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A scene from Roma

A scene from Roma

Chosen with the activist’s eye in mind by Chris Nineham, Kate O’Neil and Mark Dee Smith  

Roma (Cuarón, 2018) 135m

Available from Netflix

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From Roma

The film is made from the childhood memories of Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón. It's lush black and white cinematography oozes nostalgia for the security of his parents' stylish house in the bourgeois area of Colonia Roma in Mexico City. But Cuarón was clearly alert to the tensions that wracked even his upbringing: the injustice of domestic service, the entitled behaviour of men, and the lurking and looming brutality of a dictatorship. 

Roma brings together these different layers of reality superbly, but some have criticised it as a romanticisation. But the fact that family’s maid, Cleo, brilliantly portrayed by Yalitza Aparicio, is the film’s protagonist elevates it way above schmaltz. As a result, without even appearing to try, the film generates fascinating questions about class, race, women's oppression and imperialism. (CN)

The Image Book (Godard, 2018) 85m

Available from Mubi

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From The Image Book

Godard’s kaleidoscopic meditation on film history and politics reaffirms his commitment to the bold experimentation that jettisoned him from mainstream cinema over half a century ago. Comprised of found imagery - sometimes treated, sometimes not - blended with Tunisian-shot documentary, the Grand Old Man of radical cinema uses collage techniques alongside direct quotes from the likes of Edward Said to weave an entrancing counter-narrative to the Orientalism that blights us to this day.  

The twin forces that drove him in the late sixties, a pulverising contempt for imperialism and a love for the Hollywood slipstream still appears to be firing him now. But Godard’s delivery is as fresh as ever, and rigorous in its exposition of both conservative film practice and neo-colonial politics. Dazzling and elliptical, this film is on fire. (MDS) 

I, Tonya (Gillespie, 2017) 119m

Available from Netflix 

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From I, Tonya

I, Tonya is a brilliant black comedy-drama and rare glimpse at class prejudice in America. It is based on the true story of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, whose promising career was cut short when her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly orchestrated a physical attack on rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. The comedic element centres on a series of mockumentary-style interviews of Tonya, Gillooly, and the cast of bizarre and colourful characters surrounding them. 

But the dramatic element goes beyond the exploitation of a chav scandal and depicts Tonya’s story as the tragedy of a poor working-class woman with extraordinary talent who tries and fails to succeed in the genteel world of Olympic sport. Allison Janney of West Wing fame delivers an Oscar-winning performance as Tonya’s eccentric and abusive mother. (KON)

The Servant (Losey, 1963) 115m 

Available from Mubi

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From The Servant

For fans of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, this is its weird old grandparent. Directed by Joseph Losey, in flight from McCarthyite Hollywood, this proto-queer psychodrama apes and inverts class tensions through a slow motion game of hide-and-seek starring cast-against-type matinee idols Dirk Bogarde and James Fox. 

Although awash with distinction - tableaux vivant cinematography by Douglas Slocombe, jazzed-up score by Johnny Dankworth and a positively raunchy Wendy Craig – it is Harold Pinter’s forensically sparse script that marks this film as a classic and skewers its themes of bondage and servitude. Perverse and unforgettable, its exploration of genteel decadence curiously anticipates the eruption of class antagonism that would ignite the sixties. (MDS)

Bacurau (Filho/Dornelles, 2019) 132m

Available from Mubi 

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From Bacurau

An outstanding state of the nation fable from Brazil about a disappearing village with a long record of resistance well-documented in a very impressive local history museum. Slightly disorientating at first, suggesting a range of genres all at the same time (spaghetti western, sci-fi, knockabout comedy) but it unfolds as something totally original and grounded in truth, if not reality. 

Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles' film is unashamedley political and anti-government but also a massively enjoyable portrait of an imagined rural community full of eccentric, unexpected and very resourceful characters. It is also a gorgeously filmed exploration of the beauty of north eastern Brazil. 

To be avoided if you’re purist about your genres, but a must-see if you dream of resistance to the Trump/Bolsanaro axis. (CN)

Tagged under: Film
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