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.

Rating: 73%

‘Still the Water’

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.

Rating: 64%

‘Howards End’

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.

Rating: 71%

‘The Virgin Spring’

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.

Rating: 71%

‘A Screaming Man’

A tender African tale of family and the immediacy of civil war, A Screaming Man is an unsentimental reflection on consequence.

The downsizing of staff in the resort hotel in N’Djamena, capital of Chad, sees former swimming champion Adam Ousmane (Youssouf Djaoro – Lingui, Dry Season) lose his position as pool attendant to his son, Abdel (Diouc Koma – Gloria Mundi, Yao). As rebel troops move closer to the city, Adam is pressured into contributing to the war effort. 

Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Grigris, Lingui), A Screaming Man is a quiet, nuanced narrative of family life with its subtle portrayal of envy, bitterness and guilt. The result is a sublime and understated contemplation on the small details of life.

Won the Jury Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Rating: 79%

‘The Angels’ Share’

Light hearted drama is not something commonly associated with director Ken Loach (Kes, I Daniel Blake). But The Angels’ Share is just that – a delicious David and Goliath narrative full of honesty and wit.

Locked into the grudge of Glasgow life, fresh out of juvie but ordered to do community service, Robbie (Paul Brannigan – Roads, Sunshine on Leith) connects with supervisor Harry (John Henshaw – The Keeper, Looking For Eric). With his love for quality whisky, Harry introduces Robbie and his mates Rhino, Albert and Mo to the distilleries of the Scottish Highlands and an unexpected way out of their rut.

Roach’s inevitable sociopolitical commentary early in the film gives way to one of the most original of heist comedies as the lads and lasses of working class Glasgow come face to face with wealthy international whisky conneisseurs. A real crowd pleaser of a feature that unexpectedly picked up the Jury Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

Rating: 67%

‘The French Dispatch’

As with most Wes Anderson films, the cast list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood. Yet his latest, The French Dispatch is a surprisingly disappointing hotch-potch of short story narratives.

Under editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray – Lost in Translation, Ghostbusters), The French Dispatch is an outpost of a Kansas newspaper that provides stories of Europe to its American readers. But its time for the final issue. Bringing together loyal journalists and staff members, complex narration with Anderson’s trademark whimsy and nostalgic sadness all encased in a stage set design follows. Tales of mundane and extreme, all are dull and uninvolving – whether it’s the institutionalised artist (Benico Del Toro) discovered by Parisian galleryist (Adrien Brody), the 1968-style student demonstrations with Timothée Chalamet as a student rebel or the dispassionate writer Jeffrey Wright reflecting on an earlier article.

There’s no question The French Dispatch remains an intelligent, visual quirky delight – but the substance and authenticity of character is lost as the likes of Tilda Swinton and Elisabeth Moss are seen for minutes whilst Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Christoph Waltz and more for even less. The sum of its individual parts, sadly, do not add up.

Rating: 50%

‘The Seventh Seal’

Early feature from Ingmar Bergman (Face to Face, Fanny & Alexander) is eloquent yet unexpectedly funny (at times) considering its a medieval tale about religion and the existence of God.

A knight returning to Sweden from the Crusades (a young Max von Sydow – Pelle the Conqueror, Extremely Close & Incredibly Loud) finds himself playing chess with the Grim Reaper as he questions his own personal beliefs and the world around him. Accompanied by jocular squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand – Autumn Sonata, Wild Strawberries), Antonius Block travels a bleak, grim road in returning home.

Haunting (black & white) imagery with a meditative view of the knight’s quest results in a film of message and thought. It may lack immediacy but its visuals will stay in the mind.

Rating: 69%

‘Pan’s Labyrinth’

An intense collage of fantasy, history, horror, adventure and sexual awakening, Pan’s Labyrinth is a lyrical yet brutal unfold of a narrative, an early feature from multi-award winning director, Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Nightmare Alley).

Set in 1944 Spain and Franco’s fascist repression of the republican movement, a young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero – Gelo, Another Me) finds solace in her books as she leaves the city to live in an army camp run by her stepfather, the sadistic Captain Vidal (Sergi López – A Perfect Day, El Niño). With her mother (Ariadna Gil – Alatriste, Belle Epoque) pregnant and the camp threatened by armed insurgents, Ofelia loses herself in her own fairytale fantasies of being the reborn princess of the underworld.

A multi-layered metaphor of a narrative, Pan’s Labyrinth is a sublime piece of visual and aural storytelling.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 2007 including best foreign language film, original script, won 3 for art direction, cinematography & makeup.

Rating: 77%

‘Sons & Lovers’

Early British social realism, the adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, directed by Jack Cardiff (The Long Ships, The Girl on the Motorcycle), is a gritty family drama set in a Nottingham mining village.

Dreaming of study and art school, Paul Morel (Dean Stockwell – Paris Texas, Married to the Mob) is supported by his long-suffering mother, Wendy Hiller (Separate Tables, Pygmalion). His drunk of a father (a maginificent Trevor Howard – The Third Man, Ryan’s Daughter) is a different matter, expecting his sons to follow him down the mine. When the eldest is killed in a pit accident, more pressure is placed on Paul – just as he becomes involved in a married woman – Mary Ure (Look Back in Anger, Where Angels Dare).

Stunningly shot (cinematographer Freddie Francis – The Elephant Man, Glory), the semi-autobiographical Sons & Lovers is an intense, dramatic intergenerational conflict with powerful and empathic performances.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1961 (including best film, director, actor (Howard), supporting actress (Ure), adapted screenplay – won 1 for best black & white cinematography.

Rating: 77%