An epic melodrama whereby a newly married woman returns to the London home where, 10 years earlier, her aunt had been murdered.
On the death of her beloved aunt, a distraught Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman – Casablanca, Stromboli) leaves for Italy vowing never to return. But in training to be an opera singer she falls in love with her coach, the charming Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer – Algeirs, Conquest). Keen to take advantage of the empty property, Anton persuades his wife to return to London. But as paintings disappear and footsteps disturb the peace of the night, Paula begins to question her sanity in the claustrophobia of the oppressive house full of memories.
Adapted from the stage play by Patrick Hamilton and directed by George Cukor (Adam’s Rib, My Fair Lady), Gaslight is an intense, occasionally overwrought, psychological manipulation of a story as Anton attempts to control, deceive and ultimately benefit from the madness of his wife.
Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1945 including best film, actor, supporting actress (Angela Lansbury in her screen debut), won 2 for best actress, set direction (black & white).
Any synopsis of Volver creates the vision of a melodramatic multi-seasoned telenovela as Almodóvar’s interwoven fantasy with reality tale of mothers and daughters unfolds.
Having lost her mother in a fire years earlier, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz – Vanilla Sky, Parallel Mothers) is concerned about the mental state of Tía Paula, the aunt who raised her. Having recently visited her home village, it’s there Tía Paula claimed Irene (Carmen Maura – Oh Carmela! Cuernavaca), Raimunda’s dead mother, is living with her. But all is forgotten a few days later when daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo – Vidas pequeñas, 75 días) confesses she has murdered her unemployed father Paco, who tried to rape her whilst drunk.
That’s the first 20 or so minutes accounted for! In a true-to-form Almodóvar (Parallel Mothers, Talk to Her), Volver is a melodramatic comedic delight as superstitions, gossip, ghosts and murder seemingly conspire against Raimunda to make a success of a simple life as she hides a dead body and defrauds her neighbour’s restaurant business. With a lightness of touch and perfect timing (particularly from Cruz), Volver may push the boundaries of believability but it has a charm all of its own.
Nominated for best actress Oscar in 2007.
On the Japanese island of Amami Ōshima, a tattooed body is washed ashore. So begins a tender, Zen-like drama as two teenagers look to find their place with each other and in the wider world.
A suitably morose Kaito (Nijirô Murakami – Isle of Dogs, Natsumi’s Firefly) discovers the unidentified body as he struggles to deal with the separation of his parents. Girlfriend Kyoto (Junko Abe – Remember to Breathe, The Voice of Sin) is also dealing with separation issues as her mother, an island shaman, is approaching death.
Quiet, nuanced, understated, writer/director Naomi Kawase (Sweet Bean, The Mourning Forest) slowly and poetically peals back the poignancy of her coming-of-age story set in a natural world of great coastal beauty.
A classic of post-war Italian neorealism, Umberto D is the story of an old man’s struggle to keep from falling from poverty into shame.
Umberto D. Ferrari (Carlo Battisti), a retired government worker, struggles to survive on his meagre pension. Behind on his rent, his landlady threatens to evict him unless he can pay the 15,000 lire owing within the next few days. Selling personal possessions fails to raise the necessary amount. Whilst sympathetic and on friendly terms with Umberto and his beloved dog, Filke, the young maid of the house (Maria-Pia Casilio – Thérèse Raquin, An American in Rome) cannot help him.
In choosing to work with an almost exclusively non-professional cast, director Vittorio De Sica (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Bicycle Thieves) achieves an ingrained sense of unadorned authenticity. Mundane simplicity is both dramatic and poetic as Umberto’s despair slowly unfolds.
Nominated for the 1957 best writing Oscar (five years after it was first released in Italy).
A gentle, sensitive unfolding of a recovering drug addict given a day’s leave from his rehab centre for a work interview.
Leaving the centre determined to make a go of it, over the course of the day and night, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie – The Worst Person in the World, Bergman Island) attempts to reconnect with family and friends. Welcomed by some, but for others memories of his heroin addiction and lives destroyed are too fresh.
Directed by Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World, Reprise), Oslo 31st August is surprisingly empathic towards the educated but self-centred addict. With more than a hint of existential angst as Anders struggles with purpose, Trier looks to a lucid, inner cry of pain as the everyday of normalcy crowds around him.
Beautifully adapted from the E.M. Forster classic novel and one of Merchant Ivory’s most acclaimed films, Howards End is an elegant love story that is a simultaneous commentary on class and suffrage in Edwardian England.
The enlightened Schlagel sisters Margaret (Emma Thompson – Love Actually, The Remains of the Day) and Helen (Helena Bonham Carter – Harry Potter, The King’s Speech) find themselves involved with the wealthy and landed Wilcox family as Margaret befriends the ailing matriarch, Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave – Atonement, The Bostonians). At Ruth’s death, Margaret unexpectedly finds herself attracting the attention of Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins – The Father, Thor) – much to the dismay of her sister.
Far more than ‘merely’ a costume drama, the golden team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (A Room With a View, The Remains of the Day) have created, in its pauses, silences and unhurried stillness a narrative of nuanced beauty and intimacy. As the two families attract and repel, repel and attract, so, with more than a touch of Forster’s love of mixing the classes, Helen finds herself attracted to clerk, Leonard Bast (Samuel West – Van Helsing, Darkest Hour) and tragedy inevitably looms.
Nominated for 9 Oscars in 1993 including best film, director, supporting actress (Redgrave), costume design, won 3 for best actress (Thompson), adapted screenplay and art/set design.
A powerful, searing drama that picked up a swag of Oscars in 1946, The Lost Weekend is an unflinching portrayal of a man teetering on the edge of self-destruction.
A frustrated, wannabe writer, Don Birnam (a career-best bravura performance from Ray Milland – Dial M For Murder, Love Story) finds solace in the bottle. Escaping a planned long weekend away with Helen (Jane Wyman – Magnificent Obsession, Johnny Belinda) and brother Wick (Phillip Terry – Bataan, To Each His Own), Birnam instead hits the New York bars, becoming more and more desperate as his cash runs out.
Stark and confronting, the groundbreaking feature from legendary writer/director Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity) created controversy before release. With its serious depiction of alcoholism as a modern illness, The Lost Weekend was treading new ground for Hollywood – so much so the alcohol industry wanted to destroy the film’s negative and remove it from circulation.
Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1946 including soundtrack (Miklós Rózsa), cinematography, editing, won 4 – best film, director, actor, screenplay.
Formal yet timeless, an innocent, spoiled teenage girl sets out with her pregnant servant to deliver candles to church. But only one returns to the remote homestead.
In 14th-century Sweden, the indulged Karin (Birgitta Pettersson – Pojken i trädet, Salka Valka) insists on wearing her best finery to travel the 5 kms to the village. Accompanied by the jealous Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom – The Seventh Seal, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), they meet three goatherds who rape and kill Karin. The three men continue on their way where, by chance, they find themselves at the girl’s home and the guests of her father, Töre (Max von Sydow – Pelle the Conqueror, The Seventh Seal). On discovering what happened, he plans a terrible revenge.
Influenced by Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Ingmar Bergman’s (Wild Strawberries, Face To Face) classic interweaves morality and faith, humanity and atonement in this compelling if dour drama moodily shot in black and white.
Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1961 including best costume, won 1 for best foreign language film.
When his father and older brother Cosimo are arrested, 14 year old Pio Amato appoints himself head of his Romani family living in a run down Calabrian estate.
A strutting teenager, he’s more than adept at surviving on the streets and following in his brother’s footsteps. But there’s little in the way of a true sense of dramatic tension within A Ciambra – director Jonas Carpignano (Mediterranea, A Chiara) choosing to focus more on a fly-on-the-wall style documentary as Pio flits between tough-boy home life and a more vulnerable teenager among the equally marginalised and unwanted African community.
With its largely non-professional cast with many from the same Amato family, A Ciambra is a raw commentary on the less visible issues of European migration along with the exploration of Pio’s emerging understanding of manhood. Combined, Carpignano is highlighting the vicious circle that encompasses marginalised communities as Pio puts family first above his friendship with Ayiva (Koudous Siehon – Mediterranea, A Chiara).
The bracing, volatile romanticism of a ménage à trois as two best friends compete for the affections of a third who, only too aware, plays, ‘in all innocence’, each against the other.
Deeply stylish Francis (Xavier Dolan – Boy Erased, Tom at the Farm) and Marie (Monia Chokri – Gare du Nord, Laurence Anyways) are best of friends who become rivals in the affection of the blonde Adonis, the somewhat daggy Nicolas (Niels Schneider – The Art Dealer, I Killed My Mother). Playfully flirtatious, things come to a head when Nicolas invites the pair to his mother’s vacation home outside Montreal.
Dolan’s sophomore feature as director, Heartbeats captures the zeitgeist of time and place with underlying sexiness combined with the frustrations of unrequited love. Both Francis and Marie try – and desire. But Nicolas is an elusive.