May 23, 2024

david cronenberg, the shrouds, vincent cassel, diane kruger

Words by JANE CROWTHER


David Cronenberg’s latest is a riddle about grief, loss and mortality wrapped in a whodunnit so twisty you may well have to watch again the minute it ends. It focuses on Karsh (Vincent Cassel) a widower who provides hi-tech graves to wealthy Toronto dwellers. Instead of simply burying their dead, clients buy a sci-fi digi ‘shroud’ that maps every rotting detail of their loved one’s corpse and transmits to the screen in their headstone as well as to an app on their phone. He’s also opened a gourmet restaurant in the graveyard where a blind date is understandably put off by his obsession with the recently deceased, most particularly his wife Becca (Diane Kruger), who perished after numerous procedures to battle breast cancer. 

Plagued by dreams of his wife (always nude, her body incrementally more mutilated by medicine), Karsh also toys with living women; Becca’s identical sister Terri (also Kruger) who is aware that her likeness to her sibling creates a frisson, and a mysterious blind client (Sandrine Holt), who’s own partner is succumbing to cancer. Throw in to the mix a vandal attack on the graveyard, Terri’s shambolic ex, Maury (Guy Pearce) and the possibility of a conspiracy that could involve protestors, the Chinese government or Karsh’s AI assistant Honey (also voiced by Kruger) and The Shrouds gets deep into issues of AI, spyware, fidelity and sorrow in Cronenberg’s trademark clinical style.

A deeply personal film for the director (his own wife died in 2017 and Cassel’s look seems borrowed from the auteur), The Shrouds explores the bewilderment and paranoia of grief while staring death in the face via decomposition and with no easy resolution. Is it pure Cronenberg? Yes. Does it have answers? No. And that will be a thrilling/frustrating experience depending on your taste.

david cronenberg, the shrouds, vincent cassel, diane kruger

David Cronenberg’s The Shrouds starring Vincent Cassel and Diane Kruger played at the 77th Cannes Film Festival and will be released in cinemas later this year

Words by JAMES MOTTRAM


Ben Whishaw offers a fiery, unfettered turn in Limovov: The Ballad, a stylish and compelling portrait of a unique figure in recent Russian history. The subject is the real-life dissident poet and politician Edward Limonov, who co-founded in 1993 the ultra-nationalist National Bolshevik Party and lived a life of revolution and rebellion. Adapted from Emmanuel Carrères’ novelised biography that was published in 2011, the film comes co-written and directed by the hugely talented Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov (Leto, Petrov’s Flu).

Here, Serebrennikov co-scripts with Ben Hopkins (Simon Magus) and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War, Ida), two intriguing filmmakers in their own right. The results are as explosive as they are impressive, tracing Limonov’s life from his early literary years to his time in politics around the turn of the Millennium. Arrogant and assured – ‘I’m better than all those mindless people in Moscow,’ trills Eddie, as he prefers to be known – Whishaw carrying off Limonov’s cocksure swagger with real aplomb.

The British actor famed for Q in the Daniel Craig-era James Bond films and voicing Paddington Bear in the recent movie series is tremendous and transformative as the transgressive rebel. He’s cursed with a quick-fire temper, from fits of jealous rage over the love of his life, the willow-like model Elena (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), to disparaging protestors on the streets in New York who he feels are not radical enough. 

Limonov, who died in 2020 before the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, is shown here in various guises (butler, celebrity, prisoner and more), with Serebrennikov going all-out to spirit audiences along through thirty-odd years of history, with a considerable pitstop in 1970s New York. Scored with a love for Lou Reed (‘Walk on the Wild Side’ gets a good airing) and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, it’s an electric way to take on a political biopic. 

One of the most remarkable sequences comes as Serebrennikov spins us across the 1980s, right up to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the fall of the Berlin Wall, in a transitional montage bursting with imagination. Cut to the Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’, Whishaw’s character runs through a series of ‘rooms’ on a street, each representing a moment in time, as images from Margaret Thatcher to The Terminator flash past. 

While some will accuse Limonov: The Ballad of sacrificing substance for style, questioning whether it digs into its subject’s political motivations enough, there can be no doubt that this is expert filmmaking, brimming with vigour. ‘Life is much more interesting than writing,’ says Limonov; Serebrennikov shows this vibrantly.


Kirill Serebrennikov’s Limonov: The Ballad starring Ben Whishaw and Viktoria Miroshnichenko played at the 77th Cannes Film Festival and will release in cinemas later this year

May 22, 2024

parthenope, paolo sorrentino, celeste dalla porte, gary oldman, silvio orlando, daniele rienzo
parthenope, paolo sorrentino, celeste dalla porte, gary oldman, silvio orlando, daniele rienzo

Words by JANE CROWTHER


Parthenope is the occasional moniker of Naples after the same-named siren in Greek mythology threw herself in the sea to drown to stop herself from luring Ulysses, and washed up on the shores of the city – beloved home of Paolo Sorrentino. It’s also the name given to the protagonist of his latest love letter to his hometown, a girl born in Neopolitan waters who grows to be such a beauty that no man is immune to her, including her brother (Chalamet-esqe Daniele Rienzo). Charting her education – romantic, sexual and academic – from bikini-clad teen ingénue in 1968 to her retirement as a beloved colleague and mentor in 2023, Parthenope explores ideas of the burden of beauty, male entitlement, female empowerment and well, just how damn gorgeous Naples and Capri are. Along the way, ‘Parthé’ experiences different types of male attention; lethally enmeshed, lecherous, worshipful, possessive, nurturing, transgressive, as well as various versions of female agency and disenfranchisement. 

parthenope, paolo sorrentino, celeste dalla porte, gary oldman, silvio orlando, daniele rienzo

Sorrentino has always created beautiful tableaux and his lens makes both the azure seas and faded splendour of Naples and Celeste Dalla Porta as Parthenope a visual treat. Fully embracing the power of her attractiveness, the 18-year-old emerges from the sea to smoke a cigarette and bats away suitors with her wit. She is, after all, not just a pretty face. A straight-A student in anthropology, Parthenope meets two formative men during her late teens – alcoholic, melancholic novelist, John Cheever, who cries for the beauty in the world and gently rebuffs her (Gary Oldman, wonderful in a matter of minutes); and her grumpy uni professor (Silvio Orlando) who only ever engages with her brain. But a family tragedy sends her spiralling, making her unsure of how to direct the power she holds…

parthenope, paolo sorrentino, celeste dalla porte, gary oldman, silvio orlando, daniele rienzo


Sorrentino has great fun unpicking the dirty-gorgeous character of Naples (football, religion, a superstar actress based on Sophia Loren) as well as the directionlessness of girlhood. And though some of Parthenope’s decisions seem to play into the very male gaze and misogyny the director initially appears to be examining (a church-set sex scene featuring speedos and religious treasures may test some viewers), Parthenope, with some fourth wall breaking, ultimately asks audiences to question their own relationship to aesthetics and youth. The question she asks a perving older family friend at the start of the film is silently asked again by the end; would Parthenope still be so attractive to men if she were 40 years older? And speaking of aesthetics, be warned, it’s impossible to watch and not want to immediately book a plane to Naples…


Paolo Sorrentino’s Parthenope starring Celeste Dalla Porta, Gary Oldman, Silvio Orlando and Daniele Rienzo is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival and will release in cinemas TBC

Words by JANE CROWTHER


Ali Abbasi’s take on the origins of Donald Trump’s take-no-prisoners MO plays as a scuzzy 70s version of the Shakespearean Hal/Falstaff dynamic that stop short of his political career but includes plenty of cheeky prescience towards the 45th former POTUS’ now famous traits.

We meet Trump (Sebastian Stan) as a debt collector for his disapproving Dad (Martin Donovan) and a wannabe real-estate player with dreams of building the best hotel in a Manhattan riddled with vice and poverty. A New Yorker who wants to see the city bounce back from 70s debt and lawlessness, make cash and get out from under Daddy’s shadow, Trump is a callow water-drinking youth ripe for shaping when he meets infamous lawyer, Roy Cohn (Jeremy Strong) in a private members club. A ruthless, influential and feared man who hangs out with crime kingpins and will do whatever it takes to win a case, Cohn sees potential in Trump – taking him under his wing to teach him three rules for being a ‘killer’ in life. It’s advice viewers will recognise; attack, attack, attack; the truth is fluid, never admit defeat.

As Cohn’s mentorship (in dressing, media manipulation, networking) takes hold Trump’s image begins to crystallise – the navy suits, the helmet hair, the hyperbole – and he sheds his past. His father is eclipsed, his troubled brother jettisoned, his wife Ivana (Maria Bakalova) betrayed… and Trump gets liposuction, his bald patch removed, his face looks more and more like, in Ivana’s words, ‘an orange’.

Though Stan portrays Trump with some signature moves (hand gestures, his stiff neck, the pouting) his performance is nuanced, getting to the heart of the stone-cold ambition and narcissism that took him from knocking on doors for rent money to the oval office. And he throws himself into the more cartoonish moments with relish as Trump meets Andy Warhol, gobbles speed, gets blow-jobs from casino girls and worries about his weight while refusing to exercise. 

But the more interesting aspect of the film is not necessarily the rise of an international figure, it’s the man who shaped him. Strong is repellent and reptilian as Cohn, an unblinking mercenary who oozes malevolence and misanthropy, and ultimately, one of the first people Trump stabs in the back. Though a controversial marital rape scene horrifies, drawing audible gasps from the Cannes audience, it’s Cohn’s treatment at the hands Trump that really strikes a nerve in a movie that dramatises known aspects of his rise to power.


Ali Abbasi’s The Apprentice starring Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Strong, Maria Bakalova and Martin Donovan is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

Words by JANE CROWTHER


After making an impression with her feminist debut Revenge, writer-director Coralie Fargeat delivers on her promise with a provocative, gory film that sews together All About Eve and David Cronenberg body horror with instant-cult results. It also marks an explosive return to cinema for Demi Moore in a no-holds-barred role that reflects her own vocation and is a female roar against #MeToo, ageism, self-hate and dream factory objectification.

Moore plays Elisabeth Sparkle, an actress whose best years are behind her, her star on the pavement cracked, her career reduced to fitness TV shows. A still beautiful and vital woman with experience and skills, Elisabeth is considered old news by her hideous network boss – a braying, sexist egotist in flashy suits who insists ‘all pretty girls should smile’ and ogles every woman in his vicinity with unvarnished lecherousness and possession (Dennis Quaid). He’s called Harvey, of course. 

Feeling threatened by her industry and buying into its standards of beauty, Elisabeth despairs at her reflection in the mirror, prodding a body that is strong, real and lived in with disgust. Brought low by her perceived lack of value, she’s the perfect candidate for a new off-books treatment called The Substance – a complicated system of injections, liquid nutrition and spinal taps that allows the user to regenerate a new self – one younger, fitter, more beautiful than they are. Eager for the promise of youth Elisabeth injects, giving horrific ‘birth’ (to say more would spoil the treats of this bloody scream of a movie) to ‘Sue’ (Margaret Qualley) a gorgeous creature who Elisabeth can live through as she becomes an instant star and sex symbol. There are naturally rules of the treatment and if they are bent all hell will break loose, and when it does… buckle up.

Viciously funny while also being profound, The Substance taps into the fears and rages of women in and out of the public eye. ‘After 50 it all ends’ is a repeated mantra in a film that explores the perceived physical limitations on female usefulness, the complicity of women living in a society that dictates their attractiveness and the dark side of cosmetic surgery and procedures. Every time a shudder-inducing injection is made we’re reminded of botox, fillers, Ozempic, the normalised pursuit of beauty. Fargeat questions what the monstrous outcome of this might be as Elisabeth suffers for her regime, culminating in a finale that is a magnificent horror.

Qualley is wonderful as the rapacious Sue, a wide-eyed ingénue who will literally step on the sisterhood to get ahead, but the film is Moore’s – elegant, vulnerable, bonkers in a role that requires her to strip naked both physically and emotionally. Must-see cinema with bite that will make viewers question how critically they look at others as well as in the mirror.


Coralie Fargeat’s The Substance starring Demi Moore, Margaret Qualley and Dennis Quaid is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. It will be released by MUBI later this year

Words by JANE CROWTHER


From his Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves to 2003’s Open Range, not to mention his recent Paramount series Yellowstone, Kevin Costner has defined the modern-day western like few other actor-directors. Yet even he surpasses himself here, crafting an epic – and we do mean epic – story set in the Old West. With the first part being presented out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Horizon: An American Saga is an enormously ambitious project for Costner, who partly funded it himself, with the intention of ultimately directing four parts (the first two are in the can, the third should begin shooting in August). 

On this evidence, one can only hope Costner gets to deliver his vision in full. Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 is a richly handsome and evocative look at the expansion of the American West. Co-scripted with Jon Baird (the British filmmaker behind Stan and Ollie), Chapter 1 runs at an immersive three hours, allowing the viewer to luxuriate in character development, in phenomenal landscapes of Wyoming and Montana and the occasional jaw-dropping action scene. 

Set during the American Civil War, settlers arrive at a newly-formed town called Horizon, where they are at risk from indigenous tribes who hunt the land and will risk everything to battle against being colonised. One of the film’s most staggering sequences comes early, when Frances (Sienna Miller), a married mother of two, is caught up in a vicious attack that sees her and her daughter hiding out beneath the ground as her house and others are set ablaze. 

An ensemble story, characters come and go, and even Costner himself doesn’t arrive on screen until the hour mark as Hayes Ellison, a lone wolf figure who knows the West like the back of his weather-worn hand. He will ultimately find company with the spiky mother Marigold (Mad Max: Fury Road star Abbey Lee), although you sense that his story is only just beginning. The same goes for First Lt. Trent Gephardt (Avatar star Sam Worthington), one of the leading lights in the United States Army called in to protect the settlers. 

Making nods to John Ford westerns, Costner’s return to directing after a two-decade hiatus is a joy to behold. Charting events with a no-frills approach, it’s as traditional as they come, a real nod to old-school filmmaking. At one point, Hayes shoots down an assailant, the camera lingering on his reflection in a trough of water. It’s a beautiful moment in a film full of them.


Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga starring Kevin Costner, Sienna Miller, Sam Worthington and Abbey Lee) is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date 28 June

May 19, 2024

nicolas cage, the surfer, lorcan finnigan, screening room

Words by JANE CROWTHER


As soon as a grainy 70s title card comes up declaring ‘Nicolas Cage is The Surfer’ you know what kind of movie director Lorcan Finnigan is tapping into – and when Cage begins his voiceover introduction, extolling the power of the ocean, you know he’s come to serve. ‘You can’t stop the energy of a wave,’ he muses in his trademark laconic drawl, ‘you either surf it or you wipe out’. The energy Cage is riding in this lean self-aware slice of fish-out-of-water action that explores emasculation is one that leaves nothing on the field as the star is reduced to a raving mess after a run-in with unwelcoming surfers in Australia. 

The unnamed board rider is an American returning to his childhood home on a beautiful stretch of Oz oceanside real estate in the hope that buying the family manor will be the salve he needs to mend his strained relationship with his teen son and soothe the pain of his wife wanting a divorce. On the evening of closing the deal, he drives in his nice suit, nice car and nice sunglasses to the car park overlooking the beach with his kid, sure that catching a wave will bond them. The local surfers, led by Julian McMahon’s Scally, aren’t keen on sharing the break, their aggression and threats enough to put any ordinary individual right off the area and surely attracting a dreadful Zillow/Zoopla rating.

But rather than take his $100,000 elsewhere, the surfer returns to the beach to confront the bullies, unravelling spectacularly as his possessions are taken from him, his dehydration in the punishing Aussie sun loosens his reason and childhood trauma makes him both vulnerable and by turns, fearsome. A series of misfortunes means he’s stuck in the car park, going full survival mode as he rages against the local machine. By the time he’s screaming ‘eat the rat!’ Cage has gone full D-Fens in Falling Down and is an eye-rolling, tweaky shell of his former persona – as deliciously unhinged as his ‘not the bees!’ moment in The Wicker Man or his exploding testicle in Prisoners Of The Wasteland. Noone melts down quite as theatrically as Cage and Finnigan mines that journey for all its worth to entertaining effect. And we haven’t even got to the drugs taking and psychedelia yet…  

But it’s not just a Rambo-esque one-man-against-the-world narrative, McMahon’s smarmy gang leader is driven by a thoroughly modern impulse, his motivation signposted but nonetheless elevating him from a standard local thug. But really he’s just there to facilitate Cage in saying ‘dude’ in his inimitable manner and stealing all the focus in a movie that was perfect for Cannes’ cultish midnight screening slot. Never mind that you never see the surfer actually surf – take his advice and just go for the ride.


Lorcan Finnigan’s The Surfer starring Nicolas Cage and Julian McMahon is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

Words by JANE CROWTHER


Jacques Audiard (Rust & Bone, A Prophet, Dheepan, The Sister Brothers) has always confounded expectations, his films a wide range of tones, genres and subject matters. His latest – a tempestuous, glorious musical crime dramedy is no different and an absolute triumph. 

Emilia Pérez is a moniker assumed by a Mexico City kingpin after the first reel – introduced via Rita (Zoë Saldaña), a defence lawyer tired of the corruption and lack of real justice in the system she works for. As she finishes up getting yet another violent man out of prosecution, she’s made an offer she can’t refuse. Fearsome drugs cartel overlord Manitas wants her help in disappearing. For this service he’ll make her rich and he intrigues her with a twist on the demand. Manitas has always longed to become his true self, a woman, and he wants to protect the two young children he has with his wife, Jessi (Selena Gomez). When Rita takes the job to help Manitas get reassignment surgery and hide his family, her life transforms from one of a powerless, invisible woman to one of agency and might. And Emilia (Karla Sofía Gascón, who also plays Manitas with prosthetics) will also discover her true calling in her new life… 

And did we mention that amongst the gangland violence and body bags there’s singing and dancing? Operatic in every way, Audiard has plastic surgeons trilling about penises vs vaginas while bandaged client spin on hospital beds, Gomez burn up a disco with a banger about self love, Emilia’s unknowing child singing that her ‘auntie’ smells like Papa and – in a show stopping number – Saldaña dancing on fundraiser tables in a red velvet suit, spitting lyrics at corrupt officials. 

On paper it probably shouldn’t work as a concept, but the musical interludes written by Camille bring real pathos and emotional heft to a complex story with moral grey areas. Manitas is a stone cold killer and gangbanger, yet in the hands of Spanish actress Gascón the beast becomes an empathetic beauty, making Rita – and audiences – care despite prior transgressions. And when you’ve got performers like Gomez and Saldaña committing to musical numbers choreographed by Damien Jalet, Emilia Pérez soars. It’s like watching Moulin Rouge! crossed with Narcos. And though this story might begin with the needs of an alpha male, it’s ultimately about the experiences of women; overlooked at work, beaten at home, yearning for lost children, in love, insane with jealousy, forgiving themselves. The standout though is Saldaña, charting the arc of Rita from poor, disenfranchised minion to magnificent matriarch (in all manner of ways), she is the beating heart of the piece and our emotional way into connecting so fully with the characters.e

In the official competition at Cannes, this is a salty/sweet, ultimately uplifting crowd pleaser (Cannes’ audiences gave it a deserved 6-minute ovation) has a good chance of winning gold on the Riviera before being a contender in the race for awards.


Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Pérez starring Zoë Saldaña, Selena Gomez and Karla Sofía Gascón is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

May 18, 2024

oh canada, richard gere, urma thurman, jacob elordi, paul schrader

Words by JANE CROWTHER


After Quintin Dupieux and Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic essays on their relationships with art, Paul Schrader offers his own at Cannes this week. Dedicated to the late author Russell Banks, Schrader explores mortality, legacy and fraudulence in art as he tracks an irascible dying documentary-maker, Leonard Fife (Richard Gere) giving a deathbed career interview to two of his former students (Michael Imperioli and Victoria Hill). A fated artist who has spent his career being lauded for his anti-Vietnam war stance when he fled to Canada as a young man, and his liberal, game-changing documentaries, Leonard demands his wife, Emma (Uma Thurman) be his witness to his last confession. Riddled with cancer and befuddled by Fentanyl, Leonard recalls the true story of his rise to success – one that may be more self serving than selfless.

Leonard is played in flashback by Jacob Elordi who, though a more rangy version of Gere, manages to embody his recognisable strut and his cadence. A studious young man heading for a teaching job in Vermont in 1968, he’s married, father to a toddler (with another on the way) and offered the opportunity of being a CEO with his father-in-law’s business. Given a week to decide as the shadow of Vietnam looms, Leonard takes off to New England with a banker’s cheque to buy a house and put down roots for his family. His odyssey takes a different turn…

Using multiple narratives (Gere and Elordi alternate as Leonard in flashbacks, Leonard and his grown son narrate), B&W and colour, mixed ratios and Thurman in a duel role – she plays Emma and also the hippy wife of a painter in 1968 who pleasures Leonard in a farmhouse – Schrader’s film is a jigsaw puzzle that requires patient assembly by viewers. Is the jumbled and ultimately meaningless last interview of the great Leonard Fife the last firing synapses of a dying, confused man conflating reality and fiction? Or is the film merely a hollow mess? 

While Gere eschews any charm to play Fife as a self-obsessed deserter (politically and romantically), the film belongs to Elordi. Continuing to show his range and savvy choices, the Euphoria and Priscilla star puts flesh on the bones of seemingly callow youth, giving Leonard the humanity he denies himself in the retelling. In Elordi’s hands, Leonard is, if not necessarily commendable, understandable. Schrader lenses him beautifully and he’s missed whenever he’s not on screen.


Paul Schrader’s Oh, Canada starring Richard Gere, Uma Thurman and Jacob Elordi is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

May 17, 2024

barry keoghan, bird, andrea arnold, cannes, hollywood authentic

Words by JANE CROWTHER


British filmmaker Andrea Arnold is beloved by the Cannes Film Festival. She has won the Jury prize three times for her movies Red Road, Fish Tank and American Honey, the 2016 film that makes her last fiction feature. Now she’s back in Cannes competition with Bird, a quietly moving tale that might best be described as a mix of social realism and fable. The setting is North Kent, in an area where poverty is rife but the human spirit has not been dented.

The focus is 12-year-old Bailey (Nykiya Adams), a rebellious youngster whose parents have long since split. Her young father, Bug (Barry Keoghan) is getting married again to Kayleigh (Frankie Box), and has a hair-brained scheme to pay for the wedding costs by selling hallucinogenic drugs secreted from a toad. Meanwhile, Bailey’s mother Peyton (Top Boy’s Jasmine Jobson) has hooked up with Skate (James Nelson-Joyce), a nasty piece of work, as violent as he is foul-mouthed. 

With folks like these, it’s no surprise Bailey is heading off the rails, and even accompanies her brother Hunter (Jason Buda) when he and his fellow gang members go and slice up a kid who they feel deserves some vigilante justice. At this point, Bird feels like a peek into a working-class subculture, oft seen before. But Arnold takes an unusual turn with the introduction of Bird, played by German actor Franz Rogowski (Passages).

Befriending Bailey, the mysterious Bird becomes a soulmate of sorts, although the less said the better. Rogowski carries this off perfectly, building an intimate friendship with Bailey. Is he real? The film toys with this idea, at points making the film feel like a blend of Kes and Birdman. Throughout all of this, Adams anchors the film with a forceful, star-making turn. Once again, Arnold shows just how good she is working with young performers, as well as capturing a gritty milieu. 

For fans of Barry Keoghan, they’ll more than get their fill – amusingly, there’s a reference to ‘Murder on the Dance Floor’ being “shit”, the Sophie Ellis Bextor song that the actor helped revive in the recent Saltburn. This time we get sincere karaoke-crooning to Blur’s ‘The Universal’, a touching moment in a film that works hard for its emotional payoffs. By the end, Bird will leave a tear in the eye, as Bailey finds solace in the arms of another.


Andrea Arnold’s Bird starring Barry Keoghan, Franz Rogowski and Nykiya Adams is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC