In the Quarry

Alicia and Bruno in the water

Four people have a lazy day hanging out in the sun at a water-filled disused quarry in the Uruguayan film In the Quarry (En el pozo). Not all of them are going to make it to the end of this increasingly knuckle-whitening thriller, the feature debut of brothers Rafael and Bernardo Antonaccio, whose command of tension and film-making technique suggests they have a bright future ahead of them. In the words of Jean-Luc Godard all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun. The girl in this case is Alicia (Paula Silva), a smalltown escapee who’s returned to hicksville to catch up with old friends and show off her … Read more

Shanghai Express

The iconic shot of Marlene Dietrich

A train heads from Peking to Shanghai and a woman from disgrace to redemption in 1932’s Shanghai Express, the fourth collaboration between director Josef von Sternberg and star Marlene Dietrich. Another transformation is evident, of Dietrich, from the plubby Mädchen in The Blue Angel two years before to the star who’s all cheekbones and chiselled angles. This is the film that gave us the iconic image of Dietrich toplit and eyes imploringly turned heavenward. DP Lee Garmes got the credit for it and won an Oscar for this film’s spectacular lighting but Von Sternberg did almost all of it, according to Dietrich’s biography anyway. Strangely, it doesn’t look like her film at all … Read more


Maika Monroe as Julie

Watcher stars Maika Monroe as a woman who’s arrived in Bucharest with her husband (Karl Glusman) and who is soon convinced that the guy living in the depressing Communist-era block opposite is watching her from his window, behind a filthy net curtain. There’s also a killer on the loose, one who preys on young women and who likes to cut off their heads. It’s making Julia (Monroe) anxious, and her anxiety is amplified by the fact that she can’t speak the lingo – though she’s trying – and her husband isn’t being quite the rock she’d hoped. He’s out at work all day, leaving her to stew. And when she starts voices her concerns … Read more

The Fourth Man

Christine and Gerard

Paul Verhoeven’s erotic drama The Fourth Man (De vierde Man) opens, to ominous Wagnerian rumbling, on a black screen and then as the credits roll Verhoeven dramatically reveals a spider in close-up, first stunning a fly caught in its web and then cocooning it in silk. The whole process, in agonising detail. What Verhoeven treats us to over the next 100 minutes is a garish, extended version of the same idea. In many respects it’s a warm-up for Basic Instinct, with Jeroen Krabbé in the Michael Douglas role and Renée Soutendijk as the blonde, deadly spider. The read-across isn’t total and for much of the film it isn’t really clear who is the … Read more

The Silent Twins

June and Jennifer as played by Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance

The Silent Twins tells the true story of June and Jennifer Gibbons, twins who grew up in Wales in the 1970s and who refused to speak to anyone except each other. The girls’ lives of withdrawn silence and solitary apartness changed radically when they became teenagers, discovered boys and, after a spree of petty crime mutated into arson, ended up in Broadmoor, the UK’s most notorious high-security psychiatric hospital. Eventually, investigative journalist Marjorie Wallace learned about the twins and started to campaign on their behalf, leading eventually to their release after 11 years of an indefinite sentence (ie they could have remained inside for the rest of their lives). How the hell do … Read more

Casque d’Or

Manda and Marie aka Casque d'Or

Jacques Becker’s Casque d’Or perfectly illustrates why old-school Becker was held in such high regard by the tyros of France’s New Wave, who generally dismissed all French moviemakers before themselves as “vile” and “grotesque”. Becker was one of a very select band (including Jean Renoir and Jacques Tati) who escaped unscathed and with reputations intact, if not enhanced. Made in 1952, the antediluvian era if you were Truffaut or Godard, Becker’s story concerns itself with Marie (Simone Signoret), a whore with a heart of gold, who winds up caught between two men – ex-con carpenter Georges Manda (Serge Reggiani) and local crime boss Félix Leca (Claude Dauphin), a threeway that will eventually end … Read more

A Boy Called Christmas

Henry Lawfull as Nikolas

A superhero origin story of sorts, A Boy Called Christmas is slightly vague about the costumed crusader it has in mind. Is it Saint Nicholas, aka Santa Claus? Or his pagan predecessor, Father Christmas, the white-bearded giftbringer who “flew” through the winter night on his fleet-footed steed possibly with a hallucinogenic aerial assist from fly agaric mushrooms? Slight quibble to one side, this is actually a nice, sweet, middle-of-the-road story about a boy’s Christmas-y fairytale quest to find Elfhelm, home of the elves, and it builds gently and unexceptionally towards a an emotional climax that might catch you off guard. The Princess Bride is the quasi-template, with Maggie Smith in the Peter Falk … Read more

The Lure

Gold and Silver

So how about a horror movie featuring sexy mermaids who become disco singers in 1980s Poland? The Lure (Córki dancingu) is the film you’re after, so grabby as a concept that it went straight into the Criterion Collection after its release in 2015, which isn’t bad considering that’s where Kurosawa, Truffaut, Bergman and Claire Denis all hang out together. In the words of Criterion, this is where “important classic and contemporary films” are to be found. It’s also not bad for a debut feature, by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, who’s recently grabbed more attention with her The Silent Twins, another story of two isolated sisters leaning on each other for support. But not like this. … Read more

Stars at Noon

Daniel and Trish

Once upon a time Claire Denis didn’t make genre movies. She made film you might designate broadly as dramas, or as French dramas, but most specifically as Claire Denis movies, films often with a strong emphasis on unspoken attraction (see Beau Travail, her masterpiece). But in recent years that has changed. In films like Bastards, a Get Carter-style crime drama, or High Life, a densely imagined piece of sci-fi, or Let the Sun Shine In, an ironic romance, Denis has shown she’s happy to make genre movies, as long as it’s on her terms. Which brings us to Stars at Noon, a Graham Greene-style thriller set in a shady Central American country run … Read more

Andrei Rublev

Anatoliy Sononitsyn as Andrei Rublev

A film about an icon maker called Andrei made by a film maker called Andrei. Any read across from 15th century painter Andrei Rublev to 20th century auteur Andrei Tarkovsky is entirely deliberate, though the surprise of watching what’s often described as Tarkovsky’s master work is how little Andrei Rublev actually features in it. He’s the bystander, the observer, in his own story, which is actually more the story of the times Rublev lived in, as recreated by Tarkovksy in, remarkably, only his second film. How at this stage in his career Tarkovsky got the funding from an avowedly anti-God communist regime to make a film about a man of God is one … Read more