Monumental dramas, instant cult classic and bewitching documentaries are among our top cinema picks this month
Film of the month: Never Look Away
Now, don’t get us wrong; Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s latest epic is not the lightest watch in the world. At three and a half hours it requires a certain amount of physical stamina just to sit through. It also tackles several demanding thematic undercurrents: politics, art, love, history—it’s all of life’s foundations and nuances encapsulated in one film. But man, can von Donnersmarck pull it off.
The story revolves around the life of Kurt Barnert, starting with his traumatic childhood in the 1940s, plagued by tragedy and loss, through to his adult years as a gifted, discerning artist whose life is an endless stream of trials and cruel curveballs. Dissatisfied with the limited opportunities and narrow world view dominating East Germany, he escapes with his young wife to the West but his painful past under the Nazis follows him wherever he goes. Von Donnersmarck ploughs us with an unrelenting stream of cutting human emotion that you’ll feel with every fibre of your being. Each reflection, glance and word is nothing if not relatable on the most cellular level to anyone who’s ever lived, breathed and felt something, with many wise but never-patronising messages to chew on and treasure.
Never Look Away is a huge cinematic feat and, trust us, even after three and a half hours, you won’t want it to end.
Vita and Virginia
Writers Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) and Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) shared a passionate, decade-long relationship which fed and inspired a significant number of both of their works and transformed them as individuals.
This steamy affair is captured here in fetching fashion through dreamy cinematography, exquisite production design and a pulsating electro soundtrack that invigorates the sometimes-stale rhythm. Like any tale of the thrill of a new relationship, Vita and Virginia can be exhilarating but sadly lacks the substance to work as a robust biopic.
The Dead Don't Die
Jim Jarmusch returns after a three-year hiatus with an offbeat zombie comedy-horror featuring a cast that Tarantino himself could only dream off. Starring Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Steve Buscemi—to name just a few—(not to mention delicious cameos from the likes of Tom Waits and Iggy Pop!), the film intertwines the stories of a few locals of the sleepy town of Centerville as they witness a bizarre event: the globe taking a spin on its axis, prompting the dead to rise from their graves.
It’s an oddly quaint, heart-warming portrayal of small-town America—especially the scenes with Murray and Adam Driver’s police officers’ endearing patrol small talk, mixed with some goofy fantastical elements and zombies, of course.
While it’s mostly good fun, the film doesn’t quite ever hit its stride, with the final result feeling a bit haphazard and thrown together. The few nods to Romero and the Evil Dead movies are there, but without any of the nuance or cleverness Romero brought with political subtext. It’s certainly worth giving a go—but perhaps on a lazy weeknight in rather than a full-blown weekend trip to the cinema.
Tracing the life of the owner of one of the most prolific voices of the 20th century, Luciano Pavarotti, this exhilarating documentary comes from the Oscar-winning director Ben Howard. Offering clips from some of the tenor’s most iconic performances as well as never-before-seen footage, it’s a spine-tingling portrait of a complex man whose life was marked by many contradictions and great drama.
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love
In theory, Leonard Cohen makes the perfect subject matter for a film: the poeticism of his lyrics, the numerous love affairs which inspired the subsequent songs which he sang in his deep, godlike voice. In this documentary, the intoxicating romance of it all is heightened even further by the focus on his life-long, on-again, off-again relationship with his Norwegian muse, Marianne Ihlen, which started on the idyllic island of Hydra in the 1960s.
Sounds perfectly decadent and captivating, doesn’t it? Well, not quite. Director Nick Broomfield has a personal angle on the story, you see. Back in the 1960s he briefly lived on Hydra and was one of Marianne’s lovers, which allows him to interweave his own story with that of Marianne and Leonard’s. And that’s where the excitement begins to die off. Suddenly, we’re listening to accounts of people who don’t have much to do with the story at hand, sharing random anecdotes and highly subjective opinions on a matter that they were never really that involved in.
If you’re a big Cohen fan expecting some tasty fan service from this film—don’t. Personal snippets of the Master of Misery are few and far between and the ones that are there are brief and superficial, leaving you hungry for more.