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FILM:January 2021

I waited throughout December before writing this, hoping that the cinema would be open everywhere in the near future. But the national lockdown has no ending so far so you will need to search for films on the various streaming channels. And a number can be bought on DVD.

Let's start by looking back at the end of last year:

Some Reflections on the BFI London Film Festival 2020

A London Film Festival like no other. 2020 will be remembered for the vast number of screenings that were on-line. This festival I saw almost 50 films. An especially good festival, there were some terrific films. Too many films to cover all here. Some have now been released but others will come out in 2021 and will be reviewed then.

Here are some of my top picks:

The prestigious gala, albeit online for me, was the Opening Night gala, MANGROVE, directed by the wonderful Steve McQueen. It tells the true story of Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), whose West Indian restaurant, Mangrove, a lively community hub in London's Notting Hill attracted locals, activists, intellectuals and artists. There was much racism, including from the police force. Crichlow found himself and his drug-free business - which worked successfully - the victim of constant police raids. Trying desperately to stop this discrimination, Frank and his friends set up a peaceful protest in 1970. But this was met by police aggression. Nine men and women, including Frank and the leader of the British Black Panther Movement, Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), and Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), are wrongly arrested and charged with incitement to riot and affray. The ensuing trial attracted much publicity and eventually a win.

The closing night gala was Francis Lee's AMMONITE: telling a fictionalised account of an actual segment of the life of 19th century paleontologist Mary Anning. Directed by Francis Lee, the movie looks at the fossil collector, Mary (Kate Winslet) and weaves in a story about a visit from Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) and her geologist husband, Roderick Murchison (James McArdle). When the ill Charlotte is left alone after her husband goes away on a trip, Mary nurses her and Charlotte joins Mary in collecting specimens on the beach in Lyme Regis. Gradually the two form a lesbian relationship. Set in Dorset, there is much energetic lust on show and Lee manages to get the feel not only of the area where Mary lives, but also the growing attraction and desire between the two women.

Other films deserving a view are:

One Night in Miami…Four towering figures of fairly recent black history come together in a fictionalised account of a night spent in a hotel room in Miami. Beautifully directed by Regina King with powerful dialogue, we meet Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) with Muhammad Ali's (Eli Goree) following Ali's victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in 1964. We also learn something about their personal stories and civil rights. The film is based on the stage play by Kemp Powers.

One Night in Miami

The Human Voice is Pedro Almodovar's latest film and his English language debut. The very short film shows a woman (Tilda Swinton), on the verge of suicide, waiting for her lover to telephone her. She becomes more and more distressed. Her isolation resonates with our present situation in the midst of a pandemic. A tremendous performance by Swinton highlights Almodovar's themes of passion and heartbreak.

The Israeli film, Honeymood is unusual in that it shows a quarrel in the honeymoon suite of a just married couple. The wife accuses her new husband of still having feelings for his ex-girlfriend as she has just sent him a ring. The couple leave the hotel and separately and together travel around Jerusalem trying to discover what it all means. Witty and a different type of romcom.

The Painter and the Thief: Directed by Benjamin Ree, this extraordinary documentary tells how two paintings were stolen from a gallery by a thief. The thief, Karl Birtill, is caught and taken to court. The artist, Barbara Kysilkova, hears Karl say that he stole the paintings, "Because they were beautiful," and asks him to sit for her. The thief and the artist develop an unusual close friendship and Barbara hears his sad story. He is also a drug addict and insists that he remembers nothing about what happened to the paintings after he stole them. The film won the LFF Best Documentary Award.

Herself is a charming film directed by Phillida Lloyd. Sandra (Clare Dane) is a battered wife, who, finding herself homeless, sets about building her own house. With a diverse set of friends, she gets on with the job. Many locals join in to help.

Almost like a documentary, Farewell Amor looks at an African immigrant family in New York. Walter hasn't seen his wife and daughter since he left their homeland 17 years previously. He is disturbed to find her very religious and the couple find it hard to re-engage. The daughter says very little and doesn't know her father at all. Walter has another lover in New York and finds it difficult to juggle the two women. While Sylvia, the daughter, wants to be a dancer, which her dad encourages, her mother informs everyone that Sylvia is to have a medical career. A fascinating story, sensitively told.

Based on the real Shirley Jackson, the American author, Shirley is an imagined part of her life. It shows Shirley as a heavy drinker who feuds constantly with her husband. She forms a surprisingly close relationship with Rose, one half of a couple who come to stay. Good acting by Elizabeth Moss as Shirley and Odessa Young as Rose make this a fascinating watch.

Directed with great sensitivity, Supernova, has beautiful performances by Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth. The two who have been in a long-term relationship, suddenly find themselves coping with Tuscan (Tucci)'s growing dementia. Sam (Firth) wants to take care of his love, but Tuscan wishes to stay in control of his own life. A very moving film and a superb love story.

A re-issued, restored silent film of 1929 The Cheaters is in black and white with a dramatic story-line and even more dramatic acting! Well worth a view.

Another Round is a delightful film. Four friends who all teach in a secondary school and are kept going with alcohol, decide to up their intake of alcohol to better their lives. The bulk of the film is concerned with how they cope with being drunk virtually all the time and still taking their classes. Some amusing parts and other sections are more serious. Winner of the LFF Best Film Award.

I was very taken with After Love. It is good to see the excellent actress, Joanna Scanlon, being given a main part in a worthy film. At first Mary (Scanlon) is very unhappy when her husband suddenly dies. But as she goes through his things, she finds many references to someone called Genevieve in France and so she decides to cross the channel from Dover to Calais to find out all she can about his other woman. Her husband worked on the cross-channel ferry so was constantly between the two countries. When Mary finds Genevieve's house, she prepares to talk to her, but before she can say anything, Genevieve takes her to be her new cleaner and Mary finds herself assuming a different identity. She is more disturbed when she finds that her husband, Ahmed, has fathered a son. Although dressed as a Muslim, Mary has, in fact, converted. The film has lots of very realistic touches and is a most interesting take on race, love and adultery.

One of my very favourite films in the LFF 2020 was Nomadland. The film shows how, after her husband dies, Fern (Frances McDormand) sets out in her old van. She works for Amazon and says, "I'm just houseless. Not homeless." She is friendly with a fellow worker who lives in a RV. When her job finishes at Amazon, she can't find another job in that area so leaves her small town and travels around the American Midwest, working as she goes. She meets lots of different people living out of their vans and hears their stories. Fern is often alone and has to cope with the hazards of being single and living in a vehicle which frequently needs repairs. There is a lot in the film about grief and loss. There are some good little character pieces and a towering performance by McDormand.

Lots of films to choose from. Many others besides my choice above. Some will be given full reviews in future months, so watch out for them!

Besides films, there were also a number of special events. One such was a webinar case study on the film AFTER LOVE (see above) with Aleem Khan talking about his debut feature as writer director. Another very worthwhile event online was Kwame Kwei-Armah speaking with Kemp Powers about TELLING BLACK STORIES ON SCREEN. And - my personal favourite - George Clooney in a screen talk: beautiful man with a gorgeous voice, talking mainly about his new film MIDNIGHT SKY…to come.

This was a very different London Film Festival, but it worked well. We can only hope that next year sees a full festival with lots of screenings in real cinemas.

Available to screen at home now:

Cocoon (cert. 15 1 hr. 35mins.) *****

German with English subtitles

Berlin, summer 2018: Nora (Lena Urzendowsky), who is 14-years-old, lives with her mother and sister. Not knowing how to behave, she spends her time trailing behind her older sister, Jule (Anna Lena Klenke) and Jule's best friend Aylin (Elina Vildanova). It's a very hot summer and the girls spend a lot of time in pools with the older girls' friends.

The sisters get little attention from their alcohol-loving mother who is often just not present as she prefers bars to home life and doesn't take care of her daughters. Wanting to keep something from her younger years, Nora looks after caterpillars (reference the title of the film) in glass jars under her bed.

One day Nora has a very bad experience when she starts menstruating for the first time. As if this isn’t awful enough, she is in the middle of a mixed sex gymnastics class with her sister and Jule’s classmates looking on when this happens.  An older girl, Romy (Jella Hasse) helps her to clean up and they become very close. Going places and just hanging out, Nora falls in love with the attractive Romy. Romy, however, is still keen on the company of boys and Nora gets upset watching her flirt and neck with different boys.

Supernova

There is very good photography of the city and colourful caterpillars under the direction of Martin Neumeyer. As summer ends, Nora's favourite caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly (hence the title!).

The director, Leonie Krippendorff, who also wrote the screenplay, captures the sometimes lovely, often awkward, moments when a young girl discovers her sexuality. She depicts the difficulty and embarrassment of getting a first period. As many of the young boys around are from a different heritage, mainly Muslim, the director also deals with issues of race, getting pregnant and the difference between love and sex. Nora is shown blossoming from a child into a young woman.

Available on DVD, blu-ray and on demand from January 25th

The Mole Agent (cert. 15 1 hr. 30 mins.) ****

Documentary

A daughter wishing to find out how her mother is being looked after in the nursing home where she has been placed, goes to a Detective Agency to help her. The daughter wants to be assured that her mother is being properly and well cared for. With his regular older spy unavailable, Detective Romulo Aitken sets up interviews with seniors in Santiago, Chile. What follows is an amusing series of interviews with elderly men who are excited to be in line for a job, but have little or no idea of how to use the necessary technology to film, make notes and report back to the Detective Agency.

Detective Aitken decides to appoint 83-year-old Sergio Chamy as the Mole for three months. Sergio, a widower, is happy to have a job and looks forward to an interesting time at the nursing home in Santiago. Although Sergio is hopeless at using the technology he has been given for the work, he is very good at forming relationships with the residents he meets at the home. There are very many more women than men at the home and Sergio quickly becomes very popular.

How Sergio integrates himself into the life of the nursing home and becomes both a target for the romantic attentions of one resident and the confident to a number of other residents, is the main idea behind director, Maite Alberdi's fascinating documentary.

But, in fact, the film develops into a much more contemplative look at the lives of the residents and considers the issues that drove them to live in a cared-for facility. Many of the women are single and after having cared for their own elderly patients have nobody to look after them in their senior years. Alberdi also brings in how the residents cope with isolation and loneliness. Sergio discovers that not only the elderly lady he has been sent to spy on but also many of the other residents have no, or very few, visits from their families. The director even brings in sexuality in relation to older women. Berta, who has set her cap at Sergio and is religious, confesses, "I would consider giving God my virginity through my future husband."

This is another documentary (rather like Il Mio Capo) where it plays like a fictional movie. Alberdi has captured not only the life of the residents but she has also got into their real personalities and we are given a sometimes amusing, often heart-breaking, look at life in a seniors nursing home.

The Mole Agent is available digitally or to buy or rent now.

Il Mio Corpo (cert. 15 1 hr. 20 mins.) ****

Documentary

In different parts of the island of Sicily, two young men, both social outcasts lead their separate lives. The two remain separate and their lives are seen individually until the very end. They are both from low socio-economic backgrounds and both are somewhat isolated, with no close relationships.

The first is the boy, Oscar, who lives with his father and brother and works with them looking through junk to try and find scrap metal to sell. But Oscar's father constantly berates him and he and his brother share a silence when their mother, who left the family, is discussed.

Stanley, a Nigerian immigrant, begins with a close friend, Blessed, who lives with him. But while Stanley has a two-year visa to stay and work, Blessed is still waiting for his to be approved. When he is refused, he suddenly just disappears, and Stanley is alone. He cleans a church and is given food in return.

Both young men are poor and their lives are mainly composed of work. Occasionally we get a glimpse of a fun time such as Oscar cycling with his brother. And Stanley cooking a Nigerian meal for his friend and speaking of his early life.

It is amazing that this is a documentary about real people who play - an admittedly doctored – versions of themselves. Oscar's father is a particularly nasty character. He says horrible things to his two sons and constantly calls Oscar stupid and a waste of space. When he tells the boys that their mother, who left the family, would have returned, "if she had loved you," the boys' faces express their pain.

Beautifully photographed, director Michele Pennetta, has managed to get moving and seemingly realistic performances from his non-actors.

Il Mio Corpo was released in December in cinemas, which later closed. It can now be found on Curzon Home Cinema.

     
     
     
     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

There should be an announcement in mid-Feb about the easing of the national lockdown and hopefully the re-opening of cinemas and theatre. Until we are sure, here are some recommendations for watching at home on the streaming channels:

Two films of stage plays which are really worth seeing are:

One Night in Miami…Four towering figures of fairly recent black history come together in a fictionalised account of a night spent in a hotel room in Miami. Beautifully directed by Regina King with powerful dialogue, we meet Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) with Muhammad Ali's (Eli Goree) following Ali's victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in 1964. We also learn something about their personal stories and civil rights. The film is based on the stage play by Kemp Powers.

One Night in Miami can be found on Amazon Prime Video.

And on BBC Two on 9 February, followed by 60 days on BBC iPlayer is the RSC's production of Romeo and Juliet. The production is directed by Erica Whyman, with Bally Gill as Romeo (a role for which he won the Ian Charleson Award in 2019) and Karen Fishwick as Juliet. After premiering in Stratford in spring 2018, the piece played at the Barbican later that year and then toured across 2019.

Look out for some good shows which are streaming, including:

A Midsummer Night's Dream Online, 7.30 31 March 2021. This will be a rehearsed, live, online reading of one of William Shakespeare's best loved comedies. A spectacular international cast is led by Dan Stevens, and Rebecca Hall .

THE COLOR PURPLE THE MUSICAL – CURVE LEICESTER 16 Feb – 7 March 2021

The Color Purple – at Home will be a fully reimagined concert version of the 2019 production, co-produced by Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome. The Color Purple – at Home will be led by T'Shan Williams as Celie, with Danielle Fiamanya as Nettie, Karen Mavundukure as Sofia, Ako Mitchell as Mister and Simon Anthony Rhoden as Harpo.


The Color Purple

What the Butler Saw

Curve Leicester and Theatre Royal Bath's 2017 production of Joe Orton's hit play will be streamed online from 19 April. The cast features Rufus Hound, Dakota Blue Richards, Catherine Russell, Jack Holden, Jasper Britton and Ravi Aujla. It is lewd, bloody and said to be brilliant! The venue's productions of The Importance of Being Earnest and Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual are also available.

What the butler saw
Rufus Hound in What the Butler Saw © Catherine Ashmore

Worth watching: The National Theatre at Home streaming service with lots of plays from the National Theatre as well as YERMA, starring Billie Piper giving a wonderful emotional performance, from the Young Vic. Look out for Othello, starring Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago. Also Coriolanus, from the Donmar Theatre with the mesmerising Tom Hiddleston.

Yerma
Yerma from The Young Vic

Original Theatre Company's new political drama, A SPLINTER OF ICE, by Ben Brown is Online from 15 April to 31 July. This live stage production will be filmed on stage at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre and released on the company's streaming platform, Original Theatre Online, before touring UK theatres early summer. Directed by Alan Strachan with Alastair Whatley, the production will star Oliver Ford Davies as Graham Greene, Stephen Boxer as Kim Philby and Sara Crowe as Rufa Philby.

Lastly, all eyes will be on

Premiering at 9pm Sunday 4 April on Sky Arts (UK) and 9pm Friday 23 April on PBS (US)

Romeo & Juliet

Jessie Buckley and Josh O'Connor will play the star-crossed lovers in a new 90-minute feature film that was captured over three weeks in the Lyttelton theatre.

Romeo & Juliet will be released as an original film on Sky Arts in the UK (available to watch on Freeview channel 11 and Freesat 147)

Romeo and Juliet

Now here's some hot theatre news:

Hoping to open in 2021 is the new VERTICAL THEATRE


This will be a large-scale venue which enables audiences to sit in groups of between four and 12 people (to allow for social distancing where necessary). The versatile space can be used for theatre, circus, comedy, music and more. It is free-standing and movable so that it can pop-up in locations across the country. The Vertical Theatre is modular in size, with a flexible capacity from 1200 to 2400 people.

Vertical Theatre
An artist's impression of the space © Vertical Theatre Group

The space has optional open sides to allow for optimum airflow and natural ventilation, as well as build-in streaming capacity. It looks like an exciting opportunity for the future of theatre in the UK!

     

Carlie Newman

   
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