Boots Riley on capitalism, race and resistance in his fabulous absurdist comedy Sorry to Bother You.
Plus 9 to 5 and the Hollywood workplace film, the Coen brothers on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Hosoda Mamoru on Mirai, Sebastian Lelio on Disobedience, Nuri Bilge Ceylan on The Wild Pear Tree, Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan on Wildlife, Shoplifters, Suspiria and more…
With a straightened tie and a white collar, our December issue is off to work, as we take a look at the most wildly inventive, urgently vital debut feature of the year, Boots Riley’s fabulous absurdist comedy Sorry to Bother You. Kaleem Aftab sits down with Riley for a long, lively and highly entertaining interview to discuss the film, in which Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius ‘Cash’ Green, a laidback underachiever living in a garage who suddenly gains rapid promotion at a telemarketing firm after he discovers he can dramatically increase his sales by affecting a ‘white voice’ on the telephone.
The film’s wildly inventive satirical gaze takes aim at so much more than the indignities of labour in the gig economy world – whether it’s race, gender politics, the gross distortions of late capitalism or the role of protest and resistance, Sorry to Bother You skewers them all. But as Riley tells Aftab, behind the laughs lie a deadly serious intent, as Riley wants the film to work as a piece of agitprop to shake and wake us up to the absurdities that mark so much of modern living. “What I’m making is art that encourages radicals to help create a mass militant radical movement that uses the withholding of labour as a tactic for social change,” he says. “I want the experience to be visceral, so that the audience goes through what Cassius goes through.”
Sorry to Bother You is the latest in a long tradition of Hollywood films to have been set in the office, and pointed satirical jabs at the world of work. One stand out example is the 1980 comedy 9 to 5, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, and which is re-released to UK cinemas this month as part of the BFI’s major Comedy Genius season. Hannah McGill revisits the film, and considers it alongside other workplace satires, particularly those in the cycle of female-centred films that followed it in the 1980s such as Working Girl and Baby Boom.
Two filmmakers who are no strangers to the absurdist satire are Joel and Ethan Coen, whose latest film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, is an anthology of six violent “tales of the American frontier”, which brings their unmistakably Coen-esque sensibilities to bear on the wild west. The brothers talk to Ben Walters about the links between character, story and setting in the western, the pros and cons of digital filmmaking and why there are no Serbians in the film. “Westerns have kind of been in eclipse, with a couple of big exceptions,” Ethan explains. “Since we’re unfashionable, of course we raced towards them”.
Japanese animator Hosoda Mamoru has steadily built a reputation as one of the most interesting anime directors at work today, something his latest feature Miraiconfirms. The film mixes delicate realism and psychological acuity with fantasy leaps through a family history to tell the tale of a jealous four-year-old boy whose stable home life is suddenly turned upside down by the arrival of a new baby sister. “There are no other movies like this, about the point of view of a four-year-old boy with a newborn,” Hosoda tells Nick Bradshaw. “It’s a basic human condition, and I wanted to make a movie about the bare soul.”
Negotiating the pressures of family life, albeit of a more adult dimension, are also at the heart of Chilean-Argentinean director Sebastián Lelio’s new film Disobedience,which stars Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as two women who are reunited years after scandalising their North London Orthodox Jewish community as teenage lovers, when Weisz’s character returns from living overseas. The director talks to Nick James about quietude in his films, working as an outsider in London, and what debt his film owes to mythological storytelling.
Another story about a character returning to the places and people of their youth is Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’sThe Wild Pear Tree, the tale of a young man with uncertain prospects reluctantly returning to the rural town where he grew up. “In Hollywood films we’re expected to like or dislike a character immediately,” Ceylan tells Geoff Andrew, “but I’m trying to make films where the contradictions in characters prevent easy judgements”.
Elsewhere in the issue our reviews section covers all the month’s releases, including extended reviews of Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Palme d’Or winning latest film, Shoplifters, and Luca Guadagnino’s updating of Dario Argento’s horror classic Suspiria. Our Books pages include a review of a new book that peels back the covers of Howard Hughes’s Hollywood. And our Home Cinema pages include reviews of Night of the Demon, the essential British documentary filmmaker Marc Isaacs, and a revival of the weird and wonderful work of Brazilian Cinema Novo filmmaker Joaquim Pedro de Andrade.
All that, plus an interview with Paul Danoand Zoe Kazan about their film Wildlife, an overdue celebration of the life and work of Lorenza Mazzetti, and much more besides.