Film diary: December 5 – 11 2022

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

We (2021), directed by Alice Diop. Mubi.

A December tradition of mine from the last few years is trying to make my way through The Guardian’s entire top 50 list of the best films of the year. It’s my cinematic advent calendar, albeit one I never quite finish – there’s always one of two films left like the Milky Ways in the Celebration tin of movies. 

Today, The Guardian put out the first 10 entries from its list: Compartment No 6, Top Gun: Maverick, Paris 13th District, Happening, Glass Onion, The Woman King I have already seen this year. Vortex, Brian and Charles, We and Everything Went Fine go onto my ever-growing awards season 2022 list.

Of these, I picked We to watch first. I’ve been really looking forward to director Alice Diop’s Saint Omer, so thought I may as well watch the film she made before it. Plus, it’s a rambling, sweet-natured documentary about French life, which sounded very Agnes Varda in the best possible way.

In a way, We is very like Varda’s Daguerrotypes, the doc she made about the people who lived on her street. Except Diop’s film has more ambition, telling us stories from the people who live along an entire railway line that runs from central Paris into the suburbs. 

Early in the film, Diop shows us home movie footage shot the year before her mother dies, and tells us about how she wished she had captured the seemingly ordinary moments now lost to time. We is a documentary composed of those moments, as well as the lives of Diop and her family. A group of men go on a hunt. A car mechanic talks to his mother. A carer speaks to a widower.

The documentary is full of tender and sweet moments, but its loose and freewheeling style does makes you sometimes feel like you are on a train to nowhere.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

A Banquet (2021), directed by Ruth Paxton. Watched on Shudder.

With the prospect of a night in alone before me,I  fired this one up while eating my dinner. This felt like a mistake from the very beginning, as we watch a man die in a pretty unappetising way.

However, turns out the faint nausea I had from eating mushroom fajitas too quickly was perfect for this film, which is very much about nausea in the physical scene and ‘la nausée’ in the existential sense (this is a safe space to be pretentious, right?)

After collapsing at a party, a young woman stops eating, and starts behaving very strangely. Recent horrors have got much value out of using horror as social commentary (I don’t know if Jamie Lee Curtis mentioned it, but the 2018 Halloween was about trauma), so you are led to believe that this film is using horror tropes to explore the issue of eating disorders in young women and girls.

A perfectly good horror could be made on that theme, but A Banquet is a stranger film than that – a horror film where, essentially, people make bad choices because they believe they are in a horror film. 

The young woman starts claiming she keeps having visions of the apocalypse, and we feel we are in Melancholia territory. Then the film teases that it might go full Malignant. Throw in Lindsay Duncan, playing the woman’s grand-daughter (but made up like she’s the sister of the Mystery Man from Lost Highway) and you have a very strange and heady film about life as a young woman, the existential dread of growing up, the power of faith and, yes, generational “trowma.”

About two thirds of the way through, I wondered whether A Banquet would be able to stick the landing with so many themes and ambiguities at play. The answer is ‘just about,’ though some might find themselves frustrated by what they see as the last-minute bet-hedging of the ending. 

For those who have been on the film’s wavelength the whole time, however, it will feel right that this film about not eating leaves you hungry for answers.

Thursday, December 10, 2022

The Menu (2022), directed by Mark Mylod. Odeon Camden.

Nearly saw this as the surprise film at the London Film Festival, but had other plans. Good thing really, as I don’t think I could have enjoyed this film if I had sat there fuming the whole time that I wasn’t watching Tár or The Fabelmans.

The film is about a chef (Ralph Fiennes) at one of the world’s best restaurants trying to deliver his best ever menu with deadly consequences. It is an exciting but absurd trifle – enjoyable on the palate, but without the depth of flavour it thinks it has. 

The best part is the early dishes in the epic menu, where the thing is more like a comedy of manners. Give Janet McTeer’s pretentious restaurant critic an HBO Max (a reference that will definitely stand the test of time). As the dishes get more elaborate and the bodies start piling up, the film is compelling and blackly funny in the best way, but unravels the moment you think about what’s happening.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Various vintage LGBTQ+ pornography. ICA.

Why do I stay in London despite it becoming increasingly expensive and increasingly Pret a Manger-ified? Because where else in the UK could you go to a late-night techno rave featuring a queer anti-capitalist performance art interlude and a cinema space showing queer pornography?!

There’s certainly something to be said for watching an ‘80s goth butch-femme lesbian couple fist each other with a tipsy queer audience. There were cheers when a character was credited as “butch bottom,” and boos when ‘90s censorship laws meant another fisting scene was covered with a big pink blob. These are my people, and we know that good sex is fun, funny and sexy all at once. 

Also shown was this TikTok starring a gay porn star doing this to a pineapple. In my mind, this is how Lilt is made.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Bones and All (2022), directed by Luca Guadagnino. Odeon Greenwich.

Seeing as I’ve very much made “awards season is my World Cup” my brand this year, it felt appropriate to go see an awards contender during the England game. Plus, who doesn’t love a cannibal road trip starring Timothee Chalamet looking like a twink straight out of Boys Halfway House (don’t Google that on a work computer)?

My husband has been bigging this one up since he saw it at the London Film Festival, talking about how moving he found it and how amazing he found Mark Ryalnce is in it.

I can’t say I agree with either of those things. I appreciate how audacious Guadagnino was in making his protagonists murderous cannibals and yet still making us care about their romance, but for me it feel too much like a pastiche of Badlands to be effective in its own right. As for Rylance’s performance, it is actively ruinous to the film. Rylance is a great actor, but there is something selfish about having fun playing a cartoon character while never thinking whether it fits the tone of the movie.

These objections aside, I enjoy how the director is still smuggling queer themes into his work. What gay person can’t find something to identify with in feeling like an aberration and entering into a strange new world that simultaneously attracts and horrifies them. Basically, this is is Guadagnino’s entry into the ‘should we have kink at Pride’ discourse.

Prayers for the Stolen (2021), directed by Tatiana Huezo. Mubi.

Continuing with my watch-through of the films from the Guardian’s 50 films of the year I haven’t seen yet with this slow-burner from Mexico on the impact the cartels have on the everyday lives of the communities they operate in. A refreshing change from the post-Narcos glut of content that is a much in love with cartel culture as it condemns it. We need more female directors like Tatiana Huezo to make films like this in other robustly masculine genres.

Descendant (2022), directed by Margaret Brown. Netflix.

People have rolled their eyes before at my reverence for film lists, but the reason I enjoy them so much is that they bring to your attention films like this that I may not have seen otherwise. 

I saw this on the Guardiand’s top 50 for 2022 and watched it pretty cold, and was completely blown away. It is ironic that National Geographic play a role in this story of the discovery of the US’s last slave ship, as you can imagine their version of this story being interesting but just interested in the cold facts of finding than ship.

In contrast, Descendant is a truly holistic documentary. Like the best documentaries, it uses its subject as a central point, but then spins out like a spider’s web to explore all of its implications. In Margaret Brown’s hands, the story becomes a microcosm of the entire discussion of how America should address the legacy of slavery, and the effect that legacy has on those descended from the people so abused by the system.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

EO (2022), directed by Jerzy Skolimowski. Screener.

Being very much not an animal person, a film indicting humanity through the eyes of a particularly hard done-by donkey is not something I would naturally gravitate towards. 

However, being the whore for awards and end-of-year lists, I gave it a go. The presence of EO (very fun to say in full donkey mode) give all the scenes of humans a Roy Andersson-like surrealism that only sometimes works – though thankfully the sometimes blunt “don’t humans suck” stuff is broken up with some genuinely arresting moments of psychedelic imagery.

Why not follow me on Letterboxd for more stream of consciousness film talk?

More film diaries:

  • November 28 – December 4 (The Inspection, Three Minutes: A Lengthening, Fire of Love, Faat Kine, She Said, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and Tár
  • 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

One thought on “Film diary: December 5 – 11 2022

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