The February 2012 issue – on sale 3 January

February 2012

Bulging with nine features on the month’s best new releases, re-releases, major anniversaries and sadly departed cineastes, our February issue is steeped in wintry tales of sex, death and Sisyphean odysseys – in petites morts, big sleeps and long goodbyes.

“You get your rocks off and the first thing that hits you is this wave of disgust,” our cover star Michael Fassbender relates of the sex addiction described in Steve McQueen’s new drama Shame. It’s a condition particularly had to research, he found, because of the extreme emotional guardedness that marks its sufferers. McQueen explains how the subject drew him to New York, and bats suggestions of sexism and racism with Nick James.

Adapted from a novel originally titled ‘Men Who Hate Women’, the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy certainly concerns itself with misogyny, along with the further sins (Nazism, incest, murder, alcoholism, business corruption) of a patriarchal Swedish industrial clan. In ‘The icegirl cometh’, Kim Newman peruses the now multinational franchise’s mutation into a stylish new David Fincher re-adaptation via the currently fashionable heritage of Scandinavian crime fiction (“If film noir grades despair by how dark it gets, the Nordic strain of the form stresses the cold,” notes Newman, before detailing the series’ likeness to The Avengers). And John Wrathall guides us through the history of Hollywood’s inspirational raids on Scandinavia.

Since his debut with 2001’s The Pornographer, French writer-director Bertrand Bonello has been assigned by some critics to a category called the ‘New French Extremism’. Yet his new film House of Tolerance, set in the closed world of a Parisian brothel at the end of the 19th century, is notable not for its sex but for its hazy, fetid, claustrophobic aura of dream turning to nightmare. It’s “the passing from one era to the next,” finds Catherine Wheatley, “as capitalism and commodification tighten their sweaty grip on society and the brothel alike.” Bonello: “You have the luxury of the first four floors and the poverty of the top ones… the day and the night, the champagne and the disease.”

The late Ken Russell “may have grown old, but perhaps he never grew up,” paean Linda Ruth Williams and Mark Kermode to a filmmaker whose life spanned the silent era and the world of internet distribution, and whose work was marked by both World War II and Celebrity Big Brother. The epitome of the word ‘maverick’, Russell made films that “remain immodest, immoderate, precisely lyrical – just like the man himself.”

Love and death in a cold climate: in ‘Artist of the floating world’, the latest of our series of essays in which writers advocate films for our forthcoming ‘Greatest Films of All Time’ poll, Graham Fuller explores the sole feature film by “cinema’s unassailable auteur maudit, its greatest loss”, Jean Vigo, whose strange, lyrical L’Atalante – the story of two newly-weds on a Parisian barge – is re-released this month. The tubercular son of a martyred anarchist, Vigo “was constitutionally committed to an anarchic-Surrealist cinema outraged by the plight of the poor… and in simultaneously documenting the liberation of the unconscious,” Fuller notes, and the film he gave his life for – filming in freezing conditions – now stands as a cinematic high-water mark, “kinder and more forgiving” than the Surrealism of 1920s French cinema and less morbid than the poetic realism of the 30s.

John Akomfrah made one of the great portraits of the Black-British migration experience with the Black Audio Film Collection in 1982’s Handsworth Songs. His new The Nine Muses (adapted from the gallery piece Mnemosyne) revisits that territory with exhumed archive footage and layers of metaphor from The Odyssey, The Waste Land and contemporary footage of Liverpool and Alaska. “It’s the journey of the hyphen,” Akomfrah explains The Odyssey to Kieron Corless. “The journey of Telemachus suggests how you go from one thing to a mix of things.”

“Dusty men riding. The pointlessness of great quests. A compass in the corner, emptiness in the eyes, all the characters heartsick before the ride even begins. Lowering skies, over the great American vastness. Freedom just another word for total immobility, being plum out of choices…” Ian Penman pores over Monte Hellman’s 1971 counterculture road-movie classic Two-Lane Blacktop, newly released on Blu-ray.

“Enter any one of his 13 features at any juncture and his vehemently languid style – weather-beaten yet ornate, primitive yet profound, bombastic yet intimate, real yet surreal – will be instantly recognisable… [he] forges films where time – and indeed history – feel as if they have come to a glorious standstill.” Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos, master of the historical fresco and the sequence shot, is no stranger to his country’s classical myths himself. David Jenkins talks to him as his complete back catalogue comes to DVD.

Last but not least, this month marks the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, ‘the most cinematic of writers’ – or so the axiom goes. Yet how do we explain the scant regard the medium has shown in all but a handful of his works, asks Matthew Sweet? “The more the ‘essentially cinematic’ nature of Dickens is asserted, the more confusing the notion of the ‘cinematic’ seems to become,” finds Sweet. “And the more an explanation of his art seems to require the invocation of older forms of entertainment…”

Elsewhere, David Thompson pays tribute to the late critic and writer Gilbert Adair, Nick James ponders Adair, David Fincher and Twitter, Roger Clarke reports from a ghostly post-Berlusconi Turin Film Festival, Edward Lawrenson celebrates an off-beat portrait of a Uruguayan movie obsessive, Tony Rayns hails the rediscovery of a 1960s Belgian landmark, Charles Gant considers the year’s highest-earning prestige pictures and Nick Roddick smells something fishy in the notion of festivals as a new model of distribution.

We’ve reviews of 34 new film releases – including Alexander Payne’s Clooney starrer The Descendants, our Film of the Month – and 18 DVD releases, including features on Francis Ford Coppola’s hacking fable The Conversation, Gerard Depardieu’s breakthrough Going Places and three vehicles for colonial-Indian child star Sabu. And our Books section spans Scorsese on Scorsese, a history of the GPO Film Unit, the boxer and boxing in American cinema and The Films of Elías Querejeta. Dive in!

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See also

Zodiac reviewed by Graham Fuller (June 2007)

So good it hurts: Amy Taubin on Fight Club (November 1999)

The Pornographer reviewed by Linda Ruth Williams (April 2002)

Dark nights of the soul: Jonathan Romney sees Shame at its Venice Film Festival bow (September 2011)

A royal rumpus: Nick James sees Hunger at its Cannes Film Festival bow (July 2008)

The films of 2008 topped by Hunger (January 2009)

Sweet smell of excess: Linda Ruth Williams on Ken Russell’s films of the 1970s and 80s (July 2007)

Raising hell: Mark Kermode on Ken Russell’s censored The Devils (December 2002)

Last Updated: 24 Jan 2012