Cocoon (2020)

Where’s it on? Selected cinemas and online, including BFI Player

You can see too many coming-of-age dramas. They’re the stock in trade of debut filmmakers using the mettle of their experiences to flex their muscle as storytellers for the first time. As such, film festivals and release schedules are full of the things, and it can be difficult for one to rise above. More arresting than most, however, is Leonie Krippendorff’s Cocoon, an emotionally immediate tale of lesbian awakening set during a hot summer in Berlin in 2018. Nora is the younger sister of Jule and spends the summer hanging out with her and her older friends as they drink, smoke marijuana and size up boys. But she’s also grappling with unfamiliar feelings of desire that don’t quite fit in with those of her peers, and she develops an attraction for an older girl at school. Evocative of hip, multicultural modern Berlin, Cocoon conjures a hazy, midsummer atmosphere of poolsides, parties and sensuous physical pleasures. This was the summer of the blood moon (an event captured on mobile in one of the film’s occasional phone-shot interludes), and Krippendorrf’s drama ripples with a cosmic sense of the natural forces and cycles that shape human behaviour.

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The Untouchables (1987)

Where’s it on? BBC Two, Saturday, 21:00

The Untouchables (1987)

TV stations have been doing sterling work in keeping the memory of Sean Connery alive since he died during the summer, and this weekend sees another double bill courtesy of BBC Two. Sidney Lumet’s intense Second World War drama The Hill (1965) is generally considered among Connery’s finest films, made at the peak of his Bond stardom and offering an altogether starker and more severe entertainment. Before that, however, the Beeb is dusting off The Untouchables, the irresistible period crime movie from the star’s latter-day renaissance that saw him picking up the Oscar for best supporting actor. Set in Chicago during the 1920s Prohibition, this was Brian De Palma’s big-screen rejig of the 1959-63 US TV series about crime-fighting agents led by Eliot Ness and their efforts to bring down Al Capone. Early into his own stardom, Kevin Costner plays Ness, while Robert De Niro is Capone and Connery goes Irish-American as veteran cop Jimmy Malone. If the results rank as one of De Palma’s more classically shaped efforts, the cinephile director still finds time to work in an elaborate and masterful homage to the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin (1925).

Man of Aran (1934)

Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Saturday, 06:00

Man of Aran (1934)

American filmmaker Robert Flaherty is often called the father of documentary, and certainly his handful of landmark titles from the first half of the 20th century are ground zero for talking about authenticity, ethics and the contradictions inherent in attempting to capture life with a camera. Having filmed Inuit life (infamously staging aspects of it) in Nanook of the North (1922) and the people of the South Seas in Moana (1926), he brought his filming unit to the west coast of Ireland for this gale-swept chronicle of the hardscrabble life of a fishing community on the Aran Islands. As in his other films, his focus is on a Rousseauesque sense of the primal nobility of man eking out an existence in the natural world, far from the conveniences of modern life. His methods will strike today’s documentary makers as contrived – the gripping shark-fishing sequence dramatises fishing methods that had, in fact, died out long before Flaherty arrived. But the aesthetic potency of his approach can be in no doubt: with its self-consciously mythic imagery, Man of Aran still makes for stirring viewing. 

Adoration (2019)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Adoration (2019)

Belgian director Fabrice du Welz once made perhaps the most extreme of all Christmas-set horror films – 2004’s Calvaire. In fact, most of his filmography has been on the handle-with-care side of things. This latest film, then, marks a bit of a change of step – even if his favourite setting, the Ardennes, remains a constant. It’s a mysterious kind of rites-of-passage drama that begins with a 12-year-old boy befriending a 13-year-old girl with schizophrenia, an inpatient at the woodsy mental health clinic where his mum is a doctor. After a violent incident, the pair escape into the idyllic wilderness, infatuated youths adrift through a garden of Eden – rather like the couple on the run in Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973), although an overhead shot of them gliding downriver in a rowing boat suggests that the nocturnal children’s odyssey from The Night of the Hunter (1955) was also a point of reference. The mood is heady and dreamlike, on the cusp of fairytale, but with a focus on pubescent sexuality that feels edgily provocative. The young stars will both be familiar to arthouse audiences: Fantine Harduin from Michael Haneke’s Happy End (2017) and Thomas Gioria from Xavier Legrand’s scalding separation drama Custody (2017).

Great Expectations (1946)

Where’s it on? BBC Two, Sunday, 13:50

Great Expectations (1946)

Dickens adaptations come and go, but this 1946 David Lean film still looks better than most of the competition. Made during that 1940s purple patch for British cinema when Lean, Powell and Pressburger, Carol Reed and Laurence Olivier were all at the peak of their directorial powers, Great Expectations delivers an immensely satisfying cocktail of gothic atmosphere and Dickensian colour. That nightmarish opening in the graveyard where the convict Magwitch first accosts young Pip; Pip’s visits to the decaying Miss Havisham; his life as a young gadabout in London with Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness) – these much-done moments still look definitive here, and with a cast that leaves no legroom for improvement. John Mills is Pip grown up, Valerie Hobson and Jean Simmons take turns playing Estella at different ages, and the likes of Finlay Currie (Magwitch) and Martita Hunt (Miss Havisham) in the supporting cast are etched into film legend. Lean’s combination of studio sets and locations around the Thames Estuary are crucial to his film’s very evocative appeal, and Great Expectations deservedly won Oscars for its cinematography and art direction.