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Cinema Film round-up: April 11, 2024

Gay migrants, missing actors, sneaky teachers and a spell-binding portrayal of Amy Winehouse: The Star's critic MARIA DUARTE reviews Opponent, Close Your Eyes, The Teachers’ Lounge and Back To Black

Opponent (15)
Directed by Milad Alami

★★★★

 

 
THIS quietly powerful drama provides a fresh perspective on refugees, focusing on a man who is forced to flee Iran with his family to seek asylum in Sweden in the wake of a devastating rumour. 
 
Iranian-born writer-director Milad Alami explores masculinity, intimacy and tolerance in this compelling tale about Iman (Payman Maadi) who, despite feeling powerless, insists on maintaining his role as family patriarch as he, his wife and their two daughters are sent to a refugee centre in northern Sweden. In a bid to improve their chances of being granted asylum he reluctantly agrees to return to wrestling and joins a local club. 
 
Featuring real-life refugees, the film shows how they are treated like numbers as Iman and his family are kept waiting for months and years for their asylum application to be considered, and then rejected. In the meantime they are moved from one cramped room to the next. 
 
Maadi gives a compelling performance as a troubled man who denies his sexuality while growing closer to one of his wrestling colleagues (Bjorn Elgerd). When he is faced by his former best friend in a wrestling competition it all comes to a head. This friend is the reason he left Iran. His distraught wife leaves him taking the girls back to Iran, but he cannot follow as homosexuality is illegal there and he could receive the death penalty. 
 
This heartfelt drama delivers a stinging critique of societies like Iran which discriminate against sexual minorities and what that does to people. It concludes with a heartbreaking shot of Iman’s newborn son who will never know his father.   

Out in cinemas tomorrow.

 
Close Your Eyes (12A)
Directed by Victor Erice

★★★★

 

 
AFTER more than 30 years legendary Spanish director Victor Erice returns with a fascinating and compelling drama which examines identity, memory and the art of cinema.
 
Co-written and directed by Erice, it also reunites him with Ana Torrent, 50 years after she starred in his debut feature The Spirit of the Beehive, when she was just a young child. 
 
This film centres on a famous Spanish actor Julio Arenas (Jose Coronado) who disappeared without a trace while shooting a film. Did he fall off a nearby cliff, or did he jump? Twenty years later a TV show decides to investigate and interviews the film’s director and his close friend Miguel Garay (Manolo Solo). This opens a can of emotional worms for Garay, who has never directed since, as he searches out the original footage of his unfinished work. 
 
When they uncover what happened to Julio, it is a bittersweet reunion for Garay who finds he has retroactive amnesia and so cannot remember his real identity or his past life. 
 
With sublime and complex performances by Solo and Coronado this slow burning tale proves a masterclass in acting and filmmaking. 

Out in cinemas tomorrow.
 

 

Back To Black (15)
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson 

★★

 

 
MARISA ABELA is the surprising revelation capturing the spirit, speech and singing voice of the late great Amy Winehouse in a stunning five-star performance in sadly a two-star biopic. 
 
Directed by Fifty Shades of Grey’s Sam Taylor-Johnson, who teamed up with screen writer Matt Greenhalgh for the first time since 2009 Nowhere Boy, the film is told from Amy’s perspective and is inspired by her personal lyrics. It chronicles her life and work, her early rise to fame and the making of her groundbreaking album Back to Black which Mark Ronson produced and won a Grammy Award for, but who is only mentioned in passing. 
 
The impressive supporting cast includes Eddie Marsan, Jack O’Connell and Lesley Manville who are perfectly cast as her father, her husband and her grandmother respectively. 
 
The film opens with Amy running while the camera points straight down her cleavage in a seemingly gratuitous shot. 
 
While it covers her addiction to drink and drugs and how she was constantly hounded by the press, it all seems very sanitised.
 
It is a reminder of what an extraordinary artist Amy Winehouse was but I would recommend watching Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy for a more rounded biopic.  

Out in cinemas tomorrow.
 

 

The Teachers’ Lounge (15)
Directed by Ilker Catak

★★★★

 

 
AN idealistic new teacher at a German school finds herself in a moral minefield in this smart and provocative modern parable co-written and directed by Ilker Catak.
 
Leonie Benesch delivers a tour de force performance as Carla Nowak who decides to find out who is stealing money in the teachers’ lounge by setting a trap and filming it in her first week in the job. She soon discovers this sparks the legal issue of invasion of privacy as she catches the culprit on camera... or, well... their shirt sleeve. 
 
The film shows how quickly even tight knit communities can be destabilised and how frightening and devious children can be as they gun for her. 
 
Exploring racism, sexism and xenophobia this is a deliciously intense and complex thriller which will stay with you long after it has finished. 

Out in cinemas tomorrow.

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