World Cinema

Sunday (25/9)          23:50   Film4   The Handmaiden (2016)

I’ve written about this lots of times, and I’m not really that big a fan. So I’ll reprint approximately what I wrote before: ‘Park Chan-Wook’s glossy period thriller, set during Japan’s long occupation of Korea: a crime story with lesbian trimmings, or a lesbian story with a crime alibi. Contrary to what Rotten Tomatoes says, it’s not a based on a Victorian novel but Fingersmith, an overheated modern imagining of what the Victorians might have been like. A sensation at the time, not least in my Cheltenham Stories writing group, where a discussion of ‘scissoring’ (look it up) nearly brought the whole operation shuddering to a halt. No Sex Please: We’re Cheltonians. (JM)

Tuesday (27/9)         02:20   Film4   Fire Will Come (2019)

On the other hand, I really like this film. A man jailed for arson returns to his home village in damp, dark Galicia, in the north-west of Spain to look after an aged P. Then there is an outbreak of forest fires, and he gets blamed.Galicia is a wonderful and odd place, more like Ireland or Scotland than the Spain we Brits tend to favour. The forests, like natural forests everywhere (I don’t mean tax-dodge vertical loo-paper factories), are home to a rich mythology. And family relationships run very deep. A dour and very powerful film. (JM)

Wednesday (28/9)   01:30   Film4   Capernaum (2018)

The story of Zain, a 12-year-old Lebanese boy (Zain Al Rafeea: pictured) who is serving a five-year prison sentence for stabbing the family’s landlord. In flashback, the film shows his impoverished and traumatic childhood before the crime. He later sues his parents for neglect, aiming to stop them having any more children. The title refers to the biblical city that was condemned by Jesus, and later came to mean Chaos. The aerial shots of Beirut are astounding, showing a shattered but teeming place. What would filmmakers do without drones? It went on to become the highest-grossing Arabic or Middle Eastern film of all time, and won the Jury Prize at Cannes. Director Nadine Labaki also directed and starred in the marvellous Caramel (2007).  (JR)

Stephen Ilott’s Selection

Saturday (24/9)        18:30   Channel 5            The Dam Busters (1955) 

Everyone’s favourite film about bombing Germany in an unusual way: in this case the targets are the dams in the Ruhr Valley which was home to the war industry. Directed by Michael Anderson (Around the World in 80 Days, Logan’s Run). Michael Redgrave plays Barnes Wallis, the scientist who develops the bouncing bombs eventually used by the squadron of Lancasters led by Guy Gibson (Richard Todd). The film acknowledges the losses sustained by the air crews during the mission, so it’s not all flag-waving. There was a bit of a problem about the name of Gibson’s Labrador though. (JR)

[I’m amused by this sentence from Wikipedia: ‘A remake has been in development since 2008, but has yet to be produced as of 2022.’ The new film was supposed to be being written by Stephen Fry and the dog in question would have been renamed Digger. FFS. (JM)].

21:05   Talking Pictures   Summertime (1955)  (also Monday 15:00)

Katherine Hepburn plays an American woman, unlucky in love, who meets a man in Venice who seems to be the ideal suitor. That wouldn’t have made much of a film, of course, so there are complications. Said to be David Lean’s favourite of his own movies, with a performance by Hepburn that lifts it above the formulaic. I like this, from one of Rotten Tomatoes’ amateur critics, John B (curious how Rotten Tomatoes uses the same naming conventions as Alcoholics Anonymous: who would have thought having an opinion was so shaming?): ‘Katharine Hepburn’s trip abroad is far more eye opening and fulfilling to watch than any eating, drinking and praying that Julia Roberts does in later years. Her sense of romance rekindled in Venice is a joy to watch.’ (JM)

Sunday (25/9)           15:45   BBC2                      Von Ryan’s Express (1965)

You’ve seen this one. Frank Sinatra leads a lot of allied POWs, escaping from an Italian camp and aided by their captors, given that the war is nearing its end. They get on a train. The Germans are not happy about it. Trevor Howard supports. ‘The scenery is the only thing authentic and believable in the film,’ said Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. (JM)

Wednesday (28/9)   23:20   Film4                      Valkyrie (2008)

Bryan Singer’s slick dramatisation of the story of Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, the upper-class German officer who tried to assassinate Hitler. A very interesting historical episode. He did leave it rather late. Von Stauffenberg is played y Wee Tommy Cruise and the rest of the Nazis are pretty much all British. Some idiot on Rotten Tomatoes moans that Hitler is the only one with a German accent, which made me wonder who played him. Rotten Tomatoes, oddly, doesn’t list that information. It was David Bamber. Given contemporary audiences’ difficulties with the concept of fiction, perhaps his agent made them remove it for fear of blighting his excellent career. (JM)

Thursday (29/9)        01:40   Film4                      Jackie (2016)

Pablo Larraín’s stylish account of how Mrs Kennedy dealt with the sudden death of her husband, the POTUS. Themes of legacy, control and image are to the fore. Natalie Portman worked hard to capture the First Lady’s voice and demeanour, and Mark Kermode described her as acting someone who was acting, also that she was ‘mannered’ and not ‘alienating but alienated’. (JR)

Other vaguely modern films of interest

Saturday (24/9)       19:00     Film4   Eye in the Sky (2015)

A departure in war films at the time. Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman are military types in London trying to decide whether to kill some terrorist types in Nairobi by long distance, using drones. It’s talky, of course, but director Gavin Hood and writer Guy Hibbert manage to keep the tension high and the moral debate lively. I spent about half an hour this week trying to get my car insurance sorted out. When I eventually reached a human, she proved to be a film fan and we had a good chat about Rickman: she favoured Prince of Thieves; I went for Galaxy Quest. Naturally I was able to tell her that, while I hadn’t actually spoken to him, I was on the other side of a room at the Groucho Club from him and his basso profundo rattled the lampshades. Iain Glen supports. I know a brilliant piece of gossip about him, from when we were all scuffling around Lewisham, but if I were to repeat it here he’d probably come round and act me to death. (JM)

23:30     BBC4   One Day in Ukraine (2022)   

No idea what to make of this. It won a prize at the Sheffield Documentary festival. It focuses on a group of Ukrainians on one day during the current war. It is said to be assembled from different sources of material and to be, in some ways, not unlike some sort of dystopian science fiction. That goes for everything everywhere at the moment, doesn’t it? Luckily, we in Cheltenham mostly live within the blast radius of Russia’s nuclear missiles, so if the worse comes to the worst we will be vaporised instantaneously, rather than having to make an involuntary appearance in a live-action remake of that depressing Raymond Briggs cartoon. (JM)

Sunday(25/9)           22:00     BBC2   The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Not seen this, but it has won lots of circuit awards and been highly acclaimed. A young black man goes back to San Francisco, where his grandfather built a house, and tries to live in it. But the area has been whitewashed and gentrified and the plan proves complicated.(JM)

Tuesday (27/9)         21:00     BBC4   And Still I Sing (2022) 

A documentary by an Afghan-Canadian filmmaker, about some Afghan girls who want to appear in a local version of Pop Idol, called Afghan Star. Then the Taliban sweep back in (or are let back in) and this frivolous ambition immediately becomes somewhat hazardous. At one point I was vaguely approached to go and teach journalism in Kabul. It was scary enough teaching it in Peterborough. (JM)

22:30    BBC4    Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge (2020)

The title is pretty much self-explanatory. Gay and lesbian people are not treated very nicely in Chechnya (nor is anybody else, as far as I can see) and they have to be smuggled out. A documentary. (JM)

Wednesday (28/9)   22:40     BBC1   Harriet ( 2019)

This is a feature about Harriet Tubman, the black American woman who escaped from slavery and then helped run the ‘underground railroad’, allowing similar runaways to get to the comparative safety of the North. Variously described as ‘gripping’, ‘important’ and ‘so-so’. Robbie Collin in the Daily Telegraph said ‘The whole package is so sleekly watchable, if risk-averse to a fault, that I can’t recall a recent time at the cinema where I learned more by thinking less.’ I’ve been scratching my head about that for a while now. (JM)


Saturday (24/9)         23:50    BBC1                      Boyz N the Hood (1991) 

The first real feature about black gang life in America. Directed by John Singleton when he was just 23, it is somewhat schematic but full of energy and verbal fireworks. Starring Cuba Gooding JR and the rapper Ice Cube, it spawned a lot of cynical and dreary knock-offs. (JM)

Sunday (25/9)            04:00    Talking Pictures   A Song for Europe (1985)   

This could have been a terrible Europudding, with a cast including Maria Schneider and David Suchet, but it is actually a rather prescient and searching thriller about a man who works for a multinational pharmaceutical giant in Basle, discovers it is breaking Common Market regulations, and then is mercilessly hounded by his employers. Drugs: just say no. (JM)                               

19:00   Talking Pictures   The Card (1952)

From a novel by Arnold Bennett, this is the story of an Edwardian charmer, the son of a washerwoman who scales the social ladder by native wit, cunning and a certain amount of dishonesty. A bravura turn by Alec Guinness, with excellent support from Glynis Johns as his equally ambitious love-interest. People say it was Guinness’s most autobiographical film. His own origins were even more lowly. (JM)

22:00   Talking Pictures   Wish You Were Here (1987) 

David Leland’s brash, and sometimes hilarious film is an account of the wayward daughter of a respectable shopkeeper who grows up disgracefully in a stifling seaside town. Based on the life of Cynthia Payne, the Streatham madam whose semi-detached ‘House of Payne’ was in many prominent people’s address books in the early 1980s. Cynthia herself was a well-known rentaquote. I once had to ring her up and ask her about her formative sexual experiences (for a powerful piece of investigative journalism called ‘How The Stars Lost They Virginities’). She coughed up the info with practised ease. I didn’t even have to pay her. The same week I had to write ‘Britain’s Bravest Dog’. Exasperated, I suggested we combine the two: ‘How Britain’s Bravest Dogs Lost Their Virginities’. My editor, the gorgon Bridget Rowe, was unamused. I was promptly sent packing. (JM)

Tuesday (27/9)           14:35    Film4                     Man of the West (1958)

Anthony Mann’s final Western. Link Jones (Gary Cooper) is one of those ex-outlaws who is trying to go straight, when he is attacked on a train and left to ferry a saloon singer (Julie London) and a con-man (Arthur O’Connell) to a safe refuge with his bandit leader uncle (Lee J. Cobb). Then he has to help the bandits do one more job. Those who like this sort of thing really like this film. (JM)

Friday (30/9)                14:15    BBC2                    The Cruel Sea (1953)

Efficient sea-borne war film, with Jack Hawkins as the commander of a new ship sent out to escort ships menaced by U-boats in the North Atlantic. Donald Sinden serves alongside him. Based on the 1951 novel by Nicholas Monsarrat, which spanned the whole war. Directed by Charles Frend and produced by Leslie Norman. Leslie Norman was Barry Norman’s father. Barry did the last decent film programme on British television. It is fashionable to deride him, but Barry knew film from the inside out and recognised that his job was to ask what the ordinary viewer wanted to know, rather than parading his own expertise. Bring back real interviewers. (JM)

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