Daughters of the Dust (1991)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Pinch, punch, first of the month, and October brings Black History Month in the UK. BFI Player is marking the moment with a smattering of new additions for subscribers, including Spike Lee’s monumental biopic Malcolm X (1992) and the recent documentary MLK/FBI (2020), which draws attention to the US government’s surveillance of Martin Luther King. Moving into folk history there’s also Daughters of the Dust (1991), Julie Dash’s sublime evocation of the life of creole Gullah women on an island off Georgia in the early 20th century. Brought back into currency recently as the key influence on Beyoncé’s film Lemonade (2016), Dash’s seductively languid tale of tradition, community and womanhood made history of its own as the first feature by a Black American woman to get a cinema release. 

Another Round (2020)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms, including BFI Player

Once upon a time, Thomas Vinterberg was one of the Danes drawing up the pared-back filmmaking principles of the Dogme 95 movement, so he’s a good fit for this intriguing story of four Danish teachers who hit upon a new design for life: drink and keep drinking. Taking inspiration from psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s theory that human beings are born with a blood alcohol deficiency of 0.05, they draw up a set of rules to keep themselves gently sozzled throughout the day. It’s an experiment that can only go haywire, but Vinterberg neatly keeps the pleasures and perils of drinking in balance, while serving up a portrait of masculinity and male friendship in middle age that’s surprisingly piercing. It makes its home entertainment bow this week. 

Laura (1944)

Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Sunday, 4.15pm

Laura (1944)

The richest of the first wave of film noirs of the early 1940s, Otto Preminger’s Laura forsakes the grit of the streets to move among the upper echelons of Manhattan society. It’s a murder mystery that’s elevated both by its erudite script and by the unusually profound things it has to say about the nature of desire. Dana Andrews is the police detective who is assigned to investigate the death by shotgun of a glamorous advertising executive, but finds himself slowly falling in love with the dead woman. Preminger’s film anticipates Vertigo (1958) in its analysis of male longing in the guise of a thriller, with an oil painting likewise central to the mystery. Clifton Webb gets most of the best lines as effete columnist Waldo Lydecker (“In my case, self-absorption is completely justified”), and we also get Judith Anderson and an early-career Vincent Price as a socialite and her playboy lover.

The Lighthouse (2006)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Mayak (2006)

Fans of the poetic, elliptical style of Russian filmmakers Andrei Tarkovsky and Alexander Sokurov should take note of this buried treasure, which played at the London Film Festival back in 2006 but has been neglected since. The debut feature by Armenian director Maria Saakyan, who sadly died at 37 in 2018 having completed only three features, it centres on a young woman returning from Moscow to her hometown in rural Armenia just as war is set to break out in the Caucasus. The film had to be painstakingly restored after the original negative was lost – a chastening reminder of the fragility of films even as contemporary as this. Any given moment of the 78-minute running time gives you an intoxicating measure of this film’s plangent aesthetic. It’s a dream-like vision of landscapes in the mist and life on the edge of conflict.

Gerry (2002)

Where’s it on? Film4, Monday, Monday, 1.45am

Gerry (2002)

Underrated and perhaps a little forgotten about these days, Gerry saw US indie stalwart Gus van Sant hitting his most experimental phase. Taking inspiration from the long, slow travelling shots of Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr, this 2002 drama sends Matt Damon and Casey Affleck off into the desert on a walkabout that sees them getting lost without food or water. Not so much a survival drama as a fable of cosmic absurdity, it’s very of its time in borrowing the music of Arvo Pärt to help cast its hypnotic spell. But the spell works, and naysayers who write van Sant’s experiment off as pretentious or self-serious would do well to remember that Gerry is also, in places, hilarious. Witness the extended scene in which Affleck gets stranded at a top of a big rock and tries to work up the courage to jump.