2. The Banshees of Inisherin
A period drama about two men falling out for seemingly no reason, written by the man who paired stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson together in the darkly hilarious In Bruges, isn’t really the film you’d expect to offer one of the best portrayals of mental health struggles in our current era, but it absolutely is. Watching a man literally chop away at his own physicality, the quite literal tools of his trade, in reaction to existential dread and questions of his own worth, is remarkable, and truly captures how much of a man’s self worth is tied to his physicality after thousands of years of men being judged for their service.
There is no doubt that Martin McDonagh’s script is one of the best-written this year, The Banshees of Inisherin excelling at how it progresses from one story beat to the next, earning laughs to open you up to the more serious points of discussion present throughout. It’s a film that may not hit you in the gut so directly as other films on this list for that exact reason, but the genius (and it is genius) of how McDonagh expands on his dark themes of In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri comes in how he manages to capture the essence of what it feels like to live without hope, and it is that which will linger longest in the mind; “ah well, there goes that dream” being an outstanding example of how so few words can become so heart-breaking in the correct context, and how intricately designed The Banshees of Inisherin is from story to dialogue, script to screen.
Beneath the metaphors regarding depression and trauma come ruminations on legacy, an element of the film that speaks of the contemporary man’s re-evaluation of their gender’s role in history, the film’s setting across the ocean from war-torn Ireland bringing each male character’s feelings of uselessness to the fore while highlighting the fragile nature of life. It even has time to commentate on mainland Ireland’s history of conflict, the central confrontation between the two best friends being a mirror of how Ireland has warred over the years, dividing brothers and friends over less-immediate subjects such as religious preferences, political rule, and so on.
There is so much to unravel in this, Martin McDonagh’s fourth feature film, that its impact only increases upon each rewatch, upon each new discovery. Perhaps that will be the legacy this film holds over all others; that even in fifty years people will be able to identify with, and understand, the power of this work.
The cultural tide that has brought so much discussion around men’s mental health, pushed into the public consciousness by powerful figures like William, Prince of Wales and brought to the forefront of many people’s minds by the increasing pressures on the least well off in society, has finally transitioned onto the big screen. In Charlotte Wells’ simply heartbreaking debut Aftersun, the realities of depression are presented more truthfully and with greater care than perhaps ever before. Paul Mescal is a single father keeping it together for his daughter on a family holiday, but through the lens of his child’s innocence and the nostalgia that comes with replaying memories, we grow to understand his erratic and at times irresponsible behaviour as a pain that swells both within him and within the voice of the piece itself all the way up to a devastating finale.
It’s a film that presents down-to-earth family dynamics side-by-side deeply cinematic metaphor, making for one of the most relatable and meaningful dramas of 2022, but also one of the most artistically astute. Writer-director Charlotte Wells, whose own experiences were the inspiration for her work, captures a truth in her film that few filmmakers have ever been able to do and so few people can ever describe. This is a film that captures the signs of depression like nothing else, and speaks of it with such empathy and love but equally such regret and devastation that both father and daughter are completely sympathetic characters, their relationship so beautifully constructed it could well be real.
The quirks and eccentricities of the father of the duo signal a depth of regret and a lack of self-love that he clearly tries his very best to not pass onto the love of his life, his daughter. He struggles at a distance, just out of focus or at the edge of the reality the film is presenting to us, his introduction as a silhouette on a white screen complimented by the film’s rich ongoing metaphor of him dancing in what appears to be a night club. His is a ghostly presence of a time long gone, and as the film unravels to reveal its ultimate truth there is so much love and sympathy and understanding towards both the father and the daughter that the film has the potential to melt anyone who has ever experienced anything like it.
Aftersun is one of the most beautifully and intricately constructed films you’ll see, and it absolutely makes the most of the cinematic form through strong editing choices, flourishes of visual mastery and an eccentric use of sound. Charlotte Wells is already making films like nobody else, and how she managed to capture the heaviness of a man watching his life, dreams and goals fade out of view as he battles with his own self, is absolutely astonishing.
Recommended for you: 10 Best Films 2021: Joseph Wade
Cinema is under threat. A pandemic and all the closures it brought, matched with a societal exchange of wealth from the poor to the rich at a historical rate, as well as ever more greedy distributors strangling the industry from the box office down in a short-sighted pursuit of direct-to-them subscription service money, has brought about potentially the most disruptive and catastrophic non-pandemic period for cinema since the advent of television. In 2022 alone, a lack of disposable income and the studios’ insistence upon ever-shortening theatrical windows and ever-growing ticket hauls have caused us to lose the world’s longest-running film festival (the Edinburgh International Film Festival), and has seen one of the world’s largest exhibitors (Cineworld) file for bankruptcy. The culture of filmgoing has undoubtedly changed, and could truthfully never return to what it once was, our collective experiences ended by a combination of conglomerate greed and individual convenience. To think that in decades to come cinema will no longer be the people’s art form and will instead be a product to consume, or a high-value ticket similar to that of a theatre show, should concern people. It should concern you.
And yet, in 2022, so many great films have been made and have found homes on the big screen. If you hear of any of the films listed here as receiving re-runs in your area, or are introduced to more films by the filmmakers on this list, please do take the time to see them.