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  • Hard to Be a God

    Hard to Be a God

    ★★★★

    If a film has a plot, but it never articulates it with any clarity, does it have a plot at all? Well, yes and no. On first viewing Russian filmmaker Aleksei German's bewildering dark ages sci-fi epic, Hard to Be a God, I was swept up in the visceral experience of the thing. The smell and taste of unfettered squalor. The meticulous hyperrealism. The ambiguous visual poetry of filth and desolation. But below this putrid skin there lurks a neat…

  • The Tales of Hoffmann

    The Tales of Hoffmann

    ★★★★

    A sumptuous treat for the senses would be putting it mildly. Powell and Pressburger’s 1951 The Tales of Hoffman is a film that exists beyond the borders of convention, halfway between a velvet-draped 17th Century playhouse and the grandiose stages of MGM musicals. It is a film to be enveloped by, rather than watched.

    Featuring the finest crop of singers and dancers available, The Archers do not simply shoot Jacques Offenbach’s opera for the screen, but layer it in surrealism…

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  • Madame Bovary

    Madame Bovary

    ★★★★

    Heavy frocks and tightly bound corsets typify Sophie Barthes’s retelling of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary; an unromantic film of stuffy inertia that wears the clothes of Sunday teatime period drama, but locks its conflicted, opaque emotions somewhere far deeper. The skies are perpetually overcast and there is a spider in the bouquet of flowers.

    Pitched as the first of the novel’s many adaptations to be helmed by a woman, Barthes may not exactly seek compassion for the doomed Mrs.…

  • 20,000 Days on Earth

    20,000 Days on Earth

    ★★★★★

    The 20,000 days on earth in question are the lifetime of the celebrated, multi-talented musician Nick Cave. As Cave approaches his 20,000th 24 hours, debut filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard direct him in a transcendent study not only of the man himself, but the life and transformative nature of every performer. This isn’t a documentary celebration of a career, it’s a lyrical dream that seeps under the skin amid spellbinding aural magic.

    Rich in the textual depth of language…