This weekend ASFF selects five films from around the world, arriving from Britain, the US, Norway, Syria and Macedonia. A mix of three feature films and two documentaries, both true stories and fiction, these projects set out to tackle issues ranging from gender to mental health to the failing environment.
Downton Abbey (Universal)
ITV’s beloved drama series makes a first appearance on the big screen. Set in 1927, the Crawley family and their servants are sent into a tailspin with the impending visit of King George V and Queen Mary, a neat canvas for a multitude of sub-plots to play out. Fans will doubtless be appeased, with the inclusion of the majority of regulars plus the arrival of new characters, including Imelda Staunton’s aristocrat and Tuppence Middleton’s maid. Scripted by the show’s creator Julian Fellowes, and directed by Michael Engler, a veteran of the series, it’s a sumptuous experience.
Dipping into a real-life tale of New York strippers who set out to empty the considerably deep pockets of half of Wall Street, Lorene Scafaria’s film is an exhilarating ride. Deploying a jigsaw-like structure, voiceover and a hip-hop-infused score, Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez lead a vibrant cast that also includes musicians Cardi B and Lizzo, while Scafaria directs straight out the Scorsese textbook to craft a pulsating film that touches on issues of capitalism, gender and extreme wealth.
Phoenix (Verve Pictures)
Drama and fantasy collide in Norwegian director Camilla Strøm Henriksen’s impressive feature debut, a coming-of-age tale focused on teenager Jill (Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin). While she must look after her brother and contend with her depressed mother, she also preys her hopeless absent father (Borg vs. McEnroe’s Sverrir Gudnason) will get his act together. Examining mental health, Henriksen gives the semi-autobiographical tale the sheen of a psychological horror – early Polanski springs to mind – in what is a potent and powerful work.
Set in North Macedonia, Honeyland is a documentary from directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, shot over three years. The subject is Hatidze, a female beekeeper who harvests honey in the traditional way, and lives with her ageing mother in a small village, all but abandoned by the other inhabitants, and with no electricity or running water. The story evolves as a cow herder moves his rowdy family in next door, with disastrous consequences, in what is an intriguing look at a rural way of life that’s near-vanished.
Spanning four years, For Sama is a harrowing video diary that puts you right in the heart of the Syrian conflict. Winning prizes at the South By Southwest festival – both the audience and jury awards for Best Documentary – it’s the work of Waad al-Kateab, who chronicles the war with her own hand-held footage. Joined with Emmy-winning British documentary maker Edward Watts, it’s a film dedicated in its title to her own daughter, Sama, as she ponders what sort of world she’s brought her child into.
All films released by 13 September.
1. Still from Honeyland.