Wednesday, 11 December 2019
The opening scene of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman drops the viewer into a dim and dreary nursing home as the camera slowly hovers through the mundane halls of lives that are nearly over. The whiz-bang opera of gangster films is deflated as Robert Deniro’s Frank Sheeran is revealed to frame, talking directly to us, or perhaps more-so, to himself. Consider how Henry Hill is introduced in Goodfellas as a man who achieved his devilish dream, or how Jordan Belfort immediately boasts about his insidious kingdom of wealth in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Thursday, 10 October 2019
Director Cédric Kahn is best known in the UK for two notable arthouse hits of the 2000's, back when French cinema used to pull the crowds: Roberto Succo (2001) and Red Lights (2004). None of his following films made it over here but he has maintained a steady career in France over the years. At first, his latest, Happy Birthday, seems to be the epitome of that very French sub genre: the bourgeois family reunion in a the countryside, complete with the glossy, ensemble cast and the very early signs that it is all about to kick off in recriminations, secrets and lies, as a sprawling clan reunites to celebrate the birthday of matriarch Andréa (Catherine Deneuve).
Thursday, 27 June 2019
There are few words in the English language as exciting to hear together as “Peter Strickland’s new horror film”. After the thoroughly bizarre ride of Berberian Sound Studio, I was ready for Strickland to astonish and amaze once more with his latest offering: a British giallo horror about an indestructible, cursed red dress.
As with Berberian Sound Studio and his previous film The Duke of Burgundy, Strickland brings his audience into a highly stylised world, laden with sumptuous visuals and more than a few moments set to provoke gasps - and maybe the odd laugh. In Fabric takes place around a department store in the South of England, and tells the story of a dress described in the store’s catalogue as ‘artery red’. The dress is a perfect fit on whoever wears it, but the consequences of owning the lavish garment prove to be fateful.
Thursday, 20 June 2019
In recent years there’s been no shortage of films about immigration, but Philippe Faucon’s Amin brings a fresh perspective to a crisis that mass media too often broadens in scope and reduces to numbers. Telling the story of Amin (Moustapha Mbengue), a Senegalese immigrant, Faucon attempts to explore the interior life of an immigrant while stripping down the exterior. Working in Paris for a construction company, Amin lives in hostels with other immigrants and longs for his life at home, but while metaphorically building his new life, his past begins to crumble. When Amin strikes up a relationship with a French woman named Gabrielle (Emmanuelle Devos) his life begins to take a new shape and a conflict between his past and present melts together.
Saturday, 25 May 2019
With such a strong line up and so many potential choices for the top prizes, we knew there were going to be some surprises ahead and we were not disappointed in that respect! It was obvious early on that the jury had struggled to decide, which Iñarritu commented on his opening speech and indeed, not only did they split the jury prize in two, they also added a special mention prize.
This special mention prize to It Must Be Heaven by Elia Suleiman felt a bit like a consolation prize and it did not look as if the director was all that thrilled about it! Then came the joint prize winner, to Les Misérables by Ladj Ly, which had made a big impact when it screened early on and more surprisingly to Bacurau by Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles. The latter is a thrilling Brazilian film that blends in genre elements that would not be out of place in an early film by John Carpenter (to which it is heavily indebted) as well as some very contemporary social concerns. That was to be the first surprise of many.
What a fabulous edition this has been, something that even the usual naysayers agree on. The masters have delivered some of their finest work, those rising stars have confirmed all the hopes placed upon them and there have been several discoveries too, even in the official selection which is a daunting place to debut your first film. There were very few clunkers, which I charitably will not mention and there were also mercifully few of those manufactured and ridiculous outrages that a certain kind of media gets drunk on every year.
Predicting which films a small jury with nine members will hand awards to is such a difficult exercise. All jury members are artists and their potential choices less easy to assess than those of critics. There is also no point basing awards predictions based on the kind of cinema jury members make (who would have thought Steven Spielberg would fall in love with Blue Is The Warmest Colour in 2013?!), as this would assume their vision of films is somehow narrow. Yet I am going to attempt some awards predictions all the same. With so many films deemed deserving of the top prize and no consensus on one in particular, there is bound to be some surprises...
Thursday, 23 May 2019
With the striking imagery of the first stills just released ahead of the festival and the very topical #MeToo premise, Nina Wu was one one the most promising offerings of the Un Certain Regard selection. With the lead actress Wu Ke-Xi having co-written the script, about the trials of a young actress trying to make it in a business ripe with abuse and exploitation, this also promised to be a heart felt, personal work.
In Nina Wu, Nina, a struggling and lonely actress who survives with a career as an internet personality of sorts, finally gets a chance to shine when wins the lead part in an espionage film. Yet the demands placed upon her by this role that she fully invests herself into take her into a dark path.
Wednesday, 22 May 2019
Of Parasite, barely anything was known apart from its mysterious and intriguing posters and succinct synopsis. Was it going to be a social satire, a genre film, what surprises were in store? After a consistently interesting career that brought him to the attention of the Western world, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho made two films in America with a variable level of success. Snowpiercer was a bit of a misfire in my humble opinion, lacking the impact of his previous work and Okja was a pleasant fable that became an unfortunate symbol of the "conflict" between the Cannes Film Festival and Netflix (one that was orchestrated by click-baity outlets).
Parasite is a tricky film to review as it is not easy to assess how much of the story one should reveal. In it, we are introduced to two very different families, the Kim, who live in a barely salubrious basement flat while trying to ebb a living with whatever part time job the members can come across. The Park on the other hand live a successful life free of any constraint and conflict in a stunning house. When the son of the Kim family stumble upon a chance opportunity to become the tutor of the Kin's youngest son, at the cost of a white lie, their paths which never never destined to meet become irresistibly intertwined.
Tuesday, 21 May 2019
Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) is a famous French actress who, upon learning she only has a few months to live, decide to invite her entire family to Sintra in Portugal for a family holiday.
The ensemble cast of Frankie is a cinephile dream and early on, a scene features Brendan Gleeson, Pascal Gregory, Carloto Cotta, Marisa Tamei and Greg Kinnear in the same shot as a kind of Avengers Assemble of international cinema which is enough to get the audience's heart pumping. Such a shame then that hardly any one of them is given anything to do or worse, feel totally superfluous to the narrative.
Monday, 20 May 2019
A Hidden Life is a lose adaption of the life of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who refused to fight for the Nazis during WW2 and faced the threat of execution.
When Terrence Malick one of the most secretive and rare filmmakers, became one of the most prolific, there was much enthusiasm among cinephiles. Having delivered arguably some of best films of the last century with his first two, Badlands and Days of Heaven, he only returned to directing over twenty years later with the sumptuous, triumphant The Thin Red Line (1998). The New World followed in 2005 with much acclaim, then he began a new phase with the Palme d'or winning The Tree of Life (2011), quickly followed by To The Wonder (2012), Knights of Cup (2015), Voyage of Time (2016), Song to Song (2017)... except that, by then, the enthusiasm of a lot of his fans (but not all!) had dimmed.
Sunday, 19 May 2019
In The Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned by a countess (Valeria Golino) to paint the portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) without her knowing, as she is to be married to an Italian nobleman against her will.
We expected her to be in official selection with Girlhood, which ended up opening Directors' Fortnight in 2014 but French director Céline Sciamma has finally made it to the official selection, and in competition, with The Portrait of the Lady on Fire. Known for her very contemporary settings and queer sensibilities, she knows tackles a period drama, a risky proposition considering this is a genre that has proven difficult to master by many, stifled by pretty costumes and bigger budgets.
Robert Eggers made a big impact with his first film, period horror The Witch and the concern for a young director with an acclaimed debut is to retreat into similar territory for their sophomore effort, which seemed to be the case when his second film was announced as, you guessed it, a period horror, for which an evocative still was released. Except that he had a few tricks up his sleeve...
Set in the 1890's, The Lighthouse sees the young Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) takes his position as an assistant to caretaker Thomas (Willem Dafoe) in a lighthouse on an island off the coast of New England, a position that is only supposed to last four weeks.
Chinese director Yi'nan Diao came to the attention of cinephiles with Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014), a neo-noir that went on to win the Golden Bear in Berlin, a rare win for a genre film especially at the German film festival.
The Wild Goose Lake beings with a mysterious rendezvous outside in an isolated train station at night under a torrential rain. From there, a long flashback involving a complex web of double crossings and intrigues as a gangster is released from prison drives the story before jumping back in time.
Saturday, 18 May 2019
Always the bridesmaid... Despite numerous of his films screenings in competition in Cannes and an illustrious career, Spanish master Pedro Almodovar has yet to win the coveted top award. He came close in 1999 with arguably his masterpiece All About My Mother but the jury back then was more impressed with a kind of macho social realism and had to do with best director. While he was one of its fans, he must have felt somehow despondent to hand it to The Square in 2017, back when he was president of the jury, to a still young and less accomplished director, but such is the name of the game.
He is back this year with his most personal film to date, Pain & Glory. Most of his films have always had some personal elements to it (and indeed you could say that about most films/directors!) but this is the film that most mirrors the Spanish's director life and particularly his current life as he reflects back on his work so far but also his youth, his lovers, the relationship to his family...
Friday, 17 May 2019
You never quite know where Austrian director Jessica Hausner is going to take us next. With an illustrious filmography under your belt, you would be hard pressed to find two similar sounding films, whether in the genres tackled, the stories... and yet it is the true mark of an auteur that her work feels coherent nonetheless. With Little Joe she tackles science-fiction (or does she...?), an intriguing prospect!
In Little Joe, biologist Alice (Emily Beecham) has developed an unusual species of crimson flower whose scent is said to induce happiness. Yet a string of unusual events and incidents makes her wonder if there is a more sinister side to her creation.
In Zombi Child, in present day Paris, Haitian emigrant Melissa (Wislanda Louimat) has been struggling to make some new friends in her prestigious French school when a group of schoolmates welcome her in their sorority. Meanwhile in Haiti, through flashbacks we follow the fate of a young man who becomes the victim of a voodoo spell and is turned into a zombie, forced to work for free in plantations as a mindless drone whose memories have deserted him.
Bertrand Bonello tacking the zombie genre (just like Jim Jarmusch did this year with festival opener The Dead Don't Die), that was an interesting proposition when we first heard about this, even though we knew this would not be be straightforward genre fare!
While many films make the trip from Sundance to Cannes, usually either in Un Certain Regard or Directors' Fortnight these days (and it has to be said, making less of an impact than they used to), director Michael Angelo Covino reserved its world premiere for the Croisette, a wise move considering how difficult it has become to stand out in Park City and the relative lack of coverage outside specialised outlets.
From the premise, The Climb feels very Sundance indeed and indeed the film started its life as a short that screened in Cannes, and which is not the opening scene of its longer version. In it, long time friends Mike and Kyle are cycling up a mountain road in the South of France when the latter decides it is the perfect moment to admit to the latter he had an affair with his fiancée, cue a hilarious race of sorts while recrimination and anger fly around with a perfect comedic timing that had the audience in stitches. The film is then split into several acts taking place over several years as we follow their complicated friendship.
Thursday, 16 May 2019
Film critic turned director Kleber Mendonça Filho made a big impact on the world cinema scene with his first feature, Neighbouring Sounds (2012) then was in competion in Cannes in 2016 with his follow-up, the somehow gentler Aquarius. Bacurau has had a long gestating period, with a mysterious poster teaser and rumours of it being a sci-fi/western with the director name-checking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!
The shadow of John Carpenter looms large over Bacurau, something that the director will readily admit. But with the American master somehow rediscovered and celebrated lately, there are been so lazy films imitating his style with none of the talent and inspiration. No such thing with Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles's latest however. Yes it feels John Carpenter through and through: the electronic score, the tension, the outburst of extreme violence, the fantasy element. Yet Bacurau still feels fresh and original and not just because of the completely different setting. The Brazilian directors never forget that for all his impressive visual talent, John Carpenter always infused his film with a social conscience and here it is at the heart of the story but it never feels like it is preaching and doesn't stop it from being devilishly entertaining, fun and ultra-violent at times!
In Kabul in 1998, Atiq, a former moujahidin reconverted as a prison guard leads a disillusioned life, remaining faithful to his cancer ridden wife who is living her last few weeks. Meanwhile, the young Zunaira and Moshen are in love and trying to live their passion despite the heavy restraints put upon every aspect of their lives by the extremist religious regime in place.
The Swallows of Kabul is adapted and co-directed by French actress turned director Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobbe Mevellec and this is the kind of cinema that can come across as critic-proof, in the sense that a heavy-going, topical social or political subject can make it difficult to criticise it so there was that concern before getting into this screening.
French director Quentin Dupieux is a real maverick across several artistic mediums. An electronic musician also known as Mr. Oizo, he has delivered a filmography filled with UFOs (unidentified filmic objects), with various degrees of success but with a go for broke attitude that is commendable. From Steak to Wrong Cops and Reality, not forgetting his best so far in my humble opinion, Rubber (about a killer tyre...), there simply is nothing quite like him and his work so any new films is his is always greeted with a certain, tensed trepidation.
His latest (and starriest) just opened Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, and considering the very strange premise, its presence was a fitting companion for this ceremony considering it also saw John Carpenter receive a "Carosse d'Or" for this career. In it, George (Jean Dujardin) has a fetish for deerskin clothes but wearing them is not enough, he also goes on a jackets stealing spree, often obtaining them from unsuspecting victims through some brazen set-ups.
Wednesday, 15 May 2019
In Bull, Kris (Amber Havard), a teenager in Texas from very modest social environment, seems to have her life already mapped out in front of her with very few opportunities, until she meets ageing rodeo wrangler Abe (Rob Morgan) and strikes an unlikely friendship with him.
Bull, presented in the Un Certain Regard sidebar selection in Cannes, will most probably suffer from an unfair comparison with Chloe Zhao's arthouse sensation The Rider (2017), because of a somehow similar premise and the fact that both are directed by women, which seems a little easy and unfair.
Jim Jarmusch truly is an unmistakably independent director, at a time when the term seems to have been packaged and monetised by certain film studios that offer the same aesthetic and crowd pleasing social themes. It is hard to think of any director with such an incredible run from his early career in the 80's until now and such a unique, timeless style, evidently free from any studio interference yet never self-indulgent. Having recently tackled vampires recently in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), this time he turns his focus on zombies with horror-comedy The Dead Don't Die.
In The Dead Don't Die, the small town of Centerville, USA is under siege by a hordes of living dead, and it is down to its small police force to try to save the population, with a bit of help from mysterious newcomer Zelda (Tilda Swinton).
Friday, 10 May 2019
Corruption can take many forms. From Milton’s Paradise Lost to Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, characters are corrupted, losing parts of themselves along the way as they continue to descend into the depths of their own darkness. This kind of corruption runs through the veins of Birds of Passage, a film about the drug trade that shows the destructive nature that evil can have on individuals and communities.
Thursday, 2 May 2019
The transitional months between 2018 and 2019 have seen a significant number of formidable female-led musical films, and Brady Corbet’s much touted follow-up to his feature directorial debut The Childhood of a Leader has already earned a great number of fans over in the States. Finally, Vox Lux makes its way into British cinemas and on demand.
Vox Lux, unlike Corbet’s debut, is set much closer to modern times, and begins with a young man carrying out a school shooting. From there, we follow Celeste, a survivor of this shooting, who decides to perform an original song at a local memorial to articulate her response to the atrocity. With a sense of what feels almost like inevitability, Celeste’s performance becomes a national sensation, and she’s set on an inexorable path of musical megastardom.
“There’s nothing to solve you know. It’s silly wasting your energy on something that doesn’t matter.” a girl casually says to Andrew Garfield’s Sam after he suggests there’s a hidden message in a song that will help him find a missing woman. He doesn’t listen to her lol. David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake is an odyssey of pop culture that dives headfirst into Hollywood’s secrets, but it’s not really about that.
Sunday, 14 April 2019
You already know if Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is your thing. One must appreciate such a specific title that’ll either make you shake your head or become giddy with anticipation for Nazi doll murder. It’s exactly as you’d expect, a sleazy film full of Nazi dolls that go on a -- and I CANNOT stress this enough -- ridiculously goofy and grisly murder spree.
Friday, 22 March 2019
For a filmmaker placed under as many limitations as Jafar Panahi is, he’s a surprisingly prolific director. Less than halfway through a 20 year ban on making films, a ban imposed on him by the Iranian government, he’s now made four features; his latest, 3 Faces, is arguably his most audacious when it comes to the film’s production.
Where Panahi’s previous films have seen him confined to his house in This Is Not A Film and a car in Taxi, 3 Faces sees him and co-star Behnaz Jafari - both playing versions of themselves - on a road trip through Iran’s rural expanses to find Marziyeh, a young woman who, after being denied by her family the opportunity to become an actress, has reached out desperately to Jafari in a video message, which appears to show her committing suicide after several calls for help. Burdened with the feeling that they are somehow responsible for the young girl’s apparent demise, both Panahi and Jafari set off to a quiet village in search for the truth.
Friday, 8 March 2019
When talking about Girl, it’s hard to separate the film from the controversy it has provoked since its release. The first-time feature from director Lukas Dhont has caused many critics to take issue with it for a number of reasons; these have mainly centred around the film’s presentation of its transgender protagonist and the apparent lack of any trans people in the film itself. Girl’s story and main character are inspired by dancer Nora Monsecour - who, according to interviews, also had some creative input in the film’s making - but here the central character Lara is played by Victor Polster, a cisgender male. These are substantial, valid concerns and worth highlighting, especially at a time when the industry is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of representation on all levels.
Wednesday, 20 February 2019
The launch of the BFI Flare's line-up is always an exciting event, marred by a slight tinge of disappointment. Exciting as it is a great time to catch up with LGBTQ cinema from all around the world, disappointing as there seems to be a lack of imagination in the subjects tackled.
Yes stories about coming of age, burgeoning sexual identity and forbidden love are important and need to be told yet it is a shame that current LBGTQ cinema often seems to limit itself to such narratives and get overwhelmed by their worthy subject at the expense of real cinema, especially when there are plenty of other stories to be told. Art doesn't live in a vacuum and we cannot be oblivious to the struggles of the community, especially when we are (relatively) safe in our metropolitan bubble, yet there are so many other facets to the live of gay people, or even tales that transcend community barriers and can be appreciated by those outside the LGBTQ spectrum. Not to mention a relative lack of aesthetic creativity, where are the Gregg Arakis, the Derek Jarmans of the 2010's? Come to think of it, do we even have a Fassbinder? Bertrand Mandico, Yann Gonzales, Lorenzo Vigas, João Pedro Rodrigues and even Peter Strickland come to mind but we need more of them!
This is probably being a little unfair and there is still a lot to be excited about in the BFI Flare line-up that was just unveiled tonight. Rather than doing an exhaustive coverage, I have decided to put the spotlight on a few films that have caught my eyes.
Tuesday, 19 February 2019
First in our new Streaming Delights series, the delightful Claire's Camera that has not been realised in cinemas in the UK so far and is very unlikely to ever be so there's a rare chance to watch it on Mubi UK this month.
When we found out that prolific South Korean director Hong Sang-soo was making a film during the Cannes Film Festival in 2017 (while presenting The Handmaiden), and with Isabelle Huppert again as well as Kim Min-hee (The Handmaiden and every recent Sang-soo film), our collective cinephile heart beat faster. Knowing him however, we realised it was not going to be a straightforward film about the festival, indeed it emerged that he had barely used any of the festival events as a background for his film, and instead shot in the side streets of the city.
Thursday, 7 February 2019
We are launching a regular section on this site called Streaming Delights, that will put the spotlight on and review some little seen gems, old and new, across all the streaming platforms. We'll focus on indie cinema and will throw in the odd trashy horror film because can you even live if you did not know Death Spa existed? We have not always embraced the streaming giants in the past here at FilmLand Empire, especially not Netflix. We firmly believe that films belong in cinemas and that nothing can beat the theatrical experience. However it is hard to ignore how much those streaming platforms have changed the world of cinema recently.
Amazon Studios have helped such talented directors as Luca Guadagnino and Todd Haynes make their films without interference and with a consequential budget while still allowing them a theatrical release. Mubi is an endless delight of discoveries and rare arthouse films, occasionally supporting theatrical releases, and with its model of one film per day the perfect antidote to the paradox of choice other platforms generate. Amazon Prime has a surprisingly vast and varied catalogue (although the range of quality is just as vast).