The great Leonard Cohen moments in film

With Nick Broomfield’s documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, an in-depth look at the relationship between Leonard Cohen and muse Marianne Ihlen, playing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this month and on general release in July, we thought it an appropriate time to highlight some of our favourite Cohen needle drops in cinema.

Whether with his own voice or through cover versions, many films and TV shows have made stirring use of Cohen’s music, though there is no instance in which the songs in question were written with the intention of featuring in that movie or episode.

For inclusion in the small selection below, we’ve stuck to the following criteria: feature films only, one entry per song, and Cohen recordings only, not covers of his work…

Full feature for The Skinny

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10 to see at the 2019 Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Edinburgh International Film Festival, the world’s longest continuously-running film festival and now in its 73rd year, runs between 19 and 30 June. It opens with the European premiere of Boyz in the Wood (2019), which is not a tribute to the late John Singleton but rather a dark, folk horror-influenced comedy set in the Scottish Highlands, from writer-director Ninian Doff. The world premiere of Mrs. Lowry & Son (2019) closes the festival: Adrian Noble’s light-hearted biopic of L.S. Lowry (Timothy Spall) portrays the painter long before he was established as one of the 20th century’s greatest artists, devoted to but frustrated with his bitter mother, Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave).

Beyond the bookend galas, there are many premieres (including world-first screenings of 18 features), discoveries and retrospectives of note. Here are 10 highlights from the packed programme…

Full feature for the BFI

Nicolas Winding Refn on curation and Americana

From Bronson and Valhalla Rising to DriveOnly God Forgives and The Neon Demon, Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has a reputation for filtering all sorts of reference points, from cinema or other artforms, into movies that never quite feel like anything else out there, even if it might initially seem clear what you’re going to get from a surface glance.

The director’s passion for the idiosyncratic recently extended to the world of digital media with byNWR.com, where an exclusive film – a restored lost gem with little to no previous cultural legacy – is presented each month as a jumping off point to inspire creativity. Although film and the moving image takes up the bulk of the venture’s content right now, the site is moving into music. And not only music, but music festival collaborations.

As part of this year’s Black Deer Festival in Kent, a specially-curated trilogy of films will be presented for the first time in a new form, under the banner of byNWR Expressway. In keeping with the spirit of the Americana and country music-focused festival, each film harks back to America’s drive-in heyday…

Full interview for The Line of Best Fit

‘Dirty God’: “I saw a young burn survivor at a music festival and I flinched. I saw everybody around her doing the same.”

The English-language debut of Dutch director Sacha Polak, Dirty God follows a young London mother, Jade (newcomer Vicky Knight), as she tries to reassemble her life after an acid attack leads to disfigurement and burns across her face and upper body – the unprovoked assault coming courtesy of her ex-boyfriend and father of her child. The injuries change the ways in which many people interact with her, altering her sense of self, driving her to pursue cheap plastic surgery in Morocco and fracturing her relationships with her mother, Lisa (Katherine Kelly), and infant daughter.

With co-writer Susie Farrell, Polak eschews common on-screen treatments of burn survivors, avoiding making Jade an object of pity and passivity but also not placing her on a pedestal. She is a complicated, well-rounded character who makes impulsive, sometimes disastrous decisions. Dirty God is a complex story of survival, not victimhood. Her trauma is not easy to boil down: there’s relatively little soul-searching or self-pity, and she has recurring sex dreams about her attacker…

Full interview for the BFI

“That summer we were all waiting for democracy to start”: Dominga Sotomayor on ‘Too Late to Die Young’

Too Late to Die Young is Chilean writer-director Dominga Sotomayor’s third feature, though the first since her well-regarded debut, Thursday til Sunday (2012), to receive much international distribution. The new work feels of a piece with the breakthrough film in its focus on the perspective of children and their burgeoning awareness of the complexities of their family situations. At the same time, that focus in the new effort is more expansive, with the juggling of a larger ensemble of both young and adult characters, and more ambitious in its evocation of a specific period and a unique setting rooted in Sotomayor’s own upbringing.

Set in Chile in summer 1990, in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, the film follows teenagers Sofía (Demian Hernández) and Lucas (Antar Machado) and ten-year-old Clara (Magdalena Tótoro) facing various disappointments while living in a partially built ecological settlement in the mountains just off from Santiago. Lucas pines for Sofía; Sofía is drawn to an older man and also longs to move away from the commune to live with her estranged mother; and Clara searches for her missing dog. There is relatively little narrative incident, with Sotomayor favouring a shaggy hangout vibe above a story prone to any concrete definitions. The film’s political underpinnings – it’s set just after the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship – are unobtrusive, relegated to the briefest of period signifiers and occasional dialogue allusions.

I spoke to Sotomayor at the Locarno Festival in 2018, where she became the first woman ever to win the Leopard award for Best Direction…

Full interview for Sight & Sound

The Perfection (Richard Shepard, 2018)

Early in The Perfection, one character admires her travelling companion’s ease with purchasing bus tickets for their tourist jaunt across China: “That would have taken me three hours,” she says, “and lots of manic hand gestures and then desperate crying and then probably we would have ended up in South Korea.”

In the moment, that line is simply self-deprecation about being an American abroad, but in retrospect it almost perfectly describes the journey the film takes. Desperate crying and manic hand gestures, some concerned with performing acts of violence, are imminent for both parties. The film’s venture to South Korea is only literal, though, in the sense that in tone, atmosphere, surprising gear shifts and content, the film resembles some of the most beloved Korean genre movies of the past two decades more than anything contemporary coming out of the USA, and one Korean filmmaker in particular. The Perfection feels more like Park Chan-wook making an American movie than Park’s actual American movie, Stoker, did…

Full review for Little White Lies

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams