The Animal Kingdom

Émile out in the forest

The original title of The Animal Kingdom is Le Règne Animal, because it’s a French movie. That’s why you most likely haven’t heard of it and also probably why it isn’t the global phenomenon it should be. First, let’s be clear that it’s nothing to do with Animal Kingdom, David Michôd’s superbly gnarly Australian crime drama from 2010, or its US TV spin-off, or the metaphysical experimental Irish movie of the same name. The Animal Kingdom is a beast of an entirely different colour, one that’s watched an awful lot of Steven Spielberg movies. Director Thomas Cailley borrows the mood, structures and tropes of Spielberg in playful, corny ET mode to tell the … Read more


Agathe and Tomas dance

Writer/director Ira Sachs’s fascination with asymmetric power relations and love of French film-maker Éric Rohmer come together in Passages, a very French, oblique and bohemian tale full of characters who have space to breathe and yet somehow manage to box themselves in. People stuck in passages. It’s a frustrating film full of great scenes, connected up with Rohermesque fannying about – people standing around not saying very much, moodily. But what a cast. Franz Rogowski as Tomas, a young film director who we first meet directing extras to come downstairs into a club in one of the final scenes of the movie he’s shooting. They will not do it his way. Or cannot … Read more

Zero Fucks Given

Cassandre runs through the onboard safety procedure

Zero Fucks Given, or the similarly blunt Rien à Foutre in the original French, sometimes also goes by the title Carpe Diem, in parts of the world where fucks actually are given about rude words. No matter what you call it you get the same thing: a detail-rich portrait of the life of the flight attendant, and smuggled inside that a sensitive drama about a young woman whose life is emotionally as up in the air as her job. Don’t worry too much about the sensitive drama bit. You could almost ignore it – though it eventually brings plenty to the table – and still be mightily entertained by this film by Julie … Read more

The Five Devils

Vicky observes from a hiding place behind a wall

A close relative of Celine Sciamma’s Petite Maman, The Five Devils (Les Cinq Diables in the original French) starts off with a one two three of scenarios which, if you’re coming to this movie cold (as I did) are designed to make you wonder just what you’ve signed on for – a horror movie, something at the luxe James Bond end of film-making, or even something much more ordinary, workaday, as those two opening impressions give way to a third. An aquarobics class, run by Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who, when not exhorting her “girls” (senior citizens) to give it some heft, spends her spare time wild-water swimming in a wintry alpine lake that’s … Read more

Smoking Causes Coughing

The Tobacco Force

Smoking Causes Coughing. Of course it does. It might be the only bit of sense there is in Quentin Dupieux’s latest film, a drama-free but quirk-heavy work of surreal flippancy centring on a gang of superheroes who call themselves the Tobacco Force. In their tight suits and helmets, this gang look like the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers but as we meet them they appear to be fighting a character who’s escaped from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a gigantic upright Tortoise called Tortusse (the film is in French, which explains the tortoise’s name, and the film’s original one, Fumer Fait Tousser). Struggling, even five to one, the Tobacco Force decide to combine their … Read more

BAC Nord

Greg Cerva draws his gun

BAC Nord (released by Netflix as The Stronghold) tells the story of a case that’s notorious in the annals of French policing, when a unit of Marseille cops was hauled in and accused of drug trafficking and dealing. Their defence? They were part of an undercover and slightly off-limits operation ordered from higher up and now being officially denied. Whether that was or wasn’t the case is what the film is about, though it makes it clear from the beginning that it clearly was. And in the characters of the three main characters – granite-tough middle-aged leader Grégory Cerva (Gilles Lellouche), new family man Yass (Karim Leklou) and charming playa Antoine (François Civil) … Read more


Manu and Jean-Gab

Mandibles (Mandibules in the original French) is a film by Quentin Dupieux, the guy who in 1999 gave the world Flat Eric, a nodding glove puppet with deadly comic timing originally designed to sell Levi’s Sta-Prest clothing. Aspects of the manic, affectless, idiot-savant spirit of Eric (if you don’t know him, here’s an example) can often be seen in Dupieux’s characters. Dupieux’s people are usually Flat in some way. There’s often something not-quite-there about the storyline too, and Dupieux has an unusual way of framing his shots – deliberately slightly too high, or too low, always just a bit off somehow. All fully evident here. Manu (Grégoire Ludig), a bum who sleeps on … Read more


Sibyl in clingy sexy black dress

Billed as a drama, Sibyl is in fact a tragic comedy, a brilliantly dry and pitiless one, Kafkaesque in its analysis of a person in self denial and also Kafkaesque in being almost opaque until that “ah-haa!” moment comes along. Director and co-writer Justine Triet, a fan of Hitchcock and Polanski, dives right in. Even before the opening credits we’ve met Sibyl, a shrink and former novelist who now wants to get back in the writing game. “Don’t do it,” boiled down, is the advice she gets from an old editor friend. But Sibyl does it anyway. Sibyl (Virginie Efira) is also a recovering alcoholic who really shouldn’t have another drink, and certainly … Read more