Narges Rashidi

Film Bouquets 2016

 

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It was an interesting year for film. Here, in order of release, rather than stature – and with the benefit of hindsight – are our favourite movies of 2016.

Room

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This superb adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel got 2016 off to a cracking start. There were powerful performances from Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay as the central characters in a tragic yet oddly inspirational story.

The Revenant

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu delivered another dazzling movie, this one as savage and untamed as the grizzly bear that mauled Leonardo Di Caprio half to death – but made up for it by helping him win his first Oscar.

Anomalisa

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Writer/director Charlie Kaufman gave us a quirky (and deeply disturbing) animation that was a Kafkaesque meditation on identity and the bleak nature of the human condition.

Dheepan

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Jacques Audiard’s fascinating study of the lives of refugees never fell into cliche. There was violence here, but it felt horribly real and totally devastating. There were affecting performances from a cast of newcomers.

Victoria

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Sebastian Schipper’s film really shouldn’t have worked. Delivered in one continuous take, the fact that it hooked us in so brilliantly was just the icing on the cake – a real ensemble piece but plaudits must go to Laia Costa as the eponymous heroine.

Sing Street

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John Carney may have only one plot but when it was delivered as beautifully as it was in Sing Street, we were happy to indulge him. This was a beautiful, heartwarming film with appeal to anybody who has ever dreamed about pop stardom.

The Neon Demon

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The fashion industry as seen by Nicolas Winding Refn is a hell hole and here, Elle Fanning as Jesse, was the latest recruit. A weird mash-up of sex, violence and extreme voyeurism, this was the director’s most assured effort yet.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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New Zealand director Taika Waititi offered up this delightfully quirky story about a troubled teenager (Julian Dennison) and his friendship with crusty curmudgeon, Hec (Sam Neill). This film reeled us in and kept us hooked to the end credits.

The Girl with all the Gifts

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Just when we thought the zombie movie had stumbled as far as it could go, Colm McCarthy’s film gave the genre a hefty kick up the backside – and there was a star-making performance from young Senna Nanua in the lead role.

Under the Shadow

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Babek Abvari’s film had all the tropes of the contemporary horror movie and a powerful political message as well. Set in post war Tehran, young mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) struggled to keep her daughter safe from the forces of darkness.

I, Daniel Blake

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Ken Loach’s return to the screen resulted in one of the most powerful and affecting films of the year – a searing look at ‘benefits Britain’ that would have the most stony-hearted viewer in floods of tears. Should be required viewing for Tory politicians.

Train to Busan

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Another day, another zombie movie – but what a zombie movie! Korean director Sang ho Yeon gave us a galloping ‘zombies on a train’ thriller that nearly left us breathless. There were some incredible set pieces here and a nerve-shredding conclusion.

Paterson

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Jim Jarmusch presented a charming and quirky tale about a would-be poet living in a town that had the same name as him. Not very much happened, but it didn’t happen in an entirely watchable way. A delightful celebration of the creative spirit.

Life, Animated

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This compelling documentary squeaked in right at the end of the year – the true life tale of Owen Suskind, an autistic boy, initially unable to speak a word, but rescued by his love of Disney movies. It was funny, uplifting and educational – and our final pick of 2016.

Under the Shadow

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It is the 1980s and, in war-torn post-revolution Tehran, young mother, Shideh (Narges Rashidi), struggles to look after her young daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshedi). Shideh’s husband, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), is a doctor, and when he’s called away to work at the front line, Shideh feels horribly isolated in her city apartment. She has long wanted to be a doctor herself but, because of her political activism whilst at university, she’s been banned from ever pursuing such a career. Indeed, she has to keep many things secret – even the fact that she owns a VCR on which she watches Jane Fonda workout videos – and naturally, like all women in the city, she can no longer be seen out on the streets without covering her hair with a hijab.

A near miss from an Iraqi missile, plunges her apartment block into turmoil and things get even more complicated, when neighbours start muttering about the presence of Djins – evil spirits, borne on the wind, that seek to take everything from their chosen victims. At first, Shideh dismisses the notion as superstitious nonsense but, as inexplicable occurrences begin to mount, she starts to believe that there may actually be something in the stories; and that one of the things these shadowy creatures wish to take from her is her daughter…

Under the Shadow uses all the tropes of the contemporary horror movie to tell its story – there are jump-cuts and scare moments aplenty here, all of them skilfully executed; but writer/director Babak Abvari’s assured story is quite clearly an allegory, one that relates to the oppressive situation that Shideh finds herself in, while the collapsing apartment building is clearly a comment on her own mental disintegration, as well as the country’s demise. If it reminds me of another film, it’s Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, where Catherine Deneuve goes through a similar process but, where she is alone, Shideh has her vulnerable daughter to worry about (a delightful performance from young Manshedi). As the slow-burning tale builds steadily towards its catharsis, the audience is drawn deeper and deeper into a world of mounting terror.

The intriguing conclusion eloquently points out that the impact of war and the suppression of individuality have a long-lasting effect on their victims. Abvari should be congratulated. He’s created a film that offers everything you’d expect in a successful horror movie… and a good deal more besides.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney