Even though she had been performing since she was 14, it wasn’t until the release of her second studio album Back to Black in 2008 did Amy Winehouse become a mainstream artist. With that, her personal life became a constant presence in the media. Now, four years after her passing due to accidental poisoning, her life and achievements are celebrated in a new documentary by Senna director Asif Kapadia.
I Believe in Unicorns is an ode to the American road movie that wears its influences on its sleeve. Particularly reverential to Terrence Malick’s Badlands, it even uses a version of its famous ‘Gassenhauer’ theme, although it must be said that other films have done the same. Despite drawing heavily from these renowned sources, first-time writer-direction Leah Meyerhoff isn’t simply mimicking her idols. By explicitly placing her film within this tradition, she’s able to critique the hopeless romanticism of her central character and scrutinise the naivety of her escape.
‘Be intense or be nothing’. This statement, made by a middle-aged architect during a civilised breakfast, is put forward as a motto for his daughter’s disaffected generation. Lacking in attention and purpose, they need ‘stimulus after stimulus’ to stay interested, to keep them feeling alive. The phrase also becomes something like a raison d’être for Hardkor Disko, a film that hinges on its discomforting atmosphere and ability to aggravate the senses.
Director Nathan Silver is a rare talent in American indie cinema, capable of drawing great depth from seemingly innocuous situations. His films focus on displacement and youthful uncertainty, tapping as authentically as anyone else into some of his generations most immediate concerns.
Kurdish-Norwegian director Hisham Zaman’s second feature is a well-observed ensemble piece, focusing on five refugees who are given the chance to visit Oslo for the day. They live comfortably in a nearby centre but their uncertain status restricts their freedom and makes them unable to move on with their lives. Each character’s individual story represents an attempt to make a clean break from their situation; they seek legitimacy and progress, in various forms, where it has otherwise been denied.
The narrative, as it were, of Fish & Cat is told through what appears to be one long, continuous roving shot lasting over two hours in length, in the mode of cinematic experiment popularised by Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark in 2002.
Dietrich Brüggemann’s Stations of the Cross is both an indictment of fundamentalist Catholicism and a testament to the enduring value of faith. The title comes from the traditional Christian devotion, which involves meditating upon the key scenes of Christ’s suffering and death. Structured rigorously around this concept, the film is divided in 14 self-contained chapters, each representing a different station and filmed in a continuous long take.
Hyena, the second feature from London-born director Gerard Johnson, opens with a slow motion raid on a neon-blue nightclub. The four men who carry it out are inebriated – a mixture of drink and drugs – and meet wordlessly en route in a small, plain car. When they park in an alleyway and pull on police gear, your first instinct is that they’re faking it, putting on masks. But it transpires that they really are policeman, just the kind that employ violence indiscriminately and abuse their authority to take a cut from local gangs.
Three Sisters Directed by Wang Bing Hong Kong/France, 2012 Wang Bing’s epic-length documentary is an intimate depiction of childhood in the context of extreme poverty, providing an observational portrait of a Chinese peasant family. In a remote mountain village in China’s Yunnan province, which borders Burma, the every-day lives of the three youngest members of …
Set in a spruced-up Glasgow, Not Another Happy Ending is an offbeat romantic comedy starring Karen Gillan as Jane, a quirky young novelist struggling to overcome a nasty bout of writer’s block. With the editorial guidance of her passionate but single-minded publisher, Tom (Stanley Weber), her debut autobiographical novel became a huge bestseller, as well as reuniting her with her estranged father (Gary Lewis) and landing her a relationship with a renowned but narcissistic screenwriter, Willie (Henry Ian Cusick). Relying on Jane’s new book to rescue his ailing publishing company, Tom believes that her newfound happiness is preventing her from writing and sets out to make her life as miserable as he can.
Blackbird is set in a Scottish island town where the traditional culture, based around folk singing, is gradually dying out and young people are flocking to the cities in search of better opportunities. The community has been fractured by weakening local industries and a loss of identity, leading to social discord and conflicting views about how the town should move forward. Director Jamie Chambers delicately draws out these issues, showing a sad reluctance on the part of the older community to pass down their traditions, acutely aware that they have little economic value in the modern world.
In keeping with the acting style of the object of its focus, Sophie Huber’s Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction stays away from extremes in its portrait of one of America’s greatest actors. There is affection, but it is understated and not glowing, while any melancholy elements are not over-stressed. The facts and opinions expressed, through Stanton and various collaborators, are simply allowed to be – free of added manipulation – in what amounts as a rather quiet documentary, excluding film clips with their own soundtracks and instances in which we get to see Stanton express his passion for performing music. Like the documentary’s most discussed film, Paris, Texas (1984), Partly Fiction is serene but also apt at emotional devastation, though as in Wim Wenders’ masterpiece, sorrow and optimism are intertwined.
Hisham Zaman’s directorial debut opens with Siyar (Abdullah Taher), a 16-year-old boy from Kurdish Iraq, being wrapped from head to toe in cling film. He is preparing to submerge himself in an oil tanker in an attempt to illegally cross the border into Turkey, making for Istanbul where he believes his runaway sister, Nermin (Bahar Ozen), is hiding with her lover. She has escaped an arranged marriage, bringing dishonour to the family, and Siyar has accepted the responsibility of resolving the situation. He embarks on a dangerous journey, replete with perilous border crossings and unfamiliar environments, with the intention of killing Nermin and restoring his family to honour.
Shot using multiple unmanned digital cameras on an Atlantic Ocean fishing trawler, Leviathan plunges us directly into the ship’s chaotic machinery, revealing a dissonant, alien world. The latest collaborative work from anthropologists and filmmakers, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, is a profoundly original documentary and a staggering, hallucinatory piece of cinema. There is no narration and no interviews; from the outset, we are thrust unaided and disorientated into the cacophony, bombarded with anarchic point-of-view shots and haunting, discordant sounds.
Sanctuary opens on a rural home in the Swedish countryside, the serenity of which is soon interrupted by the arrival of police. The child occupant Hella (Clara Christiansson), is questioned as to the location of her father, wanted on suspicion of murder. After they leave, the wanted man (Jakob Cedergren) returns, and the pair flee into large woodlands.
Alexey Fedorchenko’s last film, Silent Souls, explored the funeral rites of the Merya people, following two men as they journeyed to cremate a spouse on the banks of the Oka River. They carried out strange rituals, such as tying coloured threads into the dead woman’s pubic hair, but it was presented with an honest naturalism and rooted in spiritual truth. The result was a profound and moving piece of cinema, depicting the sombre passing of an ancient way of life.
Adapted by John Banville from his Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Sea is a reflective but laboured character study, set in an Irish seaside town. After losing his wife to cancer, Max (Ciarán Hinds), an alcoholic art history dilettante, moves back to the place where he and his family used to spend their summer holidays, revisiting the scene of a childhood trauma in an attempt to forget his current plight. His memories are shown in flashback, depicting the summer leading up the event, when Max became friends with an eccentric, wealthy family who were renting a house in the town.
It’s become something of a cliché to draw links between any claustrophobic discomfort piece and the work of Roman Polanski. Magic Magic not only has the chamber piece qualities of the man’s apartment films and Carnage, but also the island locale and proximity to paralyzing waters of films like Knife in the Water, Cul-de-sac and The Ghost Writer; furthermore, it also shares a blonde protagonist losing her grip on reality à la Repulsion. It’s an easy film to play ‘Spot the Roman’ with, but the comparison is valid and not just superficial checklist-ticking in this case. If, as a whole, it never reaches the same heights of quality as the best of Polanski’s more horror-inclined films, Sebastián Silva’s unnerving and enigmatic thriller has scenes that certainly stand up to worthy association.
Jan Ole Gerster’s debut feature is a smart, breezy comedy that follows 27-year-old slacker, Niko (Tom Schilling), through Berlin over the course of a turbulent day. Despite dropping out of law school two years previously, he still lives off his father’s allowance, resides an empty shell of an apartment and struggles to find the motivation to do anything much at all. After breaking up with his girlfriend, he visits a confrontational psychiatrist, has an excruciating encounter with an emotional neighbour, gets cut off by his father and meets an attractive young woman, Julika (Friederike Kempter), only to find out he used to bully her at school. And, to top it all off, he can’t even seem to find himself a decent cup of coffee.
Beijing Flickers Written and directed by Zhang Yuan China, 2012 Beijing Flickers is a compelling, loosely-plotted portrait of young outcasts in the titular city, each struggling to find their own place and independence in the face of escalating setbacks both personal and economic. Lead San Bao (Duan Bowen) spends much of the film mute, his …
In his latest project, Mark Cousins treats us to a broad and sweeping analysis of the ways in which children are captured in film. His starting point is a candid home video of his young niece and nephew, Laura and Ben, playing in his Edinburgh flat, which enables him to identify some of the archetypal representations of children in film. It takes the form of a personal cine-essay, using spontaneous connections and free association to build affinities between the most disparate of films and work towards a kind of conclusion. Drawing on extracts from 53 films from around the world, Cousins proves once again to be a knowledgeable and insightful commentator, a true cinephile of extraordinary scope.
Simon Ennis’s Lunarcy! is an affectionate, knowing documentary that looks at a diverse group of individuals who share an obsession with the moon. The star of the piece is Christopher Carson, whose enterprise, The Luna Project, is aimed at kick-starting the process of moon colonisation. Armed with the slogan, Luna City or Bust!, he travels to science fiction conventions, high schools – anywhere he might find a disproportionate number of geeks – spreading the word and raising money to get his project off the ground. If this was a dramatic film, he would have to be played by a young Jeffrey Combs – he has that combination of weird wit and obscure intelligence – but is a lot more self-aware than he initially appears.
Set in an elite boarding school, Korean director Shin Su-won’s debut feature is an impressive study of the violent consequences of social stratification. Students are ranked according to their results and placed under immense pressure to reach the top; only those with the very best grades are able to compete for a place at the prestigious Seoul National University. When the top student, Yujin (Sung June), is found murdered near the school, his roommate, June (David Lee), is the prime suspect, but police do not have enough evidence to convict him. After his release, he takes four of Yujin’s circle hostage in a secret area of the school, which formerly served as torture chambers for political prisoners during South Korea’s military dictatorship.