‘Custody’

custody.poster.ws_An intense, devastating family drama of domestic abuse as Denis Menochet (Inglourious Basterds, In the House) looks to gain joint custody of his young son.

Bleak and hellish, Custody is unrelenting in its slow build with palpable fear in the eyes of newcomer Thomas Gioria as Lea Drucker (The Man of My Life, In My Skin) looks to protect her family.

Debut director Xavier Legrand’s claustrophobic tour de force is no easy watch, but with superb performances from a relatively small cast, Custody is heart-wrenching in its pain, fear and anger.

Rating: 87%

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‘McQueen’

mcqueenA great documentary for the togs and sheer spectacle of Alexander McQueen’s visionary presentation but as an insight into the man himself, Ian Bonhote & Peter Ettedgui’s documentary is sadly lacking.

Undoubtedly a tortured genius, Lee Alexander McQueen, the London chav, son of a taxi driver, took the fashion-world by storm prior to his suicide in 2010. Candid interviews with colleagues, friends and family provide a certain insight into the man, but there’s a great deal more left out or merely touched upon (cocaine abuse, HIV, child abuse). And it’s this imbalance that leaves the rags to riches tale as a lost opportunity.

Rating: 64%

‘You Were Never Really Here’

you wereA taught, nervous, noir thriller as traumatised veteran Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Inherent Vice) tracks down missing persons – with liberal use of violence when necessary. With the disappearance of a senator’s daughter, Phoenix finds himself in a tight-knit paedophile ring.

Winner of both best screenplay and best actor at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, director Lynne Ramsey (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ratcatcher) has adapted the novel by Johnathan Ames into a moodily stylish ellipsis of flashbacks, suggestion and suppression. It’s a pity that You Were Never Really Here occasionally lapses into incoherence.

Rating: 63%

‘On Chesil Beach’

On_Chesil_Beach_(film)They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. So begins Ian McEwan’s 1960s-set novel, On Chesil Beach.

In adapting his own elliptical novel for the screen, McEwan emphasises that lack of meaningful communication between the young couple, neither of whom can talk to each  other or their respective families. Their lack of knowledge results in tragic and devastating consequences.

As the uptight Florence, Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird, Brooklyn) beautifully portrays the terrified innocent, balanced perfectly with the awkward, bumbling Billy Howle (Dunkirk, The Sense of an Ending). Acclaimed theatre director Dominic Cooke is at the helm, resulting in a tender, dialogue-rich love story.

Rating: 66%

‘C’est la vie!’

cestlavieOccasionally funny, this overly laboured feel-good movie from the directors of the delightful The Intouchables, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, is a pleasant, disposable piece of fluff.

A wedding in a 17th century chateau. Jean-Pierre Bacri (The Taste of Others, Like an Image) as the owner of the events company has had enough and is looking to sell the business. But he’s dealing with a constantly interfering groom, unhappy staff and a bout of food poisoning.

It’s an undemanding two hours of general silliness, but the cast give it their all (Eye Haidara as Bacri’s number two in particular) in what is ultimately a mildly entertaining distraction. A glorious soundtrack from Avishai Cohen, however!

Rating: 52%

‘Beast’

beastSmall in scope (a product of writer/director Michael Pearce’s television experience in his feature film debut), Beast flits between a (dysfunctional) middle-class family drama and psychosexual horror story.

Unquestionably flawed, a remarkable performance from Jessie Buckley (TV’s Taboo, The Last Post) as Moll is the highlight. Desperate to escape her cruel, oppressive family, she becomes involved with Johnny Flynn (Clouds of Sils Maria, Love is Thicker Than Water), a convicted poacher living on the margins and suspected of being a serial killer of teenage girls.

A cold, windswept Jersey – far from its halcyon summer tourism – is the setting for Pearce’s intriguing drama packed with (mostly) unpleasant characters.

Rating: 58%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival

‘Woman at War’

womanatwarEntertaining enviro-political narrative as an eminently watchable Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir (Metalhead, The Seagull’s Laughter) takes on the aluminium industry polluting the beauty of the natural Icelandic countryside.

With the inadvertent help of a twin sister and a lonely farmer, Halla quietly gets things done, in spite of the establishment reacting in the belief it’s the actions of organised international terrorism.

Writer/director Benedikt Erlingsson (Of Horses and Men, Polite People) avoids overtly agitprop political speak, allowing wry humour and understated opinion speak for itself – along with the juxtaposing of the ruins of a Ukraine destroyed by over-industrialisation (a gentle subplot to the story).

Rating: 64%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival

‘When the Trees Fall’

when treesAn odd, fractured, surreal rebellion of a feature, an angry, multifaceted narration of aimless, unstructured poverty in contemporary Ukraine.

Director Marysia Nikitiuk, in her feature film debut, mixes urban and rural poverty, violence and passion, eroticism and misery, realism and fantasy. Several interlinked stories evolve at the same time – a four year-old girl living with her nanna in a rural setting that descends into violence; a teenage Larysa (a powerful and convincing Anastasia Putovit) rebelling against her home life with her young lover on the run from the mob.

Sadly, Nikitiuk’s grim realism is too unfocussed in its storytelling, creating a confusion of intent – which is a pity, as the stunning, febrile opening scene and its lyrical eroticism created a high expectation.

Rating: 38%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival

‘The Wife’

the-wifeA predictable relationship melodrama, it’s the performance of multiple Oscar-nominated Glenn Close (Dangerous Liaisons, Albert Nobbs) that’s the stand-out in director Bjorn Runge’s (Daybreak, Mouth to Mouth) latest.

As Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomorrow Never Dies) collects the Nobel Prize for Literature, the long-capped truth, at least behind closed doors, bubbles to the volatile surface.

Caustic rather than vicious, the unleashed storm is obviously brewing from very early on – with Close formidable as the too-oft ignored titular wife.

Rating: 64%

‘Dark River’

dark riverA bleak drama as two siblings battle for tenancy of the family farm following the death of their father.

After 15 years away, a compelling Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina, Saving Mr Banks) as Alice returns to Yorkshire to the decrepit homestead surly and angry brother Mark Stanley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Our Kind of Traitor) has left to rot.  Memories of paternal sexual abuse come flooding back as Alice battles to make the farm a going concern. But her brother has different ideas.

As the title suggests, it’s a brooding narrative from director Clio Bernard (The Arbor, The Selfish Giant) very loosely based on Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass (the setting for a start is transposed to Yorkshire from France). Both brother and sister share a dour affinity to the land, but each demands a different return. It’s raw and uncompromising, only marred by a less than convincing final minutes.

Rating: 54%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival