Portrait of a Lady on Fire (15)
Thursday 14 October
Passion brews quietly between an artist and her subject, until together they create a space in which it can briefly flourish, in this sumptuous eighteenth-century romance from Céline Sciamma, one of contemporary French cinema’s most acclaimed auteurs.
Summoned to an isolated seaside estate on a secret assignment, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) must find a way to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is resisting chattel marriage, by furtively observing her.
What unfolds in exquisite tension is an exchange of sustained gazes in which the two women come to know each other’s gestures, expressions, and bodies with rapturous intimacy, ultimately forging a subversive creative collaboration as well as a delirious romance.
Charged with a yearning that almost transcends time and space, Portrait of a Lady on Fire mines the emotional and artistic possibilities that emerge when women can freely live together and see one another in a world without men.
Sound of Metal (15)
Friday 29 October
Riz Ahmed delivers a superbly intuitive, raw performance in this handsomely crafted study of addiction, community and self-discovery.
Ahmed plays Ruben, a former heroin addict turned impassioned drummer, whose hearing suddenly and permanently deteriorates part-way through a tour. Reluctantly, and with the support of his bandmate and devoted girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), he joins a deaf commune to learn how to adapt to his condition.
There’s something sublime about watching a performer of Ahmed’s calibre step up to the next level, as if his craft has been amplified by learning this new language. While Ruben may hide behind his words, Ahmed has never been more emotionally expressive than when communicating through ASL.
It's a moving exercise in empathy and debut film-maker Darius Marder never strays into mawkishness; he sensibly keeps the focus on Ahmed's open, disarmingly vulnerable face. Bolstered by precise sound design and naturalistic cinematography, this quietly energetic movie leaves a lasting mark This is a film that deserves to be seen by the widest possible audience, reminding us of cinema’s unique ability to challenge, entertain, uplift and unite.
Sunday 31 October
What a lovely, hopeful and rather magical movie this is. The feature debut from writer/director Jessica Swale, Summerland provides just the tonic we need in times of turmoil. A tale of love lost and found, told with wit and charm, it maintains an impressive balance between the sly and the sentimental, gently subverting mainstream formulae as it slips back and forth in time, alternating between the realist and the romantic.
Gemma Arterton stars as Alice, a cantankerous bluestocking scholar of myths and legends who lives alone – a suspicious tendency in the eyes of the locals, especially the pesky kids who like to play pranks on her – in an impossibly picturesque cottage on the Kent coast.
Since the blitz is raging across the country, Alice is been compelled to billet an adolescent London boy named Frank, much against her wishes. But since he can’t be rehomed for at least a week, she takes him in, treats him quite rudely, but of course soon grows fond of the tousle-haired tyke who so reminds her of her lost secret love affair back in the 1920s.
The films is filled with pleasurable performances, such as Tom Courtenay as a kindly schoolmaster or Penelope Wilton, as an older incarnation of Alice, hissing at local kids to bugger off.
First Cow (12A)
Thursday 11 November
In the 1820s, a taciturn loner and skilled cook travels west to Oregon Territory, where he meets a Chinese immigrant also seeking his fortune. Soon the two team up on a dangerous scheme to steal milk from the wealthy landowner’s prized Jersey cow – the first, and only, in the territory.
Making delicious cakes that become incredibly popular among the locals, even piquing the interest of the owner of the cow.
Kelly Reichardt, an inimitable voice of American cinema, redefines the notion of what a western can be. Set among outcasts on the edge of capitalism’s grasp, First Cow is a rare tale of the blossoming of a heartfelt male friendship, and one told with sublime gentleness and touching compassion. and with terrific performances, not least from Toby Jones as the wealthy owner of the cow.
Friday 26 November
Named after a Korean herb that keeps its character wherever it grows, director Lee Isaac Chung's delicate family drama offers a distinct and deeply personal take on immigrant struggle. The semi-autobiographical story unfolds through the eyes of David (Alan S Kim), a seven-year-old newly relocated from California to Arkansas with his Korean-American family.
Despite his father's faith in the American Dream, things do not go to plan; meanwhile, David spends much of his time clashing and - slowly - connecting with his wily grandma, Soonja (Oscar-winning Youn Yuh-jung).
Though the set-up seems sown for tragedy or something more sentimental, Chung's granular approach finds vivid life in microscopic details and supple tonal shifts. Parental clashes are handled with nuanced complexity, while David's bond with Soonja adds wit and warmth. Though the narrative focus drifts, the lovingly tended result is a gentle character piece with a flavour of its own, rich in empathy and unforced charm.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (PG)
Sunday 28 November
Tom Hanks channels the spirit of Fred Rogers, America's most beloved, be-cardiganed children's TV host in director Marielle Heller's delightfully deep drama. After directing the bitterly funny fictional biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Heller brings us an unexpected story of a genuinely good man who made his living by being himself on TV. Based on a 1990s Esquire article, the film follows journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) as he is sent by his editor to interview Rogers in a last ditch effort to bring the troubled journalist back from the emotional brink.
Initially outraged at this apparent demotion, Vogel is soon reaching for Rogers's help after opening up about his toxic relationship with his father (Chris Cooper). On the heels of a popular documentary about the TV host (Won't You Be My Neighbor?), Heller has opted for an endearing introduction to a man who was essentially America's oasis of televisual calm. Sporting sneakers and button-down knitwear, Hanks brings Rogers alive with a light, careful air, only hinting at his Presbyterian background.
You don't need to have ever seen, or heard of Fred Rogers to delight in this wonderfully affecting film.