I Am Not Madame Bovary
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Starring: Fan Bingbing
Ten years ago, Li Xuelian (Fan Bingbing) and her husband Qin Yuhe hatched a plan to game the system and buy an apartment that was reserved for singles. Their foolproof plan was to: a) “split up” and divorce, allowing Qin to snag the sweet piece of real estate; b) “reunite” and remarry six months later; c) live happily ever after in their love nest. Great plan if it ends there, but poor Li got snookered by Qin when the dirty rat treated the fake divorce as the real thing, and he ditched her for someone else. Director Feng Xiaogang treats us to the sweeping and darkly hilarious saga of Li’s relentless attempt to reclaim her dignity and reputation. Her effort to cut through the layers and layers of red tape in order have the marriage reinstated (to then triumphantly divorce the dirtbag for real) takes her to the upper echelons of China’s government, in a narrative that takes clean swipes at hypocrisy and incompetence at every turn. The film’s original Chinese title is “I Am Not Pan Jinlian,” to reference China’s own earlier incarnation of the femme fatale/bad wife/fallen woman trope. Be patient and settle in to watch Fan Bingbing upend the ‘scorned woman’ narrative, to perfection.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
United Kingdom, 2000
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly, Ashley Gerasimovich
Lynne Ramsay puts Tilda Swinton through the wringer, in this story of a mother grappling with the crushing guilt of having reared a mass murderer. This liberal adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s eponymous novel darts back and forth through the timeline, never resorting to easy explanations, as it charts the rocky relationship between a mother and the killer son that... gulp, she didn’t particularly want to have in the first place. More on it here.
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Starring: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan
This extraordinary film demonstrates the bonds between five orphaned sisters, as they endure being cooped up and married off by their conservative family. The girls are going to school and living with their grandmother, until nosy neighbours spy them laughing and splashing in the sea with boys and their innocent horseplay is misinterpreted as a threat to the entire family. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven tells the story from the girls' perspective, as they try to find their own freedom as their worldview shrinks. Mustang was nominated for best foreign language film at the 2015 Oscars and won four César awards in France. Ergüven has gone on to direct TV, and found a thematic match with The Handmaid's Tale. For fellow obsessives, she was behind the iconic season three episode 11 ('Liars') in which (*spoiler*) both Fred and Winslow copped it.
United States of America, 2018
Director: Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan
Felix Van Groeningen blends a pair of father/son memoirs to tell the story of a family's experience of crystal meth addiction. Addiction is a difficult phenomenon to convey on screen, but Van Groeningen (Broken Circle Breakdown) teams with Australian writer Luke Davies (Candy), who has plenty of experience in translating the subject matter to the screen. Together they mostly manage to avoid some of the typical tropes and they lean more heavily into the father's (Steve Carell) standard modes of grief, pain, anguish, guilt, as his son's (Timothee Chalamet) addiction take hold.
Learning How To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You're A Girl)
Director: Carol Dysinger
An inspiring look into the lives of girls in a country widely held to be one of the hardest places in the world to be born female. We follow a class of girls at a skate school in Kabul (which acts as a gateway to the public school system), and their wobbles on a board are paired with the real world obstacles that line their path. It’s a sobering story of resilience, with gnarly skate skills thrown in for good measure. What’s not to love? "This movie is my love letter to the brave girls of [Afghanistan]," said the documentary's director, Carol Dysinger, as she accepted Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar alongside producer Elena Andreicheva. "They teach girls courage, to raise your hand, to say I am here, I have something to say and I'm going to take that ramp, don't try to stop me."
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Starring: Paulina García, Sergio Hernández, Diego Fontecilla, Fabiola Zamora
Sebastien Leilo drew from his own mum’s experience to tell his story of a foxy 50-plus woman who is trying her luck on the Santiago singles scene. The familiarity comes through in the warm characterisation of this radiant and fun woman just trying to get hers. Paulina Garcia won the acting prize in Berlin and she revels in bringing Gloria to life, saying a big ‘nope’ to stultifying family dramas, and yearning to cut loose on the dance floor with a guy who is taking ageing in his stride as well as she is. Leilo’s attachment to his subject went so far as remaking his film in English (Gloria Bell, with Julianne Moore donning the big glasses in the lead role).
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Mystery
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Naomi Watts, Brian Cox, Martin Henderson
Let’s get this out of the way: yes, it’s the remake of Hideo Nakata’s existential freakout, and yes, I hear you (Hell, I am you). But no matter, it’s still an unsettling watch. Naomi Watts, coming off Mulholland Drive and into her first studio leading role, is scared out of her wits when she discovers the dark secret of a deadly videotape (ask your parents, kids). The villainous VHS reduces the lifespan of anyone who views it, to a mere 7 days (this information is delivered by an unknown caller who rings right on cue once you finish watching the tape). The premise is the stuff of urban legend and it still gives you the heebie jeebies even as the threat of killer videotapes has reduced exponentially thanks to the rise of disruptive technologies. Once Naomi and, oops, her young son, view the contents of the tape, she’s on a hard deadline to try and break the spell. Pop your phone on ‘flight mode’ and enjoy the ride.
The Ring screens on SBS Viceland 14 October at 8.30pm.
2014, South Korea
Directed by: Shim Sung-bo
Stars: Kim Yoon-seok, Park Yoo-chun, Han Ye-ri
A gripping disaster movie with a political conscience, penned by acclaimed writer-turned-director Shim Sung-bo, and his producer Bong Joon-ho (on whose Memories of Murder Shim shares a writing credit). A year on from the IMF financial crisis, a crusty old captain (Kim Yoon-seok) of a rusty old fishing trawler leads his five-person crew on a dodgy people smuggling expedition across the Yellow Sea, with the boat stocked with some 20-plus Chinese nationals bound for the Korean mainland. They were in dire straits before they even accepted the job, so let's just say that by the time a strange fog rolls in, the fear and desperation leaves them vulnerable to anything. Use your imagination and you still won't match the best efforts of Shim and Bong. It has to be seen to be believed.
Director: Neeraj Ghaywan
Stars: Richa Chadha, Sanjay Mishra, Vicky Kaushal
Director Neeraj Ghaywan's debut feature depicts people agitating for escape, on the banks of the Ganges. He said, "Most of the time, what Indian films show about small cities is poverty and beautiful landscapes. We felt like showing an actual, real-life town on the brink of change, where young people talk about engineering or Facebook and still feel they’re in a socio-economic trap". It paints a picture of class and gender inequality, through four intersecting characters, with ties to the cremation ghats that line the river: Devi (Richa Chadda), a young student who’s gone off the rails, tortured by feelings of guilt and grief about the fate of her first lover (their dalliance is intercepted by police in the movie's unsparing opening scenes); Devi’s father (Sanjay Mishra), a former professor now working at one of the ghats along the river, who is blackmailed by the same police who terrorised his daughter; Deepak (Vicky Kaushal), a wannabe engineer trapped into poverty and in love with a woman from a different caste; and a young boy, Jhonta (Nikhil Sahni), in search of a family, who binds them all together. Masaan premiered in Un Certain Regard at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
By The Grace Of God
Directed by: Francois Ozon
Stars: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, Swann Arlaud, Éric Caravaca
Prolific French director Francois Ozon brings meticulous research and empathic storytelling to this real world account of sexual abuse and cover up within the French Catholic Church. When a survivor of sexual abuse, Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud, Laurence Anyways), learns by chance that the priest who abused him as a boy is still working with children, he decides to take action to "lift the burden of silence". His efforts to speak truth to power include confronting his abuser, and those who covered up his crimes. The film is a dramatised retelling of the story of the victims of Bernard Preynat, who is believed to have abused 70 children in the city of Lyon over 30+ years. By The Grace Of God won the Silver Bear award at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival, and was the subject of two court cases aimed at blocking its domestic release in France.
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