The Arthouse Essential:
Dogtooth — Mubi.com
Yorgos Lanthimos’s second feature, from 2009, put the Greek director’s macabre mix of psychological horror, surreal set-ups and icily observed humour firmly on the map. As social isolation and various degrees of hermit-style living persist in the age of Covid-19, it also has an unforeseen relevance.
It’s the story of three siblings, forcibly isolated from the world by their parents — a caricature of helicopter parenting — and fed bizarre misinformation for no discernible reason. Their father is the only member of the household who ventures outside to work — sometimes returning in the company of a sex worker who is hired to take care of his son’s sexual needs; sometimes bearing groceries from which the labels have been carefully removed. The children, ever curious and perplexed, find their own ways of entertainment while questioning the facts they’re given by their parents and hatching a plot to escape.
The point Lanthimos makes, in his uniquely weird way, is that perhaps it’s not the children who need to be sheltered from the terrors of the outside world, but rather their parents who must realise that the world they’ve created is far more insanity inducing than anything lurking beyond the walls of their compound.
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The Stone Cold Classic:
Under the Volcano — YouTube
One of Hollywood legend John Huston’s last films, this day in the life of a drunken diplomat story does an excellent service to its depressing source material — the novel by Malcolm Lowry, who’s drunken, depressive and tragic life provided the bones of the tale.
Albert Finney gives one of his finest performances as the self-flagellating disgraced former British vice-consul in Mexico who has decided that there is nothing to be done but drink, and drink, and drink some more. Finney’s own experience as a Hollywood carouser allows Huston to forgo any camera trickery or effects to convey his drunkenness. The film takes place over the course of one heavy-drinking episode, during which Finney’s diplomat goes missing. His wife, played by the equally superb Jacqueline Bisset, is forced to enlist the help of his brother-in-law to search for him. It may just be the fog-headed, gloomy and unbearable drunk’s last day of drinking, but Huston and the cast make it one to remember.
As a cautionary tale about the evils of the bottle and its use as a weapon of self-destruction, Under the Volcano stands as one of the best, thanks to a well-matched confluence of material, director and star — and one that all too many can relate to.
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The Diamond in the Rough:
Punk in London — YouTube
John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten has been in the news more than usual recently. That’s because of his bitter fight with former Sex Pistols bandmates over the licensing of the seminal bad boys’ songs for Danny Boyle’s much-anticipated series about their role as the kick-starters of punk in the 1970s.
Wolfgang Büld’s documentary of that era brings home the visceral, angry, anarchic disaffection of the rest of the London punks in their youthful, don’t-give-a-shit days. It features performances by and interviews with X-Ray Spex, The Clash, Chelsea and other key players in the early days of punk.
It's slapdash and offhand style is a fitting tribute to the spontaneous creative energy that those disillusioned upstarts were able to generate in response to their times and their disdain for the consequences; all that mattered was often dangerously self-destructive commitment to the moment.
Who would have thought that one of punk’s most iconic figures would end up in the news almost 50 years later, fighting over money and supporting the right-wing politics of Brexit?
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