Film

Freaks: One of us!

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Tod Browning’s Freaks, re-released this month, is a 1932 horror film about sideshow circus freaks that was banned in the UK for 30 years. Yet its treatment of disability is notably refreshing compared to most of what the contemporary mainstream media has to offer.

One of the film’s central themes is the concept of solidarity — rather than let themselves be divided and compete for acceptance by the “normals”, the freaks protect themselves against cruelty by adopting the principle of “an offence to one is an offence to all”.

The Tribe

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The Tribe is an inventive and uncompromising film about a group of teenagers at a residential deaf school in Ukraine. There’s no spoken dialogue, translation or voiceover. The action takes place mainly in the school itself — a bleak and dilapidated institution with peeling walls and starkly lit long corridors. After new arrival Sergey’s initiation into school rituals, he is quickly co-opted into its dominant gang. They use charity goods, donated then sold to finance the school, as a front for robbery.

Girlhood

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Sciamma’s Girlhood (following Tomboy and Water Lilies) is an unforgettable piece of cinema, gripping from start to finish. The story gives an honest portrayal of the lives of young, working class, black women growing up in a deprived area of France. The film focuses on the struggle of 16 year old protagonist Marieme (Karidja Touré) after she is refused the opportunity to progress into further education. She lives on an estate in a neighbourhood dominated by men.

Samba

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Samba is a comedy drama that traces the relationship between Senegalese illegal immigrant Samba (Omar Sy) and affluent, alienated charity worker Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The film presents a confusing mix of drama and comedy, the drama being the better part of the film. Samba is caught by the authorities after ten years working illegally in France. Alice is assigned by an advisory charity to help Samba through his difficult journey through a detention centre, where his experiences are eye opening.

We Are Monster

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On the night of 21 March 2000, cell 38 of Feltham Young Offenders Institute (YOI) became the setting for a racist murder. Zahid Mubarek was the victim and fellow inmate Robert Stewart the murderer. Watching this film you understand why Zahid’s family spent six years campaigning for a public enquiry to discover why a violent, mentally disturbed and self-confessed racist was placed into a cell with an Asian inmate.

The Emperor's New Clothes

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Russell Brand makes no secret about whose side he’s on in his latest film, made in collaboration with director Michael Winterbottom. Taking up Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the same name, Brand invites an assembly of infants to judge on the fairness of a society riven with the most grotesque inequality. Scenes from this sequence are brilliantly juxtaposed with a host of great interviews with working mothers, New Era housing campaigners, UK Care and Your Choice Barnet care workers, a campaigner with cerebral palsy against cuts to disability benefits, and so on.

The Falling

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The Falling is a dreamlike story of a fainting epidemic among pupils at a girls’ school. It is director Carol Morley’s first feature film, following her haunting 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life.

Set in a damp England in 1969, the times are changing, but the stuffy school in which the action takes place couldn’t be less swinging. Most of the teachers are stuck in the 1950s — if not austerity Britain of the 1940s — particularly Greta Scacchi’s Miss Mantel, who initially recalls Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Bypass

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Bypass is a moody and gritty thriller set on a council estate. There is definitely as much grit here as there are thrills. The action is never allowed to overshadow the well-researched and brilliantly realised social realism.

George MacKay gives a stunning performance as Tim, a boy trying to make ends meet by whatever means he can. At the same time he is trying to hold his disintegrating family together. Donald Sumpter makes fleeting appearances as Tim’s granddad. He represents a long lost world of stable employment and working class solidity.

Mommy

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On paper, this award winning film by the acclaimed young director Xavier Dolan is packed with “issues”. It is set in a fictional Canada after the 2015 election. Reformed public health laws have shifted the landscape for parents and teachers of children with special needs.

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