5 things to watch this weekend – 16 to 18 February

Juliette Binoche makes culinary masterpieces, Mads Mikkelsen tames a desolate Danish wilderness, and an alligator goes on the rampage in Chicago.

16 February 2024

By Matthew Thrift

Eureka (2023)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

This weekend marks a welcome return for slow-cinema maestro Lisandro Alonso, last seen with the mysterious settler-western Jauja way back in 2014. Echoes of that enigmatic film resound in the opening of Eureka, which similarly roots Viggo Mortensen in the genre borderlands, once again playing a man in search of his missing daughter. Alonso doesn’t let us get too comfortable in the familiar terrain of the western, orchestrating an about-turn at the half-hour mark that reveals his black-and-white oater to be a film-within-the-film. Suddenly, we’re on a South Dakota reservation, following a young policewoman and her basketball-coaching niece, before a third narrative pivot plants us in the South American jungle. If the film’s thematic throughline suggests a metaphysical meditation on the cultural exploitation of Indigenous histories, Alonso’s chimeric approach to narrative is anything but direct. Like Jauja and his terrific Liverpool (2008), this is mesmerising, transcendental stuff, perhaps best summed up by the old man on the reservation offering words of comfort to his disaffected granddaughter: “You must always remember: space, not time.”

The Taste of Things (2023)

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

To have followed the career of Vietnamese-French writer-director Tran Ann Hùng is to have missed the mellow tactility and sensorial grace notes that marked his work up to the dawn of the new millennium. He never went away, as such, but films like Norwegian Wood (2010) and Eternity (2016) couldn’t touch his career-defining early works: The Scent of Green Papaya (1993), Cyclo (1995) and At the Height of Summer (2000). So it’s a thrill to find that The Taste of Things signals a return to a cinema super-charged by the sensual delights of gastronomy. Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel are reunited on screen for a turn-of-the-century love story steeped in the minutiae of food preparation. The opening act is almost dialogue-free: a sizzle of butter and a crackling stove punctuating the couple’s easy way around the working kitchen and each other. A luminous ode to artistic virtuosity with all the attendant detail of a culinary procedural, it’s a film that draws its reserves of romance and passion from the boundless wells of creative collaboration.

The Promised Land (2023)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

When Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel’s 18th-century drama A Royal Affair (2012) scored an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, it was inevitable that Hollywood would come calling. But his stateside sojourn proved a bust: a star-powered Stephen King adaptation – and potential franchise-starter – The Dark Tower (2017) was dead on arrival. Most directors only get the one shot at the studio big leagues, but on the evidence of The Promised Land it won’t be too long before Arcel gets another tap on the shoulder. This is old-fashioned filmmaking in the best sense: a Danish western with a pantomime villain and a granite-faced lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen. Set on the weather-beaten moors of Jutland – which Mikkelsen’s impoverished soldier aims to cultivate – The Promised Land is the kind of sweeping revenge epic we don’t see enough of these days. Character motivation and narrative trajectory are so clearly defined that the film offers few surprises. But therein lie its classically ordained pleasures. A worthy descendant of Braveheart (1995) and Rob Roy (1995), this has all the makings of a modern dad-movie classic.

Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande (2022)

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

“It really does feel otherworldly, like it came down from a spaceship,” says one interviewee of Cymande’s singular sound in this long-overdue documentary profile of the south London band. Converging at the crossroads of funk, disco, Afrobeat and calypso, these nine self-taught musicians would be sampled by everyone from De La Soul to the Fugees, even as mainstream success eluded them. Tim MacKenzie-Smith’s film catches up with the group on the brink of a ‘comeback’ tour, and it’s Cymande themselves who talk us through their journey from rehearsals in a Brixton basement in the early 1970s to a US tour that saw them supporting Al Green in 40,000-capacity stadiums. A slew of famous faces attest to the enduring influence – not least on hip-hop – of a band that couldn’t quite break America and were largely shunned at home. The music speaks for itself, and it’s heartening to know that, off the back of this doc, Cymande’s astonishing self-titled debut album will be blasting out of speakers across the country this weekend, more than half a century after its release.

Alligator (1980)

Where’s it on? 4K UHD and Blu-ray

Writer-director John Sayles is best known as one of the great maverick voices in American independent cinema, synonymous with such ensemble classics as The Brother from Another Planet (1984), Matewan (1987) and Lone Star (1996). But his parallel career as a writer-for-hire, specialising in monster movies, is every bit as fascinating. In between writing Piranha (1978) for Roger Corman and The Howling (1981) for Joe Dante – and in the same year as his name-making directorial debut Return of the Secaucus Seven – he delivered the screenplay for Alligator’s 90 minutes of snappy, B-movie pulp, which more than lives up to the promise of its no-nonsense title. Robert Forster is the cop fighting male pattern baldness and a mutant gator living in the city sewers, while a host of character-actor faces fill out the supporting cast. The attack sequences sing in this gorgeous 4K release from 101 Films – which comes bundled with schlocky sequel Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) – not least in a climactic set piece that turns a wedding party into a crocodilian buffet.