Gilbey on Film: Coming your way in 2012

This year's cinematic highlights.

The next two months will bring the customary glut of awards contenders. It's a brave distributor that releases its films into this throng, but the UK outfit The Works will do just that with House of Tolerance, an acclaimed drama set in a brothel in fin de siècle Paris. Bertrand Bonello's picture was named by the New York Times as one of last year's "Don't Miss Movies You Probably Missed" (under its US title, House of Pleasures); the UK finally gets to see it on 27 January.

Elsewhere the schedules are dominated by awards magnets including Steven Spielberg's War Horse (13 Jan), Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus, which was recently celebrated in the NS by Slavoj Zizek, and Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's 9/11 tale Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (10 Feb). Also falling under the hoping-for-silverware umbrella are two films which between them comprise the UK's own mini Michael Fassbender-fest -- Steve McQueen's Shame (13 Jan) and David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method (10 Feb).

Once the tearful winners have been mocked and the voting injustices mourned, it's anyone's guess which films will prevail. Personally I'm hoping for a release for The Eye of the Storm, directed by the excellent Fred Schepisi (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Six Degrees of Separation) and starring Geoffrey Rush alongside the reigning mistresses of hauteur, Charlotte Rampling and Judy Davis.

Regrettably, 3D makeovers are already clogging up the schedule, with an extra dimension added visually (though not creatively) to defunct, corroded epics including Titanic (6 April) and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (9 Feb). Re-releases of Casablanca (10 Feb) and La Grande Illusion (6 April) appear to have been spared this technological molestation, for which we should be grateful.

Some of us are still recovering from the shock of 2011, one of the few years since 1995 in which Michael Winterbottom did not release a new film (unless you count the non-UK cinema edit of his six-part BBC series The Trip). The drought ends with Trishna (9 March), an adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles transposed to modern-day India. Connected in name only is the Austrian chiller Michael (2 March). This controlled study of a man who keeps prisoner a 10-year-old boy will be the very definition of a tough sell; to others, Cameron Crowe's whimsical comedy-drama We Bought a Zoo (16 March) will be more deserving of that label. At least Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, from the great Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is released on the same day.

As Asghar Farhadi's A Separation proved last year, the best films often arrive unheralded by net-casting previews such as these. But we do know that there will be new work from Wong Kar-Wai (The Grandmasters), Michael Haneke (Amour), Bernardo Bertolucci (Me and You), Laurent Cantet (Foxfire, adapted from Joyce Carol Oates's novel about 1950s girl gangs) and Takashi Miike (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney). Meanwhile, François Ozon will adhere to a new government directive aiming to see Kristin Scott Thomas cast in at least 87 per cent of all French films (his contribution is Dans la maison). Currently awaiting UK release dates are Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, Andrew Dominik's Cogan's Trade, Park Chan Wook's Stoker and Baz Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby.

Tim Burton fans get a double-dose this year. First up is the gothic extravaganza Dark Shadows (11 May), with Johnny Depp as a vampiric patroarch. Then it's animation -- and, to be more precise, reanimation -- in Frankenweenie (5 October), a feature-length version of Burton's 1984 short about a boy who refuses to let sleeping dogs lie. Pixar releases Brave (17 August), widely trumpeted as the studio's first movie with a female lead; I know, I know, Studio Ghibli never made such a fuss about putting a girl in the driving seat.

A triple-shot of big-budget superheroism hoopla this year, starting on 27 April with the Marvel extravaganza The Avengers -- sadly nothing to do with Steed, Mrs Peel or kinky boots, but rather a superheroes' get-together which includes Mark Ruffalo's first outing as the Hulk. He's the third actor in ten years (after Eric Bana and Edward Norton) to try to get a handle on the big green lug. Then Andrew Garfield will make his wall-climbing debut in The Amazing Spider-Man (6 July) before Christopher Nolan's third and final Batman gloom-o-rama, The Dark Knight Rises (20 July). Does James Bond count as a superhero? Or is that just a spurious attempt to shoehorn Daniel Craig's third Bond movie, Skyfall (26 Oct), into this paragraph? Next thing you know, I'll be wangling the same privileges for the hairy-footed ramblers of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (14 Dec), the first instalment of Peter Jackson's two-part return to Tolkien.

Of course, by then we'll all be terribly excited about Judd Apatow's This Is 40 (21 Dec), Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (26 Dec) and other lesser-known films on which "Action!" is only now being called.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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The End We Start From imagines London underwater

Megan Hunter's fictional apocalypse is a tender one. 

It is six months after the flood. The nameless narrator of The End We Start From is a new mother and a refugee, and by the midpoint of the novel we have followed her and her baby from the “Gulp Zone”, where their London flat was swallowed, to a safe house that proved to be not safe enough, and then refugee camps, every move stripping life a little closer to the essentials. First what can be fitted in a car as you flee to safety, then what can be carried in your arms; first porridge, then only gruel.

Halfway through, the narrator and her baby make it to an island under the guidance of another new mother she befriended in the camps. Here, a family has established a small life of plenty. The narrator has left behind a “place of not-enough”, but here there is food to spare. Seeds grow into vegetables. The baby “likes to eat butter in chunks”. But where has the butter come from? There’s no mention of cattle on the island, no bucolic descriptions of churning. We’re told there is no electricity. So how do they have butter and why is it not rancid?

It’s a small thing, but an outsize irritant in a book whose prose is pared back to match the minimal existence it describes. Every detail feels weighted with significance because it was chosen over something else. Megan Hunter is a poet (this is her first novel), and her poetic instincts are underlined by the TS Eliot-referencing title, borrowed from Four Quartets: “What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from.”

Apocalypse and rebirth are central to Hunter’s story. Butter aside, it invokes a thoroughly plausible end of the world. Like Emily St John Mandel’s luminous Station Eleven, or Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, you read it with the conviction that this is what it would be like. (These stories are told from the perspective of the resourceful fortunates who make it through. Apocalypse literature kindly dodges the reality that, if it came to it, most of us would die whimpering in a dirt hole.)

But realism is not the only dictate here. The End We Start From is also deeply invested with symbolism. It begins with the narrator going into labour: “Finally I am waterless, the pool of myself spreading slowly past my toes.” Maternity is a kind of apocalypse, an end to being one kind of self who lives one kind of life, and the beginning of another. Names, like everything else here, are cut back to the barest essentials, becoming just initials. The narrator’s husband is R, her in-laws are N and G, and her baby Z – an alphabetical end who is at the beginning of his life. Anyone who has welcomed the catastrophe of a newborn into their lives is likely to feel sympathy for this parallelbetween infant and Armageddon.

There is a cost to the allegory, though, and it comes through in moments when Hunter sacrifices the merciless logic of calculating survival in favour of giving play to her metaphor. Milk is, as it would be for a new mother, a theme. The milk in the narrator’s breasts that keeps her baby alive becomes an analogue for all sustenance: “As for food, I have started to think of it all as milk,” she says. “I wonder how long we would survive, how quickly human milk runs out in famine.” Perhaps it’s inevitable, then, that the unexpected gift of security and nourishment the narrator and Z find on the island should be represented through dairy; but it also punctures a world you could otherwise believe in utterly.

Hunter’s apocalypse is a tender one. There is violence and disorder at the start: one of the most affecting uses of Hunter’s spare style is when the narrator’s mother-in-law fails to return from a brutal trip to gather provisions, and the narrator simply announces: “No G.” But while R chooses isolation and suspicion of others, leaving his wife and child to make his own way, the narrator chooses humanity. She tells us how she “falls in love”, deep and quick, with those with whom she forms alliances. To borrow again from Four Quartets, “The houses are all gone under the sea” – but The End We Start From promises the possibility of life afterwards. 

The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Picador, 127pp, £9.99

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear