Category: Films by women

Censor (UK 2021)

Enid (Niamh Algar)

Censor is the British film that perhaps benefited most from the pandemic’s impact on cinema releases in the UK. After initially appearing at a range of film festivals, including Sundance and Berlin, and getting a US release in June, the film opened in the UK in August of 2021. It gained a profile from national reviews and for a while it was a ‘must see’ film. Although it got some very good reviews, it seems some horror film fans were disappointed by what is actually a very sophisticated narrative ‘about’ horror films and how they both generate fan communities and controversies. Censor is now streaming on MUBI in the UK (and is available to rent or buy on most UK streamers).

Prana Bailey-Bond

Censor is the début film of Prana Bailey-Bond, a young Welsh woman, too young to have first discovered the ‘video nasties’ during the period when they were being pilloried in the tabloid press in the UK in the early 1980s. She first experienced horror films on video in the mid 1990s and became aware of the history of the controversies. She became interested in the politics of the attacks on video viewings of horror films and in an interview has suggested that she equated them with the attempts to repress ‘rave culture’ which she recognised as a  form of rebellion as a teenager. Working with scriptwriter Anthony Fletcher, she directed a short film Nasty (UK 2015) and when that was well received, moved on to the development of Censor.

A little history

I think it’s quite important to understand the history of ‘video nasties’ and the structures of the film industry in the UK, especially for non-UK readers. There is a long history of film censorship in the UK which up to 1984 operated in a typically British ‘gentlemanly’ manner. The industry itself established the BBFC (then the ‘British Board of Film Censors’) in 1912. The board both classified films to be seen by adults only or children of set ages and required cuts for films deemed unacceptable. The Board had no statutory powers. These rested with local government authorities which issued performance licences for venues. The only other law that could be applicable to films was the Obscene Publications Act – which was notoriously difficult to use for prosecutions.

The ‘censor’ team in their dingy basement offices (Enid wither back to the camera)

The development of video cassette technology in the early 1980s created a new viewing environment and the initial refusal by the Hollywood studies to release their films on video (at a time when, in the UK, cinema admissions were falling rapidly) meant that a new domestic market was created for films not classified for cinema screenings. The Thatcher Conservative government, pressurised by campaigners against obscenity and pornography, created the Video Recordings Act (1984) which charged the BBFC with a statutory power for the first time to ‘protect’ younger audiences. ‘Video nasties’ was the term used by the tabloids to describe around 70 horror films, most made outside the UK, which were then proscribed by the BBFC. Around 2000 the BBFC (British Board of Film ‘Classification’ since 1985) organised extensive public consultations which then informed new classification policies. Many of the original ‘banned’ titles were then re-classified for public viewing.

Enid’s local video store – in reality most of the ones I visited in the 1980s were brighter and busier and much more cramped

The film

Prana Bailey-Bond was a diligent student of the furore that surrounded the video nasties controversy and in particular the defence by film and media scholars, especially in Ill Effects: The Media/Violence Debate (1997) an anthology edited by Martin Barker and Julian Petley. She researched the films in question but decided to adopt an approach which avoided direct historical references. Instead she imagines a group of ‘film censors’ working away in an underground office space sometime in the early 1980s. She doesn’t reference the BBFC directly. One of these censors is Enid (Niamh Algar) a serious and intense young woman who dresses rather primly. Enid lives alone and works diligently to suggest edits in films before ‘passing’ them. Later, it emerges that Enid is at odds with her parents over the disappearance of her younger sister Nina when the two girls were playing together in the woods some years earlier. Enid becomes particularly interested in the films of a particular producer of cheap horror films who at one point comes into the censors’ office. She becomes aware of the media controversy about horror films when one of the films she has ‘passed’ is named in a court case as possibly prompting a vicious attack. She also visits a local video rental store where she observes that the more notorious ‘extreme’ films are kept ‘under the counter’. As the pressure on Enid mounts she begins to lose her grip on reality, especially when she thinks that an actress in one of the films she is working upon might be her sister, now grown up. In the final section of the film, as the audience, can’t be sure about what we are seeing as Enid appears to cross over into the fictional world of horror films.

Commentary

I’m not sure what to make of Censor. I remember the video rental market very well. It involved sexploitation films, thrillers and martial arts films as well as horror – all of which would otherwise have struggled to get into cinemas. I was never particularly interested in the video nasties. I’m too squeamish for gory horror films, but I’m not necessarily interested in banning them. I am interested in horror as a genre but more inclined to ghost stories and psychological horror. Bailey-Bond does call Censor a ‘psychological horror’ and although there is plenty of blood at times (and the screen is suffused with a red glow), the film is not particularly scary as such. Having taught horror films and read widely around the subject, I can see that Prana Bailey Bond is an intelligent and talented filmmaker (and recognised as such in industry circles). She certainly develops an impressive performance by Niamh Algar and she packs a great deal into the brief 84 minutes running time of her film.

Enid crosses a boundary . . .

It seems clear to me that the 1980s is now a time of fascination for two groups of people. For one group who were children of the 1980s and who are now established in more senior roles in society, there is a nostalgia for childhood experiences. For younger groups discovering the 1980s for the first time and necessarily without the cultural baggage of the period, films like Censor must feel rather different. For my generation the 1980s was a nightmare – unless you were willing to embrace Thatcherism and the real horrors that accompanied it. I’m intrigued by Bailey-Bond’s linking of the horror films on video to rave culture and I think she has produced an intelligent and illuminating film. The performances are strong and the film hasa distinctive visual style. I’m not sure I’m competent to evaluate how effective/appropriate it is but I do note that DoP Annika Summerson has used a wide range of formats for image capture with aspect ratios varying from ‘Scope to Academy and along with Production design by Paulina Rzeszowska has achieved a look that might well suggest horror in video in the 1980s. This is definitely a film to look out for, but only as long as you don’t expect a standard generic horror flic. Here’s the UK trailer.

Heart (South Korea 2019)

Part of the long conversation between Lee Seok-Hyeong and Jeong Ga-young

This short feature (70 minutes) is part of MUBI’s current season of New Korean Cinema. It is presented as a ‘comedy’ but I suggest that is misleading for some audiences. I might have smiled at some point and I was prompted to think about a few things as I watched the film but mostly it left me cold. I admit that I’m probably not the target audience – perhaps I’m far too old to understand it. It was part of the London Film Festival programme and I’m grateful for the short introduction offered there and for the one other review I could find, on Eastern Kicks.

Choi Tae-Hwan, the young man the filmmaker meets when she is thinking about making the film

Heart is the third film by writer-director Jeong Ga-young. Following on from Lucky Chan-sil on MUBI, this seems to be another film that gets linked to the work of Hong Sang-soo, though in this case not directly but arguably as a film influenced by the more experienced director. Jeong plays a version of herself in the film, as what Kate Taylor on the BFI website describes as an ‘asshole film director’. She’s a 30 year-old young woman and the narrative is in two main parts. The first two thirds of the film presents an awkward encounter between Jeong and an art teacher played by Lee Seok-Hyeong. Some years earlier she slept with him around the time his wife was giving birth. Now she is considering an affair with another married man and seems to want to discuss her love life and ask his advice – or is this simply a ruse to play with the art teacher? In the midst of this rambling interconnection we are offered flashbacks to the earlier encounter between the two characters, including a couple of fantasy moments. In the final third of the film Jeong offers a kind of meta commentary in which she is now presented as the filmmaker before she was responsible for the earlier sequence as she interviews a young man (Choi Tae-Hwan) who could play the male role in a possible film.

One of the flashbacks in which the art teacher tries to explain what having your own exhibition requires.

Jeong presents herself as a young woman who seems to want everything her way and is aware of the contradictions in her behaviour. The film director in the second part of the film wants to make a film that will be screened at Cannes, but she doesn’t like Cannes because she’ll be uncomfortable getting drunk there. Her character in the first part of the film suggests that she pretends to be a young student to get concessions at the cinema box office, except when its an ‘R’ certificate when she wants to be seen as an older woman. The two reviewers I mentioned see Jeong as “clear-eyed and unsentimental” and that “young women [in the audience] will see a lot of truth in Ga-young” (both quotes from Tania Hall writing for Eastern Kicks). Kate Taylor suggests that Fleabag is a touchstone for the film alongside Hong Sang-soo. I’m all in favour of young women exploring their sexuality and discussing their moral codes if that’s what they wish to do and I can see that gleefully playing with male insecurity is something that could be an attractive proposition. The best sequence in the film for me was when the art teacher explains what you need to do and why, if you want to mount an exhibition of your work. The young woman wants to have an exhibition, even though she doesn’t seem to want to do the work or to have the talent.

Clearly, I struggled with Heart, but it’s good to have the MUBI season available and I will try some of the other titles.

A Second Chance (En chance til, Denmark-Sweden 2014)

Simon (Ulrich Thomsen, left) and Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)

Susanne Bier has had a 30 year directorial career so far, reaching a prominent position in Scandinavian cinema with Open Hearts (Denmark 2002) and going on to move into ‘international’ cinema (i.e. English language productions) with Serena (US 2014). Currently she is making a US TV series about the decisions made by ‘First Ladies’ in the White House. She’s had her share of flops but before Serena she made A Second Chance a film drawing on the repertoires of the police procedural, family melodrama and psychological thriller. Melodrama is definitely one of her strengths for me and this film, co-written by Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen, is certainly powerful and at times I found it difficult to watch because I feared what might happen next.

Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Sanne (Lykke May Andersen)

Andreas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a police detective who with his partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen) is called to a social housing block where they find Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a drug user they had previously arrested for violent assault. He is living with a young woman, Sanne (Lykke May Andersen) and her baby. Andreas is angered to find the baby in a filthy state, lying in its own excrement. He calls social services but they seem reluctant to act. We know Andreas has a young son at home and he is perhaps over-emotional. His chief warns him off. Simon meanwhile has his own problems, separated from his wife and son and drinking too much. Narratives about law officers with family problems are familiar enough in crime fictions and especially in Danish-Swedish TV serials such as The Bridge, but this feels like a slightly different take. At this point there is the likelihood of a domestic abuse case but no hint of the kinds of major crimes that have characterised ‘Nordic Noir’ film and TV crime narratives over the past twenty years. (This doesn’t mean I think that domestic abuse is not a serious crime.)

I’m not sure how I can set up the rest of the narrative without spoiling the whole story but I want to make clear that Andreas and his partner Anna (Maria Bonnevie) are having problems with their new baby who, as they are both in their early forties, might be a son they have struggled to conceive for one reason or another. Later there are hints that Anna might had a difficult childhood herself. When things go wrong Andreas makes a stupid decision but one that could conceivably happen. I have no experience of babies and child-rearing and others may disagree me. Now we have the ingredients of a heavyweight crime melodrama which some might see as a psychological thriller.

Andreas and Anna (Maria Bonnevie)

Modern day reviewers and critics really hate melodramas. I sometimes feel it is an almost pathological hatred for a form that predates cinema and has continued to be important throughout film history. I find it bizarre. Some of the criticisms of A Second Chance are that the film is heavy-handed, contrived and manipulative and worst of all it is using plotlines taken from TV soap operas. I had to go back through sections of the film to try to find some of these terrible crimes against scriptwriting and direction. I do have to note that some of this criticism comes from critics I generally admire, so perhaps I’m gullible and naïve? That might be true , but what baffles me is the idea that melodrama stopped being ‘acceptable’ at some point, despite the fact that some of the most revered directors of the 1940s-70s made mainly melodramas. It’s an expressionist dramatic form so criticising the use of music, mise en scène and close-up photography to communicate feelings and emotional responses seems pointless. I thought that the music by Johan Söderqvist and cinematography by Michael Snyman were appropriate for the melodrama narrative. There is also the problem that some critics see the use of a comparison between a middle-class couple with a baby and a working-class couple with a baby as banal or as overly didactic (the same kind of comments are aimed at Ken Loach and Paul Laverty for their melodramas). But Susanne Bier does not make the kinds of expressive statements that her critics rail against. She ‘shows’ but she doesn’t ‘tell’ and doesn’t necessarily come to conclusions.

The pram suggests horror or psychological thriller?

Could the writing be improved? Yes, I think so. I do agree that Simon as a character wastes the talents of Ulrich Thomsen and that making him an alcoholic police officer is perhaps just too familiar. But this film has a very starry cast that offers the great performances in compensation and as a co-production it includes Swedish characters. Anna’s family are Swedish with her father played by Peter Haber (best known in the UK as Martin Beck in the long-running police procedural series) and her mother by Ewa Fröling, an actor in Swedish films since the 1970s. The most remarkable performance is by Nikolaj Lie Kaas, a well-known face from Danish TV series as well as films, who is almost unrecognisable as Tristan. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a star on Game of Thrones I understand. I’ve never seen that series but he has a remarkable presence. I remember him from the Jo Nesbø adaptation Headhunters (Norway 2011). In that film he looked a little too ‘smooth’, but in A Second Chance I think his angular good looks are utilised well. There is also a small part for Thomas Bo Larsen, another of the familiar Dogme graduates in Danish film and TV. Bier certainly surrounded herself with actors she knew.

If you are sure that you don’t like melodramas perhaps you shouldn’t watch this film: if you are open-minded and want a film that will keep you watching, albeit feeling that you should turn away, you should give it a go. I was pleased to fill in another gap in my viewings of Susanne Bier’s work. The trailer below gives away the key plot point in the film, so beware – but you’ve probably guessed what happens already.

Lucky Chan-sil (Chansilineun bokdo manhji, South Korea 2019)

Chan-sil and Kim-yeong, the French teacher

This lovely little film is one of two recent South Korean titles to turn up on MUBI. It’s an interesting mix of romance, fantasy and gentle humour with an underlying dramatic edge. Writer-director Kim Cho-hee is making her feature début as a director after working for several years as producer for the celebrated auteur director Hong Sang-soo. I’ve only seen one of Hong’s films and I found it slightly irritating so I was at first apprehensive about Lucky Chan-sil, but I needn’t have worried.

Moving house . . .

The film opens with a celebratory drinking session for a film crew at which the director suddenly collapses with a fatal heart attack. The future for the crew looks uncertain. The title credits are offered as simple text against a hessian background, familiar from classical Japanese films from the 1950s and especially the later colour films of Ozu Yasujiro. We realise then that we’ve been watching an opening sequence in Academy ratio. With the last title the ratio widens to 1.85:1. (I was reminded of the sequence at the start of Frank Tashlin’s 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It when Academy becomes CinemaScope and B&W becomes Technicolor.) We might guess that this Korean film is going to offer film references and we won’t be wrong

The landlady

Sophie and her French teacher with Chan-sil in her cleaning mode

The film’s protagonist emerges as ‘Producer Lee’ or Lee Chan-sil (Kang Mal-Geum). This 40 year-old finds herself without a job and few prospects after working with the same arthouse director for some time. She realises that her job as producer was one that most people she meets don’t really see as important. “But what do you actually do?” She is forced to move to a room in a house on top of the hill overlooking the city. It’s such a steep climb that she must recruit three of her younger ex-colleagues to carry her belongings. When she gets to the house with its views out over the city, we meet her landlady played by Youn Yuh-Jung, the beloved grandma in Minari (US 2020). As Chan-sil gradually begins to understand her situation she realises she needs to earn some money and ends up cleaning house for her friend, a successful but empty-headed young actress named Sophie. Her relationships with Sophie and with her landlady (who is struggling to overcome her own illiteracy because of her poor education in the 1950s) help us to understand the changes in women’s lives in Korea but also the still powerful restrictions of traditions. Chan-sil has not had a relationship for a decade. Does she need one now? She could test one out with Sophie’s French teacher perhaps. But Chan-sil is not sure. Trying to push her into looking inside herself is a surprising extra character, the ghost of ‘Hong Kong Cinema Legend’ Leslie Cheung, played by a young Korean look-alike. Cheung was a beautiful young man who took his own life aged only 46 and depressed by the celebrity gossip about his sexual identity. He has been sorely missed by everyone who admired his great range of work in Hong Kong and later mainland Chinese cinemas. Cheung’s ghost is inappropriately dressed in the singlet and boxers he wore in one of his iconic roles in Wong Kar-Wai’s Days of Being Wild (HK 1991). He shivers in Korea with the coming of winter – he’s a very corporeal ghost.

The ghost wearing warmer attire!

I don’t want to say much more about the plot and, to be honest, there isn’t that much plot to discuss. If you are looking for a conventional romance, comedy or even psychological drama with a clear resolution, you won’t find it. But spending 95 minutes with Chan-sil was a real pleasure for me. Some reviewers seem concerned that the film might be too autobiographical and self-reflexive about cinema. I didn’t get that feeling. There is an entertaining comparison of Ozu and Christopher Nolan at one point and we learn later that Chan-sil’s love affair with cinema began with Emir Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies (Yugoslavia-Italy-UK 1988). The final short sequence of the narrative is also a filmmaking reference, but in a more abstract sense, unless I’ve simply misread it.

All of the performances are very good and the presentation of naturalistic photography and well-chosen settings work well. Music is used sparingly but effectively. I was intrigued to read that the the lead actor had come to professional acting quite late. Overall this does seem to me a serious and sensitive portrayal of the possibilities for women in South Korean society presented as a moving personal story. I look forward to seeing more films by Kim Cho-hee.

LFF 2021 #2: Queen of Glory (US 2021)

Sarah Obeng (Nana Mensah) is back in the Bronx

This shortish first feature (78 mins) is fronted by an outstanding performance by its writer-director-star Nana Mensah. An experienced actor with credits on several TV series and some Independent Cinema titles, Mensah had not intended to direct or to star in the film she was writing. But circumstances eventually pushed her into the other roles and as she said in the included online Q&A, it was good that she wrote the script first not thinking she would play the central character. That way she didn’t cut herself any slack or attempt to avoid certain potential scenarios. The outline narrative of the film is relatively simple and, at least on a structural level, familiar as a universal experience. But because of its specific cultural focus it is also distinctive in its narrative events and settings.

After a credit sequence featuring a montage of Ghanaian textile designs, drumming and dancing, we first meet Sarah in her office at Columbia University. She’s a science grad research student with some supervision duties. She’s hoping her boyfriend, who has been appointed to a more senior post in Ohio, will leave his wife and she can share a house with him. She seems sure this will happen. The ‘inciting incident’ when it arrives almost overwhelms Sarah. Her mother dies suddenly and Sarah is faced with a series of responsibilities, the weight of which severely throws her off-balance. First she learns that she has inherited her mother’s house and her Christian bookshop in the Bronx. Second she must organise not one but two large-scale celebrations, one a ‘white person-style funeral’, but the other a traditional Ghanaian funeral with expectations of attendance by many in the ‘Little Ghana’ community in the Bronx. Third, her estranged father arrives from Accra with expectations of a family reunion. No wonder she has little time to check in with the boyfriend, who I think is probably already mistrusted by many in the audience – he can’t even pronounce ‘Accra’ correctly.

One question for me was trying to work out what kind of a film this was. It has been widely promoted as a comedy and I was relieved that the BFI host of the introduction and Q&A, Grace Barber-Plentie, asked Nana Mensah directly about finding the right tone. Mensah was willing to describe her film as a comedy and said that the mixing of grief and comedy was something that did happen in her culture. It strikes me that the same is true in most cultures. It is often said that weddings and funerals have much the same capacity for comedy and drama in my Northern English culture and I suspect it is the same in most others.

A rather dazed Sarah is measured for a new dress for the Ghanaian funeral gathering . . .

From my perspective the narrative suggests a form of realist family melodrama with comic elements. The real story is about Sarah’s struggle to understand what she might be losing if she sells the house and the bookshop and follows her boyfriend to Ohio. This includes questions about the value she places on family ties and friendships within her community. It’s also a question about what a ‘hyphenate’ identity means in the US today. In other words, it’s a diaspora narrative. As I watched the film I realised that I probably know more about Francophone West African cultures both in Africa and in France than the Anglophone West African cultures in the UK and US. This is because of the way film and TV have developed in West Africa in the post-colonial period. I’m aware of a triangular relationship between Nigeria and Ghana with the UK and US, but I don’t have much access to the films and TV produced even though Nollywood and Ghallywood are prolific producers. The films are hard to see in the UK outside specific cities with a Nigerian or Ghanaian community. Nana Mensah’s film feels more like an American Independent film, but there are elements of Ghanaian Cinema as well, I think. She uses archive footage at various points to offer a sense of traditional ceremonies and life on the streets of Accra. One of the key cultural ‘threads’ in the narrative focuses on food. Early in the film Sarah eats pizza and snacks. For the funeral parties she makes, or buys in, Ghanaian food. The prospect of going to the meat market in the Bronx is also intercut with footage of street abattoirs in Ghana, and buying meat (i.e. ‘real meat’) is something she can barely stomach. By the end of the film, however, she is making rice and meat stew for her father.

. . . emerging transformed in this stunning outfit

I enjoyed the film but I agree with at least one other reviewer who recognises that it is almost as if the production ran out of money (and time) since some narrative threads are left in the air and others are quickly resolved. Nana Mensah discussed her positive experience with Kickstarter in the Q&A, but also stressed the work needed to deal with the funding. I don’t know if the production was affected by COVID. This is still an impressive début picture. I enjoyed the ‘Scope photography by Cybel Martin and the editing by Cooper Troxell. I also enjoyed the music in the film, especially the song over the closing credits. I should also mention the actor Meeko who plays the important role of the Christian bookshop manager. The ‘King of Glory’ shop is a ‘real’ location, owned by one of Mensah’s relatives. Anya Migdal was one of the producers of the film and she also plays the the first generation Russian-American next door neighbour in the Bronx who remembers Sarah from the local high school. This was also a promising narrative strand, but like the bookshop perhaps not fully realised.

Queen of Glory won a prize at its home festival Tribeca and it was well-received by Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Ghanaian-American reviewer. I’m sure it would find a UK audience if some form of release is possible. Here’s a festival trailer.

Lullaby (Chanson douce, France 2019)

Louise (Karin Viard, left) with Myriam (Leïla Bekhti)

This title popped up on my DVD rental list and at first I couldn’t remember why I had put it there originally. I clearly missed the UK and US releases back in early 2020 but I quickly realised that it was a film by Lucie Borleteau (whose film Fidelio – Alice’s Journey (2014) I really liked) and that it was adapted from a novel by Leïla Slimani, whose first book I had read in 2019. Chanson douce as a novel won the Prix Goncourt and was a bestseller in France. In the UK it was translated as Lullaby and tellingly in the US it became The Perfect Nanny. These titles carried over to the films. I think the American title is misleading, but having said that, there are many films with the title Lullaby and I think that the ironic French title is arguably the best. But it seems that many UK and US reviewers had problems with the film, possibly because of their expectations.

Louise with Mila and baby Adam

Part of the problem may be that Slimani’s novel was inspired by a murder in New York carried out by a nanny and that in turn may have led some reviewers to think that the French film would be a form of horror genre picture. I haven’t seen any of the American films that have been identified with the genre, but I’m familiar with the titles and some of the plot outlines. For many reviewers it seems to be the case that a genre film fails if it doesn’t deliver the expected narrative closure or the various conventional narrative elements along the way. Lucie Borleteau presents a film narrative that is in parts almost ‘procedural’ about the daily duties of a nanny presented with a familiar social realist aesthetic, but then she shifts focus to the psychological breakdown of a character and interweaves this with ideas about fairytales, myths and folklore – and although she doesn’t deliver the expected shocks of a genre horror film, there are still shocking and surprising moments as well as challenges to some of the complacency we may feel faced with a familiar genre. Much of the discussion about the film centres on the ending. Borleteau doesn’t leave the ending ‘open’. She ‘delivers’ but not in the way we might expect.

Louise becomes the mother in many different ways

Myriam (Leïla Bhekti) is a mother of two small children, not yet at school (French children start school at 6, I think) and after being a full time mother for five years she decides that she needs to return to work as a lawyer. Her husband Paul (Antoine Reinartz) works as a music producer and argues that it will cost all of Myriam’s salary to pay for childcare, but she is adamant and they advertise for a nanny. The interview process that we see is perhaps a too familiar montage and it’s obvious that the best candidate is Louise (Karin Viard), although the staging of her interview does drop hints that things might not be what they seem. Perhaps the real purpose of the montage is not to simply create a gentle comedy but to emphasise the significance of the choice of an older white woman who is ‘French’. Louise is eager to please and to work longer hours and become more involved in the family’s affairs. If Miriam wasn’t so busy and focused on her return to work, she would probably have become suspicious of Louise much earlier. There are some subtle pointers to the nuances of bourgeois French life in the narrative. We learn more about Paul’s background, partly through the appearance of his mother Sylvie. Paul’s family seems more middle-class and he adopts a more professional pose in dealing with Louise. Even so he demurs to Myriam, about whom we learn little and who has a more friendly relationship with Louise.

Leïla and Paul take Louise with them on holiday. Is this wise?

The Press Notes for the film are available from UniFrance and I found them to be an interesting read. I think I’d already guessed something about Lucie Borleteau’s approach. She mentions Hitchcock and Polanski and their films Vertigo (for Kim Novak’s performance) and Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. I was reminded of an earlier film by a young director, À la folie . . . pas du tout (France 2002) directed by Laetitia Colombani who also mentioned Hitchcock and Polanski. That film too was criticised because it cast Audrey Tautou in a role that hinted at her rom-com persona being important but then switched to a much more disturbing narrative. I have a vague idea how French film schools work and I think they produce directors who are much more interesting than US/UK reviewers expect. Leïla Slimani is also interviewed in the Notes and she adds another range of references that Borleteau must have navigated. Slimani mentions Chabrol and also Jo Losey’s The Servant with Dirk Bogarde. Chabrol does seem quite important with his bourgeois satires such as La cérémonie (France 1995) with Isabelle Huppert as the disruptive interloper who ‘turns’ Sandrine Bonnaire’s maid against her employers.

The ‘family’ in the park

Lullaby as a film ‘belongs’ to Karin Viard, a vastly experienced actor, who seems able to tackle any kind of role. I last saw her in La famille Bélier (2014) in mainly a comic role. Louise is a very difficult role, I think, but Viard takes it in her stride. She might well have been initially cast by one of her previous directors, Maïwenn whose name still appears on Lullaby’s credits as a writer. For some reason Maïwenn left the production and Lucie Borleteau stepped in. She and Leïla Slimani seem to in agreement on the approach to the story. I wonder if the film would have been very different directed by Maïwenn? Either way this is a film primarily about women. There are five female roles of importance with Louise, Myriam and Sylvie plus 5 year-old Mila and Wafa, the mother who Louise meets each day in the square. There are moments in the film when racism directed against Maghrebi migrants seems about to become important though I don’t remember anything directed at Myriam (Leïla Bhekti was born in Paris to Algerian parents and she is a high profile star in France and married to Tahar Rahim). It’s more important that Myriam is a bourgeois parent who doesn’t mix with the other parents in the park and isn’t aware of Louise’s home district, an area of social housing an RER train ride away.

I found Lullaby an intriguing film and much of the time I could almost not bear to watch, fearful of what was going to happen next. Melodrama and horror are close together as expressionist modes of cinema and Lullaby is a form of family melodrama mixed with a psychological thriller that gets out of control. I recommend the film. Here’s the US trailer.