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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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La Mif

Director – Fred Baillif – 2021 – Switzerland – Cert. 15 – 110m

*****

The lives of inmates in a girls’ care home, and the working lives of the staff who look after them – out in UK & Irish cinemas on Friday, February 25th

This ‘docudrama’ (for want of a better term) follows the residents of a Geneva care home for vulnerable young people.

Screaming blue murder, a young woman is escorted from the premises by a policewoman.

Lora (Claudia Grob), the manager of this care home, returns after time off to say “hi” to the girls. (The fact of her returning is thrown in to the narrative almost casually at this point; only later does its significance become apparent.) These girls are vulnerable children in the State’s care, and Lora feels like a mother to them. They, in turn, refer to the home – meaning themselves and the other girls, with their support workers on hand in the background as sort of substitute parents – as La Mif (French slang for “the family”; literally, “The Fam”).

Novinha (Kassia Da Costa) is a sassy, pushy teenager who talks frankly about sex, And everything else. Audrey (Anaïs Uldry) – the arrested girl from the opening – has been caught having sex with a boy three years younger than her; after this, the centre is turned into a home for girls only.… Read the rest

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Flag Day

Director – Sean Penn – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 109m

****

A woman struggles to come to terms with her father who is a criminal and a pathological liar – out in cinemas on Friday, January 28th

This at once follows a linear narrative trajectory and doesn’t. On the one level, Jennifer grows into a woman, argues with her parents (with good reason) and attempts to find herself and make her way in the world. On the other level, images and sequences move effortlessly between Jennifer aged six (Addison Tymec), Jennifer as a young teenager (Jadyn Rylee) and the adult Jennifer (Dylan Penn). Sometimes it feels like the adult Jennifer having a flashback, sometimes it seems like we’re one of her younger selves, all very vivid and real. Sometimes it’s memory, sometimes it’s experience.

It’s based on the real life memoir of Jennifer Vogel, who apparently wrote the book trying to sort out her feelings about her unorthodox upbringing.

It starts and (more or less) ends with a line of cop cars pursuing suspect John Vogel (Sean Penn) wanted for counterfeiting. As the images roll over us, there’s a lot of adult Jennifer voice over in the first ten or so minutes (and elsewhere at odd moments in the film).… Read the rest

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Microhabitat (So-gong-nyeo, 소공녀)

Director – Jeon Go-woon – 2017 – South Korea – 106m

****1/2

The price has gone up. Yet again! A woman who wants nothing more from life than to be able to enjoy whisky and smoking enacts a radical plan to combat everyday inflation – on MUBI from Thursday, November 25th as part of their New South Korean Cinema season.

Miso (Lee Som aka Esom), whose name in Korean means both ‘smile’ and ‘micro’, lives in a small, one room, unheated apartment in Seoul. So cold in fact that when she and her boyfriend Hansol (Ahn Jae-hong) start peeling off multiple layers of clothing in the middle of winter that she’s given up by the time she’s down to her slip. It’ll have to wait ’til the Spring.

Having enough money is a constant struggle, but she’s shrewd and always puts aside enough for basic outgoings like food and rent as well as pleasures like smoking and whisky every month. When her landlord tells her the rent is going up, because his landlord is putting his rent up and he needs to pass some of the increase on to his tenants, she realises she’s going to have to cut something.… Read the rest

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Limbo

Director – Ben Sharrock – 2020 – UK – Cert. N/C 15+ – 103m

****1/2

Immigrants are holed up in a rundown house on a bleak Scottish island as they await letters granting their requests for asylum in the UK on MUBI from Thursday, September 23rd

A smiley chalked on a blackboard. A woman’s austere face suggesting exactly the opposite. Instructors Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Boris (Kenneth Collard) are demonstrating how a man should behave towards a woman dancing to pop music. Helga’s top looks far too proper and her skirt both far too formal and long for a good night out, as if she were dressed for work in an office. Boris is admonished for first resting his head on Helga’s clothed breast then putting his hands on her bottom. “Now, can anyone tell me what Boris did wrong,” she asks the group of stunned men watching, seated.

Behind her on the blackboard are the words, “Cultural Awareness 101. Sex. Is a smile an invitation?”

Welcome (or maybe not) to the world of an asylum seeker from Syria placed on a remote Scots island. Welcome (or maybe not) to the UK’s Hostile Environment.

A rudimentary training centre.… Read the rest

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Herself

Director – Phyllida Lloyd – 2020 – UK/Ireland – Cert. 15 – 97m

****

A woman leaves her abusive and violent husband and builds a new home for herself and her two young daughters – in UK cinemas from Friday, September 10th

Things come to a head in the marriage of Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) and Sandra (Clare Dunne, also co-screenwriter) when he violently assaults her and stamps on her hand, an incident witnessed by their younger daughter Molly (Molly McCann). Sandra has trained her kids well for such a situation and the eldest Emma (Ruby Rose O’Hara) knows what to do, rushing to the local shopkeeper with a lunch box inside the lid of which is the family address to give to the Garda.

Like her mother before her, Sandra works as a cleaner to retired and physically disabled local doctor Peggy O’Toole (Harriet Walter). To make ends meet, Sandra also works in a local pub as a barmaid alongside Amy (Ericka Roe) who lives in a nearby squat. After separating from Gary, she and he have joint custody of the kids while the council put her and her kids up in temporary accommodation in a hotel room.

As it’s four years on the housing list to get a home, Sandra investigates other alternatives and, surreptitiously using Peggy’s internet, discovers that she could build a house for only slightly more than a year’s rent to the council.… Read the rest

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Herself

A house of her own

Herself
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Certificate 15, 97 minutes
Released 10 September

Herself has a brutal opening in which Sandra (Clare Dunne), a mother of two girls in Dublin, is physically assaulted by her husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), an incident witnessed by her youngest daughter, Molly (Molly McCann), while her eldest, Emma (Ruby Rose O’Hara), races across the estate to the local shop to deliver a pre-written emergency message.

From here, it becomes a tale about a single mum’s struggle to find a decent home for her and her kids in the face of a social welfare system that can’t cope with either the level of need or any innovation through which people try to legitimately help themselves… [Read more]

Full review published in Reform.

See my alternative review of the film here.

Trailer:

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After Love

A girl in both ports

After Love
Directed by Aleem Khan
Certificate 12a, 89 minutes
Released in cinemas 4 June, on Blu-ray and BFI Player 23 August

*****

The South Coast. Mary (Joanna Scanlan) is married to Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia), a ferry captain who regularly travels to France and back in the course of work. They fell in love as teenagers. She is white British, he is south Asian. She has converted to Islam, his religion, and integrated into his Urdu-speaking family, a language she has herself learned.

One day he comes home from work, and dies while she’s making him a cup of tea. Going through his effects, she checks his mobile phone, and discovers messages from another woman. She goes over to France to confront Geneviève (Natalie Richard)… [read more]

Full theatrical review in Reform magazine.

NB Blu-ray contains the director’s earlier short Three Brothers (2014) plus an informative 46-minute zoom Q&A, trailer and teaser trailer, a stills gallery, and (first pressing only) a booklet containing writing on the film.

Trailer:

2021

Cinemas

Friday, June 4th

Blu-ray, BFI Player (subscription exclusive)

Monday, August 23rd.

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Muscle

Director – Gerard Johnson – 2019 – UK – Cert. 18 – 110m

****

Pump it up! A man dissatisfied with his life comes under the influence of a manipulative bodybuilding trainer – on Sky and NOW from Tuesday, June 1st

Newcastle, UK. Simon (Cavan Clerkin) is at a dead end working days in a dodgy telesales job he hates and coming home at night to his partner Sarah (Polly Maberly) who no longer loves him. Whatever attracted her to him has gone. Looking for a way to move forward, Simon sees a man walk confidently out of a doorway and on realising it’s a local gym, decides to join. It’s not long before he’s under the influence of fellow member Terry (Craig Fairbrass), an ex-forces type who takes him under his wing as a personal trainer to help him transform his body. Under Terry’s influence, Simon changes his diet, reduces his drinking with colleagues to virtually nil and is suddenly achieving top sales at work. None of that is enough to stop Sarah leaving him.

Terry is however not what he initially seems. He suggests first he then his friend Crystal (Lorraine Burroughs) move into Simon’s house to help pay the bills then instigates increasingly orgiastic parties with his friends as if the place was his own.… Read the rest

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A Quiet Place

Director – John Krasinski – 2018 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

*****

A family live on an isolated farm on an Earth where alien predators hunt by sound – out on DVD, Blu-ray and selected online services

NB This is the original film, not A Quiet Place Part II currently in cinemas.

The world is a changed place. Civilization as we know it has broken down. Earth’s population has been decimated by alien predators. Evelyn Abbot (Emily Blunt) goes through the meds on a shelf in a deserted store in town where her youngest son Beau (Cade Woodward) becomes attracted to a model spaceship because “that’s how we’ll get away from here”. When his dad Lee (John Krasinski, the film’s co-writer and director as well as Blunt’s real life husband) sees this, he removes batteries from the toy and forbids his son to take it. However, his daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) takes pity on Beau and slips it to him when her dad isn’t looking. And in similar fashion, when she isn’t looking the boy also takes the batteries. An act which will have fatal consequences for him and, going forward, a huge impact on the relationship dynamics within this family.… Read the rest