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Contempt (Le Mépris)

Director – Jean-Luc Godard – 1963 – France – Cert. 15 – 103m

*****

Review originally published in What’s On In London when the film was reissued in 1996 – reprinted here to commemorate Godard’s passing on Tuesday, 13th September, 2022

Made back in 1963 in the latter days of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (Le Mépris) anticipates J.G. Ballard’s seminal novel Crash, David Cronenberg’s controversial film of which currently awaits a British distributor. Alongside a director in a film studio (Godard casts the great Fritz Lang, who famously made the silent classic Metropolis at UFA in 1926 before a subsequent career in Hollywood on westerns and crime thrillers), Contempt boasts a central protagonist obsessed by his wife’s sexual peccadilloes, not to mention bleak, domestic, modernist architecture and mythical car crash aftermaths.

The camera lingers lovingly over the latter to George Delerue’s unforgettable and heavily romantic score, but (as apparently in Cronenberg’s Crash) pays little attention to the actual moment of impact.

It’s one of Godard’s best films and possibly his most accessible. Director Lang struggles to film The Odyssey at CineCitta with unsympathetic producer Jeremiah Prokosh (a towering Jack Palance) who waxes lyrical about life and art while seducing Camille (a stunningly contemptuous Brigitte Bardot), wife of hired screenwriter Michel Piccoli.… Read the rest

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The Forgiven

Director – John Michael McDonagh – 2021 – UK/Ireland – Cert. 18 – 117m

****

A wealthy alcoholic driving to a rich school friend’s party in the Sahar desert accidentally kills a local and sparks a cross-cultural incident that will have profound consequences for him – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 2nd

Wealthy married couple David and Jo Henninger (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) travel to Tangier in what he calls “ah – l’Afrique” to attend a rich friend’s party at his isolated home in the middle of the Sahara. This involves driving some 400 miles through poorly mapped desert terrain. David is a high-functioning alcoholic (“I’ve always thought the high-functioning should cancel out the alcoholic”, he says) who indulges himself from a bottle before he starts to drive and the couple argue a great deal. Perhaps their relationship is nearing its end.

En route, they get lost, but in the middle of the night eventually find the turn off. They stop, bicker, then start up again and immediately hit local teenager Driss (Omar Ghazaoui) who has stepped out in front of the stationary car to sell them a fossil. Burying his ID, they bundle his dead body into the car hoping that their host will know what to do.… Read the rest

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The Feast (Gwledd)

Director – Lee Haven Jones – 2021 – UK (Wales) – Cert. 18 – 93m

**

The well-heeled wife of a local MP hires a maid to serve a meal for guests, but then things go horribly wrong – shot in the Welsh language and out in cinemas on Friday, August 19th

It’s unusual to see a film executed completely in the Welsh language, and for pulling that off, the makers of The Feast are to be congratulated. Unfortunately, apart from that element and its striking visual palette, this fails to engage.

In rural Wales, well-heeled Glenda (Nia Roberts) is preparing to have guests over for the evening. Unfortunately, the girl she usually hires from the pub is unavailable, so she’s taken a replacement, Cadi (Annes Elwy), another girl who works there and comes highly recommended. However, Cadi is an unknown quantity and the woman doesn’t really trust her – and won’t do so unless Cadi can do something to earn that trust.

The woman and her family don’t feel like the sort of people you’d want to have anything to do with if you could avoid them. From Cadi’s point of view, she is most definitely not trusted by the woman who hired her, and feels most definitely an outsider.… Read the rest

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Red Angel (Akai Tenshi, 赤い天使)

Director – Yasuzo Masumura – 1966 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 95m

An army nurse is sent to China – as a slogan in one of the film’s trailers puts it, “on the battlefield where life and death is decided.”

Full Blu-ray review published at All The Anime.

In 1939, for her first posting, Nurse Sakura Nishi (Ayako Wakao) is sent to Tianjin Army Hospital. A number of the male patients appear to be faking medical conditions so as to escape the front line, where Japanese casualties are heavy. When she first does her rounds, Private Sakamoto (Jotaro Senba) and a number of the other men are very forward and ask her a lot of personal questions.

Much worse is to come, however, because when she does her night rounds, she finds herself trapped in the men’s dorm and raped by Sakamoto while the others hold her down. Reporting this incident to the head nurse (Ranko Akagi), Nishi learns she’s this soldier’s third victim. The head nurse resolves to have Sakamoto sent back to the front.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Nishi is then posted to a front-line hospital where medics go through the incoming wounded, pronouncing them dead or designating them for surgery, for which read amputation.… Read the rest

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The Good Boss (El Buen Patrón)

Director – Fernando León de Aranoa – 2021 – Spain – Cert. 15 – 116m

***1/2

With a prestigious business competition coming up, a factory boss must keep the judges from stumbling upon his personal and corporate dirty laundry – out in cinemas on Curzon Home Cinema on Friday, July 15th

Any day now, the local committee will descend upon the Blanco Scales factory to see if the business should receive the prize money for an upcoming good business award. No-one knows exactly when they are likely to turn up, though, least of all Blanco (Javier Bardem) himself. So, clearly everything needs to be in good order to impress the judges when they turn up. Which should be fine, because Blanco prides himself in looking out for his work force and the company is one big, benevolent, happy family.

Except that it isn’t, because although Blanco sees it that way, the reality is that he only cares for his workforce insofar as doing so will enhance their productivity. He fires dissatisfied employee Jose (Óscar de la Fuente) who promptly sets up camp outside the factory gates – on land Blanco doesn’t own so he can’t evict him – and proceeds to chant anti-Blanco slogans on a daily basis.… Read the rest

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Nitram

Director – Justin Kurzel – 2022 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

A drama re-imagining of the events in the life of a young man leading up to Tasmania’s 1996 Port Arthur Massacre – out in cinemas on Friday, July 1st

This extraordinary character study starts off with a sense of foreboding which never really lets up. Children are interviewed at the Royal Tasmania Hospital’s Burns Unit and asked how their accidents occurred. We expect cautionary tales of lessons learned. But the second child interviewed states matter-of-factly that he still plays with firecrackers, Then we see Nitram (Caleb Landry Jones) as a grown youth, some years later, doing exactly that in the garden of the house in which he lives with his parents, to the annoyance not only to his parents who have to put up with it but also to the neighbours.

His mum (Judy Davis), worn down by years of such behaviour, insists Nitram surrender the fireworks to his father (Anthony LaPaglia) who is weighed down by financial worries – he needs to get a loan off the bank – and ineffectual at discipline. She also insists he put his filthy overalls in the wash (and they are pretty disgusting) before sitting down to eat dinner with them, which he then does, returning to the table in his underpants, which she lets pass with no comment since he’s complied.… Read the rest

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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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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 on VoD on Tuesday, June 28th

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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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