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Film puts human faces on an inhuman conflict

JOHN GORE, the founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Nov 7).

It is not just lockdown that is repeating itself. Seemingly, the cycle of movies is coming round again in line with the equinox: The Post, Blade Runner 2049, Peeping Tom, I am sure I have covered these in recent weeks.

It is Remembrance Sunday this week and the stirring, colourized documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old (BBC2 22.45 Sun 8 Nov) is back on our screens. Compiled from archive footage and personal accounts, the film (pictured above) paints an unsentimental picture of life in the trenches of the Western Front in the First World War. It manages to put human faces and feelings on a deeply inhuman conflict. I can’t recall if it cites the classic line, “It’ll all be over by Christmas”. You may have to add that yourself.

It runs in complete contrast with the highlighted musical of the week, On the Town (BBC2 14.40 Sat 7 Nov) in which three sailors have shore leave in ‘Noo Yoik’, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and the other fella that no-one remembers (Jules Munchin), bursting with exuberance in a ‘helluva’ town where the Bronx is up and the Battery is down, apparently. This is the work of a youthful composer, Leonard Bernstein and choreographed by Jerome Robbins; a pairing that was to reunite most famously for West Side Story in the following decade.

Back on the Eastern Front, meanwhile, Jude Law is a sniper in the ruins of Stalingrad playing cat and mouse with his German opposite number, Ed Harris, in Enemy at the Gates (Sony Movies 21.00 Sat 7 Nov). Gritty and grim. This is a tense two hours of suspense which leads you to wonder how on earth the soldiers and civilians endured so many months of such menace and dread in the real world.

After this came the Cold War and Richard Burton and Oskar Werner star in the adaptation of John Le Carré’s The Spy who Came in from the Cold (Talking Pictures TV 20.05 Sat 7 Nov) about springing an agent from East Berlin. It is downbeat enough to ring true to the novel and drew my attention back to Martin Ritt, an American director who made some uncompromising and memorable films, such as Hud, Norma Rae and Paris Blues.

If you are in the market for something weird and wonderful, Bacurau (Film4 00.55 Thu 12 Nov) is, I believe, a Brazilian fantastic realist sci-fi tale of what befalls a remote village in the Amazon when the village matriarch dies. Though I have not seen this, it had very positive reviews on the festival circuit last year. I shall be recording it.

Climax (Film4 23.35 Sat 7 Nov) is a sensational dance film of sex and drugs and the hokey-cokey by French enfant terrible, Gasper Noe (Irreversible) which is not for those of a delicate disposition. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Film4 23.25 Tue 10 Nov) finds Colin Farrell as a gifted surgeon with an idyllic family life who is haunted by an indiscretion in his younger days. Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Favourite) brings a mixture of the supernatural and the menacing to contrive a dark fable for our times. If you have not seen Christopher Nolan’s Inception (ITV4 21.00 Mon 9 Nov) this is your chance. Mind-bending manipulation of reality and visual pyrotechnics mark this out as one of the seminal movies of the 21st century.

Perhaps more solid ground is to be found under Little Women (Sony Movies 16.30 Fri 13 Nov – or 03.30 Thu 12 Nov if you can’t wait), the adaptation of Louisa M Alcott’s post Civil War story that appears to need remaking in successive generations – and will continue to do so until they get it right! This version, from 1994, is directed by Australian, Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Oscar and Lucinda) blessed with a breathtaking cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Samantha Mathis and a bunch of equally pretty boys. It feels like the platform that launched a younger generation of actresses on to a bigger stage. And the film itself looks beautiful.

The Talented Mr Ripley (5Star 21.00 Fri 13 Nov) adapted and directed by the much missed Anthony Minghella from the novel by Patricia Highsmith, about the chameleon-like con man, Tom Ripley, consummately played by Matt Damon with exceptional support from Gwynneth Paltrow and Jude Law. Highsmith’s work lends itself well to cinema and this particular story has been realised very successfully. Italy looks wonderful. The sun shines, there is food and wine, no masks and no social distancing; just duplicitous behaviour.

A Simple Favour (BBC1 22.45 Fri 13 Nov) is another deceptive tale where things are not as they seem at first. Anna Kendrick (Love Life, Pitch Perfect) is a single mum with a cookery vlog who gets entangled in the search for the lost child of her more affluent neighbour. Directed by Paul Feig, whose reputation is based on broad comedy, this comes as a refreshing change and is worth some attention.

The latest in the series of British independent premier screenings is Perfect 10 (BBC2 22.00 Sat 7 Nov), Eva Riley’s tale of a young gymnast whose world is turned upside down by the arrival and discovery of a half brother she did not know she had. It is a coming of age story which may well confound the viewer. Mostly consigned to the festival circuit, this is a promising debut from the director and her young star, Frankie Box.

A rather older hand, Martin Scorsese directs the unlikely trinity of Andrew Garfield (Spiderman), Adam Driver (Star Wars, Inside Llewyn Davies) and Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) as Jesuit priests in Japan in Silence (BBC2 23.20 Sat 7 Nov). The younger two are sent to discover what has befallen their older brother on his mission to convert the heathens to Christianity. It is anguished, as it examines the frontiers of faith, but pays less attention to the imperial nature of their evangelism. It is an oddity but Scorsese is never less than interesting. This is interesting. But long. And violent.

In addition, in the FYI column, there is a whole lot of Arnie going on Film4, which you will like if you have a hankering for Schwarzenegger and bulging muscles. Whitney belts her heart out opposite Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard (C5 22.00 Fri 13 Nov) and Dirty Dancing (5Star 21.00 Thu 12) will be giving you instruction in the quickest way of putting your back out to the seductive accompaniment of The Time of Our Lives.

And someone thought this would be a good time to screen Outbreak (5Star 20.00 Tue 10 Nov), the account of the response to a virus carried into California by a monkey. It generates a pandemic which is resisted by Dustin Hoffman, Renée Russo and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot), it all seems a bit tame these days but maybe we need this kind of reassurance. Where is Dustin now we need him?

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