In the Mood for Love (2000)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
We’ve all spent most of 2021 bereft of things to celebrate, but this weekend brings two: Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day. If you’ve a mind to do so by watching movies then Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood of Love is the Venn diagram choice: an exquisite, brooding tale of unrequited romance in 1960s Hong Kong that’s something like a Brief Encounter (1945) for the 21st century. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung play neighbours who are drawn together after learning their spouses are having an affair, and Wong traces their own diffident liaisons with a hypnotic visual and aural aesthetic that draws you into each flutter of heartbreak and longing. In modern cinema, perhaps only Todd Haynes’ Carol (2015) comes close. It’s the jewel in the crown of the new World of Wong Kar Wai season that’s available on both BFI Player and the ICA’s Cinema 3 streaming platform, which brings 7 new 4K digital restorations of Wong’s work to these isles.
The Lunchbox (2013)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
In the Mood for Love includes repeated, transfixing shots of Maggie Cheung walking to and from a noodle stand to collect her meals in a flask – sometimes passing her lovelorn neighbour en route. In Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, it’s tiffin tins that become the agent of tentative romance. Batra’s charmer of a debut hinges on Mumbai’s dabbawala food delivery system, whereby lunches are picked up from restaurants or homes and delivered to desk workers. Bollywood veteran Irrfan Khan, who died last year, plays the soon-retiring widow who finds himself mistakenly on the receiving end of an estranged wife’s efforts to win back her husband’s affections via her delicious cooking. The mix-up leads to a connection between the 2 strangers, and soon they’re sending messages back and forth with the spicy lunches. The Lunchbox was a breakout hit in 2013, crossing over to arthouse audiences in the west – and deservedly so. Its tender, chaste romance has aged well so far, even if the idea of an office lunch itself seems impossibly romantic right now.
Can’t Get You Out of My Head (2021)
Where’s it on? BBC iPlayer
The week’s most counter-Valentine’s programming surely comes from the BBC, who’ve just dropped Adam Curtis’s latest brain-furrowing attempt to join the dots between the hidden forces shaping our world. The method will be familiar to anyone who saw Bitter Lake (2015) or HyperNormalisation (2016): using archive news footage and a jukebox soundtrack of brooding electronic music, Curtis stitches together a paranoid patchwork of encounters, conspiracies and hidden histories from across the globe in an attempt to offer “an emotional history of the modern world”. He’s working on a much bigger canvas this time – Can’t Get You Out of My Head is 6 feature-length episodes, with the first episode alone bringing in the Mau Mau uprising, rogue landlord Peter Rachman, Jiang Qing and the Cultural Revolution, the Black Panthers, the Illuminati and more besides.
Starting Over (1979)
Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Saturday, 9.50pm
Paranoia is also the first thing you associate with director Alan J. Pakula – particularly in the 1970s. But having chased down conspiracies in the bedrock of power in the likes of The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976), he made this unlikely detour into more Valentine’s-friendly viewing to close out the decade. Adapted from a 1973 novel by Dan Wakefield, it pitches Burt Reynolds as the divorcee who finds himself weighing up a return to his philandering ex-wife (Candice Bergen) or a new life with Jill Clayburgh’s nursery-school worker. Clayburgh was hot off the success of An Unmarried Woman (1978), that landmark look at a New Yorker getting her life back together again after a divorce, and Starting Over is something like the male answer to that film – an indulging look at masculinity in middle age, at the point when an unexpected crossroads suddenly presents itself. Both actresses were Oscar nominated, and this was the first feature producer credit for James L. Brooks – who’d mine similarly WASP-y terrain in his subsequent turn to directing with Terms of Endearment (1983) and Broadcast News (1987).
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Where’s it on? BBC2, Saturday, 10pm
The film that beat An Unmarried Woman to the Oscar for best picture is screening on BBC2 this weekend. Michael Cimino’s epic tale of blue-collar friendship going through the trauma of the Vietnam war remains one of the benchmark New Hollywood films, although its depiction of the Viet Cong continues to cause controversy. Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Cazale play 3 friends from a Pennsylvania mining community who end up being drafted over to south-east Asia, where they end up enduring unimaginable physical and psychological horrors as prisoners of war. As grimly compelling as the war scenes are, however, it’s in the earlier wedding scenes that The Deer Hunter is at its most magnificent. The lines of these friendships, and of the steel-mining community, are vividly drawn, as the men celebrate one last night in town before their flight out. The shift from elegiac opulence to the frank brutality of war is chillingly done.
Originally published: 12 February 2021