At The Movies: A lonely teen becomes overnight online icon in Belle; Lamb is chilly tale about lost babies

A still from the animation Belle. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Belle (PG)

121 minutes, opens Nov 18, 4 stars

Lurking in the heart of movies written and directed by Japanese animation master Mamoru Hosoda are the issues of loneliness and abandonment.

In his Oscar-nominated adventure fantasy Mirai (2018), a boy, once the focus of parental affection, feels betrayed when their attention shifts to his new infant sister. In The Boy And The Beast (2015), a boy who is practically an orphan runs away from home, convinced that no one cares for him.

The director's latest project opens with high-school student Suzu's backstory, explaining why she is the classic Hosoda protagonist. She is lonely and has lost hope in ever finding happiness within her family.

In U, a virtual space which can accommodate millions of users, anonymity gives Suzu the courage to sing publicly and, before long, she is transformed into the superstar Belle. There, she meets The Beast, a disruptive figure who enjoys using a monstrous avatar and sabotaging events.

If the names of Belle and The Beast have not given away the fact that Hosoda drew inspiration from Disney's animated Beauty And The Beast (1991), then certain familiar design cues will. As he has said in interviews, he is also paying homage to the source material, an 18th-century French fairy tale.

Hosoda's refined sense of melancholy permeates this movie - a mood interrupted by Suzu's interludes in U, a place of Alice-In-Wonderland curiosities that stand in contrast to her drearier life at home and in school. Far from being an opiate or a distraction, U is where Suzu finds healing.

Lamb (M18)

106 minutes, opens Nov 18, 4 stars

A still from the film Lamb. PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

It is not often that a work of horror becomes a country's entry to the Academy Awards in the Best International Feature Film category. But Iceland did just that with this work, director Valdimar Johansson's debut feature.

The set-up, like the dialogue and rural location, is stripped-down. Maria (Swedish actress Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) are a sheep-farming couple nursing a private grief. In a miraculous turn of events, they find a newborn on their farm. They decide to raise the baby as their own and the child rejuvenates their senses and marriage.

There is, however, something grotesquely wrong about this picture of domestic bliss. The film makes the reason known from the start, but turns the screws by letting the consequences play out in all their strangeness without resorting to jump scares or gore.

Buoyed by great performances from Rapace and Gudnason, this work will leave child-free couples feeling a little more smug by opening new vistas of anxiety about how, when it comes to raising a child, the worst thing that can happen sometimes does.

Saturday Fiction (NC16)

128 minutes, opens Nov 18, 3 stars

Saturday Fiction starring Mark Chao (left) and Gong Li. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Iconoclastic Chinese director Lou Ye - known for making films about controversial topics and sending them to festivals without official permission - has created an arthouse spy thriller that is not only unlikely to ruffle feathers, it might also be called patriotic.

The setting is 1941 Shanghai and the Japanese invasion forces control parts of the city. But because they are not at war with the Allies, they leave the International Settlement - the zone run by the Western powers since the 19th century - in peace.

Enter Jean Yu (Gong Li), a beloved film icon who has made the risky trip from Hong Kong to take up a role in a production staged by her former lover (Mark Chao). The enclave, already a hive of espionage activity, is galvanised by her arrival.

She is watched closely by a multinational troupe of agents, each convinced that she is in town for more than the acting gig in a tiny, leftist theatre troupe.

Shot in black-and-white, this movie digs so deeply into the jazz-age Shanghai aesthetic, it is close to fetishisation.

If one can get over Lou's art school fascination with the look of that era, there is a workable, if credulity-stretching, story that comments on the parallels between show business and the art of spying.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (PG13)

124 minutes, opens Nov 18, not reviewed

A still from Ghostbusters: Afterlife. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

After the flop that was the 2016 reboot, the studio felt it was time to go back to the roots. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts are back to fill the shoes they wore in the 1984 original film.

In the present day, descendants of the one of the original ghostbusters team members must reckon with their legacy when a supernatural catastrophe threatens.

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