The quiet rumour of a remarkable Scottish debut has slowly circulated since Aftersun premiered at Cannes back in May 2022. Guess what? The rumours are true. BIFA winner Aftersun is a quiet wee revolution, playing out like a reel of memories that, when you reach out to touch them, leave you clasping their disintegrating outlines in the palm of your hand. Perhaps the strongest Scottish debut since Lynne Ramsay’s 1999 Ratcatcher, Aftersun strikes with quiet melancholy and infinite empathy.
Paul Mescal and nine-year old newcomer Fransceca Corio (both of whose performances are breathtaking) are a divorced dad and daughter taking a budget summer holiday in Turkey in the 1990s. They hang out, go to the pool, do some karaoke – the usual touristy stuff. All in all they have a good holiday, until an off-hand question from Sophie uncovers a gentle but consuming sadness. That guarded pain will become Sophie’s memory of her father.
- Aftersun ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Starts Dec 15 D: Charlotte Wells (UK, 2022)
Another, albeit very different, look at death sees Noah Baumbach adapt Don Delillo’s literary masterpiece, White Noise. Baumbach teams up with Netflix for a big-buck production… The result is pretty disastrous: the “Toxic Airborne Event” is a cataclysmic train accident that casts chemical waste over the protagonist’s town. Exposure to the waste supposedly causing déjà vu, death-obsessed Jack Gladney (Adam Driver), a leading professor of Hitler studies, is torn asunder by the fatal implications of this turn of events.
Although White Noise struggles to reify the source material at times (elegant sequences tend to collapse in on themselves), Baumbach succeeds in finding the humorous heart of its contemporaneous subject matter. But there’s a sense of uncanny imitation, a feeling of déjà-vu in and outside the film. The 1980s have proved fertile ground for Netflix’s nostalgic (re)imagination – appealing to their strongest demographic of thirty and forty-somethings. The film largely fits into this genre. All in all, White Noise is a prescient polaroid of late capitalism; when it hits the right notes it accompanies the ironic sincerity of DeLillo’s novel capturing the anxieties of Reganist apocalypticism.
- White Noise ★ ★ ★ ★ Starts Dec 8 D: Noah Baumbach (USA, 2022)
The Banshees of Inisherin
The winter abyss-staring continues into the new year with The Banshees of Inisherin, a profound and profane piece of existential cinema. Certain to be one of the best films of 2023, like Baumbach’s offering, McDonagh’s work is both ambient and overwhelming. Yet in terms of execution, the two features couldn’t be more different: The Banshees of Inisherin strips back the crowded apocalypticism that shrouds the work of Delilo. The dirge and despair remains, only with Banshees the endgame is more personal: the sudden, gut-wrenching rupture of a friendship.
Set on the fictional island of Inisherin in 1923, with the Irish Civil war portentously unfolding just across the shore, the film has a simple premise. After years of friendship and apparently out of the blue, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) rather heartbreakingly tells Pádraic (Colin Farrell): “I just don’t like you anymore”, setting in motion an absurd and malign tragicomedy. Colm’s desire to be alone is driven by a sense of melancholic vanity as he comes to terms with the terror of being forgotten. The notion is sinisterly refracted in Colm’s vow of self-mutilation and artistic abasement – he promises to cut off a finger each time Pádraic tries to engage with him, a high price given that he is a fiddle player.
Tinged with a dry metaphysical wit and a creeping existential angst, The Banshees of Inisherin is a deliciously melancholy dance macabre. In its simplicity and sadness McDonagh has given us a philosophical black comedy on the level of Beckett: a film that reveals multitudes about the purgatory of being together and the hell of being apart.
- The Banshees of Inisherin ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Starts Jan 5 D: Martin McDonagh (Ireland, 2022)