Our monthly tips have a Covid-style reboot as inhouse film buff Madeline shares her top film recommendations for each culture subsection.
Music: Inside Llewyn Davis (BFI Player)
The best of the Coens' unparalleled filmography, Inside Llewyn Davis is a fictionalised adaptation of The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the autobiography of influential folk musician Dave Van Ronk. Van Ronk's songs run through the film, performed with incredible depth by Oscar Isaac - there's no impression here, no mimicry; Isaac's voice is as clear and bright as Van Ronk's is rough and hesitant. Isaac plays Llewyn, a couchsurfing folk singer who is carrying his grief over the suicide of his songwriting partner so heavy on his shoulders it seems he might fall down dead himself at any moment. Inside Llewyn Davis offers a cross-section of the folk scene in early 60s New York, serving as a reminder that folk music didn't begin with Blowin' in the Wind and end at Newport Festival in 1965 - after all, "if it was never new, and it never gets old, then it's a folk song.”
Video games: eXistenZ (available to rent)
Each of David Cronenberg's films is, in essence, about the sexuality of inanimate objects - cars in Crash, televisions in Videodrome, and video games in eXistenZ. He merges the physical and the psychological, visualising trauma and obsession through visceral body horror. In eXistenZ, Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh enter a virtual world so intricate it becomes impossible to distinguish between the game and reality. The layers of real and unreal spaces call to mind the dream landscapes of Inception, but there's no Nolan-esque flash here - eXistenZ is deeply tactile, all dirt and viscera, touch and texture.
Travel: Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Spike Lee's latest follows four Black veterans as they return to Vietnam for the first time since the war, exploring the traumatic cognitive dissonance intrinsic to furthering the cause of American imperialism abroad while their brothers and sisters were just beginning to escape its clutches at home. Delroy Lindo is phenomenal as Paul, at once deeply empathetic and completely alienating, a disenfranchised former radical turned Trump supporter, a broken man whose trauma is still a bleeding wound. While the others seek treasure, Paul seeks the ghost of their leader, Stormin' Norman, buried deep in the Vietnamese jungle. Norman is more figure than man, a shining symbol of Black masculinity lost to a senseless war; Chadwick Boseman's already haunting, saintlike performance is rendered all the more striking in the wake of his death.
Theatre: All That Jazz (available to rent)
All That Jazz is a biopic by Bob Fosse about Bob Fosse, and is perhaps the most clear-eyed and honest self-portrait ever drawn. The master choreographer and director presents the audience with an immaculate musical production of his own death, all sweat and speed and sex and sorrow, staring straight into the pit of horror central to show business. This is not quite an apology, since Fosse clearly has no capability or intention of recovering from his addictions, but rather a declaration to those who love him that he feels guilty, that he sees what he's doing and he wishes he could change, that he understands. A testament to the ecstatic truth that can only be found in the movement of bodies to music, and to the ecstatic truth that can only be found through telling your own story.
Books: Paterson (Mubi)
Paterson is an ode to creativity, to the freedom of thought found in the execution of repetitive tasks. Adam Driver plays Paterson, a calm, gentle man who goes to work every day driving a bus, and who also writes poetry, constantly and consistently. This is a love letter to all the hidden artists in the world, to the rich inner lives every person carries around. Everything that happens in this film is both monumental and completely inconsequential - space is given to the smallest gestures, patterns are found all over, attention is rewarded as it is in our lives.
Food and drink: Big Night (available to rent)
Stanley Tucci's Big Night, set in a struggling Italian restaurant in the fifties, is a film about the exquisite art of putting together a meal - la zuppa, i primi, i secondi, i dolci, e così via - and the simple act of sharing that meal with both strangers and friends. The truly transcendent scene in this film is not the unveiling of the glorious timpano (although that is wonderful); but rather the final, unbroken, minutes-long shot of Stanley Tucci making eggs. The whole film lives in that quiet process, that simple gesture of feeding someone you love.
Film: The Watermelon Woman (Mubi, BFI Player)
Notable as the first feature film to be directed by an out Black lesbian, The Watermelon Woman is a micro-budget masterpiece, blending documentary and fiction to reach something truer than either could produce alone. We follow Cheryl, played by writer/director Cheryl Dunye, as she works on a film about the relegation of Black actresses to "mammy" roles in Hollywood. Dunye explores the need for queer people - especially Black queer people - to curate their own histories, to keep their own archives, and to tell their own stories in a world that has discarded them for so long. This is a rallying call for intersectionality - that there are, shockingly, Black people who are also queer, who exist in a sometimes liminal space between the communities to which they belong. Dunye manages to fit all of this, along with a complex and lovely romantic plotline, into an 85-minute long comedy. It's masterful.
Art: Maudie (available to rent)
Maud Lewis lived a small, quiet life in Nova Scotia, housekeeper to a fish peddler who would eventually become her husband. She was also an artist, producing stunning paintings inspired by the nature that surrounded her. Sometimes described as childlike, her pieces are sublime in their simplicity - strong shapes in bright colours, often pairs of animals or people amongst trees and fields. Sally Hawkins plays her with such feeling, and Ethan Hawke is magnetic as her husband, Everett - the chemistry between these actors elevates Maudie beyond biopic into a moving portrait of a realistic enduring marriage.
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