Four new films to see this week

Back to Black, Civil War, The Teachers’ Lounge, Close Your Eyes

Back to Black ★★★☆☆

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Starring Marisa Abela, Jack O’Connell, Eddie Marsan, Lesley Manville, Juliet Cowan, Jeff Tunke. 15A cert, gen release, 122 min

Effective by-the-numbers biopic of Amy Winehouse that remains tasteful throughout. Abela, in the lead, can’t equal Winehouse before the microphone, but offstage she manages to be simultaneously adorable and exasperating. O’Connell is strong in the tricky role of her sometime husband Blake Fielder-Civil. Sure, you will learn more — and hear more of the original recordings — in Asif Kapadia’s great doc Amy, but Taylor-Johnson does a decent job of making a tight drama from the same tragic yarn. A good deal better than that recent Bob Marley thing. Full review DC

Civil War ★★★★☆

Directed by Alex Garland. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jessie Plemons. 15A cert, limited release, 109 min

Thrilling, propulsive speculative drama set in a United States that has given into civil war. Dunst plays one of four journalists making her way to a besieged Washington DC. For all the atrocities on display, dissenters can reasonably argue there is less sociopolitical analysis here than in the average zombie film (a lot less than a Romero flick). But the momentum is so relentless that it proves hard to care. Wan as satire. But an action stormer for the ages. All the performances are top-notch. Full review DC


The Teachers’ Lounge/Das Lehrerzimmer ★★★★★

Directed by Ilker Çatak. Starring Eva Löbau, Leonie Benesch, Michael Klammer, Rafael Stachowiak. 12A cert, gen release, 99 min

Gripping, Oscar-nominated German drama following a teacher as she tries to disentangle mysterious thefts at her school. Escalating tensions, amplified by Marvin Miller’s unnerving violin score, are compounded by sensitivities (and insensitivities) to race and class. The production and costume design become angular and unwelcoming in tandem with the heroine’s unravelling. It feels appropriate that Leonie Benesch, who made her feature debut in Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, finds herself at the centre of a dramatic knot of prejudice, complacency and institutional failings. Judith Kaufmann’s urgent, claustrophobic cinematography is also worthy of note. TB

Close Your Eyes/Cerrar los Ojos ★★★★☆

Directed by Victor Erice. Starring Manolo Solo, José Coronado, Ana Torrent, Petra Martínez, María León, Mario Pardo, Helena Miquel. Limited release, 169 min

Characteristically elliptical drama from the director of The Spirit of the Beehive and The Quince Tree Sun. Utilising a matryoshka structure, Close Your Eyes opens in postwar France, where a wealthy Spanish emigre dispatches a detective to find his long-lost daughter in Shanghai. The story is revealed to be a surviving fragment of a 1990 production abandoned when the lead actor Julio (Coronas) disappeared. An unhurried mystery is unravelled. The journey takes precedence. The script, co-written by Erice and Michel Gaztambide, tarries for sing-songs, dinners, and poignant conversations about self and cinema. TB

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Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic