Wondering what to watch this weekend? Though the films taking on the subject vary in their presentation, grief is the thread that connects the highlights coming to streaming services this week.
This isn’t to say that these features wallow in misery, in fact, in most cases it’s quite the opposite. The Netflix release Athena, directed by Romain Gavras, channels loss into a molotov cocktail of righteous rage, as it depicts a battle between the citizens of a French banlieu (apartment complex) against the cops who murdered a young boy.
Meanwhile, the anime streaming giant Crunchyroll continues a weekly release plan of features with the international smash hit Jujutsu Kaisen 0, a film prequel to the beloved television series. In the film, its haunted protagonist Yuta deals with the loss of his childhood sweetheart, tragically killed in a car accident but remaining as a cursed spirit that threatens everyone around Yuta.
Read more: Everything new on Prime Video in September
Releasing on NOW, After Yang takes a bit of a gentler approach to mourning, a metaphysical science fiction film from Kogonada (director of Columbus) that observes a family's attempts to repair their unresponsive robotic child.
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After Yang (2021) - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership (pick of the week)
Though it opens with the same kinds of patiently framed drama expected of the director of the serene, soulful film Columbus, Kogonada’s new film After Yang quickly defies expectations of a film about characters fumbling through grief with a delightful dance sequence, an online conception between families, bathed in a bold spectrum of colour that one would associate with speculative sci-fi.
Read more: Everything new on NOW and Sky in September
That playfulness continues into the film’s form, as an early one-two shot changes both ratio and lens as it places the observer in the subjective point of view of its characters as they contact each other via a sort of augmented reality video call. It’s satisfying to see sci-fi concepts presented in such purely filmic fashion – Kogonada’s visual style remains intimate even as the scope of his script increases.
Watch a trailer for After Yang
After Yang leverages the film’s futuristic premise for domestic drama, a family spiralling after their robot child Yang (Justin H. Min) malfunctions, opening up introspection about Asian cultural heritage and adoption. Yang was originally acquired by Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) to try and keep their daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) in touch with her cultural roots. Yang himself does this fairly literally in flashback using different trees to explain her different connections.
Memories of Yang are visualised and contrasted with his absence as the family agonises over how to fix things — a human problem viewed through the lens of a world in which a robotic child is bought refurbished, like a laptop, his memories later viewable like video.
Kogonada finds quiet majesty in these memories. The files are accessed through lights resembling galaxies, an effective and overwhelming illustration of the unknown complexity of Yang’s inner life.This make the parent’s attempt to rationalise him away as product impossible, making the sense of loss even harder to shake.
Such questions overlap with ones about the rights of “technosapiens”, as well as a very prescient observation of our increasingly symbiotic relationship with technology, mostly swerving the hand-wringing of Black Mirror, without being blindly utopian.
A gorgeous song that Kogonada plucks from the film All About Lily Chou Chou is an indicator on its position: technology is more often an expansion on human feeling than it is an inhibitor.
Also on NOW: Uncharted (2022)
Athena (2022) - Netflix
The new feature film from Parisian filmmaker Romain Gavras unfolds as a series of roaming, almost panicked long takes of varying length. The longest and most breathtaking of these comes before its title treatment hits, as it begins the film by surveilling something that has sadly become routine in the modern day: a press conference around the brutal killing of a young man, Idir, by the police.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in September
They’ve closed ranks, refusing to identify those who are responsible. One of the victim’s brother’s Adbel (No Time To Die's Dali Benssalah doing a lot of heavy lifting) asks for calm, not long before his other brother Karim quickly galvanises his neighbours in the Athena banlieu into going to war with the police until the names of the killers are given.
Perhaps best known for his music videos – most famously 'Gosh' by Jamie XX, 'Stress' by Justice, 'Bad Girls' by M.I.A. and 'No Church in the Wild' by Jay Z and Kanye West, Gavras funnels righteous fury into the film’s opening long take action sequence, co-ordinating it with exhilarating, stylish aplomb.
The camera ducks and weaves in and out of rooms as it follows Karim through the police station in search of their weapon stash, back outside into a stolen van, and to the apartment blocks as comrades in arms wheelie their dirt bikes down the highway in solidarity, fireworks launching in every direction.
It turns out that this is quite easily the peak of the film’s power; the effect loses its shine as Gavras repeats this method as he introduces each of the key participants in the film and tracks them through the chaos that unfolds, including a nervous cop and Karim’s unpleasant, loose cannon brother and gangster Moktar.
The presence of the latter two doesn’t quite derail the film into useless “both sides” pontificating on police vs civilian violence, instead it just adds new wrinkles that make the conflict more compellingly messy. The biggest blunder in this sense is reserved for the literal last minute, in which it absolves the police of provocation by making a distinction between different parties that feels disingenuous.
However there’s an interesting conflict within the brother Abdar, between the pacifism driven by Islamic faith, his hesitance to fight authority stemming from his military career (a point of contention with many of his neighbours) and his obvious grief at the injustice committed against his brother and his want to protect the surviving ones.
But in Gavras’s meandering long takes, the observation of these internal contradictions eventually get lost in the director’s want to focus a little too much on chaos and spectacle and insistence on remaining at an operatic high, which, ironically, begins to make the film feel static, emotionally at least – the constant motion of the director’s chosen method eventually just leading in circles after its exhilarating first 20 minutes.
Also on Netflix: Drifting Home (2022), Do Revenge (2022)
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 (2021) - Crunchyroll
The anime series JUJUTSU KAISEN — one of the most popular running, just like the best-selling manga it’s based on — has always been open about its heritage. Shonen anime (anime aimed at teen boys, though the actual audience is always much broader) is often rightly accused of hegemony, repackaging and supplanting the same themes and character types and fights obsessed with power levels into a new setting.
Read more: Everything new on Paramount+ in September
Jujutsu Kaisen manages to stay fresh because of its keen awareness of the tropes that it’s falling into, and instead engaging with their history, playing with type and often subverting it in some fun, if not entirely revolutionary ways.
The movie tie-in to the series, JUJUTSU KAISEN 0, though being a prequel about a different set of characters, is a pretty straightforward extension of this. Directed by Sunghoo Park, it follows Yuta Okkotsu, a nervous high school student, who enrolls in the mysterious Tokyo Jujutsu High School under the guidance of Satoru Gojo after being haunted by the curse of his childhood friend.
Again, there’s a lot of the familiar packed into the film’s running time so it helps that under Sunghoo Park’s direction the show, the manga creator Gege Akutami’s fondness for mixing the macabre with the comic feels lively and visually invigorating.
Even with all the extra polish given to its animation production there’s a rawness to the textures of JUJUTSU KAISEN 0, with effects work depicted in broad brushstrokes and bold, invasive colour. It’s easy to see why the film dominated the box office domestically and abroad, a crowdpleaser conducted with utmost confidence and stylish flair.
Also on Crunchyroll: Sword of the Stranger (2007), The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)