Five films I liked from 2021

Dave Kellaway and his films of 2021.


After Love directed by Aleem Khan

Set in Dover and Calais this is a movie about marital lies. Joanna Scanlon acts brilliantly as Mary, the widow of a ferry captain. Converting to Islam once married, Mary discovers on his death that her husband had a secret lover in Calais. Mary immediately sets off for France to go looking for her. The French lover, Genevieve, believes Mary is the cleaner coming to help clear her house. In order to find out more about Genevieve’s relationship with her husband, she goes along with the assumption. She meets Genevieve’s son. This ingenious plot allows us to follow Mary’s gradual discovery of her husband’s double life and the effects this has on her. There is a truly brilliant scene that Scanlon carries off when she examines her body in the mirror. It captures all her pain and doubts as she knows she shared her husband with another non-Islamic, elegant woman. At the same, she retains a certain power since Genevieve is unaware of her husband’s death, her identity and what she knows. The film stokes up the tension as we fear a destructive denouement.

[available on BFI Player or via Amazon Prime Video]

Dear Comrades! directed by Andrei Konchalovsky

From Andy Stowe’s review on the Socialist Resistance site.

In 1962 factory workers in the Russian city of Novocherkassk went on strike and marched peacefully into the city centre, bearing portraits of Lenin, to lobby the local government about wage cuts and price rises. KGB snipers murdered twenty-six of them, their bodies were dispersed across the region in unmarked graves and everyone who witnessed the events had to swear a legal document which meant they would be executed for talking about what they had seen. A KGB officer explains “these people have to be forgotten”.

At the film’s heart is the incomprehension of Lyudmila, a decorated veteran of World War Two, who now holds a position roughly equal to a cabinet member in your local council. Played by Yuliya Vysotskaya she gets some of the perks of being a bureaucrat. Her flat is luxurious by Soviet standards; while the town working-class are panic buying salt, matches and milk she is taken to the back of the store and given everything she needs. “Temporary hardship” is reserved for the workers and right till the end she harks back to the time when life was good and prices were low under Stalin. (…)  Her 18-year-old daughter is shot in the protests. (…)

Lyuda, the Stalinist who’d called for the workers and protesters to be shot, is transformed into the mother trying to dig up what might be the site of her daughter’s unmarked grave asking, “how is this possible”.

[available on Amazon Prime Video]

First Cow directed by Kelly Reichard

Some people found Kelly Reichard’s western Meek’s Cutoff a bit slow and difficult to sit through. This work is more accessible while retaining the originality of the earlier film. Two drifters in the American West of the 1820s are finding it hard to make ends meet. They spot an opportunity, when a beautiful cow specially imported as the ‘first cow’ for local factor (colonial official) is left more or less unattended at night. The pair sneak in and start to take the milk. One of them is a cook and uses his skills to make wonderful cookies, that in this wild place had not been available. Above all, this is a tale of tender male friendship while also being a parable of how brutal capitalist market forces were operating – even among the settlers, who were also divided by race. This film debunks the cosy Western myths of freedom and equal opportunity. 

[available on MUBI and via Amazon Prime Video]

The Father directed by Florian Zeller

Many of us who have ageing or frail relatives will have direct experience of dementia. This film brilliantly manages to put you inside the body of somebody with dementia – an illness which a large proportion of us will inevitably suffer from as we live longer. It does this by dramatically re-creating scenes that appear when you first see them as part of the reality in the film. However, they are in fact perceptions that are just as real in the mind of the ageing father. He is interpreted wonderfully by Anthony Hopkins, the great Welsh actor of Hannibal Lector fame (Silence of the Lambs). So for example he ‘sees’ his other daughter (who is deceased) helping him or his son-in-law moaning about the burden he has become. Two actors (the fantastic Oliva Coleman) are used to present this and the editing makes this work seamlessly once you get used to it.

Many of the issues of the social care debate are raised in the film but mainly from the viewpoint of the father himself:

  • the trauma of having to abandon the home you have lived in for so long,
  • the stubborn refusal to see that you do require outside carers,
  • continual verbal repetition
  • often the way dementia strips away the normal way you relate to loved ones –  suppressed feelings of love or animosity come to the surface and can be brutal

[available on Amazon Prime Video]

The Power of the Dog directed by Jane Campion

An engrossing gothic western that is mysterious and menacing by Campion. Who also made the 1993 classic Piano. It is beautifully shot, the colours and framing of the landscapes enhance the mood. It is like no other western you have seen. If you want to see a movie that expresses male resentment and the hate against a woman generated by an obsessive fraternal love then this is for you.

Benedict Cumberbatch makes a very good fist of playing a rancher in 1920s Montana. It is said he went completely method, keeping in character the whole time even to the extent of not washing, speaking with his American accent and not conversing with Kirsten Dunst who played the object of his hate. He hates her because his brother brings her into their lives and takes him away from his intimacy. Her son ends up playing a crucial role in the plot as the effete young boy who is first mocked then taken on as his own son by Cumberbatch. Dunst portrays the devastating effects of the hatred as she turns to the bottle.  There is a brilliant plot twist at the end that we only belatedly understood. This is definitely an Oscar contender.

[Still showing in some cinemas and streaming on Netflix]

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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