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The pleasures and pains of émigré life

The pleasures and pains of émigré life

Plus, Spike Lee’s film about the Ku Klux Klan and a beguiling drama about an all-female skateboarding crew

Plus, Spike Lee’s film about the Ku Klux Klan and a beguiling drama about an all-female skateboarding crew

Nicholas Barber | August/September 2018

Songs in the key of life
There’s a good chance that Pawel Pawlikowski’s new romantic tragicomedy, Cold War, will win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2019, just as “Ida” did in 2015. Shot in black and white, the film revolves around two star-crossed lovers (above). Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is a talented composer who is employed by Poland’s Stalinist government in the late 1940s to set up a patriotic folk-music ensemble. Zula (Joanna Kulig), a fiery singer, is his first recruit. But the two are rarely in harmony. Wiktor hopes to slip through the iron curtain so that he can play in a Paris jazz club; Zula dreads the hardship of life as an exile in an alien land. Inspired by his parents’ volatile, on-off relationship, Pawlikowski uses his characters’ intense affair to talk about politics and about the pains and pleasures of being an émigré. But his storytelling is so concise that he skips from country to country, from year to year, from humour to pathos, with nary a slip.
On release: August 31st (UK)

Camp
Montana, 1993. When Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) gets caught in the backseat of a car with another girl at her school prom, her evangelical relatives pack her off to God’s Promise, a gay “conversion camp” presided over by a guitar-toting pastor (John Gallagher Jr) and his chilling sister (Jennifer Ehle, channelling Hannibal Lecter). Their therapy is weird, if all too believable: from the pastor’s own “struggle with same-sex attractions” to the “Blessersize” Christian aerobics video that Cameron is made to watch. Desiree Akhavan, who directs and co-wrote The Miseducation of Cameron Post, is careful not to overplay the crazy scenario. Adapted from Emily Danforth’s 2012 novel, this bittersweet comedy drama sympathises with all of its characters even when they don’t sympathise with each other. Cameron is as confused about her identity as any teenager. And the camp counsellors are more clueless than cruel. After all, cramming a bunch of hormonal gay youths under one roof may not be the most effective way to steer them away from homosexuality.
On release: August 3rd (US), August 31st (UK)

Way black when
Winner of the runner-up trophy at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, BlacKkKlansman describes itself as “based on some fo’ real, fo’ real shit”. And so it is. Spike Lee’s film tells the true story of a black policeman who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado in 1979. John David Washington (son of Denzel) stars as Ron Stallworth, an ambitious new recruit who sweet-talks local KKK members over the phone, and even fools the organisation’s preening former Grand Wizard, David Duke (Topher Grace). There is a limit to the Klansmen’s stupidity, though: Stallworth’s Jewish partner (Adam Driver) stands in for him at face-to-face meetings. Lee stages their unlikely undercover operation as a knockabout farce and a feel-good blaxploitation homage. The jokey tone makes the outbursts of racist hate speech all the more shocking. Long before the closing footage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the Trump catchphrases sprinkled into the dialogue show that this movie’s as much about today as it is about the 1970s.
On release: August 10th (US), August 24th (UK)

Dear god
Don’t be taken in by the title. The hero of A Prayer before Dawn spends much of the film being brutally kicked and punched. Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s drama strips Billy Moore’s memoir from 2014 down to the barest narrative essentials, so we learn next to nothing about the protagonist’s troubled past. The basic facts are that Moore (Joe Cole) is a young English boxer and heroin addict who is thrown into a hellish Thai jail. Unable to speak the same language as his fellow prisoners, he soon realises that the only way he’ll survive is to swap violence for violence, that is, to swap bloody gang scuffles in the corridors with no less ferocious bouts of Muay Thai kickboxing. The film was shot on location in Nakhon Pathom prison, with many former inmates in the cast, so it feels authentic. The fight scenes are intense. But Coe (of “Peaky Blinders” fame) imbues Moore with vulnerability as well as animal toughness. Bruised on the inside as well as the outside.
On release: August 10th (US), July 20th (UK)

Freedom wheels
Skate Kitchen grinds the rail between fact and fiction. Co-writer and director, Crystal Moselle (“The Wolfpack”), made a short documentary about an all-female skateboarding crew she met on the New York subway, and they got on so well that she then asked if she could weave their experiences into a feature film. The exhilarating result isn’t just an impressive compilation of death-defying urban stunts, but a beguiling, atmospheric drama that celebrates youth, sisterhood, community and the feeling of freedom that comes from gliding down Broadway on four wheels. Rachelle Vinberg, the crew’s real-life co-founder, stars as Camille, a shy 18-year-old from Long Island who convinces her mother that she is spending her days in the library. Actually, she is sneaking away to hang out with her daredevil new friends on the Lower East Side. Apart from a cameo-ing Jaden Smith, the actors are all first-timers, but Vinberg’s understated presence suggests that she could have a big-screen career, even in films without a single skateboard.
On release: August 10th (US), September 28th (UK)