Between Iranian horror hits, explorations of the most important phenomenon of our era and young adult genre chaff that takes advantage of the same – to say nothing of award-winning German comedy-dramas – the last couple of months have been pretty great for film.
Modern technology has given us ample new avenues to satisfy our audiovisual cravings, and not all of them are actually illegal. Eden Cinemas has been revving up the diversification of its programme, ensuring that we have some alternative and internationally-flavoured gems. These feature among the increasingly homogenised blockbuster market, inundated with prose or comic book adaptations, reboots, remakes and sequels.
The newly international streaming platform Netflix has been great when it comes to the former. Over the past couple of months, it has actually yielded some pretty diverse content. Among these is a documentary by arguably one of the most important filmmakers of our time – Werner Herzog.
Herzog’s film Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is an incendiary and provocative history of the Internet. But this isn’t your usual potted historical timeline. Neither is it just a neat succession of talking heads calmly explaining things away to a passive audience. As is typical for Herzog, ‘Lo and Behold’ is also a meditation on man and nature, with the supposedly invisible mechanisms of the internet being revealed to have real life, physical consequences. There are dark moments of genuine heartbreak, as when Herzog visits two separate retreats. One deals with internet addiction, the other provides a safe haven for those with medical complications resulting from radiation – victims, in a sense, of our newfound and fathomless desire for interconnection.
And speaking of darkness, thanks to Netflix, Maltese viewers were also privy to a gem they may not have otherwise had access to. By this I refer to the Iranian-British production Under the Shadow: a horror movie set right after the Iranian revolution. This is equally thick in atmosphere and political allegory, narrating the plight of a mother left alone to take care of a rattled young child while bombs erratically assault the neighbourhood on top of a supernatural curse. Director Babak Anvari creates a tense atmosphere while never skimping on the political realities that envelop the film, and the two leads – Narges Rashidi and the young Avin Manshadi, who plays her daughter – make for a convincing family in peril pressured to be their best selves when confronted with forces beyond their control. Set largely within the confines of the apartment and shot with a disciplined colour palette, Anvari’s film is a full-bodied experience that never drops the ball on any of its – many and varied – fronts. As an allegory for arbitrary power dynamics and wartime turmoil it is a pin-sharp and perfectly paced slice of tasteful supernatural horror.
Back at the brick-and-mortar film-going palace, Eden Cinemas have managed to bring over Toni Erdmann. This is a German comedy about a father-daughter relationship straining to repair itself. It has ranked in a generous array of awards after first having premiered at last year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival. Happily, this critic can report that this wasn’t just empty hype. Director Maren Ade’s deceptively loose style leaves plenty of room for the excellent performances by Peter Simonischek (Winifred/Toni Erdmann) and Sandra Hüller (Ines) to shine through. The film builds at a humane pace that ensures its emotional peaks feel entirely earned, and not forced into place by a script aiming for formulaic pressure points. Unsurprisingly given the film’s runaway critical success, talk of an American remake, starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig, has already begun.
But if it’s something formulaic you’re after to just settle into after a tough day at work, Netflix will have you sorted on that count too. With the British ‘Netflix Original’ iBoy, the streaming network delves into the rich and often lucrative pot of Young Adult literature to pluck out a predictable but eminently watchable little cyberpunk drama, which sees a young boy from a rough London neighbourhood, Tom (Bill Milner), develop the ability to plug into the city’s entire digital network after an unsavoury encounter with some thugs.
Rounded off with a likeable performance from Maisie Williams (that is, Arya from Game of Thrones), iBoy is aimed squarely at a teenage audience – it’s adapted from a novel by Kevin Brooks that appeals to the same age bracket – though its simple-but-effective structure makes for satisfying genre entertainment no matter what age group you fall into.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Teodor Relijc