UNIT ELEVEN

Theo Gravey, Sheffield, forthcoming 2017

Like Anne Biller’s The Love Witch, Sheffield filmmaker Theo Garvey’s been working on his film for a long time – some eight years now. With his ‘Sheffspendables’ team, Garvey’s created and independently produced a full-on large-scale post-apocalyptic action adventure feature film.

Set in 2035, Unit Eleven tells of survivors in an almost completely evacuated Britain competing for the bounty available to whoever can retrieve a mysterious bio weapon known only as ‘Unit Eleven’.

The trailer for this Sheffield-made feature film is impressive stuff, and the team are aiming for a summer 2017 release. To learn more, see the trailer, and, if you can, help out with financial and other obstacles the Sheffspendables face in the post-production stages of bringing together all their hard work into Unit Eleven’s final two-hour form, please check out their website and their Indiegogo page now.

Samantha Holland


ELLE

Paul Verhoeven, France/Germany/Belgium 2016

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is uncompromising, cold and harsh. A tale of sexual violence, dark family histories and complex relationships, Elle will leave you feeling brutalised.

When I first left the cinema after seeing Elle, I was thinking I never wanted to watch it ever again. However, after a few days' distance I find that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It grows on you.

With a central character like ‘Elle’ (Michèle Leblanc), played superbly by Isabelle Huppert, it’s difficult to shake the image of her intense, dark gaze. It dominates the whole movie, even forming part of the back story, used as it is to partly explain her distrust of religion and of authority.

Verhoeven doesn’t hold back in his portrayal of the rape Huppert’s character is subjected to, returning to it again and again, so you never quite relax. This tactic runs the risk of alienating the audience, but I think the film handles it so it serves only to build tension.

With several well-developed narratives and characters, this isn’t a by-the-numbers revenge drama. Excellent performances mean you find yourself readily drawn into Elle’s strange world.

The religious elements are laid on a bit thick. For me, there is one too many references to religion in the storyline about the neighbours. Although I’m aware it’s a Verhoeven trait to comment on religion, he’s a little heavy-handed with it here and it isn’t always helpful to the story.

I found Elle intense, uncomfortable, intriguing and thought-provoking. In time, I will go back for another viewing to explore the story on a deeper level and I encourage others to do the same.

Dawn Stilwell

THE LOVE WITCH

Anne Biller, USA 2017

The Love Witch tells the story of a young sorceress, Elaine (Samantha Robinson), on her often ill-fated quest to find a man to love her, using a mixture of her hypnotic charm and curious ‘magik’. Love, sex and death become entangled in a captivatingly melodramatic plot in which audiences can never be sure with whom, morally, they should identify.

The plot is indeed intriguing and entertaining. However, the film also carries a strong and defiant message about the power women hold over men and the roles the genders play in each other’s lives, and various characters reveal their changing perspectives as the story progresses. Elaine’s overdubbed monologues are particularly expressive. Seven years in the making could have diluted this, but with a 'pussy-grabbing' bigot in the White House, the film couldn’t have been released at a better time.

70s exploitation and Hammer Horror flicks are the reference points most viewers will immediately pick up on, but Biller denies The Love Witch is simply Goodbye Emmanuelle or Scars of Dracula with a feminist spin. There’s an element of surface-level sensationalism, but  also nods to the folk horror genre, Lynchian high-camp and theoretical film theory. The intense faux-wedding scene seems even to pay tribute to the 1938 Technicolor classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood. The set design is phenomenal, to the extent that Biller may have just snatched away Wes Anderson’s right to call himself the modern day maestro of mis-en-scene. Elaine’s kitsch pagan-inspired bedroom and the sickly-sweet female-only tearoom are easily on a par with the intricate and iconic aesthetic wonders of Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Love Witch, almost impossibly, manages to be simultaneously a wonderful nostalgic cinematic dream and a sharp and knowing modern feminist film. Biller’s complete commitment to the project, for which she carried out roles as diverse as costume design and songwriter, can be seen in every aspect of the film. Aesthetically and thematically, director Biller has created her own powerful universe.

Jordan Lee Smith


FILM LISTINGS

HOSTED BY SAMANTHA HOLLAND

Cheap Thrills Falls Silent
Fri 12 May | Doors 7:30pm | Christchurch, Pitsmoor Road, S3 9AQ | Free

Cheap Thrills Zero Budget Film Festival hosts a night of cheap, short, child-friendly and entertaining films with live musical accompaniment from ten soloists, duos and bands.
480 films have been submitted thus far - decisions are being made - while the musicians involved include Haze, India Mckellar, the Pitsmoor Ladies Ukulele Chorale, and Sarah Sharp.
Volunteers are still welcome – to form a foley sound effects team and to help with catering, publicity and signage. There are plans for tea and cake. Whether you get involved ahead of time or just rock up on the night to enjoy the show, an amazing array of films and sound awaits you.
facebook.com/groups/zerobudgetfilmfest

SEED
Taggart Siegel & Jon Betz, USA, 2016
Thu 11 May | 6:45pm | Sheffield Odeon | £9.75
A huge favourite at Doc/Fest 2016, Seed focuses on damage done to seed diversity and possible ways to halt the rot. Celebrating the magic, wonder and beauty of seeds with innovative animation and gorgeous images, this documentary utilises some amazing characters to weave its worrying tale. Please book an advance ticket to support this screening.
tickets.demand.film/event/1649

THE GOLDEN CLOWN
A.W. Sandberg, Denmark, 1926
Tue 30 May | 8pm | Showroom Cinema | £8.80
This beguiling Danish movie presents as a romantic drama, but veers off into darker avenues when the titular clown, Joe Higgins (Gösta Ekman), realises the cost of his fame. This screening will be accompanied by world-renowned silent film pianist, Neil Brand, and is part of the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival.
showroomworkstation.org.uk/ysff