The Best Arthouse Films to Watch This April

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Sick of Myself, 2023
Sick of Myself, 2023(Film still)

From ecological thriller How to Blow Up a Pipeline to Kristoffer Borgli’s hotly anticipated social-media satire Sick of Myself, here are the films to add to your watchlist this month


Pacifiction is a bit of a riddle: a geopolitical thriller with practically no thrills, a confounding mash of Graham Greene and David Lynch that takes place in the tropics but unfolds at a glacial pace. All the same, Albert Serra’s transfixing, nearly three-hour epic proves impossible to shake.

The plot concerns a man called De Roller (Benoît Magimel), high commissioner to the French Polynesian island of Tahiti, and the delicate political game he must play as rumours swirl about the return of nuclear testing to the islands. Despite taking as its subject one of the most controversial chapters in recent French history – the country detonated nearly 200 bombs over the island chain between 1966 and 1996, leaving a legacy of high cancer rates that persists to this day – the film is too oblique to register as postcolonial critique, instead hovering somewhere between haunting mood piece and enigmatic character study.

That character, De Roller, is mesmerisingly played by veteran French star Magimel, all charming largesse and puffed-up gravitas as he goes about his diplomatic rounds. Fussing constantly over his white linen suit, he courts local politicians and foreign investors alike in the seedy bars and nightclubs that populate the island, conjured with hallucinatory force by Serra and his cinematographer, Artur Tort. And he enlists the help of a beautiful hotel worker, Shannah (delicately played by trans Polynesian māhū actress Pahoa Mahagafanau), with whom he embarks on an affair. Their relationship is just one of the ways Serra demonstrates the uneasy status quo that exists on the island, where local culture survives mostly as kitsch for the tourists, and girls are shipped out to sea as prostitutes for French sailors who abuse them.

But what can we say about De Roller? He is vain, corrupt, and given to obnoxious monologues about historical genocides as helping to build ‘great’ civilisations. And yet, he too is in over his head in this game, at the mercy of the giant political swells that wash against the reefs of this fantasy island paradise. There appears to be something of Serra himself in the character, too, in his cultivated contempt for the “bien-pensant” morality of French liberal society. “They call this place paradise but they’re idiots,” he says in an unguarded moment near the end of this rich and shockingly beautiful film. “It’s a party with the devil.”

Cairo Conspiracy

Imagine the paranoid thrillers of 1970s Hollywood transplanted to present-day Egypt, and you get Cairo Conspiracy, Swedish director Tarik Saleh’s taut and occasionally poetic thriller on the fraught intersection between politics and religion. The drama revolves around Adam (Tawfeek Barhom), a fisherman’s son selected to study at the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo. After he witnesses a murder on campus, he is recruited as a spy for the Egyptian government, which seeks to exert influence in the election of the next Grand Imam – an important religious figure exerting huge influence throughout the Islamic world. Watching his every move is his shady handler (the excellent Fares Fares) and a faction of religious hardliners seeking to install their own Imam. Saleh – whose last film about Egyptian state corruption, The Nile Hilton Incident, saw him banned from entering the country – directs with a flair for suspense and steely moral conviction.

Leonor Will Never Die

Just when you thought Everything Everywhere All at Once had cornered the market for wilfully bizarre, metatextual tributes to Asian action cinema, along comes Leonor Will Never Die with another outsize helping of weird. In Martika Ramirez Escobar’s directorial debut, retired screenwriter Leonor (Sheila Francisco) falls into a coma after she is struck by a falling television outside her home in Manila. (Hey! It can happen.) While her son, Rudie (Bong Cabrera), rallies around her in hospital, she dreams of an unfinished screenplay she’d been working on – an 80s-style revenge flick featuring spectacularly cheesy dialogue (“Let’s see whose hard-on is harder!”) and more collapsible furniture than an Ikea warehouse. But there’s a family trauma lurking at the heart of this entertaining and surprisingly tender story, which Escobar seasons with intriguing hints of Charlie Kaufman and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline

California, 2022: your doctor informs you that you have late-stage leukemia brought on by living in close proximity to an oil refinery. Your mother died in a freak heatwave – because “that’s the fucking world we live in now” – and your medical insurance won’t cover your treatment. Oh well, maybe sit down and have a nice glass of water? Bad luck, there isn’t any. Contemporary America’s hellscape is rendered in the broadest of possible strokes in How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Daniel Goldhaber’s thriller loosely inspired by Andreas Malm’s ecological tract of the same name. The film sees Xochitl (co-writer Ariela Barer) assemble a ragtag crew of climate activists to blow up an oil pipeline running through the Texan badlands, equipped with not much more than some YouTube tutorials and a general willingness to A-Team the shit out of everything. All have backstories that the film flashes back to reveal, but really, Goldhaber’s film isn’t one to fuck about with niceties. What it does do rather nicely is serve as a dynamite (sorry) little heist thriller that’s made with conviction and may even – who knows – end up recruiting more kids to the cause.

Sick of Myself

It’s hard to stand out in today’s attention economy, but twentysomething Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) has found a novel way to do just that. Tired of her blowhard artist boyfriend hogging the limelight, she prescribes herself a course of black-market drugs linked to a horrifying skin disease. Kristoffer Borgli’s satire of social-media narcissism is laugh-out-loud funny (a sex scene where Signe asks her boyfriend to describe her own funeral to her is *chef’s kiss*) and often breathtakingly cynical – think David Cronenberg meets Ruben Östlund, with a bit of Julia Davis thrown in for good measure. The satire is never more than skin-deep, and Borgli is too concerned with upping the cringe-comedy ante to allow his cast of monstrous narcissists even a sliver of humanity – but if you like your comedy dark, you’ll most likely be too tickled to care.