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Film

Streaming Recommendations: March 2020

MUBI:

—Lourdes: As mentioned when I recommended Amour Fou last month, I don’t like Lourdes particularly: but it’s still worth it for the shy restraint of Sylvie Testud’s performance.

—Wild Goose Lake: The improbably sexy Hu Ge is going to star in Wong Kar-wai’s next film, Blossoms, and owing to a bit of business he does here bandaging up a wound, that’s reason to be excited. He’s controlled and enigmatic in Diao Yi’nan’s pulsing neo-noir, a weird and garish splash of later Jia Zhangke with the shadow-play of Fritz Lang. Its reflection on living on a police state does indulge in some familiar tactics (you know criminals, well, they are a lot like law enforcement in organisation and method, are they not?), but the mood is paramount, the colours fabulous, and the bursts of violence are inventive to say the least.

Army of Shadows: Lino Ventura’s performance, as Resistance organiser Philippe Gerbier, is extraordinary: his gestures are as ironic as his pronouncements. The atmosphere of Meville’s film is menacing; there’s an unerring sense that the enemy is always looking and always knows more, that the characters’ roles in the fight are seconds away from being confiscated—the spectre of the camp (which is a spectre of death), with its dim light-sources and snapping wind, is as much a mental confinement as the camp itself.

Domains: For the Hong Sang-soo devotee, Domains will be a variation overdrive. There’s a dissertation to be written about Natsuka Kusano’s film, on the way the she articulates the actor’s challenge, and in how the film deconstructs its own artifice: the repeated rehearsals, each shown with a new staging, a different mise-en-scene, a slight change in line reading, emphasise the director’s shaping vision and just how many options she has to shape it.

Neighbouring Sounds: Kleber Mendoça Filho is becoming a favourite filmmaker, and since Bacurau is on Mubi this instant, they are also screening his debut feature. Set in a comfortable Recife suburb, the film is an ensemble, the story motivated by the arrival of a private security team in the neighbourhood. A community is drawn in small but acute strokes, all leading to a final juxtaposition that suggests something Bacurau confirms: Mendoça Filho’s ideas of how to frame violence are some of the most sensitive and intelligent in contemporary cinema.

BFI Player:

King of New York: Christopher Walken’s line readings in this are so beyond great.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives: I hear much humming and hawing about the catfish scene. Nope. It’s hilarious and makes complete sense, as much as anything ‘makes complete sense’ in an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film. It’s essentially a palliative care narrative (and at that, a very affecting one), which moves towards supernatural reconciliations and an oblique political commentary while never sacrificing the moment to moment pleasure of experience.

Of Time and the City: What I love about Terence Davies and Of Time and the City: Terence Davies’s voice; Terence Davies’s love of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets; Terence Davies’s sense of humour; Terence’s Davies’s taste in music and literature; Terence Davies’s distaste for the monarchy; Terence Davies’s distaste for The Beatles (not that I agree, but his vehemence is a pleasure); and his candour. And it’s that same candour that gets him into trouble. Personal essay film and city symphony, except the symphony sounds like Mahler, so it’s dour as fuck.

Eden: If you heard the good news about a live video Q&A with Mia Hansen-Løve happening soon, then that’s all the more reason to watch or rewatch Eden. Based on the director’s brother’s experience in the dance music scene, the film’s steady progression through many years, encompassing many parties, many mistakes, many friendships which turn out to be more than that and many loves which turn out to be less, captures the absurd adriftness of youth being governed by only a few notions of what life may entail after the music stops.

Hotel Salvation: Best to know little as possible about Shubhashish Bhutiani’s film before going in: but it won’t hurt to know it’s a likeable, charming picture, and Lalit Behl’s performance makes it.

NETFLIX:

The Golden Era: Netflix UK’s selections of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese cinemas are pretty extensive, and a few picks may end up in future lists. This one, a co-production from both locales, is directed by Ann Hui, focusing on the exhausting and pained life of writer Xiao Hong (Tang Wei). It’s the kind of film that can be called ‘sweeping’ but I’m distrustful of that moniker: it’s applied to long works, like this one, even if the structure isn’t ‘sweeping’ but precise: the march of the story is well-timed to cast a different light back on preceding events. There’s perhaps a bit of needless detail; perhaps an overstatement or two. But it’s a stately and impressive production, and the arrival of Lu Xun (Wang Zhiwen), sporting a homely moustache and speaking with a great, slow gravitas, is tremendous.

Married to the MobSomething Wild is still peak Demme to me—the scenes in the gas station and outside the church exude goodness—but I’ve a lot of time for the screwballish energy of this one: Michelle Pfeiffer’s timing is unbelievable, and Dean Stockwell’s swaggering mob boss is a joy.

Private Life: Tamara Jenkins’s film, about a couple undergoing IVF treatment, is tender when I thought it’d be furious and furious when I thought it’d be tender: Hahn and Giamatti aren’t exactly relaxed actors, and their attempts to contain—feelings, arguments, truths, reservations, each other—are by turns warmly funny and moving, if always quite close to being apoplectic while doing so.

Faces Places: I miss you, Agnès.

Sense and Sensibility: A feast! Emma Thompson’s script centres on the studied contrast between Elinor (Thompson), composed and reserved and too involved in maintaining the happiness of those around her to cultivate her own, and her sister, Marianne (Kate Winslett), a tempest of both lower-r and capital-R Romanticism. The suitors as ever are satellites; they bring with them the trouble of their own dispositions and passions, and the trouble of those orbiting them. Hard to pick what’s best: Lee’s framing, or the editing when a sudden change of affection picks up like a wind, maybe, perhaps the costumes, furnishings, or the woolly, woolly sheep. But the actors are champions here: Thompson, near bursting with emotion beneath the surface; Winslett, who can seemingly redden her cheeks on command; Hugh Grant as Edward, effusive and sincere—but best of all, Harriet Walter as Fanny, with her slicing vowels (“Nonsense. You will marry far better than either of the Dashwood guh-rls“), and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon, steadfastness itself, with waves of feeling in his every hesitating gesture and confiding line reading.

BBC IPLAYER: (Swapping this for YouTube from now on, and only mentioning a movie on the BBC or All4 when I really want to: there’s never enough on!)

Manchester by the Sea: I can’t hear your complaints over the thunderous and obvious music choices. I’ll forgive Lonergan that: he’s an amazing scenarist, and Christ does this thing sting the tear-ducts.

The Beguiled: I don’t love this movie but I seem to like it more than most. Yes, the way the story has been taken in a few inches in order to excise discussion of slavery in the film is a shocker: the way it’s addressed in order not to address it hangs over the film like a shameful secret. Still, as is, Coppola pinpoints a cinema of surfaces which only just hold back unfathomable and uncontainable desires. Fanning and Farrell are excellent; but Kidman’s accent is an absolute no.

After the Storm: Not my favourite Kore-eda by a long stretch: I do feel that the private eye stuff here is beyond him, and I don’t feel all that warmly towards Hiroshi Abe’s performance (I love him elsewhere, but the toadying tone of his dialogue and self-delusional effacement he goes through aren’t the actor’s expressive strengths). However, it’s an amazing premise, and Yōko Maki and Kirin Kiki are definitely not miscast.

Personal Shopper: Kirsten Stewart starts so many drinks which she doesn’t finish in this movie. What’s up with that? Anyway, Assayas on ghosts, grief, technology, and the tease of identity is surprising, gives Stewart the space to deliver an outstanding performance, and in the end burrows through its colder, more austere trimmings to a place of genuine emotional uncertainty. Which, if it’s not clear, is a good thing: we need negative capability, and Assayas thrives in it.

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