The power of independence

I am already in fear of cinematic overload, not only in my futile attempt to keep up with the flood of new releases but also the backlog of this year’s movies yet to be seen. And all so I can apply some objectivity to the first round of BAFTA voting after Christmas.

I am often asked if I am able to enjoy watching films when judging them. The answer is, “Not often!” Without suspension of disbelief it is next to impossible to be so immersed in a film that one stops thinking about how it has been made, just go with the unfolding wonder of the narrative. Rather like sleeping – those moments when dreaming one knows it is but a dream, yet remain immersed within it – it takes very little for me to snap out of suspension. Now, watching up to 10 films a week it is all too frequent the journey from the sublime to the ridiculous.

I wrote recently about one of my favourite auteurs, Sally Potter. Her latest work of art, The Party, boasts a stellar cast, a script with not a word wasted, sublime acting in one small terraced house and at just 71 minutes, a film that leaves you begging for more. Oh yes, and shot in black and white. Her genius is that she sucks you into the narrative. It’s an over-indulgence of cinematic culture that I cannot have too much of. Following The Party, there is a royal flush of quality independent cinema to look forward to in the next week or two. It has continued with Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino’s masterful exploration of love, lust and all stages, from first love to lasting love and everything in between. James Ivory produced the film and wrote the script, adapted from the novel by André Aciman. He was going to direct the film too, but in a row with the backers over how much graphic sex should be included, his co-director, Guadagnino was given the job unaccompanied. It’s worth reading Kaleem Aftab’s interview with him in the Independent for the inside story.

The only thing that irritates me about the reception of the film is that it seems to have become the property of the burgeoning lexicon of queer cinema. This is not a film about gay love at all. It’s a film about love and coming of age. Sure, the character Oliver, played by Armie Hammer is bi-sexual, but the standout performance of Timothée Chalamet as Elio, is of a pubescent 17-year-old exploring his own sexuality – he loses his virginity to a French girl – and the emotions of first love. The film never eludes to what Elio’s sexual preferences in the future are likely to be. Too few films leave a lasting impression but this one has stayed with me for some days – because of its superb script, stunning cinematography and wonderful sound track, but most of all, engrossing performances. We should expect no less from Guadagnino who made I am Love in 2009 and then A Bigger Splash in 2015, both starring my favourite actress, Tilda Swinton. Like Potter, he is an auteur to follow.

And coming up? Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Dear. If it’s half as mad and absurd as his 2015 hit The Lobster, also starring Colin Farrell I’ll be fully suspended in disbelief. The latest from hugely talented and original filmmaker, US indie Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, his follow up to the brilliant Tangerine, a film I believed deserved both a BAFTA and an Oscar nomination but received neither although it picked up a shed-load of minor gongs is high on my ‘must watch’ list. And yet more main-stream talent this time with a script by the Coen Brothers and directed by George Clooney, Suburbicon sounds promising. More to follow, but having seen Call Me By Your Name I stupidly thought I should get a reality check and went to see the truly risible A Bad Moms Christmas, (note the lack of an apostrophe!). What is it about Hollywood sequels? No further discussion merited. Hopefully no more ridiculous films but I ain’t holding my breath!

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