Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Heart
of an Oak
(Le Chêne)

Directors – Laurent Charbonnier, Michel Seydoux – 2022 – France – Cert. U – 80m

****

The life of an oak tree, and the community of animal life which surrounds it, through the four seasons of a year – out in UK cinemas on Friday, July 12th and then on Digital Download from Monday, August 12th

This French movie is narrated almost entirely in sounds and images: no voiceover narration, no voices added to the animals.

A Pedunculate Oak tree, born in 1810 according to the (subtitled) caption at the end, sits on the edge of a large lake. The opening shots move towards and onto the tree and its branches, introducing us to the wide variety of wildlife present. Acorns hang in abundance, Acorn Weevils buzz and make their way through furrows in the bark, a Eurasian Jay looks at them quizzically, a Eurasian Red Squirrel runs around branches near its nest, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker prepares to do its thing.

I’m cheating slightly here: there are no titles to identify which creatures are which until the list at the end, at which point I made extensive notes. That doesn’t matter as you’re watching, though, as it’s pretty easy to follow the continuity.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Wilding

Director – David Allen – 2023 – UK – Cert. PG – 75m

*****

How Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell closed down their failing farm and instead let nature run wild to regenerate the land’s depleted biodiversity – inspiring documentary is out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 14th

Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree (Lady Burrell) inherited the Knepp farm in West Sussex from his parents in the early 1980s. They kept it going for some 17 years. However, by the late 1990s, they were in debt to the tune of one and a half million pounds. Realising that agro-chemical pesticides and contemporary industrial farming practices were destroying the topsoil necessary for biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem, the couple then took the bold decision to stop farming and, with a little initial, minor tinkering, set about rewilding the land (i.e. letting nature take its course) and, hopefully, repair the damage done. They faced considerable opposition from the local farming community for the first five years or so. Then things began to happen which brought public opinion onto their side. In 2018, Isabella Tree wrote a book about the whole experience: Wilding: the return of nature to a British farm.

This documentary feature adaptation of Isabella’s eponymous 2018 book about their experience was shot during the pandemic and uses actors to portray the couple’s younger selves, so seamlessly cast that you actually don’t notice.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Snow Leopard
(Xue Bao,
雪豹)

Director – Pema Tseden – 2023 – Tibet – LEAFF Cert. 12 – 109m

*****

A monk invites a filmmaker friend to a remote farm in the Tibetan mountain region where a snow leopard trapped in a sheep pen has killed nine sheep –the late Pema Tseden’s final completed film plays in the Official Selection at the 2023 London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) which ran from Wednesday, October 18th to Sunday, October 29th

Film maker Dradul (Genden Phuntsok) has been informed by his friend Nyima the Snow Leopard Monk (Tseten Tashi) of an incident and so sets out for the region of the Tibetan Mountains with a small crew in his car. Following roads in the freezing wilderness, the car arrives at a remote farm which consists basically of a stone farmhouse and a sheep pen where the Snow Leopard Monk awaits them, along with the old farmer and his family.

The sheep pen has been breached by a snow leopard, a rare animal that’s a protected species in Tibet, and the old farmer’s adult son Jinpa (Jinpa) is furious that it has killed nine sheep. Confronted with the camera, he argues vociferously that man must live with the snow leopard, and that a small number of kills would be acceptable, but an amount as large as nine is most definitely not okay.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Gurkha Warrior

Director – Milan Chams – 2022 – Nepal – Cert. 15 – 115m

**

A small Gurkha unit is dropped into the Malayan jungle by helicopter on a search and rescue mission to save a number of the comrades who have been captured – previews in UK cinemas on Saturday, November 4th, out in UK cinemas on Friday, November 10th

There’s a very sweet frame story bookending Gurkha Warrior in which an old man takes his young and curious grandson to a hilltop in Nepal with mountains in the background for his annual ritual of laying a commemorative wreath at its foot and saluting in memory of fallen war comrades. When he explains this to his grandson as they walk away along the ridge, the latter picks a flower off a nearby bush and runs back to leave the flower beside the old man’s wreath. His grandfather is deeply moved by this.

That very much sums up this film, the director and star of which both served as Gurkhas. The narrative takes place against the backdrop of the Malaya Emergency (1948-1960), but since that’s never explained and given that audiences are likely to be unfamiliar with the historical background, the film floats in an unfortunate war film netherworld lacking any sort of context.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

All That Breathes

Director – Shaunak Sen – 2022 – India – Cert. – 97m

*

Set against the backdrop of heavily polluted Delhi, Muslim siblings devote their time to healing the local species of bird that seems to get injured more than most: the black kite – plays in the BFI London Film Festival 2022 which runs from Wednesday, October 5th to Sunday, October 16th in cinemas and on BFI Player, out in UK cinemas on Friday, October 14th

Plunging the viewer right from the start into a rarely seen, night time netherworld, this contains incredible intermittent footage of life in a modern city, in this case Delhi. We are on a patch of waste ground, whether an officially designated rubbish tip or simply the place people check their waste is not clear, but the refuse is piling up and you can hear creatures scuffling around. The takes are long and soon you’re picking out rats in the darkness, and thinking that if only the rubbish was more securely contained, the rat infestation wouldn’t be a problem.

There are several similar lengthy shots that punctuate All That Breathes, and they’re absolutely mesmerising. This is in no small part due to the use of the unbroken take, coupled with complex camera moves which reminded me of last year’s pig documentary Gunda (Victor Kossakovsky, 2020).… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Where
The Crawdads
Sing

Director – Olivia Newman – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 125m

***1/2

A young woman who grew up alone in the North Carolina Marshlands is the prime suspect for a murder she may or may not have committed – out in cinemas on Friday, July 22nd

The body of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is discovered having fallen to his death from an old, 63’ high viewing platform. But did he fall or was he pushed? The reclusive, local outcast and so-called ‘Marsh Girl’ Kya Clarke (Daisy Edgar-Jones) swiftly becomes the prime suspect after sheriffs find a red, woolly hat at her house, a fibre from which matches one found on Chase’s corpse.

As the investigation proceeds in the generic form of a whodunit by way of a courtroom drama, with the kindly Tom Milton (David Strathairn) as her self-appointed defence attorney against the state prosecutor in her jury trial, the narrative spilts into two separate strands, with the story of Kya’s personal history from childhood to the then present day of 1969 running in parallel until… well, refusing to divulge spoilers forbids me from saying, except that the final reel and the ending are arguably the most satisfying part of this engrossing movie.… Read the rest