World Cinema

Saturday (22/10)        00:30    Film4 & All4             Deerskin (2019) 

This very black (or possibly beige) comedy is another weird and wonderful triumph for maverick auteur Quentin Dupieux, whose follow up movie Mandibles, is the most original French film I’ve seen for years. As in Mandibles, various genres are cheerfully plundered as Dupieux sets up an absurd premise and then follows it through – to hilarious but increasingly disturbing effect. Jean Dujardin (known to English audiences for The Artist, but bearded and unrecognisable here) is quite brilliant as the troubled Georges (deeply troubled, as we soon discover), estranged from his wife and frozen out of their joint bank account. With the last of his funds, he buys a frontiersman-style deerskin jacket, which then starts to possess him. It’s the kind of thing that inevitably happens in a Dupieux film. Aided and abetted by fellow misfit Denise, a hotel bartender and wannabe film editor (Adele Hanèle, also great) they embark on a unique, jacket-related mission and film it all on a camcorder. It all adds up to a highly entertaining 76 minutes – though with a number of serious themes – and a wacky paean to guerilla filmmaking. (SF)

Sunday (23/10)           01:15    Film4              Deliver Us From Evil (2020)

In this ferocious action flick from South Korea’s Hong Won-chan, a government agent (who has been doing a bit of mercenary work on the side) goes looking for the kidnapped child of former girlfriend but falls foul of a vicious gangster, out for revenge. Things turn really nasty, in classic Korean splatter style. It’s action all the way and did very well in its home market. I’d rather watch a documentary about people who catalogue grit. (JM)

Tuesday (25/10)         02:15     Film4             One Cut of the Dead (2017)

A comedy zombie film from Japanese director Shinichiro Ueda, about a film crew making a zombie film in a former WWII camp. Original and quite well liked, and not just by zombie-movie completists. (JM)

Wednesday (26/10)   23:25     Film4             The Orphanage (2007)

Spanish Gothic drama produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by J A Bayona, who went on to make The Impossible and A Monster Calls.  It’s much more about grief and loss than shock-horror, though there are enough jump scares to satisfy most viewers. Laura (Belen Rueda), her doctor husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and their son Simon (Roger Princep) move to the orphanage on the coast where she grew up, with the intention of turning it into a home for children with special needs.  Early on, it becomes clear his parents are concerned about Simon’s ‘imaginary’ friends, and when a social worker, played by Montserrat Carulla, visits, we learn that Simon is adopted. When Simon later disappears during the opening party for the home, the couple embark on a tense and painful journey. It won seven Goya awards in Spain and received a ten-minute standing ovation at Cannes. Rueda’s performance is superb and her face is wonderfully characterful and expressive.  Geraldine Chaplin plays a medium brought in by the couple to try to find Simon. Roger Ebert claimed the film was ‘deliberately aimed at viewers with developed attention spans. It lingers to create atmosphere, a sense of place, a sympathy with the characters, instead of rushing into cheap thrills.’ (JR)

Friday (28/10)             01:45     Film4             Train to Busan (2016)

The zombies-on-a-train movie that has become something of a modern classic. A man and his estranged daughter flee by rail from a zombie uprising in South Korea (it happens all the time) but the living dead manage to get some cheap awayday tickets and join them on the journey. Intense and ingenious: when you’re trapped on a train, there’s no escape, as regulars on the 06:48 to Paddington know only too well. (JM)  

                                      02:45     Channel 4      Rafiki (2018) 

Wanuri Kahiu’s film tells of two Kenyan girls. One is the respectable daughter of a shopkeeper, planning to become a nurse. The other is a more rebellious spirit, interested in dancing and clothes. When their fathers run against each other for local political office, the two girls get to know each other and form a relationship, in a country where people go to prison for homosexual activity. Originally it was banned in its home country, and people holding a copy threatened with arrest. Then the young director sued the government to get the film released so it could be eligible for international competitions. The authorities allowed it to be released for one week and it played to packed houses. A touching film with strong central performances and vivid production design: lots of fluorescent lippy. (JM)


Stephen’s Picks

Saturday (22/10)        02:45   Channel 4        Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)  (JM)

Funny, clever and unsentimental film about High School film-maker in America who reluctantly befriends a girl with cancer (Olivia Cooke) because his mother makes him. There was a raft of teenage cancer films at around that time but this is the most appealing. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is initially rather tricksy and film-schoolish, but then settles down and finds the human centre of the story. It must be said, however, that a lot of people found it twee and faintly obnoxious in the way it places the female cancer-sufferer firmly in the background while it foregrounds the adolescent traumas of its male hero. (JM)

Sunday (23/10)           19:00   Great Action   Lawrence of Arabia (1962) (also Wednesday 16:45)

David Lean’s sweeping historical epic charts the career of the infamous Army Officer T.E. Lawrence as he makes his way through the Middle East during the First World War. He is torn between his roots and those who need him the most. British through and through, he does not wholly subscribe to the British self-aggrandisement of the time, and becomes something of an ambassador of the Arab people. There isn’t much to say about this that hasn’t already been said to death. 10 Oscar nominations, seven wins. Great performances. Great story. Great cinematography. All done with unbounded scope and vision. (MH)

                                    22:50   BBC2             After Love (2020)  (JM)

Joanna Scanlan stars as Mary, a white British woman who converted to Islam when she married her British-Pakistani husband, a sea ferry captain working on the Dover-Calais crossing. When her husband dies, Mary discovers that he had another partner, and a teenage son, in Calais. A first film by British director Aleem Khan, and a step up for Scanlan, best known for various feisty sitcom and television drama roles. Well received when show at Cheltenham Film Society earlier this year. One member wrote: ‘I found it a very moving and poignant film. Joanne Scanlan deserves her BAFTA. The people in front of us though it was a very trite film and the characters were pathetic. My friends and I wondered if we had been watching the same films as them!’ (JM)

Thursday (27/10)        01:35   Film4               Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

You may have read my thoughts about Picnic at Hanging Rock before, but I’m rather pleased with them, so here they are again.

Picnic was Australian cinema’s first real international sensation. Peter Weir’s atmospheric mystery, about a private school for young daughters of the Empire, appealed to the aesthetics of the international art-house audience: stunning visuals and a screenplay suffused with repressed sexuality. Its ethereal white frocks, flowing blonde hair and expressive slow-mo influenced a generation of film-makers, not least in advertising, although he wasn’t to know that. 

The story, about the disappearance of three girls and a teacher on a trip to a weirdly anthropomorphic volcanic outcrop, retains the power to grip and intrigue. At the time of the film’s release, it was widely believed to be true, a notion the author of the source novel did little to dispel. No evidence for such an incident has ever been found, and yet it feels believable, playing on our persistent suspicion that the truth is stranger than fiction. 

Picnic ushered in an era of films in which the bush, rather than serving merely as the setting for masculine adventure, comes to take on a sinister, almost supernatural role. At the same time, it addresses a key moment in Australia’s Imperial history. It is set in 1900, when the continent was a series of separate colonies; in January 1901, it would become a Federation, a major step towards independence. But these teenagers and adults (led by haunted Rachel Roberts) are wholly colonial in outlook. Their clothes, their customs, the late-Romantic poetry they worship, their social relations, their class structure and their morals are still those of the Victorians. No compromise is made with the alien landscape in which the drama is played out: it is merely a stage-set on which to perform their stifling Home Counties rituals. The disappearance of the girls (one is found) might be seen as the continent’s revenge for their heedlessness.

Only one Aboriginal appears in the film. He is a tracker, sent up on to the rock to look for the lost children, and we barely glimpse him. It is almost as if Weir wanted to tackle the otherness of Australia one step at a time: geology, flora and fauna first. The indigenous people would have to wait. (JM)

World Cinema


Friday (28/10)             00:00   BBC4              Don’t Look Now (1973) (JM)

While we’re recycling, here are some republished words on Nick Roeg’s film, my favourite movie for many years. This is me changing my mind: it happens. The piece is really long, so feel free to move on.

Taken from a story by Daphne Du Maurier, like Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Don’t Look Now tells of a married couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) who experience the loss of a child. They go to Venice, where the husband has a commission as a church-restorer, to try to get over their grief and rebuild their relationship. In a restaurant, they encounter a pair of creepy middle-aged sisters, one of whom, a blind woman (Heather Mason), claims to have second sight, giving her the ability to see their dead daughter and receive messages from her.

John, the husband, is sceptical and discourages Laura, the wife, from meeting the women, but she does anyway. She tells him he is in danger. He, despite his scepticism, is assailed by fearful premonitions and intuitions. Their surviving son, back home in England, is in an accident. Laura goes back to see him, leaving John in the watery city, which he finds increasingly frightening and hostile: he becomes embroiled with the local police when he thinks he sees Laura still there, possibly abducted by the weird sisters, rather than in England. He survives a couple of encounters with death, but it proves only a temporary reprieve.

As with music, our affection for a piece of cinema is not only a reflection of its inherent qualities but also of our own situation when we first encountered it. I don’t think I saw Don’t Look Now immediately on release. I think I saw it a couple of years later, at the film society of my college. I would have been 18, in my first adult relationship, and somewhat troubled. Like everyone else at the time, I was transfixed by the film’s treatment of sexuality: Sutherland and Christie are shown making love at length and with serious intent. ‘Sexual Healing’, as Marvin Gaye would put it, nearly a decade later: the bond of man and woman in marriage. As the Anglican service has it, ‘With my body, I thee worship’.

There had never been such a scene in mainstream British cinema at that point. Roeg, though, was not content to place his camera in a hotel room and make a kind of nature documentary. (Three people, apart from the actors, were present: the director, the director of photography, and the humble focus-puller.) Roeg subsequently edited into the footage a sequence from later in the narrative: when the couple are dressing again so they can head out for dinner.

A rumour immediately spread that the actors had ‘done it’ in real life. How silly. It all depends on what ‘it’ is, I suppose. In the same way that Bill Clinton ‘never had sex with that woman’, Donald and Julie did not have penetrative intercourse with each other. But did they touch one another’s bodies, experience physical closeness, sweat, gasp, pant? Of course. Did they get pleasure from it? Only they can tell us that. One upshot of the film was that onscreen depictions of sexual activity became more realistic. We are now in a world where actual sexual intercourse is regularly filmed and broadcast, in pornography (which dwarfs cinema as an industry), in supposedly personal communications between individuals (newsflash: nothing is private where electronic media are concerned) and even in mainstream film, providing it has the ‘art’ label. The bedroom, in the Western world, is a marketplace and everything is for sale.

I remind the writers I work with that story – and art generally, I suppose – has two aspects: the ‘burden’ and the ‘cart’ that carries it. The burden is the meaning of the work. The cart is the means used to express it. In the case of Don’t Look Now, the burden is really an exploration of death, grief and marital solidarity, and that is what appealed about the film and continues to appeal: real human questions and deep emotion.

But Roeg told his editor that he was also making ‘an exercise film grammar’. He artfully manipulates colour – the shiny red mac his daughter wears as she drowns is echoed throughout – light – the effect of light on water is a constant visual preoccupation – and language – none of the Italian dialogue is translated. Most notably, he savages chronological narrative in the editing suite: repeated montage sequences leap backwards and forwards in time, evoking John’s second sight and his paranoia. Roeg’s vehicle, then, is experimental, self-conscious, disruptive. It seems to me now a little self-regarding: self-defeating almost. He is rather in the position of John, the restorer of church architecture: totally in command of the externals, the techniques, the aesthetics of his art, but resistant to its substance.

That’s why, although I admire the film, I no longer love it quite as much. I would also have preferred it if Roeg had been able to make a film about grief without the flashiness and without the relatively crude storyline. He needed that in order to make a commercial product in an era when fear of the supernatural was a reliable strategy (as it still is). The child’s death – filmed and shown to Roeg’s friends and collaborators before he’d really embarked on the rest of the tale – is brilliantly and horribly done. The marital scenes are intense. Sutherland and Christie are both powerful. But the story, adapted and tightened up from du Maurier’s original, is hokum. It plays into an atavistic, Germanic idea that physical deformity and ugliness equate to evil, and I don’t think that is either true or helpful.

Technically, the film’s structure depends upon a twist that, once seen, is never forgotten. Elements of the telling have now become the furniture of the horror genre. That’s not Roeg’s fault, but it does mean that this is not a film that carries much emotional weight on repeated viewing. For me, anyway. It is a brilliant movie, but it is artifice, rather than art.

What’s your favourite film, and why? Write about it. (JM)

                                      23:05    Film4             American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho may be hard to love, but it’s easy to appreciate on the level of technique and ambition. It has a reality-blurring, mind-bending quality that will most likely plant itself in your mind and perhaps out-stay its welcome. The film plays almost like a surrealist nightmare, to be interpreted in many different ways. We follow Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street broker played by Christian Bale, as he butchers his way through colleagues and lovers with entirely inscrutable intentions. The performance shows Bale’s versatility and love of a challenging role. (MH).

[I was offered the first British extract from Bret Easton Ellis’s novel when I was editor of Time Out. I heard all the arguments – that it was a satire on materialism, that it was breaking new ground, that self-expression should not be censored – but I turned it down because I thought it was misogynistic and sadistic and I didn’t want it in a space for which I was legally and morally responsible. Easton Ellis was an innovative writer, but I have not changed my mind about that. JM.]

Other modern films of interest

Tuesday (25/10)          02:15    Sky Arts       Nat King Cole: Afraid of the Dark (2014) 

Nat ‘King’ Cole is a fascinating figure. A man of prodigious gifts, he caught the wrong train in musical history. After the arrival of rock’n’roll and soul, he was derided as a ‘crooner’ providing bland music for the white audience. When he is mentioned, it is often as a footnote: the model Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin successfully discarded. According to Peter Guralnick, ‘Ray admired Cole extravagantly for his “soft, silky, sentimental kind of a touch – and, of course, he could play the hell out of a piano”.’ Indeed he could: but he was marketed as a singer and, as far as possible, a radio artist (it made sense for black artists to be invisible at a time of intense racial tension in America). He did eventually get a television showcase: it ran for one season, and stations in the South apparently refused to show it.

This documentary was directed by Jon Brewer. Brewer had a privileged route into film-making. His father was a Lloyds of London man and he briefly worked there himself. He became a group manager, working with the likes of Bowie, Alvin Lee, Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman of the Stones, and then produced Gerry Rafferty’s unavoidable ‘Baker Street’. In the 1980s, he started filming concerts, then graduated to the sort of documentaries that benefit more from a bulging Rolodex (note for young people: a Ferris wheel of contact cards, an essential executive toy of the period) than critical or historical insight. This sounds like one of those, at least according to one Anonymous Coward on IMDB: ‘There are rather too many adulatory comments from the participants, and not enough time given over to historical analysis. Some kind of dating would have been useful as well; we are not told when the television series was broadcast, nor are we really given much information about other significant dates in Cole’s career. NAT KING COLE – AFRAID OF THE DARK is certainly watchable, but it is something of a disappointment content-wise.’

Brewer is 72. I don’t know if he’s still active. His last film was on Chuck Berry, which I imagine was a bed of nails. (JM)

                                        23:30   Film4           The Rider (2017)

I believe I have seen Chloë Zhao’s fllm, which is a sort of biopic of a rodeo rider, Brady Jandreau, who play himself alongside a cast of non-professional performers. Jandreau suffered severe brain damage in the ring (do they call it that?) and had to recuperate over a long, slow period, all the while receiving helpful and unhelpful advice from his hard-bitten community in the American heartlands. It’s a bit uneven, as films with non-professional casts tend to be, but very real and also beautifully photographed by Joshua James Richards, who did God’s Own Country. Rodeo people love animals but the sport/spectacle is rough as guts, so beware. There’s a very nice user review on Rotten Tomatoes by someone called Glenn G, who describes the film as ‘like a Terrence Mallick film with an actual narrative’. Then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like his punchline: ‘THE RIDER may challenge moviegoers who crave a little more excitement, but the patient will find a film of intense empathy, jaw-dropping photography, and a quiet side of America we don’t see very often these days. It’s the Bradys of this world, who leave a big impression with a tiny footprint who can Make American Great Again.’ (JM)

Wednesday (26/10)     00:00   BBC4            Navalny (2022)

Fascinating documentary by Daniel Roher (Once Were Brothers) about Russian lawyer and presidential candidate Alexey Navalny, using interviews with him, his wife Yulia and others close to him, as well as footage of his campaign against Putin and corruption, leading up to the moment when he was poisoned on the way home from a trip to Siberia and sent to Germany for treatment. Oddly, the Putin regime denied any involvement. At this point another Putin opponent, Boris Nemtsov, had already been shot dead in Moscow, within sight of the Kremlin, which makes Navalny’s admission that he had assumed that because he was high profile, he was less likely to come to harm, even more telling. He’s not perfect, no one is, but this is a story of almost unbelievable bravery. (JR) 

                                         03:10   Sky Arts      What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018)  (JM)

I have by my desk a well-thumbed and thoroughly battered edition of Pauline Kael’s film criticism and I often consult it. She could do it all: lengthy analyses and pungent capsule reviews. She watched everything and knew everyone. She wrote what she thought and felt, and was often emotional, unpredicatable and unfair. She made careers and damaged them. Kael was a single mother and relentlessly unlucky in love. A rocky road indeed.

Born on a chicken farm in backwoods California, she wrote for nothing for years, before elevation to the New Yorker and sudden, intoxicating power. Many in the industry hated her – and she endured regular death threats – but that seems almost the definition of the critic’s place. Later writers preferred to stay on the ‘provider’, rather than ‘consumer’, side of the fence, and these days sucking-up, in order to stay on the junket circuit, is pretty much universal.

Unfortunately, this is apparently a bland film, which she would have hated. Chandler Levack’s review in the Boston Globe and Mail is very good and very dismissive. He calls it ‘tepid and largely impersonal’. He ends with her own credo: ‘Kael once wrote that the power of cinema lies “in the adolescent dream of meeting others who feel as you do about what you’ve seen. … The movie doesn’t have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line.”’

There’s more to criticism than ‘snark’. Anyone can do that – I’m seasoned exponent of the art – but it has to come from a place of love. (JM)

Friday (28/10)                22:35   Sky Arts     Two Trains Runnin’ (2016) 

This looks very promising. The documentary, by US public television stalwart Sam Pollard, tells the story of how a couple of young, white college boys from the North went to the Deep South in 1964, trying to find what happened to two blues singers whose old records they had just discovered: Skip James and Son House. The film is partly based on readings from the autobiography of John Fahey, who became a prominent folk signer, illustrated with animations by the Swedish folk who did the same in Seaching for Sugar Man. What the college boys didn’t appreciate was that they were wandering into a racial war zone and would be taken for ‘outside agitators’. And while Newsweek‘s next issue made much of the fact that the lost legends were found on the same day – June 23, 1964 – it subsequently emerged that the date had a less happy significance. Three men, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered exactly then for working on African American voter registration.

A powerful story indeed, although it seems that some of the film’s running time is handed over to a discussion of Black Lives Matter when it could have stuck with the history – and modern performances of the old songs. Nora Lee Mandel, who wrote this excellent review for, raises a relevant point, almost in passing: ‘Too bad there’s no discussion about why the blues still don’t attract much of an appreciative African American audience, based on what I see at free blues concerts and festivals.’ It’s not that complicated, if you think about it: some people want to look forward, not back in anger, and good for them. That’s one lesson that didn’t seem to be being learnt in Belfast, if my recent visit, on the night of the Queen’s demise, was anything to go by. (JM)


Sunday (23/10)            01:15   BBC2       The Evil Dead (1981)  (also Friday BBC3 21:30)  

Sam Raimi’s influential film is now remembered for its effective blend of comedy and horror, (a fine balance that was even more realised in Evil Dead 2) although it clearly leans more heavily to one than the other. The story follows what has become a staple horror convention: a group of young people camp in a remote cabin in the woods, where they find an old tape player with macabre recorded contents, including a chant that awakens evil forces around them. These they must battle to survive. This inspired many pale imitations, but the original is still fondly remembered. (MH)

Monday (24/10)          15:35   Film4      Vertigo (1958)  (also Friday 11:00)

Currently Hitchcock’s most acclaimed work, and the film that knocked Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane off the top spot in the BFI’s Sight and Sound poll of ‘Greatest Films’ after Kane had ruled for 50 years. James Stewart, in his fourth collaboration with the master of suspense, is Scottie, an ex=detective who is talked into taking on a case for an old friend. He is asked to follow Madeleine (Kim Novak), who has been disappearing and acting altogether suspiciously. When she jumps into the river, he breaks his cover to save her, launching one of the more unpredictable love stories in film history. After Madeliene is driven to suicide, which Scottie witnesses, he becomes infatuated with Judy, a Madeleine lookalike, whom he tries to mould into his late lover’s image. Hitch tells a story of love and obsession, pulling out all the stops in effects, lighting and editing, aided by a deliciously disconcerting Bernard Hermann score. A hugely intoxicating experience. (MH)

                                       23:00    BBC4       Wilde (1997)

Stephen Fry plays what is probably the part of his career (apart from General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth), as the renowned wallpaper-hater. After a successful trip to the States, Oscar Wilde marries Constance (Jennifer Ehle) and has two children, but then meets Robbie Ross (Michael Sheen) and explores his own homosexuality. Then he encounters a young, aristocratic poet: Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law). Douglas’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry (the one with the Rules), objects publicly to his son’s relationship, and when Wilde ill-advisedly sues him, the subsequent trial leads to his exposure and imprisonment.   

Janet Maslin in the New York Times said, ‘Playing the large dandyish writer with obvious gusto, Stephen Fry looks uncannily like Wilde and presents an edgy mixture of superciliousness and vulnerability. Though the film suffers a case of quip-lash thanks to its tireless Wildean witticisms … Fry’s warmly sympathetic performance finds the gentleness beneath the wit.’ (JR)

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