Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris: New York Public Library
Wiseman’s three-hour plus Ex Libris is not what you’d expect. It’s an eloquent summation of one of the greatest libraries in America, and possibly the world, where talks, discussions, concerts, instructive courses and even telephone enquiries necessitating copious research are combined with the act of reading. A triumphant corrective to the era of Trump, admittedly from a firmly Democrat state.
Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country
This Australian epic is long and slow but a fascinating example of the continuing guilt about the long-standing mistreatment of the country’s aborigine population. Made by the director of Samson and Delilah, which won the Certain Regard prize at Cannes, the film is set near Alice Springs in 1929 where an Aborigine family start working for a brutal white rancher. Sam Neill and Bryan Brown are among the cast, and the native actors are equally sure. A horror story told with proper humanity.
Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete
As an ex-jockey, I appreciated Haigh’s first American film more than most since it is about a young boy who steals the broken-down racehorse he looks after when he’s told it will be sold as meat in Mexico. He leads the animal in a long trek towards his mother’s home in the South and finally finds the woman who left the family years ago. The film is beautifully acted (Steve Buscemi is Lean on Pete’s trainer) and the boy (Charlie Plummer) is a real find. But it is also a stunning portrait of Trump’s America, worthy of 45 Years, Haigh’s garlanded last British film.
Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson’s Under the Tree
Icelandic films often have a special blend of humour and seriousness, and this one about two warring families is no exception. “Two families. One tree. A bloody mess” says the publicity for Sigurdsson’s saga, a tagline that for once seems truly appropriate. Fine acting and an approach that sees society’s ills reflected in individual lives distinguish this appropriately quirky film.
Susanna Nicchiarelli’s Nico 1988
Nico 1988 is about the last year in the life of the Velvet Underground superstar who branched out on her own with much less success. It tells of her fight with heroin and alcohol, how her deserted son comes back to her as an adult and how her music became more and more angry and original. She is beautifully played by the Danish actress Trine Dyrholm who sings the songs herself almost better than Nico did. A small- scale triumph, in fact, for the Italian director Nicchiarelli.