Watch and talk
Films of all kinds can be good for provoking discussion, whether you take a group to the cinema or watch at home. Jeremy Clarke recommends recent and forthcoming releases to get people talking
New and forthcoming
In The Two Popes (cert 12a, 126 mins) Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce play respectively the outgoing traditionalist Pope Benedict and the more progressive Cardinal Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis. Bookended by two fascinating studies of the papal conclave, in which new popes are chosen, the film explores the two men’s differences and common ground through two of our greatest living British actors. The director Fernando Mireilles (City Of God) is clearly sympathetic to the Catholic Church.
Zack Gottsagen plays a man with Down’s syndrome who escapes from his care home in search of his hero, who runs a pro wrestling school, in Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz’s The Peanut Butter Falcon (cert 12a, 98 mins). He befriends a messed-up, unemployed crab fisherman (Shia LaBeouf), with concerned care worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) in hot pursuit. Gottsagen is terrific and the film is by turns hilarious and thought-provoking. LaBeouf can also be seen in Alma Har’el’s much-tougher-to-watch Honey Boy (cert 15, 95 mins) which he wrote himself and in which he plays a character based on his own abusive father. The remarkable Noah Jupe plays Shia as a child. It’s a messy film which confronts very difficult issues head on.
Soheil Beiraghi’s Permission (cert tbc, 88 mins) deals with the captain of the Iranian women’s national futsal (a form of football) team, unable to travel abroad for the Asia Cup final because her estranged husband forbids it. While the volatile Afrooz (Baran Kosari) is hardly a saint and doesn’t help herself, her husband, a TV celebrity, is unpleasant and unfair, and bolstered by a legal system which favours men. Her best friend and her lawyer both struggle with her as they try their hardest to help. A provocative indictment of a patriarchal, religion-based culture.
The British Film Institute (BFI) is running a season of musicals with events nationwide, home video releases and films to stream on BFI Player through to January 2020. Ken Russell’s 1975 film Tommy (cert 15, 108 mins), based on the Who’s seminal rock opera about the messianic rise and fall of a deaf, dumb and blind boy (the band’s lead singer, Roger Daltrey) with a talent for pinball. Ann-Margret (who gets a memorable scene covered in baked beans) and Oliver Reed play his mother and stepfather. The film has stood the test of time, the music remains fabulous and the subject matter covered runs the gamut from child sex abuse through to the commercialisation of religion. Jacques Demy’s 1964 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (cert U, 91 mins) is a fabulous, vibrant, colourful love story as well as an homage to the great MGM musicals of yesteryear with music and songs by Michel Legrand. It stars the 20-year-old Catherine Deneuve as a girl who falls for a mechanic but then marries someone else when he’s called up for military service in Algeria. Demy takes this seemingly flimsy, scarcely original plot and turns it into a wonderland of pastel shades, one of the cinemas most timeless romantic movies.
Demy and Deneuve followed up with Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (cert PG, 126 mins) which broadened out the form to include dancing. Deneuve and her real life sister Françoise Dorléac play sisters who run a dance studio in the small seaside town of Rochefort, where a carnival is visiting for a weekend. The director-dancer Gene Kelly choreographed his own scenes. If it lacks Cherbourg’s emotional punch, the visuals and colours remain infectious. Among a host of extras, the BFI’s disc includes the documentary Les Demoiselles Ont Eu 25 Ans (64 mins), shot partly behind the scenes during filming and partly a quarter of a century later by Demy’s wife, the late Agnès Varda.
Varda chronicled her own career in her final film Varda by Agnès (cert 15, 115 mins) which seamlessly edits footage shot throughout her career into a coherent whole. One second she’s a young woman, the next she’s a sprightly octogenarian. There are also clips from the various movies she’s made, some familiar and others less so. In terms of understanding how films are made, there probably isn’t a better movie out there.
Finally, I’ve written about the pioneering Czech director Karel Zeman in these pages before, regarding his 1961 film The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (cert U, 85 mins). The latest of his works to be released in a beautifully restored version is the 1955 Journey to the Beginning of Time (cert PG, 86 mins) in which four young boys go back in time to find a trilobite and see numerous other prehistoric beasts on the way, realised by an astonishing array of animation and special effects techniques. The film flows very naturally and has a wonderful awe at the created world. The subtitled Czech version is the one to watch first, though the DVD also includes the surprisingly effective US dubbed version, with its different opening sequence – at the American Museum of Natural History, New York – and an alternate closing sequence with stock footage of volcanoes and a gratuitous voiceover about the Genesis creation myth.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic
This article was published in the December 2019/January 2020 edition of Reform