5 Films To Kick Off 2023
The year is off to a great start in the cinemas, with some impressive British and European movies leading the charge. From folk horrors to social dramas, we highlight five films to brighten up your winter.
Spanish director Carla Simón (b. 1986) has already enjoyed huge success with this fictional drama, taking the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. The film is also Spain’s entry for the 2023 Oscars, capturing the slow-burning rhythms of rural life. Alcarràs looks the trials faced by people who grow produce – in this case, a family of peach farmers. The land is about to be reclaimed, the trees ripped out and the solar panels installed. Audiences are left watching on with an achingly poignant feeling.
Empire of Light
Sam Mendes (b. 1965) has directed James Bond movies (Skyfall, Spectre), gangster tales (Road to Perdition) and war movies (Jarhead, 1917). But his latest tale takes him towards his most personal terrain yet. Set around an independent cinema, it follows the friendship forged between a young usher (Micheal Ward) and the deputy manager (Olivia Colman), who has endured bouts of depression. Shot by Roger Deakins (b. 1949), who makes the setting of Margate look magnificent, it’s both a love letter to the movie-going experience and a moving look at our need for community.
Mark Jenkin (b. 1976) came to prominence with his 2019 Cornish-set feature Bait, and he remains in the area for his follow-up Enys Men. This is a low-fi 16mm-shot tale that impresses with its experimental daring. The story, which unfolds with minimal dialogue, follows a volunteer (Mary Woodvine) as she lives in near-isolation on a small island, studying the growth of plants in obsessive detail. Tapping into the rich vein of British folk horror that have given us films like The Wicker Man and more recently In the Earth and Men, it’s a disconcerting but beguiling journey.
Georgia Oakley’s (b. 1988) Blue Jean feels like the announcement of some major new talents, after its much-heralded bow at the Venice Film Festival. The film also gained 13 nominations at the British Independent Film Awards last year, winning four in total – including Best Lead Performance for Rosy McEwen. She plays Jean, a PE teacher living in 1980s England who is forced to hide her sexuality from the people around her. Set just as the government implemented Clause 28, prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality in classrooms, it’s a credible snapshot of Thatcherite Britain.
Asif Kapadia (b. 1972) is the Oscar-winning British filmmaker famed for his documentary icon portraits Senna, Amy and Maradona, which he joined ASFF to discuss back in 2021. But his latest non-fiction film is a very different beast, with the filmmaker recording a collaboration between the English National Ballet and choreographer Akram Khan (DESH, Until the Lions). Drawing on German dramatist Georg Büchner’s expressionist classic Woyzeck, as well as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it’s the most fascinating dance project to hit cinemas since Wim Wenders’ 3D film Pina back in 2011.
Words: James Mottram