5 things to watch this weekend – 12 to 14 April

Alex Garland imagines a second American civil war, while a sweeping epic of the industrial revolution turns up for streaming.

12 April 2024

By Sam Wigley

Civil War (2024)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide, including BFI IMAX

California and Texas have entered into an (unlikely) alliance as the ‘Western Forces’ bent on bringing down a dictatorial US president (Nick Offerman) in this uncomfortably real-feeling near-future war movie from writer-director Alex Garland. A group of war reporters – including seen-it-all photojournalist Kirsten Dunst and peppy novice Cailee Spaeny (Priscilla) – are determined to get the last interview with the big man before he’s toppled, so begin the long drive south from New York to DC through scenes of a society disintegrated into violence and partisan animosity. It makes for a chilling, provocative ride. Nothing is futuristic in Garland’s film: everything just looks convincingly like a broken down version of our present.

Close Your Eyes (2023)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide, including BFI Southbank

Only his fourth feature in 50 years (and his first since 1992’s The Quince Tree Sun), Close Your Eyes sees the unexpected but triumphant return of venerated Spanish auteur Víctor Erice. Erice arrived on the international scene half a century ago with his poetic, all-timer debut The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). Like Beehive, Close Your Eyes is a tale of memory and cinema. It begins with a feint: its opening scenes turn out to be from a (fictional) film that remained unfinished after the sudden disappearance of its lead actor. Fact and fiction, past and present, begin to interweave as, many years later, the director is contacted by a TV mystery programme looking to get to the bottom of what happened. To coincide with its release, Erice’s second feature, El sur (1983), also arrives on BFI Player this week.

The Promised Land (1975)

Where’s it on? Klassiki

The Promised Land (1975)

One of the major achievements of Polish director Andrzej Wajda, best known for his 1950s war trilogy, The Promised Land is a three-hour period epic set in Lødz during the industrial revolution. Three friends – a Pole, a German and a Jewish businessman – are caught up in the frantic business of making their fortunes, as they plan to open up their own textile factory. With a sweep worthy of Dickens or Zola, Wajda’s film plunges us into the whirlwind world of 19th-century capitalism in all its grease and grime and tariffs and strikes and risky speculations. He shows us monied opulence and the toil of labour, and the white heat of the rush to profit. Based on an 1899 novel by Władysław Reymont, it was once voted the best Polish film ever made.

All That Money Can Buy (1941)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

All That Money Can Buy (1941)
© Criterion

In 19th-century New Hampshire, out-of-luck farmer Jabez Stone (James Craig) is also to feel the lure of filthy lucre. Driven to desperation, he announces he’d sell his soul for a couple of cents, prompting the Devil to appear in the form of insinuating bumpkin Mr Scratch (Walter Huston) to take him up on it in return for a life of prosperity. Coming out of RKO in the same year as Citizen Kane (indeed Bernard Herrmann’s eerie score here beat his own music for Kane at the Oscars), William Dieterle’s moral fantasy (also known under the title The Devil and Daniel Webster) is no slouch in the innovation department itself. We first see the Devil in negative in creepy subliminal flashes, while the farmland sets and expressionist images give this battle between good and evil a mythic, storybook resonance.

Ratcatcher (1999)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

From Cannes to canonisation, the passing of 25 years has made a classic of this striking debut feature from Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay. It takes place a further quarter century back, on a Glasgow housing project in 1975. Bin collectors are striking, rubbish is piling up, and living conditions were already dire for 12-year-old James (William Eadie), his two sisters and their parents, who face rehousing as their estate is about to be razed to make way for a new development. With this hard-knocks coming-of-age story, Ramsay’s film touches hands with Bill Douglas’s great childhood trilogy or the Ken Loach of Kes (1969). Its unvarnished poetry arguably set the tenor for British social realism ever since.