Wilson
Woody Harrelson is perfectly cast as an embittered, lonely fuck-up in this caustically funny character study. Our hero’s utterly empty life – which consists mainly of accosting strangers in the street and feeding them his own homespun philosophy – is upturned when he reconnects with his ex-wife (Laura Dern) and discovers that he has a teenage daughter she gave up for adoption. He’s determined to find her and cobble together the ad-hoc, messy family he thinks he deserves. Wilson is an excellent character: a socially inept, misanthropic and filterless know-all who somehow remains sympathetic, even when he’s sidling up to a man in a urinal to strike up an unwanted conversation. This film is written by Daniel Clowes (Ghost World), which was based on his 2010 graphic novel.

Wilson is playing at Palace Verona and Dendy Newtown.
Watch the trailer.

20th Century Women
Don’t let the title fool you: this is a film about a man. Director Mike Mills has loaded up on a stellar female cast that includes Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig, to tell a story about three misfit women working out how to turn a teenage boy (Lucas Jade Zumann) into a good man. California, 1979. As 16-year-old Jamie comes of age, 50-something bohemian mother Dorothea (Bening) feels the generation gap more than ever and enlists eccentric lodger Abbie (Gerwig) and Jamie’s very, very close friend Julie (Fanning) to be there for him. Despite Mills never quite being able to pull himself away from the boy for long enough to talk about, well, 20th-century women, this is a light, breezy two hours. Well-drawn characters, wittily written and beautifully shot, bask in ’70s alternative nostalgia, adolescent angst and retro feminist theory.

20th Century Women opens June 1 at Palace Verona and Dendy Newtown.
Watch the trailer.

Hounds of Love
This is the latest in a long line of utterly brutal Australian crime dramas, and the second Australian film in as many months about the kidnap, prolonged incarceration and assault of a young woman (see also Berlin Syndrome, if you can stomach it). Luckily, Hounds of Love succeeds where Berlin Syndrome failed by letting the characters and atmosphere lead the charge. First-time director Ben Young paints us a picture of a sweltering summer in the oppressive suburbs of 1980s Perth where teenager Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is sneaking out for the night. She’s offered a ride by dodgy-from-the-start couple John and Evelyn (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth), who kidnap her and keep her for purposes I’d rather not go into. The plot, involving escape attempts, domestic arguments and flashes of violence, is perfunctory, but Emma Booth is captivating as a woman trapped in an abusive, controlling relationship, and Stephen Curry is chilling. However well crafted it is, be warned: it’s still a confronting watch.

Hounds of Love opens June 1 at Dendy Newtown.
Watch the trailer.

Graduation
In a small, ugly Romanian town, all Romeo (Adrian Titieni) wants is for his teenage daughter, Eliza, to pass her exams and escape to a good university overseas. But then Eliza, played by Maria Drăguș, is assaulted on the street and is too traumatised to complete her exams. It sends her father into murky, corrupt deals to ensure her academic success, just another in the series of ugly compromises that typify his life: his sham marriage, affair, his very presence in a country he considers a mess. The town is as drab as it is dangerous. Paranoia spirals out of Romeo’s control, and Eliza gets a tough introduction to the amorality of adult life. Acclaimed Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (he won the Palme d’Or in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) spins a matter-of-fact, understated tale that slowly builds into something unnerving and complex. You’re just waiting for the web of corruption and lies to implode – but in a complex world, it never quite does.

Graduation is playing as part of the Sydney Film Festival, at The Ritz Randwick on June 11, the State Theatre on June 14 and the Hayden Orpheum on June 16. Buy tickets. Watch the trailer.

Belle de Jour
Fifty years after its release, Luis Buñuel’s surreal erotic comedy-drama has been freshly restored and is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival. Catherine Deneuve plays Séverine, aka Belle de Jour, a repressed housewife who begins moonlighting (or perhaps daylighting; she only works in the afternoons) at a brothel. As Séverine’s inner life finally finds an outlet, we’re offered surreal glimpses into her fantasies, most of which involve rope. It’s not a film that takes the soft-core porn route to eroticism – it withholds more than it gives up. It’s sumptuously colourful and funny, and if you hadn’t already guessed, extremely French. Director Luis Buñuel is a master at probing people’s hidden lives, and Deneuve is perfectly demure. Mostly.

Belle de Jour is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival, at Dendy Opera Quays on June 7 and Hayden Orpheum on June 10.
Buy tickets.
Watch the trailer.

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