• Flowers of Shanghai

    Flowers of Shanghai

    ★★★★

    Flowers of Shanghai is a visually extraordinary Taiwanese film from Hou Hsiao-hsien that features detailed costumes and sets of the late nineteenth century. It looks at the lives of several women attending as courtesans in four Shanghai brothels (flower houses), and the narrative is split up into passages named after the women, each one sketching, by implication and cryptically, their personality and fate. 

    The world outside of the flower houses is seldom glimpsed, and then only by the glow of…

  • Arabian Nights

    Arabian Nights

    ★★★½

    Directed by Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini, Arabian Nights is a vague adaptation of tales from the collection of Middle Eastern folk stories compiled as One Thousand and One Nights. Like the source material, the film is salacious, fractious and broadly steeped in the physicalities of life.

    It's primarily constituted of modest but agreeable stories with the central narrative following Nur-e-Din (Franco Merli), a man who becomes enamoured with an elegant slave girl named Zumurrud (Ines Pellegrini), who selects him to…

  • La Chienne

    La Chienne

    ★★★★

    Commencing with a quick prologue in which three puppets discuss the tale about to unfold, La Chienne illustrates a world that's grounded in reality yet presented poetically and strengthened by an intricate use of sound.

    Adapted and directed by Jean Renoir from a book by Georges de la Fouchardiere and starring Michel Simon, who provides an extraordinary physicality to the oppressed central character Maurice Legrand. Legrand embodies a tragic figure. An unhappily married cashier and novice painter who comes to be so…

  • Distant

    Distant

    ★★★★

    Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Distant (aka Uzak) keeps the conversations to a minimum as his camera examines with quiet neutrality, and without the presence of a musical score, the mounting pressures on professional photographer Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir). His ex-wife Nazan (Zugal Gencer Erkaya) is about to emigrate with her new husband, and his mother (Fatma Ceylan) has taken sick.

    His circumstances become compounded further when his cousin Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Toprak), an ex-factory employee, moves in with him in a snow-covered Istanbul.…

  • They Were Expendable

    They Were Expendable

    ★★★

    Unlike most war films coming out of Hollywood immediately after WWII, They Were Expendable is a solemn and sobering look at the conflict mainly through the eyes of two patrol torpedo boat captains, John Brickley (Robert Montgomery) and Rusty Ryan (John Wayne).

    The story follows the early days of the Battle of the Philippines, from the attack on Pearl Harbor through to President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordering General Douglas MacArthur to relocate to Australia and abandon maintaining a foothold in the region.…

  • Million Dollar Baby

    Million Dollar Baby

    ★★★★

    Based on short stories by boxing trainer Jerry Boyd (under the pen name F.X. Tools) with the screenplay written by Paul Haggis (Casino Royale), Million Dollar Baby slowly immerses through its carefully executed scenes rather than scrambling headfirst through its narrative. 

    Directed and scored by Eastwood, It observes Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), an ageing Irish-American boxing trainer, and Margaret "Maggie" Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a trailer-trash wannabe who's determined to learn the ropes. Despite being ripe with boxing movie clichés, the movie…

  • Nothing But Time

    Nothing But Time

    ★★★½

    The momentary joys of alcohol and other activities, including swimming, procure solace from the grim routines of work in the experimental silent Nothing But Time, which exhibits the life of Paris through one day in 46 minutes. Directed by Brazilian filmmaker Alberto Cavalcanti, it's a compilation of broadly melodramatic pieces that act as a socially conscious document of the lives of the poor dwelling in the Parisian environment. There's an emphasis on the perception of the passage of time. This…

  • Coal Face

    Coal Face

    ★★½

    Coal Face is, on the surface, a straightforward document of the importance of the everyday labours of miners. However, the sound, composed by Benjamin Britten, heightens the film through its intricate design and Cavalcanti, who became recruited from the French avant-garde movement by the GPO Film Unit (a subdivision of the Post Office), brings both finesse and style to create a powerful documentary. It furthermore illustrates the communication and industrial activities that director Alberto Cavalcanti spawns into some poetic images…

  • Tango

    Tango

    ★★★★

    Written and directed by Zbigniew Rybczyński, Tango was the first Polish film to receive an Oscar when it won Best Animated Short Film at the 55th Academy Awards. The short 1981 film observes a ball entering a parlour where a bed, a table and a cupboard are located. Next, a boy crawls in through the same window as the ball entered. As he moves closer to retrieve the ball, he sets in motion numerous other people gradually joining the room…

  • Believe in Ghosts

    Believe in Ghosts

    ★★★

    Believe in Ghosts draws attention to the shameful statistic that only 1.3% of the current 3.4 million American farmers (according to the US Department of Agriculture's latest figures) are black. Directed by Courtney Dixon, the short documentary connects Samantha Winship, a black farmer in the South, with the systemic racism in the agriculture industry. Samantha started Mother's Finest Farm through a yearning to consume healthier products and struggles to hold on to her farm and eke out a living, battling decades…

  • Frank's Joke

    Frank's Joke

    ★★★

    Commissioned as part of Animation 2018 by the BBC and BFI, Frank's Joke blends demonstrative hand-drawn animation and live-action puppetry. It communicates not just the physical world for this shorts main protagonist but also his cognitive space after nobody laughs at a joke he awkwardly tells in his new workplace. He becomes increasingly tormented as he ruminates over his misjudgement, becoming unable to sleep and as the minute's tick by, his self-inflicted torment seems like a lifetime as he becomes…

  • In Vanda's Room

    In Vanda's Room

    ★★★★½

    With only the slightest sense of progression but with a discernable rhythm, Portuguese director Pedro Costa's In Vanda's Room tackles some of the people on the fringes of society, as buildings are continually being demolished all around them.

    Set in the slum neighbourhood of Fontainhas, on the outskirts of Lisbon, Costa illustrates an unflinching look that observes, without a minor hint of judgment, the everyday rituals of heroin-addict Vanda Duarte, along with her handful of self-destructive neighbours with disarming rationality. Somewhat ironically,…