Sight & Sound: the March 2015 issue

Martin Luther King and the art of protest, from Alabama in 1965 to modern-day Kiev and Cairo. Plus the whims and wiles of Eros in It Follows, The Duke of Burgundy, Love Is Strange and Amour fou; Michael Mann’s Blackhat, Gerard Johnson’s Hyena, and our annual obituaries roll-call of key film figures lost to us in 2014.

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Our March issue opens with two films exploring the nature of protest – that always exhilarating moment of communal agitation when animated crowds spill into streets and squares, often spontaneously ignited by a perceived injustice, to express discontent, voice demands, disseminate opinions, confront the powers that be and simply enjoy the feeling of being part of a collective making its presence felt.

Movements need leaders, more often than not, which brings us to our cover feature, Ava DuVernay’s strikingly mounted historical drama Selma, which homes in on a key moment in America’s Civil Rights movement, the series of famous marches organised by Dr Martin Luther King and others in the titular Alabama town in 1965, which pressured President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act that same year.

In a frank, revealing interview with Miriam Bale, DuVernay (the first black woman director ever to be nominated for an Oscar) discusses the challenges of making a film about such a charged moment and such an iconic figure, particularly given King’s speeches were not available to her owing to copyright issues. The tack adopted by DuVernay puts her somewhat at odds with mainstream Hollywood filmmaking: the decision, for example, to row back from a straightforward King/Johnson, protagonist/antagonist two-hander, instead opening the drama out to bring in other significant figures, including women and members of King’s family, both to humanise King and to explore the whole process of building enduring resistance.

In addition, the violence visited upon the protestors was not treated lightly. “I am allergic to this trend in film where you hit someone and then the camera follows the hitter… When we’re talking about lives that matter – particularly black lives that matter – for me it was important to have reverence for that life.”

Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan captures a more recent anti-government protest that famously took place in the main square in Kiev in 2013. Nick Bradshaw grapples with its Breughel-esque widescreen imagery and determined focus on collective experience, situating it alongside Victor Kossakovsky’s Barcelona-set Demonstration (2013) and numerous other examples of documentaries dealing with political protest.

Other featured films this month include Austrian director Jessica Hausner’s Amour Fou, a perfectly observed tragicomic chamber piece set in the 19th century, about the joint suicide of writer Heinrich von Kleist and his lover Henriette Vogel. The film’s formal rigour and visual elegance combined with the mystery at its heart should win this under-appreciated director many new admirers.

Peter Strickland’s new film The Duke of Burgundy, following the cult success of Berberian Sound Studio, is a tale about a pair of lesbian sadomasochistic entomologists that marries the sexploitation motifs of Jesús Franco with Terry and June-style domesticity. Not your typical night out in a multiplex then, but don’t let that put you off – this is quite simply one of the best British films made this century, a dizzyingly brilliant one-off with a killer soundtrack.

David Robert Mitchell made waves with his first film, the dreamlike The Myth of the American Sleepover, an unusual riff on the American teen-date movie. His followup It Follows seems him take on the horror genre with considerable aplomb, thanks in part to a clever central premise of a sexually transmitted haunting.

In Ira Sachs’ poignant Love Is Strange, a gay couple’s decision to tie the knot after decades together initiates a series of unforeseen, unhappy circumstances that give more than a nod to the films of Ozu and, as Ben Walters notes, is part of a mini-wave of recent films exploring the lives of elderly LGBT couples.

Our final feature this month looks at Hyena, Gerard Johnson’s second film after the much-acclaimed Tony, in which a corrupt drug cop’s various dodgy operations – and he himself – start to unravel. Peter Fernandino’s garguantuan central performance is something to behold, while the spectre of innumerable terrible British films mining similar territory are summarily banished.

Elsewhere in the magazine there’s our annual obituary roundup (Gordon Willis, George Sluizer, Billie Whitelaw, Run Run Shaw and Mickey Rooney are the surveyed careers); our comprehensive review section which includes in-depth analysis of Michael Mann’s Blackhat, Kim Longinotto’s Dreamcatcher and Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard; and reviews of various DVD releases including Six Gothic Tales by Edgar Allen Poe, Todd Haynes’ Safe, Yorgos Lanthimos’s Kinetta, I’m Alright Jack, Raya Martin’s Independencia and – last but not last – the films of Burt Reynolds.


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Cover feature

In keeping its focus on one of the key chapters of the Civil Rights Movement – the Selma-Montgomery marches and the push for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – Ava DuVernay’s Selma avoids the pitfalls of the biopic and succeeds in portraying Martin Luther King with a rare intimacy. By Miriam Bale.

+ Long walk to freedom

Selma might be the first major cinema release to feature Martin Luther King, Jr as a central character, but the wider Civil Rights Movement has long proved a draw for filmmakers. By Ashley Clark.


Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan, exploring the anti-government protests in Kiev’s central square in the winter of 2013-14, is the latest in a worldwide upsurge in films documenting dissent in all its forms, capturing the hope, anger and creativity that characterise life on the barricades. By Nick Bradshaw.


In Amour fou the Austrian director Jessica Hausner has made, not for the first time, a quiet, decorous-seeming film that revolves around a silent, passive woman. But the passivity and formality conceal a deeply unconventional spirit. By Catherine Wheatley.


A recurring nightmare from director David Robert Mitchell’s childhood inspired the menace that threatens the teen victims in his ethereal horror film It Follows, which triumphs in its stubborn refusal to be constrained by genre expectations. By Michael Blyth.


In his second feature, Hyena, an ultra-brutal story about a corrupt policeman, 
Gerard Johnson has tried to avoid the clichés of the modern London crime film, 
instead harking back to John Cassavetes, Abel Ferrara and, above all, Jean-Pierre Melville. By Trevor Johnston.


Ira Sachs borrows heavily from his own life experiences for Love Is Strange, merging the influences of Ozu and Woody Allen to paint a gentle character study of a gay couple whose lives are thrown into turmoil when they decide to get married after almost 40 years together. By Keith Uhlich.

+ Tales from the golden age

Although cinema has traditionally sidelined narratives about older LGBT people, there has been a notable increase in such stories lately, reflecting a range of recent cultural shifts. By Ben Walters.


The Duke of Burgundy, which tells the tale of a pair of lesbian sadomasochistic entomologists, is the latest film from the mischievous mind of director Peter Strickland, a characteristically idiosyncratic drama that manages the unlikely feat of marrying the sexploitation ethos of Jess Franco with the cosy domesticity of Terry and June. By Demetrios Matheou.


2014 obituaries

Bob Mastrangelo’s roll-call of the key figures in film who departed in 2014, plus Nick James on Gordon Willis, Kim Newman on George Sluizer, Philip Kemp on Billie Whitelaw, Chanel Kong on Run Run Shaw and Kate Stables on Mickey Rooney.




Prior knowledge, pre-judgement and plot spoilers.



In the frame: ‘An outsider and a rebel’

Katharine Hepburn was a brilliant actress but seen as box-office poison – until The Philadelphia Story made her human, vulnerable and sexy. By Dan Callahan.

Listomania: Insects

Object lesson: Tom-tom club

Immaturity, primal urges, sex, rigour, race – all sorts of ideas about manhood are snared up in the sound of a drum. By Hannah McGill.

The five key…: Opera films

As Powell and Pressburger’s newly restored The Tales of Hoffmann is rereleased in UK cinemas, David Thompson the best operas on screen.

Interview: Weird science

James Ward Byrkit explains the challenge of balancing improvised dialogue with a tightly defined plot in his reality-bending debut Coherence. By Sam Davies.

Dispatches: The test of time

Can the sadness of our times make us overlook great filmmaking? Do we do much better with hindsight? By Mark Cousins.


The industry

Development tale: Still Alice

Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer’s Alzheimer’s drama faced its own medical emergency when one of its directors was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. By Charles Gant.

The numbers: Oscar contenders

Brewster: Family affairs

The rewards are undeniably great, but mounting successful family films with medium-sized budgets is never an easy thing to do. By Ben Roberts.



Park City lights

Despite its reputation as a magnet for predictable indie fare, the festival saw a handful of films that might just rank among the best of the year. By Vadim Rizov.


Wide angle

Preview: Listen to Britain

A new exhibition unearths the Arts Council’s film collection. For John Akomfrah, the selection is a portrait of post-war Britain. By Isabel Stevens.

Soundings: The dance of unreality

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film scores are as anarchic, derivative original and extraordinary as the films themselves, and more. By Frances Morgan.

Primal screen: The world of silent cinema

A trip to the Falklands’ World War I commemorations is the latest far-flung outing for a BFI silent-film restoration. By Bryony Dixon.

Festival: Standing out from the madding crowd

Experimental filmmaking – and programming – remains the order of the day at Belgrade’s venerable Alternative Film/Video Festival. By Neil Young.

Profile: Dark pastoral

In Josephine Decker’s much-fêted films, it’s hard to tell whether the oneiric sounds and images heighten the action or generate it. By Adam Nayman.



Films of the month

White Bird in a Blizzard

plus reviews of

Amour fou
Appropriate Behaviour
Catch Me Daddy
Dancing in Jaffa
A Dark Reflection
Down Dog
The Duke of Burgundy
Dying of the Light
Goodbye to Language
It Follows
Kill the Messenger
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
Life of Riley
Love Is All
Love Is Strange
No Manifesto
Shaun the Sheep: The Movie
Snow in Paradise
The Snow Queen: Magic of the Ice Mirror
Still Alice
Still Life
Stones for the Rampart
Taken 3
Tinkerbell and the Legend of the NeverBeast
Two Night Stand
The Wedding Ringer
White God


DVD features

Cobwebs and candelabra: Six Gothic Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

An impressive Poe anthology provides a useful reminder of how much Roger Corman has mattered to the movie business. By Tony Rayns.

Lost and found: Laughter in the Dark

Transposed to the swinging 60s, Nabokov’s tale of despair, deceit and sexual humiliation makes poignant, painful viewing. By Noel Hess.

plus reviews of

Ganja & Hess
I’m All Right Jack
Les Misérables
The Other
Films Starring Burt Reynolds
Two for the Road



The Good Wife seasons 1-5

Far from running out of dramatic steam, the slick US lawyers-and-politics show just gets better. Case closed. Reviewed by Henry K. Miller.

plus reviews of

Game of Thrones Season 4
In Search of the Dark Ages



Hope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zoglin (Simon & Schuster)

Silent Running by Mark Kermode (BFI Classics)

The Grierson Effect: Tracing Documentary’s International Movement edited by Zoe Druick and Deane Williams (Palgrave)

Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen by Ruth Barton (University Press of Kentucky)

Altman by Kathryn Reed Altman and Giulia d’Agnolo Vallan (Abrams)



Taking time to make shorter films

Engaging with Nicolas Philibert’s La maison de la radio on its own terms

The Last of the Unjust and The Last of the Just

Disrespecting Birdman



In a Lonely Place

Nicholas Ray’s searing anti-climax, added on at the very last moment of the shoot, is one of the few genuinely tragic endings in film noir. By Imogen Sara Smith.


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