Zola

Oh my god, I loved Zola!

Taylour Paige stars as Zola, a dancer at the club who meets and falls in friendship with Stefani, a new dancer who seems totally sound when she first meets her. Stefani invites her on a road trip to Florida the next day, along with her boyfriend and her roommate. And pretty early on all the alarm bells start ringing.

It’s basically like a road trip movie set over a weekend, high in comedy and crime capers, with Zola just trying to survive her first 72 hours of friendship with Stefani.

I cannot state more highly how great Taylour Paige and Riley Keough are in this. They make the characters real people, and not just cartoons in this over-the-top story. They play the darks and danger as well as the highs and laughter. And they have this real, believable chemistry, where you can see why you get into a deep pile of shit because you were bowled over by a connection.

I loved Zola’s voice, her storytelling is as much what makes the film enjoyable as anything going on in the screen. She has such a strong sense of herself, she never doubts or gets lost in amongst all the craziness, and her voice reflects that strength and purpose.

The moral of the story is never go to Florida.

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.