The Nest

Within the first 5 minutes of the Nest, I clocked Jude Law’ character as being a lying, manipulative, gaslighting, narcissistic cunt. And the rest of the film is just waiting for that ticking timebomb to explode.

Carrie Coon plays his wife, who knows something is badly wrong but has no words to describe it. He’s clearly smooth-talked his way through so much shit by this point, and bought himself out of trouble with gifts like bribes, and turned on her for being “crazy” whenever she raised a legitimate concern, she really struggles to discern what is in fact being hidden from her, and what direction her impending sense of doom is coming from. She seems like one of those women who don’t even realise they’re in an abusive marriage until he cleans out her bank account, sells her mother’s house, and leaves her with thousands of pounds in debt after faking an illness to extort money from their friends. As the movie begins, she is just cresting the wave of her realisation her confidence in him is misplaced, and their financial situation is likely not all he makes it out to be. As he suggests yet another move, this time to a fancy manor house in England, you sense she has now been through this cycle enough times to see through it, and the tactics he’s been using to keep her compliant or complacent are no longer working.

In fact this whole film is shot more like a horror film. The score is ominous from the outset. The plot is reminiscent of so many horror tropes – happy family moves to gothic mansion and begins to unravel – except there is not supernatural force. It kinda reminds me a little of The Witch, how the family falls apart under misfortune, only in The Nest, there is no external agent causing it, it is self-created in the character of the father.

I can see how someone would not be interested in seeing this movie. After all, incredibly privileged cunts find no happiness in their extravagant lifestyle seems like the least compelling plot ever. Which is why I didn’t enjoy Anna Karenina. And if it weren’t for the fact it is directed by Sean Durkin who did Martha Marcy May Marlene – which was awesome by the way – I wouldn’t have bothered with it. But I dunno, I found it did hold my attention. It managed to have a central villain whose motivation and character made sense and were identifiable without asking you to sympathise with him.

It has this tortured wife character who is much more fleshed out and three-dimensional than the usual stereotypical role, she has agency, the film is all about her growing in confidence and choosing to face what she fears is true, even as she is half losing her mind over it. She is not a passive victim, and she clearly has been invested in the materialistic life that has been provided so far, seeing it as a mark of stability and security, and he has clearly bought her off with gifts in the past because that has been what’s worked. It is only as the avarice has grown to self-destructive proportions that it has come to signify the opposite of that, a lack of safety.

In some ways this is a movie about a haunted house, but the house is haunted by a woman’s unintelligible fears, and the malevolent force is in the secrets her husband is keeping.

Writing With Fire

Writing With Fire follows Meera, Suneeta, and Shyamkali, reporters for Khabar Lahariya, the only newspaper in India run by Dalit women. They navigate a world which devalues them because of their caste, their gender, their perceived lack of formal education, the fact they are rural journalists documenting issues in their own communities. They do so with courage, spirit, strength, and defiant optimism.

This film does a good job of combining the seemingly small stories with these huge, even global, issues. Shyamkali talks about how her husband disagreed with her decision to become a journalist, that he beat her and stole her wages. So she got him lifted for domestic abuse. All across the country, and for generations, if you were a journalist it meant you were a high-caste man, and no one would countenance a woman from the lowest caste as a reporter. It changed because Shyamkali changed it. And when her husband tried to beat her back into her place, believing he could do so with impunity, she changed that to. And when she used her position as a journalist to challenge police indifference on the rape of a village girl, she changed that to, and the rapist was arrested and prosecuted within the week. And when the front-runner for state office spoke to her about his election campaign, expecting deference and only to advertise his candidacy, she changed that too, and challenged him on rape prosecution rates in the state, and what he planned to do to reduce rape and increase convictions. This film shows how the world is changed by women who insist on their own worth, their own rights, their own voice.

Even as they start small, their successes are hugely meaningful. A canal may not seem like much, but its repair makes the difference between a village starving or not. Challenging corruption and indifference by local authorities, to ensure that bribes are not the only way to get anything done, is how they bring democracy to life, one electricity pole, one resurfaced road at a time.

But as things progress, so too do the tides swing back. The film covers the rise of Hindu nationalism, a divisive ethno-religious fascism. The conservatism of the movement means it is not only Islamaphobic, but doubling-down on traditions of caste and gender roles. The surge to power coincides with increased violence, especially towards journalists critical of the ruling party. It’s enough to make you despair, but Meera says, “In this time when these things are happening in the county, if they ask what did you do? Khabar Lahariya made sure the fourth pillar did not fall.”

A great documentary about citizen journalists, those truly dedicated to the responsibility of journalism to safeguard democracy, people who know the high price and the fragility of it.

Night of the Kings

Fucking beautiful!

Night of the Kings focuses on a night and a day in a maximum security prison in Ivory Coast. While a token force of guards remain, the prison is really run by its king, Blackbeard. In this brutal, modern setting, the most traditional of stories plays out – an ailing king is falling, his princes vie for his crown, and to stave off oncoming death and war, he holds a night of ritual storytelling. A new inmate is picked to be storyteller, and his life and the king’s, and maybe everyone else’s as well, relies on keeping his story going until dawn.

Exquisite cinematography combines with evocative design to create this world, a city within a jail within a jungle, just as the film is about stories within stories. The sound and music transport and punctuation journeys through the prison and through the stories. A Thousand and One Nights meets the griot tradition as the storyteller’s voice calls out, and the audience respond, and some in the crowd participate in acting out, dancing, and enhancing the story.

The storyteller, Roman, tries to tell the story of his friend, Zama King, a street gangster who is caught and killed by a mob on the day Roman is arrested. In it, he tries to weave it together with ancient fairytales of sorcerer kings and queens, tying his short, violent life to the history and mythology of his country. As he does so, he tries to reach back to the falteringly remembered traditions of the griot, striving to recall from before his life as a thief.

So much is done in this movie with so little. The use of the space to give a sense to a sprawling, cut-throat city, within prison walls half lost already to the encircling jungle. The ability to convey an impending sense of threat and danger with very little actual violence. It’s amazing how breathlessly merciless the world feels, when so little takes place on screen. Roman asks what awaits him at the end of the evening’s entertainment, and is told to look up the stairs, where a hook hangs from the ceiling. The implication and dread don’t need anything more explicit than that. When Zama King is captured by the mob, in a crescendo of anger, you only see them put the tyre around his neck, then you see flames from behind the backs of the crowd, and don’t need to see more. A lot is down with very little.

The only thing I’ll say is, I would have liked the ending to have been more rounded, pulling more together from the threads within and without the stories. But it ends, as everything in this world ends, punctured by loud, bright, violence. And the abruptness of that, the lack of satisfaction in that, kinda reflects the lives of the people this film is about. It is Zama King, dead at 19. It is the inmates, who live in brutal conditions where the threat of death is ever-present. It is the story of revolution and war in Ivory Coast where the satisfying ending to its story is lost in unfinished and unfinishing violence.

If you like this…

Bhaji on the Beach

Went to Bhaji on the Beach as part of the Film4 classics season. I never saw this as a kid, coz I would have been 7 when it came out. But it’s great!

A bunch of Brummies go on a trip to Blackpool through the local South Asian Women’s centre. There’s wee auld grannies clucking their tongues at all the weans. There’s Asha, who’s going half mad in her joyless domesticity and is having visions of the cinematic romance she once envisioned for herself. There’s the teenagers who’ve come to try and get a snog away from parental eyes. There’s Hashida, the neighbourhood’s golden girl who’s found out she’s pregnant to her secret black lover. And there’s Ginder, who’s scandalised the community by running out on her husband to become a single mum.

I loved this film. It starts out a bit rocky, with some of the scenes a bit ‘Eastenders acting’, but as the film goes on everybody seems to hit their stride.

It’s so weird to see something from a time I lived in, and see it look so dated. I kept going – Look, Woolworths! Look, I had that plaid shirt! As a seaside film, it already has a level of twee nostalgia baked it, but if anything, time has lent it an increased sweetness.

It’s just a good time. Just as the characters are on a nice day out, the movie is just a feel-good ride. For all the issues hit on – domestic abuse, racism, abortion – it’s never grim, because the nucleus is of a strong community of women, sometimes in conflict with each other, but fierce to defend each other.

P.S. My favourite was granny Pushpa. She reminded me so much of my own granny, who, whenever she had to mention a controversial subject, spoke through her nose. Them down the street were “Cah-thlah-s” and they two lassies across the road were “leh-sbeh-s”. Pushpa does the same thing except she breaks into Hindi whenever she’s saying something dodgy. I loved her so much!