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Fran's fantasy of being dead on a beach

Sometimes I Think About Dying

Can we agree that the casting of Daisy Ridley in the Star Wars reboot was one of the best right calls ever made? My preferences established, can we all also agree that her non-Star Wars choices have often been less than stellar? On to Sometimes I Think About Dying, a reminder of why she was chosen for The Force Awakens and how good she can be with the right material. In flat grey Oregon, flat grey Fran (Ridley) lives a mouselike existence, creeping every day into her desk job in a run-of-the-mill office, creeping home again after work for a dinner consisting of cottage cheese before settling down for the evening with a … Read more
Hélène and Charles

Que la Bête Meure aka This Man Must Die

Writing poetry doesn’t pay very well and so in the 1930s Cecil Day Lewis, father of Daniel, started writing detective fiction on the side. The Beast Must Die was his fourth crime novel. Translated literally into the French, it gave Claude Chabrol the title of his unusual 1969 thriller, Que la Bête Meure, which in English usually goes by This Man Must Die, and even sometimes Killer! As titles go all three are good penny-dreadful shockers but the film is anything but, even though it starts with the death of a child mown down by a car going recklessly fast and continues with the father’s quest to find and kill the driver. Michel … Read more
Clara Nowak loses her cool

The Teachers’ Lounge

Instructive but not didactic – and also as tense as hell – The Teachers’ Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer) takes a fairly simple situation and not only escalates it but pushes it out in all directions. Good guys and bad guys are there none, or not, at least, any that we can quite get a glove on. We’re in a German school where someone has been stealing stuff from the staff room. It’s one of the kids, is the feeling, since what adult would do such a thing? As the action opens Clara Nowak, an idealistic new teacher, is trying to prevent her class of kids from being physically searched. She’s unsuccessful and the search does … Read more
Gérard Séty as Dr Malic

Les Espions aka The Spies

In the 1950s Alfred Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot were always looking over the directorial shoulder at each other. In Les Espions (The Spies in English) Clouzot attempts his most overt homage to one of Hitchcock’s amused thrillers… and gets it completely wrong. A non-thrilling thriller crossed with a non-funny comedy is the result. Gérard Séty plays the Hitchcockian innocent abroad, a shrink running a struggling private psychiatric clinic who takes up an offer from a shady American agent in a bar to hide a spy on the run in return for a big wedge of cash. The Americans chose this man and this place, it seems, because it’s ideal as a safe space: … Read more
Close-up of Paul

Dune: Part Two

Let’s get straight to the verdict. Dune: Part Two is visually spectacular but dramatically inert, the good stuff attributable to its remarkable director Denis Villeneuve, the bad stuff down to the writer of the original novel/doorstop, Frank Herbert. This is not going to be how everyone sees it, of course, what sort of a world would that be? But if you’re one of the people who picked up Herbert’s original Dune at some point only eventually to put/fling it down again after tiring of the relentless one-thing-after-anotherness of it (see also Tolkien) the movie won’t offer much that the book didn’t, its retina-cleansing visuals to one side. It picks up right where Part … Read more
Close up of Sun Ra

Space Is the Place

Without Space Is the Place no Black Panther? Afrofuturism on screen pretty much starts with this cosmic freak-out from Sun Ra. Made in 1972, released in 1974, Space Is the Place sets out an alternative agenda for black Americans, suggesting an imaginative future of sci-fi possibility unconstrained by the daily grind of the street hustle. The film builds theoretically out from Ra’s series of Berkeley lectures titled The Black Man in the Cosmos. With sci-fi and white guys inevitable bedfellows at the time, Ra’s lectures about the place of black people in modernity had seemed like missives from an alternate reality (actually, the future, it turned out). His film sets out with the … Read more
Ansa and Holoppa in the cinema

Fallen Leaves

Aki Kaurismäki tantalises us with Fallen Leaves (Kuolleet Lehdet). Is it going to be a Sleeping Beauty story about a princess saved by a kiss? Or is it the more downbeat but emotion-choked tale of two ships that pass in the night, a Finnish Brief Encounter? Kaurismäki references both, one way or another, as he spins out a typically deadpan, typically miserablist and typically gripping story of love among the “fallen leaves”, a pair of midlife McJobbers who could find happiness with each other if only they could connect up in the first place. That’s his story. To tell it, two great actors. Alma Pöysti as Ansa, a supermarket worker who is fired … Read more
Romain and Chris

L’Année des Méduses aka Year of the Jellyfish

Sex as war. Breasts as breastplates. 1984’s L’Année des Méduses translates literally as Year of the Medusas but is usually rendered more tamely and less aptly in English as Year of the Jellyfish. Director Christopher Frank (who also wrote the book) sets out his stall straight away. A shot of two cocktails in tall glasses is quickly supplanted by the bare breasts of the young woman who ordered them. We’re in the South of France, where a mother and daughter are holidaying on one of those beaches that give the more puritanical mind the heebie-jeebies. All the women are topless and everyone is carrying on as if it means nothing at all. But … Read more
Dodin and Eugénie at a celebration

The Taste of Things aka La Passion de Dodin Bouffant

Tran Anh Hung has only made five films in the years between his breakthrough and The Taste of Things (La Passion de Dodin Bouffant). Not much has changed since 1993’s The Scent of Green Papaya. This is also a languid and beautiful film full of longing for a bygone time when people did things properly and (say this very quietly) they also knew their place. It doesn’t need a plot. You could watch this exquisite movie for the images alone, which are spectacular and gorgeous, like paintings by Renoir or Manet come to life. But there is one, several in fact, providing just enough thread to lead us from one elegant instance of … Read more
Émile and latest victim, Monique

L’Étrangleur aka The Strangler

Beautiful and weird, Paul Vecchiali’s 1970 serial-killer thriller The Strangler (originally L’Étrangleur) is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom and Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy mixed with Vecchiali’s humid take on queer sexuality. And on top of that it sends a string of women to their graves as if doing them a favour. A very very odd movie. Vecchiali only died in 2023, aged 92, and was making movies to the end having started in 1961. Along the way he also happened to produce Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, currently number-one film in Sight and Sound’s prestigious poll, but he also wrote, acted and edited and occasionally composed the music for his films too. … Read more
Antoine and Olga

The Beasts

Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen reportedly said he wanted to make The Beasts (As Bestas, in Spanish) “as a western”. To a large extent that’s what he’s done. This is like a western where two opposing and implacable forces square off in a lawless milieu. John Ford might have made this, back in the day. If he had I wonder how much shorter he’d have made it. The story it tells is a true one, of a Dutch couple moving to a remote Spanish village to start a new life, then falling out badly with their neighbours until one day a moment of reckoning arrives. For the factual account, the true-crime documentary Santoalla (2015) … Read more
Mrs Callingham in close-up

Don’t Look in the Basement

All the way from 1973, Don’t Look in the Basement, which originally went by the title The Forgotten. The original is the better title – there isn’t much basement action going on here – and a more apt one, since this is something of a forgotten horror oddity. Being 1973 there’s something overtly and covertly pornified about it. Overtly in the casting of Playboy cover star Rosie Holotik as a new nurse at an out-of-the-way asylum run by one Dr Stephens (Michael Harvey). Covertly in the way it feels like it’s about to break into hot hardcore action at any moment. It never does. Some fairly random bare breasts to one side (in … Read more

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