5 to See: This Weekend

ASFF selects five films for release this week available in cinemas and on demand. A mix of documentary work, re-releases and family films, this collection starts 2021 off in a thoughtful way, as filmmakers train their lens on places like Bhutan and Ramallah in Palestine to explore religion, spirituality, oppression and technology.

All the Vermeers in New York (MUBI)

A revival for Jon Jost’s somewhat forgotten 1990 film (despite winning the Caligari Film Award at the Berlin Film Festival). Emmanuelle Chaulet plays Anna, a French actress who is approached by a Wall Street trader (Stephen Lack) who has fallen in love with her at first sight, on account of her resembling a Vermeer painting in the gallery where they meet. As he proceeds to follow her through the museum, a highly unusual art-house tale unfolds, one that trades in ideas about love, death and idealism.

Bloody Noses, Empty Pockets (Curzon)

Bill and Turner Ross direct this drama-documentary all set in a run-down Las Vegas dive bar called Roaring ’20s. Don’t go looking for it next time you’re in Vegas, it doesn’t exist (the film was shot in New Orleans). But the Ross siblings cunningly fashion a loose-limbed narrative around the bartenders and patrons of this neon-lit hub, capturing the ebb and flow of customers as they arrive, drink, flirt, dance, sing and argue. The actors are all on the fringes of the industry – rather than real barflies – but you wouldn’t know it.

We Can Be Heroes (Netflix)

Robert Rodriguez dips back into the world of children’s films that he so elegantly occupied with the Spy Kids series and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl 3D. Here, with a story set in the same universe as Sharkboy, we meet a group called the Heroics, who get kidnapped by aliens and their kids are forced to save the day. Among the Heroics is Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian star (Rodriguez just directed an episode in Season 2) who is currently flexing his villainous muscles in Wonder Woman 1984.

Mayor (Dogwoof)

Documentary filmmaker David Osit (Building Babel, Thank You for Playing) returns with Mayor, which follows Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Palestinian city Ramallah, during his second term in office. His immediate objectives are simple, ranging from re-paving the streets to bringing in more tourists. But, like so many, he has a bigger goal: to end the occupation of Palestine. As the film so potently asks: “How do you run a city when you don’t have a country?”

Sing Me A Song (Dogwoof)

The documentary doesn’t often lend itself to sequels, but here Thomas Balmès follows up his 2013 film Happiness. While that examined Bhutan through the eyes of 8-year-old boy-monk Peyangki, Sing Me A Song returns to him ten years, now not as devoted to his studies as he once was. Much of the problem seems the swathes of technology surrounding him – indeed all of us – that act as a distraction. What results is a film that skillfully takes the temperature of the modern age.

All films released by 1 January.

James Mottram