Paris, 13th District (18) ****
Deep Water (N/A) ***
X (18) ****
Hive (15) ***
The Phantom of the Open (12A) **
A Prophet’s Jacques Audiard collaborates with Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Céline Sciamma on Paris, 13th District, an interlinked anthology of stories about lust and love, directed by the former and co-written (along with Audiard and Léa Mysius) by the latter. Set around the titular Parisian neighbourhood – characterised by an imposing collection of high-rises – the film takes shape initially around Émilie (Lucie Zhang) and her new flatmate Camille (Makita Samba), whom she has immediately engaged in a casual sexual relationship. When this sours, though, the film shifts its gaze to Nora (Noémie Merlant), a 32-year-old former estate agent newly arrived in Paris and full of enthusiasm for her fresh start as a mature student. Nora’s world also quickly sours, though, when her immature classmates mistake her for a sex-chat webcam star called Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth) to whom she bears a vague resemblance. At which point the film engineers intriguing ways to bring both sets of characters together, with sex the connective force that attracts and repels them.
Shot in gorgeous black in white, the film confers a timeless quality on the very modern urban lives of these characters, who all seem to be suffering from a kind of emotional malaise brought on in some instances by the distancing effect of technology, but also unacknowledged grief and old- fashioned familial pressures. Audiard is great at teasing out these deeper elements without resorting to melodramatic showdowns and he’s aided by a brilliant cast who ground their characters’ sexual urges and hang-ups with recognisable human behaviour.
Which is more than can be said for Deep Water, a trashy erotic thriller from Adrian Lyne, the veteran British director of Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal. Respectively cast as a cuckolded tech guru who no longer has to work and a bored free spirit who openly flaunts her infidelity, Ben Affleck and Ana De Armas are heroically terrible as a dysfunctional married couple engaged in an ongoing series of toxic parlour games that escalate when Affleck’s Vic drunkenly tells the latest paramour of De Armas’s Melinda that he’s murdered one of her previous lovers. This off-colour joke (or is it?) seems to awaken a more dangerous side to Vic, something that manifests itself in a series of preposterous plot twists culled from the film’s Patricia Highsmith-source novel.
What follows is an increasingly silly exploration of the apparently aphrodisiac effects of murder; the end result, though, is not unentertaining, featuring as it does some choice moments of high camp, among them a dinner scene where Affleck implicitly threatens someone with his snail collection.
Sex and death are also on the menu in X, the new film from from cult indie horror director Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Sacrament). An artful genre experiment that serves up old-school slasher thrills with some very meta French New Wave twists, it’s set in Texas in 1979 and stars Mia Goth as Maxine, a coked-up dancer coerced by her employer-cum-boyfriend (Martin Henderson) into participating in a gonzo porn shoot that goes gruesomely awry.
Along for the ride are the film’s aspirational director RJ (Owen Campbell) and his boom-operator girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), as well as the film’s other onscreen talent: the Marilyn Monroe-esque Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and uber-stud Jackson (hip-hop artist Kid Cudi). Piling them into the back of a van to make the trip to the film-within-the-film’s rural location, West immediately pays tribute to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but as the fictional shoot gets underway, he disrupts expectations with intriguing jump cuts that connect the characters in a profoundly unsettling way with the creepy elderly couple who own the farm.
To say any more risks ruining the fun, but West’s playful mix of loving homage and full-throttle bloodshed makes for a heady cocktail, with one scene in particular (it involves an overhead shot of a character swimming in a lake) as good a representation of the horrors that lurk unseen as anything in recent years.
Fêted at last year’s Sundance film festival, Hive zeroes in on a Kosovan woman fighting to make ends meet in the aftermath of a wartime massacre that may have claimed the life of her husband seven years earlier. Based on a true story, Blerta Basholli’s film begins with Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) stoically searching a truck full of bodybags for the corpse of her missing husband and then proceeds along similarly bleak lines as she encounters misogynistic abuse from the villagers who object to her efforts to mobilise local women to help her start a food manufacturing business. Shooting everything with the same flat effect, Basholli’s film is an intentionally tough watch, but its triumph-over-adversity message hits harder as a result.
Inspired by the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, the British amateur golfer who managed to enter the Open after taking up the sport on whim, The Phantom of the Open is another of those loveable-loser sagas that have become a tiresome staple of British comedies. Playing Flitcroft as a kind of Forrest Gump-style simpleton who has selflessly deferred his dreams for the sake of his family, Mark Rylance goes for cuddly but veers into condescension while director Craig Roberts overdoes the quirk factor by equating Flitcroft’s sudden golfing obsession with some kind of goofy religious awakening. Sally Hawkins and Rhys Ifans co-star.
Paris, 13th District is on select release and on demand from Curzon Home Cinema from 18 March; Deep Water is streaming on Prime Video from 18 March; X, Hive and The Phantom of the Open are in cinemas from 18 March.
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