Film reviews in English 2021-23

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Kidnapped review – Marco Bellocchio’s antisemitism drama is a classic in the making


per cercare di capire le ragioni seminali del movimento black lives matter, della furia iconoclasta verso le statue di Colombo e l’annosa questione dello sterminio della comunità indiana d’America


a documentary essay on faking history through cinema: the grisly founding myth of fascism 

Watching a work by British film critic and historian Mark Cousins is actually like going to a university class: his movies are called ‘documentary essays’ because they are lessons on filmmaking in which he uses his own voice over, movie clips and illustrative footage of locations. His most notorious work is THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011), a 15-episode film which takes viewers through film and filmmaking history, from the late 19th century to today, with a particular emphasis on world cinema. THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY is now available on RaiPlay.   

Cousins’s dynamic documentary essay March on Rome, with his distinctive collage of photos, clips and narrative voiceover, returns us to the grisly founding myth of European fascism for its 100th birthday, Benito Mussolini’s ‘Marcia su Roma’ in 1922: his ragged march of blackshirts from Naples to the capital. Particularly, Cousins expertly deconstructs A Noi! by Umberto Paradisi, the propaganda film that created the mythology of the march and exaggerated its size and popular acclaim: A Noi!  is an example of the writing we can see in the picture above: la cinematografia è l’arma più forte. Cousins shows that this documentary was a complete fake, and points out the way this faking of an historical event was made. A Noi! illustrates a false image of the March that has remained in history, a false myth that has later been corrected by serious historians: The March on Rome was a flop, it was the march of a bunch of stranded blackshirts while il duce was sitting comfortably in Milan. As we now know, it was a weak and coward king, Victor Emmanuel III, who gave Mussolini a chance to get to power legally, a king that represented the so- called poteri forti who wanted to use fascism to maintain power: the landowners (latifondisti), the industrial middle-classes, the Church. Mussolini was a pawn in their game which later went out of control… we know the rest of the story pretty well.  

This event took place one century ago, but are we sure this film is only about the past? Have we really come to terms with our fascist past? What about our new government? That’s why this film is very much about today too. (373 words)

Click here for The Guardian‘s review for a more detailed analysis of this film.


meta-whodunit more parody than homage: a mousetrap for moviegoers?

In 1953 London, Agatha Christie‘s play The Mousetrap celebrates its 100th performance, and the sleazy American director Leo Köpernick attempts to convince the producer John Woolf to allow him to direct the film adaptation … Köpernick is killed backstage by an unseen assailant…

The idea came to Shakespeare with the invention of ‘play within the play’ in Hamlet. Then in the 60s to the directors of the French Nouvelle Vague (remember the unforgettable Godart film Breathless?) and to the American writers and directors of post-modernism; last (and maybe also least) it came to your humble columnist: the intention was to create works of art in which fiction and reality merge, like in a glass house, in order to produce a novel or a film belonging to a genre and, at the same time, play with that genre and show its conventions. The result of this kind of approach is both a homage and a satire. See How They Run plays with the whodunit detective story exactly that way: during a The Mousetrap rehearsal there is the murder of a film director in charge of turning the play into a movie, and everyone at the theatre is declared a suspect and a potential victim. There is a second murder during a performance of The Mousetrap, there is a dinner with poisoning at A. Christie’s home with all the suspects in which the villain is revealed after the unexpected arrival of the inspector (like in The Mousetrap). The motives of the murders are also linked to the real events that inspired A. Christie for The Mousetrap. Inevitably, there is a strange couple of policemen (down-and-out Inspector Stoppard and playing-dumb Constable Stalker), recalling Holmes/Watson, who attend another performance of The Mousetrap together in the finale: plenty of post-modern attitudes, no doubt. But this homage to the classic whodunit is pure parody, too much of it in my opinion. That makes the film easy-going and enjoyable but very very light, more like a TV show than a feature film.

PS: if you allow a personal note, a felt strange seeing the sequence of the murder during the play performance. I felt, somehow, copied: after all, I set a locked-room murder in a cinema during the screening of The Maltese Falcon in my recent novel, a homage to the American noir. As Shakespeare put it, ‘all the world is a stage’. More so in See How They Run. (360 words)


or crime of a movie? Love it or leave it!

LEAVE IT (suggested choice):

David Cronenberg’s ‘Crimes of the Future’ is a Senseless Collection of Horrifying Garbage

The director’s latest abomination is causing audiences to walk out in droves.

Crimes of the Future is a load of crap. I would like to find a more civil way to describe even a sick and depraved barf bag of a movie like this one, but it defeats every reasonable attempt to try. Publicity poopery declares it “From the mind of David Cronenberg.” That’s your first warning signal. I’ve been able to endure a few of his epic horrors in the past, but 90% of the time  I’ve found no evidence of any kind of mind at all. (…) The Observer


Cronenberg’s post-pain, post-sex body horror sensation


This is set in an eerie future world in which people’s bodies are changing and everyone is beginning to divine that they are on the brink of a post-human evolutionary stage. Developments in medicine and analgesia have diminished physical sensation to the extent that pain is a thing of the past, so much so that it is sought after by a bizarre new breed of sicko sybarites, but conventional sensual pleasure is withering away also, along with the disgust and fear that has always moderated human behaviour. And along with this, bodies themselves have also shown that they are capable of growing new organs, whose function is not yet clear. (…) The Guardian


all the rock music you have ever listened to comes from him

The film explores the life and music of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), seen through the prism of his complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). The story delves into the complex dynamic between Presley and Parker spanning over 20 years, from Presley’s rise to fame to his unprecedented stardom, against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape and loss of innocence in America. Central to that journey is one of the most significant and influential people in Elvis’s life, Priscilla Presley (Olivia DeJonge). (Rotten Tomatoes)

I am always suspicious about bio pictures: alas, they are often cheap, focusing only on a fictionalized version of the character’s dramatic life events, his/her rise and fall. The more so for music bio pictures: take for example I Walk the Line, dedicated to Elvis‘ early days’ companion at Sun Records Johnny Cash. On the contrary, the remake of the music in these biopics is often very good and gives back the feeling of the artist‘s individual touch.

Elvis follows this line but it is, luckily, better: first of all the soundtrack, which is 90% of the whole lot. Austin Butler’s version of Elvis classics is astonishing, hard to say if it’s the king of rock and roll or his counterpart who sings. Besides, Elvis is visually very rich and accurate in setting but only apparently innovative in storytelling. It is in fact narrated following his famed agent Colonel Parker’s point of view and voice-over – what a great Tom Hank performance – but it is actually chronologically developed. We see Elvis in his early years at Sun Records, then in his despicable Hollywood years, in his everlasting 68 Comeback on TV and during his final years as a Las Vegas resident performing guest. The love/hate relationship with the fake colonel, responsible for both Presley’s success and failure, is the main feature of the plot. Some parts of the biography are clearly false, most of all the 68 TV show, which shows Elvis concerned about the death of M.L. King. It is an attempt to give the character a social consciousness he did not have, notwithstanding his relationships with black musicians from whom he learned the tools of the trade. It is true that in the beginning ‘The Pelvis’ did shock the puritan American middle classes with his sexuality, his movements on the stage, his link with the music of the devil – always black of course. But let us not forget that a few years later the same middle classes would appreciate his most romantic melodic songs which, in my opinion, are the weakest part of the immense Elvis repertoire.

I appreciated the fact that the film focuses on the various musical influences, mostly black, that Elvis was able to absorb, master and merge in order to invent rock and roll: blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, country. Not originally, most of his famous rock and roll hits of his are in the movies, from It’s Alright Ma, Blue Suede Shoes, Heartbreak Hotel to Suspicious Minds and Burning Love, to name a few. There is little room for the melodic songs, as if Luzmann was telling us that ‘the pelvis’ is the real Elvis, and I agree.

If you love, like, don’t mind or just don’t know enough about Elvis Presley do go see the movie: all the rock music you have ever listened to comes from him, a legacy no one can miss.



Conventional biopic for an unconventional black swing singer

The legendary Billie Holiday, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, spent much of her career being adored by fans across the globe, all while the Federal Department of Narcotics targeted her with an undercover sting operation led by black Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair. Inspired by her life story, THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY intimately examines her struggles with addiction, fame and heartbreaking love. (Rotten Tomatoes)

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop


Branagh’s amarcord amid The Troubles


Leaving his ‘Poirot with a soul’ behind (see review below), this time K. Branagh walks down his own memory lane, departing sunny Egypt to get back ‘home’ in rainy 1969 Belfast, when The Troubles really started – and went on in the 70s, the 80s and the 90s. The Troubles are part of The Irish Question, a master/slave relationship between England and Ireland that dates back to the Middle Ages. Inspired by the wind of the Civil Rights Movent in the USA, the discriminated Ulster Catholic minority, nationalist and republican, rebelled against the Protestants, unionist and loyalist. On the edge of another civil war, the UK sent the army to patrol the streets of Northern Ireland, adding more troubles to the existing ones and paving the way to terrorism (here is a BBC 10 part coverage called Northern Ireland Troubles). In this explosive background, the pre-adolescent Buddy of the film (Branagh’s alter-ego) has to grow up: the movie is a real coming-of-age tale in which nightmare meets nostalgia. There is a terrific warmth and tenderness to Kenneth Branagh’s elegiac, autobiographical movie about the Belfast of his childhood: spryly written, beautifully acted and shot in a lustrous monochrome … Some may feel that the film is sentimental or that it does not sufficiently conform to the template of political anger and despair considered appropriate for dramas about Northern Ireland and the Troubles … But this film has such emotional generosity and wit.

… Jamie Dornan plays a man who lives in north Belfast, a largely Protestant district but still with some Catholic families. He is an easygoing charmer, away in England a fair bit during the week, doing skilled carpentry work and harassed with the need to pay off a tax bill … The family includes his long-suffering wife (Caitríona Balfe) and two boys, the older Will (Lewis McAskie) and younger Buddy, played by newcomer Jude Hill, whose stunned, wide-eyed incomprehension sets the tone. The grandparents live with them under the same roof and are played with beguiling sweetness … Violence explodes when unionist hardmen burn the Catholics out of their homes and set up barricades to protect their new fiefdom [an area or a situation in which somebody has control or influence – It: feudo] against republican retaliation – a gangsterism that requires payments from local families, enforced by tough guy Billy Clanton (Colin Morgan), accepted more or less pragmatically … but resented by Dornan’s character … And poor Buddy just has to carry on with his life …

I liked the idea of setting the movie inside the Protestant side (usually the villains) and not in the traditional Protestants vs Catholics fight. In so doing, the conflict focuses on good and bad characters on the same side, or, better, among the rough violent characters and the more sensible and open-minded ones like Dornan. Branagh’s political attitude is detached throughout the film: this is not a political movie, but a study of human beings in times of trouble, with no Mother Mary whispering words of wisdom. The plot is poor but what count is the feeling it arises: there’s a streak of innocence in the nightmare of this film.

Moreover, Branagh’s well-known love for the arts is felt everywhere, like in most of his works: the film within the film, the theatre within the theatre, Van Morrison’s heartbreaking soundtrack enrich this director’s amarcord and leave the spectator with the feeling that sometimes there can be love where there’s none to be found.



Branagh’s Poirot: a detective with a soul

Death on the Nile is quintessential Agatha Christie: exotic location, a bunch of characters from different social classes in an enclosed space – a boat on the Nile -, all of them with a motive to kill. So there is the inevitable main murder, the subsequent ones and the eccentric Poirot ‘casually’ there to solve the mystery. But this is Branagh’s Poirot, and Branagh’s story, which is a different cup of tea. Branagh goes behind Poirot’s notorious impenetrable mask to create a round character with feelings who faced events in his life that have made him what he is now. In this study in character the inner humanity of the detective breaks through his notorious aplomb, and we see him fight to control his emotions and pulsions. At the centre of it all is life’s driving force: love – felt, denied, obtained and lost – always so very close to death. Love, jealousy and hatred are the motives of the novel’s plot with its eternal triangle made of a man and two rival women. Love kills, physically in the plot, and also metaphorically as far the detective is concerned. In fact we get into Poirot’s biography and psyche in the film incipit, set during WW1 in the deadly trenches, in a wasteland landscape which reminds us of the pictures of the modernist English painter Paul Nash. Like in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, the war brings love and death into the young Poirot, giving the spectator an explanation of the external protecting shield the character has built in time. But love can create a crack even in virtual armours and can come back anytime, in the most surprising forms, regardless of age, race and profession. So we see Poirot solving a love murder mystery and at the same time fighting to keep past, maybe future, love memories and dreams at bay. Shall he make it? Get to the end of the movie to find out, maybe….

This movie is also embellished by a stunning visual, partly computer-generated, of Egypt: the pyramids, the big river, the desert, the sun, the temples, create a wonderful setting for the whodunit.  Moreover, the soundtrack is another great surprise, all blues and rhythm-and-blues of the 30s, the decade the story was written and set. There are also coloured characters in the film, even mixed engagements, a taboo for conservative Christie.

In conclusion, no doubt this is Branagh’s own Death on the Nile: the director has taken the novel’s ‘skeleton’ to create his own fictional world, with the usual gentle charming touch and not creating a mere remake of the 1978 film with the same title (actually this is a follow up to his 2017 Murder on the Orient Express). While watching, keep your attention till the very end: what happens to Poroit when he finally comes back to London?

Follow up:

(…) Yet adapting Agatha Christie as mass 21st-Century entertainment is not without its complications: they are products of the time they were written in, the mid-20th Century, and arguably reflect some unsavoury attitudes not least when it comes to racism, xenophobia and colonialism. The question is therefore: how do you translate and update Agatha Christie – or not – for the modern age? …

With Kenneth Branagh’s second Hercule Poirot film out, Christie is hot Hollywood property once more. But how should adaptors navigate her books’ attitude to race, asks David Jesudason (BBC culture)



because you could see the real enemy: dystopian slapstick comedy not to miss

(Non guardare in alto) perchè potreste vedere il vero nemico: distopica commedia slapstick da non perdere

Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), an astronomy grad student, and her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) make an astounding discovery of a comet orbiting within the solar system. The problem: it’s on a direct collision course with Earth. The other problem? No one really seems to care. Turns out warning mankind about a planet-killer the size of Mount Everest is an inconvenient fact to navigate. With the help of Dr. Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), Kate and Randall embark on a media tour that takes them from the office of an indifferent President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her sycophantic son and Chief of Staff, Jason (Jonah Hill), to the airwaves of The Daily Rip, an upbeat morning show hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). With only six months until the comet makes impact, managing the 24-hour news cycle and gaining the attention of the social media-obsessed public before it’s too late proves shockingly comical — what will it take to get the world to just look up? (Rotten

Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), una studentessa laureata in astronomia, e il suo professore, il dottor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) fanno l’incredibile scoperta di una cometa in orbita all’interno del sistema solare. Il problema: è in rotta di collisione diretta con la Terra. L’altro problema? A nessuno sembra importare davvero. Si scopre che avvisare l’umanità di un pianeta assassino delle dimensioni del Monte Everest è un fatto scomodo da veicolare. Con l’aiuto del dottor Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), Kate e Randall intraprendono un tour mediatico che li porta dall’ufficio dell’indifferente presidente Orlean (Meryl Streep) e del Capo di Stato Maggiore, il suo servile figlio Jason (Jonah Hill), alle frequenze di The Daily Rip, uno spensierato talk show condotto da Brie (Cate Blanchett) e Jack (Tyler Perry). Con solo sei mesi prima che la cometa impatti, gestire il ciclo di notizie perpetuo e ottenere l’attenzione del pubblico ossessionato dai social media prima che sia troppo tardi si rivela scioccantemente comico: cosa ci vorrà per far sì che il mondo guardi in alto? (Rotten Tomatoes)


Funny, dramatic and apocalyptic at the same time, Don’t Look Up is a must-see of this problematic movie season. While in this film people should look up to see the actual danger, in real life we have to look around to perceive the non-fictional threat we have been living through for two years now; with one difference: you can easily spot a giant meteorite but you can’t spot the covid 19 virus, a fact that reminded me of the early Sci-Fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Don’t Look Up is basically a slapstick comedy, with a series of sketches worth Saturday Night Live, a bitter satire of the foolishness of the world we live in, in particular of the press, of the TV networks and above all of the social networks. Self-centred, aiming only at the audience score and mere appearance, they blur people’s minds to the point that they cannot see a planetary danger just above their heads.

The film is also a strong attack against politics and power, personified by an American Trump-like female president whose stupidity wraps her all around and who tries to exploit the opportunity to increase her consensus that the deadly danger offers her  – and that inevitably leads to disaster. It is also a violent critique of the hi-tech media corporations, the multinational businesses who use politics as their private toy, as means to reach their selling goals and to exploit resources, not seeing the real danger in their blind rush to money-making. The hi-tech mogul of the movie, the real villain, looks terribly like a deranged Steve Jobs.

Even the two positive anti-hero protagonists (nerdy astronomer Dr Randall Mindy and his smart grad student Kate Dibiasky) are eaten up by the media machine to a certain point, only to come back to their real selves just in time to accept the coming catastrophe with a stoic ‘last dinner’. Does the theme of scientists being not believed, laughed at, obscured by fake news sound familiar today?

There is the echo of Citizen Kane as far as the press is concerned and of Dr. Strangelove as far as fanatism is concerned, but there is no trace of the press as a democratic institution unveiling the misdeeds of power, a genre dear to liberal Hollywood, All the President’s Men style.

The metaphor of the comet for climate change and for the covid pandemic is obvious; what is not obvious is the lack of will of our society in saving itself, physically and metaphorically: that’s why the movie has a disturbing dystopian background lurking through the slapstick comedy surface.

Divertente, drammatico e apocalittico allo stesso tempo, Don’t Look Up è un must di questa travagliata stagione cinematografica. Mentre in questo film le persone dovrebbero guardare in alto per vedere il pericolo incombente, nella nostra vita reale dobbiamo guardarci intorno per percepire la minaccia non fittizia che stiamo vivendo da due anni a questa parte; con una differenza: si può facilmente avvistare un meteorite gigante ma non si può individuare il virus del covid 19, proprio come accadeva ai protagonisti del classico di fantascienza Invasione degli ultracorpi.

Don’t Look Up è fondamentalmente una commedia ‘slapstick’, con una serie di sketch degni di uno show televisivo famoso come Saturday Night Live, una satira amara delle follie del mondo in cui viviamo, in particolare della stampa, delle televisioni e soprattutto dei social network. Egocentrici, interessati solo allo share e all’apparire, i media offuscano le menti al punto che le persone non riescono nemmeno a vedere un pericolo planetario proprio sopra le loro teste.

Il film è anche un forte attacco contro la politica e il potere, impersonato da un presidente americano donna simile a Trump, un esempio di stupidità che cerca di sfruttare l’opportunità che il pericolo mortale le offre di aumentare il suo consenso – e che inevitabilmente porta al disastro. È anche una violenta critica alle multinazionali dei media hi-tech, corporation che usano la politica come il loro giocattolo privato, come mezzo per raggiungere i loro obiettivi di vendita e per sfruttare le materie prime, non vedendo il vero pericolo nella loro cieca corsa al fare soldi. Il magnate dei media del film, il vero cattivo, assomiglia terribilmente a uno squilibrato Steve Jobs.

Anche i due protagonisti in positivo, gli anti-eroi (l’astronomo nerd Dr Randall Mindy e la sua intelligente studentessa Kate Dibiasky) vengono in parte divorati dalla macchina dei media, per ritrovare poi le loro vere personalità giusto in tempo per accettare la catastrofe imminente, aspettandola con un comportamento stoico durante una improvvisata ‘ultima cena’. E qui il tema degli scienziati che non vengono creduti, ma derisi e oscurati dalle fake news, suona purtroppo assai familiare.

C’è l’eco di Quarto Potere per quanto riguarda la stampa e del Dottor Stranamore per quanto riguarda il fanatismo, ma non c’è traccia del giornalismo come istituzione democratica che svela i misfatti del potere, un genere caro alla Hollywood liberale, vedi Tutti gli uomini del presidente.

La metafora della minaccia della cometa come cambiamento climatico e come pandemia è ovvia; ciò che non è ovvio è la mancanza di volontà della nostra società di salvarsi, fisicamente e metaforicamente: il film infatti ha un inquietante background distopico sotto all dominante aspetto di commedia esilarante.

Follow up


Back to glamorous Swinging London, with a touch of horror attached

In acclaimed director Edgar Wright’s psychological thriller, Eloise, an aspiring fashion designer, is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer, Sandie. But the glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something far darker (Rotten Tomatoes)

Fascinated by the call of the big city, Eloise, a provincial girl, goes to London to look for success but finds the hidden evil behind the glamorous surface. It’s a story we have seen many times on the screen, but this time the protagonist magically steps into the Swinging London of the 60s to ‘witness’ the sad story of a girl like her, Sandie, coming from the farm to try and become a successful singer. Sandie is a kind of Eloise’s doppelganger, and so she relives the sad parable of the wannabe singer and her descent into the inferno behind the shining facade of Swinging Soho. It is a tale of illusion vs reality that leads to failure, murder and nightmare, in which the villain is a victim of society’s greed looking for revenge. The film is cross-genre, part comedy, part drama, thriller, horror, with zombies attached – actually Eloise’s nightmare visions. Nonetheless, the Soho of the 60s is great visual indeed, boosted by an excellent period soundtrack. If you love that decade and that lost London, go for it. You won’t regret it.

Follow up

Last Night in Soho review -The Guardian

NO TIME TO DIE: His name was Bond, James Bond

For the very last time, in No Time to Die Daniel Craig shows us his handsome Shrek face: this is his announced last performance as 007 in this 25-film-long franchise (the word we use in movies for ‘series’).

It all started with Sean Connery in the sixties and Roger Moore in the seventies, with those early film versions of Fleming’s novels in which Bond was the quintessential dream of every white Western male, the paladin of the Western society in Cold War times, a black&white world in which the villain was always linked to the communist powers. And where women were no more than pleasure toys. 

After P. Brosnan’s age in the nineties, more focused on globalization and planetarian villains, came Craig’s post-9/11 five films, in which Bond has to fight against a high-tech villain, international terrorism, chemical weapons and internal enemies. And also against his ageing, the insurgence of repressed feelings, and has to accept the ‘politically correct’: a new black female 007 and a black Miss Moneypenny are inconceivable in the ‘white supremacy’ world of Fleming. 

Being a Bond fan, I went to see No Time to Die with good expectations but I came out disappointed and puzzled. The plot is traditional as far as the chase of the villain is concerned, with exaggerated stunting and shooting. Bond goes back to service first to revenge his old CIA pal Felix (a noir classic), then to save the world from the planetarian neurotic villain who wants to destroy humankind and who, like many previous movies, has his HQ in a private exotic island, Dr No style. What is quite new, and puzzling, is James himself. Bond is in love: it had happened before, with disastrous results, especially in the Craig series, but this time, as the story develops, he expresses his feelings and considers making a family; in a word, he is more human, and that humanity creeps through the toughness [si insinua nella durezza di …] of Bond the licence-to-kill secret agent. The Bond girl here is no more a pleasure toy but someone to be faithful to (another inconceivable item for Fleming). The finale is puzzling too, and really unexpected: that is the real thing in the movie; even if at the end of the credit it says Bond will return, it won’t be the same again, that’s for sure.

One last word about the stunning locations which characterize the franchise. Italy has always been a favourite of directors, and this time it is no exception. Trendy Matera is the background of the opening sequence, one of the best in the movie, to confirm the fact that Matera is the gorgeous Italian hill town film-makers can’t resist (here is The Guardian article).

(455 words)

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The Last Duel

Storytelling with gusto in Ridley Scott’s medieval epic

The Last Duel is a film … set in the midst of the Hundred Years War that explores the ubiquitous power of men, the frailty of justice and the strength and courage of one woman willing to stand alone in the service of truth. Based on actual events, the film … [is] about France’s last … duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, two friends turned bitter rivals. Carrouges is a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. Le Gris is a Norman squire whose intelligence and eloquence make him one of the most admired nobles in court. When Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite, is viciously assaulted by Le Gris, a charge he denies, she refuses to stay silent, stepping forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy [danger]. The ensuing trial by combat, a grueling duel to the death, places the fate of all three in God’s hands. (

This film is not the ‘cloak and dagger’ story you expect, that’s a fact. Indeed, the elements of the genre are traditional: power, possession, chivalry on the one hand and love, rape, betrayal, revenge on the other, all this caused by the never ageing love triangle which makes friends turn into foes (hence the motto three is a crowd). What is not traditional in this movie is the storytelling and the psychology of the characters.

Not surprisingly, the movie begins at the climax (the duel) and is narrated in flashback. But this is a three-time-told tale: the same events are narrated three times by the three main characters’ different points of view, approaches and attitudes (the husband, the rapier, the abused wife): it’s up to the viewer to make up his own truth. This narrative technique reminded me of A. Christie’s Five Little Pigs and W. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury in which the same procedure is used.

As a direct consequence, the film portrays ’round characters’, not flat heroes and villains, the latter destined to die in the final fight. There’s good and bad, nobility and cowardice in each of them, like in real life. The film investigates their psychology and makes it difficult to say who is the hero and who is the bad guy. Carrouges, destined to be the champion who revenges his abused wife, has many negative aspects because of his blind faith in the given rules and in the status quo. Le Gris, destined to be the villain, is a charming fellow, literate and sensible, truly in love with a passion he can’t control. Easy to see that the real heroine here is Marguerite, an ante litteram feminist, risking her life to break the medieval codes of behaviour, with an interior struggle to cope with her fascination for the attractive Le Gris.

A final word about ‘oldie but goldie’ director R. Scott. His locations and film visuals are superb, as usual in his work (remember Blade Runner?). He makes us feel the blind violence of the Middle Ages, in battle and at home. It is a medieval epic indeed, but with clear reference to the present; as the title of the New Yorker review says, The Last Duel “is a wannabe #MeToo movie.” (379 words)

(#Me Too movement: a social movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment where people publicize allegations of sex crimes.)

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OLD: And Then There Were None revisited

A mix of whodunit, horror, humour and social commitment, a movie worth watching – 3/5 stars

As the different protagonists, introduced in the film incipit, arrive in an apparent seaside holiday paradise and are taken to a solitary spectacular beach with no connection to the resort, we immediately feel we are in a classical A. Christie’s situation, and that something is very wrong. And if you are familiar with And The There were None (Dieci Piccoli indiani), you know what might happen next in the plot development: a fight for survival and …. In the movie, time has been terrifyingly accelerated, as if the character lived their life in just one day. It is a brilliant feature which makes the film unconventional and boosts suspense. Will the characters be able to survive, will they escape their golden trap? The finale will answer the questions we ask ourselves during the film, showing a finger-pointing social commitment about a topic (drugs and its globalized production) we have all been familiar with since the rise of Covid 19.

The GuardianOld review – M Night Shyamalan’s fast-ageing beach horror