Wondering what to watch this weekend? There’s a bit of something for everyone with the best films hitting streaming this week. Leading the pack is Furies, Netflix’s first Vietnamese original action movie, directed by Veronica Ngo (whom you might recognise from Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Da 5 Bloods), who starred in the film’s predecessor Furie.
The new film, a prequel, moves proceedings back 15 years to 90s Saigon while expanding its cast to three vengeful women rather than just the one.
On iPlayer, a couple of movies concerned with the Iraq War land in tandem: Katheryn Bigelow’s tense bomb squad thriller The Hurt Locker, as well as Official Secrets, a biopic telling the story of whistleblower Katherine Gun, who discovered that American and British intelligence were spying on diplomats in hope to force a resolution to invade Iraq.
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Meanwhile, MUBI releases its own acquisition Saint Omer, a courtroom drama that pulls the experiences of its director Alice Diop in an astonishing consideration of a real life case.
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Furies (2023) | Netflix (pick of the week)
Following up the first film, 2019's Furie — put reductively, a rather outstanding Vietnamese spin on Taken — Furies travels back 15 years before the events of that film to Saigon. The young Bi (Đồng Ánh Quỳnh) flees her home in the country after being sexually assaulted (a very strong content warning for the film’s opening) and her mother’s murder, and is taken under the wing of Jacqueline, played by Veronica Ngo, the star of the first movie and now the director of the second.
Read more from Variety: Furies: A furious tale of female revenge (5 min read)
Bi ends up being trained in combat with her fellow adoptees, the stoic goth Hong and bubbly (and rather insane) Thanh. The three quickly commit to raining carnage upon sex traffickers in the city, destroying their hideouts in a whirlwind of fists and knives and Ngo — an action star in her own right — proves to be just as exciting a presence behind the camera too.
Her action sequences see the camera pirouette and duke along with her combatants, fixing its perspective onto swinging limbs in a feverish dance. In a week where John Wick: Chapter 4 is releasing in cinemas it makes for a fun alternative, putting its own stylistic spin on bloody revenge, even as its budgetary limits are sometimes apparent in some ropey CG.
But that rarely matters in the face of Ngo’s handle on elegant but ferocious choreography.
Also on Netflix: Noise (2023), Money Shot: (2023)
Saint Omer (2022) | MUBI
Documentary filmmaker Alice Diop’s first feature film Saint Omer is astounding, and vastly overlooked during the pageantry of film awards season.
Pulling details from the real life case of Fabienne Kabou (Diop attended the trial) Saint Omer spins fact and fiction together in deeply moving fashion. Rama (played by Kayije Kagame), a Parisian author and literature professor, goes to Saint-Omer to observe the trial of Laurence Coly, a young Senegalese woman and student accused of infanticide, abandoning her 15-month-old on a beach.
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Rama plans to look at the case with distance, and use it as inspiration for her writing, but the film keenly watches Rama in turn as her curiosity turns to empathy and obsession. It quickly becoming apparent that she cannot keep her planned emotional distance, that she can’t simply turn Coly into a character.
Expecting her own child, Rama is struck by their similar backgrounds and finding herself relating to Coly’s descriptions of her feelings of isolation and panic. In reflection of Rama’s (and by extension, her own) empathy with Coly, Diop refuses to sensationalise her depiction of the court proceedings, opting instead for a matter-of-fact, observational mode, in tandem with Coly’s monotone, undramatic testimony.
Diop’s work here is as hypnotic as it is disquieting.
Also on MUBI: Melancholia (2011)
The Hurt Locker (2008) | BBC iPlayer
The instigator of the idea that Jeremy Renner was the next big thing (with good reason), The Hurt Locker also marked a change in trajectory for director Katheryn Bigelow, previously a key proponent of macho blockbuster action like Point Break, or more outlandish works like Strange Days.
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The Hurt Locker – which made her the first woman ever to win Best Director at the Oscars – is the first of her direct engagement with contemporary US foreign policy as seen in the thorny Zero Dark Thirty, which while not necessarily the most damning depiction of the CIA, was memorable for presenting the hunt for Osama Bin Laden with a sense of empty un-fulfilment, a pointless exercise in national revenge.
Bigelow’s no-frills approach to the war film as suspense thriller gave The Hurt Locker a unique standing aesthetically as well as dramatically. Seen more from a boots-on-the-ground perspective, and based off screenwriter Mark Boal’s experience as an embedded journalist with bomb squads in the Iraq War, the film prioritises the psychological impact of serving in such a unit, rather than a grander narrative.
Also on iPlayer: Official Secrets (2019)
Watch: Looking back at The Hurt Locker's Venice debut