Big Screen Berkeley: ‘Yardie’, ‘Barren Lives’ and ‘Freak Orlando’

Actor Idris Elba directed Yardie, his first feature film

What do you do when you’re not fielding endless questions about whether or not you’re going to be the next James Bond? If you’re Idris Elba, you direct your first feature film, Yardie, a satisfying — if not terribly original — crime pic opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, March 15.

It’s 1973, and D (for Dennis) is an adolescent living with his brother, Jerry Dread, in the hills above Kingston, Jamaica, where a gang war rages between rival outfits led by rude boys Skeets and King Fox. The upful Jerry hopes to win the peace by blasting his much-loved sound system at a giant street party, while making sure D stays safely on the path of the righteous.

The party is a huge success until a gunshot rings out, mortally wounding Jerry (Everaldo Creary) and reigniting the war. D can’t cope with the aftermath – he knows who fired the shot – and his angry disruption of his brother’s memorial service guarantees an uneasy afterlife for Jerry’s duppy (now destined to “walk the Earth and create mischief”) as well as a challenging future for himself.

Six years later, the adult D (Aml Ameen) is now a foot soldier serving King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd), whose failing efforts in the record business have led him to a more lucrative trade: exporting drugs to London. Dispatching his young protégé to the Big Smoke, King Fox comes to regret his decision when D insults East End heavy Rico (This Is England’s Stephen Graham) and makes off with a weighty brick of cocaine. Complications ensue, and Jerry’s duppy keeps popping up at inopportune moments.


If it had been made 50 years ago, Yardie would be judged a well-made, efficient B picture from a promising new director; instead, it’ll be a minor footnote on Elba’s sparkling resumé. Unsurprisingly, its cast is uniformly excellent and its collaborative screenplay (based on a novel by Victor Headley), while offering few surprises, is concise and believable. Yardie may not be The Harder They Come – heck, it’s not even Babylon – but if you temper your expectations, it won’t disappoint.

‘Barren Lives’

Barren Lives: “Every bit as good as John Ford’s 1940 classic The Grapes of Wrath”

If you’re not familiar with the work of Nelson Pereira dos Santos or Ulrike Ottinger, Pacific Film Archive can help bring you up to speed this weekend. Dos Santos was a Brazilian neo-realist, and his 1963 feature Vidas Secas (Barren Lives, screening at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 15) provides a devastating look at an itinerant peasant family and their efforts to become “real people one day” in the midst of a deadly drought. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Barren Lives is every bit as good as John Ford’s 1940 classic The Grapes of Wrath.

‘Freak Orlando’

Freak Orlando: Artist Ulrike Ottinger’s astonishing film proves she possesses a unique cinematic eye

Ulrike Ottinger is an artist first and a filmmaker second, but her astonishing 1981 feature Freak Orlando (screening at 7:30 p.m.on Saturday March 16) provides ample evidence that she possesses a uniquely cinematic eye. Based on Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando (brilliantly adapted for the screen by Sally Potter in 1992), Freak Orlando is that unique place where Alejandro Jodorowsky, Tod Browning, Jacques Demy and Monty Python meet for the first and only time. Your eyes may not believe what they’re seeing, but you won’t be able to look away!