The Zone of Interest

Rudolf Höss enjoys a cigarette after dinner

The Zone of Interest is a film set in the house that’s right next door to Auschwitz, so it has a mountain to climb. Which is this – against the brute fact of exterminating people en masse, pictorial representation of the same is always going to look a bit kitsch. Jonathan Glazer, who directs and reworks Martin Amis’s novel, aims to get round the problem by simply not showing the grim goings-on next door. Instead he focuses exclusively on the life that camp commandant Rudolf Höss (not to be confused with Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess) lived with his wife, Hedwig, and children. What a picture Glazer paints, of life in this prim, neat, … Read more

The Ascent

Boris Plotnikov as Sotnikov

Voskhozhdenie, the USSR movie from 1977, usually goes by the English title The Ascent, though The Ascension would be semantically and tonally closer to the mark, since this is a war movie done as an allegory for the passion of Jesus Christ. It’s a “lost patrol” movie. Or, to be strict, a lost patrol of a lost patrol. Larisa Shepitko’s movie starts off among a group of partisans, old folks, sick people and children out in the snow with nothing to eat except the handful of grain they are sharing out among themselves. They are forlorn, adrift, and will soon be dead, unless the two scouts sent out from the group come back … Read more

The Beekeeper

Jason Statham as Adam Clay, the Beekeeper

Jason Statham enters the territory of John Wick, Taken and The Equalizer (feel free to add your own) with The Beekeeper, a midweight actioner marked out by spectacular fight sequences and violence that’s ingenious and gloriously brutal. He plays one of those retired guys who used to be something in the secret service. They’re never regular CIA or anything so crass, these ex-operatives, but onetime members of elite squads who can eat whole SWAT teams for breakfast, even though they’re now retired, out of shape and don’t really want to swing into action. But swing into action they must once they’ve been triggered by the death of a dog, in John Wick’s case, … Read more

The Heroic Trio

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman and Thief Catcher

Too fast and furious, maybe, Johnnie To’s 1993 superhero actioner The Heroic Trio nevertheless has energy and style to spare, and as much of that strange Hong Kong martial-arts weirdness – all leaping and spinning but no contact – as you could want. The plot gets kind of lost in the excess but it’s about a mad scheme to ensure that China has a new emperor by kidnapping a whole series of babies who are born on auspicious days. Eighteen have disappeared so far but it’s when the chief of police’s newborn becomes the 19th that a line is crossed. Behind the kidnappings is a mad cackling supervillain called Evil Master (Yen Shi-Kwan) … Read more

The Delinquents

Morán and Norma sit quietly on a hillside

A heist movie done as slow cinema, The Delinquents (aka Los Delincuentes) sets up genre expectations then delivers them with a twist. But mostly doesn’t deliver them at all. What a strange, big beast of a film Rodrigo Moreno has given us. Moreno gets straight into the meat of his story – Morán (Daniel Elías), a bank employee, realises that in one swift heist he can bag as much money as he’d make if he stayed in his job until retirement, 20-odd years in the future. Enough money, in fact, that he could split it with a fellow worker, Román (Esteban Bigliardi) and still be ahead. The plan: Morán will steal the money, … Read more

The Lighthouse-Keeper’s Daughter

Brigitte Bardot in a bikini

Brigitte Bardot turns 90 in 2024 so this is a good time to have a look at her first starring role, in The Lighthouse-Keeper’s Daughter. It wasn’t her first film. That was Le Trou Normand, which also came out in 1952. It isn’t really her first starring role either, since Bardot herself doesn’t appear until 40 minutes in. The opening credits have her top-billed, but they might possibly have been reshot or recut for the US release, which didn’t happen until 1958, by which time Bardot was a phenomenon. You can see why that happened in this movie, which makes much of the physicality of the teenage BB – the original French title … Read more

Poor Things

Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo

Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to The Favourite, is an act of restitution to Emma Stone, who was the best thing in that movie and yet lost out at awards’ time to Olivia Colman. Queens (as Colman was) trump upstarts. Stone does not lose out this time (in between writing and posting this, she has won the Best Actress Oscar). She is not just the focus of the movie but increasingly its purpose, once Lanthimos’s huge arm-sweep of influences and genres have bedded down. It’s Frankenstein meets Alice in Wonderland in a world styled by Jan Svankmajer and Jonathan Miller (both did Alice movies), Bertrand Bonello at his most decadantly fin-de-siecle (see House … Read more

Men in War

James Edwards and Robert Ryan

A “lost patrol” war movie, 1957’s Men in War shows that director Anthony Mann was as expert in this genre as he had already proved himself to be in film noir (Raw Deal), the western (Winchester ’73) and the epic (Quo Vadis). Made without any buy-in from the US military, it’s a pared-back affair and Mann uses the lack of budget to good effect, relying on key performances from his two leads to deliver the goods. There are two different types of human endeavour on display in Men in War – the social and the individual. Robert Ryan plays the fiercely egalitarian lieutenant in charge of a platoon trying to make its way … Read more

Unrest aka Unrueh

Josephine examines an unrest wheel

There was a real-life person called Pyotr Kropotkin, he isn’t a fantasy creation of writer/director Cyril Schäublin, who is also excavating his own family’s connection to the Swiss watch industry in Unrest (Unrueh), a film as quiet and precise as a high-end timepiece. Schäublin’s film follows the bearded Russian political radical (played here by Alexei Evstratov) as he arrives in a Swiss valley, where, he’s apparently heard, the workers are beginning to organise themselves in a loose anarcho-syndicalist fashion. There, posing as a cartographer making a map, Kropotkin stands back and observes, taking in the working relations of the late 19th century – feudal more than anything. He notices how the workers mutually … Read more

La Silence de la Mer

Uncle and Niece in their living room

With 1949’s La Silence de la Mer Jean-Pierre Melville got his shortish career off to the sort of start you might expect from a director who would go on to turn out one classic after another – Bob le Flambeur, Le Samouraï, Army of Shadows and A Cop to name but four. It is a classic in its own right and yet a strangely overlooked film, possibly because it doesn’t quite fit the Melville template. His films are generally centred on men’s men who abide by a strict code of honour and suffer when they break it. But dig not too far in and La Silence de la Mer also seems to be … Read more