FILM | REVIEWS
SCIENCE FICTION VIVARIUM (TBC) 97min ●●●●●
The housing development from hell is the setting for a stripped-back, vigorously performed sci-fi satire. Turning an unforgiving lens on parenthood, suburbia and gender roles, this is the second feature from Irish director Lorcan Finnegan. Teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and gardener Tom (Jesse
Eisenberg) are a likeable pair whose encounter with creepy property pusher Martin (Jonathan Aris) leads them to ‘Yonder’, an expanse of identikit, alien-green houses. The lack of residents, actual or prospective, is suspicious. It’s a dead-end development from which there appears to be no escape. Neatly written by Garret Shanley, Vivarium makes clever use of what is clearly a low budget, with cinematography that morphs from hyperreal to haunting. Scenes with The Boy (Senan Jennings as a child, Eanna Hardwicke as an adult – both excellent) see recognisable child-rearing challenges fuse with nightmarish forays into science fiction to troubling effect.
It’s a devastatingly simple concept brought to engaging, thought-provoking life by Poots in particular, who transitions from delightfully carefree to desperate and downtrodden. Parents beware: this might resonate more than you would care to admit. (Emma Simmonds) ■ Selected release from Fri 27 Mar.
DRAMA THE TRUTH (PG) 107min ●●●●●
Palme d’Or winning director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first non- Japanese work is a respectable, sometimes charming French family drama that only occasionally sparks into something magical. Kore-eda continues to dismantle the inner workings of how families operate and endure, giving Catherine Deneuve a plum of a role as Fabienne, an imperious movie diva who has just published her far-from-reliable memoirs. Her estranged daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) returns to
the family home in Paris from America with her husband (Ethan Hawke) and their daughter (impressive newcomer Clémentine Grenier). The stage is set for confrontation as Lumir prepares to challenge her mother’s literary claims of exemplary parenthood. Deneuve’s haughty manner and indifference to the hurt she causes others transforms her character into an entertaining, incorrigible old devil. Binoche is very astute at depicting the way Lumir regards her mother with a mixture of exasperation and affection. The two stars lend real presence and weight to a very watchable film with disarming moments, that overall lacks the elegance and assurance we have come to expect from the man who gave us Like Father, Like Son and the sublime Shoplifters. (Allan Hunter) ■ Selected release from Fri 20 Mar.
WESTERN BACURAU (18) 131min ●●●●●
Part dusty western, part sharp social commentary, part frenetic fever dream, the winner of the 2019 Cannes Jury Prize Bacurau is an astonishing piece of cinema. While its narrative may be wilfully elusive, writer-directors Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho preferring to suggest rather than tell, the film has a clear message, and makes its points with confidence and style.
It begins innocuously enough, as we follow a woman (Bárbara Colen) returning to her home village of Bacurau, in the middle of the Brazilian outback, for her grandmother’s funeral. This is a tight-knit community which looks after its own, and so when bizarre events start to occur – electricity being cut off, strange drones in the sky, the town literally disappearing from the map – the locals band together in defence.
Much like another recent standout South American film Monos, Bacurau’s power lies in its hypnotic visual identity. Cinematographer Pedro Sotero captures the expanse and anonymity of the isolated landscape and lingers on minutiae: beads of sweat, empty streets, seemingly innocent exchanges that seethe with tension and foreboding. A discordant, writhing score adds to the sense that nothing is as it seems. Influences may be obvious – from the South American surrealism of Alejandro
Jodorowsky, to the horror tropes of John Carpenter et al – but Dornelles (a former production designer) and Filho (who directed sensitive Brazilian social drama Aquarius) have made something that’s ultimately their own. At its core, this is a story of corruption, of class warfare at its most extreme; it’s a damning indictment of the injustices that run rife in modern Brazil, and the world at large. (Nikki Baughan) ■ Limited release from Fri 13 Mar and on MUBI from Fri 27 Mar.
DRAMA THE PERFECT CANDIDATE (TBC) 101min ●●●●●
The latest from groundbreaking Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda) opts for a softly-softly approach to highlighting societal change. A young doctor, the apolitical Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani), ends up running for local office, not to stand specifically for women’s rights but in hope of improving the infrastructure around her clinic. She faces daily barriers and outdated attitudes to her campaign, though her musician father Abdulaziz (Khalid Abdulraheem) is a progressive, empowering his three daughters to fight for what they want. Al Zahrani makes for a magnetic lead as Maryam
grows in confidence, switching from demure to feisty but never becoming a sassy cliche. The family scenes are a highlight, as Maryam and her sisters – wedding videographer Selma (Dae Al Hilali) and teenager Sara (Nora Al Awadh) – bicker and tease one another. Elsewhere, a fashion show fundraiser in a colourful room full of women stands out – the film is unabashed in its celebration of sisterhood. More of an observational crowd-pleaser than a probing insight into Saudi politics, The Perfect Candidate may feature a number of overfamiliar narrative beats but its warmth and humour offer significant compensation. (Sophie Willard) ■ Selected release from Fri 27 Mar.
70 THE LIST 1 Feb–31 Mar 2020