Film reviews: an eclectic collection

February 2, 2022

Collage by Sadie Souter with Images from Unsplash and image of woman by Christian Diokno from Pexels

Shivam Chowdhary shares his enthusiasm and relish for this diverse array of stories, old and new

The pandemic has affected everybody in so many different ways and our minds are still reeling as it continues. We’re all in need of some entertainment to relax or propel ourselves along.

I believe films are a salient visual medium. They are simply wonderful and allow us to loosen up and be transported into other worlds, all from the comfort of our home if we so choose.

The films I have chosen range from dark comedy to raw, psychological drama. I’m confident they will provide you with some entertainment, irrespective of what genre is your preference!

LET THEM ALL TALK

‘Let Them All Talk’ is a 2020 dark comedy by prolific director, Steven Soderbergh. The film stars Meryl Streep as an aging writer who decides to embark on a cruise ship holiday with her two closest friends. She begins a desperate bid to finish her latest manuscript as she suffers from intense writer’s block.

Meanwhile, her young nephew falls in love with her writing agent, portrayed wonderfully by Gemma Chan, both of whom are on the boat. This creates a rift between Streep and her nephew due to Chan’s character being significantly older than her nephew.

The film is gorgeously shot using only natural lighting, giving it a cinema verité feel. The all-star cast, also including Candice Bergen and Dianne West, improvised most of the dialogue, catalysing the sense of verisimilitude the film exudes. Complete with a shocking and rather abrupt ending, the film is darkly funny throughout and a must-watch if you enjoy meditative, yet humorous films.

MELANCHOLIA

‘Melancholia’ is a 2011 science fiction psychological drama directed by controversial and iconoclastic director, Lars von Trier, who is known for making shocking, disturbing and intensely emotional films.

This film stars Kirsten Dunst as a bride-to-be who suffers a depressive episode during her wedding, only to find solace after news that a rogue planet will soon hit Earth and end humanity! A rumination on depression and mental health crises, the film is remarkably hard to watch yet incredibly gripping.

Shot with hectic handheld footage, the film is frenetic from the get-go and is a total powerhouse production – from the opening credits right until the infamous, chilling final shot. Bolstered by an ensemble cast, including Alexander Skarsgard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sunderland, Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt, this film is a must-watch for its hauntingly beautiful portrayal of mental health.

THE TREE OF LIFE

A monumental and ambitious work upheld by an enormously impressive performance by Brad Pitt, ‘The Tree of Life’ is director Terrence Malick’s magnum opus. It synthesises elements of science fiction and psychological drama to paint a beautiful portrayal of a conservative family living in 1950s Texas.

Also starring Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn and Fiona Shaw, the film chronicles the history of the universe and the origin of human life alongside the story of the family. I wouldn’t recommend ‘The Tree of Life’ to anybody searching for total narrative coherence; the film is an experience to watch and unfolds over its gargantuan 3 hour running time. I would regard it as an epic.

Lauded by both critics and audiences, the film has been listed by the BBC as the 7th best film made since 2000 and appeared on more critics year-end lists for 2011 than any other film. The film was also a surprise box office hit, considering its arthouse nature, grossing nearly double its budget in box office numbers, thanks largely to the A-list cast. After 3 Oscar nominations and universal praise, it is a film very much worth seeing for anybody seeking something unconventional.

BELLE DE JOUR

A controversial and transgressive work at the time of release, ‘Belle de Jour’ is a 1967 psychological thriller, written and directed by surrealist director Luis Buñuel. It stars wonderful actor Catherine Deneuve as a bored, sedated housewife who finds herself spinning into reclusion as her negligent husband ignores her.

Her desperation leads her to join a brothel and start working as a harlot in Paris. Whilst the subject matter seems sordid, it is anything but, as Buñuel focuses hardly at all on the lewd subject matter but mainly on the psychological state of the protagonist. We see how entering such a foreign world has a profound effect on her, whether for better or worse.

The film was wildly successful at the time of release despite its controversy and infamous status, with the film grossing over $20m at the box office and many critics labelling it Buñuel’s most successful film. A 4k restoration has just completed, making the visuals look even more beautiful – and all the more reason to see it.

RED ROAD

‘Red Road’ is a shocking, disturbing and taut psychological horror film directed by Andrea Arnold, starring the hugely talented and underrated Kate Dickie. It was the first film made for Lars von Trier’s ‘Advance Party’ film project, following the rules of his Dogme-95 film movement. Dickie plays a lonely CCTV operator, who voyeuristically watches the residents of the Red Road council estate in Glasgow, becoming increasingly infatuated with certain residents. One day, she notices a man from her past on one of her cameras. She decides to investigate what truly goes on in the council estate before finding herself in a rabbit hole of depravity as she witnesses things she was never meant to see.

Shot purely handheld, the film is impressive and horrifying as it tips the line between mystery thriller and graphic horror as the truth is uncovered. Andrea Arnold directs an ultimately feminist tale and a fantastic one at that. Considered a sleeper hit, the film has received cult status for its strange, surreal, and at-times stomach-churning, nature. The Observer polled several filmmakers and film critics who voted it as one of the best British films in the last 25 years, and one of the best Scottish films of all time.

A must-watch for anybody interested in dark, brooding mystery; the tone of the trailer is a good indication for just how atmospheric this film is.

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Shiv is from north-west London, currently studying Film Studies at University of St Andrews. His hobbies include writing and watching lots of films! His favourite director is Darren Aronofsky and his favourite films of all time include ‘Mulholland Drive’, ‘Festen’ and ‘Mother!’

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