Cinema Made in Italy 2019 Part 1: The Man who Bought the Moon; Wherever You Are; The Guest

February 26-March 3, London

Cinema made in Italy offered 10 films over 5 days this year, in the smart and so comfortable Ciné Lumière in South Kensington, and I managed to catch seven of them. Once more a welcome mix of directors known and unknown to the average filmgoer interested in European cinema, one of the festival’s glories, in fact, because we get the chance to see the work of Italian directors who get limited or no distribution in the UK. So it’s a treat when a name comes up which from a previous year whose work one has really enjoyed. One of those I’ve looked forward to encountering for a second time is master of dark humour Paolo Zucca, who brought his stunningly eccentric The Referee to Cinema Made in Italy in 2014. Now, somewhat akin to Dany Boon’s comedy Bienvenu chez les Ch’tis of 10 years ago, an amusing look at north v south prejudice in France, L’UOMO CHE COMPRO LA LUNA (THE MAN WHO BOUGHT THE MOON) takes its humour from mainland Italy’s warped views of Sardinia as a backward place full of banditry and backwardness.

Even more wacky than his earlier film, it doesn’t take long for this absurdist comedy to get you hooked and laughing. More than just the farce it appears to be initially, though, it develops into a surprisingly moving magical realist experience with fantastic cinematography that sends shivers down the spine. The crazy premise is that the US, in a bid to claim ownership of the moon, have discovered that a civilian has bought part of it – and he’s Sardinian! The Italian secret service, a hapless Laurel and Hardy pair, are charged with sending a spy into the island to discover the culprit, so he may be liquidated. Copious research uncovers a daffy serving member of the special forces from Milan who actually has Sardinian forebears and speaks the language (Jacopo Collin), and he’s dragooned into action, being taught the island’s ways by a rustic Sardinian exile. He’s toughened up generally and learns for example how to dress and stand like a Sardinian, how to shoot wild boar, how to cope with the unpalatable food, and, best of all, how to play an unfathomable Sardinian game, a distant relation of rock-paper-scissors, played at high speed and in unfathomable accents. (I’ve recently discovered it’s called Morra – yes I was so beguiled I actually looked it up!) Arriving on the island, once over the shock that Cagliari is actually pretty much like any mainland city, he eventually finds the area he’s looking for, characterised by women in black, men Standing like Sardinians, and donkey-riding. In the village bar he proceeds to get acquainted with the locals in an absurdist, utterly hilarious faux-wild-west stand-off, where his mettle is tested by the local hardman and his acolytes, triumphing both at table football and a taxing many-handed game of Morra. But things don’t entirely go to plan, and the atmosphere changes to a more elegiac and at times mystical, though never pompous, mood, and stunning landscape combined with a reverence for elemental powers brings the tale to a magical conclusion, as we are reminded that the subject is, after all, the moon, with all its ancient and mythic powers. That Zucca can do this, turn on a cento from farce to wonder and back again, means he’s always going to be a film maker to watch. I can’t wait for his next.

A totally different Sardinia is presented in OVUNQUE PROTEGGIMI (WHEREVER YOU ARE) is director Bonifacio Angius’ second feature following Perfidia, his debut piece showcased here in 2015. Again it’s set on his native island (though once again in the Q&A he is at pains to point out it is not specifically about the nature of that island, or indeed Italy, but is simply a character-based plot).And what characters. Like his earlier film it’s a bit of an intense, hard grind, with a central figure who is at first neither engaging or sympathetic. Alessandro (Alessandro Gazale) is an emotional mess. He makes a kind of living playing and singing at a local bar but, truculent and hostile, things go from bad to worse when he storms off, gambles his money away, and gets bitterly and furiously drunk. A visit to his long-suffering mother for more money ends in his smashing up her flat, at which she wearily calls the police. He’s basically a 50-year-old teenager without attachments who seems unable to engage with responsibility or deal with the consequences of his own actions. Put into a hospital to assess his mental state, he meets someone who will change his view of the world – Francesca (Francesca Niedda), a young mother whose sole aim in life is to gain the custody of her young son. It’s clear Alessandro needs her emotionally, another person at last to centre him, to be looked after and helped, and the son completes a would-be family. Having taken the boy they embark on a trip across the island with Francesca in possession of two tickets for the ferry to escape Italian jurisdiction. As the trio travel in jeopardy across a blazing summer Sardinian landscape, Alessandro seems to have found a kind of mellowness, and by the time we’ve spent a over an hour with this very flawed man, so often scanning that face with all its emotions, we find we’re batting on his side after all – a tribute to Gazale’s sublety. A wrenching finale sees his new ability to empathise and think beyond himself move him to action which grants him an ironic redemption.

In contrast to those heavyweight emotions, Duccio Chiarini’s L’OSPITE (THE GUEST) is a deft mix of humour and gentle sadness looking at the lives of young professionals approaching 40 – A set of people who might be considered to have everything, but in fact live in a world that involves insecurity, frustration in their jobs, and uncertainty about the future. Daniele Parisi is superb as Guido, ‘the guest’ of the title, a junior college lecturer stuck in an unfulfilling job waiting forever for his book on Calvino to be published (is there anything more, you wonder, to be said about him?). The snap introduction to his personal life at the very beginning of the film presents us with Guido’s anxious face between the legs of his girlfriend Chiara (Silvia D’Amico) looking for a lost condom – which leads to the beginning of the end of his relationship which he had felt would be permanent. Forced to sleep on the floors and spare beds of his friends, whose lives are themselves under various kinds of pressure, he becomes a candid observer of his friends’ struggles, regrets fears, the pressures of unfulfilling work and a small family, failing relationships and self-delusion. Lord what fools these mortals be. Back in his old bedroom at his parents’ home, he learns more about their day-to-day relationship too (lovely turns from Milvia Marigliano as the mamma who still bought his underpants and provided regular supplies of home-made tomato sauce during his now dead relationship, and Sergio Pierattini as the long-suffering, snoring, papa). When the VIP audience at his longed-for lecture scuttle along to the buffet table rather than listen to him, he knows it’s time to think twice about his job too. And then from the direction of his parents come unexpected problems which give a long view to the ills of Guido’s generation. Finally he takes a direction that maybe will give him a more meaningful life. Such is the strength of Parisi’s acting and Chiarini’s always light but never slight script that we genuinely hope so.

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Stan and Ollie

Directed by Jon S Baird

There’s a point about 10 minutes into this film when you’ve finished wondering in awe at the verisimilitude of the look and sound of these two actors to their iconic roles, and you’ve quite liked the banter, and you’ve enjoyed wandering with them through the busy Hollywood lots of the 30s. Then they stand in front of the cameras and perform that song Commence to Dancing (At the Ball) from Way Out West… and the magic happens. What we are watching transforms into original film footage, and we move eventually to a view out from the screen to a cinema full of people enrapt and loving it as much as we are. Partly because in its sweet simplicity this may be one of the greatest scenes (and, against the odds, dance sequences) of American cinema, partly because Coogan and O’Reilly fit so seamlessly into their roles, and mostly because we receive and absorb the reflected pleasure of that audience, and become the people we were when we saw this for the first time. After that the entire film is a great warm bath of pleasure, the kind of film it’s very hard to write about, because it’s kind of perfect, so full of sweetness and melancholy, and succeeds brilliantly in what it sets out to do.

After the snapshot of the pair in their prime, the film goes on to tell the story of their tour of the drab UK in the 50s, when they were has-beens, out of date and too creaky for all that slapstick. The impeccable performances are a pleasure to watch in themselves: Coogan, catching that idiosyncratic north-of-England/US mix of accent to perfection, all mobile eyebrows and realism and organisation, Reilly with Ollie’s childlike simplicity mixed with the weariness of age. Another treat is Rufus Jones, a crazy blend of Terry Jones and Michael Ball as the beaming, blustering Bernard Delfont, keener initially on the up-and- coming Norman Wisdom, who finally realises what it takes to re-make the pair as celebrities, even if it means them descending to opening supermarkets and judging seaside beauty contests. And so it becomes a film about friendship, and endurance, and loyalty, the sheer grind and occasional sublimity of a lifelong partnership that was longer than any of their (seven between them!) marriages.

Seen January 2019, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle

Preview – Cinema Made in Italy 2019: 26 Feb–3 March Ciné Lumière, London

A reliable sign that spring cannot be far away is the news of the coming of Cinema Made in Italy to London. Over six days a varied bunch of new Italian films are being shown, funny, bitter-sweet, dark, romantic and sharply satirical. In addition there’s the chance to see a screening of Bertolucci’s 1970 masterpiece THE CONFORMIST, in honour of the great director who died last year. It’s a film that demands to be seen on the big screen, and is being shown at 2pm on Sunday 3 March.

And kicking off the new films on 26 February is LORO, from one of today’s Italian masters of cinema, Paolo Sorrentino. Remember his masterpiece Il Divo where his ever-present leading man Toni Servilio played former prime minister Andreotti, to horrifying and comic effect? Sorrentino and Sevilio now take on Silvio Berlusconi, in a fictionalised, highly satirical and scabrous look at the man and his circle. Expect fireworks. A recut international version of the original 2 part film which screened in Italy last year, this version will begin distribution in the UK on 19 April.

Ricardo Scamarcio who appears in LORO also stars in the second film of the festival, EUFORIA, by Valeria Golino, a sometimes painful look at the relationship between two very different brothers at a time of crisis, followed by RICORDI?, a long love story that investigates the potent part played by memory and nostalgia in the experience of love and the progress of relationships.

Long-standing Cinema Made in Italy fans may recall the entertaining and very dark THE REFEREE of a few years ago, and will be keen to see Paolo Zucca’s new absurdist farce THE MAN WHO BOUGHT THE MOON (L’Uomo che compró la Luna), again set in Sardinia. More laughter but of the lighter kind comes from THE GUEST (l’ospite), by Duccio Chiarini, a deft relationship comedy by a director who cites Woody Allen as one of his influences. Alba Rohrwacher, recently seen at the London Film Festival in Happy as Lazzaro, plays the lead in the magical realistic eco-fable LUCIA’S GRACE (Troppo grazia), and comedy also finds a place in the noirish MAGICAL NIGHTS (Notti magiche), where three young scriptwriters are suspected of the murder of a producer, in the Rome of the 1990 World Cup. Sounds unmissable!

WHEREVER YOU ARE (Ovunque proteggimi) the second feature by Bonifacio Angius, who won the Junior Jury award at Locarno 5 years ago with his powerful PERFIDIA, is a dramatic road movie where as in the previous film individuals battle against their situations and their own failings, across the burning landscapes of Sardinia. And the festival closes with WE’LL BE YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL (Saremo giovani e bellissimi), Letizia Lamartire’s portrait of the painful but loving detachment of a mother who still lives on her past glories from her loving son who needs his own future.

As in previous years, film-makers will be attending the festival to introduce their films and participate in audience Q&As. The six-day annual event is organised by Istituto Luce-Cinecittà’s promotional department in Rome (Filmitalia), with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute in London, the official agency for the promotion of Italian language and culture in England and Wales. The films were selected by Adrian Wootton, CEO of Film London and the British Film Commission.

For more information see  https://www.institut-francais.org.uk/cine-lumiere/whats-on/festivals-series/cinema-made-in-italy-2019/

The Favourite

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

At the girls’ high school I went to our annual play was always one with a minimal male presence, for obvious reasons, and leggy sixth formers would be pressed into duty as Mr Darcy or Mr Knightley in the inevitable lame Jane Austen adaptations. But the shortage of female-strong plays was solved one year when our drama teacher found an adaptation of the story of Queen Anne and her female favourites. It was talky, dull as school dinners and sadly lacking in the scandal department, which would have gone down well in an all-girl school with a head who had her own favourites. This film is not like that play, oh no. Nor is it at all like any other historical drama film of recent years that I can think of – other than a distant cousinship to Whit Stilman’s delicious and far kinder Austen adaptation Love and Friendship.

Riotous, randy, and amoral, extremely physical – people are always getting pushed over and smacked and generally knocked about with gusto – it features Lanthimos’s customary range of dislikeable characters: Queen Anne, a bravura turn by Olivia Colman, her trademark quirky vulnerability so apt here; Rachel Weisz, athletic, bossy and sly, as Sarah Churchill, the queen’s long term confidante and controller, with her eye to the main chance of political power and revelling in the joys of bullying; and Emma Stone as the parvenu Abigail, her docility learning fast that ruthlessness is the way to survival. All three actresses are up for Oscars – when did that last happen? Least of all in an ‘arthouse movie’ by a foreign director. The men are mostly reduced to walk-on parts – conniving for court favours and political power, lovelorn or lusting, partying and hurling blood oranges (or were they pomegranates?) at other naked men, disappearing to fight wars that seem to make no difference to anyone.

There have been criticisms about the lack of historic authenticity. Did Queen Anne really keep pet rabbits? It’s a clever way of introducing the fact of all her dead children without stumbling into the dangerous world of feelings. Lanthimos is so very clever at hinting at facts without clubbing one over the head with them. Is the delightfully over-the-top dancing properly researched? Did Sarah Churchill wear men’s clothes? Were wigs really that crazy? Who cares? It all goes to present a past that’s very peculiar and unknowable and startling, peopled with rampant narcissists who can’t help themselves and will go to any lengths to get what they want.

The look of the thing is constantly striking. Seen via dizzying angles and eccentric lensing, there’s a cold architecture of symmetry and space. Faces hide behind excessive makeup, bodies are contained in highly stylised costume, while the rot sets in beneath the surface. Pleasure is manic and forced, or sourced only from domination, relationships are exploitative and divorced from feeling. There’s no kindness. And yet, at moments amid all the punkish dark comedy (and it really is very funny), there are acknowledgements of real pain. A long close-up of Anne’s expression of self knowledge and despair, the face of a stout ageing widow alone and friendless and in constant pain, lame, ridiculed, 17 pregnancies and dead children behind her, is a moment of extreme seriousness and humanity. The more telling because it’s in a sea of politics guided solely by personality, self-seeking and ruthlessness. Sounds familiar?

Seen at Tyneside Cinema, January 2019

LFF 2018 Part 2: Nancy

Directed by Christina Choe

There can’t be many young people who haven’t at some bad-tempered stage in their adolescence day-dreamed that they must have been adopted, so alien do they feel from  their parents. Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) takes this to quite another level, and we are never quite sure how much in her case it may be true, or how much she has driven herself to believe that it is.

To say there’s no love lost between Nancy and her mother is quite an understatement. But their poverty and the mother’s coldness and dependency on her through illness binds them together in an antagonistic sickly web of dislike, from which Nancy escapes most of the time into her room where she tries to write ham-fisted fiction and confects other lives for herself online. The character was, according to director Christina Choe, built very much with Riseborough as mind as a central female figure who is not conventionally sympathetic, or virtuous, or moral.

After her mother’s death, trawling the web one day she finds a report of a middle-class couple who lost their daughter 30 years ago at the age of five. And the constructed photo of what the grown-up little girl would now look like resembles Nancy. So she sets off through a wintry landscape, along with her cat (the only object of her affection) to visit them.

It’s another world, an opening up of her horizons, almost subliminally conveyed to the audience by the widening of the screen, and she’s welcomed tentatively into the couple’s home that glows with comfort, warmth and good food. She regards this possible new life with some relish and not a little fear. Over an uncomfortable weekend Nancy is muted and unforthcoming. Across those simple, almost childish features many emotions flutter and never quite settle. How can we, or they, read her? Is she a knowing con artist, or does her own longing for a real place to belong make her believe she belongs here? Or could it all really be true? When she spots an old treehouse how her eyes light up – through anticipation of what currency she can make of pretending to remember it? Or through the  stirring of a real memory? Before the inevitable DNA results are due, Nancy leaves.

Three superb performances render our sympathies and beliefs about the truth below the surface all at sea.  Leo (Steve Buscemi), a psychologist, is guarded and sceptical (and, significantly, allergic to the cat). Does he perhaps resent the prospect of any change to his ordered life? Betty (Ann Dowd), romantic and motherly and clearly in no way over her loss, wills it all to be true. But Nancy would indeed never be the daughter she has cherished in her imagination. More staggering than them both is Riseborough. The potent emptiness of that face  – is it full of the longing of a child’s pressed against the sweetshop window or is it a look of cold calculation and contempt – is present in almost every frame of the film, we can’t avoid it. The blankness is chilling. And because there’s no resolution, Nancy hangs on as a troubling existence long after the film.

October 2018

 

 

 

Viennale Film Festival 2018 – Guest Review

When the opportunity arises to combine a seven day break in one of the great cities of Europe with one of the great film festivals of Europe, you take it – right? The City is Vienna and the festival is the Viennale, taking place every year since 1960, and with a stated intention to showcase ‘films from all over the globe as well as from Austria’, with the Vienna Film Prize up for grabs at the end. That’s a remit it certainly fulfils, with around three hundred movies covering many genres and themes, from world cinema to shorts to a marvellous retrospective of the golden age of the B movie.  It’s a cineast’s dream, with the unmissable added attraction of exploring one of the great Imperial cities of Europe – grand, dramatic, oozing atmosphere, every Strasse and Platz exuding cinematic qualities and vistas of their own, oh, and it just happens to be the setting of my favourite movie, The Third Man (I’m surely forgiven for mentioning this early…)

Increasingly important on the festival circuit, attracting over 90.000 visitors, the Viennale showcases its films in a small number of cinemas, each one having a particular character and charm, from the modern and functional ‘Filmmuseum’ to the 1960’s formica retro of the ‘Gartenbaukino’, my particular favourite.

Spanning two weeks, the less dedicated (or lighter in pocket) may wish to avoid cinematic ‘choice anxiety’ and focus upon a particular area of interest, to that end my curiosity fell upon the quite marvellous ‘B’ movie retrospective which centred upon the Filmmuseum cinema, a Tynesidesque venue in which it is strictly verboten to consume food. (I freely admit that I sneaked in several Viennese pastries to fuel my B movie marathons.)

This strand was curated by the dapper and encyclopaedic Haden Guest, curator of the Harvard Film Archive and a mine of anecdotes regarding the directors and casts of these movies (many great tales about those prolific character actors with faces most film fans recognise, but can’t quite put a name to). Guest also gave much focus to the Austrian greats who cut their cinematic teeth on these movies: Zinnemann, Wilder, von Stroheim, among others.

Although possessing broad tastes in movies, my time limit forbade perusing more of the offerings of the (three weeks long) Vienalle and so I settled into the daily delights of the golden age (arguably the late thirties to the late fifties) of the B movie and, in between refuelling stops at some of the wonderful Viennese cafes, I was able to enjoy up to four Bs per day (not difficult when one considers that these were fired out of a variety of ‘poverty row’ and bigger studios by the hundred every year, with an average length of 70 minutes).

I was nonplussed when I saw the title of my first viewing, ‘Sh! The Octopus’ 1937, William C McGann, a comedy drama where the comedy is provided by the awfulness of the acting and the drama by the recurring intrusion of a collection of rubber tentacles help up by (thick) string. Set in a creepy, abandoned lighthouse it’s a feast of shoestring effects and hammy slapstick with a demented denouement worth enduring for (just).

After a surreptitious bite or two of Viennese pastry (remember, food verboten in the aisles) it was on to (inevitably) the great Bela Lugosi (along with Peter Lorre and the aforementioned directors, another pillar of the Hollywood, post Habsburg, diaspora). ‘The Devil Bat’ (1940, Jean Yarborough), is not often seen (the movie, not the flying mammal) but it really is Lugosi in his finest Ed Wood style ‘I’m better than this’ mode, and indeed, he really is the only decent actor on show. Lugosi plays a disgruntled and embittered scientist employed (below his ability) in concocting new fragrances for a large perfume and aftershave company. (I’m not making this up.) Lugosi seeks revenge on his employers by utilising his own ghastly skills in nurturing what I can only describe as a large stuffed teddy bear with wings… and fangs, naturally. This monstrous creature is sent into the inky night to sniff out victims conveniently doused with 1930s Old Spice, ‘put some on…… your neck!’ Bela advises disingenuously. Anyway, comeuppance is had and the former Dracula endures the gnawing fangs of his dastardly creation – cue credits.

Vienna is also the perfect stage, it seems to me, to showcase the eccentric talents of a compatriot of Lugosi, Peter Lorre (born László Loewenstein in Hungary). The retrospective presented several of Lorre’s best from his salad days of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Chief among these was Robert Florey’s ‘Face Behind the Mask’ (1940), the tragic tale of an optimistic immigrant who finds that America has little to offer an honest man like himself. Misfortune dogs him and he plunges into a maelstrom of bitterness, crime, despair and vengeful self-destruction; a little light viewing which some think mirrors (parts) of Lorre’s own experience of migrant life.

Lorre returned later in the programme in one of the hugely popular ‘Mr Moto’ movies ‘Thank you Mr Moto’ (Norman Foster, 1937) and ‘Stranger on the Third Floor’ (Boris Ingster,1940), a very noirish offering where Lorre can be seen in all of his whining, bug-eyed glory as a deranged murderer. Incidentally, there were many attempts to develop serial character movies at this time (think Charlie Chan) but ‘Moto’ was the most popular thanks in no small part to the odd charm and charisma of Lorre.

A well attended Filmmuseum showing of Budd Boetticher’s 1959 revenge western ‘Ride Lonesome’, in glorious colour, provided eye relief from impending ‘monochrome-itis’. A perfect vehicle for granite-featured, buckskin-clad Randolph Scott as ruthless bounty hunter Ben Brigade, tasked with ‘bringing in’ a hapless outlaw carrying a hefty bounty, all the while using him as bait to lure his pitiless brother (a sweaty, sinister Lee van Cleef) in order to exact retribution for the killing of his wife. Watch out for James Coburn in an earlyish role.

At any festival there are always ‘must sees’, ‘seldom viewed’ and ‘now considered a classic(s)’. Well, ‘Gun Crazy’, (1950, Joseph Lewis), fits all of these categories and is an enduring favourite of mine. Starring Prestatyn’s own Peggy Cummins as Annie Laurie Starr, and John Dall (think Hitchcock’ s ‘Rope’) as a firearms obsessive husband and wife wreaking mayhem across small town, snoozy, mid West America. As crime sprees go these lethal paramours really indulge themselves. Cummins is both dissolute and alluring whilst Dall portrays moral turmoil perfectly. The screenwriter was Dalton Trumbo (And the quality is evident.) The film could arguably be described as a semi- cult, B noir classic with the stand-out scene being a nail-biting car chase using an early, improvised, back seat camera set up and seemingly extemporised dialogue. ‘Gun Crazy’ left the audience as breathless as a pursuing state trooper.

Off then for more Mittel-European, cakey self indulgence and decadent cafe loafing before ending my Viennale visit by tracking down one of the great locations in British cinema history, or Viennese cinema history for that matter. The street is Schreyvogelgasse.  Imagine the doorway of an old Habsburg apartment block, pan down to my feet……cue Zither.

Paul Callaghan, December 2018

LFF 2018, Part 1: In Fabric

Directed by Peter Strickland

This was my last film at LFF this year, but I’m writing about it first because it was by a long way the most enjoyable and memorable thing I saw there. An Eastern European wash of delicious darkness lies over what is in many ways a thoroughly English black comedy set in a version of Reading (Strickland’s birthplace), called Thames Valley on Thames. It centres on a beautiful red dress that is deadly to whoever wears it, for sale in a department store seemingly existing in the 70s and beyond, when such places were special, of the kind where models parade around wearing ‘modes’ and the shop assistants are more stylish and intimidating than the customers. Into this hot house comes Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), our representative of normality, single mother of a stroppy teenage son, who’s tentatively putting herself out there on the dating scene. Will someone please put together a ‘department store’ film weekend, because this plus Carol plus Brooklyn alone would make a delicious feast of that very odd transaction that is the power balance between assistant and customer.

Like a cruel parody of Anderson’s pale-clad, diligent seamstresses arriving for work up the stairs each morning in Phantom Thread, Dentley & Soper’s shop assistants line up in grand guignol black silk nipped-waist dresses to take their places behind the counters. Foremost among them, and saleswoman of the fatal dress, is Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohammed), who rules her customers with a piercing gaze, almost impenetrable Eastern European accent, and a weirdly baroque and multi-syllable, abstract-noun-heavy language (‘Dimensions and proportions transcend the prisms of our measurements’). But the most frightening thing about her to us is what happens when the shop closes, and after some dodgy business with the plastic dress models, she takes off her heavy wig and a kind of fear or pain enters her expression as she transforms into something akin to the bald little manikin of Street of Crocodiles, moving jerkily and folding herself up into a kind of dumb waiter to descend to dusty corners of the basement, far from the glossy sleekness of the public floors. By far the most chilling section of the film.

Many have pointed out the clear homages to Italian gothic, and in particular Argento, with its sumptuous use of colour and texture and overwrought menace, but it’s actually the multifariousness of the nods and winks to other forms that raise this film to its idiosyncratic magnificence. Allusions pop and fizz in your mind – and in contrast to the chills of the Quay Brothers, the gloss of Carol, the po-faced self-obsession of Phantom Thread, Steve Oram and Julian Barratt channel The Office-type cock-eyed bureaucracy as Sheila’s managers at the bank where she works. And the wonderful Leo Bill, a Loach and Leigh regular, is the Monty Python Bicycle Repairman de nos jours.

And with him comes another, unexpected, joy of the film – the fact that it continues beyond where you think the narrrative’s going, by dismissing its first protagonist, à la Psycho, and moving on with a second go at the powers of the dress. Having been consigned to a charity shop, it’s picked up by hapless Reg (Bill) to wear at his  stag party. He’s a washing machine repairman, and can bore for England talking about his work. (The bank managers use him as a kind of soporific to relax by when he goes to ask for a loan). Will the dress get him, or his down-to-earth wife-to-be (Hayley Squires)? Go and see, and bask in the very odd, wild pleasures of this exhilarating piece of British film-making.

Seen 19 October, London Film Festival