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Benediction

Director – Terence Davies – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 137m

****

The life of First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon, his homosexual lifestyle and his heterosexual marriage – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

It’s been five years since Davies’ previous film A Quiet Passion (2016) and the curious thing is, both these films have been about poets and poetry. The earlier film was about Emily Dickinson, with its discussion about religion and Christianity very much to the fore; the new film is about Siegfried Sassoon and while the Catholicism he embraced in later years is in the mix, alongside that element Davies’ research revealed others of far greater interest to the writer-director, notably that Sassoon was gay. As you might expect, the first half hour or so concentrates on the First World War, but more time is spent in the middle of the film exploring some of Sassoon’s gay relationships with a small section towards the end skimming over his later years and heterosexual married life.

Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) saw action in the First World War and had the utmost respect for the men under his command – and they for him. He was appalled by the conditions under which they found themselves serving.… Read the rest

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The Worst Person In The World (Verdens Verste Menneske)

Director – Joachim Trier – 2021 – Norway – Cert. 15 – 128m

*****

A young woman learns about both herself and life through two personal relationships – twice Oscar-nominated film is on MUBI from Friday, May 13th

Trying to reinvent herself, Julie (Renate Reinsve) spends her student days moving from medicine into psychology (believing she’s more interested in what’s inside than skin and bones) then photography as she decides she’s a visual person. Suddenly the world opens up to her, she’s meeting new people and before long she’s moved in with popular comic book artist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie from 22 July, Paul Greengrass, 2018; Personal Shopper, Oliver Assayas, 2016). He is 15 years older than her and wants to have kids (he’s the only one in his family who hasn’t yet done so). She isn’t currently ready for that.

One night, after being pictured standing on an Oslo balcony in a repeat of the shot that opens the film, she leaves early from Aksel’s latest book launch and walking home gatecrashes a wedding party where she meets Elvind (Herbert Nodrum), their conversation gets very deep very quickly and they agree that neither of them will cheat on their respective partners, but then, as Julie says, where do you draw the line?… Read the rest

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Benediction

Glum heroes

Benediction
Directed by Terence Davies
Certificate 12a, 137 minutes
Released 20 May

Films about poets are few; however, the director Terence Davies has now made two in a row as different as their historical subjects. The earlier A Quiet Passion (Reform, April 2017) concerns the introverted, isolated, American spinster Emily Dickinson while the current Benediction is about First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) – a homosexual man when this sexual preference was illegal, before the word ‘gay’ was used to describe such things.

His Military Cross earned for bravery as a First World War officer drops into a stream then sinks, an image expressing Sassoon’s dissatisfaction with the way the war is being run, and the hardships endured by the troops. He writes in protest to the top brass, but instead of the court-martial and platform to speak he expects, he is diagnosed with ‘shell shock’, partly thanks to literary mentor Robbie Ross (Simon Russell-Beale). Sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh… [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Trailer:

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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

Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu Bucluc sau Porno Balamuc)

Director – Radu Jude – 2021 – Romania – Cert. 18 – 106m

*****

A teacher becomes the subject of controversy after her husband’s private sex tape is posted online – on BFI Player Subscription from Friday, April 1st

Park your prejudices at the door! The opening three or so minutes of this will surprise or possibly even shock you – basically, hard core, live action genital sex images of a man and a woman, no holds barred. Real, not simulated. And real in other senses too – banging… knocking… (oh God, double entendres, can’t see how to avoid them here) on the door as our couple go at it… Her mother, one imagines, heard through the wall… “Emi, are you asleep” – Emi’s reply, “please leave us alone” – her mother again, “the little one hasn’t sanitised”…

Yes, it’s the world of immediate, post-lockdown pandemic, with people wearing masks and social distancing (or not, if they don’t get it). That wasn’t in the script but when director Jude was shooting in Bucharest: Romania was coming out of lockdown, and he decided to incorporate that into his film. Most contemporary films pretend we’re in a world where Covid-19 never happened or isn’t happening, so we just carry on as normal.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Paris 13th District (Les Olympiades, Paris 13e)

Director – Jacques Audiard – 2021 – France – Cert. 15 tbc – 105m

***

The criss-crossing lives and loves of four characters in Paris 13th District – in cinemas from Friday, March 18th

Shot for the most part in stylish black and white, this starts off with apartment resident Émilie Wong (Lucie Zhang) naked in her grandmother’s flat with her new tenant Camille (Makita Samba), their situation swiftly explained in a “how it all began” flashback. Their intense passion cools after a mere couple of weeks, however, with Camille subsequently bringing another girl he fancies back to the flat.

Meanwhile, law student Nora Ligier (Noémie Merlant from Jumbo, Zoé Wittock, 2020) gets mistaken for online sex cam girl Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth) at a nightclub and the image of her (incorrect) identity immediately plastered over the internet. She quits university and gets a job at a real estate company, an area in which she has a lot of experience, run by Camille who is looking after the company for a friend and has no idea what he’s doing.

Although Nora delineates boundaries for the office, pretty soon she and Camille are involved in a passionate, physical relationship. Meanwhile, she tracks down Amber Sweet on the web, first for conversations on Amber’s expensive website and later for lengthier conversations for free on Skype.… 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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Petrov’s Flu (Petrovy v Grippe)

Director – Kirill Serebrennikov – 2021 – Russia – Cert. 18 – 145m

*****

The stream of consciousness existence of an urban, Russian comic book artist who has the ‘flu – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th

Despite being under the weather with the ‘flu, city dweller Petrov (Semyon Serzin) is trying his best to carry on as normal. Not so easy when you’re out of it. His nightmare starts with a bus journey. A nine-year-old girl kindly offers him her seat, but before he’s sat down, someone else seems to have taken it. A misogynist old man talks to the girl, telling her that often girls her age are married off and possibly already cheating on their husbands.

in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday December 15, 2019. (Photo Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times)

Before the old misogynist knows it, someone has had the bus stopped so the he can be thrown off, losing his false teeth in the process which Petrov picks up and which subsequently function like an intermittent Greek chorus, albeit one that doesn’t make any particular sense, throughout the remainder of the narrative. Then Petrov’s mate Igor (Yuri Kolokolnikov), who’s been pursuing the bus in a hearse, complete with coffined corpse, stops it to commandeer Petrov off the bus and into shooting an automatic rifle at victims as part of an impromptu firing squad.… Read the rest

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Ghostbusters Afterlife

Director – Jason Reitman – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

A single parent mum and her two teenage kids relocate to a small American town to find strange, paranormal goings-on – currently streaming in Ultra HD and from Monday, January 31st on BD and DVD in the UK

Hollywood loves sequels to or reboots of successful films. The original Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984), in which three parapsychologists set up as a team to capture the many ghosts that have inexplicably begun appearing in New York City, was unlike anything that had gone before with its mixture of comedy, action and the paranormal. Deservedly a huge hit, it spawned the inevitable sequel Ghostbusters II (Ivan Reitman, 1989) which didn’t have a strong enough plot to maintain interest beyond the first 20 minutes or so. The reboot Ghostbusters (Paul Feig, 2016), recasting the parapsychologists as women, worked well enough.

Ghostbusters Afterlife, however, is another attempt at a sequel. A very brave attempt it is too, because sequels are often expected to basically rerun the original film in an attempt to serve the audience a second helping of what they enjoyed before. After seeing it, you might argue that Afterlife does that, but going in, you might wonder what on Earth is going on.… Read the rest

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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