World Cinema

Saturday (27/8)   21:05    Talking Pictures   The Pianist (2002).

An family of artistic and intellectual Polish Jews falls foul of the Nazi occupiers during WW2. The eldest son, a talented pianist, played by Adrian Brody, is separated from the family, so forced to survive in isolation. The film pays tribute to the quiet heroism of the oppressed among unflinching mental and physical cruelty and humiliation by the German forces, who are seemingly licensed to behave as they please. The sickening and oft-repeated story is directed by Roman Polanski, and partly based on his own experiences. (MH)

Sunday (28/8)      01:00    BBC2                      Britt-Marie Was Here (2019) 

I love this film and I hope you will too. Here’s what I wrote before: ‘based on a heartwarming book by Fredrik Backman, who wrote the charming A Man Called Ove. Directed, incidentally, by Tuva Novotny, so delightful in Dag, the hilariously gloomy Norwegian sitcom about a marriage counsellor who hates marriage. Good luck trying to find that.’

A woman (shock horror) walks out of her miserable marriage and takes over youth football team. With a brilliant central performance by Pernilla August (pictured) who, I seem to remember was in That Time Of Year, the brilliant Danish Christmas film that nobody wanted me to show and only a few good people came to see. Newsflash, you’re getting again at Christmas.

Ove, meanwhile, was a huge success when we showed it at CFS. I’m currently somewhat obsessed with cars, mine having entered the Liverpool Death Pathway, and if you saw that film you’ll remember Ove’s love of Volvo. A Swedish man loves his Volvo. So does a Swedish woman. A multi-lingual pun for those who like them.

When I was active in CFS, I was exasperated by people who said of a French film ‘very French’. Britt-Marie one is ‘very Swedish’ and I mean that as a compliment. Oh, I’ve rejoined CFS. Jane Holt has kindly ‘gifted’ me membership, which pleases me on lots of levels, except the word ‘gifted’. (JM)

Tuesday (30/8)    01:00     Channel 4             Monos (2019) 

Visceral and unrelenting drama directed by Alejandro Landes, about a group of adolescent soldiers, the Monos, who guard Doctora, an American hostage (Julianne Nicholson), first in the Colombian mountains and later in the jungle, while an unspecified war goes on. The cast is mainly non-professional and the tone is somewhere between Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now, so some aspects of it feel familiar, others definitely not. Being essentially kids with assault weapons, and with nothing much to do outside the occasional visits from their superior officer The Messenger (Wilson Salazar), the soldiers do a lot of experimenting with drugs, relationships and rituals, with mixed results. One of their number, the androgynous Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura) makes a break for the outside, wondering what she will find there. Winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at Sundance in 2019.  Haunting visuals by Jasper Wolf, searing soundscape by Mica Levi. (JR)

01:40     Film4                     The Guilty (2018).

Film4 are always showing this film, by Gustav Möller, which is effectively a one-man show for Jakob Cedergren, and I’m sure you’ve read what I’ve said about it lots of times. Basically, it’s a compelling closed-room thriller, with the menace cranked up by sound design: but I don’t like films in which mental disturbance is used to scare people. I loathe Joker, for instance, and I will not be rushing to see its forthcoming sequel or prequel (who cares?). These films do not tell the truth, and I like films to be true. My ideology: take it or leave it. (JM)

Thursday (1/9)     01:10     Film4                     Birds of Passage (2018)

Colombian Marching Woman

01:10     Film4                     Birds of Passage (2018)

Based on real events, Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s epic follows a Colombian Wayuu family who become involved in the drugs trade in the 1960s and 1970s, with dire results. Set in a landscape that verges on the surreal, it is beautiful and ghastly by turns. It’s possible to imagine a screen version of One Hundred Years of Solitude looking something like this. Unforgettable. (JR) Will JR forgive me chipping in? It is surreal. And it is like One Hundred Years of Solitude because it is genuine magical realism. Magical realism is a device we use to tell unbelievable truths, especially horrible truths. It is not a device we use to win literary prizes. Just sayin’. (JM)

Sir Stephen’s Selection

Saturday (27/8)           13:30      Talking Pictures    The Battle of the Century (1927)

Hal Roach silent Laurel & Hardy short about a prize-fight that turns into a pie-fight. Not any pie-fight, but the biggest pie-fight in movie history: 3000 of the buggers. Until 2014, much of the fight was missing, and modern audiences had to imagine what the whole thing was like, helped by stitched-together stills assembled with the help of the original shooting script. Then someone found what is known as a ‘safety’ print and found the missing footage. Then they made it available. I trust our friends at Talking Pictures have the ‘right’ version, but who knows? Haven’t had time to ask them.

I like this zinger from the January 1928 press campaign: ‘The comedy that you’ve read about, heard about, and waited for.’ You probably haven’t, but you’ll like it: or your inner child will, and Apple News told me only this morning that we all need to look after our inner children.

Missed the deadline, of course, but it will be back. (JM)


Sunday (28/8)              14:20      BBC2                      The Train (1964) 

WW2 drama set in 1944 directed by John Frankenheimer and based on Le Front de l’Art, the autobiography of Rose Valland, art historian and hero of the French Resistance. Traditional casting methods are used, with Burt Lancaster as Paul Labiche, a railway official and Resistance fighter, who becomes involved after being alerted by a museum curator called ‘Mademoiselle Villard’ (Suzanne Flon). Paul Schofield is Colonel Frank von Waldheim. Jeanne Moreau plays Christine, the widow of a hotel owner. The train in question is carrying art works looted by the Nazis from the Jeu de Paume museum, which are on their way to Germany before the war ends, or so they hope. Labiche’s role is to derail the train, maybe for artistic reasons, maybe not: there is some ironical ambiguity about which side most values the paintings. Both leads are great and the action is propulsive: even when the train is halted, the sequences are punctuated by the insistent and unnerving wheezing of the engine. Music by Maurice Jarre, cinematography by Jean Tournier.  (JR)

Ooh Ooh Ooh, Ms Grace.

21:00      Sky Arts                  Rear Window (1954)     

Instead of a review, it’s tempting just to reproduce humorist Joe Queenan’s piece about Alfred Hitchcock, ‘The Man Who Didn’t Love Women’, which talks about his ‘inability to get people like Grace Kelly to sit on his lap’. Kelly is the socialite lead in Rear Window and the pinnacle blonde in Hitchcock’s canon, who managed to escape into royalty before she had anything worse done to her than strangulation or being caught by a murderer. Queenan highlights the string of female stars (Kim Novak, Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh) who underwent various forms of cinematic torture at Hitchcock’s behest: ‘Of course, it is possible to make too much of all this, to go too far with the amateur psychologising, and I think that’s exactly what we should do here’. After The Birds and the Hedren pecking episode, Hitchcock ‘gave it a rest, but having spent the better part of a decade feeding the girls into the meat grinder, he had certainly made it clear that, at least when he was in the neighbourhood, blondes did not have more fun’.   

Queenan nonetheless acknowledges that, if you ignore the occasionally dodgy plots, Hitchcock was a masterful visual artist, which is important for Rear Window, because this is a film about looking, and maybe looking a bit too much. Scripted by John Michael Hayes and based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, the essentials are that James Stewart is photographer L B Jefferies, laid up in his Greenwich Village apartment with a broken leg after an accident on assignment. Kelly is his girlfriend Lisa Fremont, whom oddly he seems not to want to marry. Jefferies’ enforced leisure leads to him watching people in neighbouring apartments, often using his telephoto lens, sometimes voyeuristically. He spots one of them, Lars Thorswald (Raymond Burr), apparently up to no good. Maybe Hitchcock was alluding to his own would-be omnipotent role as director. The film was, along with Vertigo, Rope and The Trouble With Harry, restored and re-released in the 1980s and it is hard now to believe that for many years it wasn’t seen, though it is regularly ranked in the top hundred best films of all time. Apart from its undeniable dramatic tension, it is beautiful to look at.  (JR) Sorry, John, but this doesn’t wash. Being married into royalty in reality is rather worse than acting being badly treated. Grace was neither a child nor a victim. She was a professional, a very forceful woman and knew what she was up to. And she liked both Hitchcock and Jimmy. Queenan was trying to be funny. (JM) The point is not that Hitchcock’s female leads were treated badly on screen, which they frequently were, but that it could happen off-screen as well. Kelly managed to avoid that, but others were not so lucky. (JR)

Monday (29/8)            22:00      BBC2                       Starter for 10 (2006)

The very good David Nicholls student comedy, a kind of non-Oxbridge Peter’s Friends, and all the better for that. With an excellent cast, lots of jokes, shots of Bristol (local interest), stuff for quiz-nerds (Hello Mike) and some really nice New Wave music. No Bristol bands, I think, unless anyone can correct me. Directed by Bristol drama graduate Tom Vaughan, who did not get the movie career he might have deserved, and produced by Tom Hanks, who got the opposite. There’s even an appearance by Benedict Cummerbund, for those who find British films uncomfortable without him. Hmm, back in the knife drawer, Morrish. (JM)                      

Wednesday (31/8)      11:30      Talking Pictures     Below Zero (1930)

Extraordinary early talkie short from Laurel & Hardy. They play two street musicians who fall foul of inclement weather (suggestion: fingerless gloves). Dubbed into both English and Spanish, with the duo, who knew no Spanish, reading the words phonetically. (JM)

Thursday (1/9)            22:50       BBC4                       Hitchcock’s Shower Scene: 78/52 (2017)

Documentary just about that scene from Psycho. Here’s what a man in said: ‘To witness the sequence broken down in forensic detail is to appreciate its economy of storytelling anew, and to see its influence on subsequent popular culture, but to do so for 90 minutes might stretch even a superfan’s patience.’ Personally, I’d be examining my conscience. Really, this is one for SF, but he’s gone AWOL. (JM)

Other vaguely modern films of interest

Monday (29/8)            21:00    Sky Arts     a-ha: The Movie (2021)  (also Friday 23:10)

I vaguely remember them. Wasn’t their hair the best thing about them? Meanwhile, the phonemes a ha remind me that Steve Coogan popped up onstage with Coldplay the other day and stole the show by, er, not really doing anything. Another showbiz dream come true, eh Steve? (JM)

Tuesday (30/8)            20:00    ITV              The Queen (2006)

Stephen Frears’s account, written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Damned United) of the days after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in a car crash in Paris. It focuses on the tension between the Royal Family and the government, with PM Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) taking a determined stance on how the matter should be dealt with publicly. Helen Mirren plays the title role convincingly, showing us a spiky side of HM that we may not have realised existed. The much-missed Helen McCrory plays Cherie Blair. (JR) The second part of Morgan’s sort-of Blair Trilogy, after The Deal and before The Special Relationship. That’s the most interesting of the three, with Dennis Quaid as Bill Clinton, and tells the story of their cynical bromance. Sheen and McCrory (again) are both splendid. Sadly, Morgan let slip his real feelings about the Clinton/Blair/Campbell gang and the film was ruthlessly suppressed by Billary’s friends on The Coast. Don’t believe me? Try streaming it. I have a copy and will show it again soon, just as soon as Campbell (who facilitated and justified mass murder on an unmeasurable scale) stops pretending on Twitter that he is morally superior to the Johnson clique (who have not yet carpet-bombed civilians for oil, leaving that sort of thing to their friend Putin). (JM)

Wednesday (31/8)      21:00    Film4          Black ’47 (2018)

Not seen this, but it attracted some interesting and very politicised reviews, with some calling it an Irish ‘Braveheart’ and others complaining about caricatured villains. It’s about an Irish mercenary, fighting for the Empire in 1847, and then going on a revenge rampage against some English imperialists who have done down his family. None of this makes any historical sense whatsoever, but the film has done well in the victimhood market. The Australian liked it. With the estimable Stephen Rea and Barry McKeoghan, plus Freddie Fox in what I imagine is the archetypal chinless wonder role. Maybe I’m wrong: maybe he plays a dedicated Fenian (many of whom were, to all intents and purposes, English: W.B.Yeats, I’m looking at you). I like Millie Fox. Did I tell you that? The brains seem to run down the female line in that family. You have to look hard for a woman in this film. File under ‘Boys Will Be Boys’. (JM)


Sunday (28/8)      19:00   Talking Pictures   The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

Classic comedy from the famous hitmakers Ealing Studios, once again starring Alec Guinness, this time as a lowly security guard in charge of transporting gold for a bank. Formerly known for his scrupulous honesty, but approaching retirement, he sees an opportunity to plan a heist of the precious cargo, but hasn’t a clue about how to go about it. So he assembles a team of low-level criminals to complete the task, including Sid James and Stanley Holloway. With an appearance from, of all people, Audrey Hepburn. (MH)

Tuesday (30/8)     12:45   Talking Pictures   The Black Swan (1942)                                

Splendid pirate movie, somehow put together without Errol Flynn. Swashes have rarely been buckled with such unselfconscious panache and assorted bosoms heave magnificently. Anthony Quinn, Margaret O’Hara, Tyrone Power, George Sanders and, in Henry King, a director who did what he was paid for. A-harrrrr! (JM)

Friday (2/9)           06.00   Talking Pictures    Scarlet Street (1945) 

Fritz Lang noir about the art world. Banned on release in Alabama, Milwaukee and the whole of New York State, where scary psychological thrillers directed by fellow travellers and undercover Jews were never likely to win official approval. My kinda film. (JM)

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