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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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Features Live Action Movies

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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Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Ennio: The Maestro (Ennio)

Director – Giuseppe Tornatore – 2021 – Italy – Cert. 15 – 156m

****

Documentary Ennio: The Maestro looks at the career of Italian film composer Ennio Morricone – out in cinemas on Friday, April 22nd

It’s difficult to know where to start with Ennio Morricone, whose career in film music covers some 70 years. Tornatore adopts the chronological approach, starting with his early life. The composer’s father was a trumpeter who pushed young Ennio to learn that same instrument, leading to entry into Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory where he studied both trumpet and composition. His father had raised him with a strong work ethic – using the trumpet to feed your family – and much of his early work was as a trumpeter on movie soundtrack sessions, including Othello (Orson Welles, 1951).

His wife secured him a brief stint at TV channel RAI where she was working, but on being told that he wouldn’t be able to perform anything recorded there anywhere else, Morricone quit almost immediately. Inspired by seeing experimental composer John Cage perform live, he formed the Nuovo Consonanza Improvisation Group to experiment with what he called “traumatic sounds”. This approach would inform a number of his later soundtracks.… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

Three Floors (Tre Piani)

Director – Nanni Moretti – 2021 – Italy – Cert. 18 – 117m

***1/2

Various personal crises beset three families occupying the separate floors of a three storeyapartment block – out in cinemas on Friday, March 18th

This drama is based around the lives of three families, the occupants of three floors of a three storey residential block in Rome. On the ground floor is a couple with a young daughter, on the first is a woman whose husband is frequently away on business, on the top are are married couple who are also judges.

In the course of its narrative it runs through in greater or lesser detail the subjects of birth, drink-driving, dementia, child sex abuse, seduction, jealousy, financial fraud, and flight from the law. It divides neatly into three sections, each five years apart, by means of two ‘Five Years Later’ titles. Most of the story’s surprises occur in the first section, with the two later sections providing time for the consequences of these events to be explored in the long run.

It adapts a novel that was originally set in Tel Aviv, here moving the action to Rome.

Frames from “Tre Piani” . Director Nanni Moretti DOP Michele D’Attanasio

It is (to say the least) a challenging film to review – or for that matter to sell – without ruining it in advance for audiences, containing, as it does, a number of major plot twists which completely redefine what happens afterwards, one of them occurring in the opening minutes.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Cyrano

Romantic self-doubt

Cyrano
Directed by Joe Wright
Certificate 12a, 124 minutes
Released 25 February

Edmond Rostand’s 1897 romantic play Cyrano de Bergerac concerns a man who, because of his long nose, considers himself too ugly to tell the girl of his dreams and childhood friend Roxanne that he loves her. This new version ditches the nose to cast Peter Dinklage (Game Of Thrones) as the hero whose dwarfism becomes his reason for thinking Roxanne (Haley Bennett) couldn’t possibly love him. Then she falls in love… with one of the men in the regiment he commands.

However… [Read more]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Cyrano is nominated for Best Costume Design in the 2021/22 (94th) Oscars.

Cyrano is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, February 25th.

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

Cyrano

Director – Joe Wright – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

The short stature of Cyrano de Bergerac makes him believe that no woman could ever love him – not even his beloved friend Roxanne, who he can’t bring himself to tell – out in cinemas on Friday, February 25th

17th Century Italy. Witty and articulate Captain of the Guard Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is never at a loss for words. His rapier wit defeats any opponent, as does his rapier proper should any be foolish enough to challenge him to a duel. Being short in stature, he can’t imagine that any normal sized woman could love him for who he is.

He is therefore unable to confess his love for her to the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett), the woman and lifelong childhood friend for whom he would do anything. So when she falls in love at first sight with Christian (Bashir Salahuddin), a new recruit to Cyrano’s regiment, Cyrano finds himself torn between her rejection and his desire for her to be happy with the man she loves. Unfortunately, this intelligent and free-spirited young woman enjoys nothing more than the literary cut and thrust which Cyrano is able to provide but the inarticulate and out of his depth Christian is not.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Top Ten

Top Ten Movies (and more) 2021

Work in progress – subject to change. Because I am still watching movies released in 2021, so it’s always possible that a new title could usurp the number one in due course. Before that, I have a lot more movies still to add.

All films received either a theatrical or an online release in the UK between 01/01/21 and 31/12/21. Prior to 2020, I’d never included online releases (well, maybe the odd one or two as a special case) but that year saw the film distribution business turned upside down by COVID-19. How 2022 and beyond will look is anyone’s guess.

This version excludes re-releases (Seven Samurai and It’s A Wonderful Life, in that order, would top everything here, while The Shop Around the Corner would also be in my Top Ten). A link to that longer list will be added here in due course.

In addition to re-releases, this version also excludes films seen in festivals which haven’t had any other UK release in 2021. A link to that even longer list will be added here in due course.

Finally, last year’s list is here.

Top Ten (UK theatrical + online movie releases 2021)

Please click on titles to see reviews.… Read the rest

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Books Features Live Action Movies Music

No Time To Die

Director – Cary Joji Fukunaga – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 163m

*****

We have all the time in the world. The new Bond movie gives Daniel Craig’s James Bond unexpected space to deal with human relationships and mortality – out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK on Monday, December 20th and the US on Tuesday, December 21st

With its release delayed for over a year because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Daniel Craig’s final screen outing as James Bond 007 finally arrives in UK cinemas, a week ahead of US release. Which is as it should be: Bond is British after all.

And yet, the plot sees Bond, now retired and living (like his late creator Ian Fleming towards the end of his life) in Jamaica, help out not MI6 but the CIA in the form of Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright in his third outing in the role opposite Craig’s Bond.).

The snowbound opening shows a little girl’s mother killed by a man wearing a Noh mask over a disfigured face; in the space of an edit, the little girl grows up to become Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), previously Bond’s love interest in Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015) and still together with him here.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

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