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Sight & Sound November 2017

Back to the future: Denis Villeneuve returns to a classic in Blade Runner 2049; plus David Fincher on Mindhunter, Armando Iannucci on The Death of Stalin, Luca Guadagnino on Call Me by Your Name, Alan Pakula’s 1970s paranoia trilogy and the female stars of post-war Japanese cinema.
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“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”, says Rutger Hauer’s replicant Roy Batty in his famous monologue in Ridley Scott’s hugely influential 1982 sci-fi noir Blade Runner, adapted from Philip K. Dick and set in a dystopian Los Angeles of 2019. Well, we’ve now nearly caught up with the time shown in that film, and if we still haven’t in reality seen many of the futuristic visions it depicted – the dystopian feel of much of the world in 2017 aside, flying cars are still a way off – its influence on science-fiction cinema since has been incalculable and inescapable. So great in fact is the original’s influence, and so confirmed its reputation as a sci-fi masterpiece, that it’s perhaps unsurprising it has taken 35 years before a filmmaker has ventured back into its world, for fear of failing by comparison. But that’s exactly what the French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has dared to do with his sequel Blade Runner 2049, even if, as he admits to James Mottram in an interview in our new issue, “I was afraid of looking like a vandal in a church!”

With the reviews now in, though, Villeneuve needn’t have worried, for his vision of the world 31 years from now is an astonishing one. Villeneuve tells Mottram how he worked with the great cinematographer Roger Deakins to achieve the striking look of the film, how he and his star Ryan Gosling overcame their nerves and embraced the freedom the studio gave them in making the film, how the original’s mood of existential paranoia carries over to the sequel and how the spirit of the 80s is still there in his film. Back to the future indeed.

If Villeneuve’s film captures and updates the mood and feel of film noir, another director famous for his innovatory spins on the tropes of noir, and for his meticulous approach, is David Fincher, whose new 1970s-set Netflix series Mindhunter begins this month. With Mindhunter marking a return to the world of serial killers and the men who try to catch them that Fincher explored in Se7en and Zodiac, he talks to Simran Hans about his interest in “confronting something that should be abhorrent”, and how the way the show depicts the genesis of behavioural profiling in the FBI in the 1970s allowed him to get back to a time before such law-enforcement characters had become prime time staples.

Staying in a paranoid, 1970s world, and to mark their screening as part of Who Can You Trust?, the major thriller project the BFI is running from mid-October to the end of the year, Adam Scovell looks again as Alan J. Pakula’s era-defining ‘paranoia trilogy’ – Klute, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men – and finds that their bland, air-conditioned corporate locations perfectly capture the threats of surveillance in the 70s, as well as having cautionary lessons for us in the present.

But it’s far from all anxiety-ridden in the new issue, as we also speak to Italian director Luca Guadagnino about his exquisite coming-of-age love story Call Me by Your Name, about a passionate summer affair between two young men, played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Guadagnino tells Pamela Hutchinson why the film is a homage to the cinema he loves, and also discusses his great debt to his idol Bernardo Bertolucci.

And we also make room this month for humour of the most viciously funny kind, as Ben Walters talks to Armando Iannucci about his brilliant new film The Death of Stalin, a hilarious portrait of the jockeying for power that follows the demise of the dictator, and one that bears all the hallmarks of the satirical genius of director. Though set in the 1950s, and therefore somewhat of a departure for a writer and director best known for skewering the foibles and vanities of contemporary politics in shows such as The Thick of It, in showcasing a gallery of slightly rubbish people insulting each other in a hurry, it is on the other hand as timely and as incisive as we’ve come to expect from Iannucci.

Lastly for this month’s features, and in the latest of our ongoing Deep Focus features that tie-in with accompanying programmes organised by Sight & Sound at BFI Southbank, we spotlight the great female stars of post-war Japanese cinema – figures such as Hara Setsuko, Tanaka Kinuyo, Takamine Hideko and Machiko Kyo, and the many classic films they starred in for directors such as Ozu Yasujiro, Naruse Mikio and Mizoguchi Kenji. Alexander Jacoby shows how such female actors were instrumental in shaping their films, while Alejandra Armendáriz-Hernández looks at the pioneering work Tanaka Kinuyo did as a director, alongside her acting career.

Elsewhere in the November issue, we review the best new film’s from the recent Venice and Toronto film festival. Grace Barber-Plentie meets Rungano Nyoni, director of satirical fairy tale I Am Not a Witch; Sukhdev Sandhu admires the radical, gradual documentaries of John Gianvito; Tony Rayns reveals the enigmas of Indonesian filmmaker Garin Nugroho; Elena Gorfinkel peers under the covers of 60s sexploitation films – and finds them cheap, crass and surprisingly artful; and Pamela Hutchinson discovers the charm of Betty Balfour, urchin star of the 20s and 30s.

We review all the new theatrical releases of the month, including Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Sally Potter’s The Party, and in our Home Entertainment section Henry K. Miller sweats through a new Blu-ray collection chronicling Jean-Luc Godard’s shift from purist director to Maoist ideologue. And our book reviews take in a memoir of Dietrich by her daughter and a new study of 1940s Hollywood.

All this and more. So much indeed, that there are ‘things you people wouldn’t believe’…

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