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Vortex

Director – Gaspar Noé – 2021 – France – Cert. 15 – 142m

*****

An elderly man struggles to care for his ailing wife who has dementia – out in cinemas on Friday, May 13th

Discounting the lengthy titles detailing among other things the various film clips and images used, this throws us a series of images in a pillarboxed 4:3 format with curved corners at the edges (suggesting a projected slide show or physical, analogue photographs mounted in an album) then the young Françoise Hardy singing “Mon Amie La Rose” loads irony into the proceedings: the rose is fresh and speaks to us of love, the singer young and yet to be ravaged by the passage of time. (It’s not mentioned here, but last year, Hardy announced she could no longer sing as a result of cancer treatments, which lends the video a certain poignancy today – even more so in the context of this film.)

Then the man we’ll call the father (Dario Argento, director of such Italian gialli as Suspiria, 1977; Tenebrae, 1982) waves through windows across a courtyard at the woman we’ll call the mother (Françoise Lebrun from The Mother And The Whore, Jean Eustache, 1973) and they meet up for a glass of wine on their balcony.… Read the rest

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Sweat

Director – Magnus von Horn – 2020 – Poland, Sweden – Cert. 15 – 106m

****

An Instagram fitness celebrity struggles with the tension between constant self-promotion and everyday existence – on MUBI from Friday, September 17th

This opens with Sylwia Zajac (Magdalena Kolesnik) leading a demanding workout with a crowd of dozens of her fitness fans in a shopping mall. It closes during her appearance on the ‘Good Morning TVN’ TV chat show with her doing a wake up workout for the camera. Somewhere in the middle, when she visits her mum Basia (Aleksandra Konieczna) for a birthday gathering where she meets Basia’s new boyfriend Fryderyk (Zbigniew Zamachowski), she plays her latest fitness DVD on the big plasma TV she’s just given her mum – who thinks it’s too big for her living room.

Hitchcock once described movies as “life with the dull bits left out” but this Polish movie takes a completely opposite approach, with writer-director Van Horne interested in the dull bits in between the star’s high profile presence. Sylwia is as much an Instagram personality as a fitness trainer and has “around 600 000” followers on the platform.

During the opening workout, she addresses her fans as “my loves”, the mode of address she consistently uses in her posts and, it turns out, in life, and after the workout she publicly takes a selfie.… Read the rest

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Nomadland

Director – Chloé Zhao – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 107m

****1/2

A poor widow drives around the US in her van picking up casual work where she can get it, meeting and making friends with other vandwellers – on VoD, in cinemas from Monday, May 17th

There’s a restlessness about Nomadland. In most films, the characters live in fixed abodes – houses or flats. Perhaps parts of villages, towns or cities. Not so here.

“I’m not homeless”, explains Fern (Frances McDormand) at one point to a daughter of a friend she’s not seen for years and runs into in a hardware store, ” I’m houseless. There’s a difference.” Indeed there is. 

Following the rapid economic collapse of Empire, the town where she lived, explained in a throwaway introductory title at the start, and the death of her husband, Fern has taken off in an RV and now moves from place to place, getting paid work where she can find it, meeting people and, frankly, enjoying the freedom this mobile and rootless lifestyle affords her. 

The property was originally a non-fiction book by journalist Jessica Bruder who documented the lives of so-called vandwellers living on the road following the US economic depression of 2007-2009.… Read the rest

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My Prince Edward (Gam Dou, 金都)

Director – Norris Wong Yee-Lam – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 91m

****1/2

A Prince Edward resident starts to question whether marrying her boyfriend as the couple have long planned is really such a good idea – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th

Whatever your nationality, one of the great thrills of world cinema is when a film informs you about all sorts of aspects of a culture other than your own. That’s the case here. To call this a romantic drama is misleading because what it’s actually about is a woman on a culturally approved trajectory starting to question whether it really is something for her or whether she’d be better off finding a different life journey entirely by another route. That approved trajectory is: girl meets boy, girl moves in with boy, girl marries boy.

Perhaps there’s a second trajectory here too, suggesting that Hong Kong is a sealed, navel-gazing world caught up with looking at itself and that perhaps Hong Kongers need to get out of their homeland more, be that to mainland China to which the heroine travels for reasons of her complicated personal situation and later visits of her own volition or be it to America, described by the film’s mainland Chinese lead as a place of freedom.… Read the rest