Fallen Leaves (2023)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide, including BFI Southbank
Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki has been silent for the six years since The Other Side of Hope (2017) but now returns with his idiosyncratic talent not just undimmed but burning brightly. Fallen Leaves – though the title is more accurately translated as ‘Dead Leaves’, as in the classic French song ‘Les Feuilles mortes’ – is a glorious return trip to Akiland, a proletarian romance between two lonely workers that’s at once quirkily miserabilist and strangely life-affirming. Kaurismäki’s vision of weary souls making a connection has been a fixture of films since the 1980s, but the radio news we hear about the war in Ukraine root this latest deadpan charmer firmly in the present. Unmissable.
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
William Oldroyd is the British director who made his mark with the 2016 period drama Lady Macbeth, featuring a murderous Florence Pugh. This second feature, based on a 2015 novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, also comes steeped in dark deeds though it takes a while to show its hand. Things begin innocently enough: Thomasina McKenzie is the young worker at a juvenile detention facility in 1960s New England who returns home each night to cook for her volatile, alcoholic dad. But this grim routine gets a spark of life when she becomes enamoured of the glamorous prison counsellor (Anne Hathaway) and the pair begin a budding relationship that soon unexpectedly edges into dangerous territory.
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
Through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl, this Mexican family drama shows us the manic preparations for a surprise birthday party for her father – a party which may be his last. Sol’s father Napo has cancer and can barely summon the strength to get out of bed to attend, but the extended family are intent on making a fuss of him. Or at least using the business of preparation to divert their attentions from dealing with the thought of the end that’s coming. Director Lila Avilés made the much-admired 2018 drama The Chambermaid. This second feature put me in mind of both Hirokazu Koreeda’s Still Walking (2008) and Carlos Saura’s great 1976 film Cría cuervos in its gentle orchestration of a family gathering and its uncomprehending child’s perspective on the mysteries of adulthood.
A Touch of Zen (1971)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
Perhaps the most celebrated of all wuxia movies, A Touch of Zen is King Hu’s breath-stilling epic of Ming Dynasty China – a film whose forest fights, scalpel editing and spiritual grace notes induce a kind of levitating euphoria in the viewer. Critic Tony Rayns once claimed “the visual style will set your eyes on fire”. The touchstone influence for Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Hu’s widescreen masterpiece sees a fugitive noblewoman teaming up with a band of monks in a remote village to fend off an army of pursuers. It was the only wuxia film to make the top 250 of the 2022 Sight and Sound Greatest Films poll, the winner of which was revealed a year ago today.
Where’s it on? 4K UHD and Blu-ray
Perhaps the critical and box office reaction to this 2015 tech thriller from Michael Mann was wounding. It was the last we heard from him for seven years, until the sudden rush of activity that has included producing Tokyo Vice for TV, writing Heat 2 the novel (and then prepping the film version) and getting his long-cherished Ferrari project to cinemas. And now the much maligned Blackhat itself re-emerges with a 4K Blu-ray edition that – after much clamouring from Mann fans – also includes his re-imagined director’s cut. This will be the disc that affirms what the faithful knew all along: that the breathless Blackhat is Mann on fire, a vital addition to his cycle of digital tone poems set in a globalised late-capitalist crimescape. Chris Hemsworth is the computer hacker tasked with going after bigger game.
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