Dear USE readers,
Once again we come to the end of another year of watching new film releases from as many parts of the world as I can manage, while juggling office work and various other demands on my time, not to mention being able to find my way to cinemas showing movies that might tickle my fancy. Most films I want to see are often shown in cinemas that are rather far from where I live. Even so, I managed to see 20 films in 2023 that I thought might be at least intriguing if not outstanding in some way.
These films were very mixed in the quality of their narratives and the themes they explored. The French-language films I saw were interesting in this respect, ranging from a realist style in the case of Mia Hansen-Love’s “Un Beau Matin” (even if the actual story itself is fairly ordinary) to dry and legalistic in Alice Diop’s “Saint Omer”, to François Ozon’s bubbly and breathless “Mon Crime”. If I had to pick which was the best of these films, I’d choose “Saint Omer” for its restraint and compassion, and for the way it tackles a number of complicated themes such as social isolation, mental illness, assimilation into a foreign culture, the issue of justice in a complex criminal case, and racial discrimination.
Of the other films I saw, my picks for best films would be Hlynur Pálmason’s “Godland” for its harrowing story and its theme of the colonial master-slave relationship between Denmark and Iceland; Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn” for its skewering of the British class system and the dysfunctional society that system has produced; and Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” for its powerful character studies and its insinuation that the violence, brutality and political corruption that accompanied slavery and genocide in the United States in the nineteenth century were still present in the 1920s because they were embedded in the country’s political, social and economic systems. There is a very real possibility then that as long as current US institutions stay as they are, with no reform or no attempt to replace them with other ideologies and systems, the United States will remain a dysfunctional and savage society, a threat to the survival of the rest of the planet.
In a year in which Hollywood is still relying on tired superhero films and films obsessed with shallow notions of diversity and social justice – all of which are driving people away from cinemas – that there are other film-makers still keen on bringing other stories and messages to the screen is gratifying, and we should endeavour all we can to support them and their work.
Happy New Year in 2024 to everyone and may you all find good films to watch and support!