Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

A dog-eat-dog underworld

A dog-eat-dog underworld

Plus, a neo-realist masterpiece set in Beirut and a gripping adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story 

Plus, a neo-realist masterpiece set in Beirut and a gripping adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story 

Nicholas Barber | October/November 2018

Biting the hand
Rest easy: Dogman is not another superhero movie, but an Italian low-life tragicomedy from Matteo Garrone, the director of “Gomorrah”. Its hapless anti-hero is Marcello (Marcello Fonte, above), a scrawny dog-groomer who is stuck in a desolate concrete suburb on the edge of Rome but who is happily devoted to his daughter and canine customers. The trouble is that he’s also devoted to Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce), a neighbourhood thug with fists the size of boxing gloves and a head that looks like it’s made of breezeblocks. Marcello supplies him with cocaine and drives his getaway car but gets nothing but bullying in return. Still, no dog can be kicked for ever without eventually biting his owner. Audiences will be desperate for Marcello to rebel against the hulking sociopath who holds his leash, but Garrone’s savage fable asks why he put up with the abuse in the first place and how complicit he is in Simoncino’s crimes.
On release: Oct 19th (UK)

Thick as thieves
Shoplifters will steal your heart. The winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival in May, this beautifully acted, bittersweet drama is written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. It introduces a rag-tag family scraping by on the margins of Tokyo society. The matriarch (Sakura Ando) works in a launderette, her husband (Lily Franky) puts in shifts on a building site while their daughter (Mayu Matsuoka) clocks on at a peep show. The family supplements its income by stealing supermarket groceries and claiming benefits it isn’t entitled to. They would be condemned in the tabloids as crooked scroungers but Hirokazu’s affectionate film lets us see how kind and decent they are. In time, their cluttered bungalow comes to feel less like Fagin’s den and more like a haven of gentleness and warmth. This unconventional idyll can’t last, of course. So it’s no surprise when the authorities barge in on the family. What is surprising is how deeply you care when it happens.
On release: Nov 23rd (UK & US)

Baby, light my fire
Burning is based on a Haruki Murakami short story. Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) is a gormless, South Korean twentysomething who has been drifting since he graduated. Everything changes when he bumps into Haemi (Jeon Jong-seo), a former schoolmate he barely recognises. “I’ve had plastic surgery,” she chirps. “Pretty, huh?” Jongsu is smitten. But just as romance starts to blossom, Haemi meets the handsome, wealthy Ben (Yeun Steven). How can poor Jongsu compete? At this point, “Burning” seems to be a romantic comedy, and a painfully sharp one at that. But the mood darkens when Ben confesses that his hobby is burning down abandoned greenhouses. Eventually Lee Chang-Dong’s gripping film becomes a Hitchcock-style mystery with a powerful political undercurrent and a twist worthy of Roald Dahl at his most cruel. “Burning” keeps smouldering and smoking in your memory long after you’ve seen it.
On release: Nov 9th (US), Feb 1st (UK)

Heartache
Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum tells the story of Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), a 12-year-old boy who lives in poverty in a bustling corner of Beirut. When his family’s overcrowded flat becomes unbearable, he runs away and ends up in an even smaller and more squalid apartment, caring singlehandedly for an Ethiopian toddler. It’s a horrifying situation. But Zain is so quick-witted and resourceful that the film delivers an exhilarating, funny adventure yarn as well as an angry, documentary-like indictment of a society without a safety net. Labaki’s technical bravura is astounding. How did she coax such a rich and authentic performance from a child actor who had never been in front of a camera? How did she film him crossing traffic-choked streets without anyone ending up in hospital? Whatever the answers, the Lebanese director of “Caramel” and “Where Do We Go Now?”, has made a neo-realist masterpiece that roars with 21st-century urban life.
On release: Dec 14th (US)