Monday 31 January 2022

Tree of strife: "Taming the Garden"

We often speak about politicos "redrawing the map", but it's largely figurative, a matter of electoral demographics or the kind of gerrymandering our leaders revert to when they've no better ideas for sustaining power. In Salomé
 Jashi's documentary Taming the Garden, the process is literal. Over ninety minutes, Jashi invotes us to observe a labour-intensive excavation project unfolding deep in the Georgian countryside. Diggers are manoeuvred into place. Trucks rattle down backroads. The assembled workmen can be heard joshing and griping about their bad backs and the whims of their employer. Gradually, a small part of the local forestry is carved up, and we're left to consider the fate of a massive, century-old oak tree, isolated from the others over the course of several months and eventually plucked from the ground to be shipped off elsewhere. The reason for this displacement is revealed so late into the film that the following arguably counts as a spoiler: the tree is one of several to have been excavated at the behest of the former Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili and reinstalled within the vast country estate that currently serves as his own personal Versailles.

Whatever we make of this headscrambling high command, it's given rise to a film of extraordinary landscape photography, one of those documentaries where the images really do tell the story. Jashi and her cinematographer Goga Devdariani shoot in handsome wide frames that stand back and marvel as the tree is chiselled from the ground, erased from the skyline and floated from one part of Georgia to another. Every set-up establishes its own battle between the laws of nature and the will of man; somewhere in the background of this story is the arrogant assumption that a tree chopped out here and repotted elsewhere will take root and continue to grow at the same rate as before - the kind of blithely unscientific can-doism that has blighted the political landscape over the past decade. Within this setting, Jashi hones in on resonant, suggestive imagery: maybe my mind has been rotted by filth of one stripe or another, but I can't now watch a drill bit being eased into the soil without thinking of the way certain leaders aggressively insert themselves into society's very fabric. Conversations with those at the scene only underline the extent to which cranks and despots can get inside your head. The landowner, whose grandparents first planted this tree, is capable of resistance when in his cups; whether that resistance will survive the night and take wider root is open to question. British viewers may experience a dry gulp of recognition upon hearing the rhetoric one workman uses to defend Ivanishvili's diktats: "No matter how much of a villain he is, at least he's doing something. It would be ungrateful not to see that." Among the many jawdropping things Taming the Garden illustrates: the lengths to which some are prepared to go just to doff a cap.

Some of it is what you'd witness at any construction site in the middle of the night: eerie-to-murky, slowgoing-to-dull, the business of underpaid people standing around getting cold and tired. What's staggering about even these scenes is the level of work being undertaken so as to improve one moneyed man's life: at the extraction site, yes, but also on the shoreline where the oak is floated, on the shoreline where it's received, and on the roads connecting all these sites. Even those scenes that don't feature the rumble of chainsaws and JCBs run on the disconcerting hum of a generator; heaven knows how the locals got any sleep, even before the revelation the entire project was taxpayer-funded. (Suck it, proles.) What keeps the film on course is the clarity of its narrative line, which is that of a warped but instructive fable. There would have been other ways of telling this story: Jashi could simply have asked Ivanishvili for a guided tour (providing he didn't smell a rat), or she could have documented this project in its entirety, from blueprints to grand opening. Instead her approach is synecdochal: she films the enormous expense of time, money and energy involved in getting this one tree from A to B across the sea, recognising that in itself will stand for deviation, perversion or corruption enough. In the closing moments, we see the oak reaching its final resting place in the grounds of this latter-day Bluebeard's castle, where the trees are exhibited like trophies and the abundant tranquillity can't entirely drown out the noise of the disruption required to get them there. If you're anything like this viewer, you may hope the damn thing withered in place the minute Jashi called cut, and that it attracted foxes who kept Ivanishvili up all night with vociferous rutting.

Taming the Garden is now showing in selected cinemas, and available to stream via Dogwoof on Demand, Curzon Home Cinema, Prime Video and the BFI Player. 

Sunday 30 January 2022

On demand: "Driveways"

One of the final big-screen credits for the late actor Brian Dennehy, the exquisitely fine-tuned indie
Driveways centres on three characters thrown together under unhappy circumstances. Director Andrew Ahn, working from a script by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, introduces us first to Kathy (Hong Chau), a single mother who's hauled her young son Cody (Lucas Jaye) across several states to help clear out the house of her recently deceased sister. Given that sis was a prodigious hoarder, we soon grasp this is quite the task for one mourning woman to take on. But then an extra pair of hands present themselves: those of Del (Dennehy), the widowed Army veteran who lives in the house next door, and who seems to have been waiting for an opportunity to serve anew, if not as a removals man (he's getting on, and his back isn't what it used to be), then certainly as a babysitter for Cody as Kathy closes out her sister's accounts. A sense of finality hangs over the early scenes, such that you might initially misinterpret that title as a synonym for dead ends. A neighbour on the other side of the street (Christine Ebersole) lets slip she's been at a loss since her husband lost his job in the '08 crash; there appears nothing for these people to do save pack up, cultivate their gardens, and wait for the inevitable, as Del looks to be doing sat on his front porch. Yet Ahn introduces himself - in remarkable style - as too much the optimist for that to be the case for long. What follows is a film that correlates in close, rewarding, moving fashion with the Midwest of last year's Best Picture winner Nomadland. Where Chloé Zhao went roaming, Ahn has stayed put, committing instead to poking around and seeing what life remains on America's doorsteps a decade on from 2008, low-key though it may be. These driveways aren't dead ends, it turns out, but a place of meetings, intersections, sometimes fraught but mostly fond interactions.

If the whole feels utterly unlike the bulk of modern American cinema, that's because Driveways reveals a new talent whose sincerity around flesh-and-blood people recalls certain East Asian filmmakers: the warmth coming off the screen matches that of Ang Lee's early work (Lee's regular collaborator James Schamus is a producer here) and the very best Kore-eda films. From the wordless opening movement that establishes Kathy and Cody as a quiet team, Ahn displays an uncommonly sure feel for these figures, and how they're likely to react in any given situation. Further elevated by Chau's typically unshowy performance, the frazzled, sometimes overwhelmed yet surprisingly resilient Kathy may just be one of the most beautiful characterisations in 21st century cinema, and she has the least pronounced arc here. More often than not, the focus lands on the growing bond between man and boy, an impossibly tired movie trope to which Ahn brings disarmingly fresh eyes. In Cody, he sees a hyper-sensitive soul - a real mother's boy; you gulp when he's packed off on a playdate with a couple of roughhousing WWE fans - being gradually coaxed out of his shell, to Kathy's evident relief and pride. And then there's the rocksolid Del, with his endlessly humanising meals-for-one, as safe a pair of hands as you could hope to leave your child with on days when you've got toilets to clean and documents to sign. Dennehy is great with everyone here: he has some especially tender scenes with befuddled vet Jerry Adler, an actor whom you suspect might still outlive us all. Even when Del's life story comes pouring out late on, it's not in a "movie" way - or, rather, it's in the way of a superior movie, tempered with such experience, humour and insight that it never feels like an actor's monologue. No surprise that Driveways was embraced as a source of respite when it appeared on US streaming services in early summer 2020, what with Everything That Was Going On: it's a film that, for 85 minutes, invites us to watch no more and no less than a few hundred square yards of America being set right by good people. That's a valuable thing for a movie to show us. At a time when aspiration seems either doomed or deadly, and where we've been given cause to wonder where the heroes have gone, that may be more valuable than ever for a movie to show us.

Driveways is currently available to stream via Sky Cinema/NOW TV.

Saturday 29 January 2022

On demand: "Gabbeh"

Gabbeh is the Mohsen Makhmalbaf film that got away from UK audiences: a vividly spun yarn that suggests some sunkissed daytime spin-off from the Arabian Nights, so fundamentally out of step with what was happening not just in Iranian cinema but the cinema entire in the summer of Independence Day that you can understand why exhibitors were wary about taking a chance on it. An elderly couple (Hossein and Rogheih Moharami) arrive at a river to wash the carpet of the title, only for a young woman (Shaghayek Djodat) to appear in full ceremonial dress, bearing a marked resemblance to one of the figures woven into the rug itself. The love story she subsequently recounts - which appears to be playing out both in the historical past and (judging from some of the eyelines) an adjacent field - serves primarily as an excuse for Makhmalbaf to daub the screen with bright colours. "The red of a poppy, the yellow of a wheatfield, the blue of God's heaven," declaims the girl's teacher uncle (Abbas Sayah), plucking these very shades out of the scenes around him with his hands before mixing and matching; the women of the piece, for their part, sport the most vibrant fabrics this side of an Almodóvar movie. The actors are still visibly non-professionals - they demonstrate a certain hesitancy before the camera, and Mr. Moharami, in particular, has the most distinctive speech patterns heard between the dwarf in Twin Peaks and the detective in P'tit Quinquin. Yet the formal austerity we associate with late 80s/early 90s Iranian cinema is comprehensively painted over. 

This is the film that reminds us that the Iranian cinema intersects with the Armenian cinema of Sergei Paradjanov; a film of images that unabashedly announce themselves as images, to be looked and cooed at. Coo we do (how could you not?): at an Andrew Wyeth cornfield rippled violently by the breeze; at the absolute logistical chaos involved in getting a flock of ewes across a river; at dyed fabrics spotting a shoreline like the dots on a Damien Hirst. I wonder whether the purist faction of the Iranian cinema could have accused Makhmalbaf of exoticism, of sensing a moment and fashioning a film for all-too-ready export, like the rugs that line the bazaars in tourist hotspots. Gabbeh is undeniably seductive, a lesson in the use of colour to catch and dazzle the eye. Yet it's also deeply idiosyncratic with it: dreamy and open to interpretation in ways a more obvious sellout couldn't be. There's some properly mad stuff just before the end involving the old man, who's fallen head-over-heels for this radiant apparition, while a series of matchcuts between the gabbeh weavers and a goat prove loopily inspired, pure cinematic instinct. Iranian cinema was about to turn in a more austere, socially conscious direction, largely thanks to Makhmalbaf's own daughter Samira and the stark black chadors of The Apple, Blackboards and At Five in the Afternoon. We might consider Gabbeh a final inky splurge, an eyepopping blowout. One thing's for sure: had it played widely upon first release, we'd never have been able to look at those drab Allied Carpets ads in the same way again.

Gabbeh is now streaming on the Arrow Player.

Friday 28 January 2022

For what it's worth...

Top 10 films at the UK box office (for the weekend of January 21-23, 2022):

1 (1) Spider-Man: No Way Home (12A)
2 (new) Belfast (12A) **
3 (2) Scream (18)
4 (new) Nightmare Alley (15)
5 (4) Clifford the Big Red Dog (PG)
6 (3The King's Men (15)
7 (8) Encanto (PG) ***
8 (5) Licorice Pizza (15) ****
9 (6West Side Story (12A) ***
10 (7The Matrix Resurrections (15)

(source: BFI)

My top five:
2. The 400 Blows

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (1) Ghostbusters: Afterlife (12) **
2 (new) Dune (12) **
3 (2) No Time to Die (12) ***
4 (15) Halloween Kills (18)
5 (3) Venom: Let There Be Carnage (15)
6 (5) Encanto (PG) ***
7 (4) Eternals (12)
8 (6) The Boss Baby 2: Family Business (PG)
9 (29) Nobody (15) ***
10 (35) Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation (U)

My top five: 
1. Annette

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. The Searchers (Saturday, BBC2, 1.50pm)
2. The Titfield Thunderbolt (Friday, BBC2, 2.55pm)
3. Lady Macbeth (Monday, BBC2, 11.15pm)
4. In the Heat of the Night [above] (Sunday, BBC2, 10pm)
5. Rio Bravo (Sunday, BBC2, 1.15pm)

In memoriam: Gaspard Ulliel (Telegraph 24/01/22)

Gaspard Ulliel
, who has died from injuries sustained in a skiing accident aged 37, was an emergent actor who became known globally after playing the young Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal Rising (2007) and becoming the face of Chanel cologne. Yet he was already a star in his native France, working with directors Andre Téchiné and Jean-Pierre Jeunet and earning three consecutive César nominations before the age of 21.

His wolfishly handsome looks were a boon for brands trying to catch the consumer’s eye. In 2008, he appeared alongside Kate Moss in print ads for Longchamp, and in a 2010 Chanel ad directed by Martin Scorsese, he played a director flummoxed during a press conference by memories of a former love. His film work revealed a gentility reminiscent of earlier eras: as he once told Le Figaro, “I am an old soul in a young body.”

Ulliel was born on November 25, 1984 in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, to designer Serge Ulliel and his stylist wife Christine. At the age of six, he was attacked by a friend’s Dobermann, leaving him with a scar on his left cheek; he would later call it “a nice gash that turns into a dimple”, while the newspaper Libération dubbed it “the most famous scar in French cinema”.

He made his debut aged 12 in the TV medical drama Une Femme en Blanc (1996) alongside Sandrine Bonnaire: “I began really by chance. A friend of a friend of my mother’s was opening an agency, and she was looking for young kids… I joined the agency more out of curiosity than real passion.” Yet he described his first day on set as “a revelation”: “I liked the atmosphere, the concentration, the teamwork, the same energy directed towards the same goal.” 

Carefully steered towards acting (“my parents didn't want me to miss school, so I was working just once or twice a year”), he made his big-screen debut as a wounded shepherd in the blood-soaked fantasy Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001). After completing lycée, he earned his first César nomination for Most Promising Male Newcomer in Michel Blanc’s enjoyable Joseph Connolly adaptation Summer Things (2002), then studied film at the University of Saint-Denis. 

While performing at the Cours Florent stage school, he’d caught the eye of the veteran French director Téchiné, who cast Ulliel in the WW2 drama Strayed (2004). Playing a young man who assists widowed schoolmarm Emmanuelle Béart as she flees Nazi-occupied Paris, Ulliel demonstrated an attentive courtliness – indeed, a pivotal sex scene was delayed until the final day of shooting to help the young actor conquer his nerves. 

Again, he was nominated at the Césars; again, he lost out. But he finally won Most Promising Newcomer in 2005 for playing Audrey Tautou’s absent beloved in Jeunet’s lavish, chocolate-boxy WW1 opus A Very Long Engagement (2004).

Hannibal Rising was meant to be his international breakout, rushed into production off the back of author Thomas Harris’s just-published origin story, which found the killer emerging from the ashes of Nazi-ravaged Lithuania. Yet the film proved listless camp, barely recouping its budget despite a wide release.

He fared better playing a real-life sacred monster – Yves Saint Laurent – in Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent (2014), which drew mixed reviews upon its Cannes debut, but earned Ulliel his first César nomination for Best Actor. In a choice awards-season quirk, he lost to Pierre Niney, the Saint Laurent in the rival biopic Yves Saint Laurent (2014). Yet with its full-frontal nudity, Ulliel’s performance demonstrated a newfound maturity: he was no more the blushing babe of Strayed, and no longer to be considered just a pretty face. 

His crowning glory came with Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World (2016), a starry ensemble piece in which he played a terminally ill writer undergoing an especially draining homecoming. Reviews were again mixed – even the Telegraph’s Tim Robey, in a broadly enthusiastic appraisal, acknowledged the drama was “frequently infuriating”. Nevertheless, Ulliel’s shaded turn finally landed him the Best Actor César, at the age of 32.

His international profile was set for a further boost later this year. On the day Ulliel collided with another skier on the slopes of the Swiss Alps, Marvel released the trailer to their new sci-fi series Moon Knight, in which the actor appears alongside Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke; the show will premiere on Disney+ in March.

In a statement to mark the actor’s passing, President Emmanuel Macron described Ulliel as “an icon of French elegance who dazzled the camera”. Prime Minister Jean Castex noted that “Gaspard Ulliel grew up with French cinema, and French cinema grew up with him. They loved each other madly.”

Ulliel is survived by his girlfriend, the model and singer Gaëlle Piétri, and their son Orso, who was born in 2016.

Gaspard Ulliel, born 25 November 1984, died 19 January 2022.

Thursday 27 January 2022

On demand: "ear for eye"

debbie tucker green's follow-up to her underseen feature debut Second Coming returns the playwright to her theatrical roots. An adaptation of her own 2018 play, ear for eye pokes around inside the post-Eric Garner moment on a soundstage occupied by a predominantly Black ensemble. The structure is tripartite. In the first, we eavesdrop on conversations tucker green's representative characters have with their family, peers and themselves on the subject of how to present to the world - chiefly a matter of going out with enough confidence to get you through the day, but not so much as to appear cocky or confrontational to those who would take you down. The second part is a Neil LaBute-ish dialogue between a Black student and an arrogant white professor in the wake of a high-school shooting; the third - adding an element of documentary - invites non-actors to read out those laws by which American states discriminated against its Black citizens. (There follows a mysterious coda, which will depend heavily on personal experience and interpretation.) It's exactly the kind of project the BFI has been backing since the 1970s (and we might see it as more than a little damning of society that the BFI still needs to back a project such as this, a half-century on): a small, self-contained unit of resistance to the abiding cultural and political status quo, relatively cheap to produce but abundantly rich in ideas.

tucker green's spare staging - people in a darkened space repurposed by the odd prop and the occasional lighting switch - keeps the focus firmly on those ideas, and especially on the words via which they're expressed. "We still having to have the damn Talk," one character laments early on - a reference both to the set of survival tips one generation passes down to the next, and the wider conversations around race that often appear circular, stuck like a back wheel in mud; that never seem to get us to the higher ground. This is the tucker green work that seems most caught up with language as a means of self-expression in a society where some parties get to express themselves more freely than others. The opening section - which occupies over half the running time, and proves pretty relentless in its talk, as if the playwright were making up for lost time, bringing us up to speed on two thousand years of race relations - forms an attempt to define not just the terms by which Black citizens enter into society, but the terms of the drama itself. The "ear" part of that title is fully covered. tucker green extends her frame of reference to include characters who communicate using sign language; she also proves one of the very few working playwrights who know how to write about social media - today's most prominent discussion forum - without making the toes curl. (Her kids talk as kids do when you hear them at the bus stop.)

The second and third sections, by marked contrast, are case studies, honing in on moments where the possibility of lasting, positive change - not least a fairer conversation - was snuffed out, where the dialogue ran straight into a brick wall. In the second, nervy formalities (such as the student's use of "sir") give way to something more informal; a facade drops - literally, in the instance of one effective coup de théâtre - and the student is left speechless. In the third, which makes exemplary use of split screen, there is no Black voice at all: we're carried back to a time when those facades, those separators and segregators, were first set in place, written into the very laws of the land. (And it's not just a handful of laws, either: the sequence occupies a full ten minutes of screen time.) As described, it may sound piecemeal, and it is - but that's tucker green's way of breaking down these issues, and of making every last one of her full stops count. You want these conversations to end on a happier note than they do; when they don't, you realise the extent to which the playwright has weaponised silence. In places, you may even gasp, much as you take a breath before starting a sentence; and indeed the whole ear for eye project, if it can be reduced to a single sentence, conveys something along the exasperated lines of "here, I'm done: now it's your turn to talk". That may alienate some who feel they don't know what or don't have anything to say, even after all these atrocities, all this time. Yet in the UK, at least, the film became a cultural event on a par with the launch of Derek Jarman's Blue thirty years before, simultaneously launching at the London Film Festival, in arthouses across the land, and in a prime Saturday night slot on BBC2. Somebody out there was listening, and maybe that's cause for slim hope. Bristling and provocative, forever setting the ball bearings in one's head to clicking anew, it's certainly something to talk about; for all its theatricality, it is finally cinema.

ear for eye is currently streaming via the BBC iPlayer.

Wednesday 26 January 2022

On demand: "Lapsis"

 is an American indie with a genuinely original sci-fi premise, and the wherewithal to work it through - the sort of thing that in the pre-streaming era you'd stumble across on TV in the middle of the night, wonder what on earth it was, and why it was you'd never heard of it before. In order to get his sick younger brother expensive clinical care, out-of-shape stiff Ray Tincelli (Dean Imperial, whose fatigued rasp so recalls James Gandolfini the script eventually has to make winking reference to it) takes a gig laying metres of fibre-optic cable for a tech firm in the forests of upstate New York. Like almost any other genre movie that nudges its characters towards the woods, it gets unsettling from there, but what's unsettling proves altogether fresh. There are schisms in the labour force, creepy little cockroach-like robots scurrying about everywhere (played by actual conglomerations of nuts and bolts, rather than VFX), and growing doubts around the identity ("Lapsis Beeftech") Ray has been assigned on his handheld GPS device. It's clear writer-director Noah Hutton has integrated a decade's worth of news stories in writing this screenplay - about the erosion of workers' rights, the humiliations of the gig economy, and the way certain tech firms have imposed themselves on small towns as the Nazis once did on Paris. Yet this real-world savvy comes out in surprising places, and in surprising ways. The cablers may be obliged by their handheld devices to stay on a particular route, but the film they're in thinks nothing of stepping off the beaten path every once in a while.

For one thing, Lapsis stops entirely in the middle for quite a lively debate about free-market economics between the dumbly conformist Ray and co-worker Anna (Madeline Wise), a blogger who's taken this job to both finance and inform her ongoing inquiry into the inequalities of the system. Once revolution has been plotted and achieved, our heroes stage a raid on an organic wellness centre; and it ends with a pillow fight, some indication of how good-natured the film remains throughout. I could raise an eyebrow or two over the extent to which Hutton really seems in control of his plotting - the ending doesn't entirely satisfy every question this snaking narrative raises - but Lapsis is a lot of fun to watch, easily the most impressive sci-fi calling card since Vincenzo Natali drifted onto (and then off) radar. There isn't a single duff note among these performances - doubly surprising, given the budgetary level Hutton's working at. (The only immediately recognisable faces - and you'd have to have been watching a lot of television to recognise them - are Arliss Howard and James McDaniel, once of NYPD Blue; yet Imperial is such a great galumphing personality to encounter you wonder where he's been hiding out all these years, and why nobody's thought of taking a camera to film him before.) Best of all, Hutton succeeds in doing something breezily unexpected with the woods as a kind of overgrown Wild West - a new frontier, not so very far from the tech-cluttered civilisation in which we sit looking on.

Lapsis is currently available to rent via Prime Video.

Tuesday 25 January 2022

On demand: "Censor"

I'd been briefed going in that
Censor was a film steeped in modern movie lore. I don't think I'd realised just how much it would be steeped in modern movie lore. Prano Bailey-Bond's debut opens with an early variant of the Film4 logo, before its credits offer a potted history of the "video nasty" debate that gripped Britain in the early 1980s. (Those same credits list Kim Newman as an executive producer, so rest assured the film's reach is encyclopaedic.) The main feature forms the latest iteration of the cursed or snuff film subgenre that has yielded items as varying as Theodore Roszak's cult novel Flicker and the Nic Cage vehicle 8MM. The novelty is that said film is here chanced upon by a figure of some official standing: Enid (Niamh Algar), the youngest of the censors milling around a subterranean rabbit warren that looks like the horror-flick version of the BBFC's Soho Square offices. More conservative and buttoned-down than her colleagues, Enid will also prove more susceptible than the hardened gorehounds whose eyes she aims to spare in her day job cutting the likes of (the wholly fictional) "Cannibal Carnage" and "Rat Brothel". Her Achilles heel - a childhood trauma involving a sister who went missing in the woods - is exposed once a sleazy producer (Michael Smiley) shows up with a back-catalogue item from the director of "Asphyxiate" and "Blood Red Summer". Around Enid, Bailey-Bond fills in the dank detail of a Britain left to rot under Tory rule; on a square telly, we see the party's iron-willed then-leader at conference, deflecting accusations of decadence, pointing the finger of blame elsewhere. As a vision, it's grimly familiar, to say the least.

Elsewhere, though, Bailey-Bond works her way towards something relatively original. For starters, Censor is a very specific, non-dressy period movie, allowing itself a measure of fetishistic fun with flickering tube TVs, VCRs (ask your parents) and lurid VHS cover art. Meanwhile, the script - penned by Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher - explores the unusual, sometimes outright perilous position the censor once occupied in British society, as both a moral arbiter deciding what was fit for the populace to see and a tabloid whipping boy whenever real-world atrocities were traced back - almost always tenuously, as Censor acknowledges - to a contentious horror movie. (There hasn't been any real censorial fuss since the Daily Mail's failed campaigns to halt the release of Crash and Lolita at the tail-end of the Nineties; even the New Extreme Cinema of the early Noughties, whose whole deal was pushing at the boundaries of what was acceptable to depict on screen, landed a free pass on these shores, possibly as so much of it was in another language.) Context is key here: the movie works because Bailey-Bond gives Enid reason to crack up long before the cursed film ("Don't Go in the Church") triggers memories of that missing sibling. 

Algar, a standout of recent Channel 4 productions (Pure, The Bisexual, The Virtues), visibly relishes the opportunity to do something altogether nervier than her self-assured small-screen roles; one of very few young performers with a palpable inner life, she's a boon to any scene that simply observes her face bathed in the light coming off a screen. Lots of that here, and Bailey-Bond enhances Enid's inner turmoil with her own imaginative dreamscapes, smartly designed and lit to chime with the censor's daily viewing material. In the second half, images and reality are comprehensively blurred; no sooner has Enid imagined the worst than it starts to unfold before our eyes, allowing Bailey-Bond and Fletcher to pull a nifty last-reel bait-and-switch. Such stealthiness benefits from the film's propulsive narrative economy: at 84 minutes, Censor cuts to the chase before we have time to notice we're anywhere in the vicinity. Bearings are skilfully scattered. "She's losing the plot!," chuckles Enid's debonair colleague Sanderson (Nicholas Burns) as our heroine flees the office and fatefully ventures into the woods for herself. Censor immediately elevates itself over the bulk of the video nasties to which it tips its bloodstained cap by having a plot to lose.

Censor is available to stream via MUBI UK, Prime Video, Curzon Home Cinema and the BFI Player; the DVD is released through Second Sight this coming Monday. 

Monday 24 January 2022

Uneasy virtue: "A Hero"

Streaming an Asghar Farhadi film is like getting scripture off Twitter: it feels wrong somehow, a mismatch between the flimsiness of the delivery system and the complexity and gravity of the content involved. Yet that's where we are in 2022, and that's where Farhadi is with regard to getting his work in front of as many eyes as possible.
Everybody Knows, this director's first European-set feature, was a good film that didn't quite take off as its backers might have liked; for A Hero, Farhadi has returned to his native Iran while striking a deal with Amazon that will deliver the results around the world. The title of Farhadi's 2011 breakthrough A Separation was on the level: it summed up what the film described. A Hero is more slippery, speckled with irony; like its protagonist, it begs further investigation. Rahim (Amir Jahidi) is an at best unlikely hero: a charming swindler granted two-day leave from jail to pay off some of the substantial debt that saw him locked up in the first place. As is typical with Farhadi protagonists, he soon has his hands full. Aside from balancing the books - a task made trickier by the understandable, once-bitten-twice-shy recalcitrance of his creditor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) - Rahim has to spend these 48 hours rekindling a romantic relationship, steering his delinquent son back towards the path of righteousness, and dealing with relatives concerned he's more likely to use this furlough to drag the family name further into the mud. His quick fix for all these situations is to reunite a handbag that's fallen into his possession by shady means with its rightful owner, the better to paint a picture of himself as the kind of upstanding, reformed citizen who deserves to be discharged from prison full time, debt-free. At first, everyone makes the most of the resultant photo opportunity: "We have things to learn from you," the warden beams when Rahim returns to prison. We do, but they're not necessarily the lessons our boy's cheerleaders seem to think. We have things to find out about Rahim - and on that semantic wrinkle hangs the movie entire.

Once again, a Farhadi film proves entirely dependant for its effects on the close scrutiny of conflicted characters' actions: that's why you come this way, to watch the camera being quietly, assiduously trained on its subjects' consciences, like the lens on a microscope being lowered onto a slide. It's not the only camera in play here, either: shortly after Rahim's elevation to the pantheon of latter-day Iranian folk heroes, a TV crew shows up at the prison gates to make a documentary about his salutary altruism. The bind this guy finds himself in, however, is that the more of a public figure he becomes - and he's eventually offered a job in public office as a reward for his act - the more likely his virtue-signalling will be exposed as a sham. But is it a sham? For whatever reason, however long after the fact, Rahim did do the right thing at a pivotal moment - and for the bulk of the running time here, Farhadi invites us to weigh up the extent to which his quote-unquote hero merits a second chance. I'd say the lengths he goes to back up his story when it inevitably falls under question - enlisting everyone from his stuttering son to the taxi driver who picked up the bag's owner as character witnesses, to insist there's been no fraud, harm or foul - is just desperate enough to pass for heroic, and to make for properly involving and stimulating drama. Gradually, a thought forms: is Farhadi using actors to play out conversations we have online whenever fingers are pointed, accusations are made, and reputations are at stake? The second hour revolves around the recording and possible circulation of a damning video clip, yet even before then Farhadi appears to be using analogue resources to enact an ever more familiar snafu in the digital realm. Maybe streaming isn't such an inappropriate forum after all: you can try and cancel someone as the drama unfolds.

Such a quasi-experimental leap demands rocksolid technique, and there are few wobbles to be observed: again, we're drawn in by performers who barely seem to be performing, rather making the sort of choices (and negotiating the same ethical dilemmas) you and I are faced with every day, testimony to the good screenwriting and good casting that went on before a single frame of film was shot. Yet at this end of the line, A Hero does present as a little less rigorous than this director's very best films - or it may be that the stakes have been reduced somewhat. The drama here is never as life-and-death as it was in A Separation, The Salesman or Everybody Knows; it might only feel life-and-death to its characters, as such petty squabbles do whenever you're caught up in them on Twitter. (As ever, the solution to that is to unplug, step away from your laptop and stick your head out the window: for better and worse, nobody much cares in the real world.) The tone seems lighter, suggesting this might just be the closest Farhadi has made to a social satire along the lines of a Hail the Conquering Hero or Jim Cummings' recent The Beta Test (with which A Hero would make an apt double-bill): as the situation spirals, it becomes faintly absurd, pulling in even neutral observers who surely have better ways of spending their time. (And once more demonstrating Farhadi's sure handling of ensemble casts.) Occasionally, the dialogue reaches out to connect with the wider political sphere, as when Bahram sniffs "they big you up to make this country look a paradise" - an unusually jolting line, in that it suggests Rahim is becoming as much a semiotic signifier as, say, Captain Tom, someone over whom rival factions can wrestle. Mostly, it's a small yet appreciably well-turned parable of exactly that image management we all find ourselves involved in from time to time - that hall-of-mirrors ratrun in which even those of us still trying to do the right thing have cause to wonder whether we're doing it so as to do the right thing, or because it's now more important to be seen doing the right thing.

A Hero is showing at the Ciné Lumière and Peckhamplex in London, and is also available to stream via Prime Video.

Saturday 22 January 2022

On demand: "My Brother... Nikhil"

The 2005 film My Brother... Nikhil raises two immediate questions: would the Hindi cinema of 2022 be capable of making this? And even if it were, would it feel inclined to make it? This version now seems a little clunky in places, possibly as much as the previous decade's Philadelphia now seems within the context of the American cinema: it's a first, occasionally fumbling gesture towards some greater tolerance. But more often than not - and, crucially, in every scene where it really counts - it plays as heartfelt, serious, even (that dread word) brave in broaching the inspired-by-true-events story of a promising young swimmer made a pariah at the turn of the 1990s after his HIV+ diagnosis becomes public knowledge. (Rather than ushered gently towards medical care, the film's real-life inspiration Dominic D'Souza found himself
 met by the police, who detained him on suspicion of deviancy and threw him into solitary confinement.) The focus is on the Kapoor family, a household that doesn't know how to address the issues their son raises, standing in for a country that appears at an equal loss. While this Nikhil (Sanjay Suri, excellent at every stage) is getting concerned faces from the docs, his clueless mum and dad (Victor Banerjee and Lillete Dubey) are making plans to marry him off to a (female) childhood sweetheart.

One of the few openly gay Indian filmmakers, writer-director Onir is limited in what he can show in terms of man-on-man passion, but even choices that initially seem questionable turn out to be the right ones: smart, sensitive, affecting. Early on, I wondered whether we were going to get less of Nikhil than we do of his sister Anu, played by Juhi Chawla, the one major Bollywood star in the cast. Yet it's clear that, as well as being the project's offscreen guardian angel, Chawla was as good a pick as any to draw in hesitant or awkward viewers, even before she breaks into lilting song. (The actress would recur in 2019's Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga, the film that brought lesbianism to the mainstream: in terms of allyship, she may just be the Dolly of Bollywood.) The structure, too, feels somewhat broken-backed at first, cutting between Nikhil's final years and reflections from bereaved family members, but gradually fills in the enormous burden of regret these characters share, not only at the fact Nikhil's no longer there, but also at how they responded to him while he was alive. It's a negotiation - between past and present, and between different sectors of the swimmer's friend group, those Nikhil could be himself around and those from which he felt compelled to withhold. The film's doing something similar with its audience: positioning itself within the realms of Bollywood trad (hence the emphasis on family) before attempting a radical redirection of empathy, finding ways into Nikhil's world that a single-screen crowd might engage with, aiming to prompt a conversation among others that these characters couldn't have at the time, to their eternal shame. If it can be seen making a few concessions and trade-offs here and there, it does finally succeed in those aims. As Nikhil's main squeeze Nigel (Purab Kohli, in the Antonio Banderas role) tells him: "My friend, it's important to take a stand in life." Its feet may now look a touch wobbly from time to time, but it is a film that very definitely takes a stand.

My Brother... Nikhil is available to rent via Prime Video.

Friday 21 January 2022

For what it's worth...

Top 10 films at the UK box office
 (for the weekend of January 14-16, 2022):

1 (1) Spider-Man: No Way Home (12A)
2 (new) Scream (18)
3 (2) The King's Men (15)
4 (4) Clifford the Big Red Dog (PG)
5 (3) Licorice Pizza (15) ****
6 (6) West Side Story (12A) ***
7 (5The Matrix Resurrections (15)
8 (9) Encanto (PG) ***
9 (8) House of Gucci (15)
10 (7) The 355 (12A)

(source: BFI)

My top five:
2. The 400 Blows

DVD/Blu-Ray/Download top ten: 

1 (new) Ghostbusters: Afterlife (12) **
2 (2) No Time to Die (12) ***
3 (1) Venom: Let There Be Carnage (15)
4 (new) Eternals (12)
5 (3) Encanto (PG) ***
6 (new) The Boss Baby 2: Family Business (PG)
7 (16) The Addams Family 2 (PG)
8 (8) Paw Patrol: The Movie (U)
9 (re) Casino Royale (12) ***
10 (6) The Suicide Squad (15) *

My top five: 
1. Annette

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:
1. Westworld [above] (Friday, BBC1, 11.25pm)
2. Coming to America (Friday, C4, 12.10am)
3. The Souvenir (Sunday, BBC2, 10pm)
4. Run All Night (Saturday, ITV, 10.30pm)
5. You've Got Mail (Sunday, five, 12.55pm)

On demand: "Pushpa: The Rise - Part 01"

People say the movies aren't sexy nowadays, but just before Christmas, the UK Top 10 played host to the first film since
Boogie Nights in 1998 to devote three solid hours to the smuggling of wood. The eponymous hero of the Telugu blockbuster Pushpa: The Rise - Part 01 makes his precarious living driving illegally felled red sandalwood from the forests of Tamil Nadu to the ports from where it's shipped further East. The opening credits rewind us through that journey with the aid of rudimentary computer animation; it has the look of a visualisation sequence for an epic, ocean-hopping prologue scuppered by Covid restrictions. That the rest of this production was completed without much evident compromise is likely down to the fact so much of it was filmed outdoors. The live-action camera scrambles uphill and down dale - sometimes in torrential rain - after a figure obliged to negotiate between off-the-books labour and corner-cutting management, and obliged to circumnavigate the attentions of the local police. The role demands a man for all seasons, one who's "as rare as sandalwood itself", to quote the booming opening voiceover. Enter local megastar Allu Arjun in plaid shirt, playing not so much a flesh-and-blood character as a running, jumping and frequently brawling definition of the phrase bad-ass, a "hardcore Telugu" (his words) introduced pulling one especially unfortunate patrolman into his cab through the driver's side mirror before propelling him, with even greater force, out the passenger side. I give it fifteen minutes before Western viewers of a certain vintage clock what Pushpa - Part 01 reminds them of: it's Smokey and the Bandit with song breaks. (Arjun even has something of Burt Reynolds' fuzzy-faced insouciance about him - if, sadly, very little of his predecessor's easygoing, self-deprecating charm.)

Even those who don't make that connection - and who haven't just set their brains in neutral, as the first rounds of fisticuffs seem to implore - may be struck by the idea Sukumar's film is a throwback, to a kind of cinema that can be made more expensive and expansive (the opening credits offer thanks to Baahubali's SS Rajamouli), but which cannot ever be fully gentrified because of the rough-edged rowdiness in its DNA. The drums in Pushpa's songs rhyme with the lumps and thumps our hero receives whenever he can't wiggle out of police custody; the hoofing in these pricey-looking musical inserts is that of a small battalion of elephants; and the narration, which starts out like someone standing too close to you bellowing directly into your ear, only increases in volume as the film goes on, I assume so as to make itself heard over the crash-bang-wallop that passes for spectacle here. (I watched the original Telugu version; it's possible some of these aspects have been softened for the other dubs currently streaming.) Subtlety never appears to have been an option: like its hero, who blows all his money on a car at one point just to make a more impressive entrance in the next scene than a tuk-tuk would allow, the film's watchwords are go big or go home. Yet its relentless stunts with logs and timber don't half start to resemble willy-waving after a while. The film actually ends with the sight of two men tearing their clothes off in front of one another, a logical endpoint for a project that demonstrates next to no interest in women save as sporadic set decoration. Pushpa is positioned as courtlier than a rival smuggler who flexes his muscle to exercise prima noche rights over the local maidenry, but it feels like a dramatic misstep to have our guy's brother buy him a look from blushing sweetheart Srivalli (Rashmika Mandanna), not least because it sets us to wonder what else these boys would splash their cash on.

A sort of vision - more than you could take away from any of last year's Western blockbusters - emerges from this brawny roustabout, but it's a pummelling one, especially at three-hour length: it says/yells that life is a merciless scrap for money, and harder still when you enter that arena towards the bottom of the heap. I was surprised by just how much of this script is taken up by petty haggling, usually as a precursor to some sort of ultra-choreographed slow-motion fisticuffs. That may well be true to life as it's lived in 2021, and specifically to how it's lived in the backwaters of Tamil Nadu in 2021, but the trouble is Sukumar clears no room for anything else. There's no real consideration of what these dishevelled lugs would be doing if they didn't have to lug logs for their lucre and fight off all those who want to lug their lugs for lucre; no sense of their hopes, dreams and aspirations. (Pushpa wants to reclaim a surname that's been denied to him by a nefarious relative, but that plot point is having to do a lot of heavy lifting, usually just to punch somebody square in the fizzog.) The scrap is everything here, which guarantees us a thunderous smackdown ever twenty minutes, but it makes for a grim idea of escapism, and there's no sign of this conflict winding down with Pushpa: The Rule - Part 02 to come. Maybe Sukumar will finesse as he goes: my interest picked up around the two-and-a-half-hour mark with the introduction of a bald-pated Fahadh Faasil as a gleefully corrupt lawman who looks set to pursue Pushpa through Part 02; it's a bit like having Robert Carlyle show up for a scene or two with Vin Diesel towards the end of a Fast & Furious movie. (At last, we cheer: someone who doesn't do all their acting with their fists.) I can admire the film's success at a time when getting folk into cinemas is harder than ever, and doubtless there's a certain audience who'll step right up to cheer Pushpa's progress going forward - but this remains a hard phenomenon to like at this stage.

Pushpa: The Rise - Part 01 is now streaming via Prime Video.

On demand: "Swan Song"

Not for the first time, a performer of colour wins the Oscar and then finds themselves in exactly the kind of substandard project that gets an actor forgotten about. (Who do you blame - the industry, the agents or the performer themselves?) Benjamin Cleary's speculative sci-fi drama
Swan Song lands on a promising, doubtless easily pitched premise - dying man (Moonlight and Green Book's Mahershala Ali) has himself cloned so as to provide ongoing comfort to his pregnant wife (Naomie Harris); something like an emo Multiplicity - but then fragments the life out of it until everybody on screen and in the audience forgets why they were originally drawn in this direction. Playing down the sci-fi is one choice: we're in the near-future, so Cleary limits himself to one minor CG effect (like visible voice notes) every now and again in the back or sides of frame. But very little else gets played up in its place. At the clinic where Ali version 1.0 drifts off to sleep under the watchful eye of doctor Glenn Close, there's a lot of emptily evocative architecture and fancy ambient lighting that suggests this Apple TV+ production may actually have been filmed in an Apple store; these scenes are sporadically interrupted, with no great urgency, by fiddly, Malick-like flashbacks that only point up the energy missing from the present-day material. In every event, the human elements appear to have been a distant sixth or seventh on Cleary's list of priorities. Ali, experienced enough to plot his own path through a feature, is broadly fine here, landing somewhere between soulful and understandably mopey. Yet you know something's badly off when Awkwafina turns up as a fellow patient and demonstrates none of her usual brio. (Why cast her if you just wanted nondescript?) A terminal snooze on the whole, with a properly atrocious cover of "Moon River" over the closing credits to further punish anybody who's troubled to stay awake. Come back Andrew Niccol, you did nothing for us to have to forgive in the first place.

Swan Song is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Wednesday 19 January 2022

From the archive: "The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death"

Reissued this past Halloween, 2012’s
The Woman in Black was the resurrected Hammer Films’ first genuine hit: an efficient, 1900s-set scare machine that found Daniel Radcliffe poking around one of recent cinema’s best-appointed haunted houses. Perhaps it was inevitable the studio that once gave us Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (and Dracula A.D. 1972) should respond by greenlighting a sequel, but Angel of Death finds an interesting new angle in setting the action forty years on in the Britain of the Blitz, and having a group of refugee schoolchildren hole up in Eel Marsh House.

It’s a move that at once aligns Tom Harper’s film with one of the biggest homegrown fantasy successes of recent years – we could be watching a darker Narnia – as well as such Gothic landmarks as The Innocents and The Others: where Radcliffe’s widower had to carry stretches of the first film on his own, here the focus is on a young governess (rising star Phoebe Fox) striving to protect one child in particular – the mute, scabby Edward (Oaklee Pendergast, uncommonly good) – from mounting malevolent forces.

With Harry Potter consigned to the ether, the house is arguably the real star this time around, and once Harper throws back the blackout curtains, a little more of it gets revealed: the mouldering timbers that suggest somebody’s spying from above, a previously unseen graveyard, the museum’s worth of old dolls and toys that now look like leftovers from a James Wan production.

To his credit, Harper is reluctant to deploy any of these for easy, Conjuring-like jolts: like Jack Cardiff in the atypically sunny The Innocents, he’s at least as interested in the daylight-hours plotting – the governess’s interactions with her aloof superior (Helen McCrory) and a handsome, shell-shocked officer (Jeremy Irvine, showcasing more of the quivering squarejaw he brought to last year’s The Railway Man) – as he is with things going bump in the night.

Partly, it’s a matter of wanting to revel in the traditional Britfilm craft: George Steel’s atmospherically foggy cinematography and a sharp sound mix – squelching footsteps below, squawking birds above – work overtime to position us out on the marshes. Yet at every point from an early round of Hide and Seek, Harper shows a commendable willingness to play the long game.

A search for a lock that might match a chanced-upon key, and one set-piece involving a young girl following a trail of yarn around the house build suspense, rather than squandering it every few seconds for the benefit of teenage thrill-junkies. It’s a tactic that chimes with the script’s slowburn character revelations, a shrewdly sown trail of crumbs that set us to wonder just why the governess is so caught up in her duties, and ponder the airman’s availability at a moment when all those his age were supposed to be doing their bit.

Those kids who tore up French cinemas during screenings of Annabelle will likely grow only more restless at the considered pace, but it makes for a rare modern horror movie that earns its few loud jolts. Paying off with a finale that replays Assault on Precinct 13 in an air raid shelter before heading in the direction of Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom, this handsome, confidently staged, genre-literate entry seems likely to sustain the franchise for the time being.

(MovieMail, December 2014)

And of course there were no further sequels. The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death screens on Channel 4 tonight at 1am.

In memoriam: Jean-Jacques Beineix (Telegraph 17/01/22)

Jean-Jacques Beineix, who has died aged 75, was an extravagant if sometimes exasperating writer-director who bequeathed recent French cinema several of its most indelible images. A key figure in what became known as the cinéma du look, a heavily stylised form of film-making that ported the sheeny aesthetic of advertising into the cinematic mainstream, he enjoyed two substantial successes with Diva (1981) and Betty Blue (1986).

Diva was ready-made for cult status, a propulsive urban runaround involving postmen, hitmen and a touring American soprano that generated dismissive reviews at home before being embraced overseas. “Every shot seems designed to delight the audience,” raved Pauline Kael. The film played in repertory for months – often in midnight-movie slots – eventually earning a Bafta nomination for Best Foreign Film. A chastened French Academy handed it four César awards, including Best First Film.

Beineix’s detractors soon retaliated: The Moon in the Gutter (1983), torn from novelist David Goodis’s dockside noir, provoked loud boos at Cannes. Yet Betty Blue, an adaptation of Philippe Djian’s novel 37° 2 le matin about the amour fou between a beach-house painter (Jean-Hugues Anglade) and a troubled young woman (Béatrice Dalle), was a phenomenon. Where its predecessor was murky and airless, the new film was all sun-kissed, voluptuous flesh; its unabashed couplings prompted much the same scurrilous (and unfounded) gossip that had dogged Don’t Look Now.

The critical response was measured, weighing the film’s heady passion against the relentless maleness of its gaze. Roger Ebert dismissed it as “a movie about Béatrice Dalle’s boobs and behind… everything else is just what happens in between the scenes where she displays them.” Yet it became a huge hit and a defining artefact of its moment. Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film, it made an icon out of Dalle, the film’s sultry poster becoming a fixture on the walls of cinephile bedsits worldwide.

It was also the beginning of the end. Where his compatriot Luc Besson took the cinéma du look to new commercial heights with The Big Blue (1988) and Nikita (1989), Beineix struggled to match his earlier triumphs. The circus-set Roselyne and the Lions (1989) seemed twee set against Betty Blue’s full-bodied swooning, although it handed Beineix a new muse (and briefly lover) in the model-turned-actress Isabelle Pasco.

Named in part after her, the road movie IP5 (1992) was sturdier – Beineix declared it a personal favourite – but a media furore broke out when its veteran star Yves Montand suffered a fatal coronary days after completing reshoots. Beineix felt personally blamed: “The press made a connection between his death and the film, almost implying that the film had killed him, so it had bad press literally almost before it was finished.”

A self-confessed misanthrope, Beineix became only more irascible around journalists, bringing his own recording equipment to interviews in which he vented his mounting frustrations and refused to kneel before what he called “the altar of Cahiers du Cinéma”: “France is a very strange country… In America, Diva is taught in universities. In France, you’re told not to like it.”

He turned down offers to direct Alien Resurrection (1997) and The Avengers (1998), instead clinging to the hope that he might someday restore The Moon in the Gutter to his original vision. But Studio Gaumont had destroyed everything removed from the theatrical cut, only compounding his sense that the industry was set against him: “The hurt is there. The fact I am finished today started there.”

He was born on October 8 1946, the son of an insurance company director, Robert Beineix, and Madeleine, née Maréchal. His early years were marked by the after-effects of war, as he described in his 2006 memoir Les Chantiers de la Gloire: “I stepped out on to a destroyed continent, into a country and a family in mourning. I have a vague memory of shrouded women lying on black marble tombs and brimming over with tears. It seems to me that I became aware of death before I did life.”

A keen cinema-goer, he nevertheless studied medicine before switching his attentions to film. He failed the entrance exam for the state film school IDHEC but landed a job as a runner on the television series Les Saintes chéries (1965-70) and worked as an assistant director to the likes of Claude Berri and René Clément through the 1970s.

He was an assistant director on Jerry Lewis’s notorious, long-suppressed Holocaust drama The Day the Clown Cried (1972), and made his directorial debut with Le Chien de Monsieur Michel (1977), which earned a César nomination for Best Short Film.

After the extremes of his 1980s work, Beineix began to reinvent himself in the field of TV documentaries. He won praise for his Aids awareness spot Le Sida ne passera pas par moi (1987) and for Otaku (1994), a study of Japanese subcultures. (He was a lifelong enthusiast of manga strips, writing the Vampires in Paris series in 2006.)

Yet the conspicuous failure of the self-funded, sub-Hitchcockian thriller Mortel Transfert (2001) was a heavy personal and financial blow, and left producers nervy about giving him further chances. His final credit, Les Gaulois au-delà du mythe (2013), was a well-received yet wholly self-effacing ARTE documentary on recent developments in French archaeology.

Deprived of the toys cinema had afforded him, he made a late-life venture into literature. His 2020 debut novel Toboggan drew enthusiastic responses, many noting echoes of Betty Blue in its description of a doomed relationship between a young woman and an older man. But he could just as often be found amusing himself with his iPhone: “It’s sort of like my dope, my painkiller. I take pictures. I know that the picture is the beginning of a film.”

Jean-Jacques Beineix is survived by his wife Agnès and daughter Frida.

Jean-Jacques Beineix, born October 8 1946, died January 13 2022.