After Love (2020)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

Joanna Scanlan plays the Muslim convert who discovers her recently deceased husband has been living a secret life in this thorny and emotional debut feature from Aleem Khan. Mary’s comfortable domestic life in Dover is tragically upturned as she grapples first with grief and then with an additional font of hurt and pain as it transpires that Ahmed has a lover and child living in Calais. Khan’s film follows Mary on a cross-Channel mission to track down Ahmed’s mistress, and things take an intriguing turn when her rather chic rival Genevieve (Nathalie Richard), making a breezy assumption based on the way Mary is dressed, mistakes her for her new cleaner. Seizing the ruse, Mary becomes a cuckoo in this French nest – a one-woman Parasite embedded in the home of Ahmed’s second family in order to learn something of his dual existence. Khan’s tale of two towns brings issues of identity, class, religion and nationality into play, but never at the expense of a very real and human study of a woman in tailspin.

Gunda (2020)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

A couple of years after his awe-inspiring study of oceans and icebergs, Aquarela (2018), Russian documentarist Victor Kossakovsky shifts his gaze from the epic to the intimate for this up-close-and-personal study of animal life on a Norwegian farm. Giving pigs their biggest cinematic starring role since the Babe pictures, Gunda introduces us to a sow and her brood as Kossakovsky captures their daily existence in pin-sharp black-and-white detail. There’s no voiceover and no music, just the snuffling of the pigs and the ambient sounds of the farmyard. We don’t see any humans on screen either: the only supporting players here are some free-roaming chickens and a herd of cows. It’s Kossakovsky’s mission to bring us into much closer contact with these beasts. To experience the world as they experience it, without a human narrator to mediate. It’s an intimacy that requires willing and patience from the viewer – and one that proves devastating in the film’s final stretch.

Vagabond (1985)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Vagabond (1985)

Two of Agnès Varda’s finest fiction films have been added to BFI Player’s subscription package this week. Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) is her most famous film, a classic of the French New Wave about a woman wandering Paris as she anxiously awaits the results of a biopsy. It’s a masterful study of a life hanging in the balance. Her much later masterpiece Vagabond is also a story of wandering, but here the balance has already fatally shifted – the film opens with its protagonist found dead in a ditch. From here Varda’s film flashes back to colour in the final days of young Mona (a performance of elemental force from Sandrine Bonnaire), a Parisian who drifted away from the city in favour of a life of roaming, seasonal work and no responsibility – ‘without shelter or law’ as the film’s French title puts it. The setting is the wine country of Languedoc-Roussillon, but it’s winter and the terrain is bare and unforgiving. Varda’s film takes a pseudo-documentary approach, interviewing those who knew Mona in order to piece together the circumstances of her end.

The Killing of Two Lovers (2000)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide and Curzon Home Cinema

There are more bare, uncaring landscapes in this tense study in male rage – a debut feature from Californian Robert Machoian. Rural Utah is the setting for this story of a toxic separation. High-achieving lawyer Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) has suggested some time apart from her husband – oddjobman and would-be singer-songwriter David (Clayne Crawford). They’ve agreed to an open relationship, but it’s a freedom only she’s taken up. She’s got a new lover, and David begins to suspect that their separation may be more final than he wants. With his family unit at the point of implosion, he feels wronged and emasculated; his only recourse being to wail and lash out. In the chilling opening scenes, we see him creep into the lovers’ bedroom and – undetected – point a gun over the sleeping couple. Then he heads back out into the quiet streets at dawn, a pinball of inner fury. The threat of violence hangs over Machoian’s minimalist thriller but never quite erupts – it’s the film’s mood board and colour scheme. 

The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell (1965)

Where’s it on? YouTube

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Mid-century Taiwanese cinema isn’t something that’s very easy to see, so cinephiles of a crate-digging persuasion will welcome the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute’s new online initiative: batch-posting complete features on their YouTube channel, which remain available for a week at a time. Last week there were three films by Lin Tuan-chiu, which have now expired. In their place, this weekend the institute is rolling out a trio by Lin’s contemporary Hsin Chi. Foolish Bride, Naive Bridegroom (1967) and Dangerous Youth (1969) are to come over the next couple of days, but first out of the gate is 1965’s fantastically titled The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell. It’s a charmingly bonkers gothic mystery about a woman who poses as a governess within the home of a wealthy Taipei family in order to discover what happened to her sister, the children’s mother, who is found dead in a supposed boating accident during the opening credits. Veering wildly between comedy and thrills, Hsin’s film incorporates ghostly apparitions, loungey musical interludes, a shrine with a secret chamber and a presumably illicit borrowing of the James Bond theme tune. It’s ripe, derivative and irresistible.