Thursday Screener

Under the Skin, Nimic, Beau Travail
Film+TV | 10 December 2020

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THURSDAY SCREENER: Three films that should be in your watchlist

Under The Skin by Jonathan Glazer, 2013

In Jonathan Glazer‘s brilliant 2013 film Under The Skin, Scarlett Johansson plays an intergalactic predator lose on the streets of Scotland in search of male prey.

Based on Michel Faber’s 2000 science fiction novel, Glazer initially began planning the film in 2001, shortly after his first film – the equally spectacular gangster flick Sexy Beast. Three years later work began, nine years after that, it was finished.

As erotic as it is creepy, Under The Skin is a daring, avant-garde work that somehow manages to feel both very British, and very alien. Without explanation or intent, Johansson’s otherworldly ‘woman who fell to Earth’ cruises the streets in her van, guiding men back to her lair, where they subsequently sink into an oily black abyss. Ambiguous, awkward and beautifully experimental, it’s not to everyone’s tastes, but for those seduced, prepare to be pulled in deep.

(FYI, keep an eye out for an upcoming collaboration between Glazer and Alexander McQueen)

Stream Under the Skin now on BFI Player. 

Still, Under The Skin by Jonathan Glazer, 2013

Nimic by Yorgos Lanthimos, 2019

Back in 2019, The Favourite was in the running for ten different Academy Awards – at that point in time, a greater number than its director, Yorgos Lanthimos, had films. Nominative determinism aside, theres very good reason for this, and his masterly short film Nimic spotlights the director’s unique verve perfectly in the space of about ten minutes (one for each Oscar nod).

A professional Cellist (Matt Dillon), happily married with children, gets on the subway and asks the woman opposite (Daphne Patakia) for the time. She repeats his query with a word for word eeriness. Tension mounts as she follows him home, into his house, and proceeds to mimic his every action and utterance, until she has effectively replaced him in his life.

Lanthimos is at his best when he combines a knack for unsettling with his dark sense of humour: in Nimic, we cut to a packed recital where the Mimic has taken Dillon’s place, but the chilling ramifications of this are juxtaposed with the fact that she can’t really play the cello. The whole short film plays out like that animated GIF of a train speeding through a station where you can change its direction of travel just by thinking about it. Lanthimos makes you realise that humour and horror don’t have to be opposite notions – a fine line can be danced between the two, and it requires real skill to do so.

Stream Nimic on MUBI. 

Still, Nimic by Yorgos Lanthimos, 2019

Beau Travail by Claire Denis, 1992

Over 90, achingly beautiful minutes, Claire Denis and her 30-year collaborator-in-chief Agnes Godard spin a tail of memory and lust with balletic choreography. Unlike the naval setting of Herman Melville’s unfinished novella Billy Budd (on which the film is based), Beau Travail takes place against the simmering mirages of Djibouti, where Sergeant Galoup (Denis Lavant) recounts the halcyon days of life in the French Foreign Legion from his home in Marseille.

In a timeless study of masculinity, the film follows Galoup’s standing within the legion and his fear of his own homosexuality. Galoup, who is second in command, idolises the Legionaire’s leader, Commandant Bruno Forestier, to the extent that he wears a bracelet inscribed with his name. When a new, boyishly handsome recruit joins (Gilles Sentain played by Grégoire Colin), Galoup’s rigid sense of self-discipline are dogmatic views on sexuality are brought into question, much to his own resentment. There’s a physicality to this film that plays out through beautifully composed drills, exercises and fights that feel more like dances, all while Denis toys with the slippery, ephemeral nature of memory.

Stream Beau Travail on MUBI.

Still, Beau Travail by Claire Denis, 1992

Top image: Still, Beau Travail by Claire Denis, 1992

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