It’s that time of year for me when every day I watch at least two movies ahead of voting in the various BAFTA categories. I am fortunate to be in the Foreign Film Chapter and there have been some very interesting examples in 2015 of films that should be seen as part of any work in the Film Culture module.
I start with the vampire genre. A rather wonderful film by the Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night refreshes the Vampire story with a cinematic noir thriller which embraces the genres it honours included troubled romantic youth – James Dean perhaps as well as the Western and classic Hollywood B-feature noir. The Right of Passage which forms a key aspect to the module has been superbly explored with a number of films that deserve consideration for best film not in the English Language.
Far from faultless, but nonetheless a compelling film, is Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood. This film I think sits alongside some terrific films with powerful and complex female characters at their heart. David Russell’s Joy, (in this case a film in the English language), with a compelling and mature central performance by Jennifer Lawrence. Another film I found absolutely engrossing was Theeb by Naji Abu Nowar from the UAE and shot in Jordan’s breathtakingly dramatic Wadi Rum with non-professional actors. A simple story that is a true right of passage of a boy played by BedouinbJacir Eid and culturally convincing as narrative within the tribal Arab badlands of the Middle East 100 years ago. Not within the same genre, but culturally insightful and thoughtful is Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu. Another visual feast and searing comment on Islamist bigotry. Perhaps the film needs a new genre or one can discuss where it might already sit?
Returning to women in cinema, Anna Mullaert’s The Second Mother is a tale of class and ambition in Brazil with a blazingly entertaining and convincing performance by Regina Casé as the maid, one of trio of leading female characters, her clever and ambitious daughter sitting an entrance exam to a top university and her screwed up successful boss and failed mother. If I had my way she’d pick up the gong for best actress. Charlotte Rampling played a blinder in the unsatisfactory 45 Years directed by Andrew Haigh. Sex and female relationships play a big part in 2015. English language films top the bill here with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara both playing blinders in the perfectly crafted Todd Haynes sure-fire winner, Carol, probably in first place. Peter Strickland’s indulgent The Duke of Burgundy again is built around two remarkable performances. However, when it comes to domestic relationships, Rams, directed by Grimur Hákonarson is an Icelandic saga of male sibling rivalry and hatred, all played out in witty icy bleakness.
However, it was surreal cinema that has made my year. My faith in the magic of cinema was reinforced on several occasions recently. Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a complete Scandinavian joy reflecting on the human condition and the world of fantasy, reality and simple weirdness. The there is Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster. This mad and hilarious Greek love story set in a hotel where you go to find love or, if you fail, get turned into an animal, has added intensity considering recent events in the director’s homeland. And last but not least with Pedro Almadóvar producing is the Argentinian director Damian Szifrón’s Wild Tales. Szifrón made a popular buddy movie in 2005, On Probation and he doesn’t disappoint in this collection of dark short parables on human behaviour under duress.
Cinema seems to me to be very much alive and kicking. The magic of the big screen and the shared expereince it givs an audience remains unbeatable so many hours in 2016 will be spent in darkened cinemas amongst strangers. Join me!