Tuesday, 7 September 2010

[381] 5-ish 'uncommon' films

I received a message from an acquaintance the other day. A friend-of-a-friend from my university days - a film buff (Hi Tim!). He asked me, after some mild pleasantries, if I could recommend to him '5 movies that are a bit more uncommon that you've seen, as I'd like to watch some different movies.' Gosh. That's tough. 5 different movies? I scribbled down a list - coming close to twenty potentials, and eventually chopped it down a little. Here's part of my reply:

I'm not sure I could narrow it down to 5, so here are 9 (well, a little more than that) 'different' films. I've left out films that I have reviewed on my blog or any of the places for which I write, but you can always have a look through the archive if none of the below are to your tastes. Oh, they're all either from this year, or I saw them for the first time in the last 8 months.

I've pasted the selections below, with my casual little blurbs. I'd like to think there are one or two odd, different, interesting films in there. No real mainstream flicks, only one American film, lots of European/art-house/documentary choices. The kind of stuff I get criticised for praising over at Den of Geek.

Radio On

There is a great BFI DVD of this film, which is the debut feature film from British director Chris Petit. He's gone on to make some very essayistic work in the 30-odd years since, but this one is a bit of a UK resetting of the road movie genre, but with a gloomy late-70s melancholy around it. The opening sequence, which is just one long take – shot using one of the first steadicam rigs used in the country – is quite brilliant, with David Bowie's 'Heroes/Helden' blaring out in the background. The rest of the film is built around a trip from London to Bristol, soundtracked by Kraftwerk tapes, and characterised by a Kraut-Brit culture clash. It is arty, intelligent and quite fresh, showing a different kind of British film – without any of the kitchen sink or urban gangster trappings.

Io sono l'amore (I Am Love)

This is such a cinematic feast. Tilda Swinton is devastating in any role, but here she is so impressive, playing a Russian-born housewife in an upper-class Italian family. What initially starts as a family drama soon spirals out as she is given emotional, sensual emancipation by her son's business partner, a chef. It's shot wonderfully, with a real verve, and the music (all hyper-kinetic John Adams pieces) fits it wonderfully – very passionate and driving. This is out on DVD in September, I believe.

Still Walking / After Life

Kore-eda Hirokazu is my discovery of the year. I went to see Still Walking when it was out at the cinemas in January, and I liked it so much that I wrote a big, fat MA piece on his work. Still Walking is a great family piece, with a very tender, naturalistic approach to the setting, but After Life is his masterpiece. It's a mixture of documentary-like film style, and a high concept approach – where a bunch of people arrive at a dusty old building, and are informed that they are dead, and they must choose one cherished memory to take with them to the great beyond. It's so powerful, and immensely thought-provoking.

sleep furiously / Etre et Avoir

Two great documentaries I saw very close to each other, that have some similarities. sleep furiously is set in rural Wales, and looks at this small community that is on the decline. The local school is about to be closed, and other local services like buses and shops have already disappeared. One of the only things left is a traveling library, which is our point of view on this old community which lives among some of the UK's most striking landscape. Etre et Avoir was released a couple of years earlier, and it's sort of a French counterpart. It's much more heartwarming, though, as it focuses on a rural French primary school – where one teacher handles pupils of all ages in one big classroom. It's very meditative, but it's another good film that manages to capture a small community, and communicate a lot of its charm and character.

For All Mankind

Another documentary. It's a great one, especially if you're a fan of space. It is a collage film, made up of footage taken from NASA's Apollo space programme, and backed by audio interviews. You see, the astronauts were given cameras with which to document their journeys, and it's just astounding to see in movement. Little things make it fascinating, like the astronauts messing around with torches and cassette players in the zero gravity, or the candid conversation between them and mission control. Also the soundtrack, by Brian Eno and other collaborators, is pure star-gazing ambience.


This is the oddest film I've seen this year. It's a dark, surreal pseudo-comedy, I suppose, based around a Greek family that are living cut off from mainstream society. The father and mother have raised their kids within the confines of their house and little plot of land – telling them cautionary stories of the outside world and keeping them in line with routine. It's a very effective little mind-bender, which takes a proper look at how parenting can essentially be tyranny.

Double Take

A delightfully arty collage movie that is, mainly, about Alfred Hitchcock. It ties together a pretty Borgesian story, about Hitchcock having a meeting with his future self while shooting The Birds, with various other strands that comment on art and culture. Lots of imagery and subtext about doubles and opposites – with the main one being the Cold War, as Hitchcock's films are set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the rivalries between Nixon/Kennedy and Khrushchev. It quite eloquently, and gently, draws a parallel between the thrilling plots of Hitchcock's movies and the conflict-less war between the two world powers – the Cold War as a MacGuffin in order to stimulate progress and invention such as the Arms Race, the Space Race, and the rise of living standards and consumerism. Plus it's really cheeky, messing with archive footage of Hitchcock from his introductions for his TV show and contemporary adverts for instant coffee, and adding in short segments with a modern-day Hitch impersonator. It's a nice little thought-provoking, enigmatic film.

Le tourneuse de pages (The Page Turner)

A disarming, sublime slow-burn of a revenge thriller. Deborah Francois is beautiful and unnerving as an obsessed girl who decides to ruin the life of a concert pianist. It's so slowly-paced, and built on such minute movements, as she insinuates herself into the family and started to subtly chip away at the foundations. A very tightly plotted 85 minutes.

A Tale of Two Sisters

This isn't a new film at all, in fact it was remade into a less successful American film a couple of years back. But A Tale of Two Sisters is a fabulous Korean horror film – a masterclass in creeping terror. It takes a haunted house story, and mixes it up with psychological elements, as two sisters are brought out of a mental home, and back to the country house where their father lives with his new wife. It's filled with very mundane scares – things hiding under the sink, or in bedroom cupboards – but it's photographed superbly, and directed with an ominous sense of pacing. Plus, it develops quite a dramatic weight as it goes along – resonating with feelings of mourning, angst and loss. So that it's actually quite touching, as well as terrifying.

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