The Cine Files: from Civil War to Back to Black – everything you need to see at the cinema in April

Some months are just like this. Civil War is brilliant, Zendaya will almost definitely be amazing in Challengers, while Back to Black might, just might, be okay. But really, foreign language is where the decent films are in April, starting with...

Film of the month: Io Capitano

If it wasn’t for the cold, artful brilliance of The Zone of Interest, this searingly compassionate migrant odyssey would probably have picked up the Oscar for best international film. And its story, told from the viewpoint of the people making those gruelling, soul-crushing journeys, really should be seen by as many people as possible.

Director Matteo Garrone has used the true accounts of young African men (boys, really) desperate to fulfil their dreams of a better life in the EU, here focusing on two teenage cousins’ route from Senegal to hopefully boarding a boat in Libya. “What you see on TV about Europe isn’t real,” warns a fixer to Seydou and Moussa (played exceptionally by newcomers Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall), without giving them any notion of the mind-boggling cruelty they will face before they get anyway near the Mediterranean.

Coming from the director who made mafia drama Gomorrah, events are told with brutally stylish flourishes, the realism amped up in gorgeous, saturated tones. And a superbly atmospheric dessert blues soundtrack keeps the hope rousing up against the growing despair.

Seydou Sarr, far left, in Io Capitano (Greta De Lazzaris)
Seydou Sarr, far left, in Io Capitano (Greta De Lazzaris)

However, there’s no sidestepping the unfathomable inhumanity these boys experience, from having to abandon a woman to certain death in the Sahara to the horrors of a torture centre where criminals extract yet more money from migrants. The latter is a pure vision from hell, from which being sold into slavery is the only escape. Mamadou Kouassi, whose real-life story this section tells, unbelievably spent three years as a slave labourer in Libya.

However, Io Capitano isn’t a dirty descent into the heart of human darkness, as the spiritedness of Seyou and Moussa rises way above what fate relentlessly hurls their way. The closing shot might well be the most powerful picture of humanity you’ll witness this year.

In cinemas from April 5

The movies you should see this month


The opening portents of a wolf poised among the pines and headlights beaming along a snowy forest track surrounded by ominous darkness suggest the foreboding of a thriller. And while Milad Alami’s Opponent maintains that menace, its primary quarry is the brutality of Sweden’s asylum system. Olympic wrestler Iman (Payman Maadi) has fled Iran with his family after a mysterious clash with a team-mate. In the frigid north of the country, as the family are shunted from one refugee home to another, Iman joins a wrestling club in the hope it will help his application for residency. This return to sport not only brings him skin-to-skin with a nemesis from the past, but also leaves him grappling with his own sexuality. It’s an unlikely tangle of genres and themes, but Alami manages to muster these forces masterfully towards a profoundly disquieting conclusion.

April 12

Civil War

Watch the Civil War trailer and you’ll see the future of God, liberty and America is under grave threat from the secessionist forces of California and Texas. The poster will tell you the same: the United States is falling, and we’re gonna get an incendiary commentary on the dire state of domestic politics. Does production company A24, in its biggest production yet, even know what this is about? Because what you’ll actually get is a battle-weary photojournalist legend (Kirsten Dunst), Cailee Spaeny as her over-ambitious protégée, plus Stephen McKinley Henderson and Wagner Moura as their written-word counterparts, hurling themselves headlong into the belly of this beast to get that ultimate scoop. It’s really a paean to, and simultaneous critique, of those adrenaline-junkie reporters for whom nothing else in life could give them such an explosive high. And as audiences are embedded at the visceral end of the gun barrel, it’s bloody brilliant. Utterly immersive, as intense as being strapped to a speeding bullet, it’s Garland’s best and most fully formed effort yet.

April 12

The Teachers’ Lounge

You might imagine staff common rooms at schools to be hotbeds of over-worked angst and weary resignation, but German director Ilker Çatak has transformed one into the arena for a nerve-shredding potboiler. A young boy from a Turkish family is accused of stealing (with racist undertones), but then idealistic teacher Carla (Leonie Benesch, mastering the emotional tension like a balletic principal dancer) discovers a member of staff has been on the rob. What could have been a turgid thesis about educational politics turns into a psychological rollercoaster as Carla’s attempts to do the right thing spiral catastrophically out of control. Not quite an A*, but definitely a grade or two above the usual school drama.

April 12


Veteran Italian director Marco Bellocchio (whose shocking, card-calling 1965 debut Fists in the Pocket is still revered) has lost none of his cinematic edge in the intervening six decades. Here he takes on the true, outrageous story of six-year-old Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish boy who was abducted by the Vatican in 1858 because he’d apparently been secretly baptised a Catholic without his parents’ knowledge. Shot in hazy, sumptuous oil-painting tones, it’s a delight for the eyes, and plays out like a nail-biting political thriller rather than a fusty historical epic – with wonderful surreal flourishes such as the Pope’s nightmares about being circumcised in revenge. And, of course, with current events in the Middle East, its subject matter is never more relevant.

April 26

The films you might want to see this month

The Trouble with Jessica

Selling your house is one of the most stressful things a human being can do, so they say. Not half as troublesome as flogging one after your friend has topped themselves in your garden, though. This deliciously dark take on the old “what the hell do we do with the dead body?” caper isn’t quite razor-sharp, but it’s still cuttingly hilarious. Rufus Sewell is on fine form, while Shirley Henderson (more of her strange charms on screen, please) as his wife is a total treat.

April 5

Evil Does Not Exist

After his wonderful Drive My Car, fans will be on tenterhooks for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow-up. However, this tale of residents fighting plans to build a glamping site near their remote village is way, way more glacial. Not a whole lot happens, but if you can muster the patience, the closing section delivers some sublime beauty.

April 5

If Only I Could Hibernate

Steady but touching and deeply spirited, this Mongolian drama follows a penniless schoolboy’s Herculean efforts to fend for his younger siblings as his alcoholic mother is away in the country while also trying to win a national psychics prize. The eerily avant-garde throat-singing soundtrack is a charming bonus.

April 19

Sometimes I Think About Dying

Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley plummets down to earthly reality in a deadpan dose of melancholic whimsy. In an isolated grey town, Ridley’s drab, insular office worker Fran burrows herself away from society; until the new guy (Dave Merheje) comes along and piques Fran’s curiosity about actual human contact. Sweetly, awkwardly romantic, nothing really happens; including at the abrupt non-ending (which is maybe the point).

April 19


Melanie Manchot’s docu-drama is decidedly peculiar but also totally compelling. A shape-shifting hybrid of fact and fiction, it follows real-life recovering alcoholic Stephen Giddings as he auditions for and performs in a loose reconstruction of the factual arrest of gambler and bank thief Thomas Goudie in 1901. Soap queen Michelle Collins also stars alongside a cast of addicts in recovery. Lurching from heartfelt and hopeful to unpredictably violent, it’s an experiment that, by and large, packs a successful punch.

April 26

Also out this month

Dev Patel smashes skulls as a vengeful underground prize fighter in his directorial debut Monkey Man (April 5), which has got uber-violent fist-fest written all over it. Meanwhile, do we really want or need a prequel to The Omen? Well, we’ve got The First Omen (April 5) whether we like it or not. It’s about the birth of “evil incarnate” blah, blah, blah…

Crowds, especially Londoners, will be flocking to see Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black (April 12), however good, dreadful or ugly it is. Biblical spoof The Book of Clarence (April 19) with LaKeith Stanfield finally gets a release. In the beginning the word was and probably still is: avoid. In Ordinary Angels (April 26) Hilary Swank plays a real-life hairdresser who rallies locals to save the life of a sick girl during a snowstorm. It’s “faith-based”, just in case that’s a trigger for you.

Even if you can’t bear the idea of a “sports” drama, Luca Guadagnino’s tennis ménage à trois Challengers (April 26) with Zendaya, Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor looks like a spring smash. And finally, making white people’s lives easier? Yep, that’s the peculiar role of Justice Smith in The American Society of Magical Negroes (April 26). Beware though: this one already has an astonishingly woeful 2.4/10 rating on Imdb. On that sorry note, please do enjoy your month in the cinema.