A world of dark impulses hides in plain sight in the luminous landscapes of Jersey. A serial killer is about. This does not stop Moll (Jessie Buckley) from roaming freely. Her icy mother (Geraldine James) does not seem too concerned about her daughter’s safety, yet very concerned with controlling her.

girls always happyGirls Always Happy was a breath of fresh air during a Berlinale which has featured a remarkable number of downbeat stories. It’s an accomplished film. It presents an original point of view about how to lead a life, in a changing society which still remains restrictive about a young woman’s place in the world. The film was nominated for Best First Feature Award for its director (and lead actress), Yang Mingming – a strong contender which deserved to win.

song of graniteThe stark landscapes of Galway, on the West coast of Ireland, form the backdrop to Song of Granite. It’s an elegantly understated, and original, documentary about a remarkable life. Joe Heaney, the now long-gone but much loved sean-nós singer, who died in 1984, is celebrated here again after a spell of obscurity.

There’s something irresistibly alluring about this film’s title. It promises crime, glamour and intrigue. The Nile Hilton Incident delivers that in spades. A police procedural and a political thriller, a Cairo Confidential by way of Casablanca, it’s a homage to film noir and to the novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy. The film is heavily stylised, knowingly alluding to Polanski’s Chinatown. But then something cuts across that stylised world, sharply: a subplot featuring a hotel cleaner, Salwa (played by Mari Malek). It brings the story, vividly, into relevance, into the here and now.

The past brings up unexpected treasures in Ingmar Bergman’s 1971 The Touch. This delightful tale of a woman’s journey towards inner freedom was wildly underestimated by critics when it was originally released – and often wildly misinterpreted – perhaps because of the life it portrayed. This is our gain: a new Bergman to discover, another facet of his work, rediscovered pleasures.

Lady Bird is as eager to propel herself out of Sacramento as she is to fling herself out of her mother’s moving car when they suddenly argue. That moment captures perfectly their relationship, and the restlessness of a young person just on the cusp of independence. The only way forward – and out – is propulsive.

A love affair ends dismally, in the elegantly wallpapered breakfast room of a grand London townhouse: a suggestive Belgian iced bun is spurned. Johanna (Camilla Rutherford), her fine features just starting to wilt, offers her lover, the celebrated and fastidious couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a richly glazed, cherry-topped pastry. Johanna knows that her capricious lover’s appetite for food, and his amorous appetite, are one and the same. He tells her she is getting fat.

Mayhem reigns wherever Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), an irrepressible six year old, leads her friends. She is a little tornado of mischief, and has an answer for everything. Whatever trouble she concocts, her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) stands up for her.

Pull back, and the reality of their home is revealed. Moonee and Halley live in poverty in a cheap motel in Florida, just off a busy highway. The motel is called the Magic Castle. A lure for unsuspecting tourists, and a long-term dormitory for the dispossessed. In the distance, Disney World – the Florida Project.

What better way to start the New Year than with a bracing dose of existential fear and trembling?

The BFI kicks off its Ingmar Bergman centenary celebrations with the revival of Bergman’s 1966 film, Persona. Deeply absorbing, it is another of the director’s lavishly symbolic films, playing with the ideas of artifice, the self, and imbalances of power.


A lyrical, bittersweet tale, Youth is set against an epic background. It starts in the dying days of the Cultural Revolution, continues on the frontline of the Sino-Vietnamese War in the late 1970s, and ends sometime in the 1990s, in a China transformed by Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms.

A wild night in New York starts calmly enough. In a psychiatrist’s office, a young man, Nick (Benny Safdie), speaks haltingly.  He is being assessed for cognitive function. It becomes obvious, that his capacity for understanding the complexities of the world is limited.

The big camera close-ups on his face amplify his discomfort. He is about to explain something about himself, something that maybe he shouldn’t, when peace is abruptly shattered. A young man, rough, wild, angry, erupts into the room and drags him out.  His brother, Connie (Robert Pattinson, almost unrecognisable). He is agitated. Frenetic. The two brothers rush out – and go rob a bank.

Like all the most accomplished fairy tales, Guillermo del Toro’s latest world of wonders, The Shape of Water, opens with a sense of promise, of magical things to come, and inevitably, with an undertone of darkness.

Through a door, ajar, the camera slips into a dark, blueish, watery home. The sound of creaking wood, a low rumble, a swoosh, as if one were at sea in an ancient sailboat. A sunken sailboat: everything is underwater, floating dreamily in a tranquil space cluttered with old fashioned furniture – a Victorian side-table, an old lamp glowing in the gloom, a chaise-longue, and on the chaise-longue, a blissfully sleeping woman. ‘If I told you about her, the Princess without voice’ the unseen narrator begins to tells us, with a warm kind voice…