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China’s avenging angel goes on a surreal odyssey

China’s avenging angel goes on a surreal odyssey

Plus, mid-life romance and a dance to the music of time

Plus, mid-life romance and a dance to the music of time

Nicholas Barber | December/January 2019

Qiao (Zhao Tao) may be a gangster’s moll, but she is at least as tough and cunning as her boyfriend Bin (Liao Fan). When he is attacked in the street by a group of rival thugs, it is Qiao who fires Bin’s pistol in the air and scares them off. And when the police arrive, Qiao swears that the unlicensed gun belongs to her. The reward for her loyalty, though, is five years in prison, during which Bin disappears. If Qiao is to have any hope of seeing him again, she will have to follow his trail all the way down the Yangzi river.

On one level, Ash is Purest White (above) is a feminist gangster movie – the hardboiled story of an avenging angel with a sharp haircut who outwits everyone in her way. But this Chinese drama is much more than that. Spanning 17 years, Jia Zhangke’s hypnotic film grows into a surreal, supernatural odyssey that is also a poetic comment on the many ways that people and their surroundings can change beyond recognition.
On release: March 15th (US)

Pain in Spain
Asghar Farhadi’s early films were set in Iran. His latest one, Everybody Knows, is set in rural Spain, but it bears all the hallmarks of his other films. Few other directors make domestic melodramas with such compulsive and mysterious plots or such rich, novelistic characterisation. No wonder he has already won two Oscars.

The heroine of his new film is Laura, a married woman who returns from Argentina to her small home town outside Madrid for her sister’s wedding. There is still a spark between her and her brawny first love, Paco – not surprising, given that Laura is played by Penélope Cruz and Paco by Cruz’s husband, Javier Bardem. But before they can act on those smouldering feelings, Laura’s teenage daughter is kidnapped. As old grievances and suspicions flare, it looks as if the abduction won’t just wreck a family, but a whole town. A gripping combination of detective thriller and high-class soap opera.
On release: Feb 8th (US), March 8th (UK)

Dancing in time
The physical and emotional strains of being a teenager are bad enough. But they can be even worse if you are also putting yourself through a ballet school’s toe-mangling, muscle-straining training regime – and worse still if you are a girl in a boy’s body, being dosed with “puberty inhibitors” and counting the days until you can have gender-reassignment surgery.

The subject of this triple whammy is Lara (Victor Polsner, above), the 15-year-old Belgian heroine of Lukas Dhont’s debut drama, Girl. It’s a miraculous film, so understated and believable that it could be a documentary, and so sensitive that viewers of any age and gender will feel Lara’s pain. Most touching is the kindness and understanding of so many of the people in her life, including her doctors, teachers and taxi-driving dad. A tender tour de force about coming of age.
On release: Jan 18th (US), Mar 15th (UK)

Romantic remake
Gloria Bell is the story of a divorced 50-something (Julianne Moore) who works in an insurance office, dotes on her grown-up children and disco-dances in singles bars – and is more or less content with her lot. But when she meets a gentle fellow divorcee, Arnold (John Turturro), she wonders if it isn’t too late for a meaningful romance.

The film is an American remake of “Gloria”, a Chilean drama directed by Sebastian Lelio. The new version is also directed by Lelio (whose “A Fantastic Woman” won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2018). Though it bears some similarities to the original, the remake is a joy in its own right: mature, insightful and lit up by Moore’s glittering performance. And it’s not as though there’s a surfeit of films about the feelings of ordinary middle-aged women.
On release: March 8th (US)