Back to the future

Upcoming releases by world-class directors.

After the release of long-awaited films, such as Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In and Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, we take a look at what's coming next from some of our greatest living directors.

Twixt (2011), Franis-Ford Coppola

In Coppola's new detective thriller, Val Kilmer plays a pulp horror writer living in a Californian town, who becomes involved in a dramatic murder story of his own. Narrated by Tom Waits, the cast includes Ben Chaplin, Bruce Dern and Elle Fanning.

Making a rare public appearance, this year Coppola showed parts of Twixt to the Comic-Con fan convention in San Diego. He used real-time editing tools to present a version of the film which was directly influenced by the audience's response. This was the first run of an interesting project due before Twixt's theatrical release: a national tour in which Coppola will show a different version of the thriller each night.

Carnage (2011), Roman Polanski

Carnage is based upon God of Carnage, the 2009 Tony-winning play written by French playwright Yasmina Reza. Reza and Polanski started adapting the play for the big screen in 2009. Set in Brooklyn, Carnage is based on the interaction between two sets of middle-class parents who meet after their sons are found fighting in the school playground. In this witty film, hostility and resentment are unleashed between two couples: the Longstreets (John C Reilly and Jodie Foster) and the Cowans (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet). Premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Carnage will open the 49th New York Film Festival on 30 September.

Melancholia (2011), Lars von Trier

From the director of the 2000 Palme-D'Or-winning Dancer In the Dark, comes this visually stunning end-of-the-world melodrama. The film was in the running for this year's Palme D'Or, but lost to Terence Malick's Tree of Life.

A mysterious new planet called "Melancholia" threatens to collide into the Earth, which has a damaging affect on the relationship between two sisters: Justine and Claire. Kirsten Dunst won Best Female Actress at Cannes this year for her role as Justine, a bride-to-be who suffers from depression. The more rational sister, Claire, is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. The film also stars Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt.

Gambit (2012), Michael Hoffman

The remake of the 1966 British action thriller starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine has a screenplay written by Joel and Ethan Coen.

In his first film since The King's Speech, Colin Firth stars as a cat burglar trying to rob a billionaire. The criminal employs the help of a waitress (Cameron Diaz) who closely resembles the billionaire's ex-wife. Gambit's shooting in London began in May this year, and it should be released in 2012.

The Great Gatsby (2012), Baz Luhrmann

Baz Luhrmann is dedicating a vast budget of £90m to his film production of one of the best novels of all time. First published in 1925, F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby conveys how a materialist and hedonistic culture can both attract and estrange people from one another. The novel is set in Long Island and New York City, but the film is being shot in Australia.

In parallel with his role as Jay Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio is stupendously rich, topping the 2011 Forbes list for the top-earning male in Hollywood. Tobey Maguire plays the novel's narrator Nick Carraway and Carey Mulligan stars as Gatsby's love, the enigmatic and unforgettable Daisy Buchanan. In other roles, Isla Fisher stars as the sassy Myrtle and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan.

It's said that Luhrmann will shoot the film in 3D. This has sparked anger from some who fear that the form is suited to fast-paced action films rather than to an adaptation of a classic novel.

The Bop Decameron (2012), Woody Allen

Woody Allen's first film set in Rome is a romantic-comedy partly influenced by Fellini and the Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century collection of bawdy stories.

Allen will star in the film, alongside actors such as Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin and Ellen Page. This is the second time Allen has directed Penelope Cruz - the first time being Vicky Christina Barcelona in 1998, for which Cruz won an Oscar. Allen has also casted real life members of Rome's paparazzi.

Pinocchio (2014), Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro will direct a new version of Pinocchio in 2014, an exciting prospect after his mesmerising dark fairy-tale Pan's Labyrinth, which was set in facist Spain.

A follow-up to The Five Obstructions, Martin Scorsese and Lars von Trier

Scorsese and Lars von Trier have confirmed that they will collaborate to make a follow-up to The Five Obstructions- von Trier's 2003 documentary about filmmaking. In 1967 Danish film director Jorgen Leth made a short film about human behaviour. The Five Obstructions was based on von Trier's challenge to Leth to make five remakes of his film under certain constraints, such as to shoot the film in the "most miserable place" Leth could think of. It is rumoured that in this follow-up von Trier will challenge Scorsese to remake the Taxi Driver.

Silence, Martin Scorsese

Scorsese's next feature film, Silence, is set to begin production in early 2012 and will have an impressive cast, including Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio Del Toro and Gael García Bernal.

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Eighty pages in to Age of Anger, I still had no idea what it was about

When Pankaj Mishra describes a “postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”, he inadvertently summarises his own book.

Most books arrive on the market dragging a comet tail of context: the press release, the blurb on the back, the comparison with another book that sold well (sometimes this is baked into the title, as with a spate of novels in which grown women were recast as “girls”, variously gone, or on the train, or with dragon tattoos or pearl earrings). Before you even start reading, you know pretty much what you will get.

So I was particularly disconcerted to reach page 80 of Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger and realise that I didn’t really know what it was about. The prologue starts with a recap of the tyrannical career of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, namechecks The Communist Manifesto, describes how Europeans were enthralled by Napoleon’s “quasi-autistic machismo”, links this to the “great euphoria” experienced in 1914, mentions that Eugene Onegin “wears a tony ‘Bolívar’ hat”, then dwells on Rimbaud’s belief that not washing made him a better writer, before returning to D’Annunzio to conclude that his life “crystallised many themes of our own global ferment as well as those of his spiritually agitated epoch”.

Psychologists have demonstrated that the maximum number of things that a human can hold in their brain is about seven. The prologue is titled “Forgotten Conjunctures”. I might know why they have been forgotten.

Two pages later, Mishra is at it again. How’s this for a paragraph?

After all, Maxim Gorky, the Bolshevik, Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-advocate of “pure” Islam, Martin Buber, the exponent of the “New Jew”, and Lu Xun, the campaigner for a “New Life” in China, as well as D’Annunzio, were all devotees of Nietzsche. Asian anti-imperialists and American robber barons borrowed equally eagerly from the 19th-century polymath Herbert Spencer, the first truly global thinker – who, after reading Darwin, coined the term “survival of the fittest”. Hitler revered Atatürk (literally “the father of the Turks”) as his guru; Lenin and Gramsci were keen on Taylorism, or “Americanism”; American New Dealers later borrowed from Mussolini’s “corporatism”.

This continues throughout. The dizzying whirl of names began to remind me of Wendy Cope’s “Waste Land Limericks”: “No water. Dry rocks and dry throats/Then thunder, a shower of quotes/From the Sanskrit and Dante./Da. Damyata. Shantih./I hope you’ll make sense of the notes.”

The trouble comes because Mishra has set himself an enormous subject: explaining why the modern world, from London to Mumbai and Mosul, is like it is. But the risk of writing about everything is that one can end up writing about nothing. (Hang on, I think I might be echoing someone here. Perhaps this prose style is contagious. As Nietzsche probably wrote.) Too often, the sheer mass of Mishra’s reading list obscures the narrative connective tissue that should make sense of his disparate examples.

By the halfway point, wondering if I was just too thick to understand it, I did something I don’t normally do and read some other reviews. One recorded approvingly that Mishra’s “vision is . . . resistant to categorisation”. That feels like Reviewer Code to me.

His central thesis is that the current “age of anger” – demonstrated by the rise of Islamic State and right-wing nationalism across Europe and the US – is best understood by looking at the 18th century. Mishra invokes the concept of “ressentiment”, or projecting resentment on to an external enemy; and the emergence of the “clash of civilisations” narrative, once used to justify imperialism (“We’re bringing order to the natives”) and now used to turn Islamic extremism from a political challenge into an existential threat to the West.

It is on the latter subject that Mishra is most readable. He grew up in “semi-rural India” and now lives between London and Shimla; his prose hums with energy when he feels that he is writing against a dominant paradigm. His skirmish with Niall Ferguson over the latter’s Civilisation: the West and the Rest in the London Review of Books in 2011 was highly enjoyable, and there are echoes of that fire here. For centuries, the West has presumed to impose a narrative on the developing world. Some of its current anxiety and its flirtation with white nationalism springs from the other half of the globe talking back.

On the subject of half of us getting a raw deal, this is unequivocally a history of men. We read about Flaubert and Baudelaire “spinning dreams of virility”, Gorky’s attachment to the idea of a “New Man” and the cultural anxieties of (male) terrorists. Poor Madame de Staël sometimes seems like the only woman who ever wrote a book.

And yet, in a book devoted to unpicking hidden connections, the role of masculinity in rage and violence is merely noted again and again without being explored. “Many intelligent young men . . . were breaking their heads against the prison walls of their societies” in the 19th century, we learn. Might it not be interesting to ask whether their mothers, sisters and daughters were doing the same? And if not, why?

Mishra ends with the present, an atomised, alienated world of social media and Kim Kardashian. Isis, we are told, “offers a postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”. That is also a good description of this book. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era