Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Where’s it on? BBC2, Saturday, 10:05pm

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

At the peak of her 80s pop stardom, Madonna jump-started her film career with this breathless modern screwball teaming her with Rosanna Arquette. All sorts of mischief, mayhem and mistaken identity ensue after Arquette’s bored housewife tries to effect a meet-up with Madonna’s untethered free-spirit – a woman she’s become fascinated with from following her newspaper personal ads. The pair’s misadventures through 80s New York borrow something from Jacques Rivette’s female-friendship fantasia Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974), but with a hip downtown energy courtesy of director Susan Seidelman, who had emerged from the same no-wave New York indie scene that gave us Jim Jarmusch. 

Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Anti-war Trilogy

Where’s it on? Blu-ray and video on demand

Running together at a colossal 500 minutes, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s anti-war trilogy is a feat of pacifist filmmaking nearly as mammoth and overwhelming as his near-namesake Masaki Kobayashi’s epic Human Condition trilogy of the late 1950s and early 60s. Connected by their prismatic reflections on the trauma of the Second World War, the three films – Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2012), Seven Weeks (2014) and Hanagatami (2017) – were late blooms in the career of a director who remains best known in the west for his wacky haunted house movie Hausu (1977). Despite the more earnest context, the films share Hausu’s helter-skelter hyperreality. These are cathedrals built out of cheap digital effects and over-saturated colours.

The Lost Daughter (2021)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

Among the year’s most perfectly realised directorial debuts, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first feature is her own adaptation of a 2006 novel by Elena Ferrante. Olivia Colman plays a fortysomething professor, Leda, on a Greek holiday whose encounters with a noisy New Yorker family on the beach inspire a mysterious act of theft. Gyllenhaal’s enigmatic character study also flashes back into Leda’s past, when Jessie Buckley plays her as a young mum struggling to balance her career ambitions with the pressures of parenting. The results are a kind of slow-burn bad-holiday thriller, which faces up to some frank truths about motherhood along the way. The craft is impeccable, and Colman’s bristling performance is one you can’t take your eyes off.

The Story of Film: A New Generation (2021)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide and digital platforms, including BFI Player

A decade after he dropped his 15-hour series The Story of Film, Mark Cousins returns with this update – a 160-minute coda that finds him taking the measure of everything that’s happened to the medium since. Following The Story of Looking and The Storms of Jeremy Thomas, this is Cousins’ third release in as many months, pandemic times apparently proving no barrier to his extraordinary productivity. Beginning with an unlikely comparison between famous moments in Frozen (2013) and Joker (2019), the film progresses in by-now-familiar Cousins fashion, plotting out an idiosyncratic constellation of the important trends, innovations and filmmakers who’ve mattered. It goes by in a rush of cinephile pleasure.

Les Enfants terribles (1950)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Les Enfants terribles (1950)

Jean-Pierre Melville’s second feature as director is light years away from the kind of French gangster films and mythic noirs he’d later become famous for. It’s based on a 1929 novel by the poet and dreamer Jean Cocteau, and it was Cocteau who approached Melville for the project, having admired his 1949 debut Le Silence de la mer. He also provides the narration for this tremulous tale of a young brother and sister who retreat into their own, hermetic world after the boy is injured in a snowball fight. The flat where much of the cloistered action takes place was Melville’s own. The music is Bach and Vivaldi. And what emerges is a claustrophobic portrait of sibling interdependence that’s passionate and perverse.

Originally published: 17 December 2021