The Ascent (1977)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
One of the great films of the 1970s, The Ascent is not as widely seen as it should be. It’s the final film by the Soviet director Larisa Shepitko, who was tragically killed at 41 in a car crash while researching her following film. Shot during a harsh winter in rural Russia, it begins in deep snow and in the depths of the Second World War as 2 partisans trek into Nazi-occupied Belarus in search of food and supplies for their isolated outfit. Filmed in stark black and white, with scenes of soldiers moving across the blizzardy landscape that resemble a Breughel canvas, The Ascent becomes a harrowing chronicle of the physical and spiritual toll of war after the men are captured and interrogated by the collaborationist Belarusian police. An unmissable extra on this pristine new Criterion Blu-ray is Larisa, a mournful 20-minute portrait of the director made by Shepitko’s husband, director Elem Klimov, shortly after her death. The Ascent has all the visionary image-making and gut-wrenching intensity of Klimov’s own later WWII film Come and See (1985).
Catch Me Daddy (2014)
Where’s it on? Film4, Monday, 12.40am
Now making music videos and commercials over in LA, British filmmaker Daniel Wolfe has yet to follow up this startling debut feature from 2014. Co-written with his brother Matthew, it made enough of an impact at the time to be selected for the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes. Moody, provocative and upsetting, it’s a social realist thriller in which a young British-Pakistani woman (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, who won best British newcomer at that year’s London Film Festival) hides out with her white boyfriend in a caravan in Yorkshire to evade thugs hired by her brother to track them down. The brutal subject of honour killings and bloodthirsty familial violence led many critics to compare Catch Me Daddy to John Ford’s classic revenge western The Searchers (1956) – or at least a Ken Loach remoulding thereof. But there’s a driving ferocity to the way this savage drama proceeds that, combined with atmospheric visuals courtesy of ace cinematographer Robbie Ryan, ends up marking out a territory of its own.
Where’s it on? BFI Player
Three films by Michael Haneke have been added to the subscribers’ package on BFI Player this week, including his 2 Palme d’Or winners: The White Ribbon (2009) and Amour (2012). The third, 2005’s Hidden, also went up for the Palme, but while it lost out to the Dardenne brothers’ L’Enfant it still looks like Haneke’s most brilliant film to date, the work in which he most seamlessly manages to fold his trial of the sins of an entire society into a brain-teasing thriller framework. Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil play a well-heeled Parisian couple who’ve started receiving mysterious videotapes in the mail. Somebody is watching their apartment, and letting them know they’re watching via filmed surveillance. Yet the who and why feels disturbingly unsettled and never quite in reach. Haneke plays with the reliability of the image, his film teaching us to distrust its own shots – and he saves one big clue for the closing credit sequence. The suppressed guilt of both an individual and France itself are drawn into the frame, as Haneke enacts a postcolonial arthouse whodunit (or who’s doing it?) of gripping severity.
The Last Warning (1928)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
On the subject of whodunits, here’s one of the very earliest. German director Paul Leni isn’t much remembered these days, yet – having set out the blueprint for the horror anthology movie with Waxworks (1924) and the haunted house movie with The Cat and the Canary (1927) – he also laid the foundations for the Cluedo-style murder mystery with The Last Warning. This 1928 comedy thriller is set in a Broadway theatre, where an actor mysteriously dies during opening night and his body disappears. Years later, a producer decides to reopen the theatre and restage the play in an attempt to reconstruct and solve the circumstances of the murder – only for the rehearsals to be plagued by apparitions and other strange goings-on. Full of witty visual touches, such as the collage of newspaper headlines that seems to melt in front of our eyes to indicate the passing of years, Leni’s film was made at the end of the silent era and was produced in both silent and sound versions, though only the silent cut survives. It was filmed on dusty old backstage theatre sets left over from The Phantom of the Opera (1925).
Where’s it on? BBC2, Sunday,
BBC2 is screening 3 Hitchcock classics over the weekend, including the peerless peaks of his British period, The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). Suspicion, his fourth film after emigrating to Hollywood, is a notch or three down from those, but even mid-tier Hitchcock is essential viewing. Coming between Rebecca (1940) and Notorious (1946), it’s another in his 1940s chain of thrillers riffing on the Bluebeard theme, with Joan Fontaine (in an Oscar-winning turn) playing the dowdy-but-wealthy woman who’s whisked into wedlock by Cary Grant’s caddish playboy but comes to suspect he may be planning to murder her for her money. The most Hitchcockian moment in Suspicion sees Grant bringing her a glass of milk she fears he’s poisoned – a scene Hitch amped up for all it’s worth by hiding a light inside the glass to give the drink a suitably toxic glow. Elsewhere, the director comes a bit unstuck deciding how far to push the idea that Cary Grant could ever be a killer, and it’s the work of a talent still being typecast as a Briton: Suspicion is all set in a Hollywood version of England, its cast filled out with expats such as Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Dame May Whitty.