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If there was a theme to place across the selection of films this week, it would probably be ‘intimacy’. Not strictly the romantic kind – though there’s plenty of that with the sensual Lover’s Rock and the complicated melodrama of The Wound – there’s also the empathy and attention to little details in Eliza Hittmann’s drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
The subject matter and texture of those films should make the odd one out fairly clear in this case – Peter Jackson’s ambitious, kind of loopy fantasy film Mortal Engines, hands down the biggest film of the lot, and one that happens to be built from the concept of cities that drive around on gigantic wheels. Something for everybody.
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Lover’s Rock - BBC iPlayer
A gargantuan, five-part film project directed by acclaimed filmmaker Steve McQueen (Hunger, Widows, 12 Years a Slave), Small Axe felt immediately unprecedented and awe-inspiring in both its epic scope and its intimate texture. Comprised of stories about different generations of London’s West Indian community from the 70s onwards, Small Axe feels unlike anything that the BBC have released before. This might apply the most to this week’s film Lover’s Rock, a mood piece set entirely during a “blues party” in the 80s, events held in Black British homes as most nightclubs and bars would often refuse to admit anyone who wasn’t white.
Though there’s a tender meet cute at the film’s centre, the narrative really revolves around the music – various genres associated with sound system culture, reggae, dub, and of course, lover’s rock. Albeit produced for release on television it really feels like a cinematic experience, immersive and sensory in its depiction of the private joy of this party, away from the hostile gaze of white racists – such hostility being the basis for much of the Small Axe films, Lover’s Rock appears as something of a respite, but memorable and hypnotising in its own right. One of the finest films of the year.
Also on iPlayer: Mangrove, One Man and His Shoes
Never Rarely Sometimes Always - NOW TV
Eliza Hittman’s critically acclaimed 2020 film follows a pair of teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania travel to New York City to seek out medical help after an unintended pregnancy. Subtle in its expression and intimate in scope, the film is sparse enough in its actions that even the smallest gestures feel so completely revealing, handled with precision and care by Sidney Flanigan in what might be one of the most impressive debut performances in years.
It’s an unassuming but heartrending piece, simply but handsomely shot by French cinematographer Hélène Louvart (Rocks, Beach Rats) to compliment Hittman’s delicate direction.
Also on NOW TV: Now You See Me, Pompeii
Mortal Engines - Netflix
There’s no guarantee that you’ll adore Mortal Engines, but there’s a very good chance that you’ll be hypnotised by its bonkers concept and world-building, and sometimes, that combination of mythology and visual spectacle is the most important thing. Giddily adapted from Philip Reeves’ steampunk fantasy of the same name, the quickest and most immediately apparent comparisons to make might be that of a YA novel Mad Max (that also doubles as a weirdo Brexit analogy), its opening set piece a death race through the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Europe, two gigantic vehicles broadsiding each other with harpoons.
Watch: The trailer for Mortal Engines
One of those vehicles just happens to be London, as all cities exist on enormous wheels now following a very quick and thorough apocalypse in the 21st Century. The film is probably far too busy for its own good but the brazenness of it all is impressive on its own, right down to its including of completely insane world details like how statues of Minions are kept as historical reminders of “American deities” (yes, really). The narrative itself doesn’t really match up with the hugely ambitious production design and special effects here, but that design work is genuinely awe-inspiring, even beautiful at times. Not a bad film to turn your brain off to, should you require that.
Also on Netflix: If Anything Happens I Love You
The Wound - BFI Player
A film that recently courted controversy in South Africa, John Trengove’s The Wound explores a gay relationship during a traditional Xhosa circumcision ceremony (also known as Ulwaluko). The film follows Xolani, a lonely factory worker who helps out with the ceremony, serving as a mentor to the young and defiant initiate from Johannesburg, Kwanda.
Kwanda quickly finds out about Xolani’s relationship with another man, Vija, and all three struggle to avoid scrutiny from their conservative peers. Paul Ozgur’s camerawork compliments the film’s direct and unflinching approach to its subject matter, that directness emphasised by the film’s lack of a score, lending it a subdued soundscape that feels far more unnerving than mediative.
Also on BFI Player: The Third Wife, La Belle Époque