Oh my baby, baby, I love you more than I can tell

Only You (Harry Wootliff, 2018)

For a good half an hour, this film feels too good to be true. I knew it was an unlikely love story, but I immediately assumed that the bear shown in the first few shots was the lover. In fact, settled status Spaniard and arts administrator Elena (Laia Costa) is pipped to a taxi in the early hours of New Year’s Day by DJ and PhD marine biologist Jake (Josh O’Connor) and after arguments over who saw the cab first and her deciding to walk home and he offering to walk her home, they end up going back to her flat to listen to Elvis Costello. The attraction is immediate, even though she’s 35 (but won’t admit it at first) and he is 26.

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Immaterial Girl

In Fabric (Peter Strickland, 2018)

Remember when the 1970s was the decade that taste forgot? Thirty years of Tarantino pastiche have summoned the visuals back, and it has been embraced by a generation of British horror directors, including Peter Strickland, whose Duke of Burgundy left me indifferent. There’s a mix here of Dennis Wheatley and Spearhead from Space and Don’t Look Now and Hammer and God help us Are You Being Served?. And Dario Argento, although this film is more rosso than giallo. It can’t be present day, because blind dating is committed via newspapers rather than apps, and money is sent through airtubes in department stores, but not all the of the phones are rotary dial. And there isn’t any racism, despite the position of the Black British heroine.

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All Pile On

Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð, Benedikt Erlingsson, 2018)

I get the feeling that the writer-director is here channelling the work of Aki Kaurismäki: we have Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), is single, middle-aged choir leader who wants to adopt a Ukrainian child and incidentally is running a campaign of ecological terrorism against the aluminium plant owned by Rio Tinto.

Her movement around whatever Icelandic city it is and the astounding landscape is interrupted by two balanced trios — three male musicians and three female Ukrainians who shift from extra- to intra-diegetic. It is sometimes whimsical, it is sometimes threatening, it may even be Brechtian (with a dash of Mel Brooks). It gives the film a whiff of the fairy tale and one presumes that pulling down a pylon wouldn’t have the effect that is shown. There is a further shift into folktale territory as Halla is finally arrested and as the action shifts to Ukraine.

Whilst friends and foes are beautifully drawn — her sister, her alleged cousin Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson) and his dog (apparently called Woman) and a co-conspirator Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson) — but I think a foot is put wrong with the comedy foreign tourist Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada), whose role is to be cycling near the scene of each crime and be arrested. It feels a little too studiedly quirky — although I see that the same actor (and the person playing Halla’s sister with the same character name) is in the same director’s Of Horses and Men ([Hross í os], 2013) so I wonder if I’m missing something.

This was an unexpected pleasure — and I see that Jodie Foster wants to direct a remake, presumably with herself in the lead. See this before it gets buried.

I am Lazarus

Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felipe, Alice Rohrwacher, 2018)

This may be one of those films — like Border — that the less you know about in advance, the better. It is distinctly a film of two halves, edging around one kind of fantasy or another, and I will sound the spoiler klaxon before mentioning the second half.

In the isolated and dilapidated Italian village of Inviolata, fifty four men, women and children grow tobacco and other cash crops, and once a month their overseer works out what their crop is worth and deducts their expenses.

Oddly enough they are always in debt.

Every so often the village’s owner, Alfonsina de Luna (Nicoletta Braschi) comes down in a sort of royal visit, demanding more service. Her son, Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), dog in hand, comes down with her, bored with the countryside, bored with the lack of mobile signal, indifferent to the exploitation and utterly self-centred. He latches onto the titular Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) as Sancho to his Quixote.

Here we have a microcosm of capitalism — the Marquess de Luna exploits her workers who all exploit Lazzaro. He is happy to serve — fetching food, coffee or Grandma — apparently an orphan, always smiling, always ready to take over someone’s shift, even if this means staying up all night to watch for wolves. He is guileless and sinless, a holy fool. His wide eyes and floppy hair make him look perpetually at ease and relaxed, unafraid and unannoyed. He cannot see his slavery. He also has his moments of staring into the void — perhaps narcolepsy, but who could blame him for falling asleep on his feet?

The presence of cars, mobile phones and Walkmen puts us in the 1980s or 1990s, rather than the fairy tale time it could be — there is electricity, but they have to share a light bulb. There are hints of magic, of something more — the workers seem to be able to whistle up the wind, to threaten, to punish … but they never take the opportunity to escape or fight back.

And then…

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Hat Trick

Sunset (Napszállta, Nemes László, 2018)

I saw the start of this film twice, as the Curzon screwed up the subtitles: a painting of the kind of four or five storey streets we associate with nineteenth century Vienna or Budapest or Paris, with the light fading to night and electric interiors coming into view. To be precise, it is 1913 Budapest, the other capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire and a young woman is trying on hats, barely acknowledging the helpers, staring indifferently into mirrors. Again, with sound — the newest model, the oldest, the most à la mode — and then she announces she’s there for a job.
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Oh Deeeerie Meeee

High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)

This is not alas the big screen version of the classic Alan Cumming-Forbes Masson-Siobhan Redmond sitcom, but Robert Pattison is no Alan Cumming and Juliette Binoche is no Forbes Masson. What we have is sf that suffers in the name of art, with Silent Running, Stalker and Sleeper wizzed in the blender with a crapper version of The Black Hole dribbling out of the jug.

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Hey Ho, Van Gogh

At Eternity’s Gate (Julian Schnabel, 2018)

If you need to know — I didn’t know — At Eternity’s Gate is a late painting by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, of an old man with his head in his hands, based on earlier designs. Van Gogh didn’t get to be an old man, having (spoiler) shot himself in the stomach whilst not in a fit state. He is the poster boy for artist as mad, tortured genius, seller of a single painting in his life time and now worth millions per canvas.
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