Benediction (2021)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

This elegiac, hilariously funny and bottomlessly sad biopic of the First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon put me in mind of Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943). With comparable storytelling flair, it moves through the decades in order to take the measure of a man’s life and times. Returning to the theme of homosexuality for the first time since his early autobiographical trilogy, Terence Davies’ film follows the gay, pacifist poet from the war years via the decadent era of the Bright Young Things to an embittered retreat into middle age, marriage and the closet. Jack Lowden plays the young man; Peter Capaldi the old.

Bringing out the Dead (1999)

Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Friday, 9.05pm, also Disney+

Bringing out the Dead (1999)

In many ways a belated, spiritual sequel to Taxi Driver (1976), this Paul Schrader-scripted Martin Scorsese picture returns to their vision of New York as a kind of weigh station en route to hell. Scenes are bathed in the infernal flashing red of traffic signals and ambulance lights. Nicolas Cage’s paramedic is a classic Schrader protagonist – the wearied soul who’s seen too much. Over 48 hours, we follow his routine. We see the same ghosts he sees, and feel the same sense of purgatory. Bringing out the Dead was Scorsese’s contribution to that wave of pre-millennial releases, from The Sixth Sense to Fight Club, that felt haunted by the present.

Vampyr (1932)

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

Back in cinemas for its 90th anniversary, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr is one of those early horror films forever flickering away in cinema’s id. Originally released the year after the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula, it conjures visions far richer and stranger as it follows the supernatural experiences of occult student Allan Gray (played by ‘Julian West’, a pseudonym for the film’s aristocratic funder, the Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg) in a small French village. “Light and shadow, voices and faces, seemed to take on hidden meanings”, as one intertitle puts it. Dreyer’s spectral images slip the bounds between reality and dream. 

The Innocents (2021)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

No relation to the classic Deborah Kerr ghost story other than sharing a fascination with kids at their creepiest, this Norwegian chiller takes place in crisp sunlight. It unravels over a summer at a lakeside housing complex, where resentful young Ida and her older sister Anna, who has autism, befriend two other kids on the block: one a bullied boy with telekinetic powers, the other a young psychic girl. What follows gives a child’s-height perspective on the intense and often cruel world of play; childhood friendships as a kind of moral testing ground. It’s exactingly sustained by director Eskil Vogt, who also wrote Joachim Trier’s recent (very different) romance The Worst Person in the World (2021).

Certified Copy (2010)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Abbas Kiarostami’s first and last English-language film – also in French and Italian too –  is a slippery and mysterious thesis on the nature of copies and reproducibility. But it’s also a walking-and-talking relationship movie, quite as beguiling as one of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. British opera star William Shimell plays the author of a new book about authenticity in art. In Tuscany to give a talk, he meets a nameless French antiques dealer played by Juliette Binoche. As they wander around getting to know each other, the line between reality and imagination blurs: a brief encounter shape-shifts into scenes from a marriage.