Film diary, November 28 to December 4

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Inspection (2022), directed by Elegance Bratton. Screener.

Over the years, we have seen many basic training scenes, with their shouty drill sergeants and homophobic slurs. But what would it mean, A24’s new movie asked, if behind that homophobia was real intent?

Directed by the excellently named Elegance Bratton from his own life story, The Inspection follows a young man (Jeremy Pope) looking for a second chance in life through the Marines after being kicked out of his house for being gay by his mother (Gabrielle Union).

The young man enters basic training in the heart of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Era’ (aka one of the biggest arguments against compromise in legislative history). After all, seeing as telling his mother turned his life into a mess, why not try to rebuild your life somewhere where not talking about your sexuality is literally entrenched in law?

Of course, any millions of young queer kids have discovered over the years, just because you don’t tell them you’re gay, does not mean they won’t treat you like you are anyway. The man finds himself being violently and emotionally abused by both his fellow recruits and the authorities.

However, Bratton is not interested in a simple critique of a military or a time, making the film ambivalent about the young man’s treatment in a way that is sure to spark debate. The result is a muted film that offers an important testimony about the positive and negative impacts of a homophobic piece of (ostensibly) left-wing legislation that was in force in living memory.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Three Minutes: A Lengthening (2021), directed by Bianca Stigter. Screener.

Many documentaries have been made about the power of film, but few are as humanistic and profound as this. 

Three Minutes: A Lengthening is about 180 seconds of footage found in an attic in Florida, which was days away from totally decomposing. Once restored, the film was found to be something very rare indeed – the only known footage of a Polish town that would later be decimated by the Nazis.

A standard documentary about this topic, with the usual talking heads and contemporary footage at the site of the town, would be fascinating enough. But this film eschews all that, and instead shows us those three minutes over and over again; slowing it down and speeding it up, focusing on new details as the voiceover and research enlightens them.

The result is mesmeric and moving, a powerful testament to film as a memory box.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Fire of Love (2022), directed by Sara Dosa. Screener.

If three minutes did the most with the least, then Fire of Love does the opposite. The footage from volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft is some of the most beautiful footage ever shot. But the filmmakers seem to have panicked that it was not exciting enough and so added a quasi-romantic and wildly speculative voiceover and some animation that look weirdly like the Enola Holmes poster. JUST GIVE ME 90 MINUTES OF MAGMA MONEY SHOTS.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Faat Kine (2001), directed by Ousmane Sembene. DVD.

The penultimate film in my watch of the filmography of Ousmane Sembene. While many late-period works from our great auteurs are slightly rose-coloured looks at their past (looking forward to that January 2023 UK Fabelmans release date, by the way), the great Senegalese filmmaker gives us the opposite.

Faat Kine is the film of a man looking back over many decades of his own history and remarking on how every dream of his youth has died. Faat Kine’s children represent the bright future as they comtemplate what to do after getting their exam results. But their fathers represent the forces Sembene thinks have failed Africa – one is a failed revolutionary, and the other is an academic who got the young Kine pregnant but refused to support the child.

And in the middle there’s Kine, perhaps Sembene’s best female character. She’s the polar opposite of the woman at the heart of the director’s Black Girl (which this week made the Sight and Sound top 100 list). She’s brassy and empowered where Semebene’s other most famous female lead was timid and enslaved. The satirical world the director puts her in may sometimes be too sprawling and at other times too soapy, but she is always great company.

She Said (2022), directed by Maria Schrader. Odeon Greenwich.

The work journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey did breaking the Harvey Weinstein story does undoubtedly deserve to be celebrated. But good journalism does not always make for good cinema.

The film had some problems general to all modern journalism movies, and some specific to itself. In general, modern journlalism is cinematically inert. Historical journalism give us typewriters, big printing presses and smoky rooms (in another Spielbergian aside, how good is The Post!!!). Modern journalism gives us endless phone calls and people on laptops. The film comes alive when actors like Zoe Kazan is able to actually sit across from actors like Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle letting rip, but as soon as we’re starting to enjoy that it’s another 15 minutes of Kazan or Carey Mulligan looking concerned alone on a phone.

Then there’s the celebrity problem in this film. She Said faces a Catch 22, in that many of the Weinstein accusers were celebrities. Having actors play those famous actors would be distracting, but so too would be having the real people play themselves. The film’s compromise, however, may be worse than either option. It will have someone saying “Gwyneth’s just coming” and then cut away before our favourite vagina candle merchant turns up, and then in other (ruinous to the movie scene) it will have the real Ashley Judd playing herself.

Everyone in the film does their best and acquitted themselves well, even if Mulligan’s Kathleen Turner voice takes a while to get used to. But try as they might, the film cannot really get itself going. Less Spotlight, and more dim bulb.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021), directed by Dean Fleischer Camp. Screener.

It’s hard to write critically about something that made me cry for about 75% of its running time. Partly that’s due to having lost my own grandmother this year, but also it is due to Jenny Slate’s pitch-perfect voice performance as a one-inch shell making do after his being separated from his family. I love to include a few rogue nominations in my critic group’s yearly awards, I can definitely see myself giving Slate a best actress nomination this year.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Tár (2022), directed by Todd Field. Screener.

There’s something pleasingly perverse about not making a film for 16 years and then returning with a fairly oblique, nearly three-hour film about ‘cancel culture’ in the elite world of classical music.

This is what Todd Field has done, however, with Tár. The director somehow makes 160 minutes of Cate Blanchett talking about classical music in a way that should be totally alienating to someone like me who knows nothing about it riveting. Partly that is Blanchett’s doing – the scene of her destroying a particularly ‘woke’ student is right up there with the butt plut award fight from Everywhere Everything All at Once in the list of scenes of the year.

But Tár is more than just a great performance. The film is perhaps the only piece of non-shrill art made about ‘cancel culture,’ with enough ambiguity to please a sensitive millennial like myself as well as the most dyed-in-the-wool ‘love the art, not the artist’ person. And don’t even get me started about the tailoring!

Previous film diaries:

  • November 21 – 27 (Camp de Thiaroye, Guelwaar, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Pearl, Honk For Jesus Save Your Soul and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery)
  • November 14 – 20 (Living, The Wonder, Empire of Light, Aftersun, Brainwashed, Catherine Called Birdy and Armageddon Time)

Published by Samuel Spencer

Journalist at BBC Three. Deputy Culture Editor at Newsweek. Formerly at, Press Association, ARTINFO. Lover of film, TV and the actresses it they give work to. Contact me

3 thoughts on “Film diary, November 28 to December 4

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