World Cinema

Sunday (19/6)      01:50     BBC2            Young Ahmed (2019).

I wrote about this film in October 2021. I haven’t changed my views, which won’t surprise anyone, but this is a shorter version.

‘This simple story (in French) seems to have divided critics. A schoolboy in Belgium offends his Arabic teacher as he leaves the classroom where he attends after-school homework sessions. ‘A true Muslim won’t shake a woman’s hand,’ he says, and it emerges he has fallen under the influence of a charismatic, fundamentalist Imam. None of the adults in his life, including his white single working-class mother, can reach him. Convinced his teacher is an apostate, because she wants to teach Arabic using secular songs rather than the Qur’an (he also believes she has a Jewish boyfriend), he makes a feeble attempt to kill her and is taken into youth custody. Put to work in a little farm, he meets the farmer’s pretty and somewhat forward daughter, which complicates matters.

‘The reviews were sharply divided, along political and racial lines: most people admired the film as a character study and a brave piece of social realism about a difficult issue. But it was savaged by Joseph Fahim in Middle East Eye when the brothers won the direction prize at Cannes in 2019: he said it was ‘the most offensive, most insensitive and certainly the most Western’ of the many films about Arabs and Islam shown that year, a reflection of the amount of Middle-Eastern money flowing into the coffers of the film industry. His thoughts are worth reading, although I don’t understand the place of a geographical term in critical invective. Meanwhile, Kevin Maher in The Times called it ‘a sophomoric and eventually silly drama’ whose young lead, Idir Ben Addi, gives a ‘blank and essentially inscrutable performance’. Maybe Kevin just didn’t try ’scruting’ hard enough. Or maybe he just doesn’t know any teenagers.

‘Ahmed is as unreachable as the little girl in the brilliant System Crasher, which Cheltenham Film Society showed this spring. But Ahmed is Muslim, male, and determinedly ideological, which makes him much less appealing to the English-speaking audience for foreign-language cinema. The Dardennes, though, are not afraid to bite the hand that feeds them: at least in this modest 90-minute effort.’ (JM)

21:30     BBC4            Maria By Callas (2017)


An excellent French film about the soprano and 20th century musical icon with a uniquely expressive voice. The format is a montage of interviews, news footage, home movies and live performances, with a voice-over of her own words – extracts from her diaries and letters movingly read by the opera singer Joyce DiDonato – and revealing a sharp mind, reserved but candid; at times, painfully so. The film shows that Callas achieved extraordinary worldwide fame for a classical performer, despite constant ambivalence about her celebrity and achievements.

As an artist, Callas was celebrated for intense stage performances and, along with other singers, for reestablishing the Bel Canto style of early 19C Italian Opera – predating Verdi – and popularising now famous arias, like Casta Diva by Bellini. Aptly named. One of the best musical moments here is a TV rendition of another Bellini aria, Ah! non credea mirarti. There is clearly something warm and magical about this performance. She seems more natural than in theatrical clips from Verdi and Puccini (where she can seem to strain for the high notes) – using her voice and mouth like an instrument, at times barely moving her lips, yet a powerful resonant sound emerges. (SF)

Monday (20/6)    01:30     Film4            Like Father, Like Son (2013).

Two Japanese families at opposite ends of the social spectrum are thrown together when it is revealed that their two six-year-old sons were accidentally swapped at birth. A touching and insightful meditation on nature, nurture, and what it means to be a parent, from the master Hirokazu Kore-eda. With another wonderful performance from Kore-eda stalwart Lily Franky, my favourite Japanese actor, who is a man. (JM)

Tuesday (21/6)    22:00     BBC4             Into My Name (2022)

Documentary, directed and written by Nicoló Bassetti, about four young Italians transitioning from F to M. Not seen it: unlikely to. (JM)

Thursday (23/6)   01:40    Channel 4    Mommy (2014)

Dystopian Canadian drama, directed by Xavier Dolan, about Die (Anne Dorval), whose son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon) is discharged from a secure hospital after he started a fire and another youth was injured. Their relationship is strained but made easier when a neighbour, Kyla (Suzanne Clement), begins to tutor Steve. Nonetheless events spiral out of control when the family of the injured youth decide to sue, and Die is forced to consider using a new law that allows parents to have their children committed. Great performances by all three leads. Peter Bradshaw in the Grauniad described it as a ‘Splashy, transgressive treat, from trailer-trash chat to unexpected sex and surprising emotional depth’.  French with subtitles.  (JR)

Stephen Ilott’s Picks

Saturday (18/6)   14:45    BBC2                     The African Queen (1951)  (also Thursday 21:00 BBC4)

This 1950s classic, directed by the legendary John Huston, won Humphrey Bogart his only Oscar, playing opposite record 4 time winner Katherine Hepburn. The story follows the pair on a journey down an East African river to escape the invading forces of WW1. They hatch a plan to strike a blow against a German warship in their small steamboat, but to do so they need to survive gunfire, crocs, rapids and eachother. Filmed on location in Uganda and The Congo, this lighthearted adventure flick has a lively, infectious energy, mostly courtesy of the wonderful personality of the performances. (MH)

21:05    Talking Pictures   Brannigan (1975) 

John Wayne vehicle in which he plays the title character, a Chicago Police Lieutenant, who is sent to London in the Sweeney era to escort Larkin (John Vernon), a member of the mob, back to the US. Of course, it isn’t as straightforward as all that. Richard Attenborough plays Commander Swann and Judy Geeson plays Detective Sergeant Thatcher. Yes, really. Tony Robinson, that one, plays a motorcycle courier. There is a certain amount of humour, some car chases, and some of what looks like slow-motion punching but is actually punching done at normal speed but slowly. Wayne was 68 years old at this point. Directed by Douglas Hickox and written by Christopher Trumbo, son of Dalton. (JR)

Sunday (19/6)      22:30    BBC1                      Philomena (2013)

Stephen Frears’ painful and searching version of journalist Martin Sixsmith’s book, ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee’, about him being contacted by Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin), the daughter of Philomena (Judy Dench), an Irish woman whose son Anthony was adopted as an infant and who now wishes to find him in later life.  Martin (Steve Coogan) has recently lost his government job and this subject isn’t really up his street, but as he peels away the layers, he discovers an appalling tale of deprivation and abuse in a home in Roscrea for young unmarried mothers run by nuns, who it seems had no understanding of or interest in the emotional needs of their charges.  The search leads to the US, down some surprising avenues.  Coogan is excellent as the caustic Sixsmith who finds a subject to get his teeth into, and Dench is superb as Philomena, who displays unsuspected resilience, reminding Martin she was a nurse and knows a thing or two about life.  Coogan co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope (Stan and Ollie) and the film is a reason to celebrate once again one of our most talented and versatile directors. (JR)

Monday (20/6)    23:15    BBC2                      The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

A thought provoking examination of nature vs. nurture and the forces that shape us, across generations. Ryan Gosling plays tearaway Lake, pursued by Bradley Cooper’s cop Cross after a bank robbery gone wrong, the aftermath of which will bring the legacies of both men much closer than expected. With great performances, beautiful cinematography and an utterly engrossing feeling of optimism through hardship, not to mention a small but memorable role from the late Ray Liotta. The final section may lose some of the gravitas from the previous but this is still a really underappreciated work from director Derek Cianfrance, who also made award winners Blue Valentine and The Light between Oceans. (MH)

Tuesday (21/6)     00:55   Talking Pictures    Blood Relatives (1977)

A mystery by Claude Chabrol, the French crime master, with Donald Sutherland on the trail of a child-murderer. Based on an Ed McBain 87th Precinct police procedural, but with New York replaced by Montreal for tax reasons. Chabrol, Sutherland: what could go wrong? Quite a lot, as it happens. But it has its fans. (JM)

Friday (24/6)        18:55    Great Moves        The Way, Way Back (2013)

A well observed coming-of-age teen drama about Duncan, a shy boy who is brought out of his shell on a family holiday when he meets the childish but likeable Owen, played by Sam Rockwell, who introduces him to fun, and girls, which help him overcome issues within his family. A fairly typical teenager, he is bitter towards his mum and her boyfriend, played by Toni Collette and Steve Carrell. More proof, if it were needed, that Carrell is more than just an accomplished comedy performer. (MH)

Other modern films of interest

Sunday (19/6)           00:40   Channel 4   Arrival (2016)

A wonderfully developed and contemplative alien invasion drama from one of the most revered directors of the modern age, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049). After extraterrestrial ships arrive and hover motionless over various locations on Earth, nothing seems to happen, so the military dispatch a linguistics expert to try to make contact and ascertain their intentions. The film used some of the more imaginary yet somehow believable designs of aliens, but the creatures and the invasion are not the focus of the film: that falls on Amy Adams and her life story, especially the journey of parenthood, which is expertly and economically delivered. (MH)

16:00    BBC1           Moana (2016)  

This uses the tried and tested Disney/Pixar formula of a young mollycoddled princess, Moana, who yearns to break free, in this case to venture past the safety zone her father has put in place around their Polynesian Island. She embarks on a quest across the seascape to retrieve a fabled gemstone and reinstate equilibrium to a nearby haven island, alongside a demigod played by Dwayne Johnson and the seemingly obligatory animal sidekick. Many of these later Pixar offerings lack the universal magic of their early works. It is nice, colourful and with some modern themes, but it may not live too long in the memory. (MH)

Wednesday (22/6)   23:20   Film4           Honey Boy (2019) 

Honey Boy, directed by Alma Har’el, is billed as a semi- autobiographical film based on the life of actor Shia LaBeouf. The term ‘semi-autobiographical’ is always problematic, and even more so with this film as so much of LaBeouf’s personal and private life is anything but private. He began writing the screenplay as therapy whilst in rehab. It is very difficult to disentangle reality from drama, but we probably aren’t meant to. If you knew nothing about the man, what is presented here is a moving account of a young man trying to come to a resolution of a difficult relationship with his father and an unconventional, to say the least, childhood. The boy, Otis, a child star abused and exploited by his ex-addict, ex-rodeo-showman father, is played by Noah Jupe. He becomes a young and angry man, played by Lucas Hedges. Shia LaBeouf plays the part of the father, James, who is dependent on the child’s income, but also jealous of his success. All three give excellent performances and the film is beautifully directed with some great cinematography from DoP Natasha Braier, against a background of shabby trailer parks and motels. There is also a dreamlike sequence featuring actor, dancer and singer FKA Twigs, formerly of this parish. (PW)

Friday (24/6)             02.45   Sky Arts       Martha: A Picture Story (2019)

Documentary by Selina Miles about photojournalist Martha Cooper, whose original subject was New York street life but who is best known for her work on graffiti, which she documented in Subway Art, produced with fellow photographer Henry Chalfant in 1982, which became regarded as the graffiti bible.  She began work for the New York Post in the 1970s and she is now in her own late seventies, but still dedicated to her mission.  She is engaging, amusing and brave, and the Hollywood Reporter described this as ‘eighty of the happiest minutes documentary-lovers are likely to spend in a theater this year’.  (JR)


Saturday (18/6)        23:20   Talking Pictures    The Boston Strangler (1968)

Sensationalist film, directed by Richard Fleischer, about the murders of 13 women in the 1960s, based on the book by Gerold Frank.  Tony Curtis plays the Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, in probably his most challenging role, and Henry Fonda plays John S Bottomley, the detective who heads up the ‘Strangler Bureau’.  Curtis was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor and the film has echoes of Psycho, in that DeSalvo is revealed to have a split personality, leading to one persona being unaware of what the murderous other was doing.

Roger Ebert’s view of it is interesting: ‘The Boston Strangler requires a judgement not only on the quality of the film (very good), but also on its moral and ethical implications . . . The events described in Frank’s book have been altered considerably in the film.  This is essentially a work of fiction ‘based’ on the real events. And based on them in such a way [as] to entertain us, which it does, but for the wrong reasons, I believe. This film, which was made so well, should not have been made at all.’ (JR)

Sunday (19/6)          13:50   BBC2                      The First Great Train Robbery (1978)    

In the US this was known as The Great Train Robbery but presumably the title was changed in Britain to distinguish it from the notorious real-life robbery which took place in 1963. Directed and written by Michael Crichton, and based on his novel about a train robbery that took place in 1855, involving a heist from a train carrying gold to the British forces in the Crimean War. A subject for an interesting discussion of ethics. The gang of thieves includes Sean Connery as Edward Pierce, the leader, Donald Sutherland, Michael Elphick, Wayne Sleep as ‘Clean Willy’ and Lesley-Ann Down as Pierce’s mistress. Connery performed most of his own stunts, pre-Cruise. (JR)                                                      

Tuesday (21/6)         01:40   Film4                      Another Country (1984)     

Period drama, directed by Marek Kanievska and written by Julian Mitchell, inspired by the Cambridge spy Guy Burgess’s experience of public school and his early exposure to Marxism. Rupert Everett plays Guy Bennett, who is gay, and Colin Firth plays Tommy Judd, who is a Marxist. The school is an amalgam of Eton and Winchester. A scandal erupts after another gay pupil commits suicide and the House Captain, Fowler (Tristan Oliver), uses it as an excuse to plot against Bennett, assisted by Judd, who resents him for different reasons. Interesting that the top prefects are called Gods and Bennett fails to become one. It was Firth’s first film, and Everett later played Kim Philby in A Different Loyalty, also directed by Kanievska. (JR)

Thursday (23/6)       23:40   Film4                      My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Stephen Frears (Philomena, The Queen) directs another unflinching tale of British life, taken from Hanif Kureishi’s novel. A notable early role for then little known Daniel Day-Lewis (little known to the public: his father was Poet Laureate and his mother was Jill Balcon, British film royalty) but deserves to be heralded in its own right. The story takes risks by focusing not only on the tortured race relations of the era but also on an unorthodox interracial gay couple, Omar and Johnny, trying to build on a family business opportunity. They face opposition from family and the wider society. An important film, in many ways. (MH/JM)

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