If you can’t sit through a sixth Paranormal Activity or another Adam Sandler stinker, it’s time to see something more stimulating at the cinema this week.
From the obscene to the sublimely ridiculous, these are four strange and excellent new films out of Europe in cinemas right now.
A European love story with echoes of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
It’s never easy to be single. There's always the risk you’ll be forcibly interned in a drab seaside hotel, forced to find a mate within the month, and if you fail, you’ll be turned into an animal of your choice.
These are the rules of Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film The Lobster, and you’ll have to take my word for it that, in the context of the film, it all makes a kind of crooked sense.
Turning into an animal has been an apt punishment for human failings since Kafka turned a travelling salesman into an insect in The Metamorphosis, but this goes one further and builds a world around the absurdity. Lanthimos’ first English-language film carries across all the stilted awkwardness of his other work, such as 2009’s weird masterpiece Dogtooth, and Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly add comic instinct. Choose your animal with care.
Screening at Cinema Nova.
A Greek synth-pop vampire trip.
There’s been a critical renaissance for vampire films in recent years, with the likes of Only Lovers Left Alive and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night breathing fresh life into a genre that can often fall into tedious self-parody. But director Yannis Veslemes didn’t get the memo that vampire movies are serious now.
Norway pays homage to the trash cinema of the ’80s, and as such it's visually somewhere between stylish and ludicrous. Our anti-hero Zano, who looks like a washed-up vampire Rod Stewart, arrives in Athens by train (which, in long shots, is a child’s model) and loses himself in the city’s bloodsucking underworld. For fans of gloriously low-brow pastiche weirdness, like SBS’s Danger 5.
Screening at Palace Como as part of the Greek Film Festival.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
A minimal, nihilistic Swedish sketch comedy.
Bare sets, stilted delivery and a total lack of punchlines. It doesn’t sound like a recipe for great comedy.
But right from the opening three sketches, in which three people simply keel over and die, greatly inconveniencing those around them, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a rapid-fire series of odd sketches about humanity, life and death. It’s all done in broad, black tones – and it’s utterly compelling.
There are shades of Monty Python, but without the colourful jokes; hints of Chris Morris, but with added tragedy. It also took last year’s Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival. It’s the grand finale of Swedish director Roy Andersson's avant-garde sketch trilogy, and if you can’t get enough, ACMI is also playing the first two films: Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living.
Screening at ACMI.
A British verbatim musical.
In the wake of a series of brutal murders in provincial England, the residents of London Road try to rebuild their sense of community – through big musical numbers.
Very few movies about serial killings avoid sensationalising the pursuit of the killer, but London Road digs past the violence to find the human story at bottom. Its execution is far from typical: the script is constructed entirely from verbatim interviews with community members, which are then set to music and performed as faithfully as possible by a cast including Olivia Colman and Tom Hardy. It might sound like a flippant idea, but through melody and repetition, the mundane comments of a bunch of pretty ordinary people are elevated to real human drama, and the normal becomes poetic.
Screening at Cinema Nova.