The Best Films to Watch This March

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Banel & Adama, 2024
Banel & Adama, 2024(Film still)

From Ramata Toulaye-Sy’s tragic Senegalese romance to Radu Jude's satirical tale of end-times ennui, here are five of the best films to see this month

Banel & Adama

From March 15

What will be left of us after we’re gone? In Banel & Adama, two young lovers try to build themselves a home in the desert by digging up a pair of abandoned houses at the edge of the village, one sand-bucket at a time. It’s a doomed endeavour even before drought comes to their farming community in rural Senegal. 

Can love withstand what houses couldn’t? Ramata-Toulaye Sy brings poetic style and energy to her gorgeous feature debut, the tragic ballad of Adama (Mamadou Diallo), a cattle farmer who rejects his birthright by refusing to become village chief, and impetuous loner Banel (Khady Mane). Both are black sheep in the community, torn by their love from the safeguarding bosom of local tradition. But when the rains don’t come and cattle start dropping like flies in the heat, Adama is confronted with a decision that could see both their dreams go up in smoke.

Working from a narrative that’s spare but rich in mythical resonance, Sy makes her visuals count through a succession of searing, beautifully composed images, framing her leads like players in a Greek epic. The high desert sun looms large throughout, an ambivalent symbol of their love and wasting force that seems to literally bleach the film stock as the story progresses, its relentless glare theatening the village’s way of life.

Sy, born in Paris to Senegalese parents, makes great play of gender roles in the film, with Banel, especially, fierce in protecting her dreams from the interference of the outside world. Angering her mother by refusing to get pregnant, she even tells Adama at one point she couldn’t care less what becomes of the village, a statement that either speaks to the all-consuming nature of her love or to her basic selfishness – or possibly both.

If you think you know where all this is going, the seductive sweep of Sy’s storytelling should keep you gripped till the end. A romance, a tragedy, a premonition of things to come: Banel & Adama is a film with a heart full of love and a head full of apocalypse, from a filmmaker rich in promise.

The Sweet East

From March 29

The Sweet East opens on a song, and it’s a knockout, Talia Ryder’s teenage runaway Lillian crooning softly into a bathroom mirror before taking herself off on a surreal odyssey through America’s cracked underbelly. On her travels, this latter-day Alice plays Lolita to a series of men lost in the crackpot ideologies du jour, from incels to religious wingnuts and neo-nazi academics. Safdie brothers’ DOP Sean Price Williamson’s debut is dreamlike and dissociative, infused wioth the same end-times energy as the likes of Beau Is Afraid and David Robert Mitchell’s Under Silver Lake, and just as unfocused. But if you can get on board with its woozy charm, it’s a trip worth taking.

Don’t Expect Too Much From the End of the World

From March 8

In Bucharest, production assistant Angela (Ilinca Manolache) is tasked with finding interview subjects for a corporate safety video about workplace injuries. Underpaid and overworked, Angela likes to unwind by sharing choice morsels of rank misogyny online, as an AR filter-assisted Andrew Tate lookalike. And her story is mysteriously entwined with that of a real-life female taxi driver, shot making her rounds during the communist era in slow motion. Radu Jude’s latest satirical swipe at contemporary Romanian life has to be seen to be believed: maddeningly oblique and bitter as day-old coffee ground, it’s also shockingly funny and all the more evocative of contemporary strife for its stubborn insistence on the particulars.


From March 15

For his first Japanese-language film since the Palme D’Or-winning Shoplifters, Hirokazu Kore-eda turns to the treasured theme of childhood for a queer coming-of-age story divided into three parts. In the first, single mum Saori (Shoplifters’ Sakura Andō) confronts staff at her son’s school with concerns he is being bullied by a teacher, when his behaviour at home becomes erratic. In the second, we see the teacher’s side of the story, and gradually learn that a troubled friendship between the boy and his classmate, for whom he feels the first pangs of romantic affection, is at the heart of the matter. Finally, we see the boy’s perspective as the story starts to assume a tragic shape. Constructed with clockwork precision, the film boasts music from Ryuichi Sakamoto in his cinematic swansong and is the work of a master near the peak of his powers, compassionate but thorny and complex.

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

From March 8 at the ICA in London

The transfixing debut feature from Phạm Thiên Ân is sadly without distribution in the UK, but slow-cinema fans should pull out all the stops to see it on its limited run at London’s ICA this month. A three-hour spiritual odyssey through the misty highlands of central Vietnam, the plot concerns Thien, a young man who returns to his childhood home after his sister-in-law dies in a motorcycle crash, leaving him in charge of his five-year-old nephew, Dao. But his journey into this interior landscape takes on mystical qualities as he encounters figures from his past and begins to wonder what became of his brother, who vanished without trace years ago after abandoning his family. The somnambulist pace and length may be offputting for some, but Thiên Ân offers up scene after scene of luminous beauty, marking him out as a rare talent to shelve alongside cinematic seekers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tsai Ming-liang.