Transit 2018 *****


You are under arrest from the moment Transit begins; this critic literally had to restart Christian Petzold’s film to get his head round the film’s uniqueness. This is an adaptation of a 1942 novel by Anna Seghers, but the details are not in keeping with the book’s period; the sight and sound of modern ambulances and police vehicles interrupt the action, and the clothes seem deliberately chosen to not evoke any specific era. In this German/French co-production, set in a parallel universe, the dialogue and the situations are set out in much more detail, and they relate as much to 2019 as 1942. The building of walls and the re-enforcing of borders has led to an inevitable conclusion; almost everyone caught up in this story is a refugee of some kind. Georg (Franz Rogowski) leaves Paris for Marseilles carrying the writings of a recently deceased author and a letter from the author’s wife; it allows him to pass himself off as the writer, and potentially access to a precious opportunity to flee the fascist occupation of his country and head to Mexico. Georg is in transit, even if he’s temporarily stuck in the port while he works through various official channels. But his journey takes a diversion when he attempts to help a sick child, and becomes involved with the doctor who helps him, and a lover Marie (Paula Beer), who was previously married to the writer he’s impersonating. The situation is oppressive; there are, to paraphrase a line from Titanic, ‘too many people and not enough boats’; Georg must consider who will make it out of Marselles alive, and what role he will play in the escape. Transit is a brilliant and powerful film that blazes an original trail that puts most film-makers to shame; there’s a great throwaway line about a zombie movie where the undead congregate on a shopping mall; even the dead, one character comments, seem to have run out of ideas. Petzold’s distain for genre tropes is invigorating; he brings a classic text to life in a way that never puts it behind glass to admire. Instead he updates the text in a way that focuses on the timeless personal suffering of the dispossessed; Transit is essential viewing for anyone wondering where the political directions of 2019 might lead.

Transit is in UK cinemas and on Curzon Streaming Services from Aug 16th 2019.


The Candidate 2019 ****


Accessing foreign language films in multiplexes and even arthouse venues looks like an uphill struggle in 2019; having said that, streaming potentially offers up a far wider audience that cinema ever could. A willingness to embrace subtitles, plus a working interest in Spanish politics might seem like a big ask in terms of finding an audience qualified to appreciate Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s tense thriller, previously known as The Realm. Manuel (Antonio de la Torre) is a politician with criminal links; when he flies too close to his political opponents, he’s indicted, and his whole world starts to fall apart. Of course, Manuel is more than just a dupe, and he quickly works out a series of internecine schemes to make sure that he’s not the only one to take the fall. The Candidate is rightly marketed as being by the producers of The Secret in Their Eyes, the excellent Argentinian thriller which offered a similar kind of tough, adult world. There’s not much action or violence, but there’s also not much melodrama or contrivance; the story is tight and realistic, and the carefully-shot drama brings to mind the 2010 version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the way that ordinary settings take on an off-kilter poetry. A throbbing techno soundtrack helps engage the interest during a dizzying first hour, and things heat up further until a couple of brilliant, unexpected scenes wrap things up at the conclusion. This film might need a hard sell, but for anyone looking for smart, modern political cinema, The Candidate gets the job done.

The Candidate hits UK Cinemas and Digital HD on 2nd August 2019

Cronofobia 2018 *****


The title refers to the fear of time passing; it’s not a term used directly by the characters in Francesco Rizzi’s accomplished debut feature, but the notion of elision infuses the story. Rizzi’s film is about two people, a man and a woman, who have a tangential connection to the kind of concerns that most of us have. Frequently wearing a false moustache and seemingly living in a van, Michael (Vinicio Marchioni) is a man whose occupation is deliberately obscured. Is he a hit-man, a thief, a serial –killer? His furtive manner, his strange behaviour keep the audience on edge, particular once he meets Anna (Sabine Timoteo). It’s not quite a meeting cute, as Michael is waiting in his van outside of her house, but his motives remain obscure for most of the film. She, widowed, vulnerable, insomniac, has her own complex issues, but the relationship between the two is constantly fascinating, often hard to pin down as they both slip through different characters and identities against an unfamiliar background of mundane Swiss locations. Cronofobia has a little of Chris Nolan’s The Following, but the gleaming visuals, choice musical cuts and edgy mood have an energy all of their own, and the central performances are striking. Rizzi’s film is something of a find on the festival circuit (screenings in Locarno and Rhode Island follow on from Edinburgh and Tallin), marking him out as a fresh and original talent who creates something personal and poetic from the most anonymous of situations. Highly recommended.

The Dreamlife of Angels 1998 ***


Writer and director Erick Zonca’s French film is a frank and finally shocking drama about two girls in the town of Lille and their relationships with men. Élodie Bouchez plays Isa, a girl disappointed in love and life, who strikes up an alliance with Marie (Natacha Régnier), who lives in an apartment where all the inhabitants have died in a car accident. The two girls struggle to reconcile their desire for love with the differing attitudes of local men, and Isa’s discovery of a diary belonging to the accident’s sole survivor Sandrine opens up an inner world that leads to a casually depicted but truly tragic event. The Dreamlife of Angels is naturalistically acted and performed, but the low-key presentation only disguises Zonca’s determination to turn clichés inside out; there’s no miracles here, just bravery in the face of a world without pity or remorse.

The Double Life of Veronique 1991 ****


Writer and director Krzysztof Kieslowski is best known for his sophisticated Decalogue and Three Colors meditations on morality; his 1991 film The Double Life of Veronique sees him in a different mode, weaving an elliptical narrative that reworks the idea of dopplegangers in an arty and ambiguous way. Irene Jacob plays both Weronika and Veronique, two women who live separate lives, but when Weronika dies at a concert in Poland, Veronique’s life in France takes a different direction. What all this means is up for debate, but Kieslowski’s film is undeniably beautiful to watch, with a sublime score and some subtle work from Jacob. An enigmatic film in the vein of Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Double Life of Veronique is a haunting, evasive proposition.

The Canterbury Tales 1972 *****


Adapting the tales of Geoffrey Chaucer in his own inimitable style, Pier Paulo Pasolini casts himself as the English author to introduce a selection of stories; mixing non-professional actors with familiar faces (Hugh Griffith, Laura Betti), Pasolini creates eight fresh, vibrant and defiantly rude scenarios in a spirit that’s faithful to the texts. The Millers Tale, the Pardoner’s Tale and others are all rendered with abandon, copious male and female nudity, urine and excrement flying across the screen; the finale features huge devils squatting while priests come flying out of their backsides. But there’s also plenty of beauty in the artful compositions and Ennio Morricone’s score, and neat comedy from Ninetto Davoli, channelling Charlie Chaplin with some success.

Celine and Julie Go Boating 1974 *****


Jacques Rivette’s 193 minute long whimsical drama requires quite a commitment from audiences, but those prepared to stay the course get a big reward. Aspiring magician Celine (Juliet Berto) and Julie (Dominique Labourier) strike up an odd friendship, one that leads them to discover a portal to another dimension, in which the interfere in the daily business of a turn-of-the century household. Shot in a sunny Paris summer, Celine and Julie is a magical film, ingeniously filmed on real locations where the public frequently stand gawping at the actors, adding a surreal quality to a film steeped in strangeness.  Somewhere between Henry James and Desperately Seeking Susan, Rivette’s astonishing film is one of the true unseen masterworks of cinema; clear your diary and open your mind.