Director: Jehane Noujaim. Egypt/USA 2013. 108 mins. English and Arabic with English subtitles.
THE SQUARE chronicles the 2011 Egyptian revolution, focusing on three individuals among a group of revolutionaries in Tahrir Square. Christians and Muslims have gathered together to peacefully protest in the hope of creating a new democracy for Egypt. However, the situation quickly becomes more complicated and dangerous as factions break away.
The events are filmed by the protesters themselves, giving an unfiltered view that puts us right there with them, and shifting gear stylistically and emotionally as we spend more time with them. We watch from their perspective as the situation deteriorates, and this provides a level of reality and humanity that evokes the deep emotions felt by the revolutionaries.
THE SQUARE powerfully depicts the start of cataclysmic events that are far from over. It’s a film that demands to be seen.
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
Directors: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard. Featuring: Nick Cave. UK 2014. 97 mins.
Artists and filmmakers Forsyth and Pollard pay tribute to the prolific Nick Cave with a film like no other. 20,00 DAYS ON EARTH is not a doc, but a hybrid film that fuses aspects of documentary, making-of, live concert footage and staged events into a lyrical depiction of the musician.
We spend a day with Cave – his 20,000th – starting at his home in Hove as he goes to see a therapist, meets his collaborator Warren Ellis, visits his archive and rehearses with his band. As he drives between settings, characters from his life appear unannounced in his car: Ray Winstone, former bandmate Blixa Bargeld, and Kylie Minogue. While clearly set up, all the scenes are unscripted; the conversations go to revealing places and start to unravel aspects of Cave’s psyche, with Cave also providing his own poetic narration.
This film will no doubt be a joy to any Nick Cave fan, not least for the brilliant behind-the-scenes shots of the Bad Seeds recording their most recent album, and newly recorded live concert footage. But there is a lot more take away from 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH. The film asks its subject and its audience alike some big questions about life, why we are here, and what we should do while we are here. In the words of Cave himself: “Some people say that it’s just rock and roll, but it get you right down in your soul.”
Director: John Michael McDonagh. Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran. Ireland/UK 2014. 101 mins.
Step aside, Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn, there’s a new actor/director duo in town. Writer-director John Michael McDonagh and actor Brendan Gleeson – whose previous collaboration was the fun, refreshing black comedy THE GUARD – have upped their game even further with the powerful and unpredictable CALVARY.
Gleeson plays Father James, a priest in a small coastal town in Ireland. The film opens with him taking confession, but it turns out that the individual is making not a confession but a vow – to kill Father James himself a week on Sunday.
Throughout the ensuing week, Father James goes about his priestly duties as usual. But the seemingly endless immorality he sees around him makes him begin to question his faith.
While there is plenty of humour, there is also an underlying darkness to CALVARY. Comparisons will doubtless be made between McDonagh’s work and that of the Coen brothers or early Jim Jarmusch (and there’s certainly more than one reference to TV’s Father Ted), but McDonagh is a rare and fresh cinematic voice, with a promising career ahead of him.
This may also be Gleeson’s finest performance to date. Indeed, he is the backbone of this smart film, allowing McDonagh’s script and the secondary characters (played by a great cast, including Chris O’Dowd, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran and M. Emmet Welsh) to add multiple layers to an ultimately moving piece of cinema.
NYMPHOMANIAC VOLUME I
Director: Lars Von Trier. Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgård. UK/Germany/France/Belgium/Denmark 2013. 117 mins.
Amid all the hype, rumour and speculation around Lars Von Trier’s NYMPHOMANIAC, it is perhaps a relief to report that VOLUME I at least is smart, funny and (as always with Von Trier) unique.
The director is on form here, showing off his intellect and playful style – with, as you might expect, plenty of explicit and uncompromising moments.
The story unfolds in flashback as Joe (Gainsbourg) recounts to Seligman (Skarsgård) her life as a nymphomaniac. The film is broken up into chapters, and with its plentiful use of narrative and voiceover, it often feels like a novel; but it also deploys cinematic effects and a keen eye for design that make it a great piece of cinema.
There are strong performances throughout, especially from Stacy Martin, making her debut as the young Joe. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgård complement each other perfectly, and Uma Thurman steals the show in one standout chapter that is one of the finest scenes I can recall in any film.
NYMPHOMANIAC VOLUME I shows Von Trier at a creative peak – and he knows it. Here’s to seeing what VOLUME II has to offer. I suspect that the director will be pushing everything even further.
Director: Michel Gondry. Featuring: Noam Chomsky. France 2013. 88 mins.
A visual head-trip, IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY? is a conversation with philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky, which artist and filmmaker Gondry has set to his own style of hand-drawn animation.
Deep thoughts, concepts and questions are raised, but things are also kept down to earth in humorous and playful moments as Gondry and Chomsky sometimes fail to understand each other because of the language barrier.
Anyone with an interest in philosophy or animation or both – not to mention Chomsky’s and Gondry’s many respective fans – will revel in this fun and thought-provoking film.
Directors: Tommy Pallotta, Femke Wolting. Netherlands/Germany/Ireland/Belgium 2014. Somali with English subtitles.
In 2013 A HIJACKING and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS were both commended as accurate and powerful portrayals of Somali pirates. The doc LAST HIJACK is a compelling companion piece to those films, depicting the lives of Somalis and how and why some of them become enticed by the idea of piracy.
It focuses on one family and one man who, having quit the piracy trade, then chooses to return it, despite the disapproval of his father and wife. Using poetic, animated segments, the film unsentimentally shows how his family is torn apart by his decision, and gives an essential insight into a highly complex situation.