The theaters below show films in their original language; click on the links for showtimes and ticket information.
Interviews with the stars, general film articles, and reports on press conferences and film festivals.
Subscribe to the free KinoCritics monthly email newsletter here.

Class Conflict Contretemps
by Rose Finlay

It was certainly an interesting year for films that delved into the class divides. Take your pick: THE OLD OAK, Ken Loach’s newest political sermon, which looks at the racial strife that occurs when refugees are placed in an impoverish mining town, COUP!, a farcical pandemic drama between the upstairs and downstairs in 1918 New York, or THE NATURE OF LOVE in which a bourgeois Québécoise has an affair with the worker she hires to fix up her country house. Each film attempts to bring to light the pervasive class divisions that continue to plague our societies, but with varying levels of success.

THE OLD OAK takes place in a small town in the north of England which has been in decline ever since the coal mines shut. Slowly, but surely, the town has dried up, with community spaces closing and houses being sold to foreign developers. There isn’t much hope here, but TJ Ballantyne (Dave Turner) has been doing his best to keep the pub, The Old Oak, alive despite the decline. When Syrian refugees are placed in the town, the locals are riled up, but TJ strikes up a friendship with a young woman named Yara (Ebla Mari). They start to work to try to bring the two communities together, but face difficulties due to the continued resistance of certain locals. While the theme of THE OLD OAK is certainly a prescient one considering the influx of refugees to Europe over the past several years, the film stumbles into the trap of being too cliched and stereotypical to really make any sort of positive impact. The bigoted locals say exactly what you would expect them to say, and the refugees are a largely silent, noble group represented by the creative, passionate, sweet Yara. While THE OLD OAK has good intentions of trying to create a feel-good fairytale of two disadvantaged groups coming together, it doesn’t manage to bring enough depth to either the poor locals or the Syrian refugees to do anything more than scratch the surface of the continuing struggle.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the first time since the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 that people in the west had to face a massive impact in their lives due to a communicable disease. COUP! leans into the comparisons between these two pandemics by tackling modern themes while taking place in New York during the 1918 flu pandemic. Jay Horton (Billy Magnussen) is a newspaper columnist whose fiery articles call for shutdowns and isolation. He speaks as the man on the ground in a pestilent city, but in reality, he is writing from his cushy mansion on Egg Island where he and his family keep strictly isolated. Their every need is taken care of by their servants who live in their own quarters away from the house. Everything seems to be working out great, until their new chef Floyd Monk (Peter Sarsgaard) arrives and starts throwing a wrench into the works. As they are isolated, Monk convinces the staff that they have more power, and that they should start utilizing it, advocating for them to move into the big house, doubling their wages, and even gambling in the sitting rooms. Meanwhile Horton fights against the out-of-control situation, his own career resting on a knife-edge between political glory or downfall if his lies are revealed. While COUP! is an entertaining and fast-paced romp, its criticisms seem a bit too slick, pointed, and manufactured to inspire emotion rather than being evoked organically. Much like THE MENU (2022), it is at its strongest when it leans into its “eat the rich” ethos, but at the end of the day it just saddeningly reaffirms that which everyone already knows: the working class never wins and rich will continue to do whatever it takes to cement their control.

The marketing for THE NATURE OF LOVE sets it up as a quirky, mismatched rom-com, but in reality, it is anything but. Sophia is in a comfortable, if a little boring, marriage to a man of a similar intellectual and social class to her. They have little salons with their friends discussing politics and philosophy. But Sophia throws this all away when she falls head-over-lust with Sylvain, the contractor she hired to renovate their lake house. So begins their off-kilter relationship, one that becomes increasingly fraught as it becomes apparent as they start to become introduced to the important people in each other’s lives. While the pacing is good and the production of a high-quality, where the film stumbles is at its heart. The criticism of Sophia is that she is a bit of a snob, correcting Sylvain’s speech, and discovering that he can’t fit in with her more intellectual friends. This criticism falls a bit flat when compared to the depiction of working-class Sylvain who quotes the xenophobic Michel Sardou, whose family is loud and uncouth (and drinks poor quality wine), and on top of it is possessive and insecure. In comparison, it is Sylvain who comes out looking worse, and honestly, who is a perfect representation of the way that wealthier people think of the working class. While THE NATURE OF LOVE posits that it is simply satirizing two mismatched and flawed people, what it really continues to do is perpetuate harmful stereotyping of the poor.

Perhaps the biggest struggle with depicting class problems on film is that it feels like the majority of the people writing and directing these movies are people from the middle and upper classes. One of the biggest failures that most films trying to tackle the topic of class have is that they struggle to depict their working-class characters with dignity and respect. Typically, they feel like the same cardboard cutout: uncouth, uneducated, racist, and dysfunctional. In the best-case scenarios, they might just be a member of the noble poor, a 2D “good person” with no money to whom bad things happen and who needs to be saved. Perhaps it is time for creators to start recognizing that despite their intentions, that sometimes it is important to look and see if they are continuing to perpetuate harmful stereotypes which are ever-present throughout media. For until they accurately depict the people most harmed by class conflict, it seems unlikely that their films will actually make any meaningful impact.