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Benedetta

Director – Paul Verhoeven – 2021 – France – Cert. tbc – 131m

*****

A 17th Century nun subject to religious visions embarks on a lesbian relationship with a novice – exclusively on MUBI from Friday, July 1st

Christianity. The Church. Religion. Treat them the wrong way, and you can get into trouble. Horror The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), drama The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971) and comedy Life Of Brian (Terry Jones, 1971) remain controversial. Lesbian nun relationship drama Benedetta may be about to join their ranks. Or perhaps times have moved on. The film is apparently based on a real 17th Century case.

As a young girl, Benedetta (Elena Plonka) claims to commune with the Divine – convincingly so, too, enough to suggest to a bandit gang about to rob her parents and her that a chirping bird is God’s voice, especially when said bird deposits excrement in the eye of the bandit leader who promptly returns a gold necklace to Benedetta’s mother.

On arrival at the convent in Pescia, Benedetta’s father (David Clavel) must pay the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling who seems to have cornered the market in Reverend Mothers judging by Dune, Denis Villeneuve, 2021) a dowry to enable his daughter to become a novice, which suggests that the institution, like the wealthy Catholic Church under whose umbrella it exists, may have ignored Jesus’ injunction to sell all you have and give to the poor.… Read the rest

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Il Buco

Director – Michelangelo Frammartino – 2021 – Italy – Cert. U – 93m

**1/2

A Calabrian cowherd nears the end of his life while a group of explorers journey down a deep hole to find out how deep into the ground it descends – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

Literally, ‘The Hole’. Frammartino again brings to the cinema the style that made his earlier Le Quattro Volte (2010) so special. He sets up the camera, often at a great distance from the action, then leaves it there to record whatever happens. The narrative of Il Buco is actually pretty simple, a recreation of an expedition by a group of young, amateur speleologists into a hole in the ground in Calabria. (Speleology is the branch of science involved in mapping and measuring the interiors of caves, natural underground systems, and the like.)

It’s 1961. We’re first introduced to the place in a shot looking out of the ground at the edge of the hole as, eventually, the heads of two bulls come into view over the ridge. An elderly cowherd watches over the grazing cattle from a position halfway up a forty degree incline hillside. As the bus leaves the rich, urban developments of Northern Italy for the still unspoiled Southern region of Calabria, we watch it slowly make its way along rounds, through a small rural town where the party stops for the night to bed down in sleeping bags in the local, Catholic Church alongside statues of monks and the crucified Christ lying on his back, across open country until it arrives at the vast plain where the explorers will set up camp.… Read the rest

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Men

Director – Alex Garland – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 100m

***

An urban woman dealing with separation and bereavement encounters several men with the same face in an English village – out in cinemas on Wednesday, June 1st

A face passes before the eyes of Harper (Jessie Buckley) as her husband James (Paapa Essiedu) falls to his death from the balcony above their London flat. It’s the Spring. She drives to a house in the country – strictly speaking, in a small rural village – which she’s rented for two weeks to get away from it all.

There, she meets well-to-do landlord Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) who shows her round the property and hands over the keys. He’s an affable and chivalrous sort of chap who insists of bringing her bags in from the car and can’t stop talking; he might have walked straight in from the previous century or even the one before. He mentions that the TV reception can be a bit iffy, especially when it’s raining, and also recommends a visit to the village pub.

She’s glad when he’s left and promptly calls her partner Riley (Gayle Rankin), who she will be in touch with this way on and off throughout the narrative and who will eventually drive over to see her, the only time we ever see Riley in the flesh.… Read the rest

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Wake Wood

Director – David Keating – 2009 – UK, Ireland – Cert. 18 – 90m

*****

Things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad and terrible prices have to be paid in a mysterious, close-knit village community – out in UK cinemas from Friday, March 25th, 2011

This review originally appeared in Third Way.

This presages the recent relaunching of Hammer Films, a huge cultural force back in the 1950s and 60s reworking such horror staples as Dracula and Frankenstein. So far UK cinemas have hosted (1) Let Me In‘s arguably pointless US remake of terrific Swedish vampire effort Let The Right One In and (2) predictable, New York tenant in peril outing The Resident. Wake Wood is not only far and away the best of the three, but also fits in with the Hammer ethos – here represented by a mysterious, close-knit village community where things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad, and terrible prices have to be paid for misjudged actions. A fair bit of blood and gore is added for good measure.

After their only daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) is fatally savaged by a dog, Irish city dwellers vets Patrick and Louise Daly (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Eva Birthistle) move to the isolated village of Wake Wood to start over.… Read the rest

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Father Stu

Director – Rosalind Ross – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 124m

***

A boxer turned actor who fancies a Catholic girl is drawn into first the church and then the priesthood – out in cinemas Friday, May 13th

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) is stuck. His career as a boxer has been going nowhere for three years, then comes the news from his doctor that he needs to pack it in. That’s okay, though – he always wanted to be an actor, so he moves to LA and lands himself a job serving on a supermarket meat counter. This seems to him as good a place as any to get discovered. That doesn’t go anywhere, but what DOES happen is that he sees a girl he likes, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz).

However, Carmen is a Catholic and won’t date anyone who isn’t. So, to make something happen, he first of all finds her church and attends services there just to see her, then pretty soon he’s signing up to classes to get baptised into the faith. This seems to have the desired effect and they become a couple with marriage on the horizon sometime in the future. It has a further effect on Stuart that he didn’t bargain for: being around religious people and studying what Catholics believe, he starts to become one himself and develop a genuine faith.… Read the rest

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Benedetta

Sins of the flesh

Benedetta
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Certificate 18, 131 minutes
Released 15 April

The Dutch director Paul Verhoeven revels in controversy… His latest work, Benedetta, is… sexually explicit, but also tackles religion within a historical context. It clearly has plenty of potential to offend.

Benedetta is based on the story of the 17th-century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini who had visions and exhibited stigmata. She became an abbess and was investigated and discredited by Catholic officials. There were suggestions that Benedetta’s visionary traffic was with the Devil rather than God, while various nuns’ testimonies claimed her stigmata to be faked. Her roommate Bartolomea confessed to regular sexual activity with Benedetta. Benedetta was demoted.

Verhoeven eschews historical accuracy for the spiritual, the spectacular and the carnal… [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Teaser trailer:

Trailer:

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Mouthpiece

Director – Patricia Rozema – 2018 – Canada – Cert. 15 – 91m

****1/2

Tall Cassie and short Cassie struggle to find the words for the eulogy for their mother’s funeral after she dies suddenly and unexpectedly – on MUBI from Thursday, March 24th

Christmas. Tall Cassie (Amy Nostbakken) and short Cassie (Norah Sadova) get drunk in a bar with friends, make their way home on their (one) bicycle and collapse into bed, ignoring the flood of mobile messages which they don’t pick up ‘til the next, sunny morning. They answer. It’s bad news. Their mum has died. Could she pick the flowers? Danny is going to do the speech.

But Cassie is the writer in the family and she won’t have it. She’ll do the speech herself. Danny isn’t capable of doing it. Although she doesn’t yet know what to say. And the funeral is in 48 hours.

Welcome to the world of sudden parental bereavement where things you know to be solid and true fold and crumple before your eyes. Where you are flooded with random memories as you try to make sense of it all. There are social rituals and structures supposedly to help you deal with this – ordering the flowers, choosing suitable clothes to wear, picking out the coffin, writing a eulogy for the deceased, attending a funeral service.… Read the rest

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The Student ((M)uchenik)

Director – Kirill Serebrennikov – 2016 – Russia – Cert. 15 – 118m

****

An obsession with the Bible drives a Russian secondary school student towards dark designs in a film with both religious and political ramifications – out in cinemas on Friday, March 3rd 2017

Late teenager Venya (Pyotr Skvortsov) needs something to believe in. Both the State and its lackey the Orthodox Church have failed him. He spends much of his time either thumbing through his dog-eared pocket Bible or reading aloud from it to those around him. His lone parent mum (Yuliya Aug) initially thinks it’s a joke but comes to realise that her son’s rebellion is grounded in something she doesn’t really know or understand.

Most of his classmates are more interested in sex and larking about. Venya skips swimming lessons where he objects to the girls’ immodest bikinis. Later in an empty classroom he pushes away Lidia (Aleksandra Revenko) when she removes her top and throws herself at him. He spends time with bullied and disabled fellow student Grigoriy (Aleksandr Gorchilin) whose leg he promises to heal.

For the most part his school’s principal, teachers and even its Orthodox priest (who he dismisses as compromised and Mercedes-driving) can’t handle Venya.… Read the rest

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Belfast

Director – Kenneth Branagh – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 98m

*****

1969, Belfast, Northern Ireland. The life of a young boy and his family is impacted by The Troubles as Christian sectarianism explodes into violence on their street – out in cinemas on Friday, January 21st

Bookended by colour images of contemporary Belfast, Northern Ireland, this swiftly traverses a colour montage to pan up a wall to the black and white photographed 1969 beyond. The closing moments also feature the genuinely touching legend, “For the ones who stayed, For the ones who left, And for the ones who were lost.”

Elsewhere, apart from family trips to the cinema to see the likes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ken Hughes, 1968), where the clips from the movie and light reflected from it onto the black and white audience are in colour, everything else (including other aspects of the family cinema-going experience) is entirely in black and white.

The first ten minutes are a particularly tough watch, as images of kids playing footy, hopscotch or knights in armour (wooden swords and dustbin lids) in the streets give way to nine-year-old Buddy (ten-year-old Jude Hill) returning home to find men with clubs breaking windows on his street, hurling Molotov cocktails and shouting, “get these fockers off your street.”… Read the rest

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House Of Gucci

Director – Ridley Scott – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 157m

*****

A woman marries into the wealthy Gucci family and inadvertently brings about its downfall – out in cinemas on Friday, November 26th

First impressions.

A beautiful day. A well-dressed man (Adam Driver) relaxes at the café, pays his bill, cycles through the streets. Life is good. He reaches his destination. As he approaches the door, a voice asks, “Mr. Gucci?”

Milan, 1978. Another beautiful day. A woman dressed and moving like a goddess (Lady Gaga) walks past trucks and workers to her father’s transportation business office where she works as his assistant. Later, a friend asks her to a costume party. She dances. She looks incredible. She goes for a drink. The barman (Driver) turns out not to be not the barman. He makes her a drink anyway. He’s Maurizio. Gucci. He knows the host. She’s Patrizia Reggiani. She doesn’t. He tells her he can’t dance. She drags him onto the dance floor and makes him look good even though he does nothing. He leaves at midnight, worried he’ll turn into a frog. It’s a pumpkin, she calls after him.

She stalks him, ‘accidentally’ bumping into him at a bookshop where he’s buying armfuls of legal books (he’s studying to be a lawyer).… Read the rest