Watch and talk
You can use films of all kinds to provoke group discussion, whether in the cinema, on DVD or through streaming services. Jeremy Clarke recommends new releases to get people talking
In the London Film Festival
A jobbing actor (Jamie Bell) gets romantically involved with the faded 1950s film star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) in London, and later becomes her carer in his home town of Liverpool when she’s dying of cancer in Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (cert 15, 105 mins). Based on a true story, this compelling drama deals with issues of celebrity, family and care, and Bell explores the role of lover-turned-carer really well.
I Am Not a Witch (cert 12a, 93 mins) concerns a young girl in rural Zambia whom locals believe to be a witch. She’s sent to a witch camp to join many similarly stigmatised women, tied to the place by lengthy ribbons. The whole thing has a beautiful feel for the slow pace of rural Zambian life infused with a sense of injustice at the worldview that causes the girl’s plight. It will certainly make you think about the effect for good or ill of our beliefs on our own and other people’s lives. A surprisingly gentle if highly provocative film.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer (cert 15, 125 mins) builds around the refusal of a US cardiologist (Colin Farrell) to acknowledge an error that killed one of his patients in an operation. He now has to deal with the man’s son (Barry Keoghan) who threatens to curse his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two kids with a condition that will cripple and kill them one by one unless the cardiologist can himself kill one of his family members beforehand. A loose adaptation of the Greek myth of Iphigenia in which a king offends the Gods and must sacrifice his daughter to appease them, it’s a fascinating study of wealth, responsibility and revenge.
Also in cinemas
Brimstone (cert 18, 148 mins) is a great revisionist western-cum-thriller about a the cat and mouse struggles between a mute woman (Dakota Fanning) and an unstable clergyman (Guy Pearce). The seriously deficient, patriarchal picture of Christianity it presents is fertile ground for discussion. Pearce’s Reverend is a nasty bit of work who ‘chastises’ his wife with a bullwhip and puts her in a metal mask to silence her, justifying his actions with Scripture. Fanning’s hero is a feminist who is trafficked into prostitution. Not for everyone, but definitely ripe for some meaty discussion around the abuse of religion.
The much quieter, Yiddish language drama Menashe (cert U, 82 mins) offers a different view of religion. It is set in an Orthodox Jewish community in New York, from where most of the actors are drawn. The main character is a widower who must remarry to prove to the community that he can raise his son. Unfortunately he’s a bit of a hopeless case. This very gentle film draws you into the specific religious subculture it portrays, raising questions about the relationship between religion and community. A little movie worth seeking out. Not a children’s film though, despite the certificate.
Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Shusako Endo’s novel Silence (DVD, cert 15, 161 mins) took the director about 25 years to make. Two 17th-century Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) travel to Japan in search of an apostatised priest (Liam Neeson). They are caught by the authorities and made to watch Japanese Christians endure horrific tortures in the hope that the priests will renounce their own faith to save the indigenous believers. The film tackles issues of one culture (Christian Europe) taking the Gospel to a very different one (Japan) and asks searching questions about suffering and the existence of God. Before becoming a director, Scorsese trained as a priest and demonstrates considerable understanding of difficult spiritual issues here.
The British partition of India in 1947 handed back part of the British empire to its indigenous population but split the country in two, between Hindus and Sikhs in India and Muslims in Pakistan. A huge refugee crisis ensued. For the British director of Viceroy’s House (cert 12, 104 mins) Gurinder Chadha, the tale has particular resonance as her grandparents were caught up in these events. The Governor and his wife, Lord and Lady Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson) muddle through as the British prepare to pull out and a romance blossoms between two Indian members of their household staff on opposite sides of the divide.
Using not only live action but also every form of animation you can imagine, the 1961 Czech fantasy The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (cert U, 85 mins) puts the infamous teller of tall tales in the company of a rational astronaut he meets on the moon for a series of improbable adventures. It’s a charming and delightful piece of escapism and a visual marvel from start to finish. Director Karel Zeman has probably come closer than anyone to filming the equivalent of a moving woodcut and the whole thing is highly inventive throughout, challenging the very idea of what a film might look and feel like. Children and adults alike will be entranced. For good measure, the disc includes a documentary in which students try to recreate some of the film’s spectacular special effects.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic
This article was published in the November 2017 edition of Reform