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An animation that's so much more than kids' stuff

JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, May 8).

Time was, that animation was dismissed as cartoons and being ‘just for kids’. Fortunately, we know better than that now, thanks to the likes of Aardman and Pixar. What they demonstrate is that it is possible to use the medium to explore abstract concepts, or the rather less comfortable issues that can't be directly shown on screen. I remember seeing short films in the 1980s such as A is for Autism which endeavoured to express a view of the world through the eyes of an autistic child, and Daddy’s Little Piece of Dresden China, which touched on the subject of child abuse. Much animation is available on YouTube or Vimeo online, should you want to explore further.

Pixar began making shorts and then features with a depth of psychology that allowed them to appeal to adults as well as children. Toy Story touched on social issues and the experience of growing up. By the time they made Up in 2009, they were confident enough to devote the first 15 minutes of the film to an exploration of death, loss and grief in one of the most extraordinary openings to a ‘children’s film’ in cinema history. How do you follow that?

The answer is with Inside Out 2015 (BBC1 15.05 Sun 9 May), pictured above, a tale of early teen trauma, moving from the safety of home to a new city, San Francisco. With some comparison to our erstwhile cultural references: The Nerves and The Numbskulls from the comics of my youth, we follow the emotional journey of our young heroine but also get an insight into the conflicts and ambiguities of parenthood. This is admirably complex stuff.

It is a very good week for those who enjoy the quirky and forgotten. Firstly, there is a film by Claude Chabrol, which one does not see too often these days. He was one of the key French New Wave directors in the 1950s and 60s and a disciple of Alfred Hitchcock. Blood Relatives (Les Liens du Sang) 1977 (Talking Pictures TV 21.00 Sat 8 May) is something of an unusual project having been made in Canada, in English, with a Hollywood star, the eminent Canadian, Donald Sutherland. He plays the detective in charge of a homicide investigation into the death of a teenager that had been witnessed by her sister. It feels, now, to be close to the Nordic noir style of film but it will be interesting to see how it compares after 40 years. The critics were reluctant to hail it as a masterpiece, so here are some that did gather such accolades:

Hombre 1967 (Talking Pictures TV 18.35 Sat 8 May) in which Paul Newman plays a man who has been raised by Native Americans. He finds himself on stagecoach with some less than welcoming travelling companions – that is, until they run across a gang of desperate outlaws. I caught this the last time it played on TV and was favourably impressed. This is one of the best films of the era that examines the representation of the attitudes towards Native Americans in the western.

A Few Good Men 1992 (Sony 21.00 Mon 10 May) is rated as one of Jack Nicholson’s finest (and more restrained) performances in Rob Reiner’s military courtroom drama in which Tom Cruise is the defence attorney for a group of marines accused of murder. The script is by Aaron Sorkin, subsequently best known for writing West Wing.

On the Waterfront 1954 (Sony Classics 17.00 Wed 12 May) is regularly cited as Marlon Brando’s finest performance, playing a stevedore who stands up to corrupt union bosses. This is an era defining movie.

So, too, is Shane 1953 (Film4 16.50 Fri 16 May), frequently ranked as one of the top five westerns. A gunfighter looks to retire and live a quiet life but events overtake him. Most interesting in the film is the relationship between Shane (Alan Ladd) and the young boy who hero worships him.

Cold in July 2014 (BBC2 23.20 Sat 8 May) has the look of a taut thriller in which a hapless householder disturbs a burglar with his pistol. In spite of the reassurances of the local police that it was self defence, the intruder’s father comes looking for him. Michael C Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under) has an innate sense of vulnerability and innocence that is sure to have you lending him your sympathy. Sam Sheppard is suitably menacing as the vengeful father

Manchester by the Sea 2016 (BBC2 23.20 Fri 14 May) won an Oscar for Casey Affleck for his portrayal of the dispirited uncle of a young man whose father has just died. Beautifully written and played, it is not easy viewing but it is rewarding.

Interesting Brits of the week would be headed by City of Tiny Lights 2016 (BBC1 00.05 Sun 9 May) in which Riz Ahmed (Four Lions, The Sound of Metal), who is always worth watching, is private eye Tony Akhtar, whose good deed, helping call girl Billie Piper, is guaranteed not to go unpunished. This is an old format refreshed by its setting in the cultural diversity of contemporary London.

Tyrannosaur 2010 (Film4 01.25 Thu 13 May), Paddy Consedine’s debut as director, tells how a man of great anger and violence (Peter Mullan) is calmed by the love of a good woman (Olivia Coleman). It is gritty and unsettling but Mullan’s performance is terrific and draws on a wide range of emotions.

Tragic but with a far higher comic content is Prick Up Your Ears 1987, (Talking Pictures TV 21.05 Wed 12 May). Gary Oldman plays playwright Joe Orton and Alfred Molina plays Kenneth Halliwell, his lover. An outrageous theatrical talent, Orton was the toast of London in the 60s but was attracted to the riskier side of gay sex at a time when it was still an imprisonable offence. Halliwell got jealous of his lover and his success. It was guaranteed to end in tears. This adaptation of John Lahr’s biography was directed by Stephen Frears, of whom I have spoken much, of late.

From further afield comes Capernaum 2018 (Film4 23.40 Mon 10 May), about a Lebanese boy who sues his parents for bringing him into the world which has led him into a life of crime, living by his wits from day to day. I have not yet seen this but it made it on to the shortlist for Best Foreign language Oscar in 2018.

Berlin Syndrome 2016 (Film4 01.35 Fri 14 May) finds an Australian tourist having a wild holiday romance but then waking next morning to find herself unable to leave the apartment. This becomes a taut psychological drama. Aussie director Clare Shortland previously made Lore, also in Germany, about the daughter of a high ranking SS officer at the end of the war, having to come to terms with the loss of her privileged world and the reality of what happened under Nazism. She explores some of the paths less travelled.

Brand New Testament 2015 (Film4 01.20 Mon 10 May) is a characteristically challenging and subversive film by Jaco van Dormael, a Belgian satirist. It begins with the assertion that God is alive and living in Brussels with his daughter. She thinks He is doing a pretty poor job, so has written her own testament to right wrongs and correct the balance for women.

And finally, this week’s horror is Swedish. The Night Visitor 1971 (TPTV 00.55 Sun 9 May) in which Max von Sydow (The Seventh Seal, The Exorcist) escapes from the psychiatric hospital in which he is confined, determined to wreak revenge on those who put him there. Something of a cult classic, von Sydow is ably assisted by such august performers as Trevor Howard and Liv Ullmann.

Having recounted the saga behind Tulip Fever, I caught about ten minutes of it on Monday night and wished I had kept my trap shut! In spite of the talent on display, it looks a right dog. I may revisit it, when I am feeling stronger but if you were drawn in by my enthralling tale, I wish to apologise profoundly. Sometimes, in spite of the ingredients, the magic is just not there.

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