Thursday, 15 August 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 54. I'm Not Scared

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

I'm Not Scared
Director - Gabriele Salvatores
Country - Italy
Year - 2003
Runtime - 108 minutes

I'm Not Scared is a chilling mystery as seen through the eyes of Michele, a nine year old boy who lives in an idyllic pastoral village in the Italian countryside. Whilst out playing with his friends, Michele uncovers a bloodcurdling secret and his inquisitive nature lands him in a dangerous situation when he returns alone to investigate further. At first, Michele keeps his discovery a secret from his parents and friends. However, as his actions of kindness towards a stranger grow bolder, Michele's risk of being caught by the perpetrators of a heinous crime increases and threatens to derail his family's peaceful existence.

Director Gabriele Salvatores adapted this enthralling story from the successful novel of the same name by Niccolo Ammaniti and brought his sublime vision of the loss of childhood innocence to life with vivid detail. This is a beautifully realised amalgamation of a childhood fantasy with a disturbing crime story in a sumptuous setting that provides an enchanting backdrop to the proceedings. Visceral tracking shots of Michele and his friends frolicking in tall wheat fields at the start of the film evoke the magic of happy childhood memories and culminate in a demonstration of Michele's strength of character as he stands up for a girl who is being bullied. These relatively carefree times are soon to be disrupted by a life-changing set of circumstances and the subsequent crescendo to the film's revelatory finale is as enthralling as its heartstopping conclusion.

In child actor Giuseppe Cristiano, Salvatore found the perfect combination of innocence and curiosity that drives a spirited performance with real conviction in his portrayal of Michele. Cristiano tackles a range of challenging scenes, particularly when Michele witness his mother being assaulted, and brings a sense of stoicism to his role - a trait that only a child who doesn't fully comprehend the seriousness of the situations he finds himself in is likely to exhibit. Michele is a boy who will captivate your heart, and Cristiano's superb depiction of the film's central character brings a raw emotional hook that propels the picture into the realm of greatness.

Trouble rears its head when Michele's father, Pino, is visited by an intimidating friend from the city and Michele is forced to share his room with the unwanted guest. This is the catalyst for Michele's rebellious streak to develop further and is the cause for a heated confrontation with his mother, Anna. Both parents are attentive to the needs of Michele and his younger sister, Maria, giving gifts and introducing games to see who has to fetch the wine for the table (a game that is revisited later in the film with horrific consequences) but you can sense a shift in mood with the arrival of Pino's intimidating visitor.

Dino Abbrescia provides a real intensity to his performance as Pino; wrestling with his parental
responsibilities and the uncompromising situation he finds himself in. Aitana Sanchez-Gijon shines as Anna, trying to hide her growing concern about the appearance of her husband's dangerous friends and struggling to contend with her son's new found defiance. With Michele's home life being disrupted in this manner it is no wonder he retreats to the fantasy world in his imagination, or the ramshackled farmhouse in which he makes his startling discovery, so often.

Vibrant strings collide with the buzz of crickets as the rousing score appears to harmonise with the natural sounds of the countryside. The stirring music lifts the film's key scenes by inducing a state of alertness in the audience; ushering in a playful urgency as characters flee from danger or a jubilant sense of freedom as children run wild in the fields. A recurring motif is strengthened as the film progresses and this serves to heighten the impact of the gripping denouement when its sorrowful melody strikes up for one last time. This is a soundtrack awash with music that delights and haunts in equal measure - a fitting partner to the tumultuous yet mesmerising events we witness on screen.


It is fascinating to see the actions of criminals interpreted by a young boy and traumatic to learn of the twisted lies they tell to another. There are some cruel and malicious men at the centre of this compelling mystery and this allows Michele's virtuous nature to illuminate the darkness he finds along his journey of discovery. The stunning vistas of the endless wheat fields are eerily reminiscent of the imagery we associate with the Elysian Fields. A revered place reserved for the virtuous and heroic in Greek mythology, and a place that seems like the perfect setting for Michele's brave and selfless deeds. With I'm Not Scared, Salvatores has crafted a sublime work of art; a captivating and suspenseful mystery full of wonder and danger that is delivered in a style befitting of the unforgettably poignant tale it presents.

If you take the time to watch I'm Not Scared then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Saturday, 10 August 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 53. Billy Budd

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.


Billy Budd
Director - Peter Ustinov
Country - UK
Year 1962
Runtime - 123 minutes

Peter Ustinov was famed for his terrific performances in front of the camera but his stints behind the camera have sadly been largely forgotten. His crowning achievement as a film director is the remarkable tale of Billy Budd, a thrilling showdown of good versus evil set on tempestuous high seas when England and France were at war in the late 1700s. Terence Stamp stars in the titular role as a naive young sailor who is commandeered from the merchant ship he works upon by a passing British war ship. His innocent and charming ways make waves with his new crew but also bring unwanted attention from the cruel master at arms, John Claggart (Robert Ryan), who uses any excuse to punish his subordinates and delights in flogging repeat offenders.

Budd's frank and optimistic outlook on life is instantly endearing. He may not be the most intelligent sailor but the Bristol born lad is hard-working and it is clear that his heart is in the right place, leading us to understand why his previous captain was so reluctant to let him go. Stamp's superb portrayal of Budd earned the young thespian an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, which is no mean feat when you consider it was his big screen debut alongside a number of well established and talent actors.

The interplay between Budd and Claggart is masterfully executed with both Stamp and Ryan delivering astonishing performances and lighting up the screen with their astute characterisations. Stamp's portrayal of Budd's optimism is a stark juxtaposition with Ryan's subdued take on the inherent evil that bubbles under the surface of Claggart. The scenes they share alone on the ship's deck at night offer a fascinating insight into the psychology of both characters whilst providing us with an unrivalled dramatic tension that has the power to leave audiences completely entranced.

The role of Captain Edwin Fairfax Vere is handled by Peter Ustinov, proving he was more than capable of tackling demanding performances alongside his duties as a director. Captain Vere's stoic and steadfast nature serves the crew well but he understands the need for Claggart's cruel practices to keep his men in line. When Billy and Claggart come to blows he is cornered in a very difficult position. Ustinov portrays the sobering effects this challenging predicament has on the captain with a real sense of anguish; he is torn between acting under the rules of the law, or on his and his officer's shared notion of justice.

Searing dramas where underlings question the authority of their leaders often explore the morality of the human condition. Billy Budd is a prime example of this and its storyline inspires hope as you are encouraged to empathise with Budd's plight. He tries to tackle the situation the only way he knows how - by acting with dignity and kindness - even when his fellow man is against him, and this places Budd in a precarious position.

By favouring small scale conflicts amongst a ship's crew over large scale swashbuckling set pieces, Billy Budd delivers a riveting human drama in a fascinating setting that still retains a grand sense of adventure. The acting is tremendous, the story is incredibly engaging, and the impressive cinematography of the ship traversing the ocean is utterly beguiling. This is a first rate British film that delivers plenty of thrills alongside the intricate and emotionally involving examination of ethics and righteousness. By the time the final scene fades into the distance you will have been on a heartwrenching and unforgettable journey that may even convince you to take stock of your own outlook on life.

If you take the time to watch Billy Budd then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 52. The Whisperers

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.


The Whisperers
Director - Bryan Forbes
Country - UK
Year 1967
Runtime - 106 minutes

Loneliness amongst the elderly is an ever relevant concern for our aging society and it has been a prevalent consternation throughout modern British history. It is a recurring theme for film-makers to explore the isolation of older generations but none have encapsulated the pervading sense of fear this conjures up as brilliantly as Bryan Forbes with his stark and haunting drama, The Whisperers. This intriguing title is a reference to the quiet voices that an old lady hears in her ground floor apartment. Are the whispers coming from her neighbours or are they a figment of a delusional imagination that longs for yet, conversely, seems to shy away from company?

Edith Evans stars as Maggie Ross, a fragile elderly lady who separated from her husband Archie (Eric Portman) many years ago and clings on to the hope of receiving financial aid from the sale of her late father's estate. She lives alone in poverty and fear, surviving on handouts from the Social Services and frequenting the police station to voice her concerns about the ominous whisperings which she believes are coming from people who are spying on her.

Maggie's sad and troubling existence is interrupted only by the occasional calls from her criminal son, Charlie (Ronald Fraser), who we see stashing a wad of notes in her spare room during one such visit. A room crowded with old books and newspapers that Maggie refuses to dispose of. Upon discovering the notes, she believes her fortunes have changed but the cruel actions of strangers who take advantage of her, and the return of her troublesome husband Archie, serve to derail any hopes she has of overcoming her sorrowful station in life.

This bleak and harrowing drama features a tour de force performance from Edith Evans that saw her nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Evans demonstrates Maggie's constant confusion with ease, bringing a gentleness and frailty to the role that has you empathising with her predicament from very early on, as well as leaving you wondering why she didn't come away with the Oscar. There is only one person in Maggie's life who genuinely seems to care for her wellbeing; Mr Conrad (Gerald Sim), an attentive Civil Servant who shows an interest in her situation and provides us with faith in the systems in place to protect the interests of the poverty-stricken elderly. However, Mr Conrad doesn't have the time or capability to support Maggie with all of her woes, particularly when she falls ill and is unable to care for herself, and with no-one to rely on she risks coming to serious harm.

The rubbish-laden streets surrounding Maggie's apartment can be considered an extension of her
unsafe living conditions. Conditions that are worsened by her need for new shoes and her inability to afford any. Forbes captures this state of disrepair when he sets the scene at the start of the film as various animals rummage through the litter in the streets. These are lone animals and rodents, unwanted by society and struggling to survive in a hostile and unfriendly environment. To compare Maggie in such a way is unkind but Forbes message is clear, there is an inherent problem in how a disproportionate amount of the populace are willing to disregard the elderly and their needs.

Forbes crafted a number of exceptional, quintessential British films in his illustrious career and deserves to be recognised for his outstanding contribution to cinema. This alarming portrayal of a frail old lady pushed to her limits is a highlight of his filmography and undoubtedly had an influence on the kitchen-sink realism of directors such as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. The honest and hard-hitting nature of Forbes approach makes for a thought-provoking and revealing drama that refuses to shy away from the upsetting issues surrounding this sensitive subject.

The Whisperers is a fascinating study of old age and the tribulations that befall those without the support of a caring network of family or friends. It is a devastating but important picture that shines a light on an aspect of society that remains relevant today. The depressing subject matter requires a certain state of mind to endure but Forbes weaves this bleak notion into an enthralling and poignant story that is fully deserving of your attentive gaze. This overlooked British classic is waiting patiently to be rediscovered so don't leave it languishing in the past like the travesty of poor Mrs Ross who is abandoned by those around her. The astonishing central performance from Edith Evans is worthy of your time alone but I am certain that other aspects of this beautifully realised film will resonate in a manner that leaves you contemplating the importance of family.

If you take the time to watch The Whisperers then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here


Friday, 19 July 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 51. Barefoot Gen

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.


Barefoot Gen
Director - Mori Masaki
Country - Japan
Year - 1983
Runtime - 83 minutes

Barefoot Gen is one of the most horrific animated films I have ever seen. It lulls you into a false sense of security with its sad but fairly innocuous portrayal of a poverty-stricken family in  war torn Japan in August 1945, a few days before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Their daily struggles and hardships are affecting but these pale in comparison to the soul-crushing scenes of devastation we see in the wake of the bomb when it comes crashing down on the city. The first on-screen death we witness following the explosion is that of a young innocent girl clutching a doll as the intense heat rips her skin from her bones and her eyeballs are torn violently from her sockets. The shock of this impact leaves you reeling but the film continues to assault your senses with a barrage of disturbing imagery that would not feel out of place in a horror film. The ensuing carnage is genuinely unsettling and the overwhelming sense of dread is exacerbated by the emotionally draining scenes of death and destruction which befall Gen and his family.

The use of animation allows the film-makers to depict the ferociousness of the initial explosion and the subsequent fallout in ways that would not be possible in a live action film, and this enables the animators to showcase some incredibly dark and troubling scenarios. Make no mistake, this is a far cry from a Studio Ghibli film, with scenes of unflinching brutality that will sear their way onto your retinas and leave an indelible scar on your psyche like the unforgettable bombing at Hiroshima that continues to haunt its inhabitants today. The heavy themes it explores and the heartbreaking story it tells are clearly aimed at a mature audience, even though we experience the harrowing circumstances of the bombing through the struggles of a young boy. A boy who is thrust into the realm of adulthood far too early by virtue of the horrific ordeal he faces.

Gen is fortunate enough to belong to a loving family comprising of doting parents, a caring older sister, and a younger brother that he playfully fights with over any scraps of food they can get their hands on. His mother is heavily pregnant and his father is desperately trying to provide for the family in a society where food is scarce and the population is starving. This is a family unit that stick together through the hard times but nothing can prepare them for the life-altering events that will completely destroy any semblance of leading a normal existence ever again.

The stirring voice acting provides a real indication of the horror experienced by Gen and those close to him, making it a prerequisite for the original Japanese audio to be favoured over the jarring English dubbing track. Issei Miyazaki brings an endearing naivety to Gen's voice that is soon unseated and replaced with a raw sense of the tragic situation which engulfs him. As is the case with a lot of anime films the character's expressions are often exaggerated and this serves the emotionally distressing nature of the film well, heightening the impact of those scenes which resonate the most; particularly during the intimate heartbreak as Gen is separated from members of his family.

A traditional Japanese soundtrack instills the film with an evocative soundscape that chimes with the humble nature of Gen's upbringing as we are introduced to his family's simple way of life. This eventually gives way to a crescendo of ear-splitting explosions that leave an eerie and uncomfortable silence in their wake. When we move into the final third of the film, the score becomes awash with haunting melodies that tie in with the overwhelming regret and pain that consumes our devastated protagonist throughout his attempts to survive this living nightmare.

The visions of hell that Barefoot Gen depicts are pure nightmare fuel and you will certainly be haunted by the unforgettable scene when Gen utters the memorable line 'What hell is this? during a moment of pure terror. It makes you reflect upon the travesty of the human race's proliferation of violent and callous weapons of mass destruction, and strikes fear into your heart that advancements in weaponry continue to pose a dangerous threat to humanity.

The tragic tale of Barefoot Gen is a bleak and relentlessly harrowing experience to endure and the heartbreak continues in the sequel directed by Toshio Hirata. It briefly recaps the events of the first film before showcasing Gen's continuing struggle for survival as the effects of the radiation poisoning continue to ravage Hiroshima. Whilst not quite as impactful as its predecessor, it is still a worthy companion piece that serves to enhance our understanding of the aftermath and is essential viewing for those who are touched by the poignancy of the first outing.

Barefoot Gen offers a powerful and devastating history lesson in a beautifully realised film and it hits home in ways that you might never expect from an animated war feature. Its depressing subject matter is handled with a real care and is faithful to the prominent Manga series it is based upon. The trauma and grief resonates deeply as Gen traverses the dark and disturbing aftermath of the shocking incident that befell Hiroshima, ensuring that this exceptional piece of film-making will stay with you forever, even if you try to push aside the haunting imagery that makes this such a powerful work of art.

If you take the time to watch Barefoot Gen then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here