Film

The Iron Lady

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Meryl Streep turns in a brilliant performance as Margaret Thatcher suffering from dementia in this portrait of the Iron Lady. Thatcher's story is narrated in a series of flashbacks with her dead husband, Denis Thatcher, often appearing at her side. She is old, reminiscing in her luxurious residence.

But just as the elderly Thatcher suffers from loss of memory, so this film seems to have lost the thread of history.

Coriolanus

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Ralph Fiennes's modern film adaptation of Coriolanus is a masterstroke. One of Shakespeare's lesser known plays, Coriolanus has attracted attention from a surprising range of directors including Bertolt Brecht - and it's easy to see why. Class struggle, war, power and leadership are themes relevant to both Elizabethan and contemporary audiences.

Les Enfants du Paradis

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Remastered edition out now.

The classic Les Enfants du Paradis has been reworked by the British Film Institute, and as a result is reaching new audiences. The film was made in 1945, based around a huge street scene set spanning half a mile.

It is filled with noise and life. The restoration has salvaged fuzzy scenes and turned them into sharp, lively visuals that fixate the viewer.
The making of Les Enfants du Paradis is as fascinating as the film itself. It was made under the Nazi occupation of France and for ordinary French people it was a call to arms against the dehumanising effects of fascism.

Blood on the Mobile

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When Frank Poulsen, director of Blood on the Mobile, visits Nokia's headquarters in Finland, the landscape is snow-covered. The offices are antiseptic, hi-tech and apparently welcoming.

At least they are until he asks where Nokia gets the minerals for its telephones from. Suddenly every door closes and Nokia's pride in its social responsibility begins to look more than a little tarnished.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

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It is almost impossible to think about a film adaptation without considering the book from which it originated. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a hard-hitting 2003 novel which recounts the aftermath of a fictional high school massacre told from the point of view of the killer's mother.

Lynne Ramsay's gritty film adaptation is about Eva Khatchadourian's experience of attempting to conform to society's expectations as a mother. She recounts the events from her child Kevin's conception to his school massacre, a horrific act that leads him to prison and leaves her utterly shattered. Early on the audience witnesses Eva amid the debauchery of La Tomatina - the tomato fight festival. The red props and smeared tomatoes symbolically convey that danger is imminent, and we soon learn that this danger stems from the birth of Kevin.

The Boy Mir

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Ten years on from the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and the start of the "war on terror", this documentary follows the life of one Afghan from childhood to early adulthood.

This film aims to show real Afghani village life against a backdrop of war. The director, Phil Grabsky, first visited Afghanistan after the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001. There he encountered Mir, who was first introduced in Grabsky's 2004 documentary on Afghanistan, "The Boy who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan".

When China Met Africa

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For Felix Mutati, Minister for Trade and Commerce in Zambia's capital, Lusaka, the writing is on the wall in his office: Chinese writing, of an obscure regional variety no one can successfully interpret, but it "gives [him] a spirit of imagination of where you are going to lead the country to" nevertheless.

As we accompany Mutati on various trade delegations around Zambia and China he tries to explain how Chinese investment in Zambia is an enterprise driven purely by hope, mutual respect, peace and unity. In doing so, he is lauded for keeping politics out of business. This documentary by brothers Mark and Nick Francis demonstrates the impossibility of that notion. This is especially relevant in light of the 2011 Zambian presidential race in which support for or opposition to for Chinese-African relations has played a big role.

The Help

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The Help is an adaptation of the novel by Kathryn Stockett, based in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963. The film attempts to show the simmering tension between black maids ("the help") and their white employers at the emergence of the civil rights movement.

Black women had few options but to work as exploited domestic help for wealthy white families. The narrative centres around three main characters. Skeeter Phelan is a white college graduate who embarks on a project to write an anonymous exposé of black domestic help. She enlists the help of Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson - black maids who agree to speak out about their lives at great personal risk.

Ken Loach Retrospective: British Film Institute

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In June the great socialist film-maker Ken Loach turned 75. To celebrate the British Film Institute is holding a retrospective of most of his important films and some of his matchless work for TV. Simultaneously, the BBC is releasing a six-disc collection of the TV work that Loach directed in the 1960s and 70s. This includes Days of Hope, the epochal four-part analysis of the 1926 General Strike, and also my personal favourite, the sublime Big Flame dramatising a workers' takeover of Liverpool Docks.

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