8 Women

Starring Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant,
Isabelle Huppert and Emanuelle Béart
Written by François Ozon and Marina de Van
Directed by François Ozon 
France/Italy 2002
111 mins

A seasonal setting, an isolated, snowbound country mansion and a mysterious murder are at the heart of François Ozon's exuberant dark comedy. Catherine Deneuve leads a stellar female cast - including Isabelle Huppert and Fanny Ardant  - playing members of a family who gather for Christmas only to find the patriarch has been stabbed to death. What follows is part melodrama, part musical and part murder mystery - as the 8 women of the title all become suspects in the crime.

Originally intending to remake George Cukor's Hollywood classic 'The Women',  director Ozon had to change his plans  when the rights proved impossible to clear. He turned instead to a 1958 play by Robert Thomas, a little-known French dramatist specialising in comedy thrillers.

François Ozon is one of the most celebrated French directors working today - his films often distinguished by great female roles. He has worked with British actress Charlotte Rampling  several times as well as the star of this movie Catherine Deneuve. Deneuve has a career spanning 60 years frequently playing mysterious, aloof beauties. Now in her 70s she specialises these days in tough, matriarchal figures like Gaby - her character in '8 Women'.

This is frothy over-the-top fun - a glamorous ultra-French Christmas treat that is bound to leave you with a smile on your face.


Starring Jack O'Connell, Richard Dormer and Sean Harris
Directed by Yann Demange
UK 2014
99 minutes

Last month I went to Belfast for the first time. It is a city that features powerfully in my memories of growing up in the 1970s - grainy TV reports filled with barricades, checkpoints, soldiers and mobs. It seemed a far off, bleak place blighted by blind religious prejudice and tribal hatred - trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of violence and recrimination.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself in a modern European city - full of cafes and artworks, prosperous and seemingly free of the past. Of course the many powerful murals still pay testimony to the bad times but Belfast as war zone is no more...

In '71 that period is recreated with nerve shredding results. Gary Hook (Jack O'Connell) is a new recruit to the British army on his first tour of duty. After being caught up in a riot Hook becomes separated from his unit and finds himself trapped behind Republican lines. He must somehow get back to safety but who, if anyone, can he trust to help him?

Director Yann Demange does not take sides but instead concentrates on amping up the tension - aided by a terrific score from native Belfast boy David Holmes and the edgy, eerie visuals of cinematographer Tat Radcliffe. The screenplay by playwright Gregory Burke (who penned the extraordinary Black Watch for the National Theatre Of Scotland) twists and turns as the action takes us into the murky depths of the conflict.

At the centre Jack O'Connell gives a powerful, eloquent, physical performance - confirming his place as one of the most gifted young actors of his generation.

The Babadook

Starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman
Written and directed by Jennifer Kent
Australia 2014
94 minutes

'If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook'

Widow and single parent Amelia and her troubled young son Samuel begin to experience strange and eerie occurrences in their Adelaide home. A sinister childrens storybook called 'The Babadook' seems to be at the heart of the mystery but are these events real or could it be the mother and her child who are actually causing the trouble?

This spine-tingling, atmospheric and cineliterate movie pays homage to such classics as 'The Haunting' and 'The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari' whilst having its own distinct tone and style.

The director is Jennifer Kent and 'The Babadook' is a first feature - expanded from her short film 'Monster'. Working in a genre that is traditionally dominated by men Kent's debut is impressive and assured - displaying a depth of character and emotion often sorely lacking in such supernatural stories.

She cites as her cinematic influences such diverse films as 'The Shining', 'Nosferatu' and 'Let The Right One In'. The picture eschews CGI effects - using older techniques like stop motion animation to achieve unsettling and effective results.

A Star is Born

Starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March
Written by William Wellman, Dorothy Parker, Robert Carson and Alan Campbell
Directed by William Wellman
USA 1937
110 mins

This week saw the release of the fourth film adaptation of 'A Star Is Born'. The two leads are Bradley Cooper (who co-wrote and directed this critically acclaimed new version) and Lady Gaga who has been much praised in her first dramatic role. They play the fading singer and the rising music star in what has become one of Hollywood's most enduring showbiz tales. 'A Star Is Born' was famously made in the 1950s with Judy Garland and James Mason and in the 1970s with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristoffersson. However it is the rarely-seen classic 1937 production of the melodrama that we will be screening.

The film's director William A. Wellman was one of the most prolific and successful directors of his era - his career straddled silent pictures and talkies and his work included adventure movies, war films, westerns and love stories. He was nominated for the best director Oscar three times but won it just once for 'A Star Is Born'. His silent production of 'Wings' won the very first Academy Award for best film awarded in 1929.

Janet Gaynor and Frederic March play the ingenue Vicky Lester and the troubled screen icon Norman Maine whose rising and falling trajectories cross during the golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s. Their performances are excellent with great work from a fine supporting cast. 'A Star Is Born' was filmed in an early 'three-strip' version of Technicolor giving us a gorgeously-hued vision of an Art deco Hollywood. The film has truth, wit and energy and the dialogue, written by a team including the legendary Dorothy Parker, is snappy and satirical as well as being shot through with tragedy.

This film defies its age and at 110 minutes is some 30 minutes shorter than any of those that would follow - a factor most definitely in its favour!

The Goodbye Girl

Starring Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss
Directed by Herbert Ross
USA 1977
110 mins

In the last month we have lost a number of remarkable and diverse talents - Fenella Fielding and Burt Reynolds to name but two. However one of the truly great comedy writers of cinema passed away almost unnoticed on the 26th August at the age of 91 - Neil Simon.

Simon left behind an extraordinary body of writing for both stage and screen - 'Barefoot In The Park', 'The Odd Couple', 'Plaza Suite', 'The Heartbreak Kid', 'The Prisoner Of Second Avenue', 'The Sunshine Boys' - the list goes on.

Simon began his career in radio and television - including scripting for the legendary 'Phil Silvers Show' in the late 1950s. His successful career as a playwright led to frequent adaptations of his own work for the movies and TV - perhaps his most famous creation being 'The Odd Couple' about an ill-suited pair of bachelors sharing an apartment in New York.

Many of his stories are set in that iconic city - including the romantic comedy we have chosen as our tribute - 'The Goodbye Girl'.

When dancer Paula McFadden's boyfriend leaves for Italy he fails to tell her that he has sub-let the apartment where she lives with her young daughter to Elliot Garfield, an up-and-coming actor who has come to New York from Chicago. The two reluctantly agree to live there together...

At the age of 30 Richard Dreyfuss was the youngest ever actor to win an Oscar for his role as Elliot while Marsha Mason was herself married to Neil Simon during the production of the film.

'The Goodbye Girl' embodies many of the virtues of Simon's writing - great one-liners, recognisable characters and a sophisticated but sympathetic style. Watch out in particular for the hilarious rehearsal scenes featuring Elliot as Shakespeare's Richard III.


Starring Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernández
Written by Sebastián Lelio and Gonzalo Maza
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Chile/Spain 2013
110 mins

This year's foreign language Oscar went to 'A Fantastic Woman' - the tale of a transgender woman and her struggle with the authorities and the family of her lover after his sudden death. The director of 'A Fantastic Woman' (the first Chilean movie to win an Academy Award) is Sebastián Lelio. In 2013 Lelio made tonight's film Gloria - an exuberant and bittersweet drama about a freespirited middle aged woman and her search for excitement and romance.

Paulina Garcia is Gloria - divorced and with her children grown up she is determined not to spend her remaining years alone. She meets Rodolfo at a singles disco and romance ensues but his daughters prove an obstacle to their relationship and Gloria finds herself frustrated by his inability to commit.
Garcia's powerful performance is the highlight of this critically acclaimed film - winning the best actress award at the Berlin Film Festival. She gives her character strength, intelligence and humour. Hers is a character and situation often ignored by mainstream cinema and Hollywood in particular but Lelio's direction gives us a film that is funny,  melancholy and ultimately uplifting.

Le Boucher

Starring Stéphane Audran and Jean Yanne
Written by André Génovès
Directed by Claude Chabrol
France 1970

In the small village of Trémolat in the Dordogne, Hélène - the head teacher of the local school, begins a tentative relationship with Paul - the town butcher. She is scarred by an unhappy affair, he is haunted by the terrible things he has seen during his army service in Indochina and Algeria. When there are a series of brutal murders in the village Hélène begins to suspect Paul of being the killer...

'Le Boucher' has real style, intelligence and emotional depth - typical of the work of the director Claude Chabrol. Chabrol, like his  contemporaries Truffaut and Godard was a writer and critic before he began making films. As well as contributing to the influential Cahiers du Cinéma magazine he also co-authored a book on Hitchcock - who he greatly admired. He was a particular admirer of Hitchcock's 1943 picture 'Shadow Of A Doubt' and the influence of that film can be clearly seen in 'Le Boucher'. Unlike some of the New Wave Chabrol had a more classical filmmaking style - eschewing jump cuts and handheld camera in favour of deep focus and long takes.

Stéphane Audran, who plays the central role of the schoolteacher was married to Chabrol for many years. Audran, who died in March of this year,  had a long and glittering career which included 'Babette's Feast' in which she gave a memorable portrayal of a Parisian woman who sets out to prepare an extraordinary, elaborate meal for a remote Danish community.

This quiet mystery features one virtuouso cinematic moment - a single shot lasting nearly four minutes in which the two leads walk through the town at night. 'Le Boucher' is probably Chabrol's most acclaimed film - an economical understated masterpiece - don't miss it.

Divorce Italian Style

Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Daniela Rocca, Stefania Sandrelli and Leopoldo Trieste
Written by  Ennio De Concini, Pietro Germi and Alfredo Giannetti
Directed by Pietro Germi
Italy 1961
108 mins

After a run of serious and unsettling dramas we thought it was time for a classic European comedy to change the mood...

This one features perhaps the greatest and most iconic of all Italian film actors - Marcello Mastroianni.  Best known for his collaborations with Federico Fellini - notably 'La Dolce Vita' and '8 1/2' Mastroianni's beautifully nuanced style of performing is a joy to behold. Growing up in wartime his career began in the 1950s in films like 'Big Deal On Madonna Street' and by the early 1960s he had become an international movie star and celebrity. During his lifetime Mastroianni had relationships with some of the most famous actresses of the time including Catherine Deneuve, Faye Dunaway, Ursula Andress and Claudia Cardinale.

'Divorce Italian Style'  tells the tangled tale of Ferdinando, an impoverished Italian nobleman  whose desire to be separated from his wife Rosalia is prevented by the law of the land so he must find another, more nefarious means of becoming single. His hapless plotting leads him and us into all kinds of hilarious situations.

This classic black comedy won the Oscar for best original screenplay in 1962. Years ahead of its time in cinematic technique it is beautifully shot by Carlo Di Palma and features documentary style introductions and odd dream sequences.  At once a portrait of the antiquated society of Sicily at the time and a jet black satire of human nature 'Divorce Italian Style' would be a big influence on the Hollywood movies of the era.


Starring Malcolm McDowell, Richard Warwick, Christine Noonan and Arthur Lowe
Written by David Sherwin
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
UK 1968
111 mins

Our last film 'The Falling' was set in girls school in 1969 and depicted a kind of strange rebellion by the pupils against the teaching authorities. This film - 'if....' also takes place in a school  and was made in 1968 - famously known as The Year Of Revolutions. It was a year that saw protests taking place across the globe - race riots in the USA, political demonstrations and strikes in France and violent clashes in Northern Ireland and Eastern Europe.

Much of the unrest was student led and Lindsay Anderson's anarchic film is clearly inspired by the heady excitement of the times.

Mick Travis is a pupil in the lower sixth of a traditional boys public school - the staff are remote and eccentric and brutal discipline is enforced by The Whips - prefects appointed from the upper sixth who treat the junior boys as slaves and sex-objects. After a particularly vicious caning Mick and his friends plan to take control of the establishment.

Lindsay Anderson was one of a small but influential group of British directors in the 1960s whose work was informed by radical politics, the class system and a bold new style of filmmaking. Anderson made documentaries throughout the 1950s and had a parallel career in theatre at London's Royal Court until he moved into dramatic cinema with his 1963 picture 'This Sporting Life' - a harsh and gritty portrait of a Rugby League player in the north of England with a memorably powerful performance by Richard Harris.

'if....' was the first in a trilogy which continued in 'O Lucky Man!' and 'Britannia Hospital'.  In each the character of Travis is brilliantly played by Malcolm McDowell. His seductive blend of terrifying charm and ruthless insolence was later put to memorable use by Stanley Kubrick in 'A Clockwork Orange'.
This is a groundbreaking film that uses an audacious mix of fantasy and reality and black and white and colour to produce an exhilarating satire that still has bite and relevance.

Don't miss it on a big screen.

The Falling

Starring Florence Pugh, Maisie Williams, Greta Scacchi and Monica Dolan
Written and directed by Carol Morley
UK 2014
102 mins

A mysterious outbreak of mass fainting besets an all girls school in 1969 in Carol Morley's intriguing and unsettling feature. Lydia and her best friend Abigail are at the epicentre of the phenomenon - and when Lydia tries to discover what is going on and why she finds herself in opposition to the school administration and ostracised by her fellow pupils. The eerie atmosphere and evocative visual style of this strange melodrama are at times reminiscent of the classic mystery 'Picnic At Hanging Rock' and the work of Nicolas Roeg. (Interestingly the film is co-produced by Roeg's son Luc - who himself appeared as a child in 'Walkabout').

Carol Morley is a graduate of St Martins School Of Art and directed a series of short films until her acclaimed 2011 drama-documentary 'Dreams Of A Life' which told the haunting story of a Shepherd's Bush woman whose body was discovered in her flat 3 years after her death. Morley's filmmaking style is enigmatic and her characters elusive - but she has a keen eye and ear for the odder aspects  of British life. 'The Falling' is on one level a jet black comedy - with a terrific performance as the school's eccentric headmistress from Monica Dolan (who you may know as the harassed Welsh Communications Officer Tracey Pritchard in 'W1A' )

The two young leads Maisie Williams and Florence Pugh are excellent - perfectly exuding the strange, febrile energies and intensity of adolescence. Pugh has since gone on to deliver an outstanding performance in 2017's  'Lady Macbeth'  
'The Falling'  is a thought-provoking and ambiguous movie - not easily categorised but full of weird details that will stay with you long after it has finished.

American Gigolo

Starring Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton, Nina Van Pallandt and Bill Duke
Written and directed by Paul Schrader
USA 1980
117 mins

Our last film The Hunt was a powerful study of a teacher accused of sexual wrongdoing in a small Danish community and his struggle to prove his innocence when all around presume him guilty. Our next movie also features a man wrongly suspected of a crime but this time the setting is Los Angeles and the hero a male prostitute.

Richard Gere plays Julian Kaye, a handsome escort with a taste for expensive cars and designer clothing. Julian's clients are older women to whom he gives sexual satisfaction and provides glamorous companionship. His superficial, narcissistic life is rudely interrupted when a client is found murdered and he becomes the chief suspect.

The writer/director of this iconic 1980s picture is Paul Schrader - the esteemed writer who frequently collaborated with Martin Scorsese and whose screenplays include such masterpieces as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation Of Christ.

Schrader has himself directed a handful of exceptional films including Blue Collar, Mishima and Cat People. American Gigolo was by far his most successful work - making a star of Richard Gere and also the clothes of Giorgio Armani.

The music is by Giorgio Moroder - the so-called 'Father of Disco' who worked with Donna Summer, the Three Degrees and David Bowie among others. The theme song 'Call Me' was co-written by Moroder and Debbie Harry and became a worldwide hit for her band Blondie.
American Gigolo is in some ways a flawed film and is perhaps a product of its times but it remains a fascinating and visually stylish entertainment. It is one of the first films to truly make a man the object of the female gaze and notable for its portrayal of the abandoned sexual habits of a pre-AIDS world.

The Hunt

Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Alexandra Rapaport and Annika Wedderkopp
Written By Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Denmark 2012
115 mins

We are currently living through a period in which there has been an unprecedented series of accusations of sexual misconduct and a subsequent groundswell of powerful reaction which some are now saying is perhaps in danger of becoming a witch hunt.

The Hunt (Jagten in Danish) is a compelling, claustrophobic small-town tale which tells the story of Lucas - a kindergarten teacher in Denmark  whose life is plunged into nightmare when he is accused of sexual abuse at the school where he works. Before he knows it public opinion has turned and he finds himself the object of hatred and fury.

Mads Mikkelsen is outstanding as Lucas - a man who becomes human prey in the community in which he lives. His struggle to prove his innocence and find a way out of the trap that is closing around him is intense, at times hard to watch but ultimately highly rewarding.

Writer/director Thomas Vinterberg's movie is in no way sensational but instead a focused and unforgiving drama - shining a powerful light onto human behaviour and examining crowd dynamics and peer pressure. It asks some very harsh questions and raises unpalatable truths. The Hunt was a distinct return to form for Vinterberg whose career had dropped off since his infamous feature debut Festen - a savage portrait of a family in which inter-generational incest and perversion are revealed on the occasion of a birthday party. After that Vinterberg was part of Lars von Trier's 'Dogme 95' group - a short-lived movement dedicated to ridding cinema of artifice and technical tricks.

The Hunt never exploits its difficult subject matter - it is instead a viscerally convincing and involving tale which will give you pause for thought and stay with you long after the film finishes.


Starring Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and William Holden
Written By Paddy Chayefsky
Directed by Sidney Lumet
USA 1976
121 mins

Adaptations of classic movies are frequently to be found on the London stage - Network is currently enjoying a sell-out run at the National Theatre. Bryan Cranston (star of Breaking Bad) plays Howard Beale - a newscaster who breaks down on air in spectacular fashion only to  become an unlikely cult figure and media star.

In the original 1976 movie the British actor Peter Finch gives a mesmerising performance as the anchorman who rebels against the medium he works in and the society that it is a part of. Alongside him is a cast of some of the finest actors of the era including William Holden, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall playing various executives of a fictional network. Ruthless ambition pervades their world where the prize is success in the TV ratings - at any price.

The screenplay is by Paddy Chayevsky - one of the most gifted and darkly funny writers ever to have worked in pictures. Chayefsky's other scripts include Marty and The Hospital for both of which he won an Academy Award (as he did for Network). He remains the only person to have won three solo Oscars in that category. Many consider Network to be his masterpiece.

The director is Sidney Lumet, a giant of American cinema whose work includes Twelve Angry Men, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. Lumet began his career at the Actor's Studio in New York and continued in off Broadway productions and television. He was a notably humanitarian craftsman and made over 50 movies in his long and distinguished career.

Network won four Academy Awards and forty years on its sharp satire looks ever more  prescient in this age of fake news and corrupted media.


Produced by Virginia Van Upp
Directed by Charles Vidor
USA 1946
110 mins

In our recent Christmas film quiz the clip that piqued the most interest was the sizzling rendition of 'Put The Blame On Mame' that is performed by Rita Hayworth in this classic film noir.
Hayworth, known as the 'Love Goddess',  was perhaps the most glamorous female star of the 1940s - the favourite pinup among GIs in World War 2 and married to among others Orson Welles and Prince Aly Khan. Born Rita Cansino, with a Spanish father and and Irish American mother, she was famed for her red hair and provocative, sensual style - both as an actress and a dancer. Hayworth was reportedly Fred Astaire's favourite dancing partner and achieved her greatest success opposite Gene Kelly in Cover Girl. In 'Gilda' she is a femme fatale mixed up in the shadowy world of night clubs and gambling in post-war Buenos Aires. Recently married to a casino owner Gilda runs into an old lover - the small time gambler Johnny Farrell played by Glenn Ford. She and Johnny have a love-hate relationship and, when he is assigned by her new husband to keep an eye on her, the sparks begin to fly. 'Gilda' was directed with great panache by Charles Vidor (not to be confused with King Vidor) and gorgeously shot by Rudolph Mate who knew how to photograph Hayworth to maximum effect. Her famous entrance, in which she whips her hair back to reveal a mischievous grin, is one of the most iconic in Hollywood history. Hayworth was dubbed by Anita Ellis in the two big singing numbers in the film but it is her voice that you hear when she performs a mesmerising  'unplugged' version of 'Mame' earlier in the film - accompanying herself on guitar.

Gilda: I've got some news for you, Johnny. I'm going to do exactly what I please, when I please. I was true to one man once...and look what happened