From Taiwan comes the lavishly photographed The Assassin by director Hou Hsiao-hsien who won Best Director for the 2015 film at Cannes. Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi) was raised to be a killer, but when she’s unable to assassinate a man while holding his child, she’s set an even more dire challenge: kill the governor (Chang Chen), to whom she was betrothed. Less action film, more elegantly choreographed fight scenes and unfolding drama against stunning backdrops, this film is a masterful feast for the eyes, ears and soul.
Spanish writer/director Julio Medem (The Tree of Blood) brings to life this mesmerising story of young artist, Ana (Manuela Vellés). Taken under the wing of mysterious arts patron Justine (played by the magnificently multilingual Charlotte Rampling), Ana leaves an idyllic life with her father in Ibiza and journeys to Madrid and on to New York. She sees images of women meeting violent deaths, and discovers she’s able to mentally regress a thousand years. The supporting cast is strong; Vellés is magnetic.
A Date for Mad Mary
Seána Kerslake shines as ‘mad’ Mary in this underrated Irish film. When she’s released from a short stint in prison, Mary just wants to resume her old life, but it’s not that easy. Her best mate Charlene is avoiding her, distracted by wedding plans. Friendless, Mary goes on a mission to land a date for the wedding and ends up discovering more about herself than she expected. Singer-songwriter Tara Lee features as Jess.
Marlina, The Murderer in Four Acts
This incredible Indonesian film stars Marsha Timothy as young widow Marlina. Wasting no time in defending herself against a group of men who show up to dispossess and rape her, she takes to carrying around the severed head of one of them. This thrilling drama is directed by Mouly Surya (What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love).
Kristen Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier star as Christine, ruthless corporate executive and Isabelle, her young protégé, respectively. Initially delighted with her new mentor, ambitious assistant Isabelle soon discovers the very dark side of Christine. But not before an obsession with her almost leads her to take a very heavy fall.
Passion is director Brian de Palma’s 2012 take on Alain Corneau and Natalie Carter’s Love Crime. Starring Rachael McAdams as Christine and Noomi Rapace as Isabelle, the two leads make this version very much worth watching. Paul Anderson co-stars as the fierce third point in the love triangle.
Black Snake Moan
Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson star in this truly bizarre film set in rural Tennessee. When Jackson’s Lazarus finds Ricci’s Rae collapsed on his driveway, he takes her inside. Upon digging up dirt on her past – Rae’s history of sexual abuse has manifested in rampant promiscuity – he determines to cure her of her sexual sins by chaining her up till he deems her ready for release. Only Ricci could carry off this role from writer/director Craig Brewer with such aplomb. Jackson is superb.
Mary Queen of Scots
Swiss director Thomas Imbach offers up this take on the famous 16th-century royal in which Mary is played by French actress Camille Rutherford (Blue is the Warmest Colour, Rosalie Blum). Based on the biography of Mary by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, this adaptation is a historically faithful portrayal of an extremely eventful albeit shortened life.
A Monster with a Thousand Heads
Sonia (Jana Raluy) is a woman on a mission: to get her ailing husband the medicine he needs to survive. When the insurance company leaves him to die, Sonia pulls no punches in taking matters into her own hands, and we’re cheering for her every step of the way. This thriller from Mexico is directed by Rodrigo Plá from writer Laura Santullo’s screenplay.
Lars von Trier’s 2003 film stars Nicole Kidman as Grace, on the run from the mob. She’s embraced by the small Colorado town of Dogville, but finds that her past soon catches up with her. Co-stars Paul Bettany and Lauren Bacall; John Hurt narrates.
Charlotte Rampling plays Ellen, who holidays in Haiti where she engages the sexual services of young Legba (Ménothy Cesar). As a regular, Ellen’s used to presiding over the resort’s young men and fellow women tourists, but is challenged when Brenda shows up, eager to revive a past encounter with Legba.
La Femme Nikita
One of director Luc Besson’s earliest films follows the transformation of former junkie Marie (Anne Parillaud). After killing a police officer in a drug-addled hold-up, she’s spared a death sentence when a secret government organisation gives her a new identity as Nikita, a programmed assassin. Her life is upturned yet again when she receives the call to kill, just as she’s developing a loving relationship with a man who knows nothing of her past.
Let the Right One In
Pre-teens are the protagonists of this Swedish horror from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay). Oskar, who is bullied at school and harbours violent fantasies, falls in thrall with dishevelled young Eli. Oskar’s curiosity about Eli leads to suspicion when locals are being found murdered, many drained of their blood.