The Guardians by John Russell

They plough the fields and scatter

The Guardians (Les Guardians), from 2017, is on BBC2 at 00:00 (Midnight) on Saturday 21/8. Set during WW1, the film features Nathalie Baye (la scripte in Truffaut’s Day for Night), who is superb as Hortense, the matriarch of a French farming family coping without their men, who are at the front. She is joined by Francine (newcomer Iris Bry), an orphaned and hardworking farm-girl, who initially meets with approval. But complications ensue when Hortense’s married daughter Solange (Laura Smet) is drawn to a visiting American soldier. And then Francine falls for Hortense’s son Georges, back on leave. 

Writer and director Xavier Beauvois (who made the very different Of Gods and Men in 2010) delivers beautiful rural tableaux of La France Profonde, while exploring themes of pain, grief and class. Equally striking is the resourcefulness displayed by the women, not least Francine, as they cope with war, nature and family. Lots of romantic shots of hay-making, which is lovely if you’re not doing it. 

The film apparently was released in France on the day the indestructible Johnny Halliday died. He was Baye’s ex-husband and Smet’s father. 

Personal Shopper by Sim Fox

Kristen Stewart: haunted

On Wednesday (25/8) at 23:15, BBC2 has Personal Shopper (2016). Oliver Assayas’s scary and haunting psychic thriller already feels like a modern classic, and is a genuine “must see” movie.

Kristen Stewart gives a bravura performance as personal shopper Maureen, whose charismatic presence and spirit (in the living sense) dominates this film. 

Working cash-in-hand for Kyra, an imperious and demanding supermodel in Paris, Maureen is searching for emotional closure – her beloved twin brother Lewis has recently died, from the same unpredictable congenital heart defect that afflicts her. Physically fragile but unafraid she buzzes round Paris on a moped visiting high-end couturiers to source clothes and accessories for Kyra’s magazine photo shoots. She meets the mysterious Ingo, Kyra’s German lover (a typically sly performance from Lars Eidinger) and communicates with Lewis’s kindly and grieving girlfriend, Lara. 

In between work trips she travels out of town to visit Lewis’s rambling old farmhouse, where she attempts to make contact with his spirit, as she believes herself to be psychic – as was Lewis. They have an afterlife pact that he seems reluctant to fulfil. There follows a work trip to London dominated by Maureen’s fraught on/off text dialogue with an anonymous stalker/seducer. Here Assayas expertly merges the workaday – a Eurostar train journey – with the downright threatening. Events then become increasingly violent and disturbing. 

Assayas knows his genre cinema and provides some genuinely frightening set pieces and jump-scares along the way,  but this is no one-note puzzle picture like The Sixth Sense – rather a complex, multilayered exploration of grief, loss, freedom, creativity and hope for the future. Much is ambiguous, never fully explained and open to the audience to interpret. 

World Cinema

On Saturday (21/8) at 21:00, BBC4 has A White, White Day (2019). In this tense Icelandic thriller, directed by Hlynur Pálmason, a widowed police chief begins to suspect a local man of having had an affair with his dead wife. A  study of grief and jealousy in a claustrophobic small town, led by an outstanding performance from Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson. 

On Thursday (26/8) at 02:05, Film4 has Alpha: The Right to Kill (2018). Two Philippines police officers walk off with a druglord’s stock and takings. Mayhem ensues. 

Stephen Ilott’s Picks

On Saturday (21/8) at 21:00, Great Movies has The Social Network (2010). (Also on Thursday at 23:20.) The surprisingly gripping origin story of Facebook, with Jesse Eisenberg as the ambitious Mark Zuckerberg. Pungently written by Aaron Sorkin, again, and crisply directed by David Fincher.

I’m watching you

For context, Netflix fans might want to seek out The Social Dilemma (2020), Jeff Orlowski’s dramatised documentary about social media. Takeaway: the people who invented this stuff don’t let their kids use it. At 22:45, BBC4 has Under the Wire (2018). All war correspondents are mad – by the end, if not at the beginning – but Marie Colvin was madder than most. Action-packed documentary about what happened to her when she snuck into Syria to see what Assad was up to. Spoiler alert: her photographer, Paul Conroy, came home alone. 

On Sunday (22/8) at 21:00, Paramount has Dirty Harry (1971). Eastwood’s first appearance as Harry Callahan, the man with ‘the most powerful handgun in the world’. American the Beautiful. On Friday (27/8) at 14:30, BBC2 has The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953). The first colour Ealing comedy, it stars Stanley Holloway as a  businessman who wants to close down a village’s railway and replace it with a bus service. A loco called Lion, built only nine years after Stephenson’s Rocket, is the love interest. Shot at Monkton Combe near Bath. The station was still there, last time I looked, but no track. What a shame. 

Other modern films of interest

On Saturday (21/8) at 09:45, BBC2 has Born in China (2016). A ‘Disney Nature’ film about pandas, monkeys and snow leopards who prove to be just like furry humans. Stick with Attenborough. At 21:00, Channel 4 has Fighting With My Family (2019). Stephen Merchant comedy about a real wrestling family. With a cameo by a brick outhouse called Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. At the same time, Sky Arts has Bob Dylan – The Other Side of the Mirror (2007), a documentary featuring footage of young Mr Zimmerman’s performances at the Newport Festival between 1963 and 1965. (Also on Wednesday at 00:30.) At 22:35, it moves on to The Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration (1993), featuring The Band, the only band good enough to be called The Band, or so we used to say. Really, though, I prefer Joni.

On Sunday (22/8) at 00:15, BBC4 has Peter Green: Man of the World (2009). The blighted 1960s guitarist died last year after a long life of isolation and misery. What wrecked his life? Mental illness? Drugs? The Blues? Or having Fleetwood Mac stolen from him? At 14:30, Sky Arts has Toots & the Maytals: From the Roots (2017). I hope this reggae deco is more revealing than Marley (2012), which I saw this month, but I’m not optimistic. 

On Monday (23/8) at 22:00, Channel 4 has 9/11: 102 Minutes That Changed America (2008). Documentary about the Twin Towers attack, assembled from amateur footage, with no commentary. At 22:50, Film4 has Thunder Road (2018). Drama about a troubled US cop, demonstrating the talents of star, director, writer, editor and composer Jim Cummings. Nothing much from him since. He must have overdone it.  

On Wednesday (25/8) at 01:15, Film4 has Hallam Foe (2007). Miserabilist Scots coming-of-age with Jamie Bell, seduced and blackmailed by his stepmother after his mother’s suicide. It’s not The Broons.

On Thursday (26/8) at 23:20, Film4 has Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019), referencing Greek and Egyptian mythology, Francis Bacon and artist H.R. Giger.

Try Gaviscon

Or you could just watch Dark Star (1974): Dan O’Bannon’s early prototype, with no budget but lots of jokes. 


On Saturday (21/8) at 12:50, BBC2 has The Wooden Horse (1950). Celebratedly matter-of-fact WWII POW escape movie. Prison camp doctor, observing the inmates listening to music: ‘Ah Beethoven. He is a good German.’ Prisoner: ‘Yes, he’s dead.’ 

On Sunday (22/8) at 21:00, 5 Select has Contact (1997). Misunderstood linguist Jodie Foster is called in to interpret out when aliens arrive and encircle the Earth. Despite this cataclysmic challenge, she finds time for romance with Matthew McConaughey. Elegant, leisured, thrill-free and not as intelligent as it thinks it is. 

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