Adjusting to the UK on return has proved gradual if not downright strange. But at least a couple of good films (borrowed once again from the wonderful World Cinema section of our beleaguered local library) to regale us: Larks on a string (Jiri Menzel, 1969) and Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2011). The first, immediately banned in his native Czechoslovakia for years, did not resurface until 1990, and caused Menzel much hassle – disrupting a career that had promised so much, with the Oscar-winning Closely Observed Trains. His colleague on both films and several later ones, the fine author Bohumil Hrabal, also suffered when the shortlived Prague spring of 1968 was followed by the brutal Soviet occupation of their country. Larks… gained an underground reputation however, and in 1990 won the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear. The 2011 dvd reissue, plus short interview with Jiri Menzel, is highly recommended, a very funny yet poignant and instructive little satire and a colourful (in both senses) slice of European history.
As for this year's foreign Oscar-nominated Incendies, it's closer to Greek tragedy, but set in an unspecified Middle Eastern country whose inhabitants, whether exiled or returned, cannot escape past or present conflicts and all the various dreadful legacies of violence. If that sounds solemn or 'worthy', believe me it's not! This French-Canadian-Arabic production is impeccably acted by a cast that includes both professional and non-professional actors: indeed, some of the latter are actually refugees themselves. The result, adapted from a stage play, is an extremely powerful and moving cinematic drama, full of extraordinary landscapes, faces and situations. Unmissable for anyone interested in contemporary cinema, and also including some fascinating director interviews.