A female-only boarding school is the setting of The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Covered, positively blanketed in snow, it’s isolated, the nights an unrelenting pitch black. Inside are two girls, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), both left behind during a February break, waiting for their parents. They wander through empty hallways, but the subtle noises—screeching creaks and low groans—betray the assumption that they’re alone here.
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The looming threat of global warming (or, in more neutral terms, climate change) has been strangely divisive despite the fact that it is a near universally agreed-upon phenomenon among environmental experts. The Anthropologist (screened at the International Film Festival Boston), which follows anthropologist Susan Crane and her daughter Kathryn Yegorov-Crate as they visit communities profoundly affected by climate change, approaches the issue from a different direction. Rather than tackling climate change as the abstract, data-driven phenomenon that it’s often painted as, the film gets down and dirty, showing the struggles of various people affected by climate change adapting to their changing worlds.
In Under the Shadow (2016), Shideh (Narges Rashidi) plops a VHS tape in and exercises in front of the television, and jerks from side to side to the sounds of Jane Fonda’s affirmations against dancy ‘80s music. Not too long after, a familiar piercing groan is heard. Air-raid sirens. Shideh snatches up her daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), and the two retreat to the basement of their Tehran apartment building, where a small group of neighbors huddle together in the dark. When it’s over, they move back upstairs, acting as if nothing happened. This is the status quo.
Screened at the Independent Film Festival Boston 2016, the world of Babak Anvari’s debut feature is Iran in the ‘80s, after the Islamic Revolution and during the lengthy Iran-Iraq war. The shadow in the title could mean many things: the looming specter of war and death, the long shadow of post-revolution Islamic conservatism. The latter, in fact, is most important to our heroine, Shideh, a liberal housewife whose participation in leftist groups during university led to her expulsion and torpedoed her chance to return and pursue medical studies. When we meet her, she is told by a school official that “he wanted her to hear this: she will never be admitted back.”
William Cameron Menzies (1896-1957), was one of the great influential production designers in cinema; indeed, the term “production design” was coined for his work on Gone with the Wind (1939). Yet, he was less prepossessing as a director because of failings common to art directors turned directors: he tended to use actors as design elements rather than encourage performances from them, and he tended to pay more attention to “the look” than the story and pace. Even so, he directed two remarkable if imperfect examples of ‘50s Cold War paranoia: Invaders from Mars (1953) and the earlier The Whip Hand (1951), which is now on demand from Warner Archive.
A blandly pretty, young Elliott Reid plays Matt Corbin, a reporter who goes fishing near a small town and smacks his head against a boulder. Late in the movie, he’ll smack the other side of his head against a branch and start bleeding all over again from a fresh wound. What a clumsy fellow! When he goes for help, he finds himself a prisoner of taciturn, falsely friendly, or just openly hostile locals who have taken over the town since all the lake fish died from a mysterious virus. What’s going on? It has something to do with the lodge across the lake, and Matt smilingly blusters his way into trouble while romancing a nervous local sweetheart (Carla Balenda).
There are ghosts in The Winter, but it’s not a ghost story. There’s a love interest, but it’s not a love story. There are unexplained figures, nightmarish visions, and descents into madness, but it’s not a horror story either. In fact, I’m not sure The Winter is much of a story at all.
The film centers on a Greek young man named Niko (Theo Albanis) who attempts to make a living in London as a writer. Niko has accumulated thousands of Euros in debt, and in a clever touch, the film’s opening credits are written on the piles of bills that are strewn across his apartment floor. He decides to return to his hometown of Siatista in rural Greece and hide out in his father’s abandoned house.