Berlin - Day Four (2018)

I woke up this morning to news back home of people flocking in their thousands to the cinema, like the opening of an IKEA superstore: Black Panther is the biggest February release ever (globally), Lady Bird has smashed it on its opening platform weekend (so well-deserved!), and that The Shape of Water is shaping to be Guillermo del Toro’s biggest UK release. From there on in the day was uneventful, I’m sorry to say. So much so that the key highlight came in a screening of Ghost Stories when a woman brought an aroma of minestrone soup to the seat beside me, bringing a Fourth Dimension to my enjoyment of Lionsgate’s upcoming paranormal comedy horror. If you’ve seen five movies in a day at one of the top international film festivals, and it’s the sensorama of a tomato-based food product that sticks in the mind, you know it’s not been the best of days.

 

Ghost Stories

Released in the UK in early April, Ghost Stories is directed and written by actor and Derren Brown collaborator Andy Nyman and The League Of Gentlemen’s Jeremy Dyson, their stage play brought to the big screen. It comes in a format that pays homage to (but isn’t enslaved by) the portmanteau approach of Amicus horror films of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; Nyman plays Professor Goodman, an ‘as seen on TV’ academic who’s dedicated his career to exposing charlatan clairvoyants (like the aptly named Mark van Rhys, a cameo from Nathan Barley star Nicholas Burns) and disproving any existence of the paranormal. Goodman is challenged to investigate three cases that were never discredited, so we accompany him through his subject’s stories and their brushes with the dark side, learning a little about the professor’s secrets in the process. Martin Freeman and, fresh from smashing it in The Death of Stalin, Paul Whitehouse give ample support.

A must for horror aficionados on release, as the writer-directors are clearly fans of the language and logic of horror and wear their reverent geekery for the genre on their sleeves. Not a fanboy myself, I did still find it well put together and suitably bumpy in parts (especially when the minestrone soup smell kicked in, it genuinely heightened the terror - try it with a scary movie at home, and not in a Curzon Cinema!). But for me, I was much more appreciative (and wanted more) of the occasional touch of dark humour and British childhood or everyday reference that I assume flowed from the pen of Dyson, as co-writer of The League of Gentlemen. Sooty and Sweep, Fine Fare supermarkets and O2’s mobile phone coverage, anyone?

 

Daughter of Mine

Do you remember Italian star Valeria Golino, the curly haired beauty who broke into Hollywood in the late eighties with roles in Rain Man (yes, Tom Cruise’s empathetic GF!) and the Hot Shots! movies; and who charmed arthouse audiences in Respiro (2002)? Today I saw her in a powerful Italian melodrama where she's terrific as a mother gripped with fear that she will lose her daughter. 

With her pale skin and stand-out copper-coloured hair, obedient 10-year-old Vittoria looks a lot more like Angelica, a wild party girl who lives in a broken down farmhouse in the hills; isolated were it not for her evenings, blind drunk in the local bar cajoling the men for sex and drinks. No great candidate for motherhood, Angelica secretly passed Vittoria over to Tina (Golino) as a baby, knowing the older woman would make a loving and attentive mother. Now their secret pact is under threat of exposure, after Anglica meets her daughter for the first time and the young girl begins to sense something, drawing her closer to the truth and in harm’s way of her real mother’s schemes. 

Crispy and beautifully shot on the sun-kissed terracotta sand of Sardinia, it’s a tough but strong piece of work that interweaves a series of ideas with subtlety and grace, even if some peter out eventually. And, at the heart is Golino’s ship-wrecked performance as the mother scorned and facing rejection, communicating the film’s main thesis with maximum clarity: that motherhood is about pain and love, and not merely biology.

Jon Wood