In the ruins of Leningrad in 1945, death has become a painful normality as its citizens adjust to life in the shadows of the tragedies of war. Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) is dealing with dissociation due to PTSD, an after effect of the time she has spent on the frontline. Despite her PTSD, she works in a military hospital to support Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), a young boy she cares for. When Pashka dies during one of these fits, and his mother Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) returns from the military, an uneasy friendship of convenience turns into a battle for control and power.
It’s hard not to expect some gruelling white-saviour storyline when a movie starts with scenic shots of a white, Hollywood A-lister playing a volunteer at an underfunded orphanage in Kolkata, India. Thankfully, Bart Freundlich’s reimagining of the 2006 Susanne Bier Danish drama subverts this. But this subversion, and an iconic scene with Julianne Moore head-banging to Lady Gaga’s ‘The Edge of Glory’, is not enough to add any prowess to a blatantly unremarkable melodrama.
In a cinematic landscape that is currently experiencing a surge of teenage coming-of-age tales, Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) brings another side of the story: the ‘coming-of-age’ as you approach your thirties, a time where the evidence of your twenties is still present despite the looming decade brimmed with higher expectations and the fulfilment of cultural norms. With this offering, Hyde joins the likes of Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour, The Bisexual) in offering authentic and refreshing portrayals of the female millennial experience on screen.
Based on Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name, Animals chronicles the antics of party-obsessed best friends Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat). The two have been enjoying their fair share of debauchery in Dublin for more than a decade — as established by the well-worn friendship montage in the film’s opening. Despite the growing comments of dismay from their loved ones, Tyler is seemingly content with their midlife wanderings that refuse to conform to the conventions of the nuclear family, proclaiming (after asking Laura to observe the deafening muteness of the suburb) ‘it’s the non-sound of the suburb. They sell it to you as peace, but it’s death’. While Shawkat’s happy-go-lucky character does not necessarily steer too far away from comedic roles she has played in the past, the film’s milieu amps her unstoppable, and unapologetically American, energy.
I have given more than half of my life to the Avengers. I first saw Iron Man (2008) at my local cinema with my dad; I remember enthusiastically climbing the bus stop afterward and demanding I be called ‘iron girl’. I went home and painted toilet roll tubes red and yellow to make gauntlets (which sat nicely alongside my tin foil Wolverine claws). I’m now 21, and the Avengers have been by my side for eleven of the most formative years of my life.
Avengers: Endgame is the long-awaited culmination of those years, a coming together of everyone we have met along the way, and a chance for the team to finally live up to their name and ‘avenge’. As cinema has had so many iterations of beloved comic book heroes, fans held out hope that those we lost during the events of Infinity War would return. But Marvel Studios are smarter than most give them credit for – a sense of finality is essential to keeping high stakes, and Endgame has buckets of both.
Tension has become a trademark in Marco Berger’s work. You’re aware going into one of his films that the will-they won’t-they suspense will drive the narrative. The spaces in his films brim with silence, allowing the restless expressions in his characters’ faces do the talking. The point is not to make it seem like words are irrelevant—on the contrary, it is when his characters come clean that you realize the power of just talking. It is fitting then that The Blonde One, Berger’s latest film, was conceived with a mute lead in mind. While at the end they were forced to scratch that idea, Gabriel, the titular blonde (Taekwondo’s Gaston Re), clings to quietness throughout the story, even being referred to as “the mute” by his friends.
We meet Gabriel as he’s moving in to his co-worker Juan’s (Alfonso Barón) flat so he can be close to his place of work. Juan looks infatuated with the man from the moment he arrives, glancing at him for a bit too long and standing a bit too close to him at every chance he gets. While Gabriel is apprehensive at first, as he has a girlfriend and a daughter living with his parents, he’s ultimately responsive to Juan’s insinuations. The sexual tension builds until the end of the first act when a proposal to go out and buy beer quickly escalates—Juan finally acts on his desires and Gabriel reciprocates leniently. The implication here might be that we’re observing the dawn of a new love, but as Juan kicks Gabriel out of his room after having sex, we learn that’s not the case.
“My body is like a battlefield where the opponents fight one another,” proclaims acclaimed dancer and choreographer Rianto midway through Garin Nugroho’s newest film. He’s not only the narrator, but the story is also based in his own life. Indeed, the constant struggle that Juno, Rianto’s fictional representation, experiences with gender is the driving force for the aptly titled Memories of My Body.
The film is told in sections, marked by Juno’s age. In its early sections, it becomes evident that Juno is at odds with the world around him. Nugroho cleverly juxtaposes shots of kids playing and having fun with one another as Juno tends to be shown by himself, purposely avoiding people when possible. The children bully him and his teacher doesn’t hesitate to abuse him at the slightest mistake, even going as far as forcing him to write on the blackboard with chalk in his mouth. Juno is only happy when he is alone and spying on dancers as they put on makeup and practice their routines. As he watches them dance throughout the early stages of his life, his features fill with longing for what he can’t be.
The samurai is an archetypal action hero which has been remixed and re-invented in a million ways since the days of Kurosawa. Sergio Leone drew directly from the legendary Japanese filmmaker to create his iconic Westerns, replacing the katana and bun with a revolver and a ten-gallon hat. Star Wars switched the blade for a laser beam and moved the whole thing to another galaxy, while films like Ghost Dog brought the Bushido code into a world more like our own. In each iteration, the appeal remains the same: the hero is a man with the violent talents to make for exciting action cinema, but with a rigorous moral code that allows the audience to root for him even as he’s slicing people down. Essentially, the samurai embodies the two-fold relationship we have with violence.
With Killing, Shinya Tsukamoto pushes us to look harder at our willingness to cheer for the man with the sword.