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We’re at the year’s halfway mark: a point where many film critics offer a kind of midterm cinematic report card, listing the standout releases of those first six months before a flood of late-year prestige offerings dull their shine. You’ll notice several titles – a couple of this week’s new DVD releases among them – deservedly resurfacing on multiple lists, yet you won’t see many mentions for Sunday’s Illness, a festival-travelled, critically adored Spanish melodrama that, notwithstanding its dour title, must rank among the year’s most exquisite revelations.
Even some of the film’s early champions might be unaware that it has already been quietly released on Netflix, which helped develop Ramón Salazar’s low-key fourth feature and secured international distribution rights after its Berlin premiere in February. Skipping cinemas outside Spain, it slipped directly on to the streaming platform last month. Word of mouth is slowly trickling out, though it’s open to question to what extent it’s reaching the audience that would most embrace this refined, acutely moving story of mother-and-child reunion, which plays a little like late Almodóvar with a crystalline chill.
As a patrician society madam and the wounded adult daughter she abandoned in childhood, Susi Sánchez and Bárbara Lennie play it with a poise and precision that almost aches. As the two women spend 10 days together at a remote mountain getaway, the drama thaws into an exhilarating current of confession and recrimination.
You can see why Netflix got on board. Mindful of the large crossover sway of the Spanish-speaking audience, they’ve been bulking up their range of original Spanish and Latin content of late, though innovative, big-deal arthouse works of this calibre are still rare in that library. Sunday’s Illness is a relatively rarefied item by Netflix standards, but there’s a larger investment at play here. They’re backing Salazar’s next, more mainstream project, Elite, a five-part TV drama about crime and class conflict in an exclusive boarding school. With Netflix, even when cinematic art is served, television is often the endgame.
Another gorgeous 2018 standout that has just headed directly to Netflix without passing go (in the UK, at least) is Aaron Katz’s Gemini. A shivery, bewitching, deep-blue Los Angeles neo-noir – hinged, like Olivier Assayas’ recent Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria, on the fraught, cracked-mirror tension between celebrity diva and personal assistant – it’s the most coolly polished work yet from Katz, a gifted graduate of the American mumblecore scene now branching out into more enigmatic, high-style territory.
Carried with dreamy intelligence by Lola Kirke as a put-upon skivvy to Zoë Kravitz’s starlet, gradually entangled in Hollywood malice and murder, it’s snakingly plotted but ultimately an airy, spell-casting mood piece. The film’s black-velvet-and-neon atmospherics would work best in the enveloping darkness of a theatre, so at least turn the lights low while you Netflix it.
No British distributor took the bait, so I’m glad the streaming company has given it a home – but it’s another shot of pure cinema that may escape your notice beneath the heavily promoted carousel of Queer Eye and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. If social media chatter is any barometer, the Netflix original film to most crack the public consciousness in recent months – the bright, slight, poppy romantic comedy Set It Up – is the one that they’ve promoted more like a sitcom than a movie. Wading past the back-and-forth of industry debate, Netflix could be a great ally to embattled arthouse cinema, but the time has come for them to give it a marquee.
New to streaming & DVD this week
You Were Never Really Here
Speaking of the year’s best so far, Lynne Ramsay’s lean, mean hitman thriller is way up on the list. What could be pure pulp fiction is given shiver-inducing psychological complexity by Ramsay and a magnificent Joaquin Phoenix.
And save a spot for Greta Gerwig’s pitch-perfect, Oscar-nominated coming-of-age story, which works a wealth of social, sexual and economic anxiety into subject matter rarely treated with such delicacy or gravity.
The Shape of Water
The further we get away from the best picture Oscar triumph for Guillermo del Toro’s seductive, floating hybrid of monster movie, romantic melodrama and cold war potboiler, the more gloriously, surprisingly eccentric it is going to look.
Forget the awards haul for Allison Janney’s one-note mom-gorgon: the keeper in Craig Gillespie’s kinetic, morally slippery interpretation of the Tonya Harding scandal is Margot Robbie’s gutsy, hell-for-pleather turn as the disgraced figure skater.
Source: The Guardian
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