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…
Utterly charming and bucolic, a meandering story of a summer idyll unexpectedly builds up into something deeply moving and memorable.
Summer 1983, somewhere near Crema, Lombardy. A landscape of sleepy village squares baking in the afternoon sun, of lazy rivers to bathe in, grass to roll in, of gardens with trees bearing luscious fruit.
What’s James Bond doing here as a blond-white beefcake, and redneck to boot? It takes a gulp and a little intake of breath to calm that sense of dissonance. And so the fun starts. Nothing in this film is at it seems.
That moment in Ocean’s Twelve when Matt Damon is picked up from a jail by an FBI agent and you realise the ‘FBI agent’ is his mom? Logan Lucky is a succession of those neat surprises. Eventually. Logan Lucky is a slow burner, and Soderbergh directs magisterially – setting up the story at his own pace. It starts as a bit of a shaggy dog story then speeds up towards the end, picking up multiple strands into a rather satisfying conclusion. It all pays off.
A treasure trove of archive footage, all about the ‘Star Wars’ President, Ronald Reagan? An opportunity too good to miss.
Filmmakers Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez have explored thousands of hours of material from White House TV, filmed during his tenure by the President’s own teams; retrieved news footage, and a few clips from Reagan’s old Hollywood movies. From this, they have assembled a 75-minute compilation of some of the President’s big and less big moments, and set it to music, a score by Laura Karpman as well passages from Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. There is no commentary, only intertitle cards charting key moments.
How does an artist live with the knowledge that one day, their powers will wane? This question is particularly poignant for artists who use their body in their work, and where the physical demands are so great.
A winding little river somewhere in the forest near Tachileik, in the Golden Triangle, along the border between Myanmar and Thailand. A young woman, Lianqing (Wu Ke-Xi), is being smuggled across. She is on her way to Bangkok, to earn a better living and send money back home. She regularly has to pay bribes, as she progresses on her journey.
It’s all in the eyes. When Queen Victoria meets Mohammed Abdul Karim in June 1887, he quickly makes a strong impression. The Queen writes about him in her diary, that same day, mentioning that he is tall, with ‘fine serious countenance’, and is lighter skinned than his compatriot and fellow servant, Mohammed Buksh. It’s a droll story, as the film tells it; the pomp and formality of Court is displayed with quite some irony.
Land of Mine starts quietly, with the sound of breathing. Soon someone roars with anger. A Danish officer. He launches himself with fury at marching German soldiers, beating them. World War II has just ended, and Denmark faces its German prisoners of war with bitter resentment.
The POWs are about to face a new hell on the sandy beaches and dunes of Denmark’s West Coast, under vast skies luminous even under massed clouds. The war is over but it is not yet peacetime for them. They are to clear landmines, and more than half of the prisoners will come to die or suffer atrocious injuries.
Edie is a surprising film. It sets out in a quietly unassuming way and then develops into something moving and powerful. It tells the story of a widow in her early eighties, Edie (Sheila Hancock), who did not marry well. She quietly mourns; not her husband, who had been unkind and had stifled her, but her dreams. One day, clearing her attic, she finds the remnants of an old, unrealised wish. Old hiking gear, and a postcard.
You’re on a barrel roll, on a wild plane ride with a pilot playing fast and loose. American Made is that plane ride, and Tom Cruise is the pilot. That engaging and somewhat reckless Tom Cruise we know from his early film, Risky Business – wide-eyed grin, ever so slightly amoral, and irrepressibly charming. He’s back.
Colin Farrell becomes a troublingly perfect Agamemnon in this new film by Yorgos Lanthimos. The film pushes reality so far and with such patient, systematic determination that it reveals truths that we all somehow know but no longer wish to acknowledge.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer opens grandly. An extended close-up of open-heart surgery, performed to the grave and moving music of one of Schubert’s Stabat Maters. Still looking? Keep looking now and you might still be able to keep on looking later on. The music and sound design will help keep you there, will seduce and hypnotise you.
In the stillness of a Norwegian winter, a father and child go hunting. They walk across a frozen lake, towards the woods. The child, a little girl, perhaps four years old, stops on the ice and looks down. She can see fish swimming, below the frozen surface, under her feet. What happens next is disquieting, dark, and unexplained. Much later, the full horror becomes clear.
How many MPs would sweetly sing for you? In this affectionate portrait of one of the longest standing English Members of Parliament, Dennis Skinner, we get more than one song from the man now known, courtesy of the Telegraph, as the Beast of Bolsover.
Did I Say Hairdressing? I meant Astrophysics! This gently amusing film from Leeds Animation Workshop has just won the Audience Award at this year’s 5th London Feminist Film Festival.
The audience’s knowing laughter during the screening is a reminder that women have gained only modest ground in STEM careers since the film was made in 1972. At the panel discussion that followed, Chi Onwurah MP – and chartered engineer – commented that after her long career in engineering, Westminster turned out to be the most diverse environment she’d worked in.
Nightmare on 12th Street. July 1967, a sweltering summer in Detroit. The city erupts into rebellion. Looting, arson, snipers. The Detroit Police Department is overwhelmed. Governor George W. Romney (yes – Mitt’s father) calls in the Michigan National Guard. President Lyndon B Johnson, after some tactical deliberation, sends in troops from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Michigan State Police join in. A curfew is imposed through the whole city. Five days later, after 7,200 arrests, 1,189 injured and 43 deaths, a calm of sorts is restored. Life will never be the same, and for some young people, there will be lasting trauma: their experience has been one of horror.
Seventeen-year-old Ying Ling works in a spa for the deceased. More precisely, she works as a mortician in one of China’s largest undertaking firms. One of the services offered is a spa ritual, performed in front of the deceased’s grieving relatives. In a quiet ceremony, the body is washed, dressed, given a haircut and a shave if needed, make-up is applied; strikingly, it is also given treatments as if it were still part of the living: a massage, a facial. Kind, caring words are whispered to the deceased.
A quietly intense love story starts in a Berlin Konditorei. Oren (Roy Miller) travels from Jerusalem to Berlin every month, for work. He always stops at the same café, for a coffee and a generous slice of Black Forest gateau; he also always buys a little box of cinnamon cookies, for his wife, Anat (Sarah Adler). She also runs a café, in Jerusalem, and loves those cookies from Berlin. One day, he asks the baker, Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) for advice. What gift should he bring back for his young son? In the glances they share, something strong happens between Oren and Thomas the baker.
Is it ever possible to give up on wanting to know the truth? A young woman in a silver dress walks home as day breaks, after a night of clubbing and a moment of impersonal sex. Her walk, back to the parental home, is not a walk of shame. It’s a resolute march forward. A few moments later, she sets out, elegantly and conservatively dressed. Her mother thinks she is going to work, and worries she might be late. In a beautifully filmed moment, mother and daughter stand beside each other. They look so alike, but their quiet estrangement from each other is palpable.
Daphne is a rare treat of a film. Its raw immediacy and wit both delight and worry. Set in East London, close to the city’s centre and in an area where so many young people flock in order to live out something exciting, it follows a few moments in the life of a woman, still young enough to live fast – without risking a rapid middle-aged decline.