‘Inxeba’ – Distilled

Bergman-esque in its intensity, the South African film Inxeba – The Wound – has rightly won praise and awards around the world, along with the usual quota, for a film that speaks openly, and painfully, about homosexuality, masculinity, homophobia and ‘traditional culture’ in an African community, of threats and vitriol. In Cape Town, supposedly a bastion of the arts and enlightenment, the film was withdrawn by distributors Ster Kinekor, in an act of cowardice and betrayal.

All of which is to say, there is a moral imperative to see it, and a duty to support the actors and director. But over and above all this – the politics and cultural warfare – it is the film as a work of art, as a flawless exercise in controlled and yet passionate direction, acting by Nakane Toure, Bongile Mantsai and Niza Jay that is utterly invisible, and a story that transcends both its South African setting and its ‘gay’ narrative, that demands attention.

Inxeba represents the coming to maturity of South African cinema.

Director: John Trengrove

Verdict: Like the initiation into manhood which carries the narrative, Inxeba is painful to watch but a necessary rite of passage.

Five tipples. A half-jack of brandy is probably the most appropriate, with a quart of Castle to follow.

‘Detroit’ – Distilled

‘Detroit,’ it could be argued, is the story of race and racism in America, bursting onto our screens at a painful moment in America’s painful history. Think Charlottesville, think of Trump’s pardoning of Sheriff Arpaio, think of – how many? – black motorists in towns across the US pulled over and shot for some (sometimes imagined) traffic offence.

But this movie, of course, is set fifty years ago, in 1967, during the Detroit riots: that tells you something right there, doesn’t it? Focusing close-up, in almost unbearable detail, on the murder by police of three young black men at the Algiers Motel, it almost defies words.

So I won’t give you any. All I’ll say is, go see it.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Verdict: You can’t bear to watch it. You can’t help watching it.

Your tipple of choice? No booze. This movie leaves you stone cold sober.

‘Dunkirk’ – Distilled

A technical tour de force but an artistic failure, ‘Dunkirk’ contrives to combine cheesy dialogue and cardboard characterisation with the terror and immediacy of war and violence. You are in the cockpit of a stricken Spitfire as it swerves towards the grey greasy  Channel and ditches; trapped in the cockpit, you struggle for breath as its sinking pilot bangs frantically on the glass above him, fighting to get out as the water rises. Or you are in the bowels of a bombed or torpedoed ship, as exhausted soldiers fight their way towards the exits. The story follows three narratives, telling this most dramatic of tales from land, sea and air – a narrative device that works effectively, switching constantly from one perspective to the other, showing how all three elements interleave in this critical moment. But the ‘moment’ itself is presented in virtual isolation and in one dimension: the collapse of France, Nazi Germany triumphant, England alone and on her knees, are barely suggested. From the point of view of the combatants and survivors, one accepts, it is the immediacy of the present, and present survival that matters, but the wider consequence is a film that has neither a deeper sense of tragedy and salvation, nor a real humanity. Ultimately, alas, ‘Dunkirk’ is simply war as spectacle.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Verdict: Seeing is not always believing. But see it anyway.

Your tipple of choice? Rum, of course – for the Navy

‘Loving’ – Distilled

Richard marries Mildred, and that – in another place and era – would be an end of it. But not in Virginia, in the fifties, not when Richard Loving is white and his beloved is African American.

Miscegenation – in the pejorative language of the time (a language I remember all too well as a South African more or less of that epoch) – is verboten, and the Lovings are drummed out of town and out of Virginia. Until, that is, their case is taken by civil rights lawyers, all the way to the Supreme Court, and the miscegenation laws are struck down.

Moving at a slow country lick, this is not, as you might think – at least not overtly – a political movie, nor is it a court-house drama. It’s ‘just’ the story of the Lovings – two very ordinary, simple people, who love each other. It’s not politics, man, it’s humanity – a corrective, perhaps, to a time when the personal was always political. Remember that?

Though in the time of Trump, that is one wheel that may be about to come full circle.

Director: Jeff Nichols

Verdict: See it, but not when you’re in a hurry.

Whisky sour – what else? Budweiser?

Sully: Distilled

How do you make a movie worth watching about an event that everyone has seen already, in countless TV and internet images and stories? The story is ‘the miracle on the Hudson,’ the extraordinary landing by Captain Chesley Sullenberger of an Airbus A320 on New York’s Hudson River, after a bird strike crippled his aircraft shortly after takeoff from La Guardia airport.

Well, you make a familiar story worth watching through sympathetic screen writing, deft and restrained direction by Clint Eastwood, respect for the people and the situation, not to mention a superb, utterly convincing performance by Tom Hanks as Sulley.

This could so easily have been bad, but it was terrific, especially in Imax. Brace for impact!

Director: Clint Eastwood

With: Tom Hanks as the captain

Verdict: Ode to courage. Homage to professionalism. You’ll need a stiff whisky for this one!

‘Last Cab to Darwin’ – Distilled

The journey as meme or trope, the road trip as its modern, especially American manifestation – these are familiar from Homer onwards. In ‘Last Cab to Darwin,’ an Aussie film set in Broken Hill, Darwin and the great outback, a cab driver (Rex)  traverses the landscape, human, physical, and metaphorical, picking up travellers, adventures and misadventures along the way, as he drives towards his final destiny – only to find that where he really needs to go is not the place he’s been heading towards.

To call the film ‘heart warming’ is to miss both its grittiness and the occasional dollop of saccharine, but that’s what you’re left with: a movie that stays with you, long after its ending. Marvellous performances from Michael Caton as Rex, and Ningali Lawford as his aboriginal partner; also Mark Coles Smith as the delightful rogue, Tilly.

Director: Jeremy Sims

Verdict: They don’t often make ’em like this. Go see it.

A cold bloody lager

‘The Innocents’ – Distilled

A cloister is no sanctuary: at the end of World War Two,  novices and nuns in a convent in Poland are raped and abused by their Russian ‘liberators.’ The pregnancies that result – the children who are brought into the world – as a consequence of this violation raise moral and existential questions, including questions of faith, despair, and religious doctrine, which each of the sisters must answer for themselves. However, all’s well in the end.

Beautiful performances.

Director: Anne Fontaine

Verdict: Powerful, moving (though about as much fun as a root canal) – but not quite Bergman. Bergman lite? Vodka, Polish or Russian

’45 Years’ – distilled

Time strips us bare. In ’45 Years,’ the truths and assumptions that underpin a relationship are called into question when the ground – quite literally – crumbles beneath the feet of a long-married couple.

The past is always with us, Faulkner told us – it isn’t even past.

Director: Andrew Haigh. Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay.

Verdict: Flawless; mesmerising. A good Bordeaux – several glasses.

‘Brooklyn’ distilled

It’s the ‘fifties again, folks – like ‘Carol’ which I’ve just reviewed, a nostalgic look in the rearview mirror. Irish girl leaves poverty and the Old Country to find a new life and love in America – after a suitable quantum of struggle, of course. Beautifully shot – but whereas the visuals in ‘Carol’ are psychological as well as broodingly romantic, here the visuals are just props for a sentimental journey.

Director: John Crowley. Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen

Verdict: Consumer-friendly, enjoyable. Tea and biscuits.