways audiences can engage with the Festival for free: LFF Opening screenings of Mangrove in cinemas across the UK; selected feature films on BFI Player; an international programme of short films featuring established and breakthrough film talents; Screen Talks with major filmmakers and actors, as well as all online salons and Q&As across the Festival which will give audiences an opportunity to delve more deeply into themes and talking points emerging from the programme. The recently announced LFF Expanded strand of XR and Immersive Art will also be free to access both virtually and at BFI Southbank for the duration of the Festival.

All films are geo-blocked to the UK while all the Festival talks and LFF Expanded are available to experience for free from anywhere in the world. 

As is befitting this audience-facing and innovative edition, this year the Festival Awards are in the hands of the audience, who will take the place of the Festival’s Official Jury. Viewers engaging with the Festival online will be invited to vote on Virtual LFF Audience Awards in four categories: Best Fiction Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Short Film, and Best XR. The winners will be announced in a live online ceremony on the final weekend of the Festival. The IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award in association with the BFI winner will also be announced at the Awards Ceremony. The Bursary benefits an outstanding first or second time British writer, director, or writer/director. The recipient of the award will receive £50,000, which is the most significant of its kind in the UK film industry and awarded annually.

Source: BFI

Images: image.net

Monday 17 August 2020

London Film Festival 2020: New Format Announced

In the most accessible version of the festival to UK audiences yet, film lovers will be given an opportunity to connect for a unique and innovative festival experience, enjoying both live and digital screenings across the 12 days of the Festival (from 7–18/10/20). Adapting to the extraordinary challenges of the year, the Festival will deliver up to 50 Virtual Festival Premieres in a programme that offers audiences the opportunity to see the best new cinema from around the world and with that same texture LFF’s audiences love, including fiction, documentary, animation, artists’ moving image, and restored classics from the world’s archives. Every film will be presented with an intro or Q&A, and the programme will also include a range of free-to-access additional works and events to include: an international short film programme, Screen Talks with major filmmakers and actors, salons and roundtables and a brand new Virtual Exhibition of XR (Extended Reality) and Immersive Art. In another new innovation, twelve highly anticipated new films from the programme will screen in previews across the UK, in partnership with UK-wide cinemas networks that deliver great independent and cultural films for audiences all year long, including London’s BFI Southbank.

BFI London Film Festival Director, Tricia Tuttle said: “Like many other live events around the world, we’ve had to make changes to our plans in response to a global pandemic, factoring in safety concerns and restrictions – some known, some still unclear. But as we’ve undergone this planning we’ve also witnessed historical international protests, an urgent reminder of just how much we need to do to combat racism and inequality. This year has also given us an opportunity to think creatively about how we make the Festival more accessible. It was vital to us that we get back to cinemas, and are looking forward to working with independent and cultural venues across the UK who are such an essential part of our film ecosystem. The Virtual LFF programmes and these cinema screenings take the Festival out across the UK, giving people opportunities to engage in different ways. It’s a pleasure each year to speak with audiences who share the ways filmmakers have made them laugh, think, weep, or shifted their way of seeing. Through a number of partnerships and platforms, we can’t wait to share many of this year’s extraordinary new films - from around the world, from artists of different backgrounds and with many bold distinctive filmmaking voices.”

At the heart of the 2020 edition, Virtual LFF features 50 screenings online, with each film scheduled to premiere at a particular time and include additional elements such as exclusive Q&A’s with filmmaking talent and programmers, online salons and discussions around films. Many of the films will include subtitles and Audio Description for audiences with access requirements. The feature film programme will be complemented by a wide range of digital talks and events which will be free to access, including LFF Screen Talks, which offer in-depth conversations with some of the world’s most influential filmmakers and major on-screen talent. Short films from around the world will also be free to view and the Festival’s previously announced XR and Immersive Art strand will also debut this year, with works that can be experienced in a variety of ways online, with and without headsets.

Through LFF in Cinemas, the 2020 edition of the BFI London Film Festival will also work with UK exhibitors to offer a great range of new programming as they welcome audiences safely back. Anticipating many cinemas will be open during the Festival window, the LFF will partner with exhibitors in the BFI Film Audience Network and other key cinemas and venues around the UK to offer audiences up to 12 exclusive previews from the Festival. These films will also preview at the Festival’s flagship venue BFI Southbank and select other London cinemas over the Festival period. As a one-off for this edition, audiences will be asked to take the place of the Festival’s official jury. Viewers attending Virtual LFF will be invited to vote on Audience Awards in four categories: Best Fiction Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Short Film, and Best XR. The winners will be announced in a live online ceremony on the final weekend of the Festival. 

The full programme will be announced at an online launch on 8th September 2020.

Source: BFI

Image: image.net

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 geĆÆsoleerde 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 CinĆ© Cri de Cœur, focusing on feature films and documentaries. Allez, Eddy! by Gert Embrechts is the first Flemish feature film produced by CinĆ© 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 stars Lucie Debay and 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 YouTube.com/WeAreOne.

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 www.weareoneglobalfestival.com.

Source/images: BFI