An intensely moving, bittersweet feature as an ageing couple face the onset of infirm dementia following Anne’s (Emmanuelle Riva – Hiroshima My Love, Three Colours: Blue) stroke.
Cultured and sophisticated, ensconsced in their large and comfortable Paris apartment, Anne and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant – The Conformist, Three Colours: Red) look to live out the end of their days after 50+ years of marriage. But the stroke and gradual physical and mental decline challenges their bond of love.
Writer/director Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, Hidden: Caché) delivers an emotional, compassionate tour-de-force, unflinching in its presentation of the slow decline towards death. Essentially a two-hander (Isabelle Huppert – Elle, The Piano Teacher, London-based, is an occasional visitor), Amour is breathtaking in its power and emotional punch.
Nominated for 5 Oscars in 2013 including best film, director, actress and original screenplay, won 1 for best foreign language film.
Gently emotive, China Room follows in the footsteps of such works as Heat and Dust as our occasional narrator looks back to a summer spent in rural Punjab as an 18 year-old in the village of his great-grandmother. In the throes of heroin addiction, he inveigles himself into his father’s brother’s family before taking up residence in the abandoned home of Mehar’s in-laws.
It’s a rites of passage for him, but interspersed within his narrative is the more substantial story of Mehar and her arranged marriage in 1929 to one of three brothers. Which of the three is never to be revealed, married as they were at the same time. The three young brides are housed in the china room, separate from their farming husbands and all-powerful matriarch, Mai. The lack of reveal leads to events tragic and far-reaching.
China Room is the story of alienation and isolation, of addiction and difference – the narrator’s family rejected by the (white) mining community of his childhood; of his Punjabi family’s rejection of the addict he has become. Juxtaposed is the sad tale of Mehar and the two other brides, Harban and Gurleen, sold off into drudgery, oppressive traditions and rigid expectations, never to see their own families again. As the early struggles of Indian independence bubble around them, so it’s Mai who looks to Mehar as her potential successor.
It’s a quiet novel, nothing grandiloquent or in excess. Partially based on his own family’s experiences and history, UK-born Sunjeev Sahota’s third novel is an intimate sweep of a novel, a gently unfolding series of interelated narratives.
Based on the dictated memoirs, posthumously published and edited by his frequent collaborator and long-time friend Pat Hackett, The Andy Warhol Diaries is an enthralling and informative six episode miniseries. Contemporary art is the focus as Warhol pushed, constantly, the boundaries as he explored its commodification and the ultimate aspect of ‘the hand of the artist’ present in his work.
The diaries begin on 24 November, 1976 and end just five days before his premature death on 17 February, 1987. But Warhol was a renowned and controversial figure long before then. Writer and director Andrew Rossi wisely spends the first one and a half episodes immersed in the 1960s – the period of The Factory, the Campbells soup cans, silk screen portaiture and experimental filmmaking. Although there are no diaries of this period to provide insight and guidance, such an introduction to Pittsburgh-born, graphic-design trained Andrew Warhola is crucial to the later years.
Rossi makes extensive use of interviews with Warhol surviving peers, colleagues and friends along with key individuals within the current Amercian art scene evaluating the man himself and his impact. Archival footage and photographs add to the extensive presentation and exploration of Warhol as an artist, socialite, model, friend and lover – a visual New York diary of the time.
It’s a fascinating insight into the man attacked for capitulating to consumerism and his open acceptance of market culture – but always remained relevant by reinventing himself and the world around him. He may never have been fully accepted in the art world from the mid-70s onwards, yet he collaborated with young emerging artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente and Keith Haring. Need to extend the discussion? Start up a magazine (Interview). Reflect the new emergence of digital art? Launch cable TV programs. Remain in the limelight? Appear in The Love Boat and Saturday Night Live.
The series certainly provides a great deal of the ‘private’ in terms of long standing relationships with Jed Johnson and Paramount Pictures executive, Jon Gould. But with extensive interviews with those who knew him or have been impacted by him, The Andy Warhol Diaries is a fascinating insight into the public and private life of an artist who ultimately commodified himself into a work of art.
A Studio Ghibli animation, The Red Turtle is a simple fantasy sublimely told, a stripped back, minimalist Robinson Crusoe who finds a very different way of surviving his loneliness and isolation.
As the man, shipwrecked and dumped on the island courtesy of splendid animated Hokusai waves, looks first to survive and then escape, a red turtle thwarts his attempts to set sail beyond the all-encircling reef. The focal point of the unfolding of the central story can be a little hard to take (no spoilers) but as an almost wordless animation, Michael Dudok de Wit’s existential The Red Turtle is unquestionably beautiful to look at in its simplicity.
Nominated for the 2017 Oscar for Best Animation feature film.
A charming coming-of-age story as two gay teenagers decide on a straight relationship in order to stop the rumours and bullying at school.
A feisty Amber (Lola Petticrew – A Bump Along the Way, Wolf) is no shrinking violet as she calls the shots at the village school a few miles outside Dublin. And she has a few words of advice to the fearful and closeted Eddie (Fionn O’Shea – Handsome Devil, Cherry), an eldest son expected to follow his dad (Barry Ward – TV’s White Lines, Des) into the army.
Director David Freyne’s (The Cured) gentle exploration of coming out in Ireland in the 90s is set a couple of years after legalisation. It runs out of steam towards the end, but Dating Amber is an engaging if slight (and predictable) narrative buoyed by excellent performances from both Petticrew and O’Shea.
Three part miniseries, Prey is a solid police drama as DS Marcus Farrow (John Simm) finds himself charged with the murder of his ex-wife and young son.
As a dead body is found long buried on the moors outside Manchester, a once-closed case takes centre stage as Farrow and partner/best mate DI Sean Devlin (Craig Parkinson) are assigned to the investigation. But things quickly go pear-shaped as secrets thought to be buried are quickly uncovered. Gangland crime and police corruption bubbles to the surface – with Farrow caught centre stage. Now on the run, he must prove his innocence – with DI Susan Reinhardt (Rosie Caviliero) leading the hunt, convinced of his guilt.
Prey is a tightly written and acted drama with little in terms of extraneous trappings: a taught, tough narrative.
The perfect accompaniment to the recent Aaron Sorkin-directed feature Being the Ricardos, the documentary Lucy & Desi explores the rewarding but often turbulent relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
A mixed race marriage was certainly controversial at the time as the Queen of the B-Movies and the Cuban musician not only changed Hollywood but also the world of television. Contemporary interviews with the likes of Carole Burnett, Bette Midler and their daughter, Lucie Arnaz, are woven with archive television footage and home movies resulting in a loving homage from director Amy Poehler. An early power couple, there is little doubt as to the influence on what we watch and how we watch television. What is also apparent is the intense emotional bond the two had for each other – in spite of a divorce in 1960 after 20 years of marriage and two children.
It’s a compelling, intimate testament but which, with so much source material, barely touches the surface of the lives of the Arnaz personal and business lives.
When his beloved uncle and guardian dies overseas in mysterious circumstances, a young Phillip Ashley (Richard Burton – Becket, Equus) is convinced it’s his new wife who is responsible. Determined to seek revenge, Ashley’s mission is derailed as he falls in love.
Adapted from the novel by Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca, The Birds), the gothic romance, directed by Henry Koster (Harvey, The Bishop’s Wife), is set in 19th century Cornwall and the wild coastline beloved by the novelist. But a miscast Olivia de Havilland (The Heiress, The Snake Pit), skewing Rachel as a little too sweet and accommodating for the role of a devious older woman, only toys with an overly formal and ‘actorly’ Burton in his film debut. The result is a somewhat overwrought melodrama.
Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1953 including best supporting actor (Burton is actually the lead, rarely off screen) and cinematography.
(See the later remake with Rachel Weisz)
An Oscar-winning documentary, Summer of Soul looks back to a huge music festival held in Harlem over several summer of 1969 weekends, the year of Woodstock. In spite of the existence of professional film footage, the event that attracted an estimated 300,000 people has been ignored ever since.
Promoting Black pride and unity, the legendary 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured a who’s who of African-American music and culture – Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, Rev Jesse Jackson, Mahalia Jackson, Staple Singers, Hugh Masekala – the list is seemingly endless. From gospel to soul, African and Puerto Rican sounds to pop, Summer of Soul is a true celebration of the time, highlighted by interviews with performers and audience members reflecting on the importance of the festival.
Yet, interwoven within the narrative, the underlying question remains as to why such a culturally and politically significant event could be ignored for so long. Sadly, even today, more than 50 years later, it’s not difficult to answer.
Winner of both Grand Jury Prize (Documentary) and Audience Award (Documentary) at Sundance 2021.
Winner of the 2022 best documentary Oscar.
A slow, pensive tale as Mina (Maryam Moghadam – Leaf of Life, The Silence) discovers her husband, executed for murder a year earlier, was innocent.
As much a reflection on women’s position in contemporary Iran as a personal struggle for justice, Ballad of a White Cow is a quiet absorption of a narrative. Mina demands an official apology whilst struggling with raising a young daughter and the pressures placed upon her by family, neighbours and wider society.
It may not reach the heights of Asghar Fahardi’s stunning family dramas, but, co-directed by Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha (Risk of Acid Rain), Ballad of a White Cow is both compassionate and insightful as Mina looks to righting a wrong as Reza (Alireza Sani Far – Dressage, The Rain Falls Where It Will), claiming to be an acquaintance of her dead husband, seeks atonement.