Matt’s top 10 obscure films – Matt signs off from NQ
- List in no particular order
If you frequented the Northern Quota over the Christmas period you would have found a number of film reviews I made into an advent calendar, so there could be regular updates while I enjoyed a holiday over the Christmas break.
Over that time I talked about many of my favourite films, so today I’m going to talk about some more obscure films I like, the kind you could view at HOME, the kind that don’t have international recognition, but are too good to be overlooked.
Without any further ado, in no particular order, and with an air of pretension…
Man Bites Dog (1992)
I’ll start off with this obscure Belgian mockumentary. A satire of ultraviolence in movies in its time, Man Bites Dog (The French title literally translates as ‘It happened in your neighbourhood’), follows a film crew who document the daily life of a serial killer. In this world, murder and violence have become normalised and the film crew don’t bat an eyelid in helping the man trap his victims and dispose of their bodies.
Once you can go along with the premise, you do for a while. The serial killer is charismatic, charming and funny, and his exploits are mostly portrayed as quite goofy until one particularly harrowing scene when the killer and the crew indulge in the rape, torture and murder of a couple in their home. In the aftermath of that event the audience are left sickened with themselves and unsure whose side they should really be on any more.
It’s a fantastic piece of juxtaposed directing, and a really weird and creepy, yet uncomfortably funny film.
The Falling (2015)
This entry from Stockport director, Carol Morley, was one of the first films I saw at the newly opened HOME cinema back in 2015. The plot follows the coming-of-age of a schoolgirl during the 1960s when real-life mass fainting episodes were common in schools.
The strength of this film is in it flirting with several genres so can’t predict where the story will go next. There is a mystery element with various plot points left dangling and a supernatural element regarding the nature of the fainting fits. It is a period coming-of-age drama with a simple reading and a story of mental abuse as well as very moments of dark comedy.
Maisie Williams (Arya in Game of Thrones) and Bolton actress Maxine Peak have a terrific on-screen relationship as a dysfunctional daughter and mother. The music sequences heighten the mystical, magical feel to the story and the earthy colour scheme makes the film feel old and bursting with life, like a large oak tree.
This is one of the most surreal and strange films you could ever hope to see. Rubber follows the plight of Robert, an inanimate tyre who comes to life and terrorises a motel somewhere in the California desert while a number of tourists watch on with binoculars from a nearby hill.
There is some guff about the film representing Hollywood tropes and satirising them, much like Man Bites Dog, but I get the sense that director Quentin Dupieux just wanted to have fun without being constrained by precedent. He talks of characters being killed off, simply because he had no further use for them in the plot, and various sequences could be analysed as having deep meanings, but could also have resulted in a conversation regarding the most random event they could think of.
If you want a film that’s really silly and violent, but doesn’t dive quite so far down into stoner comedy, then give this a watch… otherwise I can’t say if I would seriously be able to recommend it or not!
Song of the Sea (2014)
Where Japan has Studio Ghibli, Ireland has Song of the Sea. An exquisitely animated feature film with its roots deep in Irish and Celtic mythology, Song of the Sea tells the tale of a family torn apart when the mother dies giving birth to Saiorse, a baby girl, or so it seems. A few years later and Saiorse is completely mute but is drawn to the sea and with the help of her brother travels across Ireland, meeting various magical creatures along the way to discover her true identity.
With some of my family being Irish, I grew up with tales of some of the creatures and myths in this story, and I’ve known no film like it to give me a sense of nostalgia, like listening to stories around a roaring log fire.
This film has an enchanting story, mixed with beautiful animation enhanced by rich, deep colours and is worth a watch whether you’re a lone adult, or with a young family.
Drowning by Numbers (1988)
I talked about this film at Christmas, so I’ll keep this brief, but it’s such a bizarre and obscure treat, it couldn’t go without mentioning. Three generations of women, all with the same name, attempt to murder their husbands and use a lecherous doctor to help them cover it up, while in the background the numbers one to 100 appear like a spotters guide to the eagle-eyed.
This film could be presented as a horror, as a drama or a dark comedy. The village, the games they play, the characters are all unsettlingly weird, and yet compelling at the same time. It has a feel of the Wicker Man about it, without being anywhere near as grizzly and yet that sense of forboding lingers in every shot.
Sound of Noise (2012)
From an anarchic film about murder to an anarchic film about music. In Sound of Noise, six drummers perform acts of musical terrorism around Stockholm while tone-deaf, and music hating, Detective Warnerbring tries to stop them.
It’s an intensely creative film, with the actors playing their pieces on various bits of inanimate objects in various locations across the city and better still, the music is actually great fun to listen to, rather than simply being noise.
The plot can fall apart at the tiniest sniff of logic, but it doesn’t matter because the end product is one of the best films about music you’re ever likely to see.
This is another film about music, but is intensely real where Sound of Noise is silly. Eden follows the fortunes of a group of French DJs who experience success during the French Touch wave (that gave birth to Daft Punk) but ultimately become burned out and struggle to live while following their dreams.
There is a lot of heart in this movie, as well as a great soundtrack, but where many films hold up being a creative person as being akin to a prophet, this film looks at the reality of having to create a party atmosphere everywhere you go. Seen today, with the knowledge of the tragic suicide of pioneering electronic musicians such as Keith Flint, it’s a cold harsh blast of reality.
The film isn’t depressing though, the good times are good and there is much levity, especially with the cameo appearances of Daft Punk who are never allowed into clubs because nobody knows what they look like, as their careers are spent behind their robot helmets.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2015)
Channeling Tarantino, Ana Lily Amirpour creates a grindhouse epic in suburban Iran. The film follows various characters trying to live their lives, and old heroin addict, his son with dreams of a brighter future, a drug dealer and a vampire as their fortunes intertwine in a town and in a desert.
Shot in black and white, the film has an eerie atmosphere – it’s part Western, part horror. The movie subverts many tropes, including the one in the tital, giving the image of a damsel in distress, but the titular girl is the vampire, the most dangerous and enigmatic character in the whole movie.
Now for a completely depressing film. Calvary sets itself up to be a dark comedy, but in the end its characters aren’t comical, they are troubled and very flawed individuals. A priest, played by Brendan Gleeson, is told during confession the confessor wants to murder him in a week. Resigned to his fate, the priest tries in vain to impart his wisdom on those in his parish, but most are not prepared to listen.
John Michael McDonagh also directed the Guard, a fantastic dark comedy about drug smugglers in Ireland under investigation by the FBI, so for him to have a complete change of pace with this film is quite startling. There are many well known actors in the movie; Chris O’Dowd, Aiden Gillan and Dylan Moran to name a few who are all their own brand of horrible, but having Gleeson as the character who holds the story together was the best choice.
Dramatic heft and gallows humour come together to make Calvary a surprisingly touching film, although not one to watch if you’re hungover or somewhat emotional.
Finally, here’s a bit of a wildcard. Marshland is set a few years after the death of Franco, in a Spain suddenly modernising having escaped a dictatorship and the old ways often rub against the new ones. In a small town in a marsh area, two teenage girls disappear and two detectives try to find them, a younger progressive and an older Francoist.
If you know your Spanish history, this film oozes the tension of a transitionary Spain. In real life, Spanish political powers knew they had a powder keg to negotiate to transition to a democratic Spain and avoid descending into another civil war.
This is exemplified in all the character relations throughout the film, but none more so than the two detectives. Put that with a thrilling yarn of a mystery and some exquisite cinematography and you’re onto a winner!