The booming sounds of war fill the cinematic landscape this July with Matthew Heineman’s Syria documentary City of Ghosts and Christopher Nolan’s WWII action-drama Dunkirk. Meanwhile, François Ozon’s Frantz casts war as a spectral presence on soldiers and civilians alike, and if the booming emotional angst replaces those traditional sounds, Sofia Coppola chimes in with her American Civil War set moral play of sexual tension and rivalry, The Beguiled.
July also witnesses the emerging filmmaking talents of Thomas Kruithof, with his lean conspiracy thriller Scribe, and Australian filmmaker Ben Young’s nerve shredding thriller Hounds of Love. Also worth noting is the accomplished sophomore feature from Brazilian film critic turned director, Kleber Mendonça Filho, and the return of documentarian filmmaker Steve James, alongside a study of auteur David Lynch and a first from EUREKA on their Masters of Cinema label.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams and Life Itself) chronicles the five-year legal battle of the Sung family, owners of Abacus Federal Savings, Chinatown, New York. Documenting the story of the only US bank to face charges in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, as the Chinese immigrant family defend the integrity of their bank, James’ film strikes a poignant chord. The subtitle of the film taps into the inequality that seemingly blights every quarter of contemporary society, the self-preservation of the establishment versus the victimisation, even by the legal system, of those individuals and businesses that fall in its shadow.
From acclaimed French auteur François Ozon comes his moving anti-war film Frantz. The stunning black and white photography compliments the difficulty of love and loss, memory and forgiveness that permeates the film. Anna (Paula Beer) mourns every day at the grave of her fiance? Frantz, killed in battle during World War I. One day she spies a mysterious young Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney) laying flowers at the grave, and together they bond over their shared grief, although his mysterious relationship with Frantz threatens their bond.
David Lynch: The Art of Life
The exploration of the formative years of one of cinemas most revered auteurs is narrated by its subject, including his idyllic upbringing in small town America to the dark streets of Philadelphia. Offering an unprecedented insight into the mind that has created starkly contrasting labyrinths of ambiguity (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive) and literate narratives (The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, The Straight Story), The Art of Life is a look beyond Lynch the filmmaker, illuminating this multi-dimensional artist.
In 1864 wounded Union Cpl. John McBurney (Colin Farrell) seeks refuge at an all-female seminary in Virginia. As the women laden him with care, sexual tension mounts and rivalries form as the women compete for his affection. Coppola’s atmospheric thriller is a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood, which already a lesser known work, risks being further overshadowed by Coppola’s rendition that also stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning.
Kleber Mendonça Filho’s sophomore feature is the story of 65-year-old widow and retired music critic Clara (Sonia Braga), the last resident of the Aquarius apartment block. Her refusal to leave creates a conflict with the construction company that has already acquired all of the neighbouring apartments. Filho crafts a film that emphasises through the setting humans as antagonistic authors of drama, while also touching upon the individual versus the social collective, that doesn’t shy away from the questions of the selfishness of the films protagonist.
City of Ghosts
Exploring the changing dynamics of warfare, Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) tells the real-life story of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” (RBSS), a group of journalists and activists that have documented the suffering inflicted on their home town of Raqqa, Syria by Islamic State. Here is a film that offers an important reflection on the role of the media in modern warfare, capturing the sacrifice of RBSS to document the horrors of and resistance to fundamentalism.
Coinciding with the present war in Syria is Christopher Nolan’s look back to the past, with his World War II action-drama Dunkirk. Popularly referred to as the “Miracle of Deliverance”, the British Expeditionary Force found itself stranded on the coast of northern Europe, a moment that brought Britain to the brink of surrender. With Nolan’s attention to detail and aspirational approach to storytelling, previously crafting big budget films with ideas and star power, Dunkirk is a film burdened with expectation, of which way the pendulum will swing – popcorn fare or thoughtful war epic?
Thomas Kruithof’s directorial debut thriller summons up an atmosphere of paranoia to tell a story of the middle-aged and unemployed Duval (François Cluzet), who takes a job from a mysterious employer. Tasked with transcribing tapped phone conversations, he finds himself caught in a dangerous game of cat and mouse between his employers and the French Secret Service. This lean and entertaining story of paranoia intertwines fact and fiction by echoing the Lebanon hostage crisis in 1983-1984, and the political gamesmanship that postponed the release of the three French hostages.
Westfront and Kameradschaft
Presented by EUREKA in a special Dual Format edition as part of their Masters of Cinema label for the first time on Blu-Ray, are Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s two seminal anti-war films. Significant for representing the filmmakers masterful transition from silent to sound cinema, Westfront is centered on four infantrymen suffering the hardship of trench warfare, whilst Kameradschaft is a story of co-operation, as German miners risk their lives to rescue French miners following an explosion.
Hounds of Love
From Down Under comes Ben Young’s unnerving psychological thriller that merges the biting viscousness of contemporary cinema with the elongated dramatic aesthetic of classic cinema. Young’s debut feature creates a pervasive claustrophobic atmosphere when schoolgirl Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is lured to, and then imprisoned in the home of serial killer couple John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn (Emma Booth).
1. Trailer for City of Ghosts. Courtesy of YouTube.