ALAN FRANK recommends a hallucinatory trip through a troubled Asian country, and we look at the other films of the week
By the Time it Gets Dark (12A)
Directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong
THAI writer-director Anocha Suwichakornpong’s astonishing second feature evocatively interweaves and reinterprets the lives of its key characters to considerable emotive effect, despite her complex and frequently elusive storytelling.
Beautifully photographed by Ming Kai Leung, the film opens with two women arriving at a secluded house in the Thai countryside.
Their host, a young woman film-maker (Visra Vichit-Vadakan), intends to make a film about the 1976 Thammasat student massacre and is interviewing middle-aged writer Taew (Rassami Paoluengton), involved in the horrific event.
Suwichakornpong’s staging of the massacre, with lines of terrified young students bound and lying face down on the floor while a female guard invites their military captors to “Kill them if you want,” packs a potent visceral force.
It haunts everything that follows, with narrative and characterisation in continuous flux as the distinctive, often non-linear, storytelling gets under way.
There are memorable sequences, ranging from satirical film-making featuring an actor dressed as a fish singing and “swimming” in front of a blue screen in a film studio, to an unforgettable tropical garden filled with colourful statues of meerkats and flamingos.
Unexpectedly, and all the more effective for it, there’s a tourist-board style river cruise through a picturesque holiday brochure night-time Bangkok.
Taew’s comment that “It’s a drama, of sorts,” doesn’t even get near to describing the impact of the auteur’s extraordinary style.
Deceptive sequences of “conventional” Thai life might have been drawn from current all-too-prevalent TV series sending out-of-work performers on overseas trips to create celebrity-driven travel documentaries, to a beguiling scene of contemporary characters enjoying crabs, beers and apparently irrelevant conversation in the true tradition of student-style faux intellectualism.
By the Time it Gets Dark is a mesmeric and dreamlike experience which essentially defies conventional synopsis.
Instead, it leaves you wanting to experience it again.
Stockholm My Love
Directed by Mark Cousins
MARK COUSINS, best known as the creator of The Story of Film: An Odyssey and his column in Sight & Sound, is now establishing himself as an auteur in his own right.
I Am Belfast, a heartfelt homage to the city he grew up in, established the film-maker’s ongoing passion for the “city film” and, with Stockholm My Love, he continues on this path.
A feature that comes across more like a documentary, it stars musician Neneh Cherry as Alva, an architect coming to terms with her accidental killing of an old man while driving.
It takes the form of dialogues with her father, the deceased man and then with the city of Stockholm itself, starting on a grey day when shame and depression weigh heavily and concluding when the light breaks through overcast skies and Alva starts to heal.
Shot by DP Christopher Doyle and featuring new music from Cherry, the film is above all a meditation on the architecture and quality of light in a city that changes before our eyes as Alva’s mood shifts from despair to happiness.
Directed by Marc Webb
IN A film whose trajectory is clear from the outset, Frank is a single man striving to give his child prodigy niece Mary a normal childhood. Despite the familiarity of the narrative, this is an engaging drama due to its cast.
There’s a captivating performance from the gifted Mckenna Grace — who calls to mind the young Dakota Fanning in I Am Sam — as the no-nonsense, wisecracking seven-year-old maths genius Mary.
She convinces you that she could comprehensively solve any mathematical equation, Millennium Prize problems among them.
Teamed up with her one-eyed cat Fred and Chris Evans, on charming form as her uncle, they make a great team. You can’t help rooting for her, especially when a custody battle ensues with her rich and controlling grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) who is only interested in her intellectual potential.
Octavia Spencer and Jenny Slate round off director Marc Webb’s superb supporting cast in a film which will make you laugh and cry.
Destination Unknown (12A)
Directed by Claire Ferguson
“THE PAIN is wherever I am because I feel the pain every single day,” is the poignant opening statement from Holocaust survivor Ed Mosberg, the only member of his family to have survived the genocide, in this documentary.
Along with 11 other survivors — including one of the few escapees from the terror of Treblinka, where an estimated 870,000 people were killed, a woman who was saved by Oskar Schindler and Schindler’s right-hand man Mietek Pemper — he provides the heartbreaking narration for this powerful and moving documentary.
They reveal, some of them for the very first time, the horrors that they witnessed and endured.
Their intimate testimonies are seamlessly interwoven with rare archive footage from the time and family super-8 films from after the war, as director Claire Ferguson captures the pain that still haunts them more than seven decades after they were liberated.
Fourteen years in the making, this documentary reminds us once more of the evil humans are capable of as well as the good.
As one of the survivors vehemently states, his seven grandchildren are his answer to Hitler’s final solution.
With talks of internment camps being set up in Britain and the Tory government wanting to abolish the Human Rights Act this film is a stark reminder of where we could be heading again.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky
“HISTORY will be kind to me, for I intend to write it,” Winston Churchill once stated. But screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann and director Jonathan Teplitzky seems less concerned with historical accuracy than with creating a star-driven biopic.
It’s veracity is undermined in farfetched sequences such as King George VI joining Churchill, General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery in the country to debate the impending 1944 D-Day landings.
Churchill, according to this hagiography, was haunted by memories of the horrific WWI slaughter at Gallipoli, and is terrified of repeating his mistakes. Only his wife Clementine’s resolute support prevents his alcohol-driven disintegration.
This is not so much history-lite as history recomposed. Fortunately, despite the frequent factual lacunae, Brian Cox gives a blazing portrayal of Churchill. He is is riveting as he rehearses speeches in the mirror while dressing and throughout melds arrogance with experience. His compelling characterisation reduces all the others to mere dramatic props.