—On Body and Soul: Ildikó Enyedi’s film uses the funniest, most tortured set-up possible to arrive at a beautiful contrivance: two lonely, lovelorn characters are both having the same dream when they sleep at night. What follows is an odd romance, leading up to a scene which in all truth made me break out in a cold sweat the first time I saw it. Be warned.
—A Family Submerged: The first film by María Alché, star of Lucrecia Martel’s La Niña Santa, is lit like a blanched photograph, the colours beginning to melt and mute: Hélène Louvart’s images are gorgeous. Sometimes these images comment on the film’s meaning rather than express it: on the TV, a character watches a snake shed its skin; a chemistry lesson where two solutions of different colours seek to mix together. But then something like the scene where Marcela (Mercedes Morán) helps her son with his homework comes along—just as she mentions high precipitation levels, she begins weeping. Too cute? Maybe. But enormously moving anyway.
—Mother: I’d have this and Memories of Murder down as Bong’s best films: the totally controlled emotional obliteration of Mother is such a challenging narrative to pull off— and how Bong manages, instead of pulling the rug out from our feet completely as in Parasite, to make you feel as though you’ve got your bearings on the film at the exact moment when it passes beyond your (and the main character’s) grasp is a thing a wonder, if not of joy.
—Winter Light: Ah, the crushing weight of God’s absence: how I’ve missed you.
—In the Mood for Love: Every act of denied affection in this film—and there are many—is staged like a scene of love-recognition: the moments on the flight of stairs, for instance, is the moment, in another film, in which two characters gaze at each other for the first time and register, maybe even act on, their desire. Here, the denials repeat, often slowed in frame rate, often accompanied by Shigeru Umebayashi’s “Yumeji’s Theme,” to deepen the wound. In the Mood for Love hurts.
—Amour Fou: The only time so far when the Jessica Hausner experience has really worked for me: Amour Fou is delicious, cold, and ironic, but then its irony relents, and it becomes delicious, cold, and depressing; and then you realise the line between ironic and depressing isn’t so thick.
—By the Time it Gets Dark: The shifts from section to section within Anocha Suwichakornpong’s film are dastardly and not only a bit brilliant: wrong-footing but through calm deliberation. The power cut scene is, ironically, energy-restoring.
—Gertrud: I’d hold this and Max Ophuls’s The Earrings of Madame D. . . as the most sophisticated films I’ve ever seen: emotionally and intellectually. And there’s not a performance I love more than Nina Pens Rode’s in Dreyer’s masterpiece (well, one of them).
—Love and Death on Long Island: An amazing premise: John Hurt’s a stuffy, snobbish novelist (irresistibly named Giles De’Ath) who walks into the cinema screen (thinking he’s seeing an E.M. Forster adaptation) and ends up watching dumb sex-comedy Hotpants College II. But he’s infatuated by one of the actors, Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley). So he flies out to the U.S. of A. and hopes to meet the young man. While gently mocking its protagonist’s personality, the film is so generous to him as someone not attuned to queer desire acknowledging it for the first momentous time. A thoroughly lovely movie.
—Pulse: Sofas don’t look safe to me since I watched Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s enormously affecting film, and it’s more of a lament than anything else.
—Shadow: A monochrome wuxia (but in colour!), Zhang Yimou’s latest is intrigue-laden, absorbingly complicated, and surprising in the depth and beauty of its many stylised images. Come for the intricate politics of the Three Kingdoms era setting, stay for the bladed umbrellas.
—Aquarius: Since Kleber Mendoça Filho’s next film (co-directed with Juliano Dornelles), Bacurau, is out in less than a month, it’s not a bad time to catch what seems like one of the epochal masterpieces of the 2010s. Sonia Braga is resplendent as the last hold-out living in the building she has done all her adult life, locked in a sly but testing war of wills against a seedy group of property developers. The film’s structure is ingenious; every cut seems loaded with purpose; and its final shot is about as fitting an emblem for a world in the process of rotting as can be found in the cinema.
—Dil Se..: It’s not overstating the case, I think, to say that Mani Ratnam’s film contains possibly the best musical number in cinema in its opening half hour. The song “Chaiyya Chaiyya” is an earworm, but everyone managing to attend to the choreography ON A MOVING TRAIN is just the stuff of dreams.
—In This Corner of the World: As the films of Studio Ghibli are slowly being deposited on Netflix, it’s worth having a look around the other animes showing on the platform. A favourite is this, Sunil Katabuchi’s lovely, delicately lined and coloured drama. Yes, it owes a great deal to Grave of the Fireflies, but its emotional resources are different: it’s moving in a different way from Takahata’s heartbreaker.
—Clueless: As if I’m not going to recommend Clueless when it’s available?
—Frantz: Don’t know how I feel about Francois Ozon yet, but I know his remake of Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby was the first film in which I saw a Paula Beer performance, who’s gone on to work in one of my very favourite recent films, Christian Petzold’s Transit. Frantz is slight, and its black and white cinematography entirely without texture, but there are small scenes (such as a village dance) with the capacity to enchant.
—I Walked with a Zombie: The Beeb are loving their zombie films at present, playing Jacques Tourneur’s chilly, beautifully staged and lit, wholly economical B-Picture.
—The Other Side of Hope: Aki Kaurismäki is a huge gap in my film education, but I was happy to see his 2017 film at the cinema, even if I haven’t closed the gap since seeing it. The film’s dry sense of humour and calm staging intensify the director’s anger, summoned up in response to the treatment of Syrian refugees. Sherwan Haji, recessive, is fantastic.
—The Red Shoes: You know the story of Maya Rudoph and Paul Thomas Anderson playing TCM at all hours of the day in their house? Well, that, but for me it’s the first full ballet sequence from Powell and Pressburger’s film. Gaspingly, swooningly gorgeous.
—The Salesman: The first Ashgar Farhadi movie I saw in the cinema isn’t his best, sure, since it’s never too far from commenting on itself wryly through a diegetic staging of Death of a Salesman—but still, Shahab Hosseini is an undeniable star and the supporting cast do compensate for the film’s infelicities of construction.